Finally an effort to penalize mudbogging as a major crime-

Udall, Salazar propose big fines for big damage on federal lands. By Howard Pankratz. The Denver Post

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Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

41 Responses to Udall, Salazar propose big fines for "mudbogging" on public land

  1. avatar Virginia says:

    Someone needs to do this in Wyoming, but we have no legislators with enough integrity to propose such a radical idea.

  2. avatar Jay says:

    Virginia–the article says the bill is for all public lands, so Wyoming would be covered, regardless of what the radical right in Wyoming think.

  3. avatar JimT says:

    As usual, the hook in this is getting it passed, and enforcing it. So far, BLM and USFS has a terrible record in preventing ATV damage of any kind, and the ATV community, despite its rhetoric, has a bad record in self policing. ATVs should be licensed and plates that are easily seen should be on the vehicles to make identification easier. But again, if there are few or no enforcement officers, it is just an empty law.

  4. avatar Craig says:

    In Idaho you have to have a license plate on your ATV ,effective this year.

  5. avatar Virginia says:

    Jay – you are right. I don’t know why I assumed it was just for Colorado. Pay attention!

  6. avatar Mgulo says:

    Nice rhetoric but…

    If the relatively low number of natural resources LE officers who are out there are not encouraged to write violators for such violations and if they are not supported in their actions by their supervisors, their agencies, the prosecutors who make the decisions on whether to take these cases forward and the judges who pass sentence, not a lot will happen.

    Even if this does become law it’s not as easy as having a third party report that they saw someone violate. That doesn’t stand up in court.

    First you have to get the report – a lot of people are actually hesitant to turn somebody in, regardless of what they may say they would do. And, a lot of the time you get the report days or weeks afetr the event, which makes it hard to gather information and build a case.

    Then you have to track the violator down – provided you have the time to do so and your supervisor lets you take the time.

    Then you have to build a case, another time-consuming effort that is not as easy as it sounds. If you didn’t personally see the guy on the vehicle you generally learn that he was in church with his mother at the time of the violation and somebody must have “borrowed” his rig. Three weeks after the event and not having seen him yourself, it’s pretty hard to prove otherwise.

    If the case isn’t tight, you can kiss prosecutorial support goodbye and figure you won’t be doing another one for a few years. If ever.

    Then you have to convince the prosecutor, who likely doesn’t see the value in such a case, to devote some of his resources to taking the case forward. He’s probably going to be wondering why he should take on an issue that is more likely to cost him votes than win them for him.

    Then, even if you get the case to court and actually win it, you have to convince the judge to deliver more than a stern warning. That’s often difficult when you’re facing a judge who is annoyed that you brought such a trivial case into his court when he has “real work to do and real criminals to try.” He has his eye on the voters as well. Hence the oft-lamented dearth of serious penalties for natural resource violations. In most western communities, a judge who racks up locals for violations half the community sees as victimless and that they often view as good fun is courting his return to the other side of the bench.

    I’m not saying it shouldn’t be done or that it doesn’t have value. Most LE guys love to reach out and touch these violators. But it isn’t as easy as giving a press opportunity and putting out some sound bites.

    A wiser man than I once said “Policy without budget is just conversation.” Another stated that “All politics are local.” Both statements, in my experience, are true. Especially when it comes to natural resource violations.

    I’ll believe these guys are serious when I see the $$$ and time allocated to do the enforcement and to educate the prosecutors and judges, not to mention the public, about why these are crimes and shold be taken seriously. That’s only going to happen if the relevant NGO’s make the politicians and the agencies walk their talk and then apply the same heat to the legal system to force follow-through, all the while doing public education.

    Until then, this is just flowing air.

    Been there, done that, watched ’em walk away laughing.

    Not fun.

  7. avatar Mgulo says:

    Sorry for the long post. These guys get me going.

  8. avatar grace says:

    Mgulo — Your post was excellent (and beautifully written). Often people, myself included, read a press release and think good something positive is going to happen and then are surprised when no effectual change takes place. Your post clarifies the complexity of the issue. Thank you. Grace

  9. There is only one BLM enforcement officer to cover BLM land violations from Donnelly, Idaho where I live, all the way to the Nevada border.

