Improving Equestrian Access to Public Land
- Posted by admin
- On February 21, 2020
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Public lands are a vital part of our recreational structure and a large part of our equestrian landscape. As development pressures continue to build and loss of agricultural and private land grows, access will become increasingly more important to the horse community and the equine industry. We not only experience the loss of land due to urban encroachment but also to state and federal policies which are put in place for perhaps the right reasons but cause a reduction in accessible trails.
For Example: While the State and Federal (Uwharrie) land managers are trying to do the right thing by designating sustainable trail systems, they do not have the funding to establish new trails to take the place of trails which are in disrepair, not suitable for use and therefore closed or greatly reduced in length. Hence the loss of ridable land.
State and Federal policies needs to reaffirm that recreational and historical uses — such as equestrian use must be recognized as an appropriate and acceptable activity on public lands. We look to legislation and policies to ensure that each state and federal agency takes into consideration the use and access of pack and saddle stock animals on public lands as a natural way for visitors to enjoy these lands. And while many state and federal agencies are trying to do the right thing we need to reaffirm our efforts to fiscally support our natural outdoor resources.
Too often over the last twenty years we have heard reports that public lands and trails are closed and access denied to recreational riders. We fear that some of these closures are affected with a bias against horses and riders, without sound science and without a justifiable rationale.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE EQUINE INDUSTRY IN NORTH CAROLINA
- Total annual economic impact: $3.44 billion
- Federal, state and local taxes paid: $196 million
- Equine-owning households or operations: 53,095
- Acreage in equine operations: 2.1 million
- Average number equine per operation: 5.8
- Total number of equine: 306,210
- Total number of jobs: 19,183
- Expenditures on goods and services: $1.4 billion
- Expenditures within home county: 72%
- Expenditures within state: 90%
BARRIERS TO EQUINE ACCESS TO PUBLIC LANDS
- Understanding the care and the use of horses is not common in the general population, and often in the land manager
- Many barriers are attributable to a general unfamiliarity or desire to manage a “new” user
- Many barriers are based on perception and/or limited exceptions such as:
- HORSES WILL DISTURB WILDLIFE
- HORSES WILL SPREAD NON-NATIVE SPECIES
- HORSE MANURE WILL DEGRADE WATER QUALITY
- HORSE USE CAUSES EROSION
- HORSE USE WILL CONFLICT WITH OTHER USERS
- Horses often singled out as the only cause of these effects, when in fact all users can contribute to detrimental effects
- Narrow Interpretation of Pittman-Robertson Act: 75% / 25% : Look towards states that have overcome or broadened their recreational uses such as New Mexico: GAIN Program (Gaining Access Into Nature)
Horse owners must remember that the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act has very definite sideboards. However, the agencies should remember that there is a difference between drawing a line in the sand and slamming the door.
- Alarming decline in percentage who hunt
- Alarming increase in negative attitude towards recreational hunting
- Game management needs more people who do not hunt to become more compatible with people who do Hunt
- Appropriately moving game management areas towards a wider array of uses combined with increased efforts to educate the non-hunting public could engender an enlarged empathetic constituency.
- Public servants who manage the wildlife resources must remember that all citizens of their respective states are their constituency.
- Single Management Objective:
- We have observed a shift in emphasis of the state agencies from one of managing our wilderness preservation system for the multiple purposes intended by our legislative assembly, including recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historical use, to the singular objective of restoring and sustaining pristine ecological conditions. The management environment seems less tolerant of traditional uses of trails.
- Non-Management or Punitive Approaches: Decisions based on fears and what-if’s
- It will result in conflicts
- It may result in illegal behaviors
- It may result in resource damage
- Tickets, threats, locked gates and dangerous barriers do not improve public perception of public land management
- Decline in the Condition of our State Owned Land: The horse industry has become alarmed as we have witnessed during the last decade the continued decline in the condition and extent of our trail systems and a pervasive trend throughout the country of increasing restrictions directed specifically at recreational riding and pack and saddle stock use on our state lands including wilderness and wildlife areas, state forests and parks, backcountry and front country.
- Lack of Early engagement: The recreational riding community is very concerned about the recent direction of many state agencies’ approach to recreational riding and a number of policy initiatives that seem intent on denying public access to thousands of acres of public land. In fact, it often seems as if the equestrian community is excluded when decisions are made on access.
