OHV Impacts

Just a few “bad apples” damaging public lands with OHVs?

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks decided to find out.»

Violations of the Land and the Law

Incidents in the Pryors

Finite Recreation Opportunities

How do the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management manage Off Road Vehicles?

Monster trucks abuse the Pryors

The Billings Gazette reports: Destructive OHVers give sport a black eye.

Hit-and-Run ATVs

A physically disabled person hiking in an area closed to motor vehicles was assaulted by a hit-and-run ATV rider (from the Billings Gazette).

Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation

George Wuerthner's powerful look at motor-folk culture»
Thrillcraft Video

U.S. House Committee Hearing

House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands: Oversight Hearing on “The Impacts Of Unmanaged Off-Road Vehicles On Federal Land”, March 13, 2008

Testimony by JACK GREGORY, Special Agent in Charge, Retired, Southern Region U.S. Forest Service. On Behalf of Rangers for Responsible Recreation and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility Excerpts»

Testimony by MARY DENISE DOWD, MD, MPH, FAAP: On behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics Excerpts»

U.S. Senate Committee Hearing

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Oversight Hearing: To receive testimony regarding off-highway vehicle management on public lands, June 5, 2008  Excerpts»

National Association of Counties Resolution regarding management of Off-Highway Vehicles on Public Lands

How many Bad Apples are there in Montana?

Defenders of increasing ATV roads on public land frequently claim that most ATV riders are responsible and do not damage the landscape. They say there are just a few “bad apples” who give the rest a bad name.

A 2006 survey of registered OHV owners by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks gives a quantitative measure of the number of “bad apples” in Montana.

Montana ATV riders’ own responses to the survey show that at least 16% to 23% are “bad apples”. Since there were 52,847 registered OHV owners in Montana on 10/12/07, this means there are at least 8,600 to 12,300 bad apples in Montana. Yellowstone and Carbon Counties had 5,015 and 725 registered OHV owners respectively and thus 930 to 1340 bad apples.

Excerpt from Survey:

“OHV users should closely follow all trail, road, and area restrictions that are put in place to protect natural resources, wildlife, and provide non-motorized opportunities.”

83.7 % always follow this guideline,
16.3 % only sometimes or never follow this guideline

“To minimize impacts to the environment, OHV users should avoid riding cross-country or shortcutting the main route when riding on trails or roads.”

76.6 % always follow this guideline,
23.4 % only sometimes or never follow this guideline

It is well known that in surveys like this people under report their bad behavior. They certainly do not over report it. So the results should be interpreted as a minimum measure of bad behavior. Also there is good reason to suspect that “bad apples” were less likely to respond to the mail survey and are therefore underrepresented skewing the results in favor of good behavior.

This survey was sent to a random sample of 950 registered OHV owners in Montana. Responses were received from 47% or 447. That is a good response rate for voluntary surveys. 96.1 % of respondents said they rode ATVs or 4-wheelers. 19.6 % said they rode motorcycles.

More Excerpts from the Survey:

“To help reduce noise, OHV users should avoid excessive speeds and unnecessary throttling while riding on trails.”

56.7 % always follow this guideline,
43.2 % only sometimes or never follow this guideline

“To minimize impacts to the environment, OHV users should avoid riparian areas and wetlands.”

71.6 % always follow this guideline,
28.4 % only sometimes or never follow this guideline

Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation

George Wuerthner, Editor.  Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2007.

Do not read this review.  Instead find a copy of  Thrillcraft.  It is a powerful book.  The dramatic photos, captions and layout illustrate the threats to our last fragments of wild land by unlimited and uncontrolled motorized use.  A couple dozen essays by diverse experts provide insightful analysis and a better vision for our public land.  The list of contributors itself is impressive.

There are more than 100 stunning and often disturbing photos in this 300-page, “coffee table” size book.  Do not start at the beginning to read it through.  First look at all the photos and captions.  Take your time.  Then maybe read the Foreward, Afterword, and the Introductions to several of the seven parts.

“Part I Estrangement from Nature” is academic and philosophical.  It is not for everyone.   Part” II How Did It Come to This”, “Part III Environmental Impacts”, and “Part IV Bearing Witness Across America” might be better places to start.  Or just start on whichever essay catches your interest.  Many are excellent.

Ask for the book at the library.  If they don’t have it, request that they get it.  If enough people do, they will.  If your favorite bookstore doesn’t have it, tell them to stock it.  People need to see this book.  If you buy a copy, share it with friends and relatives.

Many ATV fans may take offense at the image of motor-folk presented in the book.  They might say that they, their friends and organizations are not like that.  They will claim to be responsible OHV riders.  Many of them may just not recognize their own image in the mirror – or claim not to.

