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Accomodating Horse Trails in the Management of National Forest Lands

From Horse Trails Symposium, 1998 OPENING SESSION -- KEYNOTE ADDRESS, Clemson University

By Jack Ward Thomas

photo: Equestrians need to be involved in efforts to care for trails and keep access open.



Dramatic shifts have occurred in the management of the National Forests over the past decade as emphasis has changed from timber production to the preservation of biodiversity and use of these lands for recreation. Unfortunately, the micro-management by Congress, through its funding strategies, does not begin to reflect the changes in goals for the National Forest System or the demands on National Forest resources.

Increases in population and affluence combined with changes in population demographics have driven the rapid increases in demands for recreational opportunities on the National Forests. In contrast, while the needs for infrastructure resources have been rising rapidly, the availability of these resources has been in decline due to a lack of adequate funding. Competition among different types of users for space and other resources is already producing conflicts among users and between users and managers.

Now is the time for different types of recreational users to form coalitions to see that conflicts are resolved in a fair and equitable fashion. They will also need to collaborate to see that adequate resources are made available for public land managers to deal with the increased prominence of recreational demands on National Forests. There will be an increasing need for "sweat equity" by recreationists in the development and maintenance of trails, camp sites, and recreational facilities, as well as the policing of their appropriate use. Partnership must become the recreationist's byword.

Dr. Thomas began his career as a wildlife research biologist with the Texas Game and Fish Commission. He joined the U.S. Forest Service in 1966 where he held a variety of wildlife research positions. In 1974, he led research at the Blue Mountains Research Lab in LaGrande, Oregon, where he became well known for elk and spotted owl studies. In 1993, he was named to head the Forest Service Ecosystem Management Team in response to President Clinton's Forest Conference. He served as Chief, USDA-Forest Service from 1993 to 1996. He has published over 300 items in the fields of forestry, range management, philosophy, wildlife ecology, planning, and natural resource management. He is a Fellow in the Society of American Forest- Dr. Thomas can be contacted at: School of Forestry, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812; Phone: (406) 243-4128.

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Updated January 13, 2009

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