In the wrong hands ATVs can be environmental menaces

I still remember seeing my first 3-wheeler ATV. It was in 1973. It could go anywhere through tight places, but it was hard to steer. You had to lean the opposite direction.  The 4-wheeled variety didn’t come on the scene until 1982. They were safer.

Back in the 1970s, if a person was willing to walk a couple miles through the Maine woods, trout fishing was incredible. I could catch one on nearly every cast. I never saw any candy wrappers or beer cans either. Those were the days.

Once more people became enamored with ATVs, that soon began to change. Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with these machines, only the way they are often used.

When I was a teenager, my biggest complaint was that these vehicles gave lazy slobs access to the wilderness. I was concerned about my trout fishing and my hunting. I didn’t completely understand the long reaching affects of soil erosion then.

Tearing up vegetation puts more mud in streams. This cuts down on light penetration. That causes aquatic plants to die, and anything that dies decomposes. That process requires oxygen and the result is lowered dissolved oxygen level in the water.

Fish can travel to places with more oxygen. That saves them temporarily. However, many aquatic organisms can’t move or at least not very fast. Many will die and decompose, sucking up more dissolved oxygen and speeding the overall process.

In addition, when the dead material decomposes, fertilizer nutrients are released, and more plants grow on the water’s surface. Light transmission depth becomes further limited. Eventually, the composition of the waterway is changed, possibly forever.

Harming the environment can be accomplished quickly. Fixing it takes a long time.

Drive ATVs in the headwaters of streams and that destruction process accelerates. Many fish, like brook trout and smallmouth bass require waters with gravel bottoms to spawn. When gravel changes to mud, reproduction stops. Destroying habitat is even worse than poaching.

Aquatic invertebrates are the primary foods of most fish, and they suffer too. Furthermore, channels can be filled with eroded soil. This limits navigation of small boats, canoes and kayaks.

These off-road vehicles can be useful too. If driven responsibly they can have far less impact to the land than heavier machines like 4-wheel drive trucks. Some folks haul firewood or hay with them, use them to build or fix fences, check on livestock and many other tasks. They cause little or no damage on dry firm ground when driven responsibly.

Sometimes streams must be crossed. If this is necessary it should be done at as close to a 90-degree angle as possible and in a slow steady manner, minimizing tire spinning. Tearing up the ground just for the sake of having fun doesn’t make sense to me. I’m sorry.

Having fun is an important part of life. I don’t discount that, but doing it responsibly is important, especially as there are more of us around to enjoy nature.

Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon, but my vehicle of choice for most routine farm chores is a tractor. Tractors won’t travel 60 miles per hour, but I derive enjoyment and satisfaction when using one.


Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (

About tedmanzer

I grew up in Old Town Maine and got a B.S. at the University of Maine in Plant Sciences/ minor in Botany. From there I moved to West Virginia and earned a M.S. in Agronomy at WVU. I also met my wife there. She grew up in rural WV as the daughter of tenant farmers who raised cattle and hogs. Their lifestyle at times was one of subsistence and I learned a lot from them. I've always been a foraging buff, but combining my formal botanical knowledge with their practical 'Foxfire-type' background opened up my eyes a little more. I recently retired from teaching high school agriculture after 25 years teaching with my wife. Until recently I wrote a weekly nature/foraging column for the local paper ( I also have written several Christian nature/adventure novels that can be purchased on Amazon in Kindle format. One is a five book family saga I call the 'Forgotten Virtues' series. In the first book, Never Alone (presently out of print), a young boy comes of age after his father dies in a plane crash, and he has to make it alone. The second book, Strange Courage, takes Carl from his High School graduation to his recovery from a nasty divorce. The third book, Second Chances, takes Carl from his ex-wife's death and the custody of his son to his heroic death at age 59. The fourth book, Promises Kept, depicts how his grandchildren react and adjust to his death (this one is not yet published). In the final book, Grandfather's Way, his youngest and most timid granddaughter emerges from the shadow of her overachieving family and accomplishes more in four months than most do in a lifetime. I use many foraging references with a lot of the plants I profile in these articles in those books. I also wrote a romance novel titled Virginia. It is available on Amazon and is a different type of romance from a man's perspective.
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1 Response to In the wrong hands ATVs can be environmental menaces

  1. tonytomeo says:

    Oh Goodness! So many want the biggest and baddest, and just drive them around for nothing! It is worse than the high performance cars that will never get driven to their potential, because they are out doing more damage. Okay, I will not rant on this.

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