Gov report shows problems from unmanaged Off-Road Vehicles

ATV rider.

A new government report released July 30 found that dirtbikes, ATVs, and other off-road vehicles are damaging our national forests and other western public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and that increased enforcement is desperately needed.

The report, Federal Lands: Enhanced Planning Could Assist Agencies in Managing Increased Use of Off-Highway Vehicles, was prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GOA) and was prompted by members of Congress who have concerns about the impacts ORVs are having on water quality, wildlife, and quiet recreational users such as hikers, campers, and birdwatchers.

The release of the report coincides with ongoing efforts by the Forest Service and the BLM to manage off-road vehicles. Every national forest across the county and millions of acres of BLM lands are currently deciding where off-road vehicles are and are not allowed to go. Indeed, the Forest Service is in the final year of its massive undertaking to decide just this. Decisions made in these planning efforts will directly influence motorized and non-motorized experiences alike as well as the consequences to the environment for years to come.

It’s ironic then that based on survey responses from Forest Service staff collected by the GAO for this report, about half of the national forests that have completed their plan to address unmanaged motorized recreation have already indicated that their ORV plan is not sufficient to sustainably manage ORV use.

Indeed, this is indicative of the report’s major findings: that while the Forest Service and BLM have identified off-road vehicle use as one of the top threats to public lands, a lack of resources have left these agencies unable to fully respond to the issue.

The GAO also found that certain elements of the environment like wetlands, riparian areas, and wildlife habitat are particularly vulnerable and can be easily damaged when these machines aren’t properly managed. This simply confirms something we’ve known for a long time.

Access to our Forests and public lands by off-road vehicles is not a problem so long as it is separate from the places the majority of visitors use to escape noise and pollution from these vehicles. Unless we have more controlled access of off-road vehicles and better enforcement of these controls, the quiet, pristine forests we value could disappear.

Our national forests and public lands are a big part of what makes experiencing nature and the outdoors so special and important for American families. We hope the Forest Service and BLM get serious about protecting our public lands and that Congress gives them the necessary resources to get the job done.

photo: ATV rider.