No Net Loss Explained

I was speaking to a couple of OHV advocates from Kane County, Utah recently about the greatest threat to Utah’s OHV trails in decades.

The “No Net Loss” policy came up in the discussion. One OHV advocate thought it was part of the “State control over public lands” effort while another thought it was in opposition to the state control concept.

The 5MOF crew thought I should write a short blurb explaining the no net loss concept and why we think it is needed.

No Net Loss Explained

I should note that the idea is not new. It was first proposed by Dr. Rainer Huck when he served as President of the Utah Shared Access Alliance.

For our discussion here, we will focus on the proposed Concurrent Resolution introduced in the Utah Legislature by Utah House Representative Mike Noel and Utah Senator David P Hinkins. The full text and status of the Resolution is here.

Rep. Noel and Sen. Hinkins offered the non-binding Resolution in response to the loss of OHV recreation over the last several decades and also to the SUWA v DOI settlement, which is likely to close a significant percentage of what OHV use remains.

It supports access and recreation on lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). (The Resolution does not address lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service.) The Resolution proposes:

  • a “no net loss” policy for current and future travel planning,
  • asks for public review and comment on new Utah BLM travel planning rules,
  • supports expanding state and local influence over motorized access and recreation via funding a full-time employee to work with the State and local communities on upcoming travel planning projects.

The no net loss policy acknowledges the BLM’s current jurisdiction over recreation management, including the responsibility to address impacts to natural resources. The policy recognizes BLM’s often conflicting “dual-mandate” to protect natural resources and provide recreational opportunity.

If passed, it would simply state the State of Utah’s position that when the BLM documents the need to permanently close a OHV route it should seek to provide a similar route in order to off-set the loss to the (rapidly diminishing) OHV recreational opportunities.

The policy has been made necessary partly because of the huge loss in OHV routes over the years. In a July 10, 2013 letter to U.S. House Rep. Rob Bishop, the BlueRibbon Coalition made this key observation (emphasis added):

In the past half-century, each decade has brought further restrictions on vehicle access and recreation on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Utah. While some of these restrictions were necessary and appropriate, we’ve reached a tipping point. In Utah, most of the BLM Resource Management Plans (RMPs) and travel decisions cut road and trail access roughly in half while greatly expanding areas providing an exclusive non-motorized experience.

The no net loss policy is also necessary because BLM regulations are biased against OHV use. There is no better example of this bias than the BLM’s (never-ending) inventory and management for “wilderness characteristics.”

It works like this; planning rules tell the BLM to ignore significant levels of OHV use when conducting wilderness inventories. But once the area is designated “lands with wilderness characteristics” then different management rules discourage keeping that same OHV use open, and in some cases, requires all OHV use be eliminated.

Some critics have coined the term “wilderness creep” to describe this lousy situation.

I say if the OHV use was there when wilderness characteristics were found then the OHV use should be allowed to continue.

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