February 17, 2009

OHV enthusiasts rally at the Capitol

Emery County Progress

More than 400 off-road-vehicle enthusiasts gathered on the steps of the Utah Capitol Feb. 6 in support of the state's stance on the multiple use of public lands - both state and federal - within its boundaries.

"This shows a great grass-roots effort," Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert said of the gathering. "Let your voice be heard. Energize coalitions, and understand the policies governing the land. We are supportive of public use, a balanced use, including agriculture, natural resources and recreation. No one should be excluded."

Herbert said, people opposed to multiple use are demanding good science be used in determining the state's policy on land use. "Sound science counts in my opinion," he said. "And this science shows that we can be good stewards and still use the public lands." Herbert said there is a high demand for off-road-vehicle use but that access is shrinking.

"We have got to find a way to work with the new administration," he said. "United voices can make things happen. We have to find solutions and make multiple use a win-win situation. We want to be engaged in the process."

Most of those attending the rally were supportive of off-road recreation in the state. One enthusiast suggested that if the governor wanted to be involved in the process maybe he should take a trail ride with someone from the assembled group rather than with members of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

SUWA supports initiatives to permanently protect the Colorado Plateau wild places advocating wilderness preservation. They claim to be the only independent organization working full-time to defend America's redrock wilderness from oil and gas development, unnecessary road construction, rampant off-road vehicle use and other threats to Utah's wilderness-quality lands.

Several of the elected officials present at the rally spoke about the actions of Tim DeChristopher, the University of Utah student who monkey-wrenched the BLMs Dec. 19 oil-and-gas-lease auction. The student was quoted as saying he never had any intention to pay the lease money and encouraged civil disobedience by other environmental activists to further their cause.

DeChristopher's actions, they said, have had a negative affect on Utah's schools and health departments.

"This (leasing) is an important source of money for our kids," said Dennis Stowell, Sen-R, District 28. "We need leases, property access and a good multi-use land policy to make this work."

A letter drafted to the governor's office from the county commissioners in San Juan County was read calling for enforcing the rules of law when dealing with DeChristopher.

Bradley Last, Rep-R, District 71, told the group that lease money does impact education in Utah and that nobody loves Utah's public lands like Utahns. "We know the land, and we will take care of it so that we all can use it in the future," he said.

Officials from Kane County told the group they will continue their RS2477 road identification fight that benefits all Utahns concerning road ownership across federal lands.

David Clark, Rep-R, District 74, said he supports Kane County officials and that legislators need to plan the pathway to turn things around for the state's multiple use land policy.

"When rights are taken away, it impacts everyone," he said.

Kevin VanTassell, Sen-R, District 26, told the group the state receives $.51 per acre from the federal government to rent the federal lands in Utah. He said access to the state's school trust lands is crucial.

"If we can't access our lands and develop the resources there, our education budgets will be impacted negatively," he stated.

Ralph Okerlund, Sen-R, District 24, said Utahns can't speculate on the future.

"We need to ensure our future and that comes from having access to federal lands and responsibly developing the resources found there," said Okerlund.

Karl Malone, former Utah Jazz player, made a surprise appearance at the rally, and he received cheers when he showed his support for land use.

"No way will they kick us off what we own," Malone said. He also promised all the support he could give.

"The state's multi-use vision is a three-legged stool," Herbert said, speaking of using the land in Utah to support agriculture, natural resources and recreation.

"A united voice can make things happen so that solutions can be found."

Mike Noel, state representative from District 72 that represents Kane County, one of the areas that has been spearheading RS-2477 right-of-way fights was one of the leading speakers at the rally along with Mike Swenson from USA-ALL. He suggested that maybe the rural parts of the state need to go back to the 1970-80s in combating what has been going on with road closures.

"We have the right to these lands and we shouldn't be shut out of them," he stated. "In fact I am right now proclaiming that this is the beginning of Sagebrush Rebellion number two in Utah."

The Sagebrush Rebellion was a political movement that had its roots in the 1960s and continued up through the 1990s when interests for open land openly fought with environmentalists and government control of federal land.

A number of people from Eastern Utah attended the rally, with signs and calls for keeping multiple use lands, multiple use.

This year's rally was a far cry from the one USA-ALL tried to orchestrate last year when only about 25 people showed up. Riding and land use clubs from all over the state were represented at the rally.