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Getting Involved: Help Keep Off-Road Public Land Safe and Accessible

Posted in Project Vehicles on November 1, 2010 Comment (0)
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So we're all in agreement-we need to make our voices heard to ensure continued access to our public lands and keep them safe for future generations of Jeep, truck, and backcountry recreationalists. But to make your voice heard, you need to do some work. Contacting your Congressional representative, Senator, or state legislators is a simple matter of sending them an email or making a phone call. (And trust us-they do pay attention to phone calls, and the more calls they get, the more attention they generally pay.) When you call, have a clear outline of the message you want to convey and be as brief as you can. Legislators' offices receive hundreds of calls per day, so your brevity will be appreciated (and you'll give more of your friends a better chance of getting through on the phone as well). Be specific, too-if you're calling about a particular piece of legislation, be sure to mention the bill number (as opposed to, say, "the Feinstein bill," which could be a number of different bills in any given session) so that your representative is sure to know which legislation you're referring to. If you're not sure who your elected representatives in Washington are, the SEMA Action Network (www.semasan.com) can give you all the necessary information, as well as providing legislative alerts affecting truck, off-road, performance car, and motorcycle enthusiasts across the nation.

Here are some general tips for working with your elected representatives:

Develop Relationships With Legislators And Their Staffs
1 Make contact and develop productive relationships with individual legislators. It's the most effective form of grassroots lobbying. It's also important to develop a relationship, whenever possible, with their staff members who monitor ongoing legislative and community initiatives; they're often the ones who do a lot of behind-the-scenes "heavy lifting" when it comes to drafting pieces of legislation.

Educate Legislators About What We Do
2 Educate your legislator about what we do and emphasize the positive impact it has on the community; remind legislators of the good works being done by off-road vehicle enthusiasts working in conjunction with organizations such as Tread Lightly! or initiatives such as BFGoodrich's Outstanding Trails program. If your local Jeep club or four-wheel drive organization participates in any Adopt-a-Trail and/or conservation programs, be sure to point those things out, too.

Maintain a Positive Attitude
3 Develop a positive relationship with your legislator(s), even if he or she doesn't always vote the way you'd like on any given issue. The next time an enthusiast-related issue comes up, that same legislator may be needed to support your cause. In politics, you don't want to burn any bridges unless you have to.

Develop Relationships With Government Agencies
4 Think of it as your own "Neighborhood Watch" program, only for park rangers instead of police officers. If you wheel on public lands, stop by the ranger station and get to know your forest rangers, BLM field reps, or OHV riding area rangers. Find out if there are any Adopt-a-Trail, clean-up or maintenance programs being planned for their areas and offer to help, either individually or as a club. Keep them informed of what you see on the trails, whether it's good (other wheelers helping stranded motorists, or cleaning up sections of trail) or bad (trash dumped along trails, or people engaging in illegal behavior). Forging these kinds of relationships and keeping lines of communications open at the grass-roots level can be a big help later; many land-use policies that come down from Washington often originate years earlier with reports and assessments filed at individual field offices.

Get Involved in the Community
5 Join with other local organizations to build positive exposure. Holding charity runs, trail cleanups, raffles and fundraisers in conjunction with other groups-even non-enthusiasts-can provide a great opportunity to show local residents and politicians that four-wheel-drive clubs and organizations can be a positive community force.

Build Relationships With Local Media
6 Don't overlook this crucial step. Contact local newspapers and radio/TV stations to publicize events associated with the OHV community. Make use of online bulletin boards and classifieds to do the same thing. Conveying positive messages about who we are and what we do can help build grassroots support for our cause, even among non-enthusiasts who might not know about us but who believe in preserving access to public lands like we do.

Invite Officials to Your Events and Participate in Theirs
7 Provide legislators with the opportunity to meet members of the enthusiast community whenever they're in town. Attend public hearings regarding land use issues when possible and make your voice heard when given the opportunity to provide feedback. Notices of public hearings are available online at the government agencies' websites, and via lobbying organizations such as Blue Ribbon Coalition.

Build Coalitions
8 Create coalitions to add strength in numbers and ensure that the rights of all OHV enthusiasts are represented. Join a state or local four-wheel drive association, a lobbying organization such as the SEMA Action Network or Blue Ribbon Coalition, or a business council, such as Off-Road Business Association. Consider volunteering some of your time as an officer and form regional and statewide networks to develop a unified message to lawmakers. Develop partnerships with other groups with similar interests and concerns, such as hunters, fishermen, RV owners, ATV riders, and mountain-bikers, always keeping in mind that there's strength in numbers.

Spread the Word
9 Take this information to your next club meeting or trail ride, or post it online. Share this information with other enthusiasts who are willing to help us fight to preserve access to public lands.

Register and Vote
10 Exercise your right to support pro-access candidates. Constituents are an elected official's number-one priority. Without your vote of support, they wouldn't be in office, so make sure you're registered to vote. Look at it this way: If you're of legal age and not registered, or you simply don't bother to vote, you've got no reason to complain about the government you get-and you're not helping the rest of us, either. So get up, get into it, get involved, and go vote. -The Four Wheeler staff

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