Friday, December 28, 2007

Preserving Our Equine Heritage On Public Lands Act

Many who enjoy recreational riding on public lands are concerned about the reduction of trails, trail heads and the closure of public lands to horses and pack animals. Access to areas to ride is one of the most important issues facing riders. To prevent further closures, recreational riders are working closely with their federal, state and local land managers and also looking for federal legislative solutions.

Senate Legislation
On November 1, 2007, Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced the Preserving our Equine Heritage on Public Lands Act (S. 2283). Senator Crapo introduced similar legislation in the last Congress.

This bill recognizes the importance of saddle and pack stock in the settling, exploration and recreation of our country by ensuring that the horse's historic and traditional use is recognized as our public lands are managed by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Forest Service.

The bill directs the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to manage the federal lands under their jurisdiction "in a manner that preserves and facilitates the continued use and access of pack and saddle stock animals" on lands on which "there is a historical tradition" of use. The bill applies to the management of the National Park System, BLM lands, National Wildlife Refuge System land, and National Forest System land.

The bill provides that such lands "shall remain open and accessible to the use of pack and saddle stock animals" where there is a tradition of use, but does not limit the federal agencies' ultimate authority to restrict such use, provided the agencies perform the review required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. The bill would also impose additional specific and designated procedures to be followed by agencies before any land closures to horses. These procedures include advance notice of any proposed reduction in use to allow public comment, convening a public meeting near the area involved, and collaboration with various users during the process.

The bill directs the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture to issue a policy within 180 days of enactment that defines the meaning of "historical tradition of the use of pack and saddle stock animals" on federal lands.

Congressional Action
The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

Editorial Comment: There may be two side to this issue in eastern forests where the public land units are smaller. Horse trails, bicycle trails, and foot trails are not necessarily compatible. It could be argued that any area of North America has a tradition of use by pack and saddle horses, and that equestrians therefore should be allowed on any trail. Although this bill provides for the right of the land management agencies to restrict horse use, under this wording it may impose a new burden of review and paperwork.

from the American Horse Council
Read the text of S 2283, Preserving our Equine Heritage on Public Land Act
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