Our Public Lands Story

The 1964 Wilderness Act established a National Wilderness Preservation System of federal lands “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The act designated 54 wilderness areas with 9.1 million acres within the national forests and reserved to Congress the authority to add areas to the system. Congress has enacted 117 subsequent statutes designating wilderness areas (including one with 16 wilderness-related subtitles) and 8 other statutes requiring wilderness study or otherwise significantly affecting wilderness areas. Many of these statutes provide management direction for designated areas that differ from the Wilderness Act provisions. As of December 31, 2010, the system totaled 759 wilderness areas with 109.7 million acres of federal land.

Our Public Lands

There has been a lot of attention recently about Public Lands and where America is headed with the management of those lands. Further, anyone who recreates on America’s public lands is often exposed to unfamiliar terms and may not understand the differences. The Wilderness Act focuses on wilderness areas but what about our other public lands? These lands are owned “equally” by all Americans. There are 618 million acres of public land across the U.S., with a significant portion in Alaska and the western U.S. The total U.S. land base is 2.27 billion acres in size. A discussion by Mac Long titled, “Our Vast Public Lands, Owned Equally by all Americans” discusses the differences in our public lands and what it means to you.

Law & Policy

The National Trails System: What It Is and How It Came To Be – A history by Thomas Gilbert of the National Park Service.


Wilderness Laws:  Statutory Provisions and Prohibited and Permitted Uses  – A Congressional Research Service report  February 2012

Definitions of Special Management Areas for Federal Public Land – This describes the types of land management that are applied to federal lands under a variety of regulations and prescriptions.

If You Depend on Developed Horse Camps on Public Lands, BCHA Needs Your Help!

We need help in documenting incidents of parties without stock occupying developed horse camps in your State. BCHA is relying on its members to provide data from the field of your observations, should we need to promote further solutions.

In early 2022 the Forest Service’s national office circulated a memo to all National Forests and National Grasslands titled “Recommended Best Practices for Managing Stock Use Sites at Developed Campgrounds“.

BCHA Encourages Chapters to Review USFS Memo “Best Practices for Managing Stock Use Sites at Developed Campgrounds” & Discuss with Local USFS Staff.

We Protect Our Public Lands

We protect our public lands and our right to access them.

National presence on the “Hill” – representatives from the Public Liaison Committee make several trips to Washington, D.C. annually to maintain our visibility with our legislators. (Local contacts with the legislators is also extremely important.)

You can help by voicing your opinion to Legislation that will affect our rights to access public lands. From time to time we will alert our members and ask you to act by contacting your congress members on important issues!

One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it can change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”

— President Obama


Electric Bike Incident Reporting Form

While the use of electric motorized bicycles (e-bikes) on non-motorized trails might be authorized by federal land management agencies, few have done so to date given extensive requirements for stakeholder engagement and environmental review. Yet equestrians continue to describe incidents of illegal e-bike use on trails shared by hikers and others.

Federal land managers not attune to our concerns regarding heightened potential for trail conflict and safety issues associated with fast-moving e-bikes might be persuaded to authorize e-bike use in the absence of documentation of reported incidents. In response, the Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA) developed a reporting form wherein trail users can submit reports of e-bike encounters—either positive or negative—while enjoying natural surface trails.

Over time, these reports could prove useful in identifying trail conflict “hot spots” and in making a case for land managers to proceed with caution when deciding where to authorize e-bike use. You can access and print out the form here.

For online or mobile phone users, download the form here.

Please share completed forms of illegal or unsafe e-bike incidents with the relevant land manager or law enforcement entities so they have a record of your reported incident. Keep a copy for yourself and please email completed forms to BCHA at: michellewade@bcha.org

Public Lands Workshop

Learn to Communicate The Equestrian Experience

Three presentations were presented at the BCHO 2010 National Board meeting by Dennis Daily, Senior adviser for Wilderness recreation & Trails. We encourage you to watch these to improve your public land skills.

The Equestrian experience is more than the act of riding. What does trail riding in the wilderness mean to you? If all your telling your local public land manager you want to just ride the trails, you are leaving out a lot of details they need in order to provide you with the opportunity to enjoy a quality experience. The desired outcome or experience may also have a social component, sharing the experience with family and friends, or enjoying the solitude of the forest.

When responding to scoping comments requested by public land managers it is not just a chance to ride, it is more. Riding in a natural appearing environment, near my community where I can enjoy on evenings and weekends, in an area where I can get help if needed, and much more. Learn to be effective when responding.

This and other related topics are covered to help teach you how to respond when asked for your help to keep trails open on public lands.

Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER)

BAER – What it Means to Your BCH Chapter

This webinar was presented December of 2021 by BCHA. We encourage you to watch this video to improve your public land skills and please while watching. Please Subscribe to BCHA’s YouTube Channel! Put your pointer over the BCHA logo on the video, and click “SUBSCRIBE”.

The webinar describes the USFS BAER program and how it relates to BCHA. The BAER program is intended to gauge the level of need, and the agency’s ability to manage post-fire rehabilitation actions for a subset of rehabilitation needs related to minor facilities and infrastructure damaged by wildfire. Rehabilitation is defined by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) as short-term efforts undertaken within three years of a wildfire to repair or improve fire damaged lands unlikely to recover to management approved conditions or to repair or replace minor facilities damaged by wildfire.

If this pilot program proves to be successful in its ability to address targeted needs while
maintaining fiscal discipline, it may guide the development of future Forest Service policy. The BAER program staff are tasked with the administration of this pilot effort. One of the end results is to get unbudgeted Forest Service money to rebuild effected trails. Download BAER Information Brief.

BCHA presentation video on the  USFS BAER Pilot Program

We Advocate for the Pacific Crest Trail

The Pacific Crest Trail is a 2,650-mile hiking and equestrian trail closely aligned with the highest portion of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges, which lie 100 to 150 miles east of the U.S. Pacific coast.

Forest Service letter to BCHA November 2013 – Confirmation from Regional Forester for maintaining existing rules on allowable uses of the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail (i.e., PCT)

Forest Service letter to PCTRI November 2013 – Rationale from Regional Forester shared with the PCT “Reassessment Initiative” (PCTRI) that the PCT was neither designed nor constructed for bicycle use

BCHA letter to Forest Service  February 2013 – Offering support for the Regional Forester’s decision not to consider “termination” of the bicycle closure order for the PCT.

Forest Service letter to PCTRI February 2013 – Rationale from the Regional Forester to the PCTRI for not initiating a rulemaking process to evaluate the addition of bicycle use on the PCT

Forest Service PCT Closure Order: Bicycles 1988 – Forest Service Order from 1988 that restricts the use of bicycles along the PCT

US Forest Service Planning Rule

BCHA Comments regarding the US Forest Service 2012 Planning Rule

BCHA Comment Letter May 2013 – Comments regarding the need for stronger guidance related to planning for National Scenic and Historic Trails [FS Handbook 1909.12-Land Management Planning Handbook, Chapter 23.22(L)]

BCHA Comment Letter April 2013 – Comments regarding Wilderness Evaluation in the Forest Plan revision process [FSH 1909.12-Land Management Planning Handbook, Chapt. 70]

BCHA Comment Letter Wilderness Character  April 2012– BCHA letter to the Forest Service Chief regarding the need to safeguard agency-recommended wilderness areas.

We need help in documenting incidents of parties without stock occupying developed horse camps in your State.

Downloadable Horse Camp Incident form

Online Horse Camp Incident Form

Managing Horse Campsites Whitepaper