For years, environmental groups like the Bluewater Network have warned of the coming plague of Jetskis, snowmobiles and the many versions of all-terrain vehicles on our public lands. Now, the plague is upon us, and while the impacts of these machines have been documented in countless studies, more and more people are witnessing the damage first-hand to our air and water quality, wildlife, cultural resources, soils and wildlife.
Recognizing this damage from these so-called "outlaw
trails," the Forest Service proposed a rule July 7 that would ban
riding off designated trails, though no extra money has been set
aside to enforce closures. The proposed rule, open for comment for
60 days, defines ORVs as dirt bikes and four-wheel drive
all-terrain vehicles, but exempts snowmobiles.
the ORV industry and its supporters in the West have embraced
economic analyses conducted by other federal agencies that always
seem to support rampant use of these machines. Economic analyses
are supposed to assist land managers in making sound decisions. But
some bean counters at the federal government appear to have gone to
the Arthur Andersen School of Accounting; analyses show a slant in
favor of the ORV industry.
A case in point is the U. S.
Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent economic analysis of a BLM
decision designating parts of California’s Imperial Sand
Dunes Recreation Area as critical habitat for an endangered plant.
This designation would likely close several thousand acres of the
recreation area to ORVs. But instead of conducting an analysis of
the costs and benefits of the closures, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife
Service focused on economic impacts to off-road enthusiasts and
Not surprisingly, the analysis
concludes that ORV closures would cost the regional economy
millions of dollars.
But the analysis did not include
data such as the huge public-safety costs that come with ORVs.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than
113,000 Americans are killed or injured on all-terrain vehicles
each year. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons estimates
that in 2000 alone, ATV injuries cost the public $6.5 billion.
These costs are well known yet they’re notably
absent from the government’s analysis. The government also
neglected to measure the impacts of off-road vehicles on other
outdoor businesses. Wildlife artists, nature photographers, tour
leaders, rafting companies, outdoor educators and guides all depend
on protected environments for their businesses. Off-road vehicles
damage these enterprises because they harm the very things these
businesses rely upon to make their living — wildlife, scenery
In another example, the National Park
Service used questionable assumptions to pad the economic benefits
of jetskis at western Colorado’s Curecanti National
Recreation Area. In the fall of 2002, a court order closed
Curecanti to jetskis. The court required the Park Service to
conduct thorough environmental reviews, including looking at the
impact of jetskis on the regional economy, before allowing the
machines. The Park Service’s analysis recommended reopening
the park to jetskis, in part because it claimed a ban would hurt
businesses by decreasing park visitation.
Not so. A
recent review of Park Service data at Curecanti found that
visitation during the jetski closures increased by more than 30
percent from the previous summer.
omission in many of these economic analyses is the consideration of
long-term costs to public resources. Increased erosion, water and
air pollution, harm to plants and wildlife and noise all resulting
from ORV use come with costs that usually reach much further than
the local economy. Because these are more difficult costs to
quantify, agencies often simply ignore them.
more than three dozen wildlife artists and photographers wrote the
Park Service urging regulation of off-road vehicles, because of the
negative impact these machines were having on their businesses.
Despite their protest, the economic cost to these businesses and
the natural environment they depend on has yet to make it onto any
of the agency’s balance sheets.
agencies provide a true analysis of the economic impacts of ORV
use, studies will spur the growth of off-road driving on our
publicly owned lands.
Still, the Forest Service this
month began the process of restricting these vehicles to designated
trails on all 155 national forests. It’s a late start, but at
last one federal agency is trying to do the necessary thing. And
step right up, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service, Bureau of Land Management; we’re all waiting.