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Off-road explosion hot topic

Allen Best

THE WEST – Off-road vehicle use has become the most politically volatile land-use issue in the country, reports the New York Times. A new front in this “war” is conflicts among off-roaders themselves.

The Times traces the dispute to the end of World War II, when jeeps and dirt bikes first became available to general consumers. But it wasn’t until 1972 – when President Nixon signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to regulate the activity on federal lands – that the government took an active role in managing its impact.

Meanwhile, the popularity of off-roading has exploded. The number of off-highway motorcycles increased 146 percent from 1998 to 2002, while Americans purchased almost double the number of ATVs in the same time frame.



The latest chapter is the friction between self-styled responsible off-roaders – usually members of local clubs that promote adherence to existing land-use rules – and the renegades who see that as an appeasement to environmentalists.

One person among the latter is Loren Shirk, a networking engineer in Duarte, Calif., who drives his Chevy Blazer over the sand dunes around Barstow, Calif. “I think my right to go where I want should not be hampered by the whims of somebody else that wants to leave the world looking like it was 4,000 years ago,” he said.



“The way you succeed in life,” he added, “is to go outside the lines.”

Another example is Brad Lark, publisher of extreme44.com, a Web site devoted to off-roading. The Tread Lightly program, he said, is “just a veiled form of extreme environmentalism. They spend more time supporting the land closures than they do keeping the land open and opening up closed lands.”

The mainline off-roading organization, the BlueRibbon Coalition, estimates that illegal riders accounted for 1 or 2 percent of all off-road activity, but some law officials and most environmentalists put the figure at much higher Ð somewhere in the 15 to 20 percent range, according to a Bureau of Land Management ranger in the desert outside of Barstow.



Whatever the amount, one figure in the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, Ed Waldheim, who refers to scofflaw off-roaders as “idiots,” warns that the dispute even within the off-road community is approaching anarchy. The cause, he said, is a “rebellion against the continued erosion of our off-road opportunities on public land.”


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