Endangered Species Act
What It Is: The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) is designed to protect threatened and endangered species, and the habitats in which they are found. It applies to federal, state and private lands. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) maintains a list of about 1,890 total (foreign and domestic species on the "threatened" and "endangered" lists, which includes birds, insects, fish, reptiles, mammals, crustaceans, flowers, grasses, and trees. Given its successes and failures over the past 36 years, there have been widespread calls to review and revise the ESA to foster more cooperative efforts and incentive programs between the government, private landowners, and conservation organizations.
How It Affects You: The ESA has been cited as a reason for closures or restrictions of numerous areas formerly open to OHV access. One notable example has occurred in recent years at Algondones (Glamis) Dunes in Southern California, where motorized access has been restricted to designated areas to preserve habitat for Peirson's milk vetch, an endangered plant species.
Recent Legislation: The most recent efforts to revise the ESA died in 2006. The legislation would have overhauled the existing process for designating endangered species by replacing existing "critical habitat" requirements-one of the more contentious areas of the existing law and a frequent source of lawsuits-with "recovery habitats." The bill also called for compensating private property owners for land-use restrictions due to the presence on private property of an endangered species.
Popular with wheelers, fishermen, equestrians, and environmentalists alike, the Outer Bank
Clean Water Act
What It Is: The Clean Water Act of 1972 (CWA) is the baseline federal law used to regulate and control pollution of permanent bodies of water such as oceans, rivers, and lakes. The Act establishes a permit system under the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state environmental agencies to regulate discharges of pollutants by various sources such as mining and energy companies, agribusiness, and certain government agencies and/or facilities. The CWA also authorizes states to establish water-quality standards based on specific use (agriculture, recreation, aquaculture, etc.). Later legislation expanded the jurisdiction of the act to include storm water runoff and municipal sewage treatment facilities. Recent Supreme Court decisions have narrowed the scope of the CWA to include only navigable and/or interstate bodies of water, as opposed to isolated ponds and wetlands.
How It Affects You: The Clean Water Act has been used as a litigation tool to limit the activity of off-highway vehicles on public lands containing, or adjacent to, permanent bodies of water. In 2009, an environmental group in North Carolina threatened to sue the U.S. Forest Service under the Clean Water Act, claiming that sediment run-off from OHV trails in the Upper Tellico complex was fouling nearby trout streams in violation of the Act. The Forest Service, which had already commissioned trail maintenance and repair studies of the area, decided to close down the complex permanently before the suit was filed.
Recent Legislation: The Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009 (S. 787) seeks to expand the jurisdiction of the CWA to include seasonal, non-navigable and/or isolated intrastate waterways such as mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, and playa lakes. The bill was reported out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year, but had not been scheduled for a vote by the full Senate as of press time.