Environmental Impacts Caused by Off-Highway Vehicle Use

First off, I want to give a big thanks to Beth for submitting this blog entry to me. It is lengthy, but also a great read!

Beth Hunnell
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Off-highway vehicle (ohv) use has been a concern to environmentalists for more than 60 years. What are ohv users doing to protect the environment while using natural land as their playground? Ohv users have created finally a united front to stand up and support off-roading. They have created organizations, protected off-road parks, involved the public, offered safety and responsible off-road vehicle use classes, stimulated local economies, and are driven to help protect the environment. Although ohv use does have an impact on designated trails it does not significantly impact the environment and it brings revenue to rural underdeveloped areas.

“Off-highway vehicles are defined as four wheel drive Jeeps, motorcycles designed for off-road use, all-terrain vehicles, and other specially designed vehicles made for off-road use” (Burr, Smith, Reiter, Jakus, Keith. 2008. pp. 61. Para. 5). These vehicles are designed to be taken off-road and many Jeeps have an optional off-road package. They come with tow hooks, rear hitches, skid plates to help protect the vehicle from rock damage, and quick disconnects. Quick disconnects allow the driver to disconnect the sway bar quickly. With the sway bar disconnected for off-road use it allows the front axle to flex more, giving the vehicle more stability.

The history of ohv use dates back more than 60 years ago and was a problem even before a problem existed. The issues didn’t start over ohv use. Environmentalists simply started this over land use and who have the right to use it and how it should be used. This is because U.S. Forestry Service Chief Gifford Pinchot and legendary naturalist John Muir faced off on environmental rights. It has been environmentalists against everyone else ever since (Johnson D. 2005). Since then extreme environmentalists have created an agenda set apart from what the average environmentalists stand to protect. According to Wikipedia environmentalists advocate for the preservation, restoration, or enhancement of the natural environment (Wikipedia.org).

Extreme environmentalists are the groups that think everything is harming the environment in some way and will fight with anyone, individuals or groups, which they believe are harming the environment in some way.

Shutting down trails for ohv use is like trying to stop someone from cutting down a tree because of the environmental impact. Many environmentalists have attacked timber companies just like they are attacking the off-road community. If they (environmentalists) do not believe they have full control over a certain area of interest they want whatever is going on at the time they don’t agree with to come to a complete stand still rather than find ways to work with the others involved. Timbering will always be a part of the culture and a necessity to the economy, just like off-roading. Environmentalists need to come together with other groups to find ways to preserve the land. It is better to have this recreational sport controlled and managed then outlawed. In 1998 the number of registered ohv users in the state of Utah was 51,688; however, this number tripled by the year 2006 to 172,231 (Burr, Smith, Reiter, Jakus, Keith. 2008). With the number of ohv users on the rise and the number of legal places to off-road dwindling; according to Daphne Greene, deputy director of California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation, it best serves environmentalists interest by administering properly maintained lands for responsible ohv use. If this isn’t available rogue riders will forge their own paths (Imlay M. 2007).

Three major land management agencies were surveyed. They included Bureau of Land Management, Forest Services, and the National Park Service. In the survey they were specifically asked “What proportion of the land had soil damage or erosion associated with ohv use?” All agencies unanimously agreed that less than 9% was caused by ohv use (Federal Lands: Survey, 2009). This is far less than most environmental issues in the United States.

(Federal Lands: Survey. GAO U.S Government Accountability Office, 2009. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov)

Many organizations are founded by off-road enthusiasts. Many of them are nonprofit. They do it because it is a recreational sport that they love, not because they want to protest orcause a stir with environmentalists. The organizations do not condone illegal, harmful off-roading. Quite the opposite, they offer courses on responsible ohv driving and they organize events to raise money to help find solutions for environmental issues. This does not sound like a bunch of outlaws out to create havoc on public land. They are organizations that want to bring friends and families together for a hobby that everyone, including those with disabilities can enjoy. This is not always the case with recreational sports. The disabled are often left with much to desire of this wonderful land. This gives them the opportunity to see it.
Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC) is a nonprofit organization that exercises the right to recreational use for everyone. There intent is much like the rest of the ohv organizations. What they stand for and expect is the common way of most off-road enthusiasts. Their mission statement says: “The Blue Ribbon Coalition champions responsible use of public lands and waters for the benefit of all recreationists by educating and empowering its members to:

  • Secure, protect, and expand shared outdoor recreation access and use
  • Work collaboratively with natural resource managers and other recreationists
  • Educate the general public, media, elected officials, and other decision makers on recreation and access issues
  • Promote equitable and responsible natural resource management
  • Affect the political and administrative process
  • Support recreation on, and promote respect for, private property
  • Encourage appropriate enforcement of the law”
  • (Blue Ribbon Coalition, 2010.)

    If everyone involved could have this outlook resources could be put to better use. Instead of the constant fighting over who is right and who is wrong.

    Tread Lightly is a nonprofit organization who has taken matters into their own hands. They have joined forces with both sides to create a unique place for all recreationalists to come for information on responsible recreation. They are a sole source service provider of education and training on how to be environmentally and socially responsible while using motorized and mechanized vehicles in the outdoors (Tread Lightly!, 2009).

