Mar. 10, 2008 – An upcoming off-road battle worth your attention

Dawn in the early spring, when a Northwest day still begins with temperatures near freezing. Fog floats atop a Washington state forest stand, where the only sound is the occasional squawk of the common crow.
Standing at the base of this stand of old-growth forest are two figures, each attempting to stand perfectly still with their necks craned up. Their eyelids blink unnaturally as they attempt to keep their eyes from tearing up. Their shoulders tighten from remaining in such an awkward position for so long. Their feet quickly become numb, even as they repeatedly wiggle their toes that are encased in two pairs of socks.
All for an unlikely scenario: Catching sight of an endangered seabird.
A bird that flies faster than a Roger Clemens fastball.
A bird that can only be seen for mere moments as it swoops in and out of old-growth canopy in the early morning hours.
This, by the way, was not some recreational activity of a couple of wayward retirees. This was a federally funded survey.
And it’s why, even as we struggle to accomplish all of our personal and professional goals, we should not let the off-road access struggles taking place across North America escape our notice. And better yet, our collective conscious.
Having spent the better part of the past two months traveling to five different states in hopes of satisfying our readers’ needs, it is hard to come across as some sort of off-road crusader. That has hardly been our role. We are business insiders more than off-road access watchdogs. But if our sources are correct, the two issues that obviously are not independent now are going to get further intertwined and probably not for the betterment of our industry.
Believe it or not, it’s the skyrocketing oil prices and not environmentalists that are at the crux of this latest off-road access development. Sources tell us California could be the site of several alternative energy facilities in the near future. These facilities, as originally proposed, could be placed on or near popular off-road riding areas.
If this isn’t a grand recipe for disaster for off-road riders and the businesses that serve them, we’re not sure what is. The likelihood of overcoming the perceived political goodwill of such facilities — giving the United States more environmentally friendly energy options — seems daunting at best and highly unlikely at worse.
In some West Coast states, contractors who develop such large-scale projects must mitigate the damage they do to wetlands or other environmentally sensitive areas by providing additional funding so a state can purchase and set aside other, similar land. Would a state ever ask an alternative energy company to mitigate the loss of off-road riding area by requiring the corporation to buy additional land for riding purposes? We seriously doubt it. What’s much more likely to happen is for said company to ask for, and receive, beneficial tax considerations.
What off-road access groups will have to do is to ensure states and all necessary governing bodies know what kind of economic pain they’re measuring out in this attempt to provide alternative energy options. We now know the powersports industry as a whole was responsible for $26 billion in sales in the United States in 2006, thanks to Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) data. We also know that retail number has grown substantially in the past several years.
We further know the industry is inherently tied to off-road riding access. More than 55 percent of the industry’s new unit sales in 2007 — as charted by the MIC — were tied to off-road riding in one form or another. We know the blueprint for the success of our businesses and their employees is a trustworthy vehicle, a dusty trail and a guiding hand.
What we don’t know is how the off-road access groups will continue to grapple with such politically sensitive issues without more help and yes, funding.
The seabird survey mentioned previously is the perfect example. Wildlife officials or consultants were paid to stand for hours in forests and look — at dawn! — for a bird, called the marbled murrelet, that can fly at speeds approaching 100 mph. If such a seabird was spotted, then an entire stand of trees and those around it were marked as sensitive habitat and the logging company that owned the property was left with some undesirable choices, none of which were profitable.
If such measures are used in the case of an endangered species, can you imagine what the industry will be facing when it comes to the possibility of losing prime off-road areas in the name of alternative energy?
It’s a chilling thought that makes seabird spotting seem like a picnic.
Neil Pascale is editor-in-chief of Powersports Business. He can be reached at psb

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