Thursday, June 5, 2008

Mudding and ORV Discussion Begins

The following is a discussion about mudding and ORV (off road vehicle) use in open areas and public lands in Washington between myself and "Town Crier" Writer Paula Collucci. Much is made of the problems by wheeled vehicles in backcountry areas. Whether the action is sanctioned or not, the damage will be in effect for 20 to 40 years in Western Washington and potentially a hundred years on the east side.

Clearly though, humans need to limit their impact and footprint when visiting someone else’s home. This particular hobby does little to respect those ethics.

On the other hand, I feel for the organized recreational groups in this state. As it stands, there are only 9 public ORV sites in all of Washington. Four of them are in Western Washington where the majority of the population lives. There are no official, public ORV sites in Southwestern Washington.

Of the 9 public parks, 4 of them are on DNR lands, 3 are U.S. Forest Service facilities, one is operated by Washington State Parks and one is operated by Grant County.

One of the most successful programs is being operated at Tayhua near Bremerton. A unique permit system is in place where permitees must have a volunteer hour for each participant in a given event.

DNR is finding that some trails have been developed without their consent. As a form of amnesty is granted in many cases when DNR finds illegal trails on their lands. It is at that time when a decision is made whether the trail is an appropriate location. At that point, if a group of enthusiasts are willing to work on the maintenance of the trail, it may be granted the user’s deed. Below is an excerpt from the Washington State 4x4 Symposium Summary

The Olympic Region is working hard to identify existing user-built trails on state trust lands, and determine which trails are in acceptable locations with acceptable use. Region staff work with interested groups to get an adopt-a-trail agreement signed and volunteer work scheduled to bring the trail to appropriate trail standards – or to close the trail. DNR works with the volunteers to set up an appropriate monitoring and maintenance schedule.

To be continued....


Paula23 said...

I enter this discussion as a resident of a popular muddin' site. My parents have owned five acres in the middle of DNR land for nearly 15 years now. In that time we have seen this area become THE place to bring your garbage and your fourwheelers and tear the land apart. Do all people that use this land litter and scar the earth? Of course not. But the majority of these riders do.

The garbage
Not everyone dumps large amounts of garbage. Some just simply toss out a beer can, an energy drink bottle or some kind of food wrapper. It's usually at a high speed racing through the muddied landscape and the rider doesn't even notice his or her damage. But if you compound that one piece of garbage by at least 25 other people each day of the weekend over several years, the garbage begins to pile up. My husband and I have hiked the trails and picked up the garbage, hiked it out and left it in a pile. We had planned to bring a vehicle to load the trash in, but the kind mudders threw the trash BACK INTO THE FOREST! What's worse, we have even found hypodermic needles.

The other kind of garbage problem is the dumpers. Some people will simply dump off yard waste. We rip the plastic bags off when they are so kind to leave the yard waste in plastic bags. But the real problem people are those that decide to clean out their truck when they get done shredding the wilderness with their motorcycles or fourwheelers. Or the folks that decided to dump office equipment near OUR creek. We found a few computers and a computer chair. Lovely. Somebody was even kind enough to place a sign to offer folks a good place to dump their garbage illegally--near the mouth of OUR creek. It's terrible.

Gunshots and Noise Pollution
Gunshots are also a problem. I walk these trails--these trails that hold Cowlitz County's history!!!!--everyday. I put in at least three miles a day. I don't like walking when people are shooting near me. I yell and try to make it known that I am near and don't want to be shot.

Now, during hunting season, I wear bright orange and I have NEVER encountered an irresponsible hunter. They have been respectful and safe and leave only a few beer cans and some cigarette butts. But the gunshots that I have been hearing lately are going on as late as 1 a.m. Semi-automatic (and yes, I do know the difference) gunfire at 1 a.m., why don't I move to a inner city gang area!

Which brings me to the real noise pollution. Skeptics can roll their eyes, but my family moved out here to enjoy our creek gurgle, frog croaks and birds chirp, to see deer cautiously nibble a salmonberry or two. Instead we hear folks on ORVs racing up the hill or target practicing. The wildlife we see are usually stressed and running to our property to escape the mayhem at the top of the mountain. But since we have dogs, the wildlife really has no place to go but in circles.

Some people have parties and think its a great idea to ride their ORVs in the dark, late at night. Or, my personal favorite, is when drunk folks get lost trying to find the party and drive up our driveway. Heck, they don't even have to try to find a party. Mudders blatantly ignore the "No Trespassing" signs and zip as fast as they can past our home onto the trails, hoping that we won't notice? Please.

