In the ongoing debate about allowing recreational ATV use on Vermont state wildlife management areas, forests, and parks it seems that hikers and rare, threatened, and endangered forest plants and animals aren’t the only ones who need to worry about getting run over. The Sunday front-page article titled “State Biologists Worry About Wider ATV Use” written by Burlington Free Press reporter Candace Page details how Agency Secretary Jonathan Wood put the pedal to the metal on his proposal to open state lands to ATVs even as scientists and field experts from his own agency staff raised serious concerns about the negative environmental impact ATVs are already having in Vermont. Here’s one representative comment from an email written by a Fish and Wildlife Department Ecologist regarding the first proposal to open legal ATV trails on state lands:
“I am concerned that development of this piece of state land for ATV travel will open the door to more trails on other wildlife management areas, state park and state forests…Illegal ATV trails are now a pervasive feature on public lands and I have had the opportunity to walk many of them. In a majority of cases, ATV riding has a clearly negative impact on the natural resources we steward.”
The article was based in large part on internal agency communications obtained by Conservation Law Foundation through the freedom of information process and that were shared with the Free Press as well as other members of the media and legislative leaders who will have to vote later this summer on whether to approve the Agency’s proposal to allow construction of ATV trails on state lands. You can see more excerpts from these public records by reading our comments on the proposed rule.
In addition to ANR scientists, CLF and its coalition partners have been joined by hundreds of Vermonters who also filed comments opposing this environmentally irresponsible proposal, outnumbering supporters of the proposal by a nearly 3-to-1 margin.
A recent 3-part investigative report from the Minnesota Star Tribune titled “Renegade Riders” demonstrates that the scientists and other field experts in Vermont are justified in their concern over the decision of political appointees at the agency to open state lands to ATV trails. Minnesota state officials opened public land in that state to legal ATV trail riding several years ago. Ever since, the Minnesota agency has been struggling to get a handle on the environmental destruction and out-of-control illegal off-trail riding that exists despite the ample opportunities ATVers have on legally designated trails. If you want to see what these powerful machines can do to sensitive forest habitat, spend a few minutes watching the hidden camera video shot by the reporters for the Star Tribune.
Later this summer, 8 members of the Vermont legislature “joint committee on administrative rules” have a chance to stop this scientifically unsound policy in its tracks. Please contact CLF if you’d like to help make sure that happens.