Sportsmen’s group tackles off-road vehicle debate head-on

You might expect a new organization entering the sometimes rancorous debate about the use of motorized vehicles on the nation’s public lands to do so quietly. But that hasn’t been the case with Sportsmen Ride Right.

Instead, SRR has jumped to the forefront of discussions involving just where and how off-road vehicles should be used on U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land. And it has done so by taking a less-traveled path between the well-worn but separate routes of those who think motorized users should have nearly unlimited access to the nation’s public lands and those who would rather see OHVs banned altogether.

“There are a lot of people using motorized vehicles today, and they do so for a lot of reasons,” said SRR director Tom Reed, an avid hunter and angler from Pony, Mont. “But the majority of the users are like those of us who have come together to form SRR – people who ride or drive our machines into backcountry areas to hunt and fish.”

Realizing that recreational riders usually were not the “bad apples” giving motorized users a bad name by blazing new routes and riding off-trail to retrieve game was the first step in forming the idea that became SRR.

“The recreational riders – those folks who have a real passion to ride – are usually the ones who join clubs, go out and do projects to maintain trails,” Reed said. “They tend to follow the rules. We had to admit that a big part of the problem was sportsmen.”

Since its inception in the summer of 2010, SRR has worked to educate and represent motorized sportsmen and women – hunters and anglers who use all varieties of machines, from small four-wheelers to full-size SUVs – to access their favorite places to hunt and fish.

“For sportsmen, motorized access has always been a means to an end, and that has led many of us to be land abusers instead of land stewards” said Greg McReynolds, an SRR member from Twin Falls, Idaho. “So, like hunters and anglers have always done, we are taking charge of our own. Sportsmen helped come up with ideas like catch-and-release fishing, poaching hotlines and wildlife stamps to fund habitat improvements. Now we want to make sure we leave a legacy of reasonable motorized access to quality hunting and fishing.”

And not just access to remote areas. The group is eager to see that many more popular motorized trails on public land remain accessible. In addition to contributing to the Alpine Ranger program on the Alpine Loop, SRR gave $500 this fall to the effort to keep open the motorized section of Middle Mountain Road above Vallecito Reservoir, a section of trail that the Forest Service has threatened to close because of vandalism and repeated incursions of OHVs into the Weminuche Wilderness.

“It’s easy to blame a few rogue users for all the problems with motorized recreation, but the truth is that we are all culpable,” Reed said. “When we head onto public lands in a motorized vehicle, it doesn’t matter if that vehicle is an ATV, a one-ton pickup or a Subaru, we have to recognize that at some level, we are all motorized users and we all have an impact.”