The landscape
The most drastic and visible form of truth is the landscape. I will be taking pictures of the destruction to back my complaints up. The mudders don't care about the landscape except the fun it can provide. In the early spring, before this summer crowd came through, little plants were trying to repair the deep scars that years of mudding had left in the earth. Those plants are gone and the mudders have lived up to their name, leaving mudpits all over these hundreds of PUBLIC acres. Your taxpayer dollars will, at some point, be used to address the damage. When I describe these areas as scarred, I mean that wheels have grooved deep into the earth.

The mudpits are a real danger--not just a loss of habitat, a danger for landslides. Waterways are redirected and spread apart rather than following their creekbeds as they have for hundreds of years. This means that these mudpits will continue to be mudpits and make it impossible for plants to ever return.

The little problems, the more rare problems are perhaps the most scary for us. Many times, these mudders get lost and, being that we are the last house before the forest "begins," we get people at all times needing help. Sometimes they have gotten stuck, some are lost, some have run out of gas, some have even shown up to steal from us. Yes, we have been burglarized several times, the last time my mom was here by herself and scared the thieves away.

All of them have violated our NO TRESPASSING signs. Of course we help those in need, but this is not a ranger station. And these people seriously can show up at any time of the day. What's even better is when they kick or try to run over our dogs who are simply protecting private property. My dog was injured after being kicked in the head by a motorcyclist on our property.

Y'all might think I'm exaggerating, but all I can give you is my word: I am not stretching the truth. If the weather is nice these problems are seven days a week. We've had rather punishing weather the past few weeks, so folks have only been coming on the weekends. I spoke with a longtime rider on Sunday and he said the problem is that there is no place to ride. He rides in amateur motorcycle races and is a responsible rider. He asks permission to ride from our home around the area from time to time. He was shocked at the garbage and commented that a highrise parking garage was needed to house all the trucks and trailers that were parked just before our driveway.

DNR says, if our neighbors agree, we can gate this land off. I think it's a shame that bad riders would ruin it for others. I understand that some folks, who might not otherwise be able, like to enjoy the forest via an ATV. But something needs to happen to make this better for landowners and the forest. This area holds a tremendous amount of history. This forest helped build Castle Rock and the surrounding areas. We find evidence of homesteads and hardworking folks that helped make this area what it is today. All of this is being lost in the tracks of a mudder.

Gregg P said...

More news of interest....regarding ORV use.

Off-road vehicle (ORV) use is growing at a staggering pace in this country; following that growth, the plague of reckless use is now threatening to destroy some of our most precious natural resources and public lands. While many responsible ORV users pose little threat to the places where they ride, the number of "wreckreational" ORV users is beginning to overwhelm the limited law enforcement resources in our parks and forests. PEER has assembled a network of seasoned veteran law enforcement officers and natural resource managers, the Rangers for Responsible Recreation, to lead the charge against irresponsible ORV use. We need your help to bring attention to these issues in Congress and state legislatures, and to educate outdoor recreation groups.

Fortunately, our work to stop off-road vehicle destruction has earned us a Challenge Grant from the Earth Friends Wildlife Foundation. This award presents an exciting opportunity for us to take our campaign to stop ORV damage to the next level. PEER is raising at least $50,000 to fulfill the Challenge grant but we need your help to do it. Please make a generous contribution to this challenge today, to help us protect and work with the employees who protect America's natural heritage.

Gregg P said...

Off-roaders, environmentalists to square off in Congress
Environmental groups and off-road vehicle advocates plan to square off Thursday in the U.S. Senate on the three-year-old U.S. Forest Service effort to restrict where motorcycles, four-wheelers and other backcountry vehicles can drive on public land. The Wilderness Society says the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., will help underscore how an increasing number of powerful machines encroach ever farther into unsuitable territory.
The Blue Ribbon Coalition, an Idaho Falls-based group for motorized public land access, fears the committee chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., will use the occasion as a springboard for more restrictions following the 2008 congressional elections. Scott Miller, the committee staffer who organized the oversight hearing, said the event will help inform senators about the debate and will be similar to a March 13 House Committee on Natural Resources hearing on the subject. There's no pending new legislation, he said. "The popularity of ORVs on public lands has grown dramatically," Miller told The Associated Press. "As a result, the management challenges have grown dramatically as well. We're trying to get our members to better understand our issues."

