The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 12 - 11/16/00
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Are ATVs Destroying Hunting? Part 2
In the last issue of the Journal, we interviewed several local outfitters with serious complaints and concerns about abuse of ATVs during hunting season. In the second part of our series, we interview the Executive Directors of two major off road vehicle (ORV) advocacy groups in the West to get their side of the issue.
Blue Ribbon Coalition
"The problem with hunting season is that a whole lot of people are getting ATVs to use for hunting, but they're not familiar with the regulations," says Clark Collins of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, the most powerful and prominent off road vehicle (ORV) advocacy group in the West. He says that unlike ORV recreational users, hunters who use ATVs do so during only one part of the year, and thus aren't familiar with the regulations governing their use.
"We do not, in any way, support irresponsible use or breaking the law," emphasized Mr. Collins. "We want strict enforcement of the regulations."
Along those lines, Mr. Collins says the Blue Ribbon Coalition has been asked by ORV users who've been caught violating Wilderness boundaries for assistance and been denied. "They need to take their lumps," he says. Concerning ATV hunters who violate Forest travel plans, Mr. Collins is similarly unsympathetic. "If they are violating Forest Travel plans, they need to be cited."
However, Mr. Collins isn't convinced ATV hunters are breaking the rules and causing as much damage as is suggested by those who raise concerns. "What people are saying is happening isn't always happening," he says. Within the forest near his office in Idaho, Mr. Collins has seen "a lot of places where there is a 'road closed' sign that is not OK for passenger vehicles, but is left open to ATVs and motorcycles. It may be that those ATVs are on routes that are legal."
He also questions the accusation put forth by local outfitters that ATV hunters are changing elk migration routes and forcing the wildlife further up into the backcountry. "The plain fact of the matter is that wildlife acclimate to vehicles," he argues back. The vehicle doesn't make animals move, "What causes the animal to move is people shooting at them," says Mr. Collins.
Mr. Collins believes the state wildlife officials can do more to address the ATV abuse problem during hunting season. "One of the ways that the wildlife agencies need to address this concern is to publish travel management map information right on the Game & Fish maps," he suggests. "Unless they do that, they're not helping to address this concern."
One of the issues raised by the local outfitters was the way ATV manufacturers portray their merchandise in television and magazine advertising. Often, the outfitters say the ATVs are displayed in the ads in such a way that they appear to be breaking the law or encouraging hunters to use them illegally by taking their ATV off road into the backcountry.
"There is a problem with irresponsible advertising," acknowledges Mr. Collins. "I recognize that it's a problem and we have pointed out to manufacturers the kind of problems that advertising creates." Mr. Collins believes the bulk of the problem lies not with the manufacturers themselves, but with the advertising agencies they hire to create their ads. He's personally met with ad agency people and says, "They had no clue of the land issues we are facing. Frankly, I think the manufacturers need to tune up their ad agencies."
ATV abuse during hunting season is a growing concern for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, admits Mr. Collins. "We see it as a serious concern that does need to be addressed." The Executive Director believes the "very ease and use of the vehicles is creating it's own problems." Unlike motorcycles, explains Mr. Collins, not much riding skill is needed to take a modern day 4-wheeler off road into very challenging terrain.
Mr. Collins believes that if the federal land managers opened up more lands to ORV use, violations would decrease. In his words, "more closures lead to more violations."
Mr. Collins said one of the ways ATV abuse can be addressed is through peer pressure. When told that local outfitters had confronted ATV hunters about the abuse, he asked if the outfitters had gone the extra step and turned the hunters into the Forest Service. However, Mr. Collins admits that he's confronted people breaking the law using off road vehicles but has never taken the extra step himself and turned them into the authorities.
"Peer pressure can accomplish a lot but it's going to take more than peer pressure," he concludes. Enforcement will have to play a key role.
"The root of the problem is that there are essentially two off road user groups," says Russ Ehnes of the National Off Highway Vehicle Conservation Council. The first is the recreational user, whom he describes as "organized and informed." The second is the ATV hunter, who uses ATVs as a "tool" for their hunt. ATV hunters don't ride ATVs for the pleasure of riding itself.
Mr. Ehnes maintains that many ATV hunters are "breaking rules that they don't know exist." He does acknowledge, however, that the "vast majority," of off-trail traffic problems occur during hunting season.
To address these problems, NOHVCC is working to reach hunters and educate them about the applicable regulations and ethical use of vehicle use during hunting season. The organization is working with the International Hunters Education Association to develop a curriculum addressing ATV use that will be taught during regular hunting education courses.
"There is absolutely no question that there are law breakers out there," continues Mr. Ehnes. And with them a "definite need for enforcement." But, he continues "to say that all ATV hunters are lazy and breaking the law is not fair at all." He believes that just a small percentage of the ATV hunters are lawbreakers.
Concerning the ethical use of ATVs during hunting season, Mr. Ehnes emphasizes "It's not ethical to use an ATV as a pursuit vehicle." At the end of the road, the pursuit begins on foot.
Mr. Ehnes says that one of the problems is that Federal and State regulations sometimes contradict each other when it comes to ATVs. For example, Federal regulations may allow ATVs to travel off the road for game retrieval, but this may not be legal under State regulations.
Finally, Mr. Ehnes is very concerned that controversy over ATV use during hunting has a direct negative impact on the recreational ATV or off road vehicle user. For this reason, NOHVCC is developing a public outreach campaign in Montana which will include television, radio and print media advertising stressing legal and ethical use of ATVs. <
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