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ATV damage in Gallatin National Forest

Message From the Hills

Grizzly bears residing on the Gallatin National Forest are being harassed and their ecosystems are being destroyed by human recreation, especially motorized. Motorized recreation has invaded the wilderness and replaced wild experiences with technology and tourism. These high-powered machines alter natural habitat with excessive noise, pollution, vegetation damage, and littering. The more advanced motorized recreation technology becomes, the more wild places will be breached and disturbed.

Unfortunately, most people are unaware of the effects their presence has in grizzly bear habitat. Television and magazine ads by ATV companies use strong marketing to encourage motorized recreation. They display them in wild areas, just as many major car manufacturers display their vehicles high in the mountains or canyon desserts. One such commercial shows a grizzly bear metamorphosing into an ATV. This type of corporate marketing distorts the public's perception of motorized use in wilderness; it hides the true impacts.

Motorized recreation is big business, and has joined the ranks of mass eco-tourism. West Yellowstone, Montana thrives off of motorized tourism, claiming to be the "snowmobile capital of the world". Here, people can rent snowmobiles and ATVs, then ride them directly into the national forest, and right through grizzly recovery zones. The steep, rugged Madison Range of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness near West Yellowstone is illegally entered by high-powered snowmobiles. These machines make access to the wilderness easy, yet they threaten animals' homes. While monitoring areas of the Gallatin, I have witnessed Elk being displaced by ATVs. If the Elk are being displaced, we can assume that bears, deer, and others in the ecosystem are also being displaced, including myself. Experience in wilderness should be earned and respected.

Vegetation damage is the most obvious destruction of habitat by motorized vehicles. In some places ground cover is ripped out, exposing dirt and rock, which can lead to severe erosion. Large portions of sagebrush have been mangled and many sapling pines have been shredded and killed. In addition, snowmobiles leave trash scattered along their paths. While monitoring trails I have picked up much litter, including: screwdrivers, plastic reflectors, 2-cycle oil bottles, anti-freeze jugs, pieces of snowmobile shells and engine belts, and countless nuts, bolts, and cans. These forgotten objects symbolize a lack of respect for Earth.

The National Forests are considered "public lands", but the native residents are not always considered. Individuals like the grizzly and the wolverine should have priority over human recreation, especially since they are still threatened. Their forest habitats are far more complex than anything humans will ever create; they are not a mere resource. The Forest Service preaches "multiple use"; while at the same time they promote "tread lightly". These two ideologies are at odds with one another and need to be reevaluated.
Tom Arnold
Wild Trails Campaign

For more information contact:

Phil Knight
Native Forest Network
PO Box 6151
Bozeman, MT 59771-6151
(406) 586-3885

Or call Katie at (406) 582-1281 x 3002.

Also, see the Shattered Solitude report: It describes off-road vehicle use in our region with details about each of the forests in Montana.  (It is downloadable in pdf format (427K)).

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