  10. avatar Tim B says:

    While I realize ATV’s and careless fires are a problem in our NF’s and BLM lands but I can just as easily point to hikers and backpackers who also have much trouble policing themselves. I’ve seen plenty of people cutting switchbacks and going cross-country potentially disturbing land that could take 1000’s of years to recover. So, while we already have ATV license plates in Idaho maybe, hikers and backpacker should also be made to wear a nice 6×4 license on their back? And as far as this bill/law being an “empty law” as stated above, what is the alternative. We could hire 1,000 enforcement officers in Idaho alone and still not cover 100% of the public lands. Of course with 1000 enforcement officers roaming the public lands I’m guessing that might make the whole nature things a little less enjoyable…at least to me.

    What is the alternative? I’d like to see what you guys come up with. Remember, this is my land too; not just land for the crunchy granola type people.

  11. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    I won once . . I never talked to the guy just snuck up and took a picture of his truck with my digital camera that showed his license plate, took a fix on my GPS. Emailed the picture to the LE for the area, they went to the guy’s house and arrested him. He paid the fine.

  12. Mgulo,

    Wow! Comment of the day. A refreshing dose of reality.

  13. avatar JimT says:

    I have an alternative. Ban Them for all purposes other than legitimate work related needs. Otherwise, find a less destructive method of transportation…horses, for one, but not during rainy seasons, or mud seasons in early spring. I have seen the damage up close and personal that ONE horse tour outfit did to Washington Gulch outside of Crested Butte, Colorado; the trail was a drainage channel for rain, and we had a beaut of the t-storm that day.

    I realize hikers are not perfect and that there are those who don’t stick to the trail, but to compare that impact and its lasting effects on a fragile ecosystem to the effect of the Yahoo ATV crowd is a comparison that doesn’t hold up.

    I think it is the speed increases we have seen in these vehicles that also stimulates the Yahoos into doing things more aggressively, and causing more harm as a result. Put a speed governing device on them all. Require all ATVs to be less polluting 4 cycle engines, or better yet, electric.

    My alternative begins with what is best for the land, not what is convenient or fun for the people on them.

  14. avatar Debra K says:

    I’m with Mgulo on this–the devil’s in the enforcement. A few years ago, I reported an illegal ATV on the E. Fk of the Salmon trail, to Sawtooth NF law enforcement. A sign clearly posted the trail as closed to ATVs at the trailhead, and it had big boulders closing the start of the trailhead; the ATV driver had just driven around. I had a picture of the ATV and 2 people walking around it (from a distance), and a closeup photo of the truck with a trailer that hauled it in, and the license plates.

    The Sawtooth did investigate and talk to the owner of the rig at the trailhead, but he denied knowing anything about it…so no further action was ever taken.

    More penalties/enforcement for illegal ORV use would be welcome. But $4 a gallon gas will take care of much of this “recreational use.” A couple years ago during the high gas price period, we were blessedly free of ORVs in the backcountry.

  15. avatar JimT says:

    TimZ,

    I would rather deal with an enhanced enforcement presence on public lands than with a 1000 ATVs spewing exhaust and noise that can be heard for dozens of miles. They are your lands as well, that is true, but really, do you think ATV use is a beneficial use for those lands?

  16. avatar Save bears says:

    Jim,

    I agree some ATV users are irresponsible as well as operate illegally, but remember beneficial has different definitions to different people

  17. Those who have commented on this have failed to notice that the Denver Post article was mostly about mudbogging, a form of deliberate destruction of wetlands similar to breaking windows out of a school house for fun.

  18. avatar JimT says:

    Ralph,

    The mudbogging is just the penultimate expression of the “do what we want where we want” mentality of the Yahoo branch of the ATVers…I still see a connection between the ever expanding ATV trail creation and damage and this “sport.”

    Save Bears,

    Your point is well taken, but again, I keep coming back to a basic concept…is what we or someone is doing good for the land, or bad for the land? We have a major issue here mountain bikers, even at this time of year, destroying trails because they are wet,and very fragile. They would and have argued that because they are lessening the carbon footprint and getting exercise, they should be above those kinds of consideration. I used to be an avid mountain and road biker before a nerve injury from sitting in the saddle too much took me away from that pursuit. But, I never put my biking first, especially single tracking in the spring when the trails are their most fragile. Basic common sense and respect…too much to expect these days?

