December 26, 2000
National OHV Coordinator
U.S. Department of the Interior
Bureau of Land Management
1849 C Street NW (LSB-204)
Washington, D.C. 20077-5478
Re: Your December, 2000 National Off-Highway Vehicle Management Strategy
Almost everything that we value derives, ultimately, from wildlife. Wildlife provide the clean air and oxygen we breathe, the clean water we drink, the genes that yield foodstuffs and most medicines, and the attractiveness of the parks and other wild areas that nurture our psyches and keep us in touch with the most basic realities of life. We cannot afford to risk losing any more of this precious wildlife.
And yet that is exactly what we are doing! We are not only destroying wildlife habitat at an unforgivable rate, but we are also making our scanty remaining habitat so unattractive that we are driving the wildlife out. We are doing this primarily by taking advantage of modern technology to flood all natural areas with human residents and recreationists and the exotic species they carry with them (either intentionally or unintentionally).
Some examples: cliffs used to be places where birds and other wildlife could find refuge. Climbing equipment made most of those areas accessible to humans. Boats and rafts have made many otherwise inaccessible or relatively inaccessible riparian habitats suddenly accessible to humans. And skis, mountain bikes, jetskis, mountain boards, horses, and all manner of other off-road vehicles have greatly expanded the areas that are easily accessible to people. All of this has at least driven wildlife away from the resources that they need, if it hasn't killed them outright. And it results in an effective loss of habitat. (This is only conjecture, but I would guess that lazier people -- those who would rather ride than walk -- also treat the land with less respect.)
While nature is able to "recover" from some of these insults (a misnomer, since dead organisms do not "recover"!), the rate at which it can do this is invariably far slower than the rate at which we are able to destroy it -- the cryptogamic soil found in the desert being just an extreme example. ORVs are therefore an unsustainable use of the land.
Besides killing wildlife and driving it away, ORVs and the animals we use as vehicles act as vectors for exotic species, such as aggressive weeds, which further stress the wildlife. And most of them also bring air pollution, water pollution, and noise pollution. Not only does this harm wildlife, but it tends to drive out other recreationists, especially those making gentler use of the land. And, of course, ORVs make outdoor recreation far more dangerous for both users and nonusers. Many ORV users, for example, mountain bikers, are notorious for their callous and reckless behavior toward wildlife and people on foot. It has proven impossible to separate the "wheat" from these "chaff"; the only effective solution is to ban those technologies from our natural areas! Creating "sacrifice zones" is no solution, since all of those areas represent once-important habitat -- candidates for restoration.
Ironically, ORVs do not aid the enjoyment of nature, in spite of what their proponents claim. Not only do they destroy and drive away the wildlife that make those areas attractive, but it is impossible to give your full attention to nature when you have to pay attention to controlling your vehicle! And because ORVs drive away other users, their presence is discriminatory: for example, trails opened to mountain bikes or dirt bikes tend to become exclusively used for those purposes, discriminating against hikers, the very young, and the elderly, who have an equal right to be there. Also, the presence of ORVs tends to force land managers to increase their use of ORVs, to police the ORV users.
Because ORVs carry people at much greater speeds, their users also tend to "use up" the land faster -- they get bored quicker, and demand more and more areas in which to recreate. Hikers tend to experience far more of the sounds, sights, and smells of nature, and thus tire of those areas much slower, if ever! Similarly, turning recreation into a commercial enterprise greatly increases the human impacts on that habitat. The commercial use of public lands is inappropriate and unsustainable. All of this is due to the use of technology.
The fact that someone is able to purchase a machine able to travel off-road is no reason that the public should be required to provide them a place to use it!
Tradition is not a good reason to continue an unsustainable activity. All vehicles, as well as animals used as vehicles, should be banned from off-road use. A ban is far easier and cheaper to enforce than complicated regulations. And given the current economic environment, and the finiteness of our wild lands, there is no way that land managers can keep up with the quantity and intensity of vehicular use that prosperity and population increases bring. Build only the narrowest possible hiking trails, do not promote vehicular access, and do not start down that slippery slope that leads to the human domination of every square inch of the Earth! (Besides, we will very soon start running out of oil, and probably few will then want to squander precious fuel in frivolous thrill-seeking….)
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.
Bicycle Trails Council of Marin v. Babbitt, 82 F.3d 1445, 1452 (9th Cir. 1996).
Ehrlich, Paul and Anne, Extinction: The Causes and Consequences of the Disappearance of Species. c.1981.
Knight, Richard L. and Kevin J. Gutzwiller, eds. Wildlife and Recreationists. Covelo, California: Island Press, c.1995.
Liddle, Michael, Recreation Ecology. Chapman & Hall: London, c.1997.
Phillips, Kathryn, Tracking the Vanishing Frogs: An Ecological Mystery. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994.
Stebbins, Robert, personal communication.
Vandeman, Michael J., Ph.D.http://home.pacbell.net/mjvande, especially "Wildlife Need Habitat Off-Limits to Humans", "Rethinking the Impacts of Recreation", and "The Effects of Mountain Biking on Wildlife and People -- Why Off-Road Bicycling Should be Prohibited".