I'm going to finally admit it, I'm sick of ATVs and I'm pretty darned sick of people who make excuses for using ATVs on wildlands.
ATV tracks, off road, at over 8,000 feet in the Big Horns.
This frankly has more to do with my status of being a hunter, than anything else, and I'll admit that I'm somewhat hypocritical about this topic, for reasons that I'll mention below. But I really, truly, have had enough of them.
The reason I don't like ATVs is that I value wildlands. I value them as a livestock owner, I value them as a hunter, I value them as a fisherman, and I just value them as somebody who loves nature. ATVs are the antithesis of everything in nature.
Now, in terms of being hypocritical, I freely note here that I grew up with vehicles and have had 4x4 vehicles my entire life.
My first car, before I was old enough to drive. A 1958 M38A1 Jeep. I didn't put the big dent in the fender.
I grew up with vehicles and have always used vehicles to access nature. And as an owner of a large number of 4x4 vehicles over the years, I've never been without a vehicle that could take me way out back. This admittedly is contrary to the natural state, and I've written about that here before. One of the things that I think its most difficult for us, as modern people, to appreciate is the revolution in access to wildlands that automobiles brought about. Not only was it revolutionary, but it frankly changed our relationship with it, making it impossible for many to appreciate the expanse, time and distance, and also making it so we tend to travel insulated from nature, rather than in it.
Me, in another context. Nothing makes you appreciate the vastness of an area more than traveling it at, in essence, nature's pace.
But even with that, at least vehicles essentially basically stopped somewhere. People drove distances, often distances that would have taken days to cover in prior eras, but they did get out and start walking (or riding on a horse/mule).
ATVs have changed that.
Now I constantly see people who have 3/4 ton or 1 ton trucks who are hauling them up to the back country. The ATVs have grown larger and now often take up the entire bed of the truck. Once they get to the end of the road, they unload the ATV and then drive over the prairie, making little roads like the one depicted above on it. They basically never dismount.
I really question the effectiveness of this for hunting, as ATVs are noisy and a man on foot, or on horseback, can usually hear them miles and miles away. I've taken game animals in areas where the ATV drivers had passed them by, the animals taking cover well before the ATV drove on by. But that they have an impact on wildlands, making them less wild, cannot be denied.
That ATV owners know this is pretty plain. Almost every ATV owner I know, save for a few honest ones, who use them for hunting will claim "I only use them to haul things out." Well, bull. The "I only" claim is the classic claim made by people who know they are doing things wrong, and want to claim some legitimate reason to excuse it. Like people who only claim to buy certain magazines for the articles, the overwhelming owners of ATVs in hunting and fishing country are using them for the very thing they claim they are not.
In recent years around here there's been an increasing number of areas where signs stating "No ATVs" have sprung up. Quite a few of these are walk in access areas, and the ranchers don't want the ATVs in there wrecking the land and scaring cattle. Indeed, around here, ATVs reached their zenith and began to decline in livestock work quite some time ago, and the most common use of ATVs I see now amongst ranchers is in the form of very small trucks that they use for fencing or to travel from one cow camp to another. Herding cattle with them is mostly out now.
About the only use of ATVs I don't object to is that by people who just flat out like ATVs and drive them on back roads to drive them. Most of those people are honest about that. I see them on the roads in the summer, with an increasing number thankfully wearing helmets now. But generally those people aren't driving over grasslands with them or hoping sagebrush with them, and then later claiming that "I only" use them for this or that. Indeed, if a person "is only" using an ATV to haul game out, it's a pretty expensive way to do that. It'd be cheaper to hire a rancher to haul one out with a horse. But the evidence is that the "only" class doesn't "only" do what they claim.
And I'd like to see the use of ATVs on the prairie and in the mountains go. I know that I'll never live to see that, but I wish I would see that. At some point people who love the wildlands have to say enough is enough, and keep them out. And, frankly, at some point as a people we have to admit that all humans have a natural inclination towards laziness and if we want to really live, we have to resist it. Getting out and walking would be a good way to start.