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News flash on Okanogan ATVs

Posted by Mitch Friedman at Mar 24, 2014 01:35 PM |
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I’m delighted that Okanogan County, faced with a difficult trial against Conservation Northwest and the Methow Valley Citizens Council, chose to rescind two ordinances it passed last year that would have opened up county roads to an unlawful level of ATV access. The county commissioners had been overly aggressive in trying to use new authorities the Conservation Northwest, as part of a diverse group of conservation and motorized recreation stakeholders, shepherded through Olympia. The objective of the new state law was to increase recreational opportunities by allowing ATVs on certain types of low-speed (35 mph or less) roads while reducing environmental impacts by imposing visible license plates on all ORVs and boosting enforcement, so we can bust the bad apples who illegally ride through our sensitive backcountry.

I’m delighted that Okanogan County, faced with a difficult trial against Conservation Northwest and the Methow Valley Citizens Council, chose to rescind two ordinances it passed last year that would have opened up county roads to an unlawful level of ATV access.

The county commissioners had been overly aggressive in trying to use new authorities the Conservation Northwest, as part of a diverse group of conservation and motorized recreation stakeholders, shepherded through Olympia.

The objective of the new state law was to increase recreational opportunities by allowing ATVs on certain types of low-speed (35 mph or less) roads while reducing environmental impacts by imposing visible license plates on all ORVs and boosting enforcement, so we can bust the bad apples who illegally ride through our sensitive backcountry.

Allowing ATVs on roads isn’t the greatest idea in the world, as it raises safety problems. Unfortunately, Washington law already allowed some counties to open their roads and even highways to ATVs, so the law we passed last year was a definite improvement.

What next in Okanogan County? I’m pretty certain the commissioners will give up their effort to allow ATVs on roads with speed limits over 35, and will undertake some level of environmental analysis for the roads it wishes to open. My deeper hope is that the commissioners involve the community in their process of deciding what roads to open.

There are lots of roads, particularly (but not exclusively) in the Methow Valley, that for reasons of safety, environmental concerns, or just local preference should remain closed to quads.

Congressmember Joel Kretz, who represents the area in the state legislature, spoke eloquently on the floor of the House last year on this point, and committed to making sure the county commissioners wouldn’t go overboard in their zeal.

At 3:15 Rep Riccelli offers his amendment, at 4:00 is Rep. Kretz.

Okanogan County would be wise to follow his good advice.

Update:

An additional fire drill occurred this month, when we got word that ATV advocates were celebrating a decision by the supervisor of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to open most of the forest roads (likely about 4,000 miles) to ATV access, based on a distorted reading of 1632. Fortunately, the regional Forest Service office, in Portland, quickly issued guidance that clarified the law and hopefully restored the status quo.

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