Our View: The damage done by people who don’t care | SierraSun.com

Our View: The damage done by people who don’t care

Nothing is quite as jarring to the senses than being out enjoying public lands only to find them scarred by thoughtless acts of others.

Unfortunately, those acts occur all-too often in our local forests.

Sierra Sun reporter David Bunker recently spent time in the Tahoe National Forest with staff from the Truckee Ranger District. It took a relatively short time for officials to point out damage done by thoughtless off-road vehicle operators: fragile emerald green wetlands turned brown and muddy by people who, as far as we can tell, care only about their own fun.

It would be easy to vilify all off-roaders who get their kicks on public lands. But that would be like saying everyone who straps on a backpack is a full-bore environmentalist intent on spiking trees with nails.

For many people, our national forests represent many things. And enabling those many things ” from logging and grazing to various types of recreation and wildlife ” is the mission of the Forest Service. It’s the multiple-use approach; the doctrine of balancing a number of different kinds of uses of national forest land. And it’s not an easy one.

There are folks who would just as soon end all off-highway vehicle use on public lands. And, as evidenced by the tire ruts left in our local meadows, there are apparently some who’d prefer not to have any restrictions at all.

But something has to be done. The Forest Service sees “unmanaged recreation” as one of the “four threats” to the nation’s forests, right up there with wildfire. It’s easy to understand why.

OHV use has grown from 5 million in 1972 to 51 million in 2004, according to the agency. And while OHV recreation is a legitimate use, it has its place. But unmanaged and thoughtless use like we’ve seen locally translates into serious impacts ” wetland damage, erosion to name two ” on the land.

On the national and local levels, the Forest Service is trying to get a handle on OHV

use. The Tahoe National Forest now has a comprehensive map of off-highway vehicle routes. It’s first step in an open, public process that officials hope will eliminate redundant or environmentally damaging trails in the local forest.

The end result of the effort will be an official trail system that is both extensive and varied. But it won’t keep those who are only out for their own fun from spinning donuts in a wetland meadow.

It all comes down to respect ” for others and for the land. The Tahoe National Forest’s Web site wraps it up perfectly.

“If and when you see closed roads or travel routes, please respect the land and observe the closures. Wet, damaged roads can suffer more damage from unthinking people, which of course ultimately causes routes to be closed longer and costs more tax dollars. Help us and help the land by thinking about your actions!”

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