It’s time to license ATVs

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I was hunting chukars east of Juntura, Oregon, when I heard the unmistakable growl of an all-terrain vehicle. I expected to see the machine become visible on a nearby fire trail. Unfortunately, not one, but two ATVs emerged from a draw not far from me and headed off across an open hillside. Not only were they traversing off road, but they weren’t even bothering to stay in each other’s tracks; they were making two separate trails as they went.

We were on Bureau of Land Management land, where there are already plenty of established trails, yet they blazed new ones.

I motioned to my son and we wandered over to riders.

After the obligatory round of introduction and pleasantries, we learned they were waiting for friends who were hunting elk nearby. Presumably, those men would be so tired they couldn’t walk another half-mile downhill.

I asked for their names and addresses.

“Why do you need them?” they asked.

“So I can report you for illegal usage of a motor vehicle,” I said.

They said they didn’t know they’d done anything illegal.

“No problem,” I said. “I’m sure the cop will take your ignorance into consideration. Now, what are your names?”

Unsurprisingly, they opted not to provide me with the information I requested.

“You are doing something today that you know is illegal, that you are ashamed to have your names attached to,” I said. “Congratulations. Your children would be proud.”

My experience is anything but unusual. Confrontations like this one are becoming more common, occasionally dangerous and mostly unproductive because people like me don’t authority, nor do we have a way of identifying the culprits. Here in Oregon we don’t even have a requirement for titles and registration of ATVs, which would be necessary precursors for what we really need, which are ATV license plates.

I have neither the space nor the inclination to beat around the bush, so let’s just cut to it. A small but significant number of ATV riders make a habit of ignoring laws, closed roads, gates and any other impediments to public lands. In so doing they ruin vegetation, harass wildlife, cause extensive erosion and ruin the experience of law abiding users. Some of these riders are hunters, but the only label that matters is criminal.

We need to be able to identify these people when we see them and turn them into the authorities for ticketing and prosecution, without potentially perilous personal confrontations. The best way to do so is to require ATVs to display easy-to-read license plates. That way, witnesses could write down or photograph the identification and turn the information into the authorities. Obviously, ATVs used only on private lands could be exempt.

It would seem that any reasonable person could see the wisdom in a license plate system but Oregon House Bill 2725, put forth by Rep. Peter Buckley of Ashland came to an early end last spring in the face of organized resistance from ATV riders and sellers. A few years ago, Utah legislators actually rescinded an existing law requiring ATV license plates in the face of pressure from the ATV lobby.

The bottom line is this: Illegal ATV use is an assault on public lands and on the wildlife within them. It is rampant and increasing. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Education is not working. Self-regulation is not working. We need to impose accountability in order to protect our natural resources and the experience of the law abiding public. Titles, registration and license plates, are the tools we have to do the job. Let’s use them. ♦

— Circle of Chiefs articles are written by those who have received the Circle of Chiefs Award for conservation reporting and coverage. The Circle of Chiefs are considered OWAA’s conservation council and policy spokesmen. The article reflects the opinion of the author. If you’d like to add to the discussion, please send a letter to the editor.
— Recipient of the 2015 Jade of Chiefs award, Pat Wray is a freelance writer and book author residing in Corvallis, Oregon, with his long suffering wife and two hunting dogs. The dogs don’t suffer. His most recent book is “Corvallis Reflections.”

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