-- American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) President and CEO Rob Dingman has been leading the world's largest member-based motorcyclists' rights organization since taking the reins in April 2007.
During that time, he has reorganized many of the AMA's programs to rededicate the Association to its core mission: protecting and promoting the future of motorcycling and the motorcycle lifestyle. With numerous legislative and regulatory challenges confronting American motorcycling both on the street and the trail, the AMA enters 2009 with a sense of purpose and urgency.
AmericanMotorcyclist.com, the website of the AMA, sat down with Dingman to discuss the challenges -- and opportunities -- that lie ahead. In the first of a three-part series, Dingman discusses how the AMA and the AMA's sister organization the ATVA (All-Terrain Vehicle Association) are fighting to preserve OHV (off-highway vehicle) access to America's public lands.
AM: The motorcycling community is engaged in a pitched battle with so-called environmentalists who would ban OHVs from public lands. How did we get to this point?
RD: I'm glad you said "so-called environmentalists" because, like many AMA and ATVA members, I consider myself an environmentalist, and the groups we are confronting are perhaps better labeled "exclusionists" or "anti-access advocates." They would be completely happy if all of our public lands were excluded from any use except their own.
At the core of the anti-access creed is a philosophical belief that only a handful of Americans can be trusted to be good stewards of our public lands, and that most Americans are incapable of acting responsibly when they are on public lands. The AMA fundamentally rejects this elitist assumption.
America's public lands are owned by all of us. And all who recreate responsibly should therefore have the right to share in the splendor of our public lands. OHV recreation is enjoyed by millions of individuals and their families, as well as by many less-abled Americans who also rely on OHVs for recreation.
There are countless examples of OHV users, many of them AMA and ATVA members, doing their part to protect and preserve the natural environments where we recreate. Our members consider it a sacred trust to act as responsible caretakers of our public lands so that their children -- and many generations to follow -- will have the same opportunities.
AM: How are America's motorcycle and ATV riders doing their part to keep public lands open to OHV recreation?
RD: We can look at the ongoing success of the Recreational Trails Program, which started in 1990, as an example of how the OHV community has worked collaboratively with non-motorized trail users and the federal government to create a program that funds the construction and maintenance of trails for hundreds of thousands of outdoor enthusiasts. That program has helped nurture the latest generation of responsible OHV users.
The AMA believes that personal responsibility is paramount for all motorcyclists. That said, the vast majority of OHV riders do act responsibly, stay on designated trails, use a quiet exhaust and spark arrester, and respect the rights of other trail users. Through education, peer-pressure and support for appropriate law enforcement, we hope to teach all riders that it is incumbent upon us all to ride responsibly on public lands. What we do today will impact what we, and countless others, will be allowed to do well into the future.
AM: What is the latest threat?
RD: Where do I begin? First, we have an ongoing threat with the Forest Service's Travel Management rule. It decrees an unfunded mandate to inventory all trail systems in the United States, has artificial deadlines and rejects user input in many areas. Second -- and more urgent -- we are now facing an additional public lands grab.
The battlefield has shifted from our local communities, national forests and desert lands to the floor of the U.S. Congress. In early January, the U.S. Senate passed a massive package of bills -- over 160 in all -- that would close off more than 2 million acres to motorized recreation. Thrown out in that process were the recommendations of local public lands managers, city and county governments, their citizens and the outdoor enthusiasts who spent thousands of hours developing responsible, multiple-use recreation plans for their communities. It's a massive land-grab that, if passed by the House of Representatives and signed by President Obama, would lock-up millions of acres of public lands, lock-out millions of people and decimate the coffers of the small towns and counties whose economic vitality relies heavily upon recreational tourism.
AM: Is it too late to act?
RD: No, there is still time. Legislators pay attention to their constituents, and I urge every OHV rider -- in fact, every motorcyclist -- to write or call their U.S. Representative and insist that their voice be heard. Share with them your personal story. Tell them that you ride responsibly and that actively managed and responsible OHV recreation has a place on our public lands.
AM: Is the AMA all alone in this fight?
RD: No, I am happy to report that the AMA and the ATVA working with a number of other organizations to preserve our right to access our public lands. Groups like the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council, the Motorcycle Industry Council, the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, the Off Road Business Association and the Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Association, to name a few. Additionally, aligned with our coalition are snowmobile and personal watercraft users, as well as advocates of non-motorized recreation, such as the American Horse Council. These groups work together as part of the Americans for Responsible Recreational Access in an effort to share resources and strengthen our collective voice.
AM: What can we do to prevent these crises from arising in the future?
RD: I urge readers who are not AMA or ATVA members to join and help fund the battle to preserve OHV recreation for this and future generations. While there are no guarantees, the more riders we represent, the louder our voice and the stronger we become, whether we are acting proactively or responding to an imminent threat. I am confident that by acting together we will make a difference.
Readers who wish to contact their U.S. Representatives today can do so in the "Issues & Legislation" area of the Rights section of the AMA website at www.AmericanMotorcyclist.com
Next installment: Rob Dingman discusses the AMA's position on excessive sound.