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ATVs, Motorized Recreation and Conservation Northwest

Posted by Chase Gunnell at Jun 23, 2014 12:05 PM |

ATVs have been all over the news in eastern WA lately. And you may have heard that we've appealed an Okanogan County decision to triple the amount of roads open to ATV’s without a thoughtful environmental review. But Conservation Northwest believes strongly that there is a place for responsible ATV use and other motorized recreation in the great outdoors.

ATVs, Motorized Recreation and Conservation Northwest

Damage from illegal "mudding" near Ione. Photo: USFS

All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), and their cousins Off Road Vehicles (ORVs) and dirtbikes, have been all over the news in Eastern Washington as of late.

With reports of illegal “mudding” damage near Ione, questions about a new state law regulating motorized recreation, proposed changes to greatly expand ATV access on Okanogan County roads without environmental review, a return to the status quo on Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest roads, and comments supporting (currently illegal) ATV use in the Teanaway Community Forest, it’s an issue that just keeps coming up.

You may have also heard by now that Conservation Northwest and the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) appealed the Okanogan County Commissioners decision to triple the amount of roads open to ATV’s in that county without a thoughtful environmental or community review.

ATV’s are fundamentally designed, marketed and sold for off-road use. It’s right in the name. And we believe Okanogan County’s decision not to pursue an environmental review fails to account for the high likelihood that some ATV operators will illegally ride off county roads onto sensitive habitat and cause significant damage.

We signed on to a recent letter with eleven other groupsincluding several all-terrain vehicle clubs and dealers, condemning the illegal off-road mudding event in the Colville National Forest but supporting work with the National Forests and motorized recreation groups to create an effective, timely and balanced travel management plan.

This sort of behavior is proven to cause soil compaction, stream bed and wetland degradation, and destruction of fish and wildlife habitat. Meadows, bogs and other sensitive areas can take years to recover from just a few minutes of "mudding".

But Conservation Northwest believes strongly that there is a place for responsible ATV use and other motorized recreation in the great outdoors.

That’s why we signed on to a recent letter with eleven other groups, including several all-terrain vehicle clubs and dealers, condemning the illegal off-road mudding event in the Colville National Forest but supporting work with the National Forests and motorized recreation groups to create an effective, timely and balanced travel management plan.

We understand folks want to ride quality routes in a sustainable way! Many ATV users do ride responsibly, respect hunters, other recreationists and sensitive habitats, and self-police members of their community that threaten everyone’s access by riding or creating unauthorized trails or negatively impacting wildlife.

We’re involved because we believe abundant wildlife, recreation access and the close availability of wilderness and tranquility are among the greatest natural assets of places like Omak, Ione, Mazama and the Teanaway.

ATV’s deserve a place in properly designated and enforced areas with reasonable access, interesting routes, compelling vistas and loops.

But before roads are opened to ATV use, be they county, forest service or community forest roads, there must be a community discussion on right sizing the ATV footprint, restoring areas with unauthorized trails and ensuring accountability for illegal riding. We have to determine motorized use does not pose a threat to the local environment, sensitive wildlife habitats or the pursuits of other outdoor recreationists, whether it’s a hunter stalking a wary mule deer or a hiker seeking peace and quiet in the backcountry.

In that spirit, we look forward to continuing to work with our partners in the ATV and ORV community, our National Forest representatives, and the state as we collaborate on planning to allow responsible outdoor access for everyone.

And we strongly hope that Okanogan County will change course and see that a thorough environmental review is needed before they open up another 600 miles of county roads to ATVs. Roads where damage to sensitive wildlife habitat is often only a right turn away for those motorized users who break the rules and jeopardize access for everyone.

For more information on submitting public comments in support of environmental goals and sustainable recreation in the Teanaway Community Forest, please click here

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