by Tanya Tolchin
Lands protection program conservation organizer
The wilderness experience. If you believe what you see on television, an
integral part of it is a gas-guzzling internal combustion engine. Grizzlies and deer watch
in admiration as shiny, souped-up sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) plow through streams and
forests. Turn on the ignition and go anywhere anytime.
Although SUVs rarely venture off road in the real world, more specialized
off-road vehicles (ORVs) are increasingly tearing through remote areas, disturbing fish
and wildlife habitat, contributing to air and water pollution and creating countless miles
of illegal roads.
Fortunately, President Clinton's roadless-area plan provides an
opportunity to protect America's last wild forests from these motorized intrusions.
Specific protective provisions have yet to be spelled out, but the Club is pushing hard to
make sure that the new plan prohibits all destructive activities including motorized
The use of various types of ORVs has increased dramatically in the past
decade. Snowmobiles break the winter quiet in our national parks and motorcycles roar down
Forest Service trails previously used only by hikers. Between 1991 and 1996, the sale of
all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) doubled from 150,000 to over 300,000 units per year. (ATVs are
motorized three- and four-wheeled recreational vehicles that cannot be driven on the
highway.) New technology has expanded the ability of these vehicles to reach remote areas,
and they have become an increasingly serious threat to America's wildlands.
For example, in Montana's Gallatin National Forest, home to elk, big horn
sheep, wolverine and the endangered grizzly bear, ORV use has spiraled out of control.
Outside of the designated areas, 96 percent of the Gallatin is open to motorized vehicles.
Drusha Mayhue, chair of the Club's Yellowstone Ecosystem Task Force, is
working to restrict ORV use in the Gallatin Mountains. She described "intense illegal
off-trail use of motorized vehicles, even in the wilderness study areas." She worked
with the Montana Wilderness Association to close the Hylite, Porcupine and Buffalo-Horn
wilderness study areas to motorized use, but the pressure to reopen them has intensified.
Another hot spot for ORVs is in Washington's Wenatchee National Forest.
Mark Lawler, National Forest Committee chair for the Cascade Chapter, is working to revise
the state gas tax, which currently subsidizes trails for motorized vehicles on
Washington's public lands. He called the Mad River Roadless Area "the victim of 30
years of state-subsidized motorized-use funding." This area provides habitat for bull
trout, salmon and lynx. But heavy motorcycle use has left deep ruts in alpine meadows,
severely damaged trails and has chased away hikers and backpackers. Lawler also noted a
sharp increase in the use of snowmobiles in the most remote areas of the forest.
In the coming months, Mayhue, Lawler, and other Sierra Club activists
across the country will be working to build support for and shape the president's historic
roadless-area plan. The plan will not fully protect our wild forests unless it addresses
the growing threat from irresponsible motorized vehicle use.
During this public comment period, we must send a strong message to the
Forest Service that the last unspoiled wild forests should be protected from all damaging
activities, including motorized recreation. Eliminating noisy, polluting engines means
peace of mind for wildlife and people who choose to use their own feet to enjoy the great
U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515
Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121
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