National Forest Access and Use -- The ATV Issue
Ocala National Forest
April 1-3, 2004

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The beautiful Ocala National Forest was designated as such in 1908, making it the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River. The forest encompasses 383,000 acres of open longleaf pine-turkey oak-wiregrass communities, vast prairies, three “Magnitude 1” springs, wetlands and swamps, oak hammocks and thick sand pine-scrub. These natural amenities afford considerable opportunities to recreate – which is the issue that brought us here for Session 3. There is nearly something for every one of the 2.2 million visitors that arrive each year including, hiking, hunting, bird watching, camping, canoeing, off-roading, horse back riding, boating, fishing and mountain biking.

Figure 1. Camp Ocala on Sellers Lake in the Ocala National Forest

Day 1:

Interpersonal Communications
The start of Session 3 found the 2004 FNRLI fellows gathering at Camp Ocala, recalling many trips to summer camp gone by. After getting reacquainted and fueling up at lunch, we gathered with Tom Taylor to discuss and practice communication techniques, specifically those that are the basic building blocks in any negotiation:

  • Active Listening

  • Communicating Your Point of View

  • Reframing

  • Guiding Negotiations with Constructive Questions and Comments

  • Non-Verbal Communications

First, fellows broke into pairs to practice active listening skills by sharing a specific issue that each of us is currently confronting. The purpose was to learn how to create a climate where people feel comfortable to explain fully what is important to them. We addressed non-verbal communication such as eye contact, head nodding and body position. These techniques are useful to build trust, get information, and relieve tension through the expression of emotions and demonstrate that it is acceptable to discuss feelings. We learned how to acknowledge the other person’s issues and feelings while communicating our own point of view in order to frame the situation as a shared challenge to be solved.

Low Ropes Course
The fellows welcomed a change of pace when we were put to the mental test of team building through a low ropes course. While every activity enhanced our teamwork skills and attitudes, they also challenged our listening and thinking skills and much more… Telephone Tango tested Carolee’s memory and everyone else’s balance. Helicopter Hug allowed us to really get to know each other better. The Pawn Puzzle was truly a puzzle that wasn’t to be solved until much later that day. Lastly, we wound up in the Ropes portion of the course, literally. While we were only successful in half of the tests, we had great fun with our attempts.

Figure 2. Who is in favor of staying outside all day?
Figure 3. Telephone pole twist and tango.
Figure 4. May I have this dance?

National Forest Access Issue
After dinner we settled in to hear USFS employees Jim Thorsen, Kathy Bronson and Carrie Sekerak give us a thorough over view of Access Issues in the Ocala National Forest – specifically with regards to OHV use. Ranger Thorsen began by giving us 5 key points regarding recreational use in the forest:

  • There are multiple recreational users

  • It is a national issue

  • Public land policy vs. resource protection

  • Motorized vehicles have the greatest impact

  • As of 2002, unlicensed vehicles are to be titled for public land use with fees going into a trust fund

Another issue is that there are only two public areas in Florida that allow ATV use and the Ocala National Forest is one of them.

Problems associated with OHV use include erosion, resource damage to wetlands and dry sinkholes, user created roads (off designated paths), noise disturbance to wildlife, and interference with other user groups. One reason that the problem has escalated is the lack of support for adequate law enforcement. Of the violations cited, 46% are related to motorized vehicles and the punishment is typically a $100 fine which goes to the Justice Department, not the Forest. In some cases, a mandatory appearance in front of a judge is required. Ranger Thorsen feels that 80% of the users are okay, 10% don’t know the rules and the other 10% just don’t care. Some of the solutions to date include road closures, posting trail signs and setting up barriers to stop off-road use.

In a survey conducted by the Ocala National Forest, 75% of ATV users are male - primarily riding 4 wheelers, 35% ride more than 25 times/year in the forest, 71% are not members of an ATV club, 90% know where they are allowed (and not allowed) to ride and 70% are willing to pay for an ATV sticker. 

Kathy Bronson, the GIS Coordinator, spoke about the access designation process. In 1999, two big changes were made to the Forest’s plan: 1) no cross country travel allowed and 2) trail signs are posted as “open” rather than “closed” to avoid them from being torn down. The forest was given two years to develop a trail system with public input. They divided the forest into three areas: Wilderness, Restricted (outer) and Unrestricted (inner). During the 2000-2001 public meetings, attendees were divided into different interest groups from which two representatives were selected to be part of the working group tasked with agreeing on a trail system within the restricted areas. In 2001-2002, trails and roads in a heavily used section of the Forest (Paisley Woods) were GPS’ed. A year later a new survey showed a 13% increase in trail miles, further indicating a huge growth in the number of users in the Forest. Currently, an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) is being developed with a draft due in May/June 2004. Following a 90 day public comment period, the final draft will be out in October 2004.

