Friday was a big day in HCPC’s continuing effort to limit the effects of ATVs on the region’s landscape and wildlife: we filed our primary pleading in our lawsuit to stop the Sled Springs OHV Project. That project would turn 38,000 acres of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest north of Enterprise into a destination ATV trail area. It was a bad idea from the get-go, but for reasons that I fail to comprehend, the Wallowa-Whitman seems intent on pursuing the project even though it will cause irreparable harm to the area and the wildlife that live there – particularly elk – all for the benefit of a relatively small group of ATV riders.
In reviewing our pleading earlier today, it made me think about the current controversy surrounding the return of wolves. Many hunting groups are claiming that wolves are decimating elk populations, and therefore the wolf populations should be reduced. What’s the connection between this issue and the Sled Springs OHV Project? Why, ATVs of course.
In preparing our challenge of the Sled Springs OHV Project, we have reviewed a significant number of science reports showing the connections between increased ATV use and reduced elk populations. For example, Phillips and Alldredge (2000) and Shively et al. (2005) found a clear connection between human disturbance and reduced elk calf recruitment. And, Naylor et al. (2009) found that ATVs cause the greatest response in elk – or in other words, ATVs were the most detrimental form of human disturbance.
With the incredible increase we’ve seen in ATV use over the last decade, there can be no doubt that increased pressure from motorized vehicles is negatively affecting elk populations. In the Sled Springs area, there are two notable trends documented by the Forest Service and ODFW: elk calf recruitment is dangerously low, and elk are spending less and less time on the National Forest and more time on nearby private ranches. These two trends have been underway for some time, yet curiously enough, wolves have only just returned to the area (and so far, none have been known to frequent the Sled Springs area).
My question is this: what exactly are hunting groups doing to limit the impacts of ATVs and other motorized vehicles on elk herds? With the exception of a few groups like the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, the answer is that they’re doing absolutely nothing. Where’s the outcry? Where are the attempts to ban ATVs from elk habitat? Where is the funding from Jeff Foxworthy and Karl Malone and other big-time supporters of anti-wolf efforts to start a “keep ATVs out of elk habitat” campaign?
The hypocrisy here is amazing. On the one hand, we have wolves MAYBE impacting a few select elk herds across the west although there is little to no evidence of direct cause and effect – yet there’s a HUGE outcry against wolves. On the other hand, it is PROVEN that ATVs and other motorized vehicle use are having a negative effect on elk, yet the response is SILENCE. If hunting groups want to be taken seriously on their targeting of wolves, they best step up and start dealing with the more serious impact to elk: ATV use in elk habitat. Until then, it’s hard to take their complaints about the big bad wolf seriously.
Photo: ATV damage in the Spring Creek area of the Wallowa-Whitman, another key elk area.
Greg Dyson, Executive Director