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By: Robert Janis

Access to Land Dominant Issue for New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance

Access to land is the dominant issue for the New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance. Literally since its inception in 2004 New Mexico Off-Highway Vehicle Alliance has been struggling with the powers of the state to better the conditions of the ATV community. That first year, 2004, the State Legislature was considering the passage of an ATV Safety Law. "The original bill was essentially anti-ATV and anti-recreation," said Joanne Spivack, recreation resource director of the group. "In fact, the first draft included a total ban on anyone under the age of 16 riding any ATV or dirt bike. It took over two years of intense work to create the law we have now. It isn't perfect, but mostly reasonable."

NMOHVA is a statewide incorporated alliance of motorized off-highway vehicle enthusiasts that promotes responsible off-highway vehicle recreation through education, safety training, land conservation, and access in cooperation with public and private interests to ensure a positive future for OHV recreation in New Mexico.

A Member-Based Organization
The members are the core of the organization, explained Spivack. It is these people who become board members of NMOHVA, who attend agency meetings and who write letters to the agencies and politicians. "They are the 'troops on the ground'," said Spivack. "Our members spread the word through their networks of riding friends. They are our ears on the ground for changes in policy and developing situations needing NMOHVA's attention. We are a grass roots organization with information flowing in both directions, to and from the members."

Since its power depends on the ATV enthusiasts, the association is involved in the creation of local clubs. Its staff helps with advice and examples of by laws and such and uses the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council's Club Start Up Kit as a tool in the formation of clubs.

"We are always looking for local clubs to work with," added Spivack. "Joining NMOHVA as a member club enables a small 'social' club to be part of the only statewide organization fighting to protect our access to public lands. Clubs that used to exist just for fun are realizing that they can't ignore this any longer. As a small club they are invisible, as part of NMOHVA they have a voice. As a result of our growing strength among the ATV community, NMOHVA is growing in influence and recognition among federal agencies and the state government."

The association also works with outside organizations including the Blue Ribbon Coalition and the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council in order to get the word out about ATVs and in the struggle to gain benefits for the community. The organization also meets regularly with agencies. Although they have not participated in any lawsuits so far, they are preparing to do so. "We are building contacts with legal experts and organizations in other states, and we have an Access Defense Fund," said Spivack.

The Access Defense Fund was created for two reasons: To have the funding to have equal ability to exert legal pressure and to be prepared when legal action may become the last resort. The Fund is sustained through voluntary contributions and is kept separate from NMOHVA operating funds. The Access Defense Fund will be used to support legal actions undertaken by NMOHVA and other organizations working for access to public lands and for communication of public land access issues. If you wish to contribute to the fund, you can do so by sending a check or money order to:

NMOHVA Access Defense Fund
13170-B Central Avenue SE
PMB #322
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87123

"We also have to be very diligent about how we work within the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process," Spivack continued. "It is NEPA that dictates how the Travel Management planning is done by the Forest Service. There is a specific process mandated by NEPA that calls for us to submit official comments on their proposed trail networks within a certain deadline in order to have a 'legal standing.' You must have 'legal standing,' or you will not be allowed to file an appeal or a lawsuit. In order to get things done, we can't ignore the planning process and start complaining after they make a final decision to close the trails. If you don't pay attention and get involved properly, you get locked out."

NMOHVA depends on volunteers to lobby the state senators and representatives. "As a nonprofit 501(c) (3) group our lobbying efforts are limited by law," explained Spivack. She said that the organization relies on its members to influence decisions by local city councils and other decision-making agencies. "The best way to influence local government is through our members who are local citizens," added Spivack. "Politicians are more likely to listen to people who can vote for or against them." Spivack asserted that many local government personnel do not understand that they have a stake in what the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management does. "If the Forest Service closes the roads and trails in a nearby national forest, it will have an impact on local citizens." "In New Mexico, county commissioners have considerable power and influence," explained Spivack. So a lot of effort is addressed to them.

Individuals, families, businesses, and clubs can become members of the association. NMOHVA uses its website to reach out to members, and it also publishes a quarterly newsletter which is mailed to members. Past issues of the newsletter are archived at the website (www.nmohva.org).

"ATV users are dispersed over a very large state, and there are very few clubs," said Spivack. "The ATVers here are much less likely to be organized in local clubs than the dirt bikers. So we've been relying on 'friend telling friend.' At this time in our growth we clearly need to use more formal ways of contacting all the OHVers, including ATVers. One way is the 'trickle-down' through national organizations and websites."

