Offroading adds another exciting reason for enjoying the great outdoors. ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) and UTVs (utility vehicles) can take riders farther into the wilderness than any 4x4 truck. With that benefit comes a responsibility to respect the land and water that is centric to the offroading environment.
That all begins with keeping conservation top of mind when offroading. ATV and UTV enthusiasts are sometimes misidentified as enemies of conservation. ATVs are blamed for damaging backcountry areas and destroying fragile wildlife habitats as they blaze a trail through the wilderness.
Fortunately, that blame is more myth than truth. Do your part to keep it that way by following these best conservation practices when offroading with your ATV or UTV.
Public lands are especially vulnerable to undesirable environmental impacts due to the high numbers of riders that operate in concentrated areas. On designated OHV (off highway vehicle) areas, stay on designated roads and trails. Doing so goes beyond following eco-friendly habits. Regular traffic keeps marked trails firmer than the surrounding soft ground where they are not allowed. You get a safer ride while doing your part to set a good example for other riders.
Landowners have the freedom to ride wherever they like. That can be good and bad. If you are a landowner, consider designating your own OHV routes. It will minimize impacts while keeping your property the way you want it, which should be pristine and beautiful.
All it takes is one person to leave a marked trail, and pretty soon, others will follow, thinking it is open to public use. The perpetrator essentially made an illegal trail, and shutting it down can be difficult to do and control. Before you know it, that one trailblazer ruined the experience for everyone else.
Pack out what you bring in. Better yet, reduce trash by only packing the food and drink that you need for the trip. In the pristine wilderness, all it takes to leave a bad impression for everyone else is allowing that food wrapper to blow out of the vehicle.
A campfire is a big part of the wilderness experience. Check for burn laws that might be in effect where you plan to go offroading on public lands. Laws might be in place for seasonal burn bans, burn permits and even designated fire pits. All are meant to prevent wildfires and for the sake of public safety.
According to research conducted by the Missouri Department of Conservation, ATV activity significantly increases turbidity (haziness of water caused by suspended particles) in streams. That causes more harm than you might imagine. An ATV racing through a streambed leaves behind a muddy trail of sediment that eventually settles downstream. Plants eaten by aquatic animals are covered in silt, and so is spawning habitat for fish. During high-water levels, soil is held in place by shoreline vegetation. Drive over it enough and the vegetation disappears, and so does the bank. Serious bank erosion is likely, which is actually worse than driving through the stream. The takeaway is—find a bridge to cross or look for a route around the water. If you are going fishing, park the ATV and walk to the water.
Conservation of the land can begin before you even use it. Joining an off-roading organization whose mission includes promoting outdoor stewardship shows you are committed to being eco-friendly. Tread Lightly! is one such organization, whose members and partners include fishing, hunting and off-roading enthusiasts. Volunteer opportunities and outreach programs invite hands-on participation in conservation activities. Another reputable organization is the National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC)—a national body of OHV recreation enthusiasts whose mission is to develop and implement programs that have positive impacts. Local clubs partner with land managers to promote a positive image of offroading, while participating in hands-on activities like trail building, maintenance and cleanups of undesirable areas.
When given permission by a landowner to go offroading on private lands, practice even more respect for the environment. Even though you are free to roam, avoid crossing wildflower meadows or cultivated fields (even if no crops are present) and avoid disturbing any environmentally sensitive plants and animals. You might be welcomed back if you do.