• In 2003, Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth declared that “unmanaged recreation” was one of the top four threats to the integrity of the national forests.

• Between 1980 and 1985 the official Forest Service road system grew from approximately 225,000 miles of roads to 350,000 miles of roads. More than a 50 percent increase in less than 5 years. By the end of the 1980s, the Forest Service boasted more than 350,000 miles of official roads, making it the largest road building entity in the world.

• By the ATV industry’s own reckoning, its devotees on average are slightly younger (42.1 years old) than the U.S. adult population (43.8 years old); have a gender balance more representative of a college fraternity than the U.S. population (96 percent of ATVers are male versus just 48 percent in the U.S. population); and have attended college at a rate of 51 percent compared to a national level of 41 percent.

• According to a survey by the 210,000-member American Motorcyclist Association of its “off-highway demographics,” which split roughly half-and-half between off-road motorcyclists and ATVers, the typical off-roader was 39 years-old, earned more than $55,000 per year, and men outnumbered women by more than nine to one.

• A 1998-1999 study of ORV licensees in Michigan found that the vast majority were male (94 percent), median household income landed predominantly in the $40,000-$60,000 range, and nearly one-fourth owned a second home.

• A recent survey of Personal Watercraft (PWC) owners found the average age was 41 years and have an average household income of $95,400. In addition, 71 percent are married, 40 percent are college graduates, and 85 percent are male.

• An average two-hour "thrill" ride on a PWC can dump between 3 and 4 gallons of gas and oil into the water. The California Air Resources Board also reported that a day’s ride on a 100 horsepower jet ski emits the same amount of smog-forming air pollution as driving 100,000 miles in a modern passenger car.

• PWC produce noise levels in the range of 85-102 decibels (dB) per unit — levels at which the American Hospital Association recommends hearing protection (above 85 dB).

• The average suggested retail price of a new snowmobile sold in 2004 was $6,550. According to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, the average age of a snowmobile owner is 41 years old with an average annual income of $70,000.

• The snarl of a snowmobile can be heard for up to 3 miles either side of a trail, meaning that noise pollution may affect a six mile wide corridor.

• The Snow Hawk rests on a single ski in front and is propelled by a modified snowmobile tread. Current models are powered by a 500cc engine and weigh approximately 350 pounds. Average retail cost is $8,700.

• One summer-long study on Assateague Island, Virginia found an average of 10 ghost crabs on wild beach plots, only one crab on plots with "light off-road vehicle use" and only 0.3 crabs per plot with "heavy off-road vehicle use." Importantly, this research concluded that "pedestrians appear to have no harmful effects on ghost crabs." (Leatherman, Barrier Island Handbook, 1988)

• In Big Cypress, these machines have created about 23,000 miles of unauthorized routes which bi-sect virtually every portion of the Preserve, which is about the size of the State of Rhode Island. These routes have chopped up the habitat of the critically endangered Florida panther, which, like many other large predators, survives best in an environment relatively free from roads and human activity.

• Jet ski also pose a significant threat to public safety. According to the National Association of Marine Manufacturers, jet skis account for approximately 9% of all registered boats in the U.S. However, based on data compiled by the U.S. Coast Guard for 2000, jet skis are disproportionately involved in more than 30% of all boating accidents and nearly 40% of all boating injuries.

• According to the Personal Watercraft Industry Association, the average retail price of jet skis sold in 2002 was $8,798.

• Jet skis with more powerful engines can travel faster than 60 miles per hour in their stock configuration. (Personal Watercraft Safety, National Transportation Safety Board, 1998)

• According to CPSC, 4,541 people were killed in ATV-related accidents between 1982 and the end of 2001. From 1993 to 2000, annual ATV-related deaths increased 159 percent from 211 to at least 547.

• CPSC data also tell a chilling story about children killed by ATVs. Through the year 2001, 1,714 children under age 16 - or 38% of the total number of fatalities - have been killed by ATVs. Of these, 799 were children under age 12.

