Blue Ribbon Bedfellows

Under the guise of the voice of the American off-road rider, the Blue Ribbon Coalition intends on opening up protected public lands to timber, mining, oil, and gas interests.

| Sat Jun. 30, 2007 2:00 AM EDT

The Blue Ribbon Coalition bills itself as the voice of the American off-road rider, its mission "to preserve our precious natural heritage," according to its website. It claims to represent some 600,000 off-road-vehicle enthusiasts, though it admits that just 2 percent of that number are dues-paying members. But it's not necessarily Joe Snowmobiler that underwrites the group's $1 million annual budget. Though the coalition does not disclose a breakdown of its funding sources, the supporters listed in its magazine, BlueRibbon, include many companies that have evinced little concern for the orv community, but care a great deal about keeping public lands open for business: timber, mining, oil, and gas interests. Some top backers:

  1. At least 18 large timber companies that log in national forests, including Boise Cascade, the third largest buyer of logs from national forest land; and the $2.2 billion-a-year Pacific Corp., the world's leading waferboard manufacturer.
  2. At least 15 mining companies and associations, including Battle Mountain Gold Co., one of the biggest companies mining on public lands; Echo Bay Minerals Co.; and Crown Butte Mines Inc. (now part of Canada's Noranda Inc.), which once sought to mine for gold in a spot next to Yellowstone National Park that it had bought from the federal government for a mere $135, and eventually sold back to the feds for $65 million.
  3. At least eight oil or gas companies and four oil and gas trade associations, among them ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, and the American Petroleum Institute.
  4. The American Recreation Coalition, which represents interests ranging from the Walt Disney Corp. to the recreational vehicle industry, and which has helped the coalition lobby for a program that directs hundreds of millions in public funding to off-road-vehicle trails.

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A 2000 investigation by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (pirg) Education Fund concluded that extractive industries use the coalition "as a front group to advance their agenda"—an allegation that Brian Hawthorne, the group's public lands director, calls "total crap. We struggle to meet our budget every year." Hawthorne adds, "It's a 24-hour begathon for us. The real story is that Blue Ribbon is so effective even though it's such a small operation."

The coalition's accomplishments include filing suit against the National Park Service to keep Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks open to snowmobiles, spearheading the opposition to a Clinton-era initiative to protect roadless wildlands, and filing more than three-dozen lawsuits challenging orv restrictions in areas being studied for wilderness designation. The organization is perhaps most effective, says Wilderness Society lobbyist Kristen Brengel, in pressuring local field offices of federal public-lands agencies. "They have an on-the-ground presence," she notes. "This constituency is loud and extremely aggressive."