Story by Chris Collard

Get Involved: Land-Use Activism

Different customized 4x4 vehicles driving on rocky off-road trail

Get Involved, Win the Game

Be a steward of the land: land-use activism takes all of us to make a difference.

Back in 2008, my buddy Del Albright and I were attempting to do an all-dirt Jeep trip. It was from the Mexican border to the 49th parallel, the Canadian border. We deemed it Border 2 Border. While searching for an old mining road that led into Joshua Tree National Park. We came face-to-face with tactile evidence of a crime scene.

Before us were the desiccated remains of dreams—campers, dogs, campfires, bicycles, and Jeeps unceremoniously expunged from the future. We stared at a locked gate with an oxidized sheet of metal welded to it. There were graphics of the aforementioned victims, alone with a tent and rifle, each with a big red slash line across them.

Desert dirt tail and rusted closed gate with no trespassing markers showing no entrance

Tread article, Backcountry Conservation discussed the importance of proper trail protocol and being responsible stewards of our natural resources. Millions of acres of public lands were closed to OHV use during the last 40 years. Millions more are in the crosshairs of the anti-access crowd (AAC). How do we combat a well-organized, well-funded, and legislatively connected foe? How do we ensure access for our kids, for future generations?

It may seem like an overwhelming task. But, as is the case in most sports, it takes a team to score a goal, each player contributing to the end result. We’ve reached out to OHV land-use experts, government agencies, and regional organizations for advice on what we, the average enthusiasts, can do to help. Each had specific advice related to their jurisdiction. They share a common message: Get involved in land-use activism!

What the Experts Say

National Forest Service

Joe Chavez
Affiliation:
Tahoe National Forest

Title: Recreational Specialist

We’ve worked with Joe Chavez on conservation projects. He joined us on Sierra Trek driving the Forest Service’s well-equipped Jeep JK. Chavez emphasized the importance of getting to know your land managers. He also said to express your interest in preserving access to an area. “We really appreciate volunteers; working with them is the best part of our job. They are the experts with regard to OHV needs,” Chavez explains. “We trust their input, and by partnering together we come up with sustainable solutions to keep an opportunity available.”

Photo of Joe Chavez, of Tahoe National Forest, in his uniform.

Chavez also mentioned the Adopt-a-Trail program. This is where a club or group of individuals can “adopt” their favorite trail. “Clubs are a great asset. They bring numbers, enthusiasm, and a positive presence. Their volunteer hours help secure grant funding for specific projects.” His position is held by all land managers we’ve worked with, although he works for the National Forest Service.

TIP: Land managers are our friends; get to know them.

White Jeep climbs rocky terrain for the Sierra Trek with Cal4Wheel group.

Joe Chavez and his team regularly join Cal4Wheel for the Sierra Trek with a decked-out Jeep Wrangler JK Rubicon.

Tread Lightly

Matt Caldwell
Affiliation:Tread Lightly
Title: Director

Tread Lightly (TL), a non-profit focused on responsible backcountry recreation, has been in the education business for more than 30 years. Through its partnerships with manufacturers, regional organizations, and local clubs, they have been involved with hundreds of training and conservation projects.

Photo of Matt Caldwel, the Director of Tread Lightly

We talked with Matt Caldwell about the recent “COVID effect,” millions of new folks heading for the mountains rather than the Mediterranean. “It is now more important than ever that we recreate responsibly. Do our part to leave an area cleaner than we found it, and educate others. It is all about being good stewards of our natural resources.”

Tread Lightly! members and others hold banner in front of Jeeps in Moab during a stweardship project at Easter Jeep Safari 2019.

Tread Lightly! and other companies sponsor a stewardship project at Easter Jeep Safari in 2019.

He emphasized that membership. Whether as a club, individual, or business, is vital to the organization’s ability to facilitate programs. It keeps members apprised of volunteer opportunities in their area. “If we sit back and be passive, the result will be a greater impact on trails, which will lead to closures and reduced access.”

TIP: Educate yourself and others on backcountry etiquette.

Different customized 4x4 vehicles driving on rocky off-road trail

Cross Country Organizations

California Four Wheel Drive Association

Jack Chapman
Affiliation:
California Four Wheel Drive Association (CA4WDA)
Title: President

Photo of Jack Chapman, President of the California Four Wheel Drive Association (CA4WDA), with their logo behind him

 

Men holding up a BFGoodrich check for Friends of Fordyce

 

Men cleaning up a trail by adding rocks from the back of a truck bed.

There are dozens of state and regional OHV associations around the country, and the United 4WD Association works on a national level. They consist of clubs and individual members. They represent tens of thousands of OHV enthusiasts and have political clout. We talked with CA4WDA president Jack Chapman, who said, “Collectively we have a voice and our members are represented on a state and national level. Membership is the key to sustaining this. The greater our membership, the greater our political strength.”

Founded in 1959, Cal4 has become a role model for other associations and employs two full-time environmental affairs officers to monitor legislation that affects OHV access. As you might surmise, this representation comes at a cost. They can’t foot the bill without our support. Land-use activism takes a team.

