The motorized recreation coalition — the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), off-road manufacturing corporations, national and state motorized organized groups — is coming at us with all cylinders firing. This motorized recreation coalition (MotorRec, or more accurately MotorWreck) — is now selling its “Master Plans” for off-road vehicles (ORV), off-highway motorcycles (OHM), the Border-to-Border “touring” route (B2B), and a Minnesota state forest trail revision project to change rules to allow for more ORV “opportunities.”
The DNR defines ORVs as “4×4 vehicles capable of off-road travel and include modified pick-up trucks [or ‘mudder trucks’], sports utility vehicles, and ‘rock crawlers.’” The B2B is intended to attract exactly the same type of vehicles. “Technical riding areas” is DNRSpeak for “challenge areas,” giving ORVs a chance to strut their destructive stuff, which gives lie to the supposedly pastoral family experience the DNR attempts to delude us into envisioning.
Based on multiple scientific studies, some of the impacts of ORVs are:
- Off-road trails will produce erosion which clouds wetlands, ponds, and streams.
- Invasive species are spread down the roadways as ORVs go off road into ditches and fields full of invasive plants.
- The noise, fumes and human presence of ORVs move wildlife away from their favored territories, which reduces the success of their procreation and survival.
- The Wetland Conservation Act lists seven free “ecosystem services” wetlands provide for us: erosion control, flood control, groundwater recharge and discharge, water quality improvement, rare species habitat, [non-motorized] recreation, economic commodities (such as wild rice). Many of these services are lost as mudder trucks and Jeep-like vehicles plow around in wetlands.
- There is no funding for regulation and enforcement, an unfunded mandate left up to county sheriffs.
- There is no funding for road degradation resulting from increased traffic, speed, and reckless driving, an unfunded mandate left up to county and township boards and taxpayers.
There are multiple false or exaggerated claims of the benefits of ORVs:
- Increased economic development. ORV economic impact studies suffer from two fundamental flaws, which are violations of the Society of Benefit-Cost Analysis’s “standards of practice”: (1) They exaggerate the benefits of trails to local economies, and (2) they fail to mention the environmental and social costs of such trails, much less include them in analysis.
- Connecting ORV users to nature and the outdoors. The only time ORV riders have a chance to experience nature is when they turn their machines off. By then, most animals and birds have fled the scene, or are in hiding. The only way to experience nature is healthy walking or sitting quietly to observe.
- Supporting ORV users’ health and well-being. The only exercise ORV drivers and passengers seem to get is staggering from their vehicles into to a forest or small-town bar seeking yet another beer.
- Enhanced quality of life for Minnesota communities. The excessive and egregious behavior of many ORV riders will drive more people — even those who were initially seduced by the economic development argument — into the anti-ORV camp.
The DNR decides who is a “stakeholder” in these discussions and planning. Missing from the list are environmental groups, residents who live along designated routes, outside ecosystem experts, and citizens who really care about nature. These groups need to be at the planning table. Otherwise, the DNR’s promises that trail development can be “pursued in a collaborative and environmentally sustainable manner” are just mere words.
To be fair to the DNR, there are many programs and professionals seeking to defend nature. For example, the Nongame Wildlife Program whose purpose is “to protect, maintain, enhance, and restore native nongame wildlife resources for their intrinsic values, ecosystem functions, and long-term benefits.” But what chance does that program have against the onslaught of MotorRec with its multiple negative impacts? It is so sad that the dominant forces within DNR do not consider nature worth protecting, maintaining, and enhancing.
Peter Hovde is professor emeritus of politics and environment at Concordia College-Moorhead. He lives on a quiet lake 10 miles west of Itasca State Park with wife, Charlie, and their golden retriever, Rya. Their retirement is taken up by trying to protect wild and natural Minnesota from its manifold threats.
This commentary was originally published by the Farmers Independent in Bagley, Minnesota. Republished with permission.
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