Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No Right Way To Do A Wrong Thing

George Wuerthner

Right now various National Forests and BLM districts are beginning to put together travel management plans. Most of these plans are focused on corralling the growing abuse of our public lands by thrillcraft—ATVs, dirt bikes, dune buggies, swamp buggies, jet skis, snowmobiles, and other associated toys used by neotenous adults. The underlying assumption of all these travel management plans is that some level of abuse and vandalism of our public domain by thrillcraft owners is inevitable.

I do not accept the premise that abuse of our lands is something that we must tolerate as inevitable. It is our land. It is our children’s land, and their children’s land. We have a responsibility to pass these lands on to the next generation in better condition than we found them. And we have a collective responsibility to protect our national heritage against the thrillcraft menace.

The real problem isn’t the machines. It’s not even the people. Many otherwise decent people ride thrillcraft, but when they straddle one of these machines they become participants in a dysfunctional culture. It is a culture that sees our public land as nothing more than a giant sandbox. Thrillcraft culture represents a lack of respect for other people’s property and the quality of their outdoor experience. What people do on their own property is not my concern, but when they ride their machines on public lands it becomes a societal issue. Our public lands are as close as our society has to shared “sacred” ground.

The operation of any thrillcraft has a disproportional impact upon the landscape, wildlife and other people. Thrillcraft pollute the air and water. They compact soils. They damage wetlands and riparian areas. They spread weeds. They displace wildlife. The noise, speed, and general disregard for other people by thrillcraft owners displace other non-motorized users of our public lands. Increasingly they threaten archeological treasures. How can any of this be considered “responsible” use?

You hear a lot about “responsible” ORV use and “a few bad apples” from thrillcraft promoters themselves, as well as some government bureaucrats. What is responsible about tearing up the land? It’s like suggesting we ought to promote “responsible wife abuse” or “responsible child abuse.” There is no level of violence against the land that is acceptable. Working with agencies to create designated routes or play areas is just helping to legalize public vandalism.

Most people would never allow thrillcraft to run across their lawns. They would not tolerate such noise in their neighborhoods. Would we allow thrillcraft to do wheelies in the Arlington National Cemetary, or crawl up the Lincoln Memorial? I think not. And I see no reason to permit similar antics on the rest of our public lands.

To those who think we have to accept thrillcraft because they are “traditional” activities, I remind them that the same arguments were once made about segregation, beating up your wife, about smoking in public places, and many other behaviors and cultural “traditions” that were once commonplace. Society now views these things as wrong, and has outlawed them.

There is no right way to do the wrong thing. Running thrillcraft on our public lands is wrong. It’s not good for the land. It’s not good for the air and water. It’s not good for wildlife. It’s not good for other people. It’s not even good for the people doing it. It’s time to ban these machines, not legitimize the continued destruction of our sacred public commons.


Greg Bosen said...

What about horseback? What about hikers? What about hunters? What about bodies of water? What about police and search & rescue?

Should we get involved to prevent natural erosion or forest fire prevention? Should we intervene the bark beetles?

This argument breaks down once you start to extend it to other public land and other usages. I guess we would only get to go the park and look at squirrels.

Tim Tommasino said...

"There is no level of violence against the land that is acceptable." Really? If the tire tracks left behind by my motorcycle are considered "violence" to the land, then so must the stomping of our feet on the ground when we hike. Your perspective on other people's recreational enjoyment on public land is hyperbolic and out of touch with reality. After a day of riding I have damaged nothing. Your intolerance of others is selfish and disgusting.