August 18, 2007 | By:

Burying the facts does not eliminate the truth about off road vehicles on public lands

Guest Article by Brian L. Horejsi

Crimes against the land, crimes against our streams and rivers and wetlands, crimes against clean air, crimes against fish, wildlife and birds, crimes against wild plants, crimes against soil, crimes against quiet and solitude, crimes against peaceful non motorized public lands users; the list goes on and on. All crimes documented by scientific, social and public lands management evidence. That is the legacy of off road vehicles and their users, not just in Alberta, but across North America.

This is one crime spree that most Albertans do not have their heads in the sand about; no fairy tale ostrich impersonations here except in the blinkered self-serving world of off road users. Albertans are fed up with this bunch; all that remains for the people of Alberta to do is clear out a government and the old boys network of land managers that are protecting off roaders. It is probably more accurate to say protecting manufacturers and dealers – the money people – who act as the pushers for the addicts – the gloriously self endowed “enthusiasts” that desecrate public lands. These are the people that are fueling the destruction of the natural and real recreational world.

The core group of off roaders are notorious machine and party idolizing young males best characterized as environmental deadbeats. Most are abysmally poorly informed about the destruction they and their machines impose on the landscape. The majority fancy themselves immune to responsibility, as are the manufacturers and dealers. The latter are the people who provide the money, they hook “the clubs”, who Minister Morton apparently wants to “work with”. These almost private deals take place outside the political and public process, in the backrooms, where the money men curry political favoritism. The fact is Morton, and this government, have no legal, moral, ethical or democratic authority to give off road “clubs” preferential treatment; Morton and Stelmachs moral, legal and scientific responsibility is to implement a high level of protection for all public land, native biological diversity, water, and the collective public interest. That is their one and only obligation.

There’s something offensive about the defense employed by off roaders when they take the position that “it must be OK because I do it”. Its analogous to a child locking itself in the closet to escape reality. It resembles a deck that’s short 51 cards. The reality is, it is NOT OK; off road vehicles on public land are never OK.

There is a carefully and monotonously cultivated misconception by off roader spokespersons that its only the bad guys that cause the conflicts, the disruption and the damage. Dead wrong. The fact is that there is no acceptable form of off road motorized use of public lands. It matters not whether its “the bad bunch” or those who consider themselves immune to criticism. Any off road vehicle on public land brings unacceptable impacts; No government can justify crimes that lead to land destruction and the destruction of

true, solitude based non motorized recreational experiences; no government has the moral or legal right to sacrifice public resources and the majority of public land users for mindless, obnoxious destructive activities fraudulently labeled as outdoor recreation.

I have sat high on the top of a hard gained ridge in Albertas foothills and been forced to endure the incessant whine, drone and buzz of off road vehicles obliterating the entire drainage, stealing from me solitude, any sense of time and place, the sound of wind and bird, the value and reward of something hard earned, destroying the very essence of what the outdoors means to the mind and spirit of humans. I have watched as adults and children, the latter on down-sized off road vehicles, ravaged the gravel bars, banks and fish habitat of a clear, gently flowing fresh river, engaged in the mindless churning up of fine particles and gouging the river floor; Could this be the deceptively touted family outing to teach children respect for of the outdoors and its wild inhabitants? As A wildlife scientist, I am alarmed by the indifference, the ignorance, and the arrogance of off roaders whose activities and mere presence alarm and often terrify deer, elk, bears and all other forms of wildlife, leading in some cases to death, to reduced reproduction, to injury and separation of young and adults, to extra energy costs, to flight and displacement from preferred habitat and to reduced energy intake and lower body weights, almost all of which are unseen to casual observers. Off roaders, of course, are not there to watch wildlife and they never see those animals that fled in advance of their appearance.

There’s also something offensive, and deeply disturbing, about government agents, whether they be conservation, forest or police officers, who treat off road crimes as though they were “folksy” offenses. There are too many cases in history where intimidation of the law, democracy, and the public breeds anarchy. Mob rule is a threat to any honest decent society hoping to achieve some level of democracy, and only full democracy will protect public processes and public assets like out Public land. Destroying the ecological integrity of streams and fish habitat, terrorizing wild animals, shredding vegetation, polluting the air, offending non motorized peaceful users of public land, mocking the public, intimidating law enforcement, and belittling scientifically and ecologically sound land conservation are not “folksy”. What they are is lawless and those who trivialize these activities, particularly those in the presumed role of authority, are betraying the public.

In a land that is unfortunately renowned for private control of resources, it is a paradox that virtually no private land owner will tolerate off roaders “enthusiasts” on his or her land. Its interesting that these people are not prepared to tolerate the destruction and abuse that off roaders bring; apparently they can see the emperor has no clothes. Are Ted Morton and this government willfully blind to the onslaught?

In the last twenty years the Alberta government and government agents in what is now deceptively labeled Sustainable Resource Management have abandoned the protection of public lands and the will and vision of the people of Alberta and sunk into an unholy alliance with motorized industrialization of public land. The engage in fraudulent attempts at reform, as in the shape of “workbooks” designed to contain and restrict public input, as is the case in the ongoing round of land use “plans”; dare not go to full legislated public hearings because democracy might break loose. No small wonder this government and the premiers public support are in the gutter, or should I say mud bog. It is long past time that Albertans seize control of our land and reclaim our democracy; A critical and significant step toward that end is to provide all public lands total protection from all forms of motorized destruction at all times, in perpetuity.

