OPINION — Monday’s Pioneer article extolling the virtues of increased ATV traffic in the Northern Hills was welcome and highlighted a number of good things that ATV tourism brings to our community. However, the topic of ATV recreation on public lands is a complex one and no analysis is complete without looking at the benefits as well as the costs. In that spirit the Spearfish Livestock Association (SLA) offers the following comments.
From the outset it is paramount that readers understand that the Spearfish Livestock Association supports multiple use on our shared public lands. That said, most silver linings come attached to a cloud.
It is undisputable that ATV recreation has a positive economic impact on the region. However, with the burgeoning volume of ATV traffic in the Hills, the ability of the Hills to absorb that traffic is diminishing. Already the need for a greatly expanded trail system is obvious and calls to action by ATV groups go largely unanswered by the Forest Service whose budgets (and slow rolling bureaucracy) simply do not allow for a measured response to the increased use of the trail system. Currently the Forest Service has a backlog of requests for cattle guards in the Black Hills National Forest system. Additionally it was noted that the agency is struggling to maintain the cattle guards they have.
Those cattle guards are necessary for the membership of the SLA to operate our grazing allotments. In the last twenty years the problems caused by increased ATV traffic has caused significant consternation for our membership. The most glaring of those problems is gates left open allowing cattle to escape onto adjacent allotments as well as the occasional highway, and generally ending up where they aren’t supposed to be — when they aren’t supposed to be there. There are other issues with other forest users but the moral is that the forest has a finite ability to absorb different uses and ATV recreation is no exception.
At some point, this increase will become unsustainable. Given present infrastructure on the forest, some would posit it already is. Additionally as one use increases on public lands, other users’ enjoyment of the forest diminishes. We can all see what is happening in the Hills. We are the last best place on Earth and the word is out (helped by our Governor telling everyone to move here). Real estate values exploded this summer in our region because of the volume of people moving here and the money they bring with them. As the population of the Hills increases it is incumbent on the Forest Service to be ahead of the curve in addressing these issues. Currently, the solution offered by the agency is to stand by and watch it unfold with their hands in their pockets.
None of this is to cast dispersions on ATV recreation. It is their forest too and that is a fact. Unfortunately a few bad actors are currently giving the whole demographic a bad name. The broader take away is that locals need to be involved, aware and informed if they are to have any chance of saving their forest from the coming onslaught.
- Aaron Thompson,
President, Spearfish Livestock Association
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