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June 2000 Planet Main
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  June 2000 Features:
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Fenced Out ORVs
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The Planet
Club Fences Out Off-Road Vehicles

by Jenny Coyle

"Lice" is how a Utah cattle rancher recently described off-road vehicles.

"They're riding the things everywhere now," Lee Jeffs told a reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. "[ORVs are] kind of like lice on a cow...introduce one of them to an area and pretty soon they're everywhere and before long the area looks like it's about to die."

Jeffs, who has a grazing lease nearby, was watching 30 members of the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter putting up a fence across a dirt track in Salt Wash to block ORV access to a wilderness study area.

xploding growth in motorized recreation is raising serious concerns about environmental damage to public lands and the future of quiet family recreation. Newer, sophisticated ORVs have gained access to areas more rugged and remote than they could have traveled in the past, and their popularity means there are more of them out there than ever before.

In response to citizen concerns, the Sierra Club has formed a new national Recreational Issues Committee. Its task is to help develop strategy and assist Club volunteers as they work on recreation-related issues, including ORVs, recreation fees, visitor impacts, outfitters and commercial activities.

Federal land-management agencies recognize the growing threats posed by ORVs and have recently begun to craft new rules for their use on publicly owned lands and waters.

Tanya Tolchin, the Club's Washington, D.C.-based staff member who works with the recreation committee, said agencies like the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management have a responsibility to protect America's land legacy from damage by motorized recreation.

"Our position is that all roads and trails should be closed to off-road-vehicle use unless they're posted open to them," said Tolchin. "A road should only be posted as open when a scientific review has been conducted that shows ORV use will not harm the ecosystem. And agencies need to enforce the laws: Often, ORV users tear down signs on paths that are posted closed."

She said another problem with off-road vehicles, besides the noise and pollution they spew, is that they blaze roads and trails where none existed before, and it's nearly impossible to remove a road once it's there.

"It's clear that motorized recreation is becoming a nemesis," said committee member Dick Hingson.

"And it's a tough fight against them," added committee member Peter Bengtson. "The motorized-vehicle industry uses images of nice families who want to take their kids to the backcountry for a picnic. But the real problems are caused by irresponsible users going off-trail and tearing up streams and wildlife habitat."

Some good news came in April when the National Park Service announced an immediate ban on the recreational use of snowmobiles in nearly all of the country's national parks, monuments and recreational areas. Snowmobiles have created a serious problem in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere. They'll still be allowed for recreational use in Denali National Park and 11 other park sites in Alaska, and in Minnesota's Voyageurs National Park. The Park Service has similarly restricted the use of Jet Skis and other personal watercraft in most national parks.

But if trouble isn't underfoot, then it's overhead - with airplane and helicopter overflights. Hingson points to the Grand Canyon where, in 1999, the skies over the national park were filled with a total of 132,000 tour flights. "The summer silence is shredded at Hermit's Rest on the South Rim, and overwhelmed even at the North Rim's renowned Point Sublime and Point Imperial," he said. "The trails beneath have little respite."

Committee members are also concerned that motorized recreation will increase if the Forest Service makes permanent its Fee Demonstration Program, a temporary program installed in 1996 in which user fees are charged for access to national forest lands and waterways.

"An agency can find ways to make more money off a motorboat owner or downhill ski-area operator than it can off a hiker, so motorized, commercial recreation could become even more entrenched," said Hingson. Sierra Club members will join with other conservationists in a June 10 "day of protest" against the Fee Demonstration Program.

More on ORVs.

For more information: Contact Tanya Tolchin at (202) 675-2385; For information on the Fee Demonstration Program protest day, contact Vicky Hoover at (415) 977-5527;

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