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By: Robert Janis

Bureau of Land Management

A Q&A with Robert V. Abbey -- Director of the Bureau of Land Management

ATV recreationists are well familiar with the three letters BLM. It stands for the Bureau of Land Management, the federal government agency that has authority over millions of acres of land and decides where ATVers will and will not be riding on those lands. Because the BLM is so important to ATV recreation, we thought it would be appropriate to have a sit down with the director of the agency, Robert V. Abbey, to find out what the Bureau is doing that impacts ATV use.

Abbey began his career in natural resources with the Mississippi State Park Commission. He also served in a number of other federal positions prior to becoming Director of the Bureau of Land Management. These include being a natural resource researcher for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, Mississippi; assistant district manager in Yuma, Arizona; program analyst in the national budget office of the BLM in Washington, D.C.; district manager for the BLM’s Jackson, Mississippi office; and BLM Associate State Director in Colorado.

During his federal career he was the principal agency proponent for the Great Basin Restoration Initiative. During that time he testified before Congressional Committees and worked closely with the Director of the BLM as well as the Secretary of Interior to elevate the status and funding for restoration activities in the Great Basin. In addition, he sat on a number of committees in both the private and government sector. These included the Executive Committee for the Implementation of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act and the University of Nevada College of Agriculture Dean’s Advisory Board.

He was appointed to be Director of BLM in August, 2009.

ATVSource: How many acres do you have jurisdiction over?
Robert Abbey: The BLM manages more land – 256 million acres – than any other Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 western states, including Alaska. The Bureau, with a budget of about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources on public lands.

ATVSource: How much of that is for trail use?
Robert Abbey: About 243 million acres of BLM-managed land is available for some form of motorized use. Most of these areas limit motorized use to designated routes, which are categorized as roads, primitive roads, and trails. All roads and primitive roads are open to motor vehicle use, although some of these routes may have seasonal or other types of use restrictions designed to minimize user conflicts or protect sensitive resources. Many recreational OHV users find that primitive roads offer the best riding opportunities for motorcycle and ATV riders due to the undeveloped and challenging terrain. Some Field Offices also provide motorized trail opportunities specifically for ATVs and motorcycles, including courses designed for safely introducing children to the activity. As more travel management plans are completed each year, more of these types of primitive roads and trails are being designated. It is essential for ATV enthusiasts to be involved in the travel planning process and on-going management of the National System of Public Lands to ensure that, where appropriate, high-quality and sustainable OHV opportunities will be maintained.

ATVSource: How much of that is open to ATVs?
Robert Abbey: Though it varies by Field Office, travel management plan, and state law, ATVs are able to use any road, primitive road, and trail that have been designated as ‘open’ to that type of use. In some cases, a travel management plan may call for certain routes to be managed specifically for recreational ATV use. Currently, there are many thousands of miles of routes on public lands that have been designated as “open” to ATV use.

ATVSource: What are your plans for trail development for 2010?
Robert Abbey: As you are probably aware, the BLM has been conducting travel management planning for several years, and through this process, we are continually working to identify areas that are appropriate for ATV use. At any one time, Field Offices managed under one of the twelve BLM State Offices are likely in the midst of a planning initiative, whether it is an Environmental Assessment for a wildlife water guzzler, travel management plan, or a revised Resource Management Plan (RMP). The RMP is a living document that generally undergoes revision every 15 to 20 years, and the opportunity for public input is a key component of every planning project. Each Field Office maintains a NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) page on their website or in their public rooms, and current planning activities can be viewed there. Find more information at HYPERLINK "www.blm.gov" and contact the project lead to learn how you can become involved in the BLM’s planning processes throughout the country

ATVSource: What is your policy toward opening up land for ATV recreation?
Robert Abbey: The BLM’s travel management policy has essentially involved “mapping the West.” Through this public process each Field Office determines which routes and areas are appropriate for motor vehicle access, including OHV recreation. The travel management planning process ensures that the BLM is balancing the uses of public lands to provide appropriate access while conserving natural and cultural resources. Recreational OHV enthusiasts have an opportunity to help determine which areas are available for OHV recreation by becoming involved in the Field Office travel management planning process.

ATVSource: Off-road enthusiasts are concerned about losing the land they now have for ATV recreation. What is your policy concerning trail closings? Are there plans to review the current policy?
Robert Abbey: I have gone on record stating that a burgeoning use of off-road vehicles on public lands is one of the greatest challenges facing our land managers today– it’s a fact. We are seeing impacts to important wildlife habitat, riparian areas, and cultural sites because of irresponsible use by an increasing number of ORV enthusiasts. While concerned about this, I am cognizant of the need to provide for appropriate and adequate motorized access on public lands so that people can continue to travel the back country as part of their recreation experience. I feel strongly that we can work collaboratively to find a balance between recreational demands on the public lands, including ATV use, and protecting natural and cultural resources. Our current travel management policy is an important tool to achieving balance by encouraging good rider etiquette that will help preserve the quality and caliber of riding that you now enjoy. Remember though, others enjoy these areas too and measures must be taken to minimize conflicts with other users and to protect sensitive resources. I encourage OHV enthusiasts to get involved and assist the BLM, not only with travel planning but also with peer education and trail maintenance, which facilitates the day-to-day management of OHV opportunities. This will help ensure that OHV enthusiasts are active partners not only in managing high-quality recreation opportunities but also in cooperatively conserving sensitive resources.