TIP: Join a local 4WD club and association. Collectively we have a stronger voice.

Del Albright
Affiliation:
Self
Title: Land-use Advocate

Del Albright a self-proclaimed land-use advocate

Much more than an advocate, Del Albright is akin to the commander and chief of a land-use activism war machine. He has trained hundreds in the craft of OHV activism. He’s written books and training curriculum and spearheaded Friends of the Rubicon. He was the founding president of the Rubicon Trail Foundation. He’s also been inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame for his exceptional advocacy work.

Albright Land-Use Activism

Careers with the U.S. Special Forces and CalFire taught him to “never accept the first three no’s” when fighting a good fight. In his training courses, students learn to organize groups, draft proposals, public speaking, and techniques for working with land managers. He emphasized, “Get to know your local managers. Have a central point of contact and learn the jargon. You have to know the jargon to effectively execute your agenda.”

Over the years, graduates of his Recreational Leadership Training Course have organized their clubs. They have crafted clean-up and restoration projects and successfully kept their favorite trails open. “Internet groups are fun, but lack influence. Organized clubs have an influence.,” says Albright. “They get things done. You can’t sit back and expect someone else to do it.”

If we review the above, we find a number of common themes.

  1. As an organized force we have influence and power.
  2. Our public land managers need our help and input on how to manage our OHV opportunities.
  3. We can’t sit back on our keisters and expect someone else to do the work. Join a club or state association. Pick your favorite area and organize a clean-up or trail maintenance project.

TIP: You can’t win the battle from the sidelines. Get in the game.

Money and Influence

Roger Salazar
Affiliation: California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division (OHVMVR).
Title: Commission member

You may not be aware of this, but many states have grant funding available for OHV-related conservation projects. Yep, free money! It is important to get involved. We asked Roger Salazar how the process works.

“Our grant cycle starts each January with a workshop [virtual this year]. Prospective applicants learn how to fill out the forms, as well as various requirements based on the type of project. There is a public comment period, review, and selection, and in September grants are awarded.” Mr. Salazar added, “There will be competition, but if a group has a worthy project I strongly suggest they apply.”

Roger Salazar stands near Jeep on dry lake bed.

Roger Salazar, commission member of California Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division (OHVMVR).

4x4s carefuly driving on cliffside trail in the middle of the mountains, with tan boulders and dirt

People Pitching In”

The Ellis Creek bridge on the Rubicon Trails (environmental requirement to mitigate sediment in the creek) is an excellent example of a cooperative effort. Friends of the Rubicon and the Rubicon Trail Foundation (volunteer groups) worked with El Dorado County (land manager) to secure grant funding from the California OHVMVR. It was a very expensive project. However, it allowed the trail to remain open for countless users each year.

Friends of the Rubicon and the Rubicon Trail Foundation standing in front of customized 4x4 sitting on logs supporting land-use activism.

The Rubicon Trail is revered. It was threatened to be closed a few years ago. Through the formation of Friends of the Rubicon and the Rubicon Trail Foundation, it is now one of the cleanest and best-maintained OHV routes in California.

Various 4x4s are driving down the street, decorated with Christmas trees and presents, during a holiday parade

BFGoodrich, a long-time supporter of OHV access, also has funding available through their Outstanding Trails Program. Each year, their selection committee picks four projects from a list of applications and cuts the coordinating club a check for $5,000. Since conception, the program has awarded more than $200,000. Big kudos to BFG for their commitment.

Get Involved In Land-Use Activism

TIP: Grant funding is available. Don’t let it get away. Do your part.

We represent a multi-billion-dollar industry through our purchases of vehicles, accessories, and camping gear. Let’s leverage that financial influence by soliciting companies that support access to public lands. These include Sportsman’s Warehouse, Bass Pro Shop, and Cabela’s. We also suggest reaching out to your congressperson’s office. Let them know that OHV access is important to you and plays a role in how you vote.

TIP: Your vote and spending habits are powerful. Leverage them.

Lastly, there is an old saying that we can support a cause with our time, treasures, or talents. Are you handy wielding a shovel? Can you volunteer a few hours a month writing letters? Did you recently win the lottery? Think about in what way you can contribute to land-use activism. I recently spent a day photographing Cal4’s annual $5 raffle Jeep and sending out press releases. It is a small way I can contribute my time and talents to help them land the treasures (it is one of their biggest fundraisers). My reward is that it feels good to be part of a greater cause.

When the dust settles, we need to remember that you can’t win the game if you don’t have a seat at the table.

Join in! Be part of the solution! Get in involved in land-use activism. Together we can make a difference.

Resources:

U.S. Forest Service: …………………………………………………….. www.fs.usda.gov
Tread Lightly: …………………………………………………………. www.treadlightly.org
Del Albright: ………………………………………………………….. www.delalbright.com
Cal4wheel: ………………………………………………………………. www.cal4wheel.com
United 4WD Association: ………………………………………… www.united4wd.org
California OHVMVR Grant Program: ……………………… ohv.parks.ca.gov
BFGoodrich Outstanding Trails:      www.bfgoodrichtires.com/outstandingtrails

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