Some save fish. Others fish for controversy.
Off-road motorcyclists pay an annual fee of $25.25 per bike to pay for trail enhancement and rehabilitation. Last year, they paid $4.1 million for trail enhancements.
In the past few years, off-road cyclists paid for construction of seven bridges over the Bear Creek system west of Colorado Springs. The bridges keep cyclists, hikers and others from making contact with the water, reducing their effects on wildlife and habitat. Cyclists use the trails, value the trails and pay to maintain them. Just as hunters maintain healthy wildlife populations and ecosystems, off-road vehicle owners generally help the wilderness. Off-road users joined members of Trout Unlimited in October to clean up trash, restore stream banks, plant native vegetation and install signs that encourage people to respect the environment.
Here’s how environmental activists thank them. They shut them out, in the name of saving fish.
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Forest Service last spring, asking the agency to ban motorized cycling on five Bear Creek trails. With the Forest Service eager to settle, a temporary ban took effect last week.
Closure will affect more than a fringe segment of society. Motorized recreation is huge in Colorado. Based on figures from a study by the Louis Berger Group, for the Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, members of nearly 200,000 Colorado households participate annually in off-road vehicle recreation.
About 30,000 tourists visit Colorado each year for off-road vehicle activities. During 2007-08, when Berger Group conducted its research, off-road recreation in Colorado generated $784 million in sales, more than 10,000 direct jobs and $294 million in labor income. By most accounts, it’s a billion-dollar-a-year industry for Colorado that helps our economy and improves the wilderness.
Relatively new research indicates that a four-mile stretch of Bear Creek is home to the only genetically pure population of greenback cutthroat trout, a non-native species that was introduced to the area by settlers in the 1880s.
Long before anyone knew this, for more than 100 years, the fish survived recreational activity. It is only in recent years that off-road users created improvements that protect fish and riparian areas from an array of activities, including hiking, nonmotorized mountain biking and horse riding.
If anything, and largely because of money paid by off-road vehicle users, the fish may be safer than ever.
Many environmentalists worry about small creatures for all the right reasons. In doing so, they bring out the best in humanity. They show that humans, at the top of the food chain, have compassion for smaller and weaker forms of life. It wasn’t activists and lawsuits that saved the wood duck from extinction. Combined efforts of farmers, hunters, Boy Scouts and other wilderness users saved the ducks by repairing and maintaining habitat while installing artificial nesting sites.
We don’t need another hyped wildlife crisis — think Preble’s jumping mouse — so that one element of society may exert control over another. Motorcycles are driven on land. Given the new bridges, they rarely make contact with water in Bear Creek. Barring some conclusive evidence that says motorcycles harm fish, a ban of off-road vehicles along Bear Creek goes too far.