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Public Comment Period on Proposed Park and Refuge Firearm Regulations

“The safety and protection of park and refuge visitors remains a top priority for the Department of the Interior,” said Secretary Kempthorne. “The proposed regulations will incorporate current state laws authorizing the possession of concealed firearms, while continuing to maintain important provisions to ensure visitor safety and resource protection.”

On February 22, 2008, Secretary Kempthorne responded to letters from 51 Senators, both Democrats and Republicans, urging him to update existing regulations which prohibit the carrying of firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges. In his response, the Secretary directed Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Lyle Laverty “to develop and propose for public comment by April 30 Federal regulations that will update firearms policies on these lands to reflect existing Federal laws (such as those prohibiting weapons in Federal buildings) and the laws by which the host states govern transporting and carrying of firearms on their analogous public lands.”

The regulations, as currently in effect, were adopted in 1981 for national wildlife refuges and 1983 for national parks. Since that time many states have enacted new firearms policies. Currently, 48 states have passed legislation allowing for the lawful possession of concealed weapons.

“The original regulations, last substantially updated in the early 1980’s, were enacted over 25 years ago and much has changed in how states administer their firearm laws in that time,” said Assistant Secretary Lyle Laverty. “We strongly endorse the principle that states have the prerogative to develop appropriate policies and standards in this area, and believe that our management of parks and refuges should defer to those state laws.”

Once the public comment period has closed, all comments received will be evaluated and incorporated into the decision making process on a final rule. The number and substance of the comments received will determine the timeline for the final decision.

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ELDORADO FOREST RELEASES LONG-AWAITED TRAVEL PLAN


Supervisor Villalvazo stressed at the meeting that this base route network is a beginning and a foundation for future travel planning on the Forest. He also made a commitment to a volunteer trail program and to work with the recreation community to provide a quality recreational experience on the Forest. Villalvazo specifically noted that his office would continue to work with El Dorado County in developing a master plan for
the world-famous Rubicon 4WD Trail.

Don Amador, Western Representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition, observed, "There is certainly frustration by the OHV community regarding the significant reduction from routes historically used and maintained by the Forest. However, we recognize the thankless position of current personnel who inherited a regulatory 'perfect storm' fraught with misinterpretation of rules, regulations and the court order."

"This product is far from perfect, but many users will appreciate the agency's effort to provide for meaningful trail mileage, to reduce the wet weather closure period, and to commit to working with the OHV community and other publics on the implementation and improvement of the plan," Amador concluded.

Due to the various appeal and administrative time-lines associated with this project, implementation of the decision will likely not occur until January 2009.

The recreation groups at the meeting included Friends of the Rubicon, California Enduro Riders Association, American Motorcyclist Association District 36, El Dorado Equestrian Trails Foundation, California Off Road Vehicle Association, California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, and the BlueRibbon Coalition, all of whom have been active in the administrative process and prior litigation addressing Eldorado travel management.

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The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible use of public and private lands, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. It represents over 10,000 individual members and 1,200 organization and business members, for a combined total of over 600,000 recreationists nationwide. 1-800-258-3742. www.sharetrails.org
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Witnesses Call for Increased Public Participation

“Whether it is various insect and disease infestations, unnaturally-overgrown forest stands, catastrophic wildfire, or any combination of such, no one can deny that our National Forests are in dire straits.  National forests are an important and necessary source of economic activity and recreation for local communities and the public.  This vital resource needs to be managed for the benefit of all users and I strongly believe that there is plenty of it to go around,” said Chairman Bishop (UT-01). “Today, we heard from witnesses who described a variety of situations in which their popular and longstanding use of public land and water has been impacted by not only increasing regulations and policy, but also the Forest Service’s implementation of such. Water rights are a sacred issue in the West and any attempt to upset the balance of state water law and primacy is something to be taken very seriously.”

“Over the last few decades we have experienced a fundamental shift in resource development and forest management that has resulted in decreased access to our public lands and threats to our water rights.  The federal government’s cooperation with local, state, and tribal governments concerning these important issues has quickly deteriorated.  In the West, as exemplified in my home state of Nevada, access to our public lands is critical to job creation and our economic viability.  I hope our concerns regarding Nevada water law and federal collaboration in travel management don’t fall on deaf ears so that we can once again manage the lands for the benefit of all,” said Rep. Amodei (NV-02).

