By George Wuerthner
I recently went out for a meal in a crowded local brew-pub restaurant. As I sat there enjoying my draft, I realized that there was no swirl of smoke wafting through the room. The smoke-free public space was created by a city-wide smoking ban enacted by the city counsel a number of years ago. At the time the ban was proposed, smokers clamored about how their “rights” were being violated, while restaurants and bar owners asserted that any ban would deal a death blow to their businesses. Now, four years later, it is difficult to understand what all the hoopla was about. No bars or restaurants went out of business Indeed, local businesses ultimately reported an upsurge in customers as many people, such as myself, suddenly found it pleasurable to go out for a meal without having to come home smelling like a cigarette. And though smokers can claim their rights were violated, no one suggested that they could not smoke outside of the restaurant or in the privacy of their own homes. The city council acted on behalf of the rights of all other citizens when it determined that smoking impacted the quality of life and health of all citizens—thus was appropriate to ban from public places.
A similar movement to ban thrillcraft on all public lands and waters is just as legitimate and reasonable a goal. Thrillcraft owners should exercise their rights on their own or other private land. And like the national campaign to end smoking, we believe there are equally legitimate reasons why state and federal governments should work to end thrillcraft use on American public lands.
We hope that we have made a convincing case in this book that motorized thrillcraft poses a growing and unacceptable threat to America’s public spaces. Our heritage. Our patrimony. There is no reason why we should tolerate or condone behavior that threatens or degrades our common inheritance. Indeed, each person has a patriotic duty and obligation to oppose thrillcraft’s hegemony and control of our American soil and water. A ban on thrillcraft on all public lands and waterways is both reasonable and, possible.
Thrillcraft pollute the water and air. They trample plants. They tear up the soil. They terrorize wildlife. The motorized assault results in a cacophony that shatters the quiet that people seek in natural areas creating conflict with many other non-thrillcraft members of the public such as hikers, picnickers, and those seeking solace. Thrillcraft users, more than other members of society, have an attitude that defies authority and regulation. They squander fossil fuels. fulfill excessive and unnecessary thrill-seeking experiences With 65% of Americans over 20 estimated to be overweight, use of thrillcraft, and the lack of exercise that goes with it, can even be said to promotes the growing obesity problem in the country that burdens our health care systems The government, rather than assisting and aiding such behavior by not enforcing or creating rules or regulations, should aggressively fight the use of thrillcraft as a public health menace just as it supports anti-smoking campaigns. How many more reasons do we need to mount a national campaign to end the thrillcraft plague?
Some may advocate for something less than a total ban. They may support reform or control thrillcraft use and abuses to minimize conflicts. But that is like saying one wants to reform slavery to make it more humane. You don’t act with humanity towards another by enslaving him or her, and you can not reform or regulate the thrillcraft assault because the activity itself is based upon inherently destructive behavior that often exhibits no respect for other people as well as the natural world. It also demonstrates a disrespect for some of America’s most cherished landscapes—our public lands. Thrillcraft users are demonstrating -destructive behavior just as someone who smokes in a public place is imposing their damaging habits upon everyone else.
One can’t use thrillcraft without damaging the Earth, and natural values. Engaging in an activity for fun that severely degrades the landscape, air, and water for personal enjoyment shows not only great disrespect for other fellow members of society, but great disrespect for the Earth.
As has been demonstrated over and over again across the country, any effort to restrict thrillcraft to designated trails or exclude them from specific areas often fails. And with less and less funding for public lands management, the likelihood that adequate enforcement of any restrictions is improbable.
The iconology associated with thrillcraft advertisements says it all. Thrillcraft use is about thwarting or at least thumbing your nose at the law and social convention, and celebrates rowdy boorish behavior. The ads talk about conquering or mastering nature, and sanction unrestrained consumerism—the bigger, the better; the louder, the better; the more expensive, the better. Some even promote trashing the land, and the belligerent imposition of noise and speed upon others. None of these are selfish attributes that any society can sustain, support, or tolerate if it wishes to remain viable in the long run.
