ATVs, ORVs and Motorized Recreation

Some of our work and positions on ATVs, ORVs, dirtbikes and other motorized recreation

We strongly believe there is a place for responsible all-terrain vehicle (ATV), off-road vehicle (ORV), and other motorized recreation use on designated roads and trails in the great outdoors. We understand folks want to ride quality routes in a sustainable way! ATVs and other motorized recreation deserve a place in properly designated and enforced areas with reasonable access, interesting routes, compelling vistas, and loops.

Most ATV/ORV and dirtbike riders are responsible, courteous and law-abiding. But a few bad apples can cause very serious ecological harm by straying off designated roads and trails, or otherwise affecting wildlife and other public-land users. PhoTo: DNR

We do not object to responsible motorized-vehicle use on designated roads and routes where comprehensive analysis has found such use does not create an overly-negative impact on ecosystem health, fish and wildlife habitat, and other forest and public-land users.

But before roads are opened to ATV use, there must be thorough and transparent vetting, including a discussion on right-sizing a quality motorized footprint, restoring areas with unauthorized trails, and accountability for illegal off-road riding.

ATVs are fundamentally designed, marketed and sold for off-road use. It’s right in the name. 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”.

Together we have to determine what works best for motorized use and does not pose a threat to the local environment, sensitive wildlife habitats or the pursuits of other outdoor recreationistswhether it’s a hunter stalking a wary mule deer or a hiker seeking peace and quiet in the backcountry.

Many ATV users do ride responsibly, respecting other users 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.

News on Motorized Recreation:

Colville National Forest ATV expansion challenge

In December 2020 we sued the U.S. Forest Service for dramatically expanding ATV and ORV use in northeast Washington without proper public input or required consideration for fish, wildlife and sensitive habitats.

Damage from illegal ATVs “mudding” on public forest land in northeast Washington. Photo: USFS

“We support legal, responsible ATV use on the Colville National Forest and the opportunity for users to ride in appropriate areas and visit beautiful vistas,” said Tiana Luke, Colville Forest Lead for Conservation Northwest. “However, opening new motorized routes requires thorough public vetting and environmental review to avoid impacts on sensitive wildlife and habitat, consider other recreation values, and ensure enforcement and accountability for illegal behavior.”

Conservation Northwest has long been collaboratively engaged on off-road vehicle use and other issues on the Colville National Forest (the Forest).

In early 2020, the Forest modified its Motor Vehicle Use Map to change designations on 26 road segments totaling 117 miles to open to all vehicle types, including ATVs, without any formal process for public input or environmental scrutiny. The lawsuit we filed asks the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington to invalidate the Forest Service’s decision.

“We would have preferred to address motorized vehicle use on the Forest through continued collaboration with other local stakeholders, but the Forest’s failure to incorporate sufficient public and environmental review leads us to challenge this decision in court,” said Luke.

In 2014, we signed on to a letter with 11 other groups, including several ATV clubs and dealers, condemning an 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.

Balanced, thorough process required for ATVs on Okanogan County roads

An ATV rider on a designated trail. Photo: USFS

Along with our partners at the Methow Valley Citizens Council, in 2017 we secured a court order to ensure Okanogan County considers social and environmental factors when designating county roads for ORV and ATV use. The County had previously and unilaterally opened up all county roads with lower speed limits to ATV use, regardless of risk to public safety or wildlife habitat.

We strongly hope 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. Damage to sensitive wildlife habitat is often only a right-turn away for motorized-users who break the rules and jeopardize access for everyone.

Learn more about our work for sustainable recreation on our webpage about MOUNTAIN BIKES AND WILDERNESS.