A Reader’s Response to “The Road Less Traveled,” Trout magazine fall 2008

The following is a response to “The Road Less Traveled,” a feature in the fall 2008 issue of Trout. We were unable to print the entire letter because of space, but we’d like to share it with you here on the blogosphere. Thanks to Edward Moersfelder of Amery, Wisc. for his insight and feedback. Read the referenced feature here.


Your article about ORV use on public lands immediately caught my interest.  I have been involved in a 10 year controversy over the use of the Amery-Dresser State Trail which is a part of the Wisconsin State Trails and State Parks systems.  In the course of that process I have learned some important lessons and now understand some of the important myths about off-road vehicle use:


  1. The motorized sports industry and lobby, including The BlueRibbon Coalition, is not about to compromise. Your article suggests that conservationists “will have to embrace some level of ‘give and take’ to formulate regulations that people are willing to live with.”  My experience in dealing with the motor sports people is that they are willing to engage in half of that process—the “take” half—without being willing to “give” unless forced to.


  1. We cannot count on our local, state and federal resource agencies to protect our natural resources. As your article points out, severely insufficient funding is available to enforce restrictions that are now in place. While there are many dedicated people in all agencies attempting to carry out the mandate to husband our natural environment, the political pressure by motorized interests and lobby groups, and the money that can be brought to bear, cannot be overestimated.


  1. There is a myth that “machines don’t cause the problem, a few outlaws do.” A machine designed with 800cc of displacement (or even 250cc), high clearance and knobby tires is not designed to “tread lightly” as the BlueRibbon ad opposite your article would suggest. The combination of the nature of the machine and the inevitable misuse by even a few should prohibit use of these vehicles on public land.


  1. Not everyone is entitled to equal access to everywhere.  I am surprised by Mr. Howell’s assertion that he wished he had his “quad” to get far away from a crowded river. If Mr. Howell can get there on his “quad,” he should not be surprised to find a crowd of “quads” when he arrives at his favorite water.  Wallace Stegner, in his eloquent endorsement of the national wilderness system, recognized what few motorized enthusiasts do–that there are places that we may deem precious even though we never see them, just because they are there.


  1. There is a myth that we can all “just get along” using the same natural areas for all uses.  The answer to the “just get along” assertion, supported by numerous sources, is that motorized and non-motorized uses in the same area are incompatible. Simply put, motorized and non-motorized uses cannot “just get along” because motorized uses diminish the resource for non-motorized users. 


  1. There is a “motorhead mentality” that pervades the motor sports community.  My experience chairing the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Amery-Dresser State Trail issue and attending related public hearings was that a significant minority of the motorized contingent was loud, rude and combative. I have seen first-hand evidence–including substantial motorized violations of the “Trail Closed” and “Nonmotorized Use Only” signs on the trail—that this attitude is carried into the outdoors. If we can’t change this mentality (and I believe we can’t), then we ought to prohibit the use.


I have been a member of Trout Unlimited since the early 1970s. TU and all other organizations whose missions support sustainability of our public natural resources should be very careful of choosing the wrong bedfellows. Compromise with the motor sports industry will only lead to more demands. The creation of “sacrifice areas” is not only poor resource management; it is an overt admission of the destructive nature of the sport itself. Pride, backbone, and a willingness to face this threat head-on is the challenge of the day. I hope Trout Unlimited answers the call.

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