The Sublette County Journal
Volume 5, Number 14 - 11/30/00
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Are ATVs Destroying Hunting?
Hunting is 99% of the ATV abuse problem in the forest says Bridger Wilderness Manager Cindy Stein of the Pinedale Forest Service Office. "It has nothing to do with the amount of available roads or trails. It has everything to do with how lazy people are. They should be hiking or riding horseback like everybody else." Ms. Stein believes that using ATVs when hunting violates the spirit of fair chase. "For some reason, folks with ATVs have lost that," she begins. "These people who are intentionally breaking the rules have lost that whole idea ... There's no honor in ruining someone else's hunt. There's no honor in hurting the wildlife."
Ms. Stein describes the problem of ATVs trespassing into the Bridger and Gros Ventre Wilderness areas as "chronic, blatant, common" in certain areas. She specifically names Kim Rush Park, Wolf Lake, the New Fork Lookout, Boulder Basin, and Teepee, Tosi and Rock Creeks in the Upper Green.
Ms. Stein says offroad ATV abuse in forest areas before the Wilderness boundary is also a common problem near Sweeney Creek, Rock Creek, Roaring Fork north of Green River Lakes, near Boulder Lake and in the Big Sandy area. She acknowledges that "spiderwebbing" of new ATV trails is common. "All it takes is for one ATV to go off trail," she begins. "Then when the next ATV comes along the guy sees the new track and says, 'Oh look, someone's been there before so I can go ...' Pretty soon there's a new little ATV highway."
Some ATV hunters will even take chainsaws and cut trees to establish new roads, she says, Ms. Stein estimates that there were between 25 and 50 forest road closure signs pulled up, "just during this hunting season."
ATV abuse by hunters negatively affects other people's hunt, spooks wildlife, and causes resource damage through new roads that cause increase erosion, compaction of vegetation and watershed damage, says the Wilderness Manager.
"I don't think it's getting any worse," continues Ms. Stein. "It's just angering more people. People are getting less and less tolerant of those who want to do their own thing."
Susan Marsh, who's with the Recreational Staff for the entire Bridger-Teton Forest says that adequate access management and law enforcement is recognized as "one of the biggest problems in the Forest." She says that the leadership team for the Forest has made Access Management it's number one priority. This includes not only law enforcement, but also road improvement.
According to Ms. Stein, the Forest Service has just eight people who can issue travel plan violation tickets for the entire Bridger-Teton National Forest. Further, there are just two full-time law enforcement officers to cover the entire forest - one stationed in Pinedale, and one stationed in Jackson. She insists that given its manpower limitations, the Forest Service is doing all it can to enforce the travel plan and cite hunters and others who break the law using their ATVs.
Despite what she herself calls a chronic and blatant problem, Ms. Stein says the Forest Service caught and cited just two people for traveling off road or on a closed road with their ATVs last year in the Pinedale District. These two were caught violating the plan in the Roaring Fork area.
Specifically concerning Sweeney Creek, Ms. Stein disagrees with local outfitters Terry Pollard and Aaron Gesch who described the ATV hunter abuse problem there as commonplace. "It's not blatant, every day," she insists. "It's hit and miss." She believes the ATV hunters who abuse the travel plan in the Sweeney Creek area are probably a small group of locals. And she doesn't think the outfitters are seeing ATV hunters traveling offroad every day.
Last elk-hunting season, the Forest Service had four people up in the Sweeney Creek area for two days, "and didn't see or catch anyone," says Ms. Stein. "It's definitely not every day," she concludes.
Overall, the Forest Service set up at least six "sting" operations to catch ATV hunters abusing the travel plan last hunting season and just the two in Roaring Fork were caught, continues Ms. Stein. She thinks many ATV hunters go in one way and come out the other, or hunt one weekend, but not the next, making catching the lawbreakers difficult.
These sting operations were set up both during the night and the day. "A lot of hours for little payback," said Ms. Stein.
The Forest Service has thought a little about electronic enforcement, and is considering building heftier post and pole fences at road closures for the chronic problem areas like those in Sweeney Creek.
Ms. Stein doesn't feel enforcement is enough. "It's a nationwide problem," she says. "There has to be some peer pressure. People have to police themselves." Tempers are flaring on both sides over the issue. In other forests across the country, people have threatened to shoot the ATVs used to break the law or take them apart. "I think it's just a shame that people are getting that angry," says Cindy. "They're just tired of other people stepping on their rights."
Finally, Ms. Stein acknowledges that there are many ATV owners who follow the rules. "I see a lot of people who are wonderful," she says. "It [the abuse] makes them mad also." <
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