Carrie Sekerak, a USFS biologist wrapped up the evening with a talk on the ecological impacts of recreation. She made a point that there is no such thing as a “non-consumptive user” and gave an example that even a hiker taking photographs can be disruptive to the environment. The impacts from recreation include direct mortality, wildlife behavior changes, fitness reduction, habitat availability and quality reduction and most importantly, multiple stressors. Multiple stressors refer to the cumulative effect of all the impacts listed above. When combined, they can create detrimental conditions to many organisms. The forest is affected by a broad array of multiple stressors manifesting in a direct, indirect and interactive way at the individual, population or ecosystem level. It is a complex concept that the general public cannot fully understand and agencies are deficient at evaluating the effects multiple stressors have on an ecosystem. Carrie suggested that with the large number of diverse user groups, the forest cannot be all things to everyone and therefore the focus should be on maintaining ecological integrity.

When assessing potential impacts, Carrie pointed out three important questions to ask:

  1. Where is the recreational opportunity in relation to critical habitat species?

  2. Where is the frequency and duration of the human presence?

  3. What is the ecological sensitivity to violators?

Mitigation provides complex answers to complex problems and some of the solutions the forest has outlined thus far are:

  1. Direct people away from large core areas of quality habitat.

  2. Avoid areas that are sensitive to disturbance (i.e., breeding or critical foraging areas)

  3. Provide corridors for wildlife movement between resources.

  4. Concentrate human presence by designating areas.

Figure 5: Ranger Thorsen and his staff clearly explain the ATV issue in the forest.

Social Hour
After an interesting day, the fellows were more than happy to have some down time to reflect upon the days events. We gathered around a blazing bonfire to enjoy good conversation and good food thanks to the Moore’s providing S’mores. Some adventurous fellows even took a moonlit canoe paddle around the lake before calling it a day.

Day 2:

Day two at the 4-H camp began with a hearty pancake breakfast, which was needed because we had a long day ahead of us. After breakfast we all hopped into the vans for a tour of some of the areas on the Ocala National Forest that have been affected by OHV use. This wasn’t just any tour either, but a roller coaster ride. For those in the back of the vans, helmets were required. First we stopped at the Big Scrub campground where the District Ranger gave us an overall picture of the amount of OHV use on the Ocala National Forest. On any given weekend, there could be as many as 5,000 users roaming the trails or making their own trails. 

Figure 6: Ranger Thorsen at Big Scrub campground. Figure 7. Carrie Sekerak at a dry sinkhole "playground."

Next we drove down the road a bit and stopped at a sinkhole to see firsthand the damage that illegal use of OHV’s on the Forest can cause. We were all disgusted at the resource damage; as we were at the next site we stopped at. This was a small wetland along a power line adjacent to Paisley Woods that had been completely destroyed by illegal OHV use. All that remained of the wetland and the endangered plant that used to occupy the site was a mudhole. 

Figure 8. Carrie Sekerak and a destroyed wet prairie that was habitat for an endangered plant.

The last stop on the tour was an old firebreak line that had been widened by OHV users to create a new trail. We could graphically see the difference in vegetation from one side of the trail to the other; a result of the wide trail slowing down and even stopping a prescribed fire, reducing its effectiveness on the other side. 

Following this tour we were driven to Alexander Springs to enjoy a lunch packed by our 4-H hosts. After lunch we returned to the 4-H camp to continue our discussions about inter-personal communication for leaders.

Figure 9. View looking up from 28 feet down in Alexander Spring –  what we couldn't see from the picnic area.

Tom Taylor led us through a discussion about integrating stakeholder input into decision-making, followed by process design considerations and guidelines for communicating with those not at the table. Following this we were allowed to stretch our legs or nap, whichever was preferred for about 30 minutes. We returned refreshed and ready for a stimulating stakeholder panel discussion. Participants included: Carl Reiche – Florida Four Wheel Association; Brad Minnix-Florida Trail Riders; Dick Schuler – Florida Trail Association; Jimmy Wise – Central Florida Dog Hunters; and Guy Marwick – representing Environmental Groups and Concerned Citizens. Everyone on the stakeholder panel, even though representing different interests, agreed that the major problem with the OHV use on the Forest was the approximately 20 percent of users who did not follow the regulations, destroying precious natural resources and giving the whole industry a bad name.

