I was hunting chukars east of Juntura when I heard the unmistakable growl of an all-terrain vehicle.
I expected to see the machine become visible on a nearby fire trail. Unfortunately, not one, but two ATVs emerged from a draw not far from me and headed off across an open hillside.
Not only were they traversing unroaded real estate, but they weren’t even bothering to stay in each other’s tracks; they were making two separate trails as they went.
We were on Bureau of Land Management land, where there are already plenty of established trails but these two felt the need to blaze new ones.
I motioned to my son, Corky, and we wandered over to them.
After the obligatory round of “How are you’s” we learned they were waiting for friends who were hunting down from the mountain peaks after elk. Presumably, those men would be so tired they couldn’t walk another half-mile downhill.
I asked for their names and addresses.
“Why do you need them?” They pretended not to know.
“So I can report you for illegal usage of a motor vehicle,” I explained.
They then pretended not to know they’d been doing something illegal.
“No problem,” I said. “I’m sure the cop will take your ignorance into consideration. Now, what are your names?”
Unsurprisingly, they opted not to provide me with the information I requested. Confrontations like that are becoming more and more common. Unfortunately, most of the confrontations are as unproductive as mine because people like me have no authority, nor do we have a way of identifying the culprits.
Here in Oregon we don’t even have a requirement for titles and registration of ATVs, which would be necessary precursors for what we really need, which are ATV license plates.
A small but significant number of ATV riders make a habit of ignoring laws, closed roads, gates and any other impediments to public lands.
In so doing they ruin vegetation, harass wildlife, cause extensive erosion and ruin the experience of law-abiding users. Some of these riders are hunters, but the only label that matters is criminal.
We need to be able to identify those people and turn them into the authorities for ticketing and prosecution, without the potentially dangerous personal confrontations. The best way to do so is to require ATVs to display easy-to-read license plates.
That way, witnesses could write down or photograph the identification and turn the information into the authorities. Obviously, ATVs used only on private lands could be exempt.
It would seem that any reasonable person could see the wisdom in a license plate system but Oregon House Bill 2725, put forth by Rep. Peter Buckley, of Ashland, came to an early end this spring in the face of organized resistance from ATV riders and sellers.
They had a number of concerns, but the bottom line is this: Illegal ATV use is an assault on public lands and on the wildlife within them. It is rampant and increasing.
Let’s not pretend otherwise. Education is not working. Self-regulation is not working. We need to impose accountability in order to protect our natural resources and the experience of the law-abiding public.
Titles, registration and license plates are the tools we have to do the job. Let’s use them.