POCATELLO — George Wuerthner, representing a California environmental advocacy group, told those at a presentation Monday evening that he hopes a book about motorized vehicle use on public lands will “get people outraged” over what he says is a growing concern.
At least one local person who represents those who use off-road vehicles, and was in attendance on Monday, said Wuerthner’s position that there is “no right way to do the wrong thing,” has the capacity of creating a rift between groups who are currently working together to resolve the issues.
Wuerthner, ecological projects director for the Foundation for Deep Ecology in Sausilito, Calif., spoke to about 60 people in the auditorium at Idaho State University’s College of Education.
He is also the editor of the book “Thrillcraft: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation,” which was compiled by the Foundation for Deep Ecology and explores the affects of off-road vehicles on the environment.
“We coined this term ‘Thrillcraft,’” Wuerthner said. “Basically, thrillcraft is anything you can call motorized primarily for recreation.”
During his roughly 40-minute presentation, Wuerthner told of some of the damages done by off-road vehicles, including habitat fragmentation, displacement of wildlife, soil erosion and the tearing up of pristine wilderness areas through the creation of trails made by usage outside of pre-existing trails.
“When we do this to the landscape, it’s very hard to correct it,” he said toward the end of his presentation.
He then compared the use of public lands to the use of public libraries.
“Everyone has a right to use the public library, but we still have certain expectations. If you go in there and start marking up the books and tearing out the pages, that’s unacceptable behavior,” Wuerthner said. “The same thing should apply to our public lands. Everyone has the right to access our public lands, but no one has the right to vandalize them or degrade the experience of others.”
Sitting in the audience was Brian Hawthorne, public lands policy director for the Blue Ribbon Coalition, a group that advocates for the responsible use of public lands by off-road vehicles.
Hawthorne said he had concerns about Wuerthner’s presentation.
“I am very concerned about this relatively new idea that there is no right way to do the wrong thing, that off-road users are not responsible users,” Hawthorne said. “You can’t read his stuff and not come to the conclusion that he is of the opinion that (off-road vehicles) don’t belong.”
Hawthorne said a lot of work has been done in Idaho in recent years to help alleviate concerns over off-road vehicles usage of public lands and much of that work would not be possible if all sides were unwilling to hear the others.
He said an attitude on one part that says the other simply can’t do the right thing is going to create far more than a rift between sides.
“It’s worse than just a division, it’s going to create intolerance,” Hawthorne said. “His goal is to promote this view. I was disappointed that he didn’t admit that he doesn’t think that vehicles are appropriate on public lands.”
In fact, Wuerthner did stop short of saying off-road vehicles should be banned from public lands. But he did say their usage should be stopped until it can be better monitored and a certain level of compliance can be fostered.
“It’s very difficult to use these machines in a lot of cases without having a significant impact,” Wuerthner said.
The presentations on the environmental impact of off-road vehicles on public lands will continue today with a panel discussion scheduled for 9 a.m. at the Holiday Inn, located at 1399 Bench Road in Pocatello.
Hawthorne will be among those on the panel, which will include representatives from the City of Pocatello, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service among others.