What ORVs do (part 1)

Many of the yellow lines are old roads that have been re-injured by off road vehicles. Graphic courtesy of Canyonlands Watershed Council.

Everywhere where there is affordable gasoline, ORVs are impacting deserts, forests, tundra and grasslands.  New technology has made much more terrain easily accessible to people driving quads (4-wheel ORVs), motorcycles, and snowmobiles.  This has become the new disease of the frontier, spreading soil erosion, water pollution, and invasive weeds.  In the Colorado Plateau’s especially fragile soils, motorized recreation–particularly illegal trails–crush “biological soil crusts,” (previously known as “cryptobiotic soil”) impacts that last for decades. Fine sand that was held in place by a matrix of fungi, algae, mosses, lichen, and cyanobacteria  is eroded by wind and water, leaving less purchase for larger plants and carrying dust onto mountain snows that hastens spring melt.

Off road vehicle impacts are widespread but hard to quantify, since they have many primary and secondary impacts both on the land itself and on public lands policy.  One activist told us of the map on the left, “Those are the currently existing, poorly built–usually not intentionally built at all–‘roads.’ They’re not new. The only reason it was the proposed road system is that before the new RMP [Resource Management Plan], those roads had little or no legal status–they were just scars on the landscape, most of them left over from the uranium days. They were healing pretty well until the ORVers got ahold of them, and made them into a playground. And, just as importantly, lobbied to get those ‘roads’ legally designated as such, so that they couldn’t be closed. And perhaps even more importantly, the legal RMP designation of those ‘roads’ means that the area could not realistically be designated wilderness, roadless, etc. Having those old scars be designated as ORV routes essentially prevents the whole area from being protected.

“The RMP is final, and is currently in effect. It is also under litigation and could be rescinded, or partially reconsidered, if the Obama Administration wants the plaintiffs to drop the lawsuit and make a deal.”

Illegal trails

In the next few posts we’ll be examining the impacts and implications of off road vehicles, studying past efforts to prevent their often-illegal activities, and proposing possible means of resistance.  We invite commentary and suggestions.

About Michael Carter

Activist and author of Kingfisher's Song: Memories Against Civilization, Wasteland Press, 2012. View all posts by Michael Carter

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