SEMA Automotive Hobby Information - Can They Close Us Down?Posted in How To on December 1, 2010
The joys of off-roading include opportunities to commune with nature and bond with friends and family. Off-road clubs host clean-ups and help maintain existing trail systems, and the economies of many local communities depend on off-road activities. Despite the efforts by 4x4 recreationalists to responsibly access and use public lands, encountering a "road closed" sign is happening more and more around the country.
Can they close us down? Yes, but only if we let them. We are again at an election crossroads in which many voters are seeking "change." That's what this issue of 4 WHEEL DRIVE & SPORT UTILITY MAGAZINE is about - an opportunity to consider how actions being taken by federal and state lawmakers affect you, the 4x4 enthusiast. The need for the enthusiast community to stay informed and become involved is greater than ever. From equipment standards to "Wilderness" designations, the government is making decisions about your current and future cars, trucks, and 4x4s.
This topic is not limited to Washington. While the federal government issues national rules dictating vehicle safety and emissions equipment, most other issues are handled at the state and local levels. From suspension and vehicle height to inspection/maintenance, your 4x4 is subject to decisions made by state and local officials. States are seeking new avenues for generating revenue and new ways of dictating what you can and cannot do with your vehicles.
The future of our hobby depends on you. The ballot box is one venue for making your views known. We also urge you to work collectively with your fellow enthusiasts. How? Join the SEMA Action Network (SAN). The SAN is a partnership between enthusiasts, car clubs, and members of the specialty auto parts industry in the United States and Canada who have pledged to join forces in support of legislative solutions for the auto hobby. It's free to join and the SAN keeps you informed about pending legislation and regulations - both good and bad - that will affect your state or the entire country. It also provides you with action alerts, speaking points, lawmaker contact information if you want to support or oppose a bill, and the tools and information necessary for hobbyists to protect their passion.
The SAN has a professional government affairs staff in Washington, D.C., that works in all 50 states and at the federal level. Also in place is a full-time research staff that monitors every bill introduced in every state. In its 13-year history, the effect of the SAN on shaping government policy has been enormous. You can add your voice and vote to the fight by joining the SAN.
SEMA Action Network
(202) 783-6007 (ext. 39)
How Government "Wilderness" Designations Impact Off-Roaders
Road closures and other threats to off-highway-vehicle (OHV) access typically take form in federal legislation passed by the U.S. Congress or regulations issued by the U.S. Forest Service or U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The most onerous threat is when land is designated as "Wilderness." This is the strictest form of public land management because nearly all forms of non-pedestrian recreation are illegal. No mechanized equipment is allowed, and trails are limited to people who travel by foot or horseback. For everyone else, you gaze at the Wilderness from afar.
Wilderness does serve an important environmental purpose: protecting plants and animals and America's natural heritage. The question is the amount of land that needs such a restrictive designation and whether it is possible to permit some motorized activities on portions of the land. When Congress enacted the Wilderness Act in 1964, it set aside 9-million acres of land. There are now about 110-million acres and Congress may soon add another 20 or 30 million acres.
Only Congress can designate Wilderness by enacting legislation into law. There are some compromise OHV-friendly solutions when considering such bills. One is to "cherry-stem" existing roads and trails so they do not receive the designation, thereby permitting travel in a Wilderness area. Another is creating a "backcountry" designation that would permit motorized activity on certain lands while simultaneously protecting the environment.
In recent years, the anti-OHV lobby has pursued scores of Wilderness bills in an effort to lock-up as much land as possible. When these bills are rushed through Congress, however, there is little opportunity to cherry-stem existing roads and trails. In fact, the Wilderness designation is often an intentional means to force responsible OHV recreationalists off public land.
In 2009, Congress combined more than 160 separate Wilderness measures into one gigantic bill called the Omnibus Public Land Management Act. The law created nearly 2.2-million acres of new Wilderness in nine states, including areas in and around Joshua Tree National Park and the Eastern Sierras in California, Owyhee-Bruneau Canyonlands in Idaho, Mt. Hood in Oregon, Zion National Park in Utah, and the Sabinoso Wilderness in New Mexico. The OHV community is still identifying roads and trails that were swept-up in the closures, for example, the Mt. Canaan Trail in Utah.
More threats are on the horizon. The current Congress is considering dozens of other Wilderness measures which, if combined into a single bill, could encompass as much as 25 or 30 million acres of land across the country! Scores of popular OHV trails could be closed.
Most of the potential Wilderness subject to legislation has already been set aside by Congress as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs). WSAs are millions of acres of federal lands that generally retain a primeval character, which may make them eligible for a future Wilderness designation, and the federal agencies manage them accordingly. It is important to note that Congress will "release" WSAs that do not meet the Wilderness criteria. In fact, many WSAs have roads, trails, and other evidence of human activities which should nullify that particular area as Wilderness.
Solutions For Maintaining OHV Access
Preserving America's natural heritage for future generations is vitally important and can be accomplished through managed care of the nation's public lands in a manner that balances protection and responsible recreational opportunities.
