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Idaho is a sportsman’s paradise and a huge draw for outdoor recreation, including ORVs, or Outdoor Recreation Vehicles. More and more ORV riders are taking to the trails of Idaho's popular destinations. My concern is the disregard that a growing number of ORV riders have for rules and posted signs. Unfortunately, their irresponsible riding has led to a dramatic deterioration in the quality of the outdoor experience on both private and public forest lands. Two years ago, I took along my 11-year-old son on an opening-day hunt on “Access Yes” forestland in Idaho’s panhandle. These lands were owned by a timber company that allowed public access, but restricted motorized use to mainline roads. After hiking three hours up a road closed to motorized use, we encountered two riders on ATVs. My son was discouraged after the long hike and I was upset, knowing his first hunt was cut short.

The Case for Making ATV and Other Outdoor Recreation Vehicle Riders Accountable

Idaho is a sportsman’s paradise and a huge draw for outdoor recreation, including ORVs, or Outdoor Recreation Vehicles. More and more ORV riders are taking to the trails of Idaho’s popular destinations.

My concern is the disregard that a growing number of ORV riders have for rules and posted signs. Unfortunately, their irresponsible riding has led to a dramatic deterioration in the quality of the outdoor experience on both private and public forest lands.

Two years ago, I took along my 11-year-old son on an opening-day hunt on “Access Yes” forestland in Idaho’s panhandle. These lands were owned by a timber company that allowed public access, but restricted motorized use to mainline roads. After hiking three hours up a road closed to motorized use, we encountered two riders on ATVs. My son was discouraged after the long hike and I was upset, knowing his first hunt was cut short.

When confronted, the ATV riders glibly admitted their trespass. When I asked how they got past the locked gate, one replied, “You can make it if you’re crazy enough.” It was not the example of responsible behavior I was trying to model for my son.

After hiking back out to the gate, I alerted the timber company’s watchman of the violation. Unfortunately, the only way I had to identify the riders were as “two fat guys dressed really warm on a green Polaris,” and there was nothing they could do.

It is frustrating to have a hunt ruined by people riding ORVs where vehicles are prohibited. Yet, it is happening more frequently. If we do not address this issue, we risk lowering the quality of hunting in Idaho, the hunting experience in our state and damaging our state’s hunting economy. We also risk people taking matters into their own hands, like the booby traps that were laid out at Soldiers Meadow Reservoir near Lewiston a few years ago.

After describing our experience to other hunters, I learned the story of my son’s first hunt was not unique. Across the country, hunters and landowners suffer from ruined hunts and private property trespass without the ability to identify illegal riders. Responsible Trails America (RTA) published a report that found only 12 states require ORVs to display a standard vehicle-sized license plate or large decal.

Idaho requires that ORVs display a registration sticker. Yet, the reason I was unable to identify illegal ORV riders is because these stickers are roughly the size of a credit card. At high speeds or covered in mud, these stickers are impossible to spot, let alone read the registration number printed on it.

To address this nationwide problem, Congress should require that ORVs used on public lands display a standard license plate or large decal, similar to a rule recently adopted by the Idaho legislature, but quietly abandoned. Visible identification will make it easier for law enforcement, outdoor users and responsible riders to report reckless and irresponsible riders.

A national ID standard would be most effective if it’s truly visible. The ORV industry can help by standardizing a location for mounting IDs onto vehicles. It would eliminate confusion and encourage responsible riders to obey the rules. The majority of ORV users that follow the law should have no objection to this type of identification – just as I have no issue with maintaining my hunting and gun licenses.

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Sen. Jim Risch is in the position to work with ORV enthusiasts and sportsmen alike to enact a standard, visible form of identification for ORVs.

Derrick Reeves is co-chair of Idaho Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

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Comments

  1. CR500 says:

    A good way to get a handle on illegal OHV use would be to cut down on hunting permits. If hunters will not follow the rules let them suffer not OHV users who follow the laws.

  2. John says:

    Most illegal ORV use is not done by hunters, it is simply done. I’m not arguing that a minority of ORV using hunters do not violate laws and common sense, but most ORV use is not during hunting season.

    The proposal by CRV500 is classical “collective punishment”, a favorite of the heavy handed and sometimes by the self-righteous. It is just as immoral and unethical as those who violate reasonable laws and regulations. Goodness – if people are speeding on the highways do we solve the problem by saying, “Lets just issue fewer drivers licenses!”

    Idiocy.

    A better argument would be that agencies charged with land management heavily fine those who violate the existing law/regulations. Does that happen? No.

    As a case in point, call your local National Forest and ask to talk to “Law Enforcement.” Once connected, ask that individual what the enforcement protocols are regarding those who violate the “Weed Free Hay” provisions. Guess what? The response will be “We give them a written warning.” If the answer is different, insist on the data concerning those who were ticketed and fined for the
    violation. Get ready to do an F.O.I.A.

    Wonderful. National Forests full of Knapweed, Leafy Spurge, Hoary Cress, Hoary Alyssum, Sulphur Cinquefoil, Rush Skeletonweed and on and on and on with the tens of millions spent to attempt control of these species and they do what? “We give them a written warning.”

    Those ATV/ORV riders who flaunt regulation and law do a lot more than wreck hunts for those of us inclined to still engage in bi-pedal motion while in the woods, and we can go right back to weeds. While researching the question of “Weed Free Hay” back in the early part of the last decade, I engaged in a conversation with a range specialist employed by the Beaverhead National Forest. During such, he, somewhat aggravated by what he then disclosed, was that yes, horse excrement is indeed a problem but that ATV/ORV use was by orders of magnitude worse in that the undercarriages of the machines pick up seeds like magnets.

