ATVs Are Not Evil

All too often I read about ATVs in the context of the evil threat to fishing and hunting habitat. It's not the ATVs that are the threat. It's the people driving who decide what habitat gets ruined or not.

I get angry when both sides of the argument try to polarize the debate. It's up to ATV riders who use their machines for sporting purposes and have a legitimate, vested concern in hunting and fishing habitat to voice their interests, as the vast majority in the middle of the bell curve.

If you hate ATVs and think they should be banned, get your head out of the sand. ATVs are not going away, and they've opened outdoor recreation for many. Conversely, if you like to tear around in circles, and don't give a rip about what you ruin in the process, get your head out of your exhaust pipe. It's not a God-given right to ruin public land and ruin hunting and fishing for everyone else.

The good news is that many ATV and hunting/fishing interests are working together and figuring out ways to protect everyone's best interests.

I was just told by Trout Unlimited about a program called Sportsmen Ride Right (SRR). Here in Colorado, SRR, TU, Tread Lightly!, Rocky Mountain Ramblers, and Creepers Jeepers, all joined together in an effort to keep a popular section of the Middle Mountain trail in the San Juan National Forest open to motorized use.

Forest Service officials have announced their intention to close the last section of the trail at Tuckerville, a mile short of where the trail currently ends at a parking area near the Weminuche Wilderness boundary. San Juan National Forest officials are taking action because of repeated incursions by off-highway vehicles (OHV) into the wilderness.

The final section of trail was opened to motorized use in 2009 after local motorized enthusiasts assured the Forest Service that allowing motorized users to ride to the edge of the Weminuche would not encourage incursions into the wilderness area. Fencing and a gate were installed at the trail's end in 2010 with the help of Creepers Jeepers, a local four-wheel-drive enthusiasts' club, but the gate was torn down this summer.

Lovely.

In a joint letter to the San Juan National Forest sent today, SRR and the off-road vehicle clubs asked that the final section of the road be kept open and in return offered to help the Forest Service construct a new barrier in place of the one that was vandalized and to help monitor the area.

"We want to help the Forest Service address this issue," said Matt Clark, Backcountry Coordinator for TU in Southwest Colorado. He also noted that the road is an important access point for sportsmen. "Our plan is to provide some funding that can be used to rebuild the barrier and to work with local OHV clubs to provide some volunteers to help in construction and maintenance work.

Sportsmen Ride Right was organized this year as a coalition of sportsmen who use motorized vehicles to access hunting and fishing on public land. As motorized users, SRR members know the importance of access, but recognize that the privilege of motorized access comes with the responsibility to protect vital fish and game habitat and follow the rules of the trail."

Makes perfect sense to me. After all, I'd rather we do our policing than wait for someone else to do that for us. Wouldn't you?

And is it really that hard to set reasonable rules, like when we drive cars, hunt or fish within regulations?