All of the recreational and economic benefits that the state and the public derive from hiking, biking, snowmobiling, camping and ATV-riding in the Adirondack and Catskill parks rely on preserving the environment.
If the government allows these resources to decline through overuse, neglect or outright destruction, then no one is going to be able to enjoy them.
That’s why it’s important for everyone with a vested interest in preserving these areas to heed the concerns expressed last week by Adirondack preservationist groups about the growing impact of destruction by all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on the state Forest Preserve and other off-road areas.
The groups, including the Adirondack Council and the Sierra Club, issued a report calling on the state Legislature to pass new laws restricting ATV use, including banning four-wheelers on forest preserve land in the Adirondack and Catskill parks and sharply restricting ATVs on public roads.
ATVs, more than other vehicles, create deep ruts in trails and carve their own paths, particularly when ridden in muddy conditions. This contributes to erosion and makes those same trails unsafe for hikers, snowmobilers and bicyclists.
The loudness of the machines and the abandon with which they are often ridden also disrupts the solace of those who enjoy the outdoors in more passive ways.
All that has contributed to stronger demands for regulation.
As more people have taken up ATV riding and as communities have opened more areas for access, the problem has been getting worse — and will only continue to do so.
ATV riders will have only themselves to blame if the state cracks down hard on ATV use and either severely limits or outright bans where these vehicles may be ridden.
While there are many responsible ATV riders who stay on the trails and don’t rip through the woods tearing up trails and untraversed areas, there are many irresponsible riders who spoil it for everyone else.
Rather than be part of the opposition, individual ATV riders and ATV organizations need to admit that their vehicles can indeed have a negative impact on the environment. Ignoring that impact will surely invite a heavy hand from politicians responding to voters concerned about the environment.
To help themselves, ATV riders need to do more to police their own, reporting illegal ATV use and educating each other about responsible use and access.
They also need to back regulations that seek to control their access to sensitive areas like the forest preserve, even if it limits where they can ride. Restricted access is preferable to a total ban.
Certainly, state lawmakers should limit access to environmentally sensitive areas of the forest preserve.
But a major contributor to the ATV problem isn’t a lack of laws, but the fact that existing penalties for violations are too light and don’t act as a deterrent. Another contributor is that there aren’t enough forest rangers in the parks to effectively enforce the laws that do exist.
Lawmakers need to toughen penalties for violating ATV laws and direct more of the millions of dollars from eco-tourism and from registration fees collected from ATV riders into hiring more forest rangers and other officers to enforce the laws.
No one benefits from the destruction of the environment. It’s in the best interests of all who enjoy it — including ATV riders — to do what they can to preserve it.