Once again, the Internet has shown its ability to prompt arrogantly stupid people to broadcast their idiocy for the entire world to see. This time, thoughtless snowmobilers here in Colorado videotaped themselves chasing a moose at high speed along a trail. The encounter ends in a near collision when the harassed moose suddenly stops and turns to face its pursuer. This incident highlights the growing problem of rude, thoughtless, illegal, and just plain dumb activity by users of off-highway motorized vehicles (OHVs). It's way past time for our laws, and our law-enforcers, to slam down hard on these growing motorized insults to our public land's wildlife and wildlands.
As a lifelong hunter and angler, I know with personal pain how illegal riders can ruin a trip into the outdoors. Be it the noise of their engines frightening game, the damage their heavy machines cause when their tires or tracks weigh into loose ground or compress soil beneath snow, or the vandalism that occurs when riders destroy barriers meant to keep them from places vehicles don't belong, reckless riding increasingly ruins the outdoor experience for non-motorized users.
The problem is one of simple numbers. There are too many motorized vehicles in what, without motors, would be wild backcountry. Among these too many motorized users there is too much irresponsible behavior spread over too much area, too ineffectually prevented by too few law enforcement officers with too little officially mandated motivation. But there are steps we can take to reclaim the outdoors for those, including riders, who use it responsibly.
An absolutely essential step toward effective law enforcement is to pass common-sense visible vehicle ID laws. In Colorado, OHVs must be registered and an annual fee paid, much as sportsmen must purchase hunting and fishing licenses. The problem is that current state regs require only a tiny decal be placed where it can be "easily seen." Sure, it's easily seen when the vehicle is standing still and you're standing a foot away and it isn't covered with mud. Hard enough for law enforcement or concerned citizens to get a registration number when the vehicle is stopped; impossible at common OHV road and trail speeds.
In this regard Colorado needs to consider enacting an OHV ID law after the fashion of states like Connecticut and Massachusetts. In Connecticut, OHVs must display a registration number on each side of the front of the vehicle in reflective numbers at least three inches high. Massachusetts requires OHVs to display a 7" x 4" identification plate on the rear of the vehicle in addition to a registration sticker with three-inch-high numbers.
But as these two example show, state requirements tend to differ and become even more complicated when state-to-state reciprocity laws kick in. The sensible solution is to enact a uniform, national visible-ID standard. From a law-enforcement point of view, national uniformity is essential because of the vast amount of federal land that off-roader motorists enjoy and increasingly damage. Nationally, BLM allows unrestricted access on 82.5 million acres and limited access on an additional 123.8 million acres. Additionally, the U.S. Forest Service has so far designated 33,000 miles of trails across the far-flung public lands it manages.
Visible IDs are an important tool to help curtail and catch bad behavior. As this video evidence shows, riders of off-road motorized vehicles -- ATVs, dirt bikes, and snowmobiles -- often are anything but shy about flaunting their illegal and immoral behavior in public... because they know they can't be readily identified. Since visible IDs on all OHVs would allow law enforcement folks, hunters, and honest OHV riders to easily identify and report outlaws, we're left to wonder why OHV rider and industry organizations, here in Colorado and apparently nationwide, are so dead-set against it, even when no additional fees are involved and they never quit chanting "It's only a small minority among us who cause all the problems, and we hate them as much as you do."
Really? While "talking the talk" is a specialty of politicized motorized recreation spokesmen, it appears they find "walking the walk," in any sense of the term, beyond their collective desire or individual stamina.