    Having spend near two decades in weed control efforts in forest and wilderness settings, I concurred. As much as I personally dislike ATV’s as a general rule, a small portion of my work required their use. My own observations were that an ATV collects more seeds and seed heads than a truck operating in identical conditions by again, orders of magnitude. So what are the penalties for breaking ATV/ORV regulations? It matters not if there is no enforcement of the regulations.

    Enforcement is absent, whether it is the “Weed Free Hay” or illegal ATV/ORV use. The Forest Service and the BLM are now populated with desk jockeys and jockettes buried in tree-killing paperwork rather than out in the field actually doing work, real work. If an ATV operator pioneers a trail in a forest and no one hears it, did it happen?

    Making violators responsible has nothing to do with reducing hunting permits, but, rather, it has everything to do with instilling morals in individuals and re-establishing proper ethics in the nation as a whole, and I might add, just a little bit of Law Enforcement doesn’t hurt to get the point across.

  3. gooddogs says:

    In the 30 years that I have been frequenting the canyons of Montana’s Big Belt range, I have watched the whole place trashed by ATV use. Erosion to stream crossings, wet bottoms turned into mud rut circuses, hills scarred with highmark trails that run straight up and native plants trampled and replaced with knapweed and toadflax. All of this is a in place where signage (that which has not been shot or stolen) clearly states ATV are not permitted. In my observation, about half the ATV riders are polite and appropriate and the other half are mostly young men who are stupid, careless, scofflaw idiots. Who is responsible?
    The riders and the outfits that market the machines as anarchic joyride vehicles.

  4. trail troll says:

    If a vehicle needs to be identified better than by color and description of a rider, here is a suggestion. Most states require stickers or license plates that have a registration number on them. Stop and talk friendly to the rider for a while, memorize the number, ask them where they are from, how the hunting/fishing/riding is going and you will probably have good enough information to submit to the local LEO.

  5. Inky says:

    Enforcement costs money and public lands are woefully understaffed and underfunded when it comes to law enforcement. Individual officers cover vast tracts of ground, meaning scofflaws can flout regulations, common sense and courtesy to others, and getting caught is the remote possibility that an officer/ranger will be in the right spot at the right time.
    Yes, there are responsible OHV riders and clubs, but all their good work is easily undone by thrill-seeking vandals who shoot up signs, tear up streams and cause terrible erosion on hillsides with “high siding.”
    Yes, hikers, bikers and equestrians cause trail damage too, but it is minor to the damage caused by even one irresponsible OHV rider, much less hundreds and even thousands.

  6. Mtguy says:

    Laws, or at least enforcement, needs to be changed. For example, ATVs in such places should be immediately immobilized, such as flattening all the tires–even to the point of a shot through the engine. Then they riders will be responsible for removing them from the area, plus a substantial fine, including for spreading weeds, trespassing, driving in no-motorized vehicle area–pile on the charges so they amount to thousands of dollars. Enough of these and people will think multiple times before going where they should not. If the ATV is rented–it still works because the fines would be on the operators and they are responsible for the ATV.

  7. Dave Schultz says:

    I appreciate reading the insightful comments on this thread so far. Part of my career with the Forest Service was as a road and trail engineer. I’ve enjoyed and used ATV’s and 4WD’s personally all my life. Most OHV users are reasonable and responsible, in my experience. As in most public lands recreational activities, the few who aren’t cause almost all the resource damage and management problems. Agencies will never have enough resources to do the complete education and enforcement job, and in my opinion, they shouldn’t be funded to do all of it. It’s far more effective for agencies to partner with local OHV organizations and riding clubs to share educational, monitoring, and maintenance responsibilities. There are many successful partnering efforts around the country. In my experience, a renegade OHV’er often responds more positively to contact from peers than from the “gummint” enforcer, especially when it’s clear that there is an active partnership in place. Of course partnering won’t solve every problem, but it solves a lot of them. Anyway, great article and thread.

  8. Zona Bob says:

    I think Dave Shultz has it right, and I’m not an OHV user. Sadly, as he explains, the Gubmint is lax on hiring Forest Service staff to to ‘hanger’ the prob’s with wild-cat 2-and-4 wheelers in our national forests. What a shame. He’s right about ‘partnering’ with off-road vehicle associations. Help them teach their users how important it is to observe ‘trail use’, ‘forest use’ and ‘national treasures’ use while their riders are enjoying our trails.

  9. BeckyJ says:

    Those of us who ride responsibly are frustrated by those who don’t too. License plates would make it easier for people to ID offenders. More rules isn’t the answer as there isn’t enough enforcement of the existing ones. Peer pressure can do more good than sparse enforcement. The Boise National Forest is proposing closing 97 miles road to reduce 3.2 T of sediment. You could put that in the back of your pickup. Roads provide valuable access for fire control. More riders in fewer spaces isn’t the answer either.

  10. Cooper says:

    As an avid off roader, my family & I have traveled all over the west riding. I have never violated any restrictions! I have spoken to riders while they were in violation & knew it & told them that they give ammo to those who would close trails. “You see ALL those off roaders are like that!” They don’t care. If they did they wouldn’t be in a restricted area to start with. This all boils down to the same thing as gun laws. Enforcement to the rule violaters! Not more rules.

  11. Colby H says:

    Derrick makes a great point. Minature registration stickers are a joke. Unfortunately, I’ve had numerous hunts soured just like the one Derrick described. I agree that standard license plate requirements for ATV’s & OHV’s are absolutely necessary to give any chance of meaningful ‘enforcement.’ I would think that if ATV and OHV groups honestly want to distinguish their law abiding members from outlaw users, they would heartily support standard licensing.