Harm of Human Footprint

Off The Road Vehicles

We all enjoy the ride through the forest on our ATVs. I know as I have a couple. But do the “people” resident in the habitat also enjoy our intrusion? This section is not to argue for any kind of prohibition on ORVs. It is instead to look at the ecosystem costs of ORVs. When we understand that, perhaps we can take action to mitigate their impact and all human impact on the environment. Wherever humans put a foot down, the environment is changed, even so slightly.

Please see the materials following this introduction. Then please consider the final section on a sister issue: Nature as gym/speedway/bar.

On the Impact of ORVs

The construction, presence, and use of wildland roads are some of the leading causes of biodiversity loss across the globe. From Dr. Trombulak and Dr. Frissell in the journal Conservation Biology:

“Roads alter animal behavior by causing changes in home ranges, movement, reproductive success, escape response, and physiological state. Roads change soil density, temperature, soil water content, light levels, dust, surface waters, patterns of runoff, and sedimentation, as well as adding heavy metals (especially lead), salts, organic molecules, ozone, and nutrients to roadside environments. Roads promote the dispersal of exotic species by altering habitats, stressing native species, and providing movement corridors.”

“Not all species and ecosystems are equally affected by roads, but overall the presence of roads is highly correlated with changes in species composition, population sizes, and hydrologic and geomorphic processes that shape aquatic and riparian systems.”

The effect of wildland roads can be felt up to 1 km for birds, and 5 km for mammals.

And of ORVs themselves, the guide “Best Management Practices for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Forestlands” from the Wild Utah Project notes:

“Probably the most widespread impact of ORVs is disturbance to wildlife… Repeated harassment of wildlife can result in increased energy expenditure and reduced reproduction. Noise and disturbance from ORVs can result in a range of impacts including increased stress, loss of hearing, altered movement patterns, avoidance of high-use areas or routes, and disrupted nesting activities.”

“Disruption of breeding and nesting birds is a particularly well documented problem. Several species are sensitive to human disturbance with the potential disruption of courtship activities, over-exposure of eggs or young birds to weather, and premature fledging of juveniles. Repeated disturbance can eventually lead to nest abandonment. These short-term disturbances can lead to long-term bird community changes.

For further reading on the disturbance, see sources below.


1) Review of Ecological Effects of Roads on Terrestrial and Aquatic Communities, Conservation Biology
2) The Impacts of Roads and Other Infrastructure on Mammal and Bird Populations: A Meta-Analysis, Biological Conservation
3) Off-Road Vehicle Impacts on Wildlife, Wild Earth Guardians
4) Best Management Practices for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Forestlands, Wild Utah Project

Nature as Gym/Speedway/Bar

There is an attitude toward nature which as its base is anti-nature.

Many years ago our family were canoeing on the Moose River in Quebec. We had enjoyed seeing our first Sandhill Crane on one of the islands in the river. At one point we had pull out for lunch and to dry off. When all of a sudden there was a loud whoop and a great lot of canoes came rushing by. It was the Washington canoe club trying to get from the put in to pull out in record time.

Then there is the rock climbing group that demands the right to climb the Devil’s Tower, one of the sacred mountains of the American Indians and so to interfere with the prayer activity by the Indians on their land. Please see www.sacredland.org and blog.sacredland.org for films on how the sacred lands of indigenous peoples are being constantly violated.

Several years ago we were canoeing in a Canadian Province in the northwest area. I hesitate to name the exact place as I do not want to encourage what we saw happening. We had canoe this river before, enjoying all sorts of wildlife and birds. We had a couple of Black Bears playing just outside of one of our camps. This time when we returned to the same river we were greeted by a loud shouting and hooting group of Germans, loading their canoes with crates of beer as they pushed out.

Then there is the recent news of a man who had made the hike of the whole Appalachian Trail in record time.

There are also what I call bird golfers, whose goal is to make record counts of different species of birds and who care less about the environment that they see the birds in and their wellbeing.

The environment is not a stage on which to display what how important we are, or how much we can drink, or what great physical shape we are in. Nature is not impressed.

To enjoy nature you have to quietly become aware of the rhythms of the environment and almost become part of them, before nature accepts you.

— G.N.A., Founder