For Example: NC House Bill 339: Fonta-flora Trail which was signed into law this year. This is a 26 mile loop trail specifically designated as a new state trail for hikers and mountain bikes….the equestrian community was not included and may for all purposes be excluded having had no input into a very desirable loop trail.
We are concerned that if this direction is not checked, it will prevent North Carolinians from participating in recreational riding. Many leaders within the industry believe that this is why “right to Ride” legislation is critical to our future.
- Funding to manage non-traditional (or any) use is scarce
- Differing state interpretations on how Pittman-Robertson funds can be used
- Permit fees may not cover the entire cost
- Recent year-to-year uncertainty of FHWA Recreational Trail Program funds (and state’s willingness to accept Federal funds)
WAYS TO EXPAND EQUINE ACCESS TO PUBLIC LANDS
- IMPROVED POLICIES
Recognition that in areas with large population increases, horse ownership also increases (strong employment, disposable income, available/suitable horse property in exurban areas translates to greater horse ownership) Some unfamiliar with the equine industry think that horse ownership is limited to rural areas, and that as population grows and rural land is converted, horse ownership declines)
- All season access (i.e., Sundays during large and small game seasons)
- In all areas but the Mountains, summer is least desirable season for trail riding
- Special use/non-traditional use permits
- Legitimizes use and provides a method to manage and educate non-traditional users
- Many riders willing to pay to play (and also hold hunting licenses)
- Science-based vs. perception-based management
- How/what kind of wildlife is disturbed by equestrian use
- What is the true nutrient impact from horse manure
- Actual mechanisms of non-native species spread and control
- Education programs that develop an appreciation for land-management
- For multi-use trails, combine users based on recreation objectives and expected level of use, not expected wear & tear on trails
- Horses & mountain bikes are often grouped on the same trails due to similar effects on Trail tread; however the pace of movement and objectives (observing nature, bonding with the horse vs. fast cardio exercise, developing off road skill) are sometimes disparate. Horses and hikers, nature watchers, even hunters are often more compatible users
- Multi-use is often more successful (less user conflict) on larger trail systems with dispersed access points and narrow non-linear trails. Multiple use on short-distance road-like trail systems (less than 10 miles) in densely populated areas where heavy use is expected can lead to chronic conflicts if not actively managed (alternating use days, clear enforced trail etiquette)
- Where use is occurring, consider proactive collaborative management vs. enforcement and prohibition
- When unmanaged equine use occurs on a desirable public property, our experience is that land managers tend to react with enforcement (tickets, threats, physical barriers to use) rather than considering options to meet a need and encourage new users to learn and appreciate their property and land management objectives
- INFRASTRUCTURE/PHYSICAL FEATURES that would encourage access/address barriers
- Adequate off-road trailer parking
- Enough to accommodate expected use/FHWA guidelines established
- Dispersed parking/trailheads
- Reduces heavy use on core trails
- Access from adjoining properties
- Development of sustainable trails along with existing roads
- Old logging roads tend to be used as trails and are often the most susceptible to erosion with regular use
- A poorly-situated trail will degrade with any and all use
- Stacked loop trails vs single route in/out
- Engineered water/wetland crossings where needed
- Access to natural water sources
- Horses want a drink on long rides
- Adequate mileage (no less than 5 miles)
- FUNDING that would encourage access/address barriers
- FHWA Recreational Trail Program funding re-authorized for 5 more years
- Record of funding infrastructure on game lands such as canoe access for paddle trails
- Expanding trail access on new public lands should rank well
- Encourage re-funding/increased funding to NC’s Adopt a Trail Program (defunded in 2012)
- Develop a fair permit/fee system for non-traditional users
- Increased population growth
- Loss of agricultural and private land traditional utilized by the equine community
- Growth of Equine Industry: Horses follow people
- Need to sustain existing trails
- Need to identify new trails
- Improved policies and legislation to encourage equestrian use
Members of the recreational riding community consider themselves both horsemen and women and environmentalists. We are concerned that our state’s lands and resources are suffering from neglect, either by an administering agency or by an uninformed public.
Our challenge and the challenge of all trail users, the Legislature and the responsible state agencies is to ensure that state lands are managed to meet all of the intents and purposes of the law, the people who use the land and, of course, the land itself.
The new paradigm is about seeking common ground and understanding the needs of all users. We look forward to the challenge of collaborative efforts involving the state agencies and other interested stakeholders as we work to preserve our lands, our access and the common good.