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Truce Springsteen

Posted by Mitch Friedman at Mar 06, 2012 04:10 PM |

There's an epidemic of illegal riding going on. Unethical ORV riders have created 3,000 to 6,000 miles of illegal trail on Washington state lands (3 to 6 times that of the legal mileage!). Off-road vehicles have cost ranchers and tree farmers millions of dollars annually in property damage and can be a noisy disruption of a quiet backcountry for those who like to hike or hunt. But if that was all fixed, how would we feel about ORVs then? A bill now in Olympia to reduce ORV abuse has a good chance of passing into law. It will require visible license plates on all ORVs and increase infraction fines. These are exactly the tools that experts say will discourage abuse. And with the curbing of ORV abuse, Mitch Friedman offers to call a truce.

Truce Springsteen

A truce between those who hike and hunt and those who ride responsibly leaves ORV abusers in the dust.

Some of my best friends are off-road vehicle riders.

Actually, that’s a total lie, but it hopefully got you thinking. Why is it that conservationists are so strongly repelled by quads, muscle wagons, and the people who ride them for fun?

Of course we want to end the epidemic of illegal riding. Unethical ORV riders have created 3,000 to 6,000 miles of illegal trail on Washington state lands (3 to 6 times that of the legal mileage!). ORVs have cost ranchers and tree farmers millions of dollars annually in property damage and can be a noisy disruption of a quiet backcountry for those who like to hike or hunt.

But if that was all fixed, how would we feel about ORVs then?

I have spent a lot of time lately in Olympia pushing a bill to reduce ORV abuse. SB 5366 has a good chance of passing into law. It will require visible license plates on all ORVs and increase infraction fines. Anyone who witnesses illegal ORV use will be empowered to provide evidence (like photos), to authorities who then can prosecute without an officer having been present.

These are exactly the tools that experts say will discourage abuse.

The bill also gives ORV advocates something they want: The privilege to ride on designated state and county roads.(The bill has no effect on the ORV policies of any public land jurisdiction.)  Because of this, the bill was backed by a unique combination of interests including conservationists, sportsmen, rural economic development advocates, timberland owners, the Farm Bureau, as well as ORV enthusiasts (at least those who aren’t defending illegal riding). We made for an odd team that raised eyebrows in Olympia.

Oh, did I touch a nerve? Are you outraged that I lobbied for something that could expand ORV use on roads?

Candidly, I’m not wild about the idea either. But after challenging myself to rethink it, I’m now OK with ORVs on roads and proper trails if they honor their side of the bargain: Ending abuse of our public lands.

It’s not in my nature to recreate on a gas engine, but I needn’t judge others for it. If people enjoy riding ORVs and they do so without harming the woods, waters, and wildlife, good on them! 

Yes, they burn fossil fuel. But did you know that an OHV gets about the same mileage as does my Prius? So someone out riding their quad for a day burns less gas (assuming they didn’t have to haul it up on a trailer) than would my Bellingham buddies driving their Subaru to a Cascades day hike or the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

I propose a truce.

If motor recreationists stay on the roads and designated trails, then we should support their interests. We may argue over which areas are appropriate for trail development, and which attractive forest roads should instead be torn out for watershed or wildlife reasons. But my experience in Olympia this year gives me hope that we can work it out.

Central to this truce is a real-world culture shift among riders: Motor recreationists must police their own with zero tolerance for illegal riding. If riders want to gain access to remote forest roads, conservationists will need assurances that machines will stay on those roads, or else the truce ends.

This isn’t an easy task. While some in the ORV community are perfectly happy on roads and trails, enjoying putt-putting between the diners in successive towns, others are in it for the backcountry thrill. For some, the very point is to get off-trail. They must be stopped.

For ORV enthusiasts, this means that illegal riders can no longer be brushed off as a few bad apples that you’d rather not be held accountable for. If ORVs are to be trusted on remote roads and trails, that trust must be earned and then safeguarded. Ethical riders should regard abusers as the greatest danger to the sport’s reputation and opportunities, not to mention a threat to the land.

My sincere hope is that SB 5366, and the work we’ve done together to pass it, signal the inexorable shift toward that more harmonious future.

There’s still time to take action. Urge your Rep to support 5366.
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ORV riding

Posted by William lupton at Mar 07, 2012 10:31 AM
I am pleased that you have the ability to get out and enjoy OUR public lands by foot power. However there are many like me who because of age, health issues, or mobility who can't do that by foot power. Limiting access to any public lands to foot power sets aside those public lands for the use of young, healthy, (possibly elite) individuals and prohibits access by a large group of taxpaying citizens including many of our Wounded Warriors - those who fought to protect your right to express your opinions. My view is we either have lawful access for all or those who demand privileged access pay all costs associated with the lands set aside for their use. I suspect the access fees for a day hike would be interesting! By the way - you shouldn't lie and admit it - seems to defeat the purpose.