Figure 10. Stakeholder Panel.

The Stakeholder panel members joined us for continued informal discussions over a 4-H dinner of hamburgers and hot dogs, after which we all had a good break to relax a bit. Then the fun began. We gathered again in the evening to play out and experience a focus group. One member of the fellowship presented a slide show and brochure that she had prepared as part of her practicum as well as her Thesis. Tom Taylor moderated the focus panel and discussion of the effectiveness of the presentation and brochure. While several members observed and took notes on specific aspects of the focus group discussion, others became panel members and participated in the focus group. The group was not shy in its response to the presentation and offered much of what we hope was constructive criticism. Following this lively discussion we broke for the day and many joined around the bonfire for a second night to enjoy the evening and company.

Figure 11. The Focus group.

Day 3:

At breakfast, the Great Dain (Jon) was asked to facilitate a debriefing of session activities. Without much time to prepare – class was to begin shortly at 8:00 am – Jon led the group in an interactive, fun, and productive review of the events that had transpired since Thursday. He did an excellent job at soliciting from Fellows their expectations, experience, attitudes and lessons learned. Some highlights of the debriefing are as follows (thanks to Tom for transcribing the information on the large note pads):

Aspirations of Fellows on the Way To Ocala
How to bring different views together 
Tools for understanding different views/stakeholders
Alternatives to plan
Tools for toolbox, beyond big issues
Learn about another area/situation conflict
Microcosms of natural resource management issues in FLA
Expand land management options
Survive the focus group
Compare issues with my work
Look at stakeholder processes; how would apply to other areas and processes
Where are we in process – how stakeholders perceive process
How the Ocala National Forest is addressing issues
See impacts on Ocala National Forest and assess
Conflict resolution methods 
Get to know Ocala National Forest and its issues

What can we learn about leadership?
It is pain!
Really LISTENING to user groups – understand their perspectives
Important to know what mission is – goals
Who is in charge? Need to identify, need to define
How do we deal with uncertainty and changing leadership?
Everyone with a stake needs to assume leadership roles; then negotiate it out 
Time pressures affect leadership strategies. Keep an open mind about who are the stakeholders
Tension between leadership and bureaucracy- hamstrung by context
Leadership when we are not the boss
We need authority to accompany role
Need to be creative within bureaucracy
Getting right people involved early on

Ah hah! Moments
Hikers being consumptive 
Split of user groups (motorized)
Restoration funds may be available from DOT and others
Focus groups as tools
“Secrete of the ropes”
Cultural expectations
Magnitude of damage and challenges to deal with it
Magnitude of public participation 
Target group identified may not be the true target group
Stakeholder/ participation, building trust
Difference of enforcement/local “can and can’t” philosophy 
Importance of early meetings with stakeholders
Huge market (potential) in creating ATV play areas by the private sector
Recognition of cynical view of potential solutions - did not open up to new possibilities
Realize that user groups must take responsibility for own problems TRIMBY

Although the group didn’t seem to want this session to end, it was time for break and the transition to thinking about our practicums. The coffee pot in the cafeteria was empty, but Roland had ensured that a fresh pot would be waiting at a secret location in the kitchen (sorry to those not in the know). Camp Ocala was bustling with activity. Lots of Suburbans, guns, and bows and arrows, but no ATVs. It was the State 4-H Archery and Shooting Championships, and families were scurrying about getting ready for the competition. Some of the Fellows may have been missing their families at that point, others may have been glad that they don’t have to deal with a scene like that every Saturday morning. It was a beautiful day, and we somewhat reluctantly returned to class. 

Tom led the group in discussing our practicum design and how to involve parties not at the table. We then broke up into 2s and 4s for some peer coaching and feedback. Time was too short as many Fellows found this interaction productive, and the weather delightful. But back inside again for a group discussion and the awaited feedback panel. 

During break, some of us noticed Emily and Church preparing diligently for the feedback panel. But where was Kim? Time was running out when Kim finally showed up, apologetic and muttering something about kids in the cabins. Despite the momentary distractions, the feedback panel seemed to have things under control. What would they do? More limericks? Some Yin and Yang? Instead they performed a hilarious skit of the session’s events. How Kim learned her lines in absentia we will never know. But what an outstanding performance by all! It was a great way to end a great session. 

Wes, we missed you, but look forward to being on your turf next session.

Written by
Gian Basilli, St. Johns Water Management District
Dianne Behringer, Florida Sea Grant - Broward County
Janet Mizzi, USFWS

School of Natural Resources and Environment