• ATVs pose a safety risk to riders and the public at large. Between 1993 and 2001, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that the number of injuries caused by ATV accidents more than doubled -- from 49,800 to 111,700. This increase occurred during a period in which the industry increasingly touted it education and safety campaigns. (Annual Report of All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV)-Related Deaths and Accidents, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. (CPSC, 2002)

• Dirt bikes and ATVs spread noxious and invasive weeds which crowd out native plants, alter natural habitat and adversely impact farmers and ranchers. Based on research by the Montana State University Extension Service, a single dirt bike or ATV can spread 2,000 seeds over a 10-mile radius. (Montana State University Extension Service, 1992)

• In another region of California researchers estimate that dirt bikes and ATVs produced as much as 72,000 metric tons of sediment in a single winter season. (Griggs and Walsh, The Impacts, Control, and Mitigation of Off-road Vehicle Activity in Hungry Valley, 1981)

• According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), two-stroke engines discharge between 25 and 30% of their oil-gas mixture directly into the environment.

• A study of one long-time ORV area documented erosion rates 46 times the “tolerance level” suggested by the Soil Conservation Service Cars outnumber snowmobiles in Yellowstone National Park by 16 to 1. However, in just three months each winter, snowmobiles generate up to 68% of the Park's carbon monoxide pollution and as much as 90% of total hydrocarbon emissions.

• Many ORVs use two-stroke engines, which dump 25% of their fuel directly into the environment.

• ORV use destroys vegetation and degrades wildlife habitat. Losses of shrub biomass of 70% or more have been documented in heavily used desert areas, while even lesser vegetation losses destroy plants needed to feed and shelter wildlife.

• ORV users have also created tens of thousands of illegal roads and “trails” on public lands; one study estimated over 60,000 miles of “unplanned or illegal roads” on national forests alone, many created by ORV users.

• According to a recent survey performed for a coalition of ORV advocacy groups, over two-thirds of Colorado’s adult ORV users ride off-trail at least occasionally, while from 15-20% frequently ride off-trail illegally.

• ORV users are a small minority of total public lands recreationists. In Washington state, for example, “hikers outnumber motorized trail users by almost 32 to 1.”

• A survey of California desert recreationists “indicated that sightseeing, camping, picnicking, fishing, photography, and hiking were the most popular recreational activities, ranging from one-third to two-thirds of the responses.” Motorcycle riding ranked 13th and other ORV uses ranked “close to the bottom of the list” of recreational choices.

• ATV use on public lands, for instance, has increased 7-fold during the past 20 years. (USDA Forest Service 2004)

• The linear distance that that a motorized vehicle can travel in an average days outing is much longer because of the speed of modern machines. Recent research on snowmobile day trips in Utah showed that the average distance traveled was 55 miles.

• In studies of elk response to ATVs there were higher probabilities of flight out to distances of 1,650 yards compared to 820 yards for horseback riders (Wisdom et al. (in press).

• More than 4 million miles of roads criss-crosses the continental United States eclipsing by 1 million miles the total length of the nation’s streams (Riiters and Wickham 2003) and representing two percent of the entire surface area of the nation (Forman 2001). This extensive road system has made it possible to drive within a mile of more than 80% of all lands within the lower United States with only 3% of the nation more than 3 miles from the nearest road (Riiters and Wickham 2003).

• The ecological effects of roads are pervasive and include increased erosion, air and water pollution, spread of invasive exotics, road mortality and avoidance by wildlife, and habitat fragmentation (see Conservation Biology 2000). Such effects extend out to a ¼ of a mile on either side of a road. Thus, the network of roads across the United States has a cumulative ecological impact amounting to up to 22% of the surface area of the nation. (Forman 2001)

• Employment growth in non-metropolitan counties with more than 10% roadless areas was 1.4 times faster than employment growth in non-metropolitan counties without roadless areas.

• Of nine Oregon counties analyzed, income growth rates in seven increased after wilderness designation.

• Our nation has protected just 5% of its forests in national parks, wilderness, and national monuments. (DellaSala et al. 1999)

Published . . . . .
Foundation for Deep Ecology
Visit Website

Distributed . . . . .
Chelsea Green, Nov. 2007
Buy the Book

Edited by . . . . .
George Wuerthner

Read more


George Wuerthner
Foundation for Deep Ecology
Building 1062, Fort Cronkhite
Sausalito, California 94965
Send e-mail

Copyright 2008 - Thrillcraft :: The Environmental Consequences of Motorized Recreation

Home Page I Definition of Thrillcraft I Kind of Thrillcraft I Our Public Lands I The Thrillcraft Threat I Thrillcraft Culture
Who’s the Elitist? I Myths I Health & Safety Concerns I Our Vision I How to Get There I Statistics I Map I Links