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Sierra Magazine

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ORVs Keep Out!

By Andrew Becker

Wild Utah isn’t the only place under assault by off-road vehicles. Across the country, ORVs are trashing national forests and parks, turning natural areas into raceways. A survey by the Bluewater Network found ORV damage in 38 national park units–yet the Park Service has no national ORV policy. Here’s a snapshot of what the Sierra Club is doing about it:

Utah: Activists from the Club’s Utah Chapter have been building fences in the San Rafael Reef, a potential wilderness area in the San Rafael Swell, to protect sensitive areas from motorized traffic. They’re also working with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to press the BLM to protect wilderness study areas, where tire-track scars can last for generations. Last August, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the Club’s favor, declaring that the BLM can be held accountable for letting ORVs run rampant. Also at the urging of the Club, Representative Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) and ten other members of Congress wrote to Bureau of Land Management director Kathleen Clarke, telling her to stop dragging her feet on mandated ORV road and route designations in the Swell and other locations. (The Price, Utah, field office, for example, delayed producing a management plan for 11 years; after promising a federal court to have it done by May 2001, they now expect to complete it in January 2003.)

Montana: Working with the Native Forest Network, Club researchers in the Gallatin National Forest documented incursions into critical grizzly bear habitat, wilderness, and wilderness study areas. They concluded that skyrocketing ORV use in Gallatin is "destroying native vegetation, fragmenting wild areas, damaging watersheds, and harassing wildlife." (To obtain the report, "Motorizing Yellowstone," write the Sierra Club’s office at P.O. Box 1290, Bozeman, MT 59771.)

Florida: In Big Cypress National Preserve, one of the last refuges for the Florida panther, 22,000 miles of roads carve up vulnerable wetlands and prairies. The Park Service limited ORV use, leading ORV groups to file suit. The Sierra Club and allied organizations have intervened in support of the Park Service.

Explore The Club’s Outings program has several 2003 trips into Utah canyon country: a weeklong hike into the Escalante East in Grand Staircase—Escalante National Monument; a family rafting trip down the San Juan River through the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area; and an activist mountain-biking trip in eastern Utah’s Redrock Wilderness. For more information on these outings, go to

More Information Preserving public lands in the future may entail undoing the past. "Road removal can be just as important to American progress as roadbuilding once was," argues David Havlick, a founder and instructor for the Wild Rockies Field Institute in Missoula, Montana. In No Place Distant: Roads and Motorized Recreation on America’s Public Lands (Island Press) Havlick traces the origins of public-lands roads–many once served military purposes–and details the manifold problems they create: In two Idaho national forests, for example, roads were involved in 88 percent of 1,400 landslides studied, and the majority of grizzly bear deaths in Montana occur within one mile of a road. How we deal with these scars on our public lands, he suggests, will ultimately reflect our values as a people.

Take Action The best way to protect the San Rafael Swell is to help pass America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, which would permanently safeguard 9 million acres in Utah, including half of the Swell. As part of the Utah Wilderness Coalition, Sierra Club activists in 25 states are working to get more congressional cosponsors for the bill; for more information, see

The Sierra Club is working around the nation to limit the damage caused by off-read vehicles, from snowmobiles in Yellowstone to ATVs in Alaska. Get more information–and find out what you can do–to save our wildlands from mechanization.

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