Wilderness Group Targets ORVs

By Mueller, Gene | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), December 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

Wilderness Group Targets ORVs


Mueller, Gene, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


What personal watercraft - sometimes known as jet skis - have done to solitary fishermen and recreational canoeists, the off-road vehicle is quickly doing to America's hikers and more than a handful of hunters. In many cases, the off-roaders are their own worst enemies, being viewed as careless slobs who destroy fragile environments.

It begins with some people's desire to reach remote, federally controlled wilderness areas and state or national forests but not being willing to do it the old-fashioned way: walking. An increasing number of "nature lovers" wants off-road vehicles (ORVs) to get them there in a flash, and that is creating a firestorm of controversy because not everybody likes it.

As a hunter and angler who, despite being too heavy and growing older by the minute, prefers to walk into the back woods when wishing to get away from civilization, nothing emphasizes the "C" word more than gasoline-consuming vehicles that easily conquer hills and valleys strewn with boulders, stream beds and bogs.

Sadly, the writer Aldous Huxley seems to have been correct when he exclaimed that an automobile was "created in man's own image." The comparison drips with sarcasm, but it makes its point. However, it isn't only autos that a growing segment of the American public is concerned with. The culprit is any motorized vehicle that can maneuver over rough, roadless terrain.

The 200,000-member national Wilderness Society points out that our national forests, parks, wildlife refuges and Bureau of Land Management public lands are national treasures, there for the enjoyment of all Americans. These lands, it says, provide a wealth of values and resources for all, from hikers and mountain bikers to hunters and birdwatchers. But among all recreational activities, the use of all-terrain vehicles (including four-wheel-drive sport utility trucks, even snowmobiles) is doing the most direct damage to natural surroundings that took millions of years to evolve.

"The past decade has seen dramatic increases in ORV ownership from Maine to California," says the Wilderness Society. "As a result of technological advances, the development of a well-organized ORV lobby, and the establishments of ORV routes on public lands, off-road vehicles are now the single fastest growing threat to the natural integrity of our public lands."

The U.S. Forest Service is seen by the society as particularly unmovable when it comes to complaints and fears about damaging national forests. It charges that even executive orders from the White House and federal statutes that pertain to the management of off-road vehicles frequently have been ignored. The society also charges that the Forest Service has failed to adequately monitor ORV use with regard to soil displacement, erosion and vegetation damage. …

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