Nearly 40 years ago, President Richard Nixon issued an executive order calling for a national strategy to protect wildlife by restricting off-road vehicles to carefully designated trails. President Jimmy Carter later gave the interior secretary the authority to ban such vehicles from sensitive lands. Unfortunately, except for a brief and encouraging crackdown during the Clinton administration, nobody has paid much attention to these directives since.
There are now nine million off-road vehicles, meaning all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes (snowmobiles are a separate category). And their owners, with little resistance from the authorities that ought to be policing them, are transforming some of America’s most sensitive public lands into their personal playgrounds.
As Felicity Barringer and William Yardley wrote in The Times recently, there are responsible owners who stick to designated trails as well as renegades who go “off trail” with grave consequences for animal habitat, fragile desert soils and historical artifacts. The real problem, however, is that the important decisions about where off-road vehicles can go are not being made by the federal Bureau of Land Management, which is supposed to protect these lands and regulate these vehicles, but by the owners, user associations and rural county officials who are under their thumb.
Utah is an alarming case in point . . . (the editorial continues)
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