Responsible OHV users should be easy to identify.  They would support the Pryors Coalition’s proposal for the Pryors. They would support strong protection for special public lands, strict and clear rules limiting where visitors are privileged to use off-road vehicles, and consistent enforcement to transform the current culture of disregard to one of respect for nature, the law, and other visitors.

There are clearly thrillcraft problems in Montana, but not yet as serious as in some other parts of the country.  It is important for land managers and decision makers to get ahead of the curve and avoid repeating the mistakes made elsewhere.  This book could help us protect the last remaining fragments of our public wildlands from the growing plague of thrillcraft.

The Pryors Coalition including the Eastern Wildlands Chapter of the Montana Wilderness Association is distributing copies of Thrillcraft to Custer National Forest, other public land managers, and public officials.

The overwhelming majority of users of public land – including the wildlife – do not use thrillcraft.  Let’s keep The Last Best Place worthy of the slogan.

JACK GREGORY, Special Agent in Charge, Retired, Southern Region U.S. Forest Service. On Behalf of Rangers for Responsible Recreation and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

“I would like to make three points: 1) the ORV problem is getting steadily worse, with no end in sight; 2) the ORV problem is not just “a few bad apples” — we are suffering from a major breakdown in attitude from sadly, a high percentage of off-roaders; and 3) route designation without effective enforcement simply will not work and, when done poorly, significantly aggravates problems.”

“Throughout my years of working for the FS, I witnessed the development of many good plans, but a failure to provide the field resources to properly execute them. It is unfortunate that the FS is long on “plans” and seemingly good intentions, but very short on effective field implementation, particularly with providing necessary LE resources for dealing with serious problems.”

“Federal agencies are often willing to go the extra mile in placating and appeasing the ORV community, even in the face of logic and common sense.”

“In most locations, today’s fines for ORV abuse are inadequate. Some are so low that oftentimes the offender(s) will just view it as a necessary user fee.”

“Congress should not allow more off-road usage than can be monitored and managed. Responsible use of public lands now is a necessity for future generations to enjoy.”

Jack Gregory’s full testimony

MARY DENISE DOWD, MD, MPH, FAAP: On behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Between 1982 and 2006, over 2,300 children were killed in ATV crashes. This is the equivalent of five 747 jets full of children, or 35 fully loaded schoolbuses.

In 2006 alone, at least 111 children perished due to injuries sustained when riding an ATV.”

An estimated 39,300 children were treated in emergency departments for ATV-related injuries in 2006. Serious injuries among children have ranged from over 32,000 to over 44,000 every year since 20003.  Since 1990, over 485,000 children have been treated in hospitals for ATV-related injuries – equivalent to the entire population of Atlanta, Georgia.”

“Despite the alarming increases in ATV deaths and injuries, government regulation continues to be all but absent.”

“Children under 16 should not operate ATVs. Children do not possess the physical strength, coordination, or judgment necessary to pilot these vehicles safely.”

“In conclusion, the American Academy of Pediatrics urges you to support meaningful restrictions on children riding or operating ATVs and other off-road vehicles on public lands. Clearly, ATVs pose a significant hazard to children who ride them. This fact is indisputable. The cost to society is also high, not only in regard to loss of life and health but in actual dollars. In 2005, the journal Pediatrics published a study in which my colleagues estimated that total hospital charges for children’s ATV injuries over a two-year period exceeded $74 million. If no further action occurs this year, we can expect over 100 children to die and over 35,000 to be treated in the emergency room again next year due to ATV-related incidents.”

Mary Dowd’s full testimony

“I firmly believe that our public land natural resources (soils, vegetation, watersheds, and fish/wildlife habitats) cannot sustain the damage of unmanaged OHV use that is occurring today.  It is my hope that the results of this process will be a well thought out, sustainable, managed system of roads, trails and areas that are approved for motorized and non-motorized uses including OHV’s.  This system should be balanced with the needs of other recreation users and within the capacity of the ecosystem. (emphasis added)

Bradley Powell, Retired USFS Regional Forester, Forest Supervisor,…. now Western Energy and ORV coordinator, Trout Unlimited.   Brad Powell’s Testimony

“Part of the problem that encourages this reckless behavior stems from the feeling of anonymity that many of the OHV riders have because there is no way of identifying them or their vehicles. Most States do not require a license plate for such vehicles. Those States that do require tagging, the tags are not large enough to be seen with out being in almost on top of the vehicle. If you are able to determine that there is a tag on the OHV, determining the tag number is almost impossible.” (emphasis added)

Frank Adams, the Executive Director of the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association.  Frank Adams’ Testimony