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Rather than expand ATV trails, state role is to preserve forestsEdit

Patriot News Editorial Sunday, December 30, 2007

In an October 2000 letter to then- state Conservation Secretary John Oliver, the Conservation & Natural Resources Advisory Council noted that the illegal operation of all-terrain vehicles "on state forest land is the predominant enforcement problem for Bureau of Forestry staff." More recently in a 2006 study, the forestry bureau said there are 2,535 miles of illegal ATV trails on state forest land.

Providing legal trails for ATVs doesn't appear to help the problem, and may even be compounding it. A study done in 2000 found that the seven state forests with designated ATV trails had an average of 50 miles of illegal trails.

Likewise, the U.S. Forest Service has labeled this type of "un managed rec reation" as one of the greatest threats to the federal for ests. As USA Today has de scribed it, "renegade [ATV] drivers disrupt wild life, expose terrain to in vasive species and endanger hikers and others who use the trails legally."

Given the documented destruction that ATVs are exacting on public lands, including state game lands where they are banned, you have to wonder what the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is thinking in moving to expand ATV trails in state forests. The scheme includes permitting ATVs to travel on 170 miles of township roads between 29 miles of new ATV trails to be built in Sproul, Bald Eagle and Susquehannock state forests.

The state forests already are home to 247 miles of ATV trails. In addition, there are more than 100 miles of ATV trails in Allegheny National Forest and countless other miles on private property.

While ATV proponents claim that only a small number of users violate the rules and ride where they are prohibited, the evidence of widespread damage speaks for itself. And one thing you don't do in this situation is reward bad behavior. ATV users would be well advised to clean up their act.

Rather than providing more opportunities for ATV-abuse of forests, their wild inhabitants and those who search in ever-growing futility for the tranquil sounds of nature, DCNR should be bolstering the ranks of the state's forest protectors and giving them the tools, resources and legal authority to confront this menace to sustainable forests. Fines for violators need to be significantly increased from the current $50 to $1,000 or more and their machines confiscated. If the ATV violations continue in the face of such enhanced enforcement measures, then the vehicles should be completely banned from state lands as antithetical to healthy forests.

DCNR also needs to reconsider permitting ATV travel on township roads. Pennsylvania already leads the nation in ATV-related deaths, and it would seem to be the height of irresponsible public policy to encourage what oftentimes are children too young to have a driver's license to travel on public highways in a vehicle that enhances the prospects that they will be killed or injured.

We also find it unacceptable that these important policy decisions are being made without public hearings. If DCNR won't reconsider this multiflawed use of public resources, then the Legislature should step in and do it.

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