UNDUE INFLUENCE

Testimony of
Jeff Lyall


Undue Influence by Ron Arnold

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TESTIMONY OF JEFF LYALL

Before the U. S. House of Representatives,
Committee on Resources,
Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health
February 15, 2000

THE FUNDING OF ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVES AND
THEIR IMPACTS ON LOCAL COMMUNITIES

Thank you, Madam Chairman, and members of the Committee. I am honored to have the opportunity to testify before you here today. My name is Jeff Lyall. I am thirty-two years of age. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia.

In June of 1991, I received a level C5-6 spinal cord injury as the result of an auto accident. I was an avid outdoorsman. I liked to hike, backpack, camp, hunt, and fish, mostly on National Forest lands in Virginia and North Carolina.

Madam Chairman, I still enjoy the outdoors, but wheelchairs are poor off road vehicles. So in 1995 I modified a Jeep CJ to become my new legs and feet. This gave me access to the outdoors once again.

However, not long after that I discovered that the vast majority of OHV roads on National Forest lands in my area have been closed down. Now I can’t enjoy the outdoors by the only means available to me -- and neither can anyone else with a mobility impairment.

In the Blacksburg and New Castle Ranger districts where I live in Virginia, there are some 66 gated National Forest OHV roads with 110 miles of potential forest access. But there’s a problem. Of these 66 roads, only 9 are open during certain times and zero are open year round!

Hikers and mountain bikers can use them any time. But because my feet, and those of some of my friends, consist of four wheels and a motor, I am denied access. If that’s not discrimination on the basis of disability by an agency of the Federal Government, nothing is.

Carla Boucher is the attorney for United Four Wheel Drive Associations, which is an international organization that represents four wheel drive enthusiasts. She is bringing a lawsuit against the Forest Service on road closure issues. She has documented that less than 2% of all forest visitors use Wilderness areas, but those areas take up about 18% of all National Forest lands.

On the other hand, off highway users, 35% of all forest visitors, traditionally used roads on less than 2% of Forest Service lands. So it seems that the Forest Service caters to 2% of the visitors to Wilderness areas, while closing roads that take up less than 2% of the total National Forest System.

In the fall of 1998, I began talks with local National Forest officials. I discovered that the Forest Service has adopted a policy they refer to as "OBLITERATE ROADS", meaning they intend to gate and destroy as many OHV roads as possible. Since these roads are the only viable access to these public lands by a mobility challenged person, this is in effect, a Federal Policy of Discrimination against the estimated 54 million disabled people in the United States. Not to mention the millions in the Senior community who enjoy the outdoors, but are not able to travel as they once did.

Mrs. Boucher found that 76,300 miles of Forest Service roads are now closed. One in every 5 miles of Forest Service roads are closed. Just last year, the Forest Service closed 683 miles out of 800 miles of OHV roads in the Daniel Boone National Forest, effectively eliminating motorized access.

Within the past year, three OHV roads in my own backyard, which have been open since the 1950’s and 60’s, were bulldozed and gated, cutting off my access to these National Forest lands. In essence the Forest Service is saying, "if you can’t walk, we don’t want you in our forests!"

This has got to stop. And the people behind it have to be stopped. Mrs. Boucher has found that these road closures have been pushed by environmental groups funded by large foundations and working with Clinton administration insiders.

Mrs. Boucher found that the National Audubon Society pushed the President to permanently preserve 40 million acres of roadless areas. The Pew Trusts funded the Audubon Society, which will funnel more than $3 million to 12 environmental organizations to pressure the Forest Service to shut down more roads.

So, I now understand that it isn’t simply a line officer with the Forest Service who is shutting me out of our National Forests. It isn’t even simply a matter of some local or national environmental organization trying to shut down the forests. It is large, rich, foundations such as the Pew Charitable Trusts that are discriminating against me and the entire disabled community by funding environmental groups to push policies such as "Gate and Obliterate."

I cannot fight them alone. I am respectfully requesting Congressional investigation into the involvement of large foundations in making land management policy for the Forest Service. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.