REP challenges the Blue Ribbon Coalition

By JAMES MONTEITH, a REP member in Oregon

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: James delivered this statement at a press conference in Billings, Montana on August 9, 2002.


Good morning. My name is James Monteith. I am a Republican and a conservationist from Joseph, Oregon, just across the Snake River near Hells Canyon. I am the Northwest Field Representative of Republicans for Environmental Protection.

Today, we issue a challenge to the Blue Ribbon Coalition, headquartered in Pocatello.

The Blue Ribbon Coalition is peddling an unbalanced, extreme position on public lands access that is curtailing the very freedom they say they’re defending. The freedom to enjoy our public lands, our American heritage, is being diminished by the intrusive proliferation of motorized vehicles throughout the public domain, the lands that belong to every American citizen.

Many Americans are fed up – with the noise, trespassing, vandalism, pollution, diminished hunting opportunities, and loss of peace and quiet that the unfettered spread of off-road vehicles has brought to America’s wild places. It’s time to use common sense in managing motorized recreation on our public lands.

This is much more than calling on forest rangers to issue more citations to the “bad apples” — the lawbreakers who tear up trout streams, blitz through trail closures, and burden taxpayers with watershed restoration costs. We’re talking about something deeper — finding a true balance to ensure that one user group doesn’t usurp and dominate our nation’s outdoor heritage. We’re talking about respectful treatment for our wildest lands and waters, including monuments, conservation areas, and other special places — the kind of places that President Theodore Roosevelt counseled us a century ago to leave unmarred for future generations.

As conservationists, we recognize that the use of motorized vehicles on many of the lands and waters managed by state and federal agencies is appropriate and highly desired by many citizens. At the same time, as conservationists we know that the only places where American citizens can dependably enjoy a natural outdoor experience free of machines, whether they’re hunting, fishing, horseback riding or just walking, are on our public lands.

It is this issue of “balance” that all of us in the West deal with on a daily basis. Conservatives are especially sensitive to issues of freedom and responsibility. As Westerners, we have grown up with certain expectations about our freedom to responsibly use lands that belong to all American citizens. As conservatives, we are deeply concerned that the western world in which we were raised — a world where responsible people behaved as good neighbors and treated the property of others with respect — seems to be losing ground to an obnoxious, anything-goes, me-first culture. We see the depressing consequences in those places we cherish — eroding meadows scarred by tire tracks, silt-choked fishing creeks.

As a Westerner whose family roots go back for generations, I cherish the freedom to experience wild land in its untrammeled state. That’s the biggest reason why many of us love living in the West and couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But we have been losing that freedom over the past few decades.

There are two reasons for this.

First, for almost 25 years, the federal government embarked on a socialistic roadbuilding program that has cost current taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and left future taxpayers with an unfunded maintenance liability exceeding $8 billion.

Thousands and thousands of miles of roads, legal and illegal, cover National Forest and BLM lands like spider webs. These roads, many of them in substandard condition, have ruined the wild character of many public lands. I might add that many of these roads increase wildfire danger by creating too-easy access for fire-starters — ditzy campers, lost drivers, careless smokers, and dangerous arsonists.

Second, the successful evolution of “go-anywhere, anything goes” all-terrain vehicles has permitted a radical expansion of motorized vehicles deep into the backcountry, including easily damaged places where high-powered machines are just not appropriate. On top of that, federal land management agencies have failed to carry out President Nixon’s Executive Order requiring them to protect natural resources from ORV damage, and to minimize ORV conflicts with other, older uses of public lands.

The Blue Ribbon Coalition is responsible, in part, for the obnoxious spread of motorized vehicles and the associated resource damage and conflicts. Their financial backers include the same well-heeled special interests, lobbyists, and cartels that conservationists have been fighting since Theodore Roosevelt’s day.

We do not mind that the Coalition receives most of its funding from major corporations, including foreign corporations and the big extractive industries — that’s their business — but we do object to how those large corporations are using the Coalition to wreak havoc on the American landscape.

These special interests are enriching themselves by grabbing what doesn’t belong to them — our American heritage — and leaving the damage for present and future taxpayers to worry about.

The Blue Ribbon Coalition is their vehicle, as it were, for this tidy little scheme. It almost reminds me of the stories we’re reading these days on the business pages.

Apparently the Blue Ribbon Coalition leadership has no problem being used this way. But as taxpayers and citizens, we do have a problem with this state of affairs. It’s time for equity, balance, and common sense.

There are areas in our national forests and BLM lands where motorized recreation is appropriate. There is no shortage of access — thousands of miles of trails and millions of acres of lands are available for off-roaders to enjoy their vehicles. However, there are lands where motorized recreation is not appropriate — our crown jewel national parks, undeveloped forests and rangelands, including roadless areas, critical wildlife habitat and other sensitive sites.

Every American has access to our public lands. No one is “locked out,” as the Blue Ribbon Coalition’s spin machine claims. But there are some places where machine access is neither desirable nor appropriate. No sensible person demands that the Park Service build an escalator to the peaks of the Tetons. No sane person would stand for dirt bikes marring the serenity of Gettysburg.

For those American families who choose to teach their children about self-reliance and character-building by seeking non-motorized experiences on God’s natural landscapes, we need to protect our last quiet areas as classrooms, playgrounds and sanctuaries. These are the special places where Americans can enjoy the fullest measure of the America that our forefathers knew, and which has shaped our nation and its way of life. We need them more than ever before.

I’d like to end with an observation from TR himself, in 1916:

“The movement for the conservation of wildlife and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method.”

Thank you for your time.