  19. avatar Wilderness Muse says:

    Ralph,

    And even worse is the fact that at least one event was sponsored by a Denver radio station (if I recall, mostly on private land, but nonetheless destructive to sensitive wetlands habitat), and received paltry small fine for not getting a permit for the event, to conduct their malicious and destructive (criminal in my mind) conduct.

    I do not think CO off road vehicles have to have a metal license plate attached to the back. Some states require a 4×6 inch reflective surface plate, like on street motorcycles. CO still, I believe, uses a tiny decal with small numbering for registration that is on one side of the fusalage, often covered by the rider’s leg. So, this makes it really difficult to report somebody for this kind of disgusting stuff, even if you can read a muddy plate.

    I think to encourage reporting, it needs to be conducted by the state like a poaching hotline or litter hotline. A federal law to increase fines on BLM/FS land for such conduct just is not going to do much at all. Would a state reward system for turning in these idiots work?

  20. avatar Wilderness Muse says:

    JimT,

    Speaking of mountain bikers (full size vehicle or ATV) and sensitive land destruction, I have a friend who works on issues involving early snow melt (subissue of global warming) which is the result of dust deposits from disturbed cryptogam soils (biological soil crust) in Utah in places like Canyonlands NP. It seems some irresponsible mountain bikers (hikers too) ride across this delicate crust, exposing the surface soils which are exposed to wind, become airborne and are redeposited on the surface of high elevation snowfields in the relatively distant Colorado Continental Divide. The red or brown soil has a higher heat absorption, which prematurely melts the snow. One more contributor to drought, and lower seasonal streamflows. NPR did a segment on his research a couple years back.

  21. avatar JimT says:

    WM,

    It is all cause and effect somewhere, somehow. Just depends on what the causal agent is. Too many times it is controllable and not prevented by simple restraint and consideration. Selfishness seems to be the rule. Add that to the things we cannot easily affect….Thanks for the info. I think finally communities are trying to do something about slickrock mountain biking in Utah..but it is a slow process to change the mentalities of those doing the damage. So what if I have to wait a week before taking a spring wildflower walk if the trails are just waiting to be trashed? So what if I miss the best show of paintbrush, or in the East, trillium….I mean, really..in the big scheme of things…??

  22. avatar Layton says:

    Let me just put in $.02 here — first of all the disclaimer — I don’t own an ATV, never have, probably never will.

    I see that it is mainly the “hot rodders” or the “speed set” getting blamed here for the main part of ATV damage — “taint so”.

    I work for the USFS in the summer. I’m all over the Nat’l Forest, early and late in the year. I see ALL types of users in all types of conditions. My personal feeling is that the “grandpa and grandma” bunch cause every bit as much damage.

    These folks have both the $$ and the time to really get out there and raise a bit of hell!! They will go anywhere they can – on and off trail – they will go in spite of any travel map that they are given or asked to look at, and they will go in any type of conditions – wet, dry, hot, cold, snow or whatever.

    As an example, three years ago during stage one fire conditions (hoot owl shifts for loggers, no open fires, no smoking, organized campgrounds only, etc) I was tasked with informing some of these folks about what was allowed and not allowed.

    As I was traveling one of the main FS roads I noticed a caravan of 4 ATV’s, making their way cross country with kids hanging everywhere. Must have been 15 people on the 4 rigs. I pulled up and stopped, got out of my truck with posters that told them what the conditions were and intercepted them to hand out the posters. I was very nice, said Hi and everything.

    I didn’t know that (apparent) grandmothers knew those kind of words!! I’m an ex- sailor and she almost made me blush. I was informed that they would go where they wanted, when they wanted and exactly where I could put my documentation!!

    After visiting several other camps in the area, I realized that the people that I had met were NOT unique. Don’t think – as I did – that the problem comes from teenagers or youngsters exclusively.

    What should a federal LEO do when confronted by a profane, blue haired lady?? 8) I didn’t call him, I was too suprised.

