by Jenny Coyle
"Lice" is how a Utah cattle rancher recently described off-road
"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
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
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
More on ORVs.
For more information: Contact Tanya Tolchin at (202) 675-2385; firstname.lastname@example.org. For
information on the Fee Demonstration Program protest day, contact Vicky Hoover at (415)
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