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.