More off-roaders in Black Hills creates ranching challenges
Last December, the U.S. Forest Service reported that in 2020 the agency sold more than 30,000 off-road trail permits for use in the Black Hills. It was an increase of more than 10,000 permits from the previous year, and significantly more than the USFS has sold in the past. The increase in off-road traffic on the public lands has brought with it some new challenges and conflicts with multiple use on federal land.
The motorized trail permit season in South Dakota runs from May 15 to Dec. 15, weather permitting, which overlaps with public lands allotment users grazing months.
Producer Frank Bloom runs 400 cows on allotments in the Black Hills of Pennington County, and he says the increase in off road vehicle traffic is detrimental to the Black Hills.
“They are destroying our natural resources,” Bloom said. “The side by sides are just tearing the hell out of things.”
The Black Hills National Forest includes more than 3,600 miles of roads, with more than 600 miles of trails for ATV, UTV and other off-road vehicles. But Bloom says they are not staying on designated ATV roads, and the off roading is not only tearing up grazing land, it is spreading noxious weeds.
According to USDA Forest Service, noxious weeds can in fact be spread by ATV’s. “Seeds can travel in on ATV’s, in hay and grain, pack animals and on trails or motor bikes,” the Range Program site reads.
Chris Mumm, owner of Black Hills Off Road Rentals, says his rental company, along with other rental sites in the Black Hills, understand the value of the multi-use public lands, and do everything they can to make sure off-road vehicle renters are following regulations and staying on designated trails.
Most complaints that he hears from allotment owners stem from gates being left open by off-roaders to off-roaders going through cattle drives.
“We make sure we tell people, if a gate’s closed, close it when you go through,” Mumm said.
“We are hoping that the forest service will start putting in more cattle guards to eliminate that problem,” he added, but said limited funds might slow that down.
While profit is no doubt the bottom line for a successful business, Mumm says, he is on board with doing what is right.
“The last thing we want is a trail shut down. Or a rancher mad,” Mumm said. “We even charge an excess mud bogging fee to try to curb that.”
Mumm said they have an extensive set of rules that they go through with riders, that include both maps of where to ride and where not to ride, and photos of what mud bogging looks like, and what the rented vehicle should not look like when it comes back to avoid the fee and even a call to forest service and a ticket.
As growth continues, the Black Hills could continue to see more off road vehicles cruising the trails.
While there has been some discussion, there has been no offer of a solution, Bloom says. The problem will likely escalate again this summer, and seeking congressional help is a consideration, he added.
“We’ve had quite a few meetings over this,” Bloom said. “The problem is, there’s no policing. I’ve asked the forest service to do a sting in one area, but they won’t do it.”
According to Bloom, the spike in permit dollars is winning over the natural resources.
“They don’t want policing to be the downfall of selling permits,” he said. “There was one ticket issued a year ago.”
“If we don’t have the forest service on our side, which it is pretty doubtful we will get them, we might have to go congressional,” Bloom added.
“If an allotment owner would over graze or put our salt out in the wrong spot, they would be all over us. But they are letting these off-roaders destroy our natural resources,” Bloom said.
Mumm agrees that policing could be stepped up, and believes that lack of forest service staff may be part of the problem.
“They don’t have enough people. It’s a big area,” Mumm said.
As a result, decisions on topics such as this are often made in Washington D.C., or in the courts rather than by local managers or resolved cooperatively between competing user groups, and this is not a new topic to hit the Black Hills.
In March, 2010, USDA Forest Service, submitted the Black Hills National Forest Travel Management Plan Record of Decision (ROD) http://a123.g.akamai.net/7/123/11558/abc123/forestservic.download.akamai.com/11558/www/nepa/41877_FSPLT1_026187.pdf, to:
•Identify an official travel system and update the Forest travel map.
•Develop a transportation system to meet the increasing demand for recreational travel opportunities and to provide a range of quality experiences for a wide variety of Forest users.
•Reduce adverse impacts caused by unmanaged cross-country and road and trail usage in order to maintain and conserve the condition of ecosystems and watersheds.
•Specify roads, trails, and areas open to motorized use.
•Closely align travel and recreation opportunities offered to the public with the Forest’s management capability.
“This decision reflects over four years of highly engaged public involvement, collaboration, and consultation with individuals, groups, agencies, Tribes, and local governments with both common and widely diverse interests, coupled with the environmental analysis necessary for me to make an informed decision,” then Forest Supervisor, Craig Bobzien wrote in the ROD.
While the ROD, among other things, expanded the trail system, limited most trails to vehicles 62 inches or less, restricted cross-country use, and set sound limits on off road vehicles, the authors likely could not have predicted today’s growth in off-roading.
However, it did set some regulations for policing in the Black Hills.
“It is called a multiple use; we don’t want to stop the side by sides. We just want law enforcement to better regulate and write some tickets,” Bloom concluded.
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