Join, Or Die
Way back in 1754 inventor, author, founding father, and all-around smart guy Benjamin Franklin created the woodcut political cartoon that we've adapted for this month's Rant.
At the time, the 13 American colonies were under attack by the French, who bore down on them from Canada. It would have been easy for the French to pick off the colonies one by one had they failed to unite and fight as one. If the Americans hadn't united against the French, they never would have survived long enough to then give the British the boot during the American Revolution and ultimately create the United States of America.
What does this snippet of history have to do with off-roading? A lot! Think of all the rivalries underfoot in the off-road enthusiast community. Jeep vs. Toyota. Ford vs. Chevy. I-beams vs. A-arms. Solid front axle vs. IFS. Links vs. leaf springs. As humans and enthusiasts, we're drawn to competition, so rivalries are a natural result. The problem is that while we're busy competing against each other, our common enemies quietly gain ground and lock us out.
Something our enemies know is that the general public sees us as one big group. Obviously, John Q. Public knows the difference between a truck and a Jeep, a dirt bike and a quad. Mr. and Mrs. Public don't distinguish much further than this, though. We all get lumped together. Act like a jerk and we all get labeled as jerks. It's as simple as that.
What weapons do our enemies use against us? In addition to negative perceptions by the public, our enemies use the Endangered Species Act and the Wilderness Act.
When a plant or animal is placed on the Endangered Species list, its habitat is required to be protected. This means that if an endangered species is found to live in a certain area, that area must be protected. You know where this is going, right? Claims of endangered species habitat are an effective way to shut down land that was once available for off-roading. Even if it's eventually proven that an endangered species doesn't live in a given area, or that the area in question isn't critical habitat, that area will be shut down for eons while the studies and bureaucratic red tape are sorted out.
The Wilderness Act gives the U.S. Congress the power to set aside areas of land as federally-designated "Wilderness." Federally-designated Wilderness areas are open only for non-mechanized use. This means that unless you're hiking or horseback riding, you're not going in. Not even on a mountain bike. The Omnibus Wilderness bill, which was signed into law by President Obama, claimed 2 million (that's 2,000,000!) new acres of U.S. public lands and set them aside as Wilderness.
When the Endangered Species Act and the Wilderness Act were first written and signed into law, they were well-intentioned, and I dare say necessary. It honestly would be sad to lose beautifully natural areas, animals, and plants because of unchecked development and uncontrolled use. I believe that some places are appropriate for Wilderness designation. I also believe that appropriate places for Wilderness designation were set aside long ago, and that no new ones need to be added.
These days the Endangered Species Act and the Wilderness Act have become a way for power-hungry organizations to push other people around. It's no longer about a love of nature. It's about keeping you out.
What can we do? Unite! We're already united in our mindset. We need to carry that a step further and become united politically. If you're reading this and you're not a member of an off-road political organization, I challenge you to find one and join it. The Blue Ribbon Coalition, the California Off-Road Vehicle Organization (CORVA), the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA), the Access Army, the SEMA Action Network, and the California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs are a few such organizations. They represent a united front and are our best hope for fair treatment in the political arena. Many of these organizations ask for a membership fee, but it's not an expensive amount. For the price of a set of shock boots, you can be a part of saving our trails and OHV recreation areas for now and the future.
The political challenges we face are daunting, but times aren't hopeless. We have a choice: join or die. If we band together, we can keep areas open. Many might think it's impossible, but those are the same people who would've placed their bets on the French and the British back in the day.
This month, contributing editor Kevin Blumer is guest ranting, and you better listen. Times are going to get tough, you're going to have fewer areas to off-road in, and your off-road ride may be in jeopardy. I can guarantee you that we'll lose our off-road areas and possibly our rides if we don't stick together.
I was contacted by the EPA recently, and all I can say is that you better make sure your junk is emissions legal, and there's no funny business going on with your (registration) tags. The EPA has a list, they're checking it twice, and if you're a potential violator, they're not going to be nice.
Blue Ribbon Coalition
California association of 4 wheel drive clubs
Sema Action Network