ATVSource: What new policies are being considered pertaining to wilderness study areas, roadless area management and national landscape conservation?
Robert Abbey: The BLM recently issued Instruction Memorandum No. 2009-215, Planning for Special Designations within the National System of Public Lands. Through this memorandum, the BLM clarifies its land use planning policy for tracts of public land dedicated to specific uses designated by acts of Congress or presidential proclamations issued under the Antiquities Act. (see HYPERLINK)

ATVSource: What is the future of development and expansion of trails on lands under your jurisdiction?
Robert Abbey: Managing the National System of Public Lands for multiple uses is not easy by any means. Without a doubt, this is made more difficult by those who recreate on public lands and appear to have a total disregard for the impact their actions cause. We support opportunities to use public lands for recreational pursuits and in a manner that helps sustain communities and local economies. Most of us want the BLM to place as much value on our Nation’s wilderness and cultural resources as we do on grazing or mineral exploration and development. I believe we can achieve our common goals and better serve the public by working together while we continue our discussion on issues where we might disagree.

ATVSource: Do you work with local off-road groups concerning trail development, maintenance, and closings? If so, explain how?
Robert Abbey: Yes, we are pleased to work with volunteers to help manage the National System of Public Lands. In part this is because the BLM can’t manage public lands by itself, nor should it. More importantly, however, is that partnerships help the BLM do a much better and more effective job than could be done in isolation. Thus most, if not all, of the BLM Field Offices depend upon partnerships with their active publics, including OHV and conservation interest groups, to plan and coordinate trail projects on public lands. Many of these projects and events take place during National Trails Day or National Public Lands Day, but others occur throughout the field season when volunteer forces are more readily available. Stakeholder stewardship and accountability are necessary for America’s public lands and vital to their survival as the natural resource we all know and love.

ATVSource: Do you offer grants to local clubs to help them with trail development and expansion? If so, explain the programs?
Robert Abbey: The Departmental Partnership and Cooperation Team revised the Departmental manual in January 2008. As a result, the BLM and other DOI bureaus may now use grants.gov for giving money to partner groups without competition (sole source). If the BLM has any active grant opportunities, they will be listed under the Department of the Interior. To learn more, go to HYPERLINK "http://www.grants.gov"http://www.grants.gov.

ATVSource: There are many groups that offer grant programs to help manage OHV use like Yamaha and Polaris. Do you have some kind of program that takes advantage of grant programs like this or do you educate your people in methods to take advantage of these programs?
Robert Abbey: The BLM cannot generally apply for grants, but we work closely with our public lands user groups, who can and often do apply. In all cases, when the BLM is slated to benefit from any kind of donation of goods or money, the bureau must follow the Departmental Donations Policy, which can be found in Departmental Manual at HYPERLINK "http://elips.doi.gov/app_DM/act_getfiles.cfm?relnum=3772". The BLM donation guidelines in part say grants are considered donations, and applying for grants is considered a solicitation. Authorized BLM employees are permitted to solicit only for competitively awarded grants from nonprofit charitable foundations and governmental entities that award grants directly to the BLM. All other donation solicitation activities require explicit written permission as described in the Departmental Manual. ATV and trail enthusiasts of all interests are encouraged to contact their local Field Office’s Outdoor Recreation Planner for more information.

ATVSource: Do you have volunteer programs to assist in providing more resources for the management and maintenance of trails?
Robert Abbey: Yes, we do! BLM volunteers across the country are an extension of our Field Office staff. At any given time but especially during the “field season”—generally April through September—volunteers assist BLM staff in accomplishing important projects ranging from cultural resource audits to trail maintenance. The public can learn more at www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/res/Volunteer.html and by contacting the BLM Volunteer Coordinator at the local Field Office.

ATVSource: How much of your budget is committed to management of OHV recreation?
Robert Abbey: Activities involving OHV recreation are managed under the BLM’s Recreation Resource Management Program and, for the most part, are not separately tracked or reported. Recreation and Visitor Services Program funding for Fiscal Year 2009 totaled about $45.9 million; the President’s budget has requested $49.5 million for Fiscal Year 2010. In accordance with the Secretary’s priorities, $2.5 million of the 2010 funds are targeted for introducing children and youth to natural resource management, with the goal of transforming young users of public lands into those who care for those lands and are as passionate about them as you and me.


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