Friday, May 3, 2013

Discrimination Against Mechanized Recreation

Quietly enjoying quiet backcountry motorized recreation in my Jeep . . .
. . . and bothering nobody else in the process!

I recently read a terrific article written by Amy Granat, Managing Director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association which was published in the latest CORVA Off-Roaders In Action Newsletter (May 2013 issue).  I wanted to share it here because she makes some terrific points about an irritating issue within land management circles, and she presents it with beautiful eloquence:

No More Quiet Recreation
By Amy Granat, CORVA Managing Director

It is an insidious term, “Quiet Recreation”. Upon first hearing it, one could imagine a pastoral setting, with birds chirping and the sound of wind rustling through the trees. Oftentimes I have enjoyed the sounds of nature while driving my 4WD through a forest, marveling at the myriad of noises one can hear while traveling down a road, believing myself engaging in my own special form of peace and solitude.

But “Quiet Recreation” has quite a different meaning when it comes to land use planning efforts by federal agencies. As little as 10 years ago, this terminology did not exist. There was an understanding among land managers that public land should be dedicated to a myriad of uses, and some of those uses involved machinery of different kinds. Whether a chainsaw, a 4WD vehicle or a dirt bike, it was understood that public land was working land. After all, mining and timber harvesting was part of the reason public land was codified; to make sure the benefits from public land would be available to all Americans.

“Quiet Recreation” has become common terminology among land use managers because anti-access groups have introduced the phenomena, and it has spread like wildfire, because it is hard to respond to this seemingly benign request.

To say motorized recreation advocates want “Noisy Recreation” makes us sound callous and uncaring about the spectacular sceneries we find on public land. The call for “Quiet Recreation” has also become a subtle way to demean or degrade any type of motorized access. At its very core is a strong reek of discrimination against the use of motorized vehicles on public land. And with the mask of civility removed, it becomes clear that activities using motorized and mechanized equipment are being reduced to second-class citizens in the eyes of public land managers.


When the Wilderness Act of 1964 was passed, one of the principles was the creation of areas where no mechanized/motorized equipment or vehicles would be allowed to operate. The premise behind that injunction is understandable to most, and the original estimate of 10 million acres throughout the United States suitable for this designation, fairly reasonable. The added reality that these areas would also be made inaccessible to anyone unable to withstand strenuous hikes seemed a small price to pay to protect the very small percentage of public land perceived eligible as Wilderness.

Fast forward almost 50 years, and we find that California alone is home to 14.1 million acres of Wilderness, with unceasing calls for more and more designations. Along with Wilderness Study Areas that also abound in all our forests and BLM lands, these areas are the epitome of quiet. As no mechanized or motorized activity is allowed at all in either type of Wilderness, anyone seeking refuge from noise can easily find it in these areas that otherwise serve as a barren wasteland for all activities.

With all other motorized, mining, hunting with game carts and mountain bike riding confined to non-Wilderness or Wilderness Study Area lands, the vast number of people who engage in these activities find ourselves sharing a smaller and smaller percentage of public land. But to add insult to injury, we now find ourselves the target of further assaults by being targeted by calls for “Quiet Recreation.” It is defined by its advocates solely as human-powered recreation, and in its essence precludes motorized vehicles, mountain bikes and equestrian activity. Anti-access groups speak of this concept in glowing terms, referencing respite from urban landscapes and silence to relieve the stress of everyday life. But they completely overlook the fact that they have 14.1 million acres of respite and silence built into Wilderness areas spread throughout the State of California, with the rest of humanity trying to coexist in whatever land is leftover.

If we let this terminology pass without attacking it every time we come face to face with this discrimination, we stand a chance to lose what little area we have left. But more than that, we will be conceding the high ground; we will be conceding in some subconscious way that our chosen form of recreation is less valuable, less important, or less vital than “Quiet Recreation”.

I don’t buy it, I don’t agree with that assessment. Those of us in the motorized community have occasionally exhibited a form of collective guilt, because we have been beaten down so many times by accusations and innuendo in land use plans. I now give all of you permission to shed those erroneous illusions, to break out of your downtrodden psyches to proclaim loud and clear that motorized recreation is quiet recreation; that motorized recreation is going to stay on public land through the force of our efforts. Anyone who tries to influence public policy with calls for more barren landscapes, sans the energy of an engine should be quickly and decisively directed to the nearest Wilderness Area.

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