I’ve had motorcycles in some form, on-or-off-road, since I was 11 years old. That’s how I went fishing or just exploring, dodging logging trucks as I gallivanted through the Flathead National Forest in Montana. It was, and still is, great fun; try it sometime.
That’s not to say
that there aren’t problems with motorized recreation. Most
things worth having — motorcycles, guns, automobiles, ORVs,
chainsaws, power tools, snowmobiles, cell phones — all share
a common trait. Stupid people shouldn’t have them, and
there’s the rub.
Only a small number of
recreationists of any kind — especially dummies —
belong to organized groups that try to teach responsible behavior
outdoors. For example, while there are 65 million gun owners, fewer
than five million actively defend their rights as National Rifle
Association members. On a smaller scale, the same reality faces
motorized recreation advocacy groups such as the BlueRibbon
Coalition, to which I proudly belong.
Like the NRA,
groups like the BlueRibbon Coalition, based in Pocatello, Idaho,
the American Motorcyclist Association and many smaller clubs spend
a lot of money on educational efforts. BlueRibbon has jumped in
with both feet on damping down noise from our vehicles, a position
I agree with. There is also the "Tread Lightly" campaign, which
seems a nice way of saying, "Don’t Be Stupid."
Manufacturers such as American Honda are a bit more blunt, running
safety ads themed: "Stupid Hurts." Really. From what I’ve
seen, most of us aren’t stupid when we recreate, and many are
helpful. Locally based wheel-sport clubs have donated hundreds and
thousands of hours on the ground for trail maintenance and repair.
But I suppose our organizations will keep growing our efforts to
reach the unreachable, and yes, the lazy. We’d have it no
other way: It’s the right thing to do.
But now, it
seems, another challenge looms. In April, on last year’s
Earth Day, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth gave a speech to the
Commonwealth Club in San Francisco about the four "great issues"
facing today’s Forest Service. Bosworth did not talk about
the usual environmental bugaboos of grazing, mining and logging.
After all, those other multiple uses on the public lands are pretty
much gone, much to the regret of many Westerners, myself included.
So what’s next?
Fire and fuels, invasive species,
habitat fragmentation, and, said the agency chief, "unmanaged
recreation." As someone who has lived in sight of Forest Service
land pretty much all my adult life, I’ve got lots to say
about each. But since Chief Bosworth specifically stated, "OHV use
alone affects more imperiled species than logging and logging roads
combined," it’s kind of obvious which fan the fertilizer will
Chief Bosworth’s talk added urgency to a
long-running debate among motorheads. In a nutshell: Do we
compromise with our critics, or change our credo from "Tread
Lightly" to "Don’t Tread on Me"? Must we fight fang-and-claw
against every closure, every restriction?
the fang-and-claw faction. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine
that the chief of the Forest Service would someday declare
motorized recreation a "peril." But I never imagined that the log
trucks (and my logger neighbors) would disappear, either.
What happened? Well, as my friend Bill Sutton puts it in every
issue of his off-road recreation newsletter: "Stay on the road,
smile at the hikers, eat a good breakfast, don’t pick your
nose, and it will not make any difference to the greenies. They
don’t like you." Sadly, I think Bill is right.
Selfish environmentalists seem to think "multiple use" means two
people hiking the same trail. They want to get rid of logging,
mining, cattle and any recreation that doesn’t meet their
pristine standards. That I washed my bike before loading up to
prevent seed spread, that I have a quiet muffler, that I stay on
the trails (that I’ve helped maintain), that I wear safety
equipment, and that I use a hanky won’t make any difference,
To uncompromising critics, I and 36 million other
motorheads, like the loggers, ranchers and miners who literally
"have gone before" from the public lands, are not to be lived with
but eliminated. The rights of all Americans to use and enjoy their
public lands in a responsible manner don’t matter.
Well, those rights matter to me. They should matter to everyone.
And they dang sure better matter to Chief Bosworth.