Besides promoting the recreation side, the association also supports the sports side. It publishes the race schedule of the New Mexico Racing Club (http://www.nmdrc.com) in its newsletter. Spivack noted that the races are performed on Bureau of Land Management land, and the association is working hard to keep that land available to ATV riders. "If ATV and dirt bikes are banned from BLM land, desert racing would be severely limited," said Spivack.

The Issues Plaguing ATVers in New Mexico
As mentioned previously, access to land is the dominant issue in New Mexico. "It is all about the federally-managed public lands," explained Spivack. "Both the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are currently revising policies about where and even IF, we will be allowed to ride on public lands. The anti-access groups are very well organized and funded. When policies are being changed or re-written, they see it as a major opportunity to get us locked off of public lands." It seems that trashing ATVers is what the anti-access groups live for. Spivack pointed out that a quick review of these groups' websites shows the hysteria, half-truths, and distortions they throw at the OHV community.

Spivack also pointed out that there is some difficulty in uniting ATVers and dirt bikers to fight the common cause over the trails issue. So there is a concerted effort by the organization to bring the two sides together.

Taking advantage of grant programs, especially the federal RTP grants, is another major focus of the association as is being a watchdog on the State Trail Safety Board. "New Mexico is now collecting a sticker fee on OHVs and we have to keep a close eye on what they do with the money," said Spivack. "We have serious issues about the membership of the Board. The law says there are three seats on the Board for OHV representatives. Two years later we do not have a single OHV representative on the Board. We also still do not have required OHV safety training widely available at an affordable price. The OHV Trail Safety Board is working with MSF and ATVA to provide dirt bike and ATV training programs, but it won't happen overnight."

"NMOHVA is working hard to keep access to public lands and closely tracks the Travel Management Plan in every national forest," said Spivack. "This policy change is the biggest threat ever to the survival of off road recreation in New Mexico and across the country. We teach our members how to contact and work with their local Forest Service and BLM offices. We support them with our expertise and with our contacts to the national organizations. We network people with each other so that they can form local groups, and we provide a source for documents on policy, research, and more to help with the fight."

The organization is also creating the "legal standing" necessary that gives them the right to appeal decisions and take them to court.

In order to unite OHVers, the association is educating the OHV community about the threats that would close public lands to ATVs, dirt bikes, and 4WDs.

NMOHVA is also trying to encourage government entities to apply for grants from the RTP Grant Program, and it is also developing proposals to apply for grants from manufacturers including Yamaha and Polaris.

Finally, the organization is working hard to get three separate state agencies to appoint OHV representatives to the State Board. "No one of them is forced to name a representative," pointed out Spivack. "Each agency has kept the seat for itself. We lobbied the governor's office about this but to no avail. We are following the state Trail Safety Board to see if they get the OHV reps appointed and get safety training in place. We are also monitoring the government on what they will do concerning the fee for an OHV sticker. For two years now the state has charged ATVers and dirt bikers the maximum fee allowed by the new law. We have yet to see them do anything constructive with the money. If there is no progress on appointing our representatives, we will have to go to the State Legislature and ask them to amend the law to change how the OHV seats are appointed."

The Website
The association recently unveiled a new website (http://www.nmohva.org) which includes updates on events, a calendar of events, major news articles, and a forum where OHVers can discuss issues that concern them. There are also links to OHV Advocacy Groups' websites including Action Program Keeping Public Lands Public, American Recreation Coalition, Americans for Responsible Recreational Access, Blue Ribbon Coalition, Colorado Off- Highway Vehicle Coalition, National Off- Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, Tread Lightly, and the Utah Shared Access Alliance.

There are also links to OHV membership organization websites including the All Terrain Vehicle Association, American Motorcyclist Association, American Snowmobilers Association, and Southwest Four-Wheel Drive Association as well as links to OHV clubs websites in and outside of New Mexico. In addition, there are links to public land management agencies' websites including Bernalillo County East Mountain Trails & Bikeways Master Plan; Bureau of Land Management Department of the Interior; the New Mexico Energy, Minerals, and Natural Resources Department; and the USDA Forest Service. Finally, there is a link to the website of the Recreational Trails Program, an assistance program administered by the Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration, and the website of the Recreational Trails Program of New Mexico.

The association website also allows for fund raising to take place through the site and uses Paypal so concerned individuals can make donations to the Access Defense Fund.

To make a donation and to find out more about NMOHVA visit www.nmohva.org.


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