Wharton: A motor enthusiast who likes the Feds
Bountiful • When the issue of Bureau of Land Management motorized recreation is discussed, many off-road enthusiasts view the federal agency in a negative light.
Think, for example, of dozens of angry ATV owners riding up State Street the past few legislative sessions demanding to "Take Back Utah" and criticizing mostly mythical or greatly exaggerated road closures or restrictions.
That's why it was refreshing to chat with Frank White, an avid off-road motorcycle racer, owner of ATK Motorcycles in Centerville and a member of the Utah BLM Resource Advisory Council. He actually thinks the agency and its state director, Juan Palma, are doing a good job trying to bring various users together to decide the best way to manage thousands of acres of public land.
"They are trying their best," said White, emphasizing that he is speaking for himself and not as an official representative of the council. "They get beat up way more than they deserve. They have to be good stewards of the land, but they have all these things coming at them. There are 70 lawsuits coming at them just in the state of Utah."
White thinks there are too many groups that include both wilderness-promoting environmentalists and federal-hating off-highway vehicle organizations more interested in perpetuating themselves than actually solving problems.
That said, White does not like the idea of the president being able to designate a large swath of land as a national monument such as Bill Clinton did when he created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. And he favors strong local input when decisions on how to manage public lands are being made.
How does he feel about the Utah Legislature's quest to transfer federal lands into state hands?
White thinks it's a matter of which agency can do a better job managing a particular area. With regards to OHV management, he said there are some places where perhaps it would make more sense to make a land trade to expand a state park for riding where in other areas the feds might do a better job.
He said some areas should be designated wilderness, though he doesn't understand why horses and not mountain bikes can be used in those areas. And he said he not only enjoys racing his off-road motorcycle but turning the engine off and going to a place where motors are not allowed.
One thing that bugs the motorcycle manufacturer is that off-road vehicle groups often don't get credit for trying to protect the environment and for promoting responsible riding practices.
He cites a 2012 effort where the Castle Country Off-Highway Vehicle Association, Southeastern Utah Off-Highway Vehicle Group, Sage Riders, San Rafael Back Country Horsemen, Scout groups, schools and dedicated hunters joined forces to maintain motorized trails, sign designated routes, improve trailheads, build kiosks and blocked off illegal user-created rails for reclamation. According to the BLM Price Field Office, which provided the above information, the groups donated 2,203 hours valued at $46,000.
In places where riders go off-trail and damage both the land and the reputation of all riders, White thinks "friends groups" of riders who use peer pressure to get all riders to stay on designated trails can be effective.
"To me, it's all about planning," said White.
In my case, I've always thought that moving federal lands to state management is too risky from a recreation standpoint. I can't understand how OHV and hunting organizations who support such an idea don't see that the state will certainly privatize and thus close to public use much of what is now open public land.
The idea of having user groups, environmentalists, hunters, anglers, ranchers and oil and gas interests sit down together with agency leaders in an effort to come up with plans to manage lands so the needs of all can be met holds great appeal.