Some means by which government and users can accomplish this goal are:
• OHV policies that recognize the importance of vehicle-oriented recreation: Increased OHV use in recent years has provided the American public with the ability to enjoy public lands in record numbers.
• Case-by-case reviews of all WSAs to determine an appropriate designation that has widespread local community support. Decisions must be based, in part, on an inventory of all developments within the WSA, including roads, trails, buildings, etc., to determine whether that area meets the Wilderness criteria.
• "Cherry-stemming" existing roads/trails, a process by which they are excluded from the Wilderness area and thereby can remain open to recreation.
• Creating a new designation called "backcountry" to supplement the Wilderness designation. Backcountry would facilitate motorized recreation while still protecting the land. The designation would expand access and recreation opportunities to a large percentage of Americans who are not able to visit Wilderness areas, including the very young, elderly, and physically challenged.
• Relying on broad national guidelines combined with local management decision-making: It is important that local officials have authority to work with the public and state, federal, and tribal leaders to make appropriate decisions on OHV access.
• Involving the public in decision-making: government agencies should be required to seek the active participation of the public in the process of designating OHV access.
• Setting flexible timetables for various designations (Wilderness, OHV-use policy, etc.): The designation process is complex and may vary from forest to forest, or other federal land area. While there may be a uniform approach, the specifics must be dealt with at the local level according to the unique circumstances of each land area.
• Incorporating certain "user-created" routes: By default, the OHV designation process places the burden on the OHV recreational community to identify routes that were created in recent years that have not yet been inventoried by the USFS or BLM ("user-created" routes). Many of these routes came into existence during "open" management and serve a legitimate need and purpose, and do not pose an environmental threat. In some cases, these un-inventoried routes may even be more environmentally friendly and provide a better overall access solution than their inventoried counterparts.
• Setting defined vehicle classes and use authorizations: Vehicle classes need to be defined at the federal level so there is uniform application across the country when it comes to planning and mapping of roads, trails, etc.
Lobby For The Hobby! How To Get Involved
Our greatest tool in making a difference is our voice. By speaking out on issues that concern the automotive hobby, contacting our representatives, and working constructively with government officials, we have the power to protect our passion and keep it safe for future generations of auto and 4x4 hobbyists and enthusiasts. When legislatures are out of session, representatives are in their home districts and typically have more time to meet casually with their constituents. They are also planning for the next legislative session and deciding which bills to introduce. Contacting them now can have a tremendous influence by raising their awareness of issues that could affect our hobby during the next session. That is what makes right now the perfect time to get involved and build relationships with your legislators, so hit the gas and keep your foot down!
Here are 10 tips you can use when contacting your representatives:
1. Develop And Maintain Relationships With Your Legislators And Their Staff
Make contact and develop productive relationships with individual legislators. It is the most effective form of grassroots lobbying. It's also important to develop a relationship with their staff who monitor ongoing legislative and community initiatives.
2. Educate Legislators About Our Hobby And Our Issues
Educate your legislator about the hobby and emphasize the positive impact it has on the community.
3. Maintain A Positive Attitude
Develop a positive relationship with your legislator. The next time an enthusiast-related issue comes up, that same legislator may be needed to support your cause.
4. Stay Informed
Keep up-to-date on the legislative issues that affect the hobby in your state. Share this information with fellow enthusiasts.
5. Get Involved In The Community
Join with other community groups to build positive exposure. Holding charity runs and fundraisers provide a great opportunity to show local residents and politicians that auto clubs are a positive community force.
6. Build Relationships With The Local Media
Contact local newspapers and radio/TV stations to publicize car shows, charity events, etc.
7. Invite Officials To Participate In Your Events
Give legislators a platform to reach an audience of constituents.
8. Build An Automotive Coalition
Create coalitions to add strength in numbers and ensure that all vehicle enthusiasts are represented. Actively participating in regional and statewide councils will develop a unified message to lawmakers. These types of pro-hobbyist groups can be an influential political force.
9. Spread The Word
Take this information to your next club meeting or cruise night or post it on your online forums. Share this information with other enthusiasts who are willing to help lobby for the hobby.
10. Register To Vote
Exercise your right to support pro-hobby candidates. Constituents are an elected official's No. 1 priority. Without you and your vote of support, they would not be in office, so make sure you're registered and get out and vote.
The Congressional Automotive
Performance And Motorsports Caucus
For the past 14 years, a coalition of lawmakers who support the specialty aftermarket and recognize our industry's positive economic impact has been growing on Capitol Hill. The Congressional Automotive Performance and Motorsports Caucus is now nearing 100 members and pays tribute to America's ever growing love affair with cars, trucks, 4x4s, and motorsports.
The Caucus also helps in the development of lasting working relationships with U.S. representatives and senators who share a love for the automobile and are working to promote the growth and advancement of the auto hobby. In Washington, SEMA works in partnership with Caucus members to amplify the message among national policy-makers that the automotive performance industry is a vital engine in today's economy, employing more than a million Americans and generating $32 billion in sales annually.
