Friday, August 20, 2010

ATV abuse, the scurge of our hunting community

Watch this YouTube video, "America's Backcountry", from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers that includes a powerful indictment of ATV abuse and oversuse on America's public lands

If there is anything about hunting in America today that is inconsistent with the entire tradition and every argument that hunting is a positive activity that has environmental, health, and social benefits, it's the ATV overuse and abuse that is rampant among a certain set of hunters.

ATVs are often used by young, able-bodied hunters to transport themselves to their deer stands. ATVs are even used as part of the actual hunting experience, turning it into a mechanized and sedentary activity.

ATVs are taking over our hunting culture. ATV advocates in Minnesota state government have crafted regulations that created large loopholes in the law against shooting at animals from ATVs, mostly by allowing uncased guns on ATVs in areas where you are hunting. The machine is now being used to hunt grouse by some hunters. Due to complaints from non-motorized grouse hunters, the DNR tried to tighten up the rule this last year, only to meet legislative resistance.

There are constant reports in the outdoor press from the Rocky Mountain west of ATV abuse. The most outrageous I've read so far was that a number of ATVs were used in a bison hunt, to surround the animal and then shoot it execution-style. This was in an area in Utah that was off-limits to ATVs, a bowhunter who had drawn this rare permit to hunt wild bison went to an area seeking solitude and a great hunt with traditional bowhunting equipment. He met noise, environmental destruction, and "hunters" who might as well have bought their meat at the grocery store.

Hunting as an activity that strengthens families and creates community is destroyed by this, as riding a loud machine is not exactly quietly walking through the woods with your dad or sibling, whispering and talking about where to look or what route to take to find birds. The argument that hunting is an activity that fights obesity is true, but not when it's motorized. Riding an ATV isn't exactly cardiovascular exercise. Creating an ever-expanding lattice of trails for loud machines that tear up woods and fields and disrupt wildlife and emit pollution runs counter to a strong conservationist tradition that many hunters are rightly proud of. Last, but not least, is fair chase. Not only has this been a principle of hunting ethics for decades, it maintains hunting's public support.

ATVs are negatively affecting the habitat of many animals, including those we love to hunt. A number of studies by wildlife agencies have been conducted on radio-collared elk, and elk will avoid, year-round, areas that are regularly frequented by motorized traffic. One study showed that an area as large as a half-mile from such trails is avoided on a permament basis by elk. This is a lot of habitat for prime game animals to destroy all because someone wants a thrill or doesn't want to walk, ride a horse, and/or use other pack animals such as donkeys or lamas.

The same studies show that hunters on foot or horseback don't disturb elk the way ATVs do.

One study has been conducted on mule deer that concluded there are fewer large mule deer in the west due to ATV overuse.

Powerful economic interests and many ATV riders have stifled action by public land managers that would rein in these abuses, even though the vast majority of public land users are non-motorized. Fortunately, there is a new, growing, and energetic organization of sportsmen and women organizing for needed reform of motorized use and for protection of wilderness and roadless areas, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers ("BHA"). I'm a proud and active member. BHA successfully fought for reforms of financing of Colrado's ATV program to allocate more money for enforcement, not just increased trail construction. In Minnesota we lobbied and brought attention to the grouse hunting rule that the DNR proposed during the last legislative session.

Other actions include BHA helping pass legislation protecting Montana's Rocky Mountain front from oil and shale development. In MN, we are lobbying for stricter regulation of a proposed copper mining project near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.

We are working with other wilderness hunting advocates to establish a late October rifle deer hunt in the interior of the Boundary Waters. The interior is often inaccessible during the regular rifle season in November, as the lakes freeze early that far north.

If you want to preserve good hunting and fishing opportunities, join BHA at If you use an ATV, limit your use. Save some greenhouse gas and burn some calories and walk to your stand if you are physically able. Only use your ATV to retrieve downed animals or haul heavy stands or equipment, and stay on established trails. Use one ATV per group, instead of one for every person, as I've seen in some camps.

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