The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 14 - 11/30/00
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Like many other hunters, I don't like seeing ATVs up in the hills driving all over the country and ruining my hunt. Certainly there are many ATV hunters who follow the rules, but many do not. I agree with those who say the ATV hunters breaking the law are not just an isolated few.
Before we started the series on ATVs and hunting, I didn't realize how controversial and polarizing this issue has become in the hunting community. It is truly an argument over hunting ethics.
The Bugle, magazine of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation won't accept ATV ads in its pages because of their questionable ethical use. The editor of Wyoming Wildlife, Chris Madson, doesn't think ATVs have any role in hunting whatsoever. Local Game & Fish personnel also don't like the machines.
I agree that ATV hunting abuse is wrong ethically and is a chronic problem. I don't want to see the machines banned from the forest. The machines don't break the rules, the people riding them do.
The Forest Service and ORV advocacy organizations say we need more peer pressure on ATV hunters to get them to toe the line. This is unrealistic. First, I don't think it's possible to get much more peer pressure. Second, I can't think of any other law in the country that is enforced through peer pressure.
For example, peer pressure certainly hasn't curtailed drunk driving. The most concerted peer pressure campaign effort I can think of has fought drunk driving. Budweiser, Coors and other booze companies pay big bucks for commercials that advocate designating drivers and "friends don't let friends drive drunk." But without strict laws and strict enforcement, drunk driving would be even more of a problem then it is already.
So I think the idea of relying on peer pressure to stop ATV hunter abuse is unrealistic. Further, it can be dangerous. One of the outfitters I interviewed in the first story in this series, Jeff Blust, said he confronted an ATV hunter riding his 4-wheeler in an area he shouldn't be last elk hunting season and the conversation quickly escalated to near violence. The Forest Service's Susan Marsh told me she's had a similar experience when she confronted an ATV hunter.
Though he advocates peer pressure as one solution to this problem, when challenged, Blue Ribbon Coalition Executive Director Clark Collins doesn't follow through. He said he's confronted people on ORVs who were breaking the rules, but didn't turn them in to be cited.
The obvious solution to this problem is strict enforcement with severe penalties. Here I am critical of the U.S. Forest Service. Bridger Wilderness Manager Cindy Stein herself describes the problem as "chronic" and "blatant" and she could easily identify specific areas of abuse. Yet, last year, the Forest Service cited just two ATV hunters for breaking the rules. I'd say their enforcement effort is pitiful, at best.
Susan Marsh blamed lack of manpower. This is a weak excuse. First, the number one mission of the Forest Service is to protect the resource. ATV hunters who break the law are chewing the country up. It's the Forest Service's job to do whatever is needed to squash this problem.
Second, I'm not convinced the local Forest Service offices have even requested more funding and manpower to address this problem. It's easy to say, "we don't have the manpower," but somewhat deceptive to say that when you're not asking for more help.
Ms. Stein said 99% of the ATV problem occurs during hunting season, so it's not like the Forest Service needs to hire 25 year-round enforcement rangers. It needs a blanket effort for 2-4 weeks during the fall.
Penalties for breaking the law have to get heavier handed. A $50 or $100 dollar fine is not deterrence enough for ATV hunters determined to ride their machine wherever they please. However, if a $6,000 4-wheeler was confiscated every time someone was caught riding where they shouldn't, heads would turn and this problem would diminish greatly. Again, it will take the Forest Service to begin the administrative paperwork that will result in tougher penalties.
If the Forest Service doesn't address the abuse, and enforce its own regulations, I foresee more road closures and increasing restrictions. Even more of the forest will be closed to vehicles. This would be a shame.
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