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By: Robert Janis

Utah Shared Access Alliance

Securing Access Is Sole Purpose of Utah Shared Access Alliance

Continued from page 1...

Major Obstacles to Overcome

According to Swenson, one of the biggest obstacles for USA-ALL in performing its work is the “poor representation in Congress and the poor administration of the federal agencies,” he said. “The lack of active involvement by Congress on these issues has resulted in agencies running amuck.

“As a non-profit organization we can’t support a candidate or a party, but we can educate our representatives about what they do or don’t do and then report back to their constituents and allow the constituents to decide if they are worth keeping or not keeping,” said Swenson. “So we have become more involved in political issues without becoming a political organization.”

Another distraction is the fact that by concentrating too much available resources on symptoms of broken systems, they miss the overall problem. “Many of us want to file, say, a law suit over a closed road or get involved in a particular trail, and that just doesn’t work,” Swenson explained. “That’s like going to a doctor because you have a headache and having him give you a Tylenol. You’re treating the symptoms of a problem but you are not treating the real problem.

“The real problem has to do with public land policy,” continued Swenson. “And the only way to change that is to get back to Washington, D.C. and convince Congress that laws need to be revised, agencies cleaned up, and there needs to be greater oversight on key issues. We need government to work for the people, not against us. Many agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have bad policy, stemming from bad laws on the books. These laws are often interpreted by agencies in such a way that it is harmful to the public and to motorized recreation. That is our challenge. We are a little organization in Utah, and we don’t have the clout or the money to go to Washington, D.C. and do the intense lobbying or the other intense work that is needed to make those changes. We are concentrating on Utah and leveraging the power we have in the state to affect things in Washington, D.C., but we don’t get the funding necessary to make a major impact.”

Another major problem is contending with groups that lobby for their own agenda to the detriment of the motorized recreationists. For example, the Outdoor Retailers Association holds an expo in Utah twice a year. Every year the group tries to pressure the governor to close land and designate it as wilderness area, and they press the issue by threatening to take their expo to another state. They say that would cause the Salt Lake City area to lose $50 million a year. According to Swenson, the Utah Department of Natural Resources did a study in 1990 and USA-ALL has updated it which shows that the tax revenue alone generated by motorized recreationists’ use of public lands in Utah exceeds the $50 million that the Outdoor Retailers Association says its expo provides the state.

Also, Swenson complains that his group also has to contend with violations of federal law when federal agencies study the possibility of closing public land. We all know that these agencies are obligated to do an environmental impact study when they make planning decisions concerning public lands and they do this. However, they are also obligated to do socio-economic impact studies, too, and they don’t. “Their land management decisions have caused a lot of businesses to go out of business,” complained Swenson.

Swenson said that USA-ALL has checked into the possibility of lawsuits to force the federal agencies to do socio-economic impact studies, but he said it is a gray area. “Our attorney has advised us that we could probably sue, but we wouldn’t win,” said Swenson.

Working the state

According to Swenson, in the state of Utah, the Bureau of Land Management manages about 22 million acres of public land and the U.S. Forest Service manages about 9 million acres. “That sounds like quite a bit of land,” said Swenson. “But no one really knows for sure how much is open to motorized recreation. People who visit from other states think Utah is heaven on Earth as far as access is concerned. Yet, we have seen a loss of land.”

The group deals extensively with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service, but Swenson admits that the results have not been good. “We have had some good contacts with the BLM and the Forest Service, and we do get some things done with them. But, by and large, working with the local federal agencies has not been productive. The status quo is that they continue to close access.”

There have been some successes concerning USA-ALL’s struggles with BLM and the Forest Service. For example, the group has experienced some victories in the Factory Butte area of Utah. “We’ve been engaged for a number of years in the Factory Butte area, a beautiful piece of land created by Mother Nature for motorized recreation. It was wrongfully closed under an emergency closure order. So USA-ALL engaged in a lawsuit. We worked a full year trying to prevent the closure, and we thought we had been successful. Suddenly, a rare and endangered cactus was discovered to be widespread throughout the disputed area. With the stroke of a pen hundreds of thousands of acres previously open were now completely closed. We immediately filed suit with several local clubs and counties, and we were able to convince the BLM to lift the closure and open up thousands of more acres to motorized recreation.”

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