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ATV use a 'threat to the American landscape'

The growing popularity of motorized recreational vehicles such as jet skies, dirt bikes, ATV's, dune buggies, and mudder trucks, collectively termed "thrillcraft", has become a major threat to the American landscape. Once no more than an annoyance, these machines with their expanding power and agility allow motorized recreationists in ever-increasing numbers to penetrate and wreak havoc on the last wild places on the continent. A recently published book entitled "Thrillcraft, The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation" (now available at the Becker County Library) explores the ecological, economic, political and cultural effects of this mounting crisis. This book is more than an exposé of the damage done to our public lands. It also examines the cultural roots that have fostered such a cavalier attitude toward the environment. Many Americans, from the time they are children, are taught to treat our public lands as out door gymnasiums, where they increasingly search for challenges using machines, rather than their own muscles and minds. Unfortunately, these thrills are often acquired at the expense of the land, the silence and the beauty of nature enjoyed by others.

Becker County has experienced the waves of thrillcraft enthusiasm as our lakeshore communities and boaters dealt with jet skies and our rural residents learned to cope with snowmobiles. More recently the ATV issue surged to the forefront in Becker with the controversy over a 70-mile long ATV trail proposed for construction on public forest land in Round Lake Township near the Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge. Sufficient citizen opposition arose to defeat that proposal back in 2007 but it seems the project is not dead.

In conjunction with the DNR's actions to limit adverse ATV impacts on State Forest in the state, the Becker County Board has wrestled with the problem of how to deal with those same impacts on tax-forfeited lands. Local and regional ATV clubs have resisted any new restrictions and pressed the County to keep these forested lands wide open to this thrillcraft recreation. Assisted by a statewide organization of ATV clubs, the All Terrain Vehicle Association of Minnesota (ATVAM) and backed by a powerful industrial lobby from two in-state ATV manufacturers vocal advocates for using public forests for ATV playgrounds have tried to convince elected officials that their sport is benign in spite of volumes of studies to the contrary.

At a public hearing scheduled for May 12, Becker County will gauge public sentiment on the issue. Hopefully, citizens will arm themselves with knowledge of the true cost to society of motorized recreation on public lands and voice their concerns at this hearing. Costs borne by the taxpayer to repair damaged roads, ditches, and forest lands, for emergency first response to ATV accidents, the burden on already overtaxed law enforcement to deal with citizen ATV complaints, and the loss of tourist business when ATV traffic drives traditional vacationers to quieter resorts may be a price to high to pay for the small fraction of outdoor recreationists who choose machines over hiking sticks. Suggestions for a deliberate examination of the social, economic, environmental and cultural costs of this questionable "sport" through preparation of an Outdoor Recreation Plan for Becker County should be supported. There may be appropriate places and times for motorized recreation but that place is certainly not everywhere on our public forest lands. Decisions on how to use our public lands and who should pay the costs from the damage and abuse should not be left to the special interest groups like ATVAM and the ATV manufacturers.