Thrillcraft tendency to race roughshod over the land and water is also seen as a sacrilege to those seeking a spiritual connection to nature. A reverence for the natural world is both desirable and necessary for a healthy society. Just as nearly every one would readily agree that driving an ORV into a church, mosque or temple would be an irreverent act, for those who seek communion with nature, the use of thrillcraft in forests, meadows, and lakes is also a blasphemous deed. We would certainly be outraged if thrillcraft users suddenly decided to do wheelies in the Lincoln Memorial or knock over headstones in Arlington National Cemetery. For violating such sacred space, we would haul off to jail anyone who tried to do this, and rightly so. Should we not treat the rest of our public lands with similar respect and reverence? We believe our public spaces are America’s best and most valued landscapes, and they deserve to be treated with similar respect and honored as other hallowed lands. Thrillcraft defiles these sanctified landscapes.
Ironically, many thrillcraft owners often claim that using a machine provides many of the same positive experiences that hikers or bird watchers might suggest are reasons they engage in their respective activities. Thrillcraft owners say group adventures like a snowmobile club outing cement social bonds. Thrillcraft provides a sense of freedom and control that they may not experience in other aspects of their lives. And some claim their machines help them to access natural places where they can appreciate nature and obtain a spiritual connection to the natural world. These are, in themselves, attributes that I would agree are positive and desirable. However, one can still object to the means of obtaining these outcomes even if one agrees that the ends have merit. A slave owner from the antebellum South might have argued that owning slaves and caring for them taught his children responsibility; nevertheless, today we would argue that there are superior ways to teach children responsibility.
It is the belief of deep ecologists that humans do not occupy a central and superior place in the animal kingdom, and we have an obligation and responsibility to live our lives in a manner that creates the least direct impact upon other life forms. Granted, most of us will likely never live up to such a goal, however, it is the striving and effort to live in a better way that is important. Just as our society has yet to eradicate racism and prejudice, it still remains a socially agreed upon aspiration as well as the law of the land. The wide-spread use of thrillcraft does not help society to reduce its impacts upon others—whether in the natural world or among other citizens.
The use of thrillcraft is ultimately about civil responsibility that goes along with civil rights. We live in a society that seeks to promote and preserve freedom, tranquility and justice for all citizens. And every citizen has a responsibility to live their life in a manner that helps to further those lofty objectives. The tearing up of public property for pleasure, imposing loud, raucous noise and dangerous, smelly flumes upon other citizens, terrorizing of wildlife and other people, and the needless and excessive consumption of valuable and increasingly scarce natural resources is anti-social and demonstrates a failure to live in a responsible manner.
At this very moment, our national icons are under assault. Snowmobiles invade the quiet solitude of winter in Yellowstone. ORVs are ripping up trails in the wild forests of the Northern Rockies. Jet skis are destroying the quiet of numerous lakes and ponds from Florida to Oregon. Dirt bikes are tearing up the fragile deserts of California and Arizona. ATVs and track vehicles are trampling tundra and terrorizing wildlife in Alaska’s national parks. Swamp buggies are gouging out huge rutted trails in the wetlands of Florida’s Big Cypress Preserve. The list of national lands that are under assault is endless. This needless tragedy need not be permitted. Americans can join together to fight the motorized vandals who degrade our national treasures.
Already some successful bans have been implemented. The White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire recently banned all ORVs on the entire forest. Likewise, the Hoosier National Forest in Indiana has banned all ORVs. The state of New York has banned ORVs from the public lands within the 6 million acre Adirondack State Park. New Jersey recently instituted a ban on ORVs on state lands. Bans on ORVs apply to some BLM and National Park units. For instance, the recently established Ironwood Forest National Monument in Arizona has a ban on ORV travel. Recently, rule making closed a number of national park sites to jet skis including waters in Glacier National Park, Biscayne National Park, North Cascades National Park, and Isle Royal National Park among others.
Unfortunately, however, there is no consistent national policy. Sometimes, even within the same federal unit, different rules regarding thrillcraft apply to different parts of the area. For instance, Denali National Park prohibits snowmobiles on roughly a third of its 6 million acres, while allowing them to run willy-nilly on the other two thirds. Why one part of the area deserves to be protected from snowmobiles while the rest—equally as valuable and nationally significant—is open to snowmobiles is impossible to understand. If a ban is suitable and justifiable for part of the park, then shouldn’t a ban be suitable for the entire park? Due to the lack of a unifying vision for public lands and thrillcraft use we believe the conflicts between thrillcraft and all other public lands users will only increase. Thus we come to the deliberate conclusion that the only patriotic thing to do is to just say no to all thrillcraft on all public lands.