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Barrie Gilbert
16 years ago

I have worked on reports on the effects of ORVs for Montana and New York state and the impacts are patent.
Again it is the corporations representing the ORV “industry” with the collusion of federal agencies that support this unnatural scouge. If parents want to leave a legacy for their children ande grandchildren, take them hiking or canoeing with the idea of passing on the love and beauty of the wild land that we have left.
Right now I deal with racing boats (cigarette racers) that invade the St. Lawrence River and turn it into a strip for low-flying jet airplanes (noise ) in the form of 100 mph boats.

Ontyario could compete with Alberta as being “out-of joint” with the needs of the times.

Barrie Gilbert

16 years ago

Here in MN the land of 2 ATV makers they are out of control too. Our very own DNR Commissioner Mark Holsten pushed to allow ATV riders to literally ride anywhere in the forest trail or no trail.

Here’s how the MN DNR treats ongoing ATV erosion into a fish spawning stream during spawning season.

Derek Schaffer
16 years ago

That letter from Horesji had to be the most ignorant one sided piece of trash I have ever seen written.

16 years ago

Nothing like grouping all offroaders together. Look into it a bit there are clubs out there that are trying to maintain the sport and the environment. Not all of us are “machine and party idolizing young males best characterized as environmental deadbeats”. Do some homework

16 years ago

He did say the “core group” in his characterization. This stigma was created by off roaders themselves. It sucks being thrown into a big pile when you don’t agree with the group you are thrown into.

Happens all the time. Conservationists are dealt with this way every single day. Off road enthusiasts throw us all into the same pile and paint us with a wide brush as tree huggers and anti-everything.

If you want to fight for recognition as being different from the majority, you have no choice but to do what we do and keep getting the word out the best you can.

But there’s no denying that most off roaders could give a rats ass about what they run over. They say as much in their blogs and propaganda without apology.

The characterization Horejsi puts forth above is dead on in that regard, despite any small outlying groups who seek to be seen differently.

16 years ago

I hope he lives under the stars with no lodging and walks to work in his bare feet. to talk about distruction of land and not focus on the expantion of the growing cities and distruction to the land area his house is sitting on is absolutly hypocritacal. how much impact has that development had on the enviroment? his urban dwelling has had more impact on the wild life then any off roader has.I dont disagree there is some people who disreguard rules and regulations set up to allow the continued use of the areas, but there are numerous clubs helping to eliminate that through education for the general public.

16 years ago


You obviously haven’t read any of your own off road enthusiast propaganda. I bet you think that stuff is totally fair and unbiased.

16 years ago


I’d love to see the literature you are speaking of. By your logic it should first apologize for all the houses the club members own and address their own impact on urban sprawl before getting into the reason they started the club in the first place?

Why don’t you just take it a step further and recommend that everyone just kill themselves in order to protect the environment?

A 3rd grader could make a better argument than that.

16 years ago

Face it, everyone has a right to voice their own opinion and point fingers where they see fit. This issue has been going on for many years, and will continue to go on for many more. You don’t like it? GET INVOLVED! Whether your an environmentalist or an off road user…. those who win are those who buddy up with the right people and work hard to get the results…. Sometimes the squeeky wheel does get the grease, even if its just to shut it up….

16 years ago


I wished I had a rocket-launcher to deal with the ATVs and snow-mobiles
I encounter in the woods. These operators claim to want to enjoy a
natural experience but they are destroying mine and those of every hiker
and cross-country skier in ear-shot. How can these barbarians enjoy
nature if they can’t even hear it? What gives them the right to usurp my
The FDA screens out all harmful drugs before they are permitted release
onto the market. Why then aren’t these toys first screened for their
environmental impact before they are allowed to be unleashed on the
innocent bystander? We act as though there are only two parties involved
here. One the product manufacturer or retailer who wants to make a buck
selling these noise machines, and two the insensitive moron who wants to
operate them.
There is a third party. The person, the people, who want to experience
the forest and the meadows as they are meant to be experienced, in peace
and tranquillity. That’s why people leave the cities to go to them. If
you like motorized transport, stay in urban Canada, which every day
encroaches on precious wilderness. If you like the forest, walk,
snow-shoe, or ski. If you like the water, row, canoe or kayak. Leave
your ATVs, snow-mobiles, outboard motors and jet-skis behind. Only
police and rescue personnel, or those in the serious business of making
a living have any justification to use them.
If regulation and a shift in attitudes will not chase these rednecks out
of the woods, then maybe the imminent collapse of fossil fuel production

PS My friend Keith Hobson of Saskatoon had a more sober suggestion: short of banning them a surcharge should go on the sale of these machines and be put into an environmental recovery fund. But how would that recover my peace of mind and lost nature experience?

Tim Murray
Quathiaski Cove, B.C.
V0P 1N0

16 years ago

we should close all “wild” areas to any and all human contact. this would be the only way to protect the environment completely. then no one can use it and everybody should be happy right? extremes of both worlds are what make it into the articles and pages like this. we could have naturalist parks where they could flock too on the weekend to watch nature with the hundreds of others who like to do the same. it could be something like a library, very quiet and serene. and we can have off road parks where they can all flock too as well. and the rest of the land is off limits. and while we are at it. we should also have mandatory birthcontrol. sort of like a lottery. only the lucky ones to be drawn in the raffle can have kids. this would help with population control to limit the effects on the land. as well we should outlaw helmets of all kinds. may as well ban seatbelts too. both of those items contribute to over population.

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