Friends of the Bitterroot

FOB Logo
Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains
Bitteroot Mountains
Bitterroot Mountains

Look for Facts Behind the Noise and Smoke

by Carol Miller, for the FOB Steering Committee

The wild and roadless areas of our National Forests are the places where most Americans go for a peaceful, natural respite from our hectic, noisy lives in the modern world. Places where we can see and hear and smell the natural world in all of its beauty and diversity. A small number of people want to ride their noisy machines into these last unroaded areas, leaving nothing untrammeled by humans and ruining everyone else's only opportunity for remaining connected to our natural history.

Trail Creek Valley, Beaverhead/Deerlodge N.F.

The authors (Ravalli County Off-Road User Association) of a recent op-ed decrying the BNF's plan to recommend additional proposed wilderness acres apparently find actual facts a nuisance, like flies to be brushed away from their eyes. They quote obviously biased claims from motorized off road vehicle (ORV) groups about the percentage of forest users who prefer motorized (ORV) access, and insist that a vocal minority are managing to somehow magically convince the Forest Service to exclude a majority of the public for their own selfish purposes. More about those numbers in a minute. Ironically, they specifically mention - and they call them highly respected - the Blue Ribbon Coalition. This is the organization whose executive director was placed on indeterminate leave without pay pending an investigation into charges against him for illegal outfitting. It seems that in addition to his duties with the group, trying to convince the public that motorized ORV users represent a majority of forest users, he was illegally providing backcountry motorcycle tours for a fee (Idaho Falls Post Register, July 26). Perhaps some people believe they are above the law.

So, what are the facts about these percentages? Luckily, there actually is an unbiased source of information; a report of the authoritative research, done using a standard protocol in national forests all across the nation every few years by the Forest Service ñ the National Visitor Use Monitoring Results.

The most recent report on the Bitterroot states the following actual facts (not claims) about visitors to the BNF. The percentage of forest visitors who engage in:

1) Off-highway vehicle travel was 2.9%, with just 0 .3% stating that is their primary forest activity;

2) Snowmobile travel was 0.1%, with 0.0% stating that is their primary activity;

3) Hiking was 47.9%, with 29.1% listing it as their primary forest activity; And

4) Horseback riding was 7.7%, with 5.8% stating that is their primary activity.

The Ravalli County Off-Road User's Association claims 98% of forest users are being excluded from 70% of the forest, but the truth is that only about 3% are motorized users, and they are hardly being excluded or denied "access".

Here are some more pesky facts. The tiny fraction of forest visitors who drive motorized all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and motorized dirt bikes have 1025 miles of road open year long and 2323 miles of road open seasonally on the BNF, in addition to 555 miles of trails open year long to motorized use.

Floyd and Friend Inspecting a rut road on the Bitterroot National Forest

Total "access" available -- 2,992 miles of motorized routes compared to 895 miles of quiet, non-motorized trails for the majority of forest users. Where is the balance? These motorized users drive off hikers, hunters, fishermen, horsemen, bicyclists, skiers, wildlife photographers, birders, and campers, not to mention wildlife. We've all seen the huge damaging footprint they leave, the eroding ruts and gullies carving up the landscape for generations to come, and we can easily hear them when they are there - a long path carrying a wide bubble of noise disruption wherever they go. Talk about a very loud minority screeching loud and only interested in their own selfish desires.

Conservation groups represent a huge majority of Americans in their values and actions. Conservation is not about benefiting hikers, hardy or not. It is about a fundamental respect for wildlife, a reverence for nature, an imperative need to protect the last tiny remaining wildlands on our planet from the voracious appetite of human consumption, the reckless or at times purposeful and wanton destruction, and the short-sighted and foolish belief that we can take and take and take and there will always be more to take. Everyone has the right to enjoy public lands, but no one has the right to abuse them.

Scott Barrett

Jim Miller

Nancy Oesau

Doug Soehren

John Grove

Van Keele

Ted Kerstetter

Clif Merritt

Larry Campbell

Carol Miller

Gary Milner

Of Friends of the Bitterroot

Trail Creek