ORV riding

Posted by Mitch Friedman at Mar 07, 2012 12:09 PM
I don't see you disagreement, Mr. Lupton. The whole point of my blog was that, yes, ORV's should be allowed on roads and designated trails (including within public lands) so long as they stay on those. That is the access you want. But if you're point is that you should be allowed broader access than that, or that I'm being somehow elitist in rejecting that anybody (disabled or not; vet or not) has a right to ride everywhere, no matter the damage, then I profoundly disagree.

no@no.com

Posted by Hesgive for at Mar 07, 2012 05:14 PM
I am a user with disabilities, and I hate it when people use this as an excuse for unfettered access to wild places that don't need motor vehicles cruising through them. I get out into wilderness on a horse all the time. Even horses, admittedly, cause some trail issues, so I donate funds to groups that are cleaning up trails, since I can't do trialwork myself. And heck, why do I need to go EVERYWHERE? There are tons of places able bodied hikers can't go, too.

It's not JUST about our access for entertainment, it's not just about hikers' access or horseback access. There is a bigger issue here for society of leaving some places alone, leaving some wildlife areas intact for our children to enjoy and benefit from.

Rights of everyone to State Land

Posted by Sam at Mar 08, 2012 05:38 PM
Why doesn't everyone have the same rights? Why is one persons recreation more important than the other? Just because it is not your cause and you don't like doing that particular thing, you shouldn't have the right to take away from others. This country is not a dictatorship it is a democracy and we should all have equal rights to access public land. Everyone should pay equally to use this land weather you are a hiker, ORV rider, or ride a horse. Seems as though this also is one sided. The group that pays the most for tax and licensing is the ORV riders, while the hikers and horse riders do not share the same burden but can freely access these lands freely. There are bad apples in every group and recognize the bigger picture. The ORV riders are not going away. If you do not want to see ORV's anywhere then the stores should not be able to sell them. When limiting access to ORV riding areas, people rebell and find illegal areas to ride due their freedom of choice has been taken away. Instead of limiting where they can ride; they need to expand the areas to ride to reduce the wear and tear on one certain area. Right now in Snohomish County there is no place for ORV riders to ride legally, and they have the highest percentage of ORV licensed vehicles in the state. There is a profit to be made by expanding riding areas for the ORV users just by making more areas to ride. Several other states make a big event of ORV riding and it brings people from all over the country that want to participate in these events. ORV owners spend a lot of money on these machines; they license them, with the state, and their entire family usually all have one to ride. The revenue would be brought to camp grounds, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, RV supply stores; just to name a few. There is so much potential for bringing revenue to the state, local counties, and towns. By limiting people of their choices you are always going to get rebellion. It is the nature of our Great Country. People want what is fair. Be honest - Be fair.

rights come with responsibilities

Posted by Mitch Friedman at Mar 09, 2012 04:16 PM
Sam, please consider what your argument would sound like if we were debating hunting. When poaching is out-of-control in an area, we expect Fish and Wildlife to close it down. We then expect the hunting community to be outraged by the poaching, concerned for the resource, and supportive of the closure.

The reason opportunities were closed in the Snohomish is that many riders were treating the Reiter Forest like a friggin' gravel pit. That type of behavoir has to end. No matter how much you pay in taxes, you have no birth right to ride your ORV in an illegal or damaging way.

When the ORV community polices itself and shows enough outrage at illegal riding that the problem is contained, that's when the rest of us will feel comfortable providing more opportunities for lawful riding. You earn rights through demonstrating you have the responsibility to handle them.

re: "freedom" vs issues of the commons

Posted by ingrid at Mar 26, 2012 02:05 PM
Sam, in your comment, you're ignoring or are unaware of the complexities inherent in sharing public lands and communal resources. You say that limiting freedom and rebelling against that limitation is the nature of our Great Country. On the contrary. Our Founding Fathers did not advocate for unbridled self-interest. They debated at length about the best ways to institute checks and balances in a world where they knew self-interest would try to trump the good of the whole. Shared usage of public lands is not as simple as dividing equal time and space. One must take into consideration the impact of the activity on the land, as well as its impact on those who share the resources. Your perspective -- the "give us this or else" ultimatum -- unfortunately, is the one that leads to the types of restrictions against which you rebel.

Thanks, Mitch, for taking on this critical issue.

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