Editor’s Note: The following is a column penned by Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association (RVDA) President Phil Ingrassia appearing in the latest issue of RV Executive Today examining the public lands access issue.
As debates over the federal budget continue in Washington, we’re getting reports from several states that public lands access is in jeopardy. Road closures in Arizona and Oregon are occurring in the national forests, sometimes surprising users. Roads that are open to RVers and other outdoor recreationists one day are closed the next.
We’ve been told that the Forest Service is closing roads because the agency is spending so much money fighting fires. Keeping people out is now a “fire prevention” measure. The Forest Service has pledged to get stakeholders involved in deciding which roads are appropriate for continued use and which are not. RVDA is working with the American Recreation Coalition (ARC) and our dealer leaders to keep the dialogue going, but the concept of keeping people off public lands to save money is not good for our industry.
It’s reached the point in Arizona that even law enforcement officials are confused as to where people can go and where they can’t. Gene Elms, law enforcement branch chief for Arizona Game and Fish told the Arizona Daily Sun last month that “the inconsistency in the Forest Service’s implementation of new restrictions across the different forests is likely to cause confusion for anyone hunting or recreating on forest lands.”
This idea of closing off access to public lands clearly goes against the wishes of American voters. According to a recent public opinion poll commissioned by the National Park Hospitality Association (NPHA) and the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), national parks are cherished by an overwhelming 95 percent of likely voters.
This survey, conducted by the bipartisan pollster team of Whit Ayers, a Republican, and Peter Hart, a Democrat, found that more than 80 percent of those likely voters have visited a national park at some point in their lives, and nearly nine in 10 say they are interested in visiting a park in the future.
At a meeting sponsored by ARC in Washington last month, the pollsters said that while the survey did not cover all federal land agencies, it is likely that similar public support would apply to other public recreation areas.
It’s clear Americans favor protection of public lands – along with access. However, this kind of balance is hard to find in Washington these days. It will be up to the outdoor recreation community to educate both returning and newly elected officials in Washington about the economic impact of maintaining access to national forests and parks, as well as the consequences for preservation if people are discouraged from using public lands. People don’t value things that they don’t – or can’t – use.
RVDA and its allies will continue to push for a balanced approach that keeps outdoor recreation accessible for our customers.