From the pages of
The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 11 - 11/9/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Are ATVs Destroying Hunting?
Local outfitters describe ATV abuse during hunting season
by Rob Shaul

Editor's Note: This is the first of a two part series on ATVs and hunting. The series will continue in next week's paper.

"We're seeing a big, big difference in attitudes among hunters using 4-wheelers," says Pinedale outfitter Terry Pollard. "There's just a total disregard for the end of the road. They'll run right over road closed signs and around them."

Early Monday morning I sat down with Mr. Pollard, hunting guide Jeff Blust, and outfitters Aaron Gesch and David Friend of Halfmoon Lake Resort, and Lynn Benard of Pinedale. All these men wanted to discuss the same topic - how hunters driving ATVs were destroying hunting in Sublette County and the West.


Each of these men said ATV abuse by hunters was chronic and blatant. In the process, ATV abusers are chewing up the forest, making it more difficult for the walk-in hunter to kill an animal, changing elk migration routes, and destroying the aesthetics of hunting.

To make their point, the men pointed to the abuses of hunters driving ATVs during this past elk season in the Sweeney Creek area north of Half Moon Lake. Both Mr. Pollard and Half Moon Lake Resort guide elk hunters into this country.

ATV hunters are not sticking to the authorized trails or respecting road closures, they allege. First, the ATV hunters are driving right over the top of and around Forest Service road closure signs. In some cases, road closure signs are being pulled out of the ground or destroyed. Mr. Friend has personally replaced three road closure signs for the Forest Service in the Sweeney Creek area that had been removed by ATV hunters. "That's just blatant disregard and it's the thing that irritates me the most," says Mr. Friend.

ATV hunters are not staying on established trails - even closed ones. According to Mr. Blust, the ATV hunters are "spiderwebbing" off of the main trails and creating new roads and a lot of environmental damage.

Mr. Pollard describes numerous meadows crisscrossed with illegal ATV tracks. Mr. Blust talks about old horse and hiking trails which have been widened and rutted out, making them difficult to navigate for horses and hikers and increasing erosion as well.

"Killin' and Draggin'

ATV hunters are negatively impacting hunting for other hunters, the outfitters argue. Mr. Blust says they are ruining the aesthetics of the hunt. "There's more to hunting than killing an elk and dragging it out," he begins, pointing to the idea of fair chase and simply enjoying the outdoors. He resents being out on the trail early in the morning and seeing ATV headlights and "smelling the exhaust as they go by."

"It's hurting the aesthetics," adds Mr. Pollard. He's had hunting clients see ATVs during the hunt and say to him, "I thought we were getting a wilderness hunt."

The ATV hunters are changing elk migration routes and timetables and in the process making hunting harder for everyone else say the outfittersMr. Pollard says that after the first snow, he used to be able to county on 200-300 elk migrating down from the high country to the sage brush meadows and open ridges in the Sweeney Creek area. This year, ATV hunters spooked these elk off their normal migration routes and down into the rough country of the Pole Creek Canyon - an area the outfitters call "the hole." "My biggest concern is for the elk themselves," continues Mr. Pollard. "Why should they have to spend their entire life in that country?" Terry believes the ATV hunters have actually changed the elk migration route.

"The Hole" is inaccessible to walk-in hunters, and even many ATV hunters. "The people these guys are hurting are the walk-in hunters. They're killing him," says Mr. Pollard.

The outfitters contend that the late season hunt in the Sweeney Creek area was more difficult this year than the early-season hunt. The difference is that after that first snow, all the ATV hunters converged on Sweeney Creek knowing that the elk would be heading down from the high country. The ATV hunters ended up pushing the elk out of the area. Mr. Pollard theorizes that ATV hunting has actually decreased the overall elk harvest.

ATV hunters are using their 4-wheelers not just to get close to the good hunting area and then walk, but to actually drive into the good areas. Mr. Blust says that this season he met an ATV hunter who had crossed a road closed sign. Jeff asked where he was headed, and the ATV hunter answered that he planned to take his ATV up a sage brush slope and across a ridge - where there was no road.

It's Not Just A Few

The outfitters contend that the hunters who are abusing the road closures and illegally driving their 4-wheelers off road are not just an isolated few. The abuse is much more widespread. "People are afraid to speak up," says Mr. Blust, because the ATV hunters breaking the rules "are their friend, father, brother, brother-in-law," etc.

Further, the outfitters contend that many local ATV hunters are breaking the rules. It's not just people from Sweetwater County or out-of-state. They say that many of the ATV hunters ignoring road closures near Sweeney Creek are locals who have hunted the area for years, and know the migration routes. Mr. Blust says he's confronted numerous local ATV hunters breaking the rules in the field. "Numbers wise, I thing there's a lot more people that abuse it than you think."

Politics and Enforcement

The outfitters knew that people would say they were raising these concerns just because ATVs were hurting their guiding business. Both Mr. Pollard and Mr. Gesch respond to this directly. "It hasn't affected our hunting in any way," says Mr. Gesch. The majority of his guided hunts are in the higher country in the early season. Mr. Pollard says he can just take his clients higher up into the wilderness to avoid the ATV hunters.

All of the outfitters complained about the lack of adequate enforcement by the Forest Service, and the light punishment when someone is caught breaking the rules on an ATV.

"They've [the Forest Service] have set these roads out there and a travel plan but it's not enforced," says Mr. Pollard in frustration. Terry points to rampant ATV abuse above Elkhart Park. He says the ATV hunters are traveling through Kelly Park up to White Pine, then taking the Golden K ski run down to a closed logging road and following it up to the meadows above Elkhart.

"The only reason the Forest Service knew they [road closure] signs had been removed is because we told them," says Mr. Gesch. "If the law is not going to be enforced, then why deal with it?"

David Friend checked with the Forest Service about the penalties for removing road closure signs and was disappointed by what he found out. For a first offense, the fine for removing a road closure sign is just $100. The fine for a second offense is $100 plus a mandatory court appearance. "That's not real high," he commented.

Terry Pollard said he spoke to a Forest Service official last year who was excited that the agency had fined an ATV user for violating a wilderness boundary. "He was just tickled to death the guy had gotten a $350 fine," says Mr. Pollard. "That's nothing for these guys."

Finally, each of the outfitters claimed they were not in favor of forcing ATVs off the forest or more road closures. "They just reinforce the argument for more road closures," says Mr. Gesch.

"We're for multiple use," adds Mr. Pollard. "We are not trying to eliminate ATVer's."

"They don't understand what they're doing," says Mr. Blust of the ATV hunters and the proliferation of ATVs in the forest, "they're bringing the east to the west." <

Part 2 will appear in next week's paper.

See The Archives for past articles.

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The Sublette County Journal, PO Box 3010, Pinedale, WY 82941   Phone 307-367-3713
Publisher/Editor: Rob Shaul