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Controlling Off-Road Vehicle Abuse

The off road vehicle problem: Since the 1970’s, off-road vehicle (ORV – machines like ATVs, dirt bikes, and jeeps) use has been an increasing problem on our public lands. Along with the environmental degradation comes user conflicts. The noise, dust, and fumes of ORVs are inherently at odds with quiet recreationists and local private landowners. Litter is more abundant where ORVs travel. ORVs also endanger other public land users. In response to the abuses and excess of ORVs, the Forest Service put forth the Travel Management Rule (TMR). The TMR requires each National Forest to designate which roads, trails, and areas will be open to motor vehicle use. Route designations will be identified on motor vehicle use map and use off the designated system will be prohibited.

Reining in Off-Road Vehicle Abuse

off roadATVOff-road vehicles (ORVs – ATVs, dirt bikes, jeeps, etc.) have become a public lands nuisance of epidemic proportions. The scale of the problem is only beginning to be understood. Some ORV problems are obvious – the visual blight on a scarred hillside, the endless noise that ruins the experience of quiet recreationists, or the litter that proliferates wherever ORVs are common. Some are less obvious – the invasive weeds spreading along ORV trails or the increased erosion of sediments into streams. Studies are showing that ORVs can affect wildlife in many ways, including disruption to breeding patterns.

All this is hitting at a time when our public lands agencies are strapped for cash and can barely keep up with their existing workloads. Law enforcement has been especially hard hit and ORV users are emboldened by the knowledge that the chances of being caught are low. Compounding the problem is the fact (confirmed by surveys from Colorado, Utah, Montana, and Nevada) that as many as half of all ORV riders ride off trail even when they know it is illegal. http://extension.usu.edu/iort/files/uploads/pdfs/revisedOHVreport.pdf

Another tragedy of the ORV epidemic is the toll it’s taking on people’s lives. These machines are dangerous, especially for children. One quarter of all injuries for children 12 years and under are the result of ORV accidents (http://www.onlinelawyersource.com/news/children-atv-injuries.html). Here in New Mexico in 2005, ATV injuries cost $2.4 million. Since 25% of the state is uninsured, it is estimated that taxpayers paid $600,000 of this cost (http://www.childrenssafetynetwork.org/spotlight_state/show.asp?spotID=3). There are clearly better uses for this money.

off road2The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance is working to halt the ORV menace. As always, we are working to have areas designated Wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act. This clearly makes an area off-limits to ORVs. We are also working in partnership with other conservation organizations on other aspects of the problem. As the Forest Service and BLM update their Resource Management Plans, we are pushing them to include analyses of where ORV use inappropriate and to lay out maps that clearly recognize this. We are heavily involved with the Forest Service Travel Management Rule which directs each National Forest to designate where motorized travel can occur. And we are reaching out to our members and other concerned about wildlife and wild places. The message is clear that the best way to rein in ORV abuses and excesses is to get involved. By writing letters and showing up to meetings, you really can make a difference.

If you have questions or would like to get involved, please call our office at 505-843-8696 and talk to Craig Chapman. You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.