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By: Robert Janis

South Dakota OHV Coalition

South Dakota OHV Co alition -- A Unifying Touchstone for Off-Road Motoring Community

 

In March 2001 the off-highway vehicle community led by the Black Hills Regional Multiple Use Coalition (BHRMUC) recognized the need for a unifying group that could take on the issues of concern to the community. As a result an effort was launched to create such a group. The BHRMUC, local clubs in South Dakota, other concerned groups, and the BlueRibbon Coalition worked together to create the South Dakota Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (SDOHVC) in December, 2004.

Based in Rapid  City, South Dakota, the mission of the SDOHVC is to represent, assist, educate, and empower OHV recreationists in the protection and promotion of off-highway recreation.

According to Eric Hunt, president of SDOHVC, the issues of most concern today to the ATV community in South Dakota are travel management in the Black Hills National Forest, legislation for an off-highway vehicle program in the state, and fund raising for an economic impact study that can be used to help lobby for legislation in 2009.

“We are currently working with individuals, local clubs and businesses to make certain they keep giving input and comments to the National Forest Service in regards to travel management,” explained Hunt. “We are also urging everyone to stay engaged between comment periods. They need to make sure they are contacting their local Forest Service district rangers and staff on a regular basis to see what they are doing about trails in areas on which they ride.

 

“We have been notifying our members through our newsletter and through e-mail to contact their local legislators to inform them about their concerns on legislative issues. We are also actively participating at every opportunity available to us.

“We have been working with county commissioners, local businesses, clubs, and applying for grants to generate funding to pay for the economic impact study,” continued Hunt. “Additionally, we have been making the arrangements with the independent group who will be conducting the study.” The study is scheduled to take place this summer.

Getting the state to pass a comprehensive bill that would provide funding and answer questions concerning the use of ATVs has also become a major priority. Legislation was drafted this year which would have set up a sticker program to raise funds for the maintenance of a trail system and answer outstanding questions about ATV use, but the bill was never introduced and was not passed. It is hoped that legislation will be introduced in the legislature next year.

Lobbying and Education

In order to get the state to do what it needs to do, SDOHVC includes a legislative committee that is comprised of several members of the board of directors of SDOHVC. Members of the board have also spent time at the Legislature and have spoken on behalf of motorized users. Hunt also pointed out that members of SDOHVC have participated in various committees that offer recommendations to the state on OHV management. “For instance, last year the governor appointed a task force to develop recommendations on a potential OHV legislative package,” said Hunt. “One of our board members was appointed to that task force. We have also worked cooperatively with other organizations that have similar or cross-over interest such as the South Dakota Auto Dealers Association (SDADA). This group also represents most of the ATV and motorcycle dealers in the state and work with any legislation that may affect the dealers in the state.”

Moreover, SDOHVC works with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to assure that connector routes to trails that are under the authority of BLM continue to remain open and allow access. “There is a lot of BLM land that surrounds a few communities that we would like to continue to have access to,” said Hunt. Hunt sits on the Bureau of Land Management Advisory Council which helps in keeping a line of communication open between off-road enthusiasts and the BLM.

 

SDOHVC does not have professional lobbyists. Instead, three board members act as a legislation committee and they keep the organization informed on issues and recommend a course of action. “As a grassroots organization, one area of focus is to garner involvement from our membership through e-mails and alerts,” said Hunt. “We are fortunate to have some very motivated individuals who are good at contacting their legislators when needed.”

Influencing local city councils and other decision-making agencies is based on developing relationships, said Hunt. “It starts with contacting them to let them know who we are and making sure they know our issues and concerns. Most times we find they don’t even understand our issues, and it is our job to make sure they do. We also see it as our job to make sure that they know that we are there and willing to work with them toward viable solutions.

“Once we make contact with them, it is important that we maintain close contact with them,” continued Hunt. “We check in with them from time to time, and we volunteer to assist on any subcommittees they may have relative to our issues.”

SDOHVC relies heavily on its membership. So they must be well educated about the issues and well motivated to go out and engage. SDOHVC sends out representatives to local club meetings to keep them informed and to help them know what issues to take on, what they need to do to get involved, and where they need to go to attend pertinent meetings. “We have discovered that folks want to help, but they don’t always understand all the details of such things as land use and other issues. Making sure they understand how this will affect them and what they can do to help is the key,” said Hunt.

Hunt noted that assistance from the group’s members come in several ways. “Members help with projects that we have partnered with the Forest Service on such things as clean up, constructing fences adjacent to damaged areas in order to protect trails that are open to motorized use or working with local environmental groups to protect sensitive areas,” said Hunt. “Our members are also very helpful when it comes to engaging in public meetings and commenting on issues that are affecting motorized access on public lands.”

 

Helping to organize local clubs is a top priority in building a support group from the ground up so SDOHVC gets involved in the creation of local clubs. In fact, Hunt is a South Dakota State Representative for the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC). “NOHVCC has some very helpful tools to help assist groups to form clubs,” said Hunt.

SDOHVC also works with local clubs to solve local issues. “This is an essential part of our mission,” said Hunt. “For instance, recently we worked with a local club in the eastern part of the state and with local county commissioners to solve road ditch issues in the county. We regularly work with clubs to jointly comment on planning issues with the Forest Service with regards to the travel management process on the Black Hills National Forest. This helps to present a better overall or well-rounded view of what the motorized community is looking for. We have and continue to work with local clubs to GPS their trails, categorize them, and submit the information to the Forest Service as part of the travel management process. This has certainly been one of the biggest undertakings that we have facilitated for more than three years and we continue to work on this.

“We have and continue to work with local clubs to partner with us at events, sports shows, and other venues to promote motorized recreation,” added Hunt.

Membership
“Currently there are 312 individual and organization members representing about 2,500 off-road enthusiasts,” said Hunt. Members receive the organization’s newsletter and receive e-mail alerts about issues that are pending in the state. According to Hunt, anyone can become a member.

 

Website

The organization has a website (www.sdohvc.org) that it uses to educate members and the public. Although it is going through an upgrade and extensive remodeling, the site discusses the group’s history, its purpose, the issues, and how enthusiasts can help support SDOHVC’s efforts to protect motorized access for the motorized recreationists. “We have used our website to inform folks of upcoming public meetings that pertain to motorized recreation, emergency announcements, or action alerts that need their attention and assist them in commenting on issues before local and state agencies.” The site also includes an events page--links to state and local clubs, national organizations, the Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management. There are also bios on all the members of the board of directors, and a list of committees of which they are members; pages that exhibit past newsletters; membership applications and membership information; a page identifying the organization’s business and club sponsors and a page of mapping information.

From its inception, SDOHVC has been a unifying force and has used tactics that have proven to unite, not divide. Such a strategy has proven to be successful and has gotten all sorts of divergent groups involved in protecting the off-road community of South Dakota.


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