    The last organization I want to mention is Wheelers for the Wounded. This organization offers opportunities for wounded vets to travel in off-road vehicles built to meet their needs to areas that would be unattainable or almost impossible otherwise. Without open trails our vets may not have access to the areas that off-road vehicles are capable of going too. All of the mentioned organizations have played a huge role in ohv use and the access to public and private land.

    Responsible ohv users are not on the trails to tear the land up. During a recent survey for the Hatfield-McCoy trail system they found that most users are not on the trail for extreme terrain and riding. Just like any other outdoor sport it is a time to reconnect with nature and enjoy it.

    (Center for Business and Economic Research Marshall University. 2006)

    This brings me to the other issue with closing down ohv trails. Most ohv parks and national forests are in rural areas that don’t have the opportunity for growth and development. Ohv parks offer numerous ways to boost the economy in these areas. Bill Dart states “Tread Lightly organization makes lawmakers and regulatory agencies aware of the economical impact the industry has on local, rural communities” (Imlay M. 2007. Pp 32. Para 3). Without ohv parks in many of the areas many forest management jobs could be lost. Parks and state land that offer trails also bring money into the area by bringing out of state riders in. They eat, sleep, break their vehicles, and fuel up in these areas. This has a huge impact on the local economy.

    In a rural area of New Jersey ohv users protest about the land that is being taken away from them. In Sussex county New Jersey recreationalists complain about the illegal use of all terrain vehicles on the Appalachian trails. These complaints range from the noise of the vehicles to the damage done off the designated hiking trails. These complaints do not go unheard or unnoticed by ohv users. Users state that although some users abuse the rights they have been given the majority of users are responsible and think they should have the same access to these trails as hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. According to John Parrinello, a State Representative for the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council the taxes collected on registrations for ohv’s and fuel purchases pay for the construction and maintenance of trails for non-motorized and motorized vehicles, including those set aside specifically for hiking and horseback riding (Hoffman T. 2006). Environmentalists argue that taxes are paid by everyone and do not give ohv users the right to destroy the land. With the money brought in from the taxes it could be better used to help manage and maintain already open trails and stop the illegal users from trespassing on to illegal land.

    Officials have identified numerous challenges in managing ohv use. Most of it being financial resources and staffing (Nazzaro R. 2009). The opportunity is there. The states and gov’t need to take the opportunity to capitalize on it by offering more funding to national forests to assist with trail management. Just like any other major project individuals and groups need to put something in, to receive something back!

    In conclusion ohv use is not detrimental to the environment. The fight to close ohv trails is just another way for special interest groups to intervene when it is obvious it is not needed. They continue to stress the impact ohv use has on the environment, but it is time they pick their battles. There is a million ways that the environment is being destroyed. There are things more detrimental to us and the lives of generations to come. Ohv users are a minority and within that minority there are far less careless users than responsible ones. It uses up resources that could be used to fight for what these groups continue to suggest they are fighting for and that is to find the best ways to keep the land and all that inhabits it well and thriving. It is time we continue to support the organizations looking out for our best interest. Public land needs to be open to the public, not just a specific group of people. The real question here isn’t how we stop ohv use, but how we choose to manage it while protecting the environment with minimal impact. This will take more than the court system or lawyers to find a middle ground. Keep trails across the country open and accessible for all not just a few that think their way is the only way.

    Blue Ribbon Coalition. (2010). Sharetrails. Retrieved from http://www.sharetrails.org
    Center for Business and Economic research Marshall University. 2006. The economic impact of the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System in West Virginia

    GAO U.S Government Accountability Office. Federal Lands: Survey of Land Manager’s perspectives of off highway vehicle use. (2009) Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov

    Imlay, M. (2007). Saving the LAND. Off-Road Business, (29), 27-32. Retrieved from Business Source Complete database

    Jakus M.P. , Keith E. J. , Liu L. (2008) Economic Impacts of Land Use Restrictions on OHV

    Recreation in Utah. Utah State University. Retrieved from http://www.governor.utah.gov
    Johnson, D. (2005). THIS LAND AIN’T YOUR LAND. Dealernews, 41(7), 88. Retrieved from
    MasterFILE Premier database.

    Nazzaro, R. (2009). Enhanced Planning Could Assist Agencies in Managing Increased Use of
    Off-Highway Vehicles. GAO Reports, 1. Retrieved from MasterFILE Premier database.
    Smith, J., Burr, S., & Reiter, D. (2010). Specialization among Off-Highway Vehicle Owners and its Relationship to Environmental Worldviews and Motivations. Journal of Park & Recreation Administration, 28(2), 57-73. Retrieved from Academic Search

    Tread Lightly!. (2009). Tread Lightly on Land and Water. Retrieved from
    Wikipedia (2010) Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmentalist

    Hoffman T. (2006). Environmentalists to atv riders: Keep Out! The Advertiser- News. Retrieved from http://www.strausnews.com


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