Mudders, take note: It is against the law to tear up forest roads and meadows for fun, and the legal and financial consequences can be steep. Tearing up high-country meadows with four-wheel-drive and off-road vehicles destroys wildlife habitat and ecosystems.
During a recent investigation, Forest Service law enforcement officers gathered information about mudding that occurred over Memorial Day weekend on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest at Buck Lake Campground, near Winthrop, Wash.
A meadow near the campground was torn up by vehicles. Where there was green grass there are now mud pits and tire tracks. The activities that caused this damage are illegal under both state and federal law. Participants could face charges including malicious mischief and fines up to and including paying for the costs of restoration. Smoothing ruts, reseeding or planting and repairing roadbeds cost a lot of money.
Mudding, or driving through wet areas and puddles while mud sprays up onto a vehicle is considered fun by some motor sports enthusiasts. Some people enjoy the challenge of maneuvering a vehicle through a situation where they could get stuck, or they may simply get a thrill out of seeing how high they can fling mud. There are websites and groups that cater to this interest and there are places, mostly private land (with a landowners permission), where such activities are allowed.
But a national forest is not such a place.
The results of this incident on the Okanogan-Wenatchee are a familiar sight to natural resource specialists across the Forest Service. There is a difference between acceptable use of off-highway vehicles and mudding -- tearing through grass to expose underlying soil or unnecessarily driving through a soft spot in the road.
Spinning tires on plants destroys the plants, leaving behind bare dirt. When plants are gone, there is nothing to stop soil from washing into nearby streams and lakes. Muddy streams and lakes are bad for fish, wildlife, irrigators and recreationists, and many local towns depend on clean water and tourism for survival. When native plants are gone, noxious weeds move in. A meadow of native grasses and flowers may soon become a field of thistles and knapweed.
Believe it or not, mudding actually compacts soil. It’s hard for plants to grow in compacted soil.
Healthy soil should bounce a bit when you walk on it. Tire tracks create hard, dried-up soil where water runs down tire tracks and into creeks and lakes, carrying mud and pollutants with it.
Meadows and wetlands provide important breeding, rearing and foraging habitats for many birds and other animals. Tearing-up these areas removes nesting and hiding cover, decreases forage, interferes with feeding and pushes animals out into areas where they may not survive.
Off-highway vehicles are permitted on designated trails within the National Forest System. These trails are built specifically to minimize the impact of vehicles on fragile ecosystems such as meadows and streams. Many trails are maintained by volunteers and are prime examples of citizens acting as stewards of public land.
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Not only does it cause damage to the environment, it damages the reputation of good stewards of the land by motorized users, which may result in the loss of their privileges.
It also polarizes the already-difficult relationship between motorized and non-motorized users. This is a really big deal, because it perpetuates the rift in advocacy groups when organizations of all user-groups should work together to protect and restore the environment while balancing the multiple-use mission of the USDA-Forest Service.
Thanks to OK-WEN for sharing this photo on the Mother Blog. This forest has a huge range of environmental issues, species and user diversity. They do a fine job of balancing it all.
Thanks for the informative article. Appreciate it.
Surprising, that not a lot is said about the visual effect that the destruction, loss of plant life, erosion and obvious ruts cause!
Don't forget that leaking oil and gas pollute the ground too, and these vehicles are generally older, less well maintained and prone to leaking. And people can get hurt doing this stupid activity, and our tax dollars pay for the emergency response which further degrades the land. I don't know how any sane person could think that mudding is a great sport, even on private land.
The FS has really dropped the ball on enforcing their travel management. Its not enough to make rules; they need to enforce them. There was no mention in the article of how the forest would make users follow the rules. They should have also shown pictures of the huge FS ATV play area called the Oregon Dunes where there is extreme habitat degradation and its all sanctioned by the FS.
I am a mudder I love it but I don't do it on state lands I do it on my on farm fields. Forests are just not the place to destroy.