An inevitable collision on public lands
May 9, 2005
The difficulty of balancing off-highway vehicle use with wilderness protection on national forests and rangelands will present two huge challenges for federal agencies – deciding what to close and then the almost impossible task of enforcement.
Like most activities in the great outdoors, off-roading as practiced by most people can be a responsible and relatively harmless form of recreation. And like most anything, it can be ruined for the majority by a handful of irresponsible people.
In an article in Sunday’s Nevada Appeal, reporter Martin Griffith of the Reno office of the Associated Press outlined an inevitable collision course between growing ATV ridership and ongoing environmental protection of public lands.
It’s a big issue in wide-open Nevada, and it’s a local issue in particular at places such as Sand Mountain and the Pine Nut Mountains.
Both illustrate the fine line federal managers must walk. At Sand Mountain, there’s a potentially endangered butterfly to protect. In the Pine Nuts, it’s rare fossils. Environmentalists think temporary and voluntary closures of some roads are laughably ineffective; off-highway riders say closing thousands of acres to protect a few sensitive spots is overkill.
The truth is that road closures in such popular and accessible areas will be honored by most law-abiding people and ignored by the spoilsports, who will continue to do damage without much fear of being caught. More people will be forced into already heavily used areas, destroying part of the experience of being an off-road rider and putting more pressure on those public lands.
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What’s the solution?
Federal land managers must be as precise as possible in targeting protected areas. They need to leave the vast majority of Nevada public land open to all uses.
Riders and environmentalists – who aren’t necessarily different people – must both realize the practicality of compromise. Some areas need to be off-limits, but people also need room to ride.
And off-highway riders will have to police each other, because the few who can’t follow the rules could end up costing the rest a lot of wide-open territory.