Off-Road Vehicles

Merrimac ATV Trail
Flikr creative commons: B A Bowen Photography
The Wilderness Society is working to protect our national forests by keeping them quiet and clean.

The noise and pollution from dirt bikes, ATVs and other off-road vehicles adversely affect America’s national forests and the plants, animals and humans that depend on these great places.

Striking a balance

The majority of national forest visitors hike, bike, camp or fish, for example. For these visitors, off-road vehicles can be a source of pollution and loud noise in the very place we go to get away from it all. Although only 1.5 percent of people use off-road vehicles, this small minority can have an out-sized impact on others if not properly managed. Off-road vehicles can also have devastating consequences for the plants, animals and ecosystems that make up our national forests. For example:

  • Wildlife, such as elk and bobcats, avoid areas used by off-road vehicles. This creates boundaries that can cut off food supplies and other necessities.
  • Off-road vehicles spread invasive, non-native plants deep into a forest. Seeds from these non-native noxious plants are caught in the knobby tires and scattered in areas where they are incompatible with the native plants. Off-road vehicles also pollute our water.
  • Erosion caused by fording rivers and streams has negative impacts on our national forests. Roughly one-fifth of the U.S. population depends on forests to deliver clean drinking water.

See also:

Forest Planning
Outdoor Recreation
Victories in Idaho

Travel Management

The Bush administration created “travel management” in 2005, ending a damaging “anything goes” approach to off-road vehicle travel. The Forest Service developed travel management plans with local participation and input. The Forest Service has gone through hundreds of travel planning processes to determine where off-road vehicles can and cannot go.

Travel management goals

The goals aim to provide access for off-road vehicles while minimizing conflict between the vehicles and  traditional recreationists, such as hikers, campers, hunters and anglers. Additionally, the travel management goals aim to:

  • Protect everybody on our public lands, from hikers to motorized users.
  • Protect our national forests and natural resources.

Outcome of travel management

We’ve had successes and setbacks in our advocacy efforts. As a result of travel planning, the Forest Service largely ended cross-country travel, thereby bringing new protection to tens of millions of acres. However, the Forest Service did not scale back its 380,000-mile road system. 

What we do

The Wilderness Society continues to work with recreationists, conservationists, local communities and motorized users to find working solutions for our forests. 

Off-road vehicles should have access to our national forests, but it should be separate from the places the majority of visitors use to escape noise and pollution. It is important that off-road and all-terrain vehicles not disturb wildlife or pollute water.

See also:

Travel Management on National Forests

Helpful links