ANOTHER VIEW: Tougher rules needed on ATVs in forest preserves

Posted Apr 13, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Leaders in Albany should heed a call from a coalition of conservation groups and enact a law to ban the private use of all-terrain vehicles in forest preserve lands. In short, they destroy precious public lands not only through noise and pollution but by tearing up trails, threatening public safety and otherwise infecting the natural environment by doing long-term damage to soil and wetlands and putting animal life in jeopardy.

“ATVs cause damage to sensitive forests in the Long Island Pine Barrens, the Adirondacks, Catskills and the Albany Pine Bush,” Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said in a news release this week. “We want the public to explore and enjoy these magnificent natural resources but enjoying them shouldn’t result in destroying them. New Yorkers need the Legislature to enact new laws to protect our trails, wildlife and public safety from ATV abuse.”

The group calling for tougher rules, which includes organizations such as the Adirondack Council and the Sierra Club, published a report Monday detailing the impact ATVs have on the local ecosystem. It found that current policies prohibiting ATV use in public areas such as the Adirondacks are weak and often ignored, and that without a law with tough penalties ATVs will damage public lands and endanger riders and other visitors.

“ATVs have their place in this park on private lands such as farms, construction sites and logging operations, but as a recreational vehicle, they are a menace to public resources,” said William C. Janeway, executive director and leader of the Adirondack Council. “They don’t belong on the Forest Preserve, unless used for search and rescue, for actions relating to the management of the natural resources, or in providing access for a person with a disability.”

Guardians of the wilderness have long been challenged by those who would destroy it for fun and/or profit ever since Albany surveyor Verplanck Colvin found unchecked logging was literally stripping the mountaintops of timber. His efforts to stop it by appealing to the state Legislature resulted in the creation of the Forest Preserve in 1885 and the Adirondack Park in 1892.

The battle to maintain and save the precious land continues to run up against threats ranging from the storage of contaminated oil tanker cars on abandoned rail lines to unchecked development. Now, state Forest Rangers’ annual reports call misuse of ATVs the most problematic enforcement issue they face, said Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “Rangers have issued an average of 496 tickets per year for misuse of ATVs over the last decade, but the ones alleging trespass on public lands are frequently dismissed or result in no penalty and therefore don’t deter repeat offenses,” he said.

And it’s not just in the Adirondacks.

“The forest preserve is the backbone of our tourism-based economy and way of life in the Catskills,” said Katherine Nadeau, Catskill Mountainkeeper’s deputy director. “ATVs rut and ruin forest preserve trails, and destroy wildlife habitat — the damage ATVs cause can be irreversible, and is 100 percent preventable. New York state must do everything it can to keep these dangerous vehicles out of the forest preserve.”

There are 25 days left in this year’s Legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn June 19. Lawmakers should honor the work of their predecessors before leaving Albany and put tougher rules in place to guarantee continued protection of the forest preserve for future generations.

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