National forests across America have been updating travel plans on 193 million acres of public lands since 2005, when the Forest Service changed its policy requiring all forests be closed unless posted open to off-road vehicles. That's after ORVs rose to an estimated 43 million, according to the Blue Ribbon Coalition, from only about five million in the 1970s. So far, 36 national forests in 24 states have published new travel plans, according to the Forest Service, leaving the bulk still to be completed in 2008 and 2009. There are 155 national forests and 22 national grasslands. The hearing will also include discussion of travel planning on the Bureau of Land Management's 264 million acres.

Brad Brooks, a Wilderness Society advocate in Boise, said conflicts in states including Idaho, Oregon, Montana, Arizona and Nevada point up the need to rein in off-road vehicle riders who stray from trails for the challenge of riding up steep slopes, exposing those slopes to erosion, weeds and other problems. In the Mount Hood National Forest in Oregon, for instance, dirt-choked runoff from illegal trails threatens native trout. And "mudders" in Washington state's Kittitas County every spring blaze through snowmelt-softened Forest Service meadows, damaging wetlands and costing taxpayers thousands for restoration. "It's taken awhile to convince Congress of the magnitude of the problem," Brooks said. "These are problems that have started to escalate. We're at a point when we need to get a handle on this issue."

Nada Culver, the Wilderness Society's top lawyer, plans to testify Thursday that travel planning by the Forest Service and the federal BLM so far has designated thousands of miles of open trails that crisscross the West - sometimes without regard to whether they were created illegally or could do irreparable harm to other resources. Other groups on the agenda are the Nevada Sheriffs and Chiefs Association, the American Motorcyclist Association, Trout Unlimited and the Blue Ribbon Coalition.

Brian Hawthorne, the coalition's public lands policy director, said its members favor responsible management of public lands, including commonsense riding restrictions. Still, they're leery that possible Democratic advances in Congress in the 2008 elections will signal more restrictive policies, trail losses and costlier penalties for those who stray off the beaten path.

Thursday's hearing, he said, may just be a precursor. "The agencies have understood they needed to manage motorized recreation since the 1980s," Hawthorne said. "For some reason, they didn't grapple with it. Finally, we get the agencies to bite the bullet. And so you'd think the environmental community would be more supportive. But what we have is, hearings that are basically designed to bash the off-highway vehicle enthusiast."

One flashpoint has been planning efforts in the Sawtooth National Forest's Minidoka Ranger District, a 950-square-mile swath of remote hill country south of the Snake River in southern Idaho. After weathering three appeals, including from the Wilderness Society, new off-road vehicle travel maps there are due out by July 4. That's despite a sharply worded April 14 Idaho Fish and Game Department letter that criticized the Forest Service for not incorporating the state agency's suggestions for trail restrictions to improve conditions for fish and wildlife and expand non-motorized hunting. "It is regrettable the district chose to develop a proposed action alternative based primarily on several years of exclusive input from motorized-user groups," wrote Dave Parrish, supervisor of Fish and Game's region that borders the Minidoka district.

Scott Nannenga, the Minidoka ranger, said the maps grew from a sincere attempt to balance competing interests. "I'm hoping we can work through some of these issues together," Nannenga told the AP, noting that "the travel plan allows us to update our maps every year."

Gregg P said...

My observation is this. There is a culture out there that believes that space is to be used. As the cost of taking a truckload of garbage to the local refuse site soars to $30 or $40, those with the lowest values in stewardship will make the economic choice. Tradition is a tough thing to break as well. With my general hatred of guns, I remember as a kid going out to the woods with my dad and doing some target practice. Who would be surprised if one of our local residents were able to obtain an illegal firearm? Nearly all of these guys (and the girls that accompany or join them) grew up in a rural culture of space, but the true stewardship of the land was never taught. It continues today and when enforcement is lax, a small percentage of people will make poor choices.

While it may be the same people, I see the garbage as being an entirely different issue.

I believe inherently, clandestine ORV activities will be fraught with use of alcohol and macho bravado. Teamed with peer pressure all consciousness about stewardship takes a back seat.

Clearly the victim of all of this is the land and the local wildlife. It would be safe to say that the majority of the users are not true sportsmen. Here lies an issue. A true sportsman would no better than to destroy the habitat of the beast that he will come back to prey upon in a later season.

This is one reason why I detest ORVs to begin with. I believe that the farther you get humans from the ground itself, the more removed they become from the damage they cause. The answer of course is management. Some might call it enforcement and area closure if need be. Perhaps a permit only system.

I myself have no problem with parking at a gate and hiking beyond, but a gate will force a change in behaviors. The first might be a change in venue, the second might make someone reluctant to go into the woods, but the most subtle is the lesson never learned; how to treat the land and others that use it with the respect that it deserves.

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