Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Ranchers, others grapple with Off-Highway Vehicles impacts

Longtime Orme Ranch managers Alan and Diana Kessler must deal with the massive damage unauthorized, unrestricted OHV use causes. "Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who cares," Alan Kessler said. "The trails don't heal over, and what is not often recognized is the 'staging areas,' where large areas of grass are trampled out by campers, trailers, fire pits and increased and concentrated traffic." Other OHV users see a bare area and continue to use it, he noted. Some recreational OHV users, and sometimes hunters, cut fences, leave gates open and even injure livestock, leading to economic and safety concerns. "There are a lot of nice people out there. But nice or not, the sheer numbers cause resource damage," Kessler said. Buckley said researchers began to focus on particular ecosystems, including the U.S. Southwest. What they found was 4-wheel drive vehicles and trailbikes applied five to 15 times the pressure to the soil as that of a hiking boot, and that can be 10 times greater when OHVs are braking, accelerating or skidding. Immediate effects are to break up soil crusts and compress deeper layers. Ultimately, this increases erosion, destroys vegetation and introduces non-native plants. "There are enormous differences in impacts between different OHV users. Driven carefully at the right speed, with the right tyres, in the right places, by a well-informed user, a 4WD vehicle is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate way to enjoy many landscapes. Driven carelessly or with deliberate impacts, in fragile areas, by an ignorant or heedless user, OHVs can rapidly cause major and ecologically significant damage to soils, plants and animals," Buckley concluded...more

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