On the campaign trail

As the dust settles on the 2002 elections, it appears the “outdoor vote” played a role once again in determining who goes back to Washington, D.C.

In 2000, some in the media gave partial credit for President Bush’s win to outdoor recreationists who might drive a Jeep or own a gun. That credit was substantiated further when the now famous red and blue county map was published and showed that Bush carried more than 2,400 counties, compared with Al Gore’s 477.

That election also dispelled the notion that a single vote does not matter. In fact, the outcome of that election was determined in several states by just one vote per precinct.

The 2000 election was a wake-up call to outdoor enthusiasts who love trail access. They learned they had better become involved in supporting pro-access candidates. In addition to judging politicians on the traditional issues such as national defense, taxes and social security, many mountain bikers, snowmobile riders, off-roaders, backcountry equestrians and other outdoor recreationists looked to see where candidates stood on public-lands access and trail use.

As one who tracks land-use issues on a national basis, I saw numerous user groups ramp up their efforts to educate and empower both motorized and non-motorized recreationists. The Blue Ribbon Coalition, a national recreation group, published the first copy of its Recreation Access Voters Guide, so members could see where federal legislators stood on the issues. The coalition also started a bipartisan political-action committee to help support pro-access candidates.

Because of a massive wilderness bill being championed by liberal Democrats and green groups in California, many mountain bikers realized they were on the endangered trail-users list. (Federally designated wilderness areas ban both motorized and mechanized vehicles, including bicycles.)

Equestrians also were concerned with the wilderness proposals because the plans would close forest roads in the Sierra Nevada that are used to tow horse trailers to staging areas. Horsemen also were concerned about efforts to ban or restrict commercial packing activities in the Inyo National Forest and other areas.

For many years, the land-use debate had been centered on how environmentalists or resource industries would react to a political decision. Since 2000, though, the dynamics of that battle have changed. The "outdoor vote," made up of taxpayers who want recreational access to the public lands for which they pay, is now a factor that cannot be ignored.