This is my latest outdoors column for the newspaper I work for in northeastern Pennsylvania.
David Petersen lives in Durango, Colo. The 60-year-old is a Trout Unlimited member. And he’s serving on the Colorado Roadless Areas Review Task Force.
He knows the best hunting and fishing is found on roadless land. And in the West, roadless land is usually public land.
That’s why he’s upset about off-roaders.
“I personally have lost almost all my favorite public land hunting places to motorized invasion over the past six or eight years,” Petersen told Denver Post outdoors editor Charlie Meyers.
“The motorized crowd may not be able to go everywhere they want sitting on their butts, but if they chase all the game out, gouge the meadows, muddy the stream and make all that noise, I have no reason to go there. They effectively have denied access to everyone who doesn’t want those things.”
Petersen says much of the abuse he sees comes during hunting season.
“Hunters are responsible for a majority of the real damage and it’s very much the responsibility of hunters to take the bull by the horns and do something about it,” he told Meyers.
But it’s not just fair-chase hunters who lose out when motorheads move in.
Birds are spooked. Critters are chased from dens, shelter, feeding grounds.
And all the other users – hikers, backpackers, birders, naturalists, cross-country skiers, anglers – are chased as well.
No sense beating the bush: Give a motorhead a designated trail to ride on and it’ll only be a matter of time (hours? minutes? mere seconds?) before he/she decides to go off-trail.
This is why it’s a bad idea to have ATV “trails” on public land – period. Even the strictest regulation and on-the-ground law enforcement presence would still not be enough to guarantee the sanctity of the off-trail terrain and its flora/fauna.
That’s why the Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t allow off-road cowboys and cowgirls on its properties. Except for hunters whose physical disabilities would otherwise keep them home.
Motorheads like to frame their argument in favor of greater “access” to public land as just trying to help the infirm, the aged, the lame.
Afraid to use the feet and legs God gave them, though, they would be the first to climb aboard a machine.
What’s passing through the minds of off-roaders?
To get a sampling, I checked one of the Internet chat rooms popular with motorheads.
Regarding conservationists’ filing of a lawsuit to protect a rare butterfly’s habitat in Nevada:
o “Why does every single species on earth have to be preserved? … hasnt [sic] anyone ever heard of (i’m [sic] gonna [sic] hear alot [sic] of bitching for this) ‘survival of the fitest [sic].’”
o “Well i [sic] kill a couple hunred [sic] of those butterfly [sic] on the 25 mile [sic] drive from Fallon. Before you even get to Sand Mountain.”
o “I stand firm. I don’t think we should have to play politics to have access to public lands. There is no such thing as ‘permanent damage’ to the woods. Thats [sic] just BS … How did the noxious weeds get there in the first place? Did a space ship [sic] drop them in one spot never to be spread. So what if they spread. Thats [sic] what they are going to use as an arguement [sic] to get us out of the woods?”
This chat room poster is thinking revenge: “I have a solution. I say we find out where all these people live that want to shut us out of the forests, buy really loud street legal [sic] bikes and ride for hours right by their homes late at night when they are trying to sleep. Their neighbors will love them. We could put signs on our bikes that say ‘tree hugger lives here.’”
Then there’s the shoot-the-animals-first-before-the-conservationists-arrive-crowd: “It would still be a good idea to beat them to the punch next time. Find out which furry critters do inhabit the land before the greenies do. That way you will already have your ammunition loaded and ready to fire when they bring up furry critters again.”
The Blue Ribbon Coalition, based in Idaho, says its mission is “working together to preserve our precious natural heritage.”
But the anti-conservation BRC doesn’t like roadless public land. In fact, it has dedicated itself to killing the federal roadless-area rule (an initiative, begun in the Clinton era then twisted apart by the Bush team, to protect 58.5 million roadless acres of federal public land) as well as the Endangered Species Act.
Public lands would not exist if the BRC had its way.
Let’s be clear. There are many responsible ATV owners/riders. And these machines are wonderful around the farm and shed. I know one farmer out in Huntingdon County, Pa. who regularly uses a quad to haul stuff around his spread.
“Roadless areas are havens for fish and wildlife, whose habitat in many other forest areas has been fragmented or entirely destroyed,” the Natural Resources Defense Council states on its Web site.
“They provide habitat for more than 1,600 threatened, endangered or sensitive plant and animal species, and include watersheds that supply clean drinking water, unpolluted by development, for millions of Americans.
“These quiet, pristine places offer refuge to people as well; a world apart from the bustling, settled landscapes of our daily lives, they harbor some of the best trout fishing, hunting, hiking and camping in the nation.”
Around Hazleton, in Pennsylvania’s beaten-up anthracite coal region, the damage from ATVs on private land is pervasive, their eroded and gouged paths cutting across state highways, up and down power-line corridors, and, sometimes, across farm fields.
All the more reason to keep public lands free of motorized recreation.