The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 24: Riding Outside the Lines

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Motoring in the wilderness? Some people do it, and some of them get caught. This week on The WildeBeat; riding outside the lines.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number twenty four.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Our previous edition was about winter recreation planning, and backcountry user conflicts in Bear Valley, California. I discovered another related story while researching that one.

Managers of wilderness areas have a problem. People who ride off-road vehicles, like to visit wild places. But a small park or forest staff, can't patrol a large area of land.

That means, that some off road riders go over the line. In fact, since two thousand, the Forest Service reported a two and a half time increase in the number of these violations.

Enforcing wilderness boundaries in snow-bound mountains, is especially difficult. Patty Clarey is a ranger in the Stanislaus National Forest.

PATTY CLAREY: The reality is that we do not have a lot of enforcement dollars; in fact we don't have any enforcement dollars. The wilderness boundaries have been clearly marked. And that's not always easy, because as you get snow storms you have to go out there and you have to raise the signs. You know you have to keep clearing the signs out so people can see where the wilderness boundary signs are. Enforcement in the winter is difficult.

STEVE: The nineteen sixty four Wilderness Act says there shall be "no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport..." in a wilderness area.

Snowmobile enthusiasts sometimes ask what harm is done by a few snowmobiles straying into these wild areas. John Buckley of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center has done some research on the question.

JOHN BUCKLEY: Our center has done wildlife surveys now for the last eight years. And we set out photo stations where we actually get pictures of some of these rare animals, and we find martens do move away from humans, but they may not move a long distance from a cross-country skier, or from someone on snowshoes. But personally, I've heard the noise of snowmobiles at a distance far beyond a mile out there, and when there are multiple snowmobiles in an area that's within a few hundred yards, it's clearly something that will move rare wildlife a considerable distance out of that area. So our greatest concern is that it's the amount of disturbance, not just a single snowmobile going past, but repeated disturbance; especially with young guys who are having a lot of fun, zooming at high speed on their snowmobiles.

STEVE: Paul Petersen is president of Bear Valley Cross Country. His business uses snowmobiles to maintain and patrol a trail system. He says that noise isn't the only way that motors cause a disturbance.

PAUL PETERSEN: The two-stroke snowmobiles , ninety nine percent of what is in use these days, produces approximately a hundred times the air pollution or carbon monoxide as a car. So if three snowmobiles go by you, you've just had the same amount of carbon monoxide blow on you as three hundred cars. And so when you have a busy Saturday, and there's twenty ort thirty of them, you've got L.A. freeway type of smog levels developing.

STEVE: If you surf the web-sites of snowmobile clubs, you'll often find strong opposition to wilderness protection. The web-site, snowmobile-alliance dot org, states boldly on their main page, "No More Wilderness."

But when I talked to Gary Willard, the president of the Bear Valley Snowmobile Club, I didn't get any of that.

GARY WILLARD: Our club members know what the right thing to do is, and certainly intrusions into wilderness or other areas where we're not supposed to be going, that's simply not to be tolerated. And if I see people out there doing that, and I do, I make a point of having a little chat with them. I do it in a nice way, a friendly way, but you know those are the folks that potentially can wreck it for everybody. So I think there's a lot going on as far as self-policing.

PATTY CLAREY: Three years ago the Calaveras Ranger District actually wrote more citations, wilderness incursion citations, on our district than any other district in the state of California. And that wasn't because we had more violations, it was because we chose to make it a priority. And since that time we have not received any more funding from the state, which was a major help to us in getting wilderness enforcement, and not the incursions are starting to come back up again. We had pretty good compliance for a year or two, after that first push, but that takes resources.

GARY WILLARD: There's a national trend for what we call power sports to be increasing, and specifically snowmobile use has been increasing rapidly. If you look at the populations projections for the Bay Area and the central valley, and go out ten years, according to the State of California, there's going to be approximately a million and a half more people in that area. And that's the area where people who use the forest around Bear Valley come from, so that's why I've looked at those statistics. By the year two thousand fifteen, there could be four times as many more snowmobilers coming from the areas that we see people coming up to Bear valley from.

STEVE: In California, assembly bill ten eighty six went into effect this year. It increased the minimum fines for operating a motor vehicle in wilderness areas. It also increases state and local law enforcement's jurisdiction on federal land.

Unfortunately, it doesn't provide any more enforcement money to the National Forests.

PATTY CLAREY: Self compliance is really the key to any successful enforcement program. You have to have buy-in from the user groups. Because this is vast, this is a huge chunk of real estate, and to expect the two or three or four people on this district that are capable of riding a snowmobile out there and doing enforcement, you know that's an unrealistic expectation. So compliance by the user groups is essential.

STEVE: In a political climate where tax cuts are limiting service increases, the only way individual citizens can make a difference is to volunteer. The snowmobile clubs can volunteer to patrol, and to educate their members. Many forests have wilderness volunteer groups who do trail maintenance and provide volunteer wilderness rangers. Some forests also have a nordic ski patrol.

PATTY CLAREY: There are options here for volunteers and certainly we welcome that, because there are not enough left of us to go around and do all of the work that needs to be done out there.

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Next time -- a request for participation.

The Wildebeat is produced by Steve Sergeant for Effable Communications. Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. Please see our website for ways to ensure future editions of The WildeBeat. Send your comments to webmaster at wildebeat dot net, or call our comment line at 866-590-7373.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number twenty four. Thank you for listening.

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