  23. avatar JimT says:

    Layton,

    Your post supports the case for stronger rules against ATV use.

    NEVER challenge a blue hair…they have nothing to lose…VBG…Maybe it is the chemicals from the beauty salon that caused her to be so abusive.

  24. avatar Save bears says:

    I would have called the LE and let them deal with it, sounds like they needed to be ticketed and fined heavily…

  25. avatar Layton says:

    JimT,

    Not sure that the story supports “stronger rules” — Maybe it just points out that it’s difficult to enforce the rules we have.

    These folks know darn well what they are doing is against the rules — BUT — they’ve been around since before the rules. AND some of the rules are pretty goofy anyway.

  26. avatar timz says:

    Jim T,
    I wasn’t in this conversation.

  27. avatar JimT says:

    TimZ,

    I must have been cross threading. Sorry for the mixup.

  28. avatar JimT says:

    Layton,

    Two choices. One, change the rules to have some real teeth, which is needed given some of the examples of fines above, and enforce them, or Two, leave things the way they are, and let the land suffer the consequences, but don’t pretend to the public as an agency that you are doing jack..be honest about it. :*)

  29. avatar timz says:

    “TimZ,

    I must have been cross threading. Sorry for the mixup.”

    No problem

  30. avatar Jay says:

    The argument that “I aint gonna get caught” doesn’t fly with me. Sure, there is little in the way of enforcement, but folks know in the rare chance they do get caught, they’ll get a slap on the wrist. So yeah, maybe the jaws of enforcement don’t have many teeth, but hopefully the few teeth the law allows them are really, really big and sharp. That way, a bite may not be likely, but if you do get it, its gonna hurt bad.

  31. avatar Jay says:

    I should’ve said, the argument that we shouldn’t give teeth to the law just because enforcement is limited, doesn’t fly. Part of the deterrent is the repercussions if you do get caught.

  32. avatar ProWolf in WY says:

    Virginia, the Red Desert needs some laws on this.

  33. avatar bob jackson says:

    Coming from a govt law enforcement perspective I think most lack of violation follow through is just plan laziness, whether it is the officer on the ground or their supervisor in the administrative building.

    And as the officer on the ground it is his, her duty to do everything to get their administrators off their fat butts to do something about it. They may not like it but embarrassment and disclosure will get them going.

    The cowboy ranger I replaced at Thorofare had been there 9 years and had not convicted a single poacher. He drank Old Yellowstone, smoked Marlboros and read lots of Louie Lamours. Yes he had conviction, followed lots of leads but couldn’t quite pin it down to feel comfortable to write that cituation.

    The guys before him it was the same way. One time a hunter from Kentucky shot a moose next to the patrol cabin….one mile in the Park. The ranger heard the shot, went outside and issued a citation. The judge gave a $25 fine and had sympathy for the old guy being lost and let him keep the meat.

    What does one do with all the demoralized law enforcement types, whether, BLM, FS or NPS do in this case?? I say blame the field officer on the ground first of all because he didn’t do his, her job on forcing the supervisors to do their job …. and the field officer for not taking every example of lack of appropriate penalty to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    You make sure you get federal regulations changed to close loop holes (like no fire arms in the back country, loaded or otherwise) and you catch the poacher or other violator red handed so there is no “evidence” to be questioned. You have that poachers tears on the confession he writes and if you have lots of country to patrol you shrink it down to concentrate on one area at a time.

    And if you have supervisors sabatoging your case because they are buds with a certain outfitter you call them on it…right to their face if need be.

    God, there is so many things a law dog in the field can do no matter what the on the surface obstacles there are. At least in this country the politicos can’t rub you out. And if you do your job well enough the administrative yellow streaks can’t hatchet you…because they will be demoted, early retired or transferred themselves.

    And if it is ATV’s you have, not poachers go for the origins. Go to the community and talk and if it is a long ways away start writing a column in their local papers. Identify yourself anyway you can and pretty soon those quiet ones, the good ATVers will come to you. They will report happenings and be willing to testify. They will tell the bad guys they had better watch out or “—–” will get them.

