Saturday, August 28, 2010

Back Country Horsemen of America Monitors U.S. Forest Service Trail Re-Classification

August 26, 2010
For further information, Contact
Peg Greiwe, BCHA

by Sarah Wynne Jackson

Back Country Horsemen of America, the nationwide organization that leads the fight of preserving our right to ride horses on public lands, continues to be actively involved in the U.S. Forest Service’s trail re-classification.

The Power of the Individual

Back Country Horsemen of America values the dedication and hard work of its members. The national body has put the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the new classification system in the hands of the folks who use the land. Each individual BCHA unit will communicate with the managers responsible for the trails local to that unit. In this way, through open conversation, a long lasting working relationship will be formed, helping to ensure that horses will continue to be allowed on our favorite trails.

U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Joel Holtrop has been a steadfast ally who is dedicated to safeguarding the historic uses of our wilderness lands trails. He has committed to make available upon request information regarding the Forest Service’s management objective for each trail countrywide. This information will make it simpler for local horsemen to determine if current trail objectives are consistent with historical classifications.

If the BCH group finds that the management objective for a given trail that was historically used for horses does not allow pack and saddle stock, that group will then begin a discussion with that district ranger to determine the justification for not managing the trail for pack and saddle stock.

For trails that are not designated to be maintained for horses and mules, the area BCH unit will request that the line officer disclose the planning document(s) and the public involvement process used in determining the uses for which the trail will be managed.

As appropriate, Back Country Horsemen groups will negotiate with the local district ranger or forest supervisor to have the trail management objectives changed to reflect a managed use for pack and saddle stock.

In the interest of preserving the spirit of partnership, this strategy will provide the Forest Service with every reasonable means to defend a change in the physical characteristics of a trail as the result of implementing the new classification system, or to amend their data to reflect characteristics in place prior to implementation of the new trail classification system.

In 1999, the Forest Service began to design a new trail classification system, but failed to allow public involvement as required by the National Forest Management Act. After numerous failed attempts to gain an audience with the agency, BCHA was forced to litigate in 2005. The court ruled in the horsemen’s favor.

Since then, the Forest Service has listened to concerned citizens and taken into consideration the needs of horsemen as well as other user groups as they redesigned the trail classification system. Prior to BCHA involvement, the new pack and saddle stock parameters were marginal. Through subsequent communications with the Forest Service they have negotiated pack and saddle stock parameters that will safeguard our historic access to National Forest System lands.

Working Together

Back Country Horsemen of America recognize the need for horse folks to get involved in monitoring the implementation of the new trail classification program. Otherwise, we may find that our favorite trails are no longer managed to a standard appropriate for horses and mules.

The goal of BCHA is to determine if land managers have assigned new trail classes that would not accommodate pack and saddle stock on trails that were historically accessible to stock. If so, did the agency involve the public and follow an approved land management planning process as agreed in the court decision?

Back Country Horsemen of America have always seen themselves as partners with the Forest Service in preserving and protecting our back country resource. Continuing in that attitude, BCHA plans to achieve their objective in a spirit of teamwork with land managers.

The Trail Classification System is still new. It is not inconceivable, at this preliminary stage, that district rangers are not yet aware that the management objectives for a trail might be a concern for horsemen or reflect a change in the historical status for the trail. BCHA considers its efforts to be that of helping the agency validate and update its records.

About Back Country Horsemen of America

BCHA is a non-profit corporation made up of state organizations, affiliates, and at large members. Their efforts have brought about positive changes regarding the use of horses and stock in the wilderness and public lands.

If you want to know more about Back Country Horsemen of America or become a member, visit their website:; call 888-893-5161; or write PO Box 1367, Graham, WA 98338-1367. The future of horse use on public lands is in our hands!

No comments: