PEER tells Senate hearing off-road vehicle regulation going badly on public lands

There is a “showdown” hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee June 5 on the regulation of off-road vehicles on public lands.

This is a news release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. No doubt off-road groups will have a different view.

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For Immediate Release: June 4, 2008
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337

OFF-ROAD VEHICLE ROUTE DESIGNATIONS GOING BADLY OFF TRACK — U.S. Senate Hearing Grasping for Solutions to Rising Toll of ORVs on Public Lands

Washington, DC — The national effort to minimize mounting off-road vehicle damage on federal lands by designating routes for motorized traffic is going badly off course, according to congressional testimony released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are wasting substantial time and money without benefiting streams, wildlife, eroding landscapes and the public who hike, fish and camp on these lands.

In testimony submitted for tomorrow’s Senate Energy & Natural Resources committee hearing on “off-highway vehicle management on public lands,” California PEER Director Karen Schambach outlines the failures of the Eldorado National Forest, the first Sierra Nevada national forest to complete the route designation process, to protect natural resources from the effects of off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse:

* Forest management repeatedly overruled its own scientists and wildlife specialists to approve ORV routes that crossed streams, damaged watersheds and ripped up meadows. The Eldorado National Forest even approved routes that had previously been earmarked for decommissioning;
* Contrary to legal requirements, the Eldorado did no site-specific analyses of designated routes, thus eliminating the possibility of minimizing resource conflicts that were never documented; and
* The Eldorado never developed an enforcement plan. Nor does it have a program for restoring damaged landscapes.

“On the Eldorado, route designation has been an expensive paper exercise that has gone horribly wrong,” stated Schambach. “The Forest Service is simply perpetuating mayhem and calling it a plan.”

One factor cited by Schambach in her testimony is the bullying tactics by some off-road groups, including threats and harassment and intimidation of Forest Service employees. In some national forests, the atmosphere created by off-roaders has gotten so intense that town hall-type meetings were replaced by day- or evening-long “open houses” to minimize opportunities for grandstanding and intimidation.

“An essential conflict is that off-roading is a preclusive use of public lands, driving off every other form of recreation,” Schambach added, citing as an example the most popular hiking trail in the Eldorado’s Georgetown Ranger District which, even though it is barely 24 inches wide, has been designated for ORVs with a 40 inch wheel base. “If the Forest Service stays on the path it has charted on the Eldorado, national forests will be steadily carved up into motorized theme parks.”

Tomorrow’s Senate hearing is the first attempt by that body to grapple with the growing ORV problem. In mid-March, the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, chaired by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), held a groundbreaking oversight hearing entitled “The Impacts of Unmanaged Off-Road Vehicles on Federal Land.” That hearing featured testimony from a PEER-organized network of retired public lands law enforcement professionals called Rangers for Responsible Recreation whose testimony stressed how ORV route designation was doomed to failure without manageable trails and adequate enforcement.


Read the PEER testimony

See the line-up for the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee ORV hearing

Examine the Rangers for Responsible Recreation critique of route designation

View how ORVs have become the number one threat to the American landscape





  1. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    How do I say this? I used to be a dirt bike rider. But I started to see the light in 1985. I participated in the design of a management plan, for the BLM, to protect the desert tortoise. I have not ridden since 1992.

    Off-roaders have a draconian mindset; they think they have a God-given right to ride where they wish. Nothing will sway them from that notion. Getting them to adhere to designated trails is extremely difficult.

    The BLM is so short staffed that they have one ranger for 1.5 million acres in the are that I live. Moreover, the BLM is in the process of revising its resource management plan. They are going from a almost totally open area (all 1.5 M acres) to limited to designated trails. But they are reluctant to make this switch until the RMP is final, and that won’t happen for another year.

    How that transition from open to designated will work will be anybody’s guess. As we are a very low populated area, it shouldn’t be too bad a problem. On any given weekend day, there are less than 50-75 riders in the area. most congregate in one specific area. Compare this to the California desert where there is at least 10 fold that amount.

    Overall, however, ORV users are a very difficult group to deal with. I don’t think education will be that effective. American Motorcyslist Assn has been trying for years with not great success. The problem is the vast majority of users do not belong to any organization. It appears to me that the only way to the ORV user is legeslation. But any legeslation that Congress passes will have to have adaquet funding for enforcement, or the law will be ignored.


  2. Monty Avatar

    R.Hammel you paint a dismal picture that is reality. Land eithics is a forgotten subject in our mechanized world. Land is just another resource to be consumed and thrown away. Rising gasoline prices may be the only salvation to stop or slow down the “Thrillcraft pollution”.

  3. Rick Hammel Avatar
    Rick Hammel

    Well, Monty, it is indeed reality. If the ORV users can get to where they ride, fuel for the rigs is not all that expensive. Two stroke engines get about 20 mpg; four strokes get double that amount. So riding around will cost somewhwere around $10. Couple that with $40 to get there, $50 is not all that much money.

    Last weekend we went fishing on the Green River. Getting there, entailed driving by one of the ORV areas. We saw about 10 motorhomes/trailer rigs. So someone has a few bucks to play. But seeing gas at $4+ for an extended period, will probably take its toll on aall of us. I know that I am staying home more.


  4. Ed Avatar

    Great post Rick. The entire recreational vehicle industry (both land and water) is less than thoughtful about the environment. Having a brother who is an avid dirt bike rider, there seems to definitely be an attitude of “I spent my hard earned money on a toy and now I’m going to ride it” Fortunately in the midwest there are a number of privately developed race courses the riders seem to congregate at. I’m not sure how the sense of entitlement to ride any thing you choose on public lands came to be


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Ralph Maughan