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December 1999 Planet Main
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The Planet

Motorized Madness?

by Tanya Tolchin
Lands protection program conservation organizer

The wilderness experience. If you believe what you see on television, an integral part of it is a gas-guzzling internal combustion engine. Grizzlies and deer watch in admiration as shiny, souped-up sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) plow through streams and forests. Turn on the ignition and go anywhere anytime.

Although SUVs rarely venture off road in the real world, more specialized off-road vehicles (ORVs) are increasingly tearing through remote areas, disturbing fish and wildlife habitat, contributing to air and water pollution and creating countless miles of illegal roads.

Fortunately, President Clinton's roadless-area plan provides an opportunity to protect America's last wild forests from these motorized intrusions. Specific protective provisions have yet to be spelled out, but the Club is pushing hard to make sure that the new plan prohibits all destructive activities including motorized recreation.

The use of various types of ORVs has increased dramatically in the past decade. Snowmobiles break the winter quiet in our national parks and motorcycles roar down Forest Service trails previously used only by hikers. Between 1991 and 1996, the sale of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) doubled from 150,000 to over 300,000 units per year. (ATVs are motorized three- and four-wheeled recreational vehicles that cannot be driven on the highway.) New technology has expanded the ability of these vehicles to reach remote areas, and they have become an increasingly serious threat to America's wildlands.

For example, in Montana's Gallatin National Forest, home to elk, big horn sheep, wolverine and the endangered grizzly bear, ORV use has spiraled out of control. Outside of the designated areas, 96 percent of the Gallatin is open to motorized vehicles.

Drusha Mayhue, chair of the Club's Yellowstone Ecosystem Task Force, is working to restrict ORV use in the Gallatin Mountains. She described "intense illegal off-trail use of motorized vehicles, even in the wilderness study areas." She worked with the Montana Wilderness Association to close the Hylite, Porcupine and Buffalo-Horn wilderness study areas to motorized use, but the pressure to reopen them has intensified.

Another hot spot for ORVs is in Washington's Wenatchee National Forest. Mark Lawler, National Forest Committee chair for the Cascade Chapter, is working to revise the state gas tax, which currently subsidizes trails for motorized vehicles on Washington's public lands. He called the Mad River Roadless Area "the victim of 30 years of state-subsidized motorized-use funding." This area provides habitat for bull trout, salmon and lynx. But heavy motorcycle use has left deep ruts in alpine meadows, severely damaged trails and has chased away hikers and backpackers. Lawler also noted a sharp increase in the use of snowmobiles in the most remote areas of the forest.

In the coming months, Mayhue, Lawler, and other Sierra Club activists across the country will be working to build support for and shape the president's historic roadless-area plan. The plan will not fully protect our wild forests unless it addresses the growing threat from irresponsible motorized vehicle use.

During this public comment period, we must send a strong message to the Forest Service that the last unspoiled wild forests should be protected from all damaging activities, including motorized recreation. Eliminating noisy, polluting engines means peace of mind for wildlife and people who choose to use their own feet to enjoy the great outdoors.

Write:
U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510
U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515

Call:
Capitol Switchboard, (202) 224-3121

Learn:
For updates on the Club's legislative priorities, call the Legislative Hotline at (202) 675-2394.

Join:
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