ORVs and wildlife in National Wildlife Refuges: The disappearance of remoteness and ability to hide from humans
ORVs and wildlife in National Wildlife Refuges: The disappearance of remoteness and ability to hide from humans. I just read an article by Robert L. Fischman et al. in the June 2017 issue of the Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management titled “An Evaluation of U.S. National Wildlife Refuge Planning for Off-Road Vehicle Use.” It demonstrates how technology (in this case in the form of Off Road Vehicles) has erased the ability of wildlife to seek refuge and remoteness from humans and how the future of “wilderness and wildlife” is gloomy. The article cites evidence that “off-road vehicle use is one of the fastest-growing forms of public land recreation in the United States” and makes an argument for managing this fast-growing threat to wildlife. The article notes that ORV use is especially prevalent in lands run by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management but this article focuses on ORV use in national wildlife refuges that, though they do support multiple uses related to “wildlife-dependent recreation” including viewing and hunting of wildlife, are supposed to prioritize protection of wildlife. I was aware before this article that hunting was allowed in national wildlife refuges but I was not aware that hunters could use off-road vehicles to make their task easy—not my idea of sportsman hunting—not in the mode of Teddy Roosevelt hunting! Even when ORVs are used to just view wildlife and improve access such as to handicapped humans, they have many harmful effects on wildlife and their habitat such as: (1) “Recreational ORV activity can kill wildlife directly through collision but may also disturb animals by increasing stress and decreasing reproduction”(2) “ORVs increase access for illegal hunting” (3) “Soils are vulnerable to compaction and erosion from ORV use…mud holes and gullies causes sediment to be discharged to streams, decreasing water quality, destroying in-stream habitat, and harming aquatic organisms” (4) “Offtrail ORV use may destroy vegetation and impair wildlife habitats…plants are often weakened and become more susceptible to diseases and insects” (5) “Recreational use of ORVs also contributes to the spread of invasive species by transporting seeds and plant materials” (6) “Snowmobiles may destroy the habitat of the mammals living under the snow, and engine noise stresses larger mammals” (6) “Wheeled ORVs on beaches have been shown to adversely impact birds and crustaceans.” This article is not written by authors who are determined opponents of ORVs in wildlife refuges (though this is my position!) For example, they cite positively the provision of “ORV-aided hunting ATV shuttle system” in the Canaan Valley National Wildlife Refuge as a good practice to allow hunters to extract wildlife from “remote areas of the Refuge.”! Thus this article is not written by anti-hunters or anti-ORVers.
They are trying to suggest “best management practices” to minimize the harmful impacts of ORVs on wildlife! However, because this article is written by dispassionate observers, it is all the more alarming to me. They cite data that 20% of the U.S. population (over 16 years of age) uses ORVs and this rapidly growing population of ORV users have completely outstripped the ability of the USFWS, Forest Service, or BLM to prevent harmful uses. Indeed, the budgets and personnel of these agencies will decrease greatly under the Trump Administration & their enforcement ability will be much weaker. The one effective mechanism to preventing harmful use concerns the use of “barriers, such as barricades and fencing, though potentially costly, are especially important where fines for violators of ORV rules may not provide sufficient deterrence.” But, the trend is towards MORE ACCESS due to pressures from the powerful ORV lobby which fights such restrictions. I feel confident that if a survey were done of the general U.S. public about the use of ORVs in national wildlife refuges that they would strongly oppose the practices described above but, as with most wildlife issues, the smaller group actively involved in these harmful practices cares very much about their rights and their intensity far outweighs that of the general American public. This is one more example of how the nature of U.S. politics means that wildlife conservation will lose until the group that cares intensely about wildlife preservation grows in numbers and takes political action. The full article is available at: http://www.ulib.niu.edu:4911/doi/pdf/10.3996/052016-JFWM-040
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