A complete list of legislators who have publicly shown their appreciation for our hobby can be viewed at www.4wdsu.com.
Rep. Zach Wamp (R-TN)
"I call federal legislating 'a full-body contact sport.' What I mean is that you must be face to face with decision-makers and, to put it in SEMA terms, 'the squeaky wheel gets the grease.' You must be active and aggressive and turn people into a resource. Everyone loves cars, so make sure the Congress knows what you stand for and what you would like to have happen. If you demonstrate that a lot of people agree with your positions, Congress will respond."
Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA)
"I enjoy motorsports and high-performance vehicles. I want to do what I can to support the growing automotive performance and motorsports industry, which has many members in my district."
Sen. John Tester (D-MT)
"Whether it's fixing the clutch on my tractor or working to improve local schools or going to the Senate to help repair the energy deregulation that hurt Montana consumers, workers and businesses, I do my best work with a little grease and dirt under my fingernails."
"Car guys have every bit as much of a right to make their voices heard as the special interests and their lobbyists."
Rep. George Radanovich (R-CA)
"Automotive recreation has always been something I have enjoyed. Growing up in a small town near the mountains, [I have found that] there is always plenty of fun to be had in a truck off-road. I would love a Jeep Wrangler and the time to drive it around the ranch."
WILDERNESS BILLS PENDING IN CONGRESS
The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (H.R. 980) invents the term "Northern Rockies Bioregion" and then uses it as the reason to outlaw any motorized activity on nearly 24 million acres of land in five States (Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming) using the Wilderness designation. If enacted, the legislation could be cited in the future as a precedent for creating other "bioregions" around the nation. A House Subcommittee held a hearing in 2009 during which opponents criticized the bill as overly broad in scope and lacking consensus support at both the local and national levels. Concerns were also raised by officials from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that the bill conflicts with ongoing efforts to develop land management regulations in the affected areas and presents serious conflicts with public use of the land. The bill was introduced by a lawmaker from New York and most of its 75 cosponsors represent areas east of the Mississippi River.
More than one-sixth of Utah could be off-limits to motorized recreation if Congress approves H.R. 1925, America's Red Rock Wilderness Act of 2009. The bill would designate 9.4-million acres of land in Utah as Wilderness. Most of the 168 cosponsors of the legislation represent areas east of the Rockies. At a House Subcommittee hearing in October 2009, opposition to the bill was voiced from local residents and lawmakers representing the state. Concerns were also raised by the BLM, which cautioned that current off-highway vehicle areas would be closed. The BLM manages all of the land subject to closure. The agency has not yet completed mapping or an analysis of each area to be designated as Wilderness, which would allow the BLM to make informed recommendations on Wilderness designations.
• Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (S. 3294) - 330,000 acres of land in Idaho
• Colorado Wilderness Act (H.R. 4289) - 34 areas totaling 850,000 acres in Colorado
• San Juan Mountains Wilderness Act (H.R. 3914; S. 2762) - 44,000 acres in southwestern Colorado
• Hidden Gems Wilderness - a soon to be introduced bill to set aside 3.5 million acres in Colorado
• Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act (S. 1689) - 272,000 acres in New Mexico
• Cerro Del Yuta Wilderness and Rio San Antonio Wilderness (S. 874) - 236,000 acres near Taos, New Mexico
• California Desert Protection Act (S.2921) - to establish Wilderness and OHV recreation areas in Southern California (unspecified acreage)
• Forest Jobs and Recreation Act (S. 1470) - set aside 600,000 acres while protecting timber harvesting in Montana
• Devil's Staircase Wilderness Act (S. 1272; HR 2888) - 30,000 acres in Oregon
• Tony Dean Cheyenne River Valley Conservation Act (S. 3310) - 50,000 acres in South Dakota
• Tennessee Wilderness Act (S. 3470) - 20,000 acres near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee
State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus
State legislators around the country with a common goal to support the motor vehicle hobby have joined the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus. Celebrating its 5-year anniversary, the Caucus is a bipartisan group of state lawmakers whose common thread is a love and appreciation for automobiles. The Caucus is helping to raise the motor vehicle hobby's profile in the state legislatures and in the eyes of the public. Working in state capitals, many of these legislators have sought to preserve and protect the hobby by seeking the amendment of existing motor vehicle statutes and creating new programs to safeguard and expand the hobby.
Over the past several years, their work has brought a series of significant legislative accomplishments for the vehicle enthusiast community on issues ranging from equipment standards to registration classifications, and from emissions test exemptions to hobbyist rights. By joining the Caucus, these legislators have demonstrated their commitment to upholding the rights of vehicle enthusiasts. In addition, hobbyists are able to quickly identify which state legislators have chosen to be recognized for their support of this great American hobby. Approximately 450 state legislators from all 50 states are involved in the Caucus, led by New York Assemblymen Bill Reilich.
A comprehensive list of current caucus members can be viewed at www.4wdsu.com.