TESTIMONY OF THE AMERICAN HORSE COUNCIL

to the

SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION AND PUBLIC LANDS

COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES

On H.R. 2966

THE RIGHT-TO-RIDE LIVESTOCK ON FEDERAL LANDS ACT OF 2003

 

September 30, 2003

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The American Horse Council (AHC) appreciates the opportunity to submit this testimony in support of the Right-to-Ride Livestock on Federal Lands Act of 2003 (H.R. 2966)  We thank Congressman George Radanovich for sponsoring this legislation and for making the time to hold this hearing on legislation so important to the horse industry.

 

The AHC represents 190 equine organizations in Washington, DC before Congress and the federal regulatory agencies. These organizations include breed registries, national and state breeders associations, state horse councils, recreational associations, organizations representing race tracks, horsemen, horse shows, veterinarians, farriers, rodeos and numerous other equine related stakeholders.  These organizations include several hundred thousand individual horse owners of all breeds and disciplines and industry service providers involved in virtually every facet of the horse world.

 

The AHC supports this important legislation.  Too often over the last twenty years we have heard reports that public lands and trails are closed and access denied to pack and saddle stock and recreational riders.  We fear that some of these closures are effected with a bias against horses and riders, without sound science and without a justifiable rationale. 

 

The horse industry appreciates Chairman Radanovich’s addressing this important issue through this bill, which would preserve the use and access of pack and saddle stock animals on public lands, including wilderness areas, national monuments, and other specifically-designated areas administered by the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, or the Forest Service where there is a historical tradition of such use. 

 

The American Horse Council agrees with Chairman Radanovich’s observation that "riding livestock is a great way to explore and experience our federal lands" and that "we must preserve our riding heritage."

 

ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE HORSE INDUSTRY

 

According to The Economic Impact of the Horse Industry in the United States, a study done by Barents Group, LLC for the AHC, the U.S. horse industry, including recreation, showing, racing and other segments, involves more than 7 million participants and includes nearly 2 million horse owners.  The industry as a whole has an annual impact on the U.S. economy of $112 billion and supports 1.4 million full-time jobs with approximately $1.9 million paid in taxes at each level.  The median income of horse-owning families is around $60,000 with 38% of households earning under $50,000 and 21% over $100,000.

 

Economic Impact of the Equine Recreation Industry

 

The largest and fastest growing segment of the horse industry in terms of participation by Americans is the recreational segment.  According to the Barents Study, the equine recreation industry involves 2.9 million horses, 4.3 million participants, has a total economic impact of $23.8 billion and supports 317,000 full-time jobs.  This important part of the horse industry provides a great recreational, sporting, competitive and healthy experience to millions of Americans, young and old.

 

The positive economic impact of recreational horse activities is present in all fifty states.  For example, in California it involves 278,000 horses, has a $2.8 billion economic effect and supports 23,000 full-time jobs; in Colorado it involves 57,000 horses, has a $500 million economic effect and supports 5,200 full-time jobs; in Florida it involves 109,700 horses, has a $6 million economic effect and supports 5,300 full-time jobs; in Maryland it involves 47,200 horses, has a $242 million economic effect and supports 2,300 full-time jobs; and in Texas it involves 180,000 horses, has a $995 million economic effect and supports 14,000 full-time jobs.           

 

Many individuals ride and compete horses when they are young and millions continue this form of recreation as they mature into adulthood.  We expect, however, that as the so-called “baby boomers” approach and enter retirement or semi-retirement more will find themselves in good shape physically and financially and be ready to return to one of the sports in which they can participate late into life – Riding!  While this re-entry into the riding community will increase the economic impact of the recreational riding industry, it will also put an even greater burden on our nation’s trails and recreational resources.

 

This makes this legislation even more timely and important.

 

RIDERS ARE RESPONSIBLE STEWARDS

 

The recreational riding community recognizes its responsibilities to treat our nation’s public lands with respect.  This community has a deep commitment to outdoor recreation and believes that recreation is a fundamental and legitimate use of our country’s public lands.  Whether they are trail riders, competitive riders, packers, outfitters or saddle-stock users, they recognize the overriding need for the responsible use and wise management of our natural resources. 

 

The AHC and its organizational and individual members recognize that we must protect and maintain our historical heritage and traditions. Horsepower built this nation.  They furnished the transportation for the first 200 years.  They hauled the logs to strip the land to grow the crops for 250years.  They are still a part of the cattle ranching to put meat on our tables.  They moved this country from the east to the west.  They were used in the military up to World War II.  Our members are frustrated that now horses are considered too damaging to the terrain to use for recreation.

 

Thousands of recreational riders are involved in volunteer projects each year building and maintaining trails for all users of public lands.  The American Horse Council is proud to be a Charter Partner of the Take Pride in America program and we look forward to encouraging all of our members to stay involved in the effort to promote volunteerism on our public trails and the reaffirmation of and appropriate outdoor ethic.

 

GENERAL CONCERNS REGARDING ACCESS TO PUBLIC LAND

 

The recreational riding community is very concerned about the recent direction of the federal agencies’ approach to recreational riding  and a number of policy initiatives that seem intent on denying public access to millions of acres of public land. In fact, it often seems as if the riding public is excluded when decisions are made on access.  We are concerned that if this direction is not checked, it will prevent Americans from participating in recreational activities, including horseback riding, in areas that have long sustained such activities.  The industry believes that this is one of the underlying intents of this legislation and fully supports this.

 

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 federal lands including wilderness areas, national forests, national parks, national monuments, backcountry and front country. 

 

During this same period, we have observed a shift in emphasis of the federal agencies from one of managing our national wilderness preservation system for the multiple purposes intended by Congress, 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.

 

Perhaps the most important issue facing the recreational segment of the horse industry is access to public lands, both federal and state.  While the industry is losing its access to public lands, urban areas encroach on open green space.  National policy needs to reaffirm that recreational and historical uses -- such as equestrian uses – have been and are recognized as an appropriate and acceptable activity on federal lands.  This legislation is intended to ensure that each federal agency takes into consideration the continued use and access of pack and saddle stock animals on federal lands as a natural way for visitors to enjoy federal lands where there is a historical tradition of such use.

 

Restrictions and prohibitions imposed on recreational equine use and incidental grazing should be the exception rather than the rule and be determined by site-specific analysis based on use, land characteristics and science.  It should not be subjective or based on the social preferences of other users. 

 

The AHC supports this legislation which mandates that any  proposed reduction in the use and access of pack and saddle stock animals on federal lands can occur only after complying with the full review process required under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969.

 

The ability of any federal land agency to unilaterally close a trail or trail head with no notice or public process must be stopped.  De facto restrictions on access or the limitation through onerous regulations must be eliminated.  This legislation will go a long way to ending any such abuse. 

 

CONCLUSION

 

Members of the recreational riding community consider themselves both horsemen and women and environmentalists.  They are concerned that our nation’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, Congress and the responsible federal agencies is to ensure that federal 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 federal agencies and other interested stakeholders as we work to preserve our lands, our access and the common good.

 

The AHC appreciates the opportunity to submit testimony in support of this important bill.