If Utah Rep. Jim Hansen has his way, northern Utah forests may become a Mecca for ATV riders. In April, the 11-term Republican and chairman of the House Resources Committee introduced a bill that would create the Shoshone National Recreation Trail along hundreds of miles of backcountry roads mostly in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
Hansen's bill would give ATV riders priority use on 300 miles of existing roads and allow counties to create another 100 to 150 miles of access trails. It also requests as much as $5 million for trail development and maintenance, and law enforcement. With ATV registration in Utah up nearly 200 percent since 1997, Hansen says the trail system is badly needed and will reduce the damage ATVs do to the environment by concentrating use in one area.
Environmentalists say the bill would carve up wildlife habitat and designated roadless areas and encourage illegal trail building on public land.
"This needs to be studied by the public through something like the forest planning process," says Gavin Noyes, of the Salt Lake City-based group Save Our Canyons.
Both sides point to similar trail network in central Utah to bolster their argument. Proponents, including the Utah State Parks Board, say the 570-mile Paiute ATV Trail revitalized local economies, while environmentalists point to the hundreds of miles of new illegal trails in the area.
Hansen's spokeswoman Marnie Funk downplays concerns that the bill would throw open the door to rampant ATV use: "This is just putting a name to trails that already exist."
Copyright © 2002 HCN and Tim Westby