    In the end your supervisors will use your “exploits” to bring in big paper journalists to show them what bad things are happening. They want more funding of course and don’t really care about you, nor ask you how you caught the bad guys…so any additional money can be best spent…. but it will all work.

    Lack of penalties appropriate for the offense is just another way to push for more infrastructure support from above. I say use all the shortcomings of “woo is me” to work to your advantage. And of course resist going “native”. That means no Marlboros and forget the Louie Lamours.

  34. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    I have to agree with Layton. . it is not just the hot rodders, teenagers and mudders that cause the damage. Mudders where I live can ruin about 10 acres in a day and usually get themselves good and stuck at some point. What I see that is a more insidious damage are the ATV’s ridden by the forest product collectors. Those who pick bear grass for baskets, collect mushrooms and huckleberries who have now turned to ATV’s. Their tracks are not deep or destructive but they are literally everywhere on every square foot of National Forest floor and crossing every stream. The pickers tend to be from other countries where citizens are not trained not to litter as well and they leave plastic, cans and personal litter on every trail. The permit for collecting forest products is $25.00 a season and the permit holder hires hundreds of workers to comb the woods. I can’t help but think these practices are going under the radar of forest managers who don’t have time to go off trail and look at the results of this intensive harvesting.

  35. avatar Wilderness Muse says:

    Linda,

    Maybe it is time to get the camera (digital w/zoom or film) if you have one, and take some incriminating photos of these turkeys in the act, if possible, and drop them off/email to the NF Supervisor’s Offfice or the Ranger District. Slip one to the local newspaper, if you are in a friendly community. Any identifying information on the ATVs or riders or support vehicles for these commercial pickers to link them to the bad conduct can get their permit pulled and possibly get them a fine. Even it is just a warning, they may clean up their act. Maybe send a copy to your representatives in Congress and ask for support of Udall’s bill. Don’t know what state you are in, but maybe it will help.

  36. avatar Elk275 says:

    Bob

    ++You make sure you get federal regulations changed to close loop holes (like no fire arms in the back country, loaded or otherwise++

    So you are saying no firearms in the back country. That means no firearms in the wilderness areas in national forest. Therefore there would be no hunting or guns for protection in the wilderness. That will never fly my friend.

  37. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    Wilderness Muse . . that is my plan exactly. I will have time this summer to document and fix on a map the disturbance this is causing and I will spread the results out in my small town and in the state.

  38. avatar Layton says:

    Linda,

    “The permit for collecting forest products is $25.00 a season and the permit holder hires hundreds of workers to comb the woods.”

    Are you sure about that?? I thought each individual mushroom picker, etc. had to have a permit.

    I know that in the Nat’l forest where I work for example, they even have different camping areas for anyone involved in commercial mushroom picking. We have thousands (literally) of them working the year after a forest fire.

    I think private folks get so many pounds a day for no fee at all.

  39. avatar Save bears says:

    The area I am familier with is the Mt. Adams Ranger District in the Gifford Pinchot NF and there are several types of permits that need to be secured, depending on what your harvesting, they don’t require a permit for personal use hucks. In addition you are required to get a conservation parking stamp through the state of WA

  40. avatar bob jackson says:

    elkcalf 275

    I was referring to Yell. Park. Sorry I didn’t explain further.

    Untill the 80’s the loop hole was a person could carry a gun as long as it was broken down (bolt out) and empty of shells. This was from Yell. archaic beginnings, when travellers and hunters had to go through the Park to get to hunting areas etc. But with roads and better wilderness access it was not neede.

    What was happening instead was outfitters guides and hunters seeing elk inside the Park, taking bolts out and then riding in to chase elk out of the Park. Poachers also knew very well unless they were caught red handed any ranger coming upon them had a hard time proving hunting.

    Where I showed Yell. Law Enforcement the most blatant of egress was the Gallatin boundary ridge in the Nw section of the Park. Sheep hunters would roam and glass all day while walking the Park trail. There was no way to hunt outside the Park because of the knife ridge.

    Thus most all sheep shots had to be made from within the Park…definitely illegal but hard to be johhny on the spot to enforce all the time.

    With this info we got the law changed so no guns, broken down or otherwise, would be allowed in YNP back country. It stopped a lot of poaching.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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