Rocky Barker's blog: Rangers say renegade off roaders ride roughshod over public lands

“Off-road vehicle problems cannot simply be blamed on just a ‘few bad apples’– as industry apologists try to do. America needs stronger penalties to deter reckless off-roading,” Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, an ecologist who formerly worked with BLM. [PEER] wants much tougher penalties for off-road violations, as well as law enforcement funding devoted to stemming the avalanche of problems occasioned by reckless off-roading . . . from Barker’s Blog on PEER’s recent report on the destruction and lawlessness of off-road vehicle drivers on our public lands. Rest of Barker’s blog.

PEER is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Their news release.

When I see a 4 x 4 or an ATV come off the public lands completely covered in mud, I feel sort of the same as when I see someone’s pet dog come out of a pasture with blood all over its face. When I see the mud-caked vehicle I wish gasoline was $10 a gallon.

I think it is true that the off-road problem is not just the “lawless few.” Most off-roaders, at least some of the time, blatantly violate the rules and harm the outdoors for wildife and other people. ”

Television ads for these vehicles blatantly portray unacceptable use, such as splashing through creeks, roaring through the mud, and climbing mountains where there is no road or trail.




  1. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf

    I can affirm that this is a problem around here. Illegal riders even take to the highways; driving their teams of ATVs from campsites to towns to stock up on supplies. And why not? There’s no one to enforce the ban on ATVs on highways. The sheriff are strung thin in an ever increasing population.

    And the problem is of course echoed in the national and state forests. Rampant abuse of laws, and willfull destruction of lands reins supreme up here. When I spent the summer of 2005 in the state forest land south of Elk River; besides a dumb rancher, ATVs were by far the biggest problem I encountered. Tearing up the gravel roads, going into places they weren’t supposed to, and tearing things up in general was the norm for these people. Even the “nice” ones; who drove through my campsite after riding a closed trail, proved their ignorance and stupidity by asking me where all the huckleberries were. “2 feet from your stupid faces if you’d get off the damn ATVs” is what I could have said, as it were true. Of course, I’m not going to give away my “secret” huckleberry stash to someone so stupid as to look for them from the seat of their ATVs.

    Things are so bad up here, that even Potlatch is cracking down on illegal riders. They’ve now started charging a fee for use of their lands, to offset the constant repairs they have to make to the roads, damaged by jerks on ATVs hell-bent on showing how skilled they are at rotating a throttle.

    This “showing off” is the omnipresent attitude up here, and it sickens me. It is this same attitude that kills wolves and other wildlife (even the falcons and hawks are dying, shot from power poles by idiots with too many bullets and not enough brains.)

    What needs to happen is to have a negative stigma attached to these activities. If BLM, the state, and private agencies such as Defenders, and even Western Watersheds and the like, want to do something; they should start putting together advertising campaigns, to speak to these people in the only medium they understand: television. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt if they also put pressure on advertisers who glorify SUV damage to our precious irreplaceable western lands.

  2. be Avatar

    “We tore it up out there” – this seems to be the characterization used as they hose down their ATVs after a ride…

    and yes, the advertisements used to sell these things pull on and celebrate the viscerally destructive potential of such mechanized eco-rape.

    i like mike’s idea – i think there could be some pretty compelling imagery leveraged…

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I think there needs to be an organization devoted solely to fighting these machines.

    The industry that makes them has set up support groups like the Blue Ribbon Coalition, but those who are angered by their growing presence and damaging use use are scattered all over the political spectrum — conservation groups, property owners, law enforcement groups. Because these groups don’t have a lot in common, a new interest group that unites their common interest in reigning in ORVs would probably be the most effective.

  4. Monte Avatar

    Great idea. I use ATV’s on the ranch all the time, it’s ironic that no rancher I know would allow the kind of damage on private land that occurs everywhere on public land. It simply wouldn’t be tolerated. It shouldn’t be tolerated on public land either. An anti ATV organization would be wonderful. There is a lot of evidence to put in front of people, that’s for sure.

