Shawn Regnerus is a native Montanan, a hunter, angler, hiker and a former lover of dirt bikes. Regnerus, 30, grew up in rural Amsterdam, near Bozeman, where his father worked as a high school teacher. He later studied law at the University of Montana and clerked for a district judge in Libby.
It was an experience in the early 1990s
that turned Regnerus against off-road vehicles. He had hiked 15
miles into the Gravelly Mountains in the Beaverhead National Forest
for the autumn elk hunt. Ever since he was a kid, his favorite
ritual had been to scout the high ridgelines with his father and
family friends, watching the sun rise and set in complete peace and
isolation. Bagging an elk was almost secondary to the tradition of
That year the silence was broken by
ORVs racing through the creek bottoms, spooking animals and leaving
treadmarks and ruts across meadows.
weekends, he encountered 15 or 20 motorized hunters, some of them
arriving Sunday mornings around dawn, shooting an elk and heading
home in time to catch the football game on TV.
"I'm not angry, so much as I feel sadness and
disappointment," Regnerus says. "Here was an area I had been going
into my whole life and the character of the experience changed. It
was ruined, if you want to know the truth."
After being flooded with complaints, Beaverhead
Forest Supervisor Mark Petroni restricted ORVers to established
trails and eventually banned ORV use in the fall. But on other
forests in the Northern Rockies, Regnerus says ORVS still run
Last fall, Regnerus joined the
Bozeman-based Predator Project, which recently changed its name to
the Predator Conservation Alliance, as the head of the Roads
Scholars Project. The project was born in the early 1990s to study
road density in grizzly bear recovery zones near Yellowstone
National Park and in northern Idaho, Montana and northeastern
Researchers found that the Forest
Service had done a pretty good job of closing roads to protect the
bears, says Regnerus, but ORV riders were using the roads
Last summer, Regnerus organized work
parties to help the Forest Service make closed roads impassable.
Volunteers dragged rocks and timber across roads and helped mulch
and plant trees. Roads Scholars also puts out a brochure that helps
citizens report ORV violations.
Regnerus says his
biggest challenge has been getting roads into the
"The Blue Ribbon Coalition has been
very good at mobilizing people by highlighting a threat, which is
the potential loss of their riding privileges," he says, but
conservationists have been slow to catch on. "There's been very
little substantively in Backpacker or Outside, but pick up any
snowmobile magazine or publication with a wise-use audience and
every issue has an article or fiery letter to the editor."
"The reason that quiet trail users haven't been
mobilized is they have taken the trails for granted," Regnerus
says. "But advocates of quiet trails need to become political.
Otherwise, they are going to lose a lot of the trails they love to