Under the 2005 Travel Management Rule, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) is required to develop travel management plans for designating a system of roads, trails and areas for motor vehicle use within our National Forests and Grasslands.  In implementing the rule, the USFS is required to collaborate with federal, state, county and other local government entities as well as tribal governments in the route and area designation process.  However, according to Mr. Howard Hutchinson, Executive Director of the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties, “repeated attempts to secure local government participation and meaningful input into the NFMA, NEPA, ESA and other planning processes have been met with extreme resistance by federal agencies.”  Mr. Hutchinson cited several examples where the federal government ignored local opinion in favor of restricting access on public lands.

Implementation of the proposed travel management plans will severely hurt economies throughout the West.  According to Elko County Commissioner Charlie Myers’ testimony, “Seventy-five percent of the lands used for outdoor recreation in Elko County are managed by the Federal Government (7.5 million ac.). The total economic impact of outdoor recreation to Elko County is almost $165 million.” Mr. Myers discussed the lack of scientific evidence supporting the need for limiting access to Forest Service lands.  “NEPA requires that an action such as prohibition of motorized vehicle use must be based on the best available commercial scientific data. Elko County has asked the Forest Service on four different occasions for the scientific data used for the ROD determination and the last request for this data was through the Freedom of Information Act. We have yet to receive any data.”

Gerald Temoke, Chairman of the Elko Band Council for the Te-Moak Tribe of Western Shoshone, spoke of the importance of public lands access to the tribes of Nevada.  “We have been walking, then riding and now driving around these mountains for hundreds, more likely thousands of years, many county residence have been here for generations. Most of us spend our lifetimes here. This is our home.” Mr. Temoke expressed deep concern and disappointment over the lack of consultation by USFS on the proposed travel management plans that would strip tribes of access to roads they regularly use for game retrieval, wood cutting, gathering of food, getting close to certain medicinal plants & roots. “Existing roads that are not on the Forest Service map are considered not to exist. If these roads are not allowed to be used after a short period of time they will for all intents and purposes disappear. … The Forest Service never consulted or attempted to consult with us until after it was announced that there would be a Congressional Hearing.”

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Save Johnson Valley Fight Heats Up

As a partner in California Motorized Recreation Council, the Board of Directors of California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs has approved releasing $9,733.94 in legal funds held by the Association to help fund the Washington, DC lobbying efforts.  These funds were collected through donations and fund raising activities specifically for Johnson Valley efforts.

Mark Cave, President of Cal4Wheel, stated, "These funds were provided through our member efforts to help preserve 4-wheeling in Johnson Valley.  The Board believes that support of the lobbying effort is in the best interests of Cal4Wheel."

CMRC has created a broad based coalition to assist with the funding of the fight to Save Johnson Valley.  CA4WDC is committed to working with the coalition to preserve recreation access to Johnson Valley OHV Area.

 

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CA LEGISLATURE VOTES TO GUT OHV GRANTS PROGRAM TO FEDERAL AND LOCAL PARTNERS

Don Amador, Western Representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition, states, “I am extremely disappointed that Mr. Huffman has apparently joined ranks with the anti-OHV community in their ongoing efforts to defund the OHV grants program via fiscal schemes such as the Sustainable Parks plan.”

“After witnessing today’s vote, it is clear to me that urban legislators have made the conscious decision to engage in political warfare against rural interests, economies, and local elected officials.  It also daylights the false promises made to special “user fee” programs (e.g. OHV, boating and waterways, special license plates, etc.) that their dedicated funds are protected.  Rather, it points to the fact that those funds will be raided in perpetuity to help mitigate the legislature’s failure to substantively address the state’s fiscal crisis,” Amador continues.

“It is also interesting to note that not one of the Sustainable Parks Program’s proponents had the courage to show up and speak in favor of the plan at today’s hearing.  Equally disappointing was that State Park leadership sat in stone cold silence while this issue was being discussed.  It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in California,” Amador concludes.

Representatives from the following organizations attended and spoke at the hearing.  Those groups include the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, American Motorcyclist Association, American Motorcyclist Association District 36, California Off-Road Vehicle Association, and the BlueRibbon Coalition.

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The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, outreach, education, and collaboration among recreationists. 1-800-BLUERIB - http://www.sharetrails.org.

 

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