  5. mikarooni Avatar

    I agree completely. Like Monte, I do use a 4X4 pickup on the ranch that I have now because I need to get in to do the work and have no desire to ever develop a road system more substantial than the existing and sometimes very muddy perimeter two-track; however, I stick to that minimal existing two-track system whenever possible because of the damage that even slow and careful travel off that system does to fragile plants. The primary reason that I went to great expense to fence the perimeter of the ranch, including getting permission to fence the public portion under allotment, and don’t bring in many visitors is that years ago, when I acquired the place, off-road enthusiasts, motorcycles and ATVs and jeeps and snowmobiles and what-have-you, had turned it into a horrific wallow. In fact, it was, literally and I’m not kidding, the damage to the property value, due to the off-roading damage and the stuff dumped after their partying, that enabled me to sell much smaller holdings and buy as much of it as I did; but, it has taken years of careful handwork to heal it. I’ve hauled out literally tons of trash alone. I know that the purists will hate to hear me say it; but, compared to the damage done by off-roaders, littering hunters, or a flock of sheep, the impact of a limited number of cattle is not even significant.

  6. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf


    So glad to hear you make such an observation. Thanks.

    However; I will point out that cattle can do significantly more damage – if they aren’t managed. And that is the key. Cattle can quite easily be managed. Off-roaders, littering hunters both licensed and poaching, and other human activities are much more difficult to manage and therefore do in fact cause considerably more damage.

    I really do think that an advertising campaign by national conservation groups to instill a better attitude towards our natural lands is the way to go. Make it popular, and make it so that beer companies like Kokanee (N. Idaho’s favorite beer – available in the 255 pack!) will begin incorporating it into their advertising!

    Oh, and in a timely display of the pervasive attitude towards the “great outdoors” up here in the panhandle of Idaho; I went out last night to observe the predicted auroras. While they never manifested, the rednecks were out in force, camping and blasting their stereo so loud, it could be heard from several miles away – echoing across the great valley I live in. What a waste of open skies and beautiful country.

    Someone once tried to tell me that Idaho has some of the most pristine, untouched lands in this nation. If that’s the case, why is it that I can’t find a single place to camp or hike around here that isn’t immediately affected by people, in a negative sense. Litter, noise, gunshots, evidence of poaching…all so common it makes me believe that I live in a playground for rednecks, rather than the most wild state in the lower 48.

  7. Monty Avatar

    All of the above comments are excellent and very depressing. ATV users will do anything to reduce the need for walking. In an instance that I observed, the Forest Service closed a road, about a mile long, with large AND DEEP “tank traps” and within a year the ATV folks had “engineered” their way around & over the tank traps. In order to eliminate the need to walk one mile, they spent 10 years worth of energy constructing “ATV bridges”.

    The cliche’ is that 10 percent create 90 percent of the problems. Littering is a similiar problem, highway litter patrols clean the highway one week & the next week the litterbugs “put it back”. The problem is that the 10% grows larger with our ever- increasing human population levels. The Grand Renassance illision is: “man becomes better as he becomes more clever”.

  8. Mike Wolf Avatar
    Mike Wolf


    I don’t know about where you are, but around here, the problem isn’t with 10%, its with 95-100%. ATV abuse is rampant. As I observed 2 years ago, even the “nice” ones violate closed trails and go right through people’s campsites looking for Huckleberries that are 2 feet from them; that they would find if they got off their lazy asses and actually looked!

    ATV riders up here almost ALL do this. One has only to spend a weekend in the woods to know this. It is the norm up here, not the exception. In my travels up here, I have NEVER met a responsible ATV rider, EVER! Well, except my landlord; who only uses his on the property. And myself, having ridden my enduro from here to Garnet Creek on county roads only.

    We even have a designated off-road park in Ferndale; but it is hardly used, with people preferring to drive a few miles less and tear up Moose Creek resevoir near Bolvill.

    It is really very sad to see, and extremely frustrating.

    Then there is the small matter of the rise of ATV use in elk hunting, and the blame of wolves on hunters’ lack of success. I’m sorry, but elk and wolves coexist. ATVs and elk do not. An ATV makes a very noticeable sound that can be heard from sometimes miles away. Elk know this sound, and have learned to hide during hunting season from it I’m sure. But wolves don’t make putt-putt sounds as they stalk their prey. If they did, they’d have as much success as ATV riders do, but wouldn’t be complaining, they’d be dead from starvation.

    Hmmm…perhaps that’s a good commercial, a pack of wolves riding ATVs to hunt elk…and eventually starving as a result… Yup, wolves are better hunters, and don’t need ATVs to get elk. Perhaps hunters could take a lesson from wolves…


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Ralph Maughan