Gaines Concerned at Continued Off-Road Access Issues

SACRAMENTO – Senator Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) today expressed disappointment in the continued reduction in access for motorized off-road recreationalists in California following the closure by the federal government of more than 800 miles of roads and trails in the Tahoe National Forest.

“This is yet another example of decisions that are not made in the best interests of the people and threaten rural economies,” said Gaines. “Thousands of outdoor enthusiasts flock to these roads each year. Protecting the environment is a big concern for us all, but I am certain there are ways we can address the necessary issues without closing hundreds of miles of trails.”

The Pacific Legal Foundation of Sacramento filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against the federal government on behalf of off-road organizations and individuals over the 800 mile closure, which leaves less than 50 miles of formerly accessible trails open for use. The lawsuit targets the Forest Service’s 2005 Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project claiming that it violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

This comes on the heels of the U.S. District Court’s decision to close 42 off-highway-vehicle routes that cross meadows in the Eldorado National Forest to motor vehicle travel this recreation season until the Forest Service completes an environmental analysis.

These travel prohibitions are the result of a February 2012 court order by U.S. District Court. The order said the Forest Service failed to comply with the National Forest Management Act in 2008 when it designated “open for public motor vehicle use” portions of 42 routes that cross meadows.

A final court order with further direction to the Forest Service is pending. In the interim, the court ordered the 42 routes remain closed to motorized public use.

“Closing the Eldorado National Forest trails for a solid year or more is absolutely the wrong approach,” said Gaines. “Off-roading is a major hobby enjoyed by people from across the country and is a contributor to our state and regional economy. I don’t see why these trails, which have been used for decades, can’t remain open until the environmental study is complete.”

To add insult to injury, the off-highway vehicle community has been further marginalized by the Democrats recent decision in Senate Budget Subcommittee #2 (Resources, Environmental Protection and Transportation) to strip up to $21 million a year, for three years, from California’s Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trust Fund.

These funds are specifically designated for the OHV program, reflecting years of negotiated formulas and fees between lawmakers and the OHV community. But now, the Democrats are simply taking money for other uses.

In the last four budget years, a total of $133 million has been raided from the OHV trust funds for other uses. In fact, in a 2011-12 budget trailer bill, an additional $10 million of dedicated OHV trust funds were taken for the state’s general fund.

“Enough is enough. It is time for the government to stop denying public access to public lands. Off-road recreationists have long enjoyed the forests in an environmentally responsible manner and there is no reason this long-standing tradition should be prohibited.” said Gaines. “I plan to follow these issues closely and will remain working to make sure that OHV users get the access they deserve and that rural economies are protected.”

Senator Ted Gaines represents the 1st Senate District, which includes all or parts of Alpine, Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Lassen, Modoc, Mono, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Sacramento and Sierra counties.