local weather Click for Sun Valley, Idaho Forecast
 front page
 public meetings

 previous edition

 express jobs
 about us
 advertising info
 classifieds info
 internet info
 sun valley central
 sun valley guide
 real estate guide
 sv catalogs
Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8060 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Friday — April 2, 2004


Off-road vehicles
chew up public lands

Guest opinion by TONIA WOLF

Tonia Wolf is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). She writes in Boise, Idaho, where she is a board member of the Golden Eagle Audubon Society.

It’s hard to find anybody these days who’d even try to argue that off-road vehicles don’t damage public lands throughout the West.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture concluded in 1999 that "with an increase of off-highway vehicle traffic, i.e. motorcycles, four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service have observed the spread of noxious weeds, user conflicts, soil erosion, damage to cultural sites and disruption of wildlife and wildlife habitat."

In response, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth formed a national OHV Policy Team in January 2004. One hope of the team is that designating trails will eliminate a lot of the destructive cross-country travel, lessen damage and reduce conflicts with hikers and other, quieter recreationists.

Unfortunately, studies have already shown that once a trail is designated on public land, more riders are drawn to the area. This increases damage and also increases the creation of side trails. In the Paiute Trail in Utah, for example, an established OHV recreation area with 47,000 annual riders, even OHV users express frustration at being unable to tell designated trails from user-created trails.

The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation wants to attract tens of thousands of riders, so it has proposed nearly 500 miles of designated routes in central Idaho. These routes would link the communities of Challis, Mackay and Arco and wind throughout the Pioneer Mountains, the Big Lost River Valley, the Lost River Range and the Little Lost River Valley. This is an area of approximately 3,500 square miles that is already crisscrossed by 3,000 miles of roads and user-created trails.

Unmentioned in the Idaho agency’s proposal is that within one mile of the trail there are at least 50 threatened, endangered, or state-sensitive wildlife and plant species. In addition, many of the streams crossed by these trails are choked by sediment. The state agency plans to eventually expand the trail system south to Richfield, northeast almost to Montana, and north to Salmon, resulting in thousands of square miles of public lands dominated by a single use: off-road vehicles.

Does off-highway use conflict with other visitors to public lands? The increased numbers, dust, noise and threat to safety are not what most non-motorized users seek. Peace, solitude, and the feeling you are alone with nature are all destroyed by the intrusive whine of even distant OHVs.

Clark Collins, founder of the BlueRibbon Coalition, which represents motorized recreationists, has acknowledged that "noise is the single most important issue that can effect our future on public land use. It’s an extremely serious issue, and I know it’s a difficult one for me to deal with."

While noise is transitory, what wheels do to trails and their surroundings persists. Funds are available to rebuild OHV trails, but not for repairing the damage that rugged vehicles do to streams, hillsides or habitat for wild life. Because not even OHV riders like to ride in damaged areas or on washed-out trails, riders explore new areas, climb new hills, ride through different streams and seek out different meadows -- abandoning their destroyed and unwanted playground.

Off-road drivers are responsible for the damage they do while riding. The push, however, for public-land based multi-county OHV-designated areas comes from politicians and businesses, which have sniffed out yet another commodity to exploit on our publicly owned lands.

If there is a solution, perhaps it is the same one we’ve arrived at for heavily rafted rivers or over-hunted lands: restricted use. Institute a permit system that limits the number of users, and when and where they go. Strictly enforce it. Place the burden of proof on the OHV users to post a bond, just like any other consumptive use that ultimately requires extensive restoration.

Meanwhile, those of us who value our public lands because we like to stretch our legs, listen to birds, hear the wind in the trees, fish in clean streams or photograph unmarred landscapes, must make our values known to land managers, politicians and certainly to motorized users.

To quote writer Edward Abbey, "Machines are domineering, exclusive, destructive and costly; it is they and their operators who would deny the enjoyment of the backcountry to the rest of us. About 98 percent of the land surface of the contiguous USA already belongs to heavy metal and heavy equipment. Let us save the 2 percent—that saving remnant."


City of Ketchum

Formula Sports


Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

Premier Resorts Sun Valley

High Country Property Rentals

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.