Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Recreation, land ethic, and choice

Disclaimer (cover my arse): The following statements are my personal views alone, and do not necessarily represent the position of any employer, past or present.

In any activity in one's life, from providing the basic necessities to seeking fulfillment and pleasure, one has a moral responsibility to question whether one's methods and choices are adversely affecting others in the land community, and to make choices that prevent undue harm. By the land community I mean all who dwell in and on the land and waters, human and nonhuman alike, living and non living. Aldo Leopold in his essay "The Land Ethic" describes this type of community:

The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land...A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these 'resources', but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state.

In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members, and also respect for the community as such.
Jesus had a command: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Wiccans have a similar code: As it harm none, do as ye will.

We cannot avoid doing some harm while meeting our basic needs for survival, although we can and must make choices that are the least harmful. Our recreation, however, is a complete matter of choice, and we can choose, in fact if we believe in a land ethic we have the moral obligation to choose, forms of recreation that have the least impact on the land community. It is arrogant and self centered to do otherwise.

All terrain vehicles have known impacts to the land. One rider, driving once through previously undisturbed vegetated land, will at the minimum:
  • Injure and uproot vegetation
  • Compact soil, disrupting aeration and habitat of microflora and fauna
  • Create noise enough to disturb wildlife
  • Leave a trail of gas fumes
  • By discretionary consumption of gasoline , give tacit support to the military machine and domestic habitat destruction necessary to support our nation's level of fossil fuel consumption
With more riders, and there certainly more of them everywhere you look these days, these effects multiply. From the Sierra Club website:

Off-road use of vehicles can present serious and special problems of impact on the environment and incompatibility with other users of the land. Experience has shown that off-road use of vehicles may result in one or more of the following effects:

All vehicles:

  1. Physical soil damage, often readily visible, resulting in:
    a. Erosion, causing soil loss and damage to stream banks, streams, and fish habitat;
    b. Soil compaction and serious adverse impact on flora and its regeneration; and
    c. Degradation of trails, including rutting and breakdown of trail edges.
  2. Disruption of wildlife breeding and nesting habitats, especially of vulnerable species, resulting in loss of young;
  3. Disturbance of wildlife, leading to weakened physical condition, death, and possible extinction of some species;
  4. Damage to archaeological, scientific, historical and other significant sites, and damage to natural features, sometimes with irreversible effects, especially on rare features of interest for scientific study;
  5. Facilitation of illegal hunting fishing and the talking of game and non-game wildlife;
  6. Danger to the safety of other land users because of vehicle speed, steep terrain, sharp curves, slippery or unstable trail surfaces, and/or limited visibility; and
  7. Competition with other land users: vehicle operators, with their increased mobility, generally use a greater quantity of scarce land per recreational user.

Motorized vehicles:

  1. Introduction of air and water pollution to areas presently removed from any such sources;
  2. Excessive noise, which, in close proximity, may result in physiological effects on animals and humans, or may induce anxiety, altering animal behavior patterns, and which, in most circumstances, seriously degrades the solitude of wild areas for other users;
  3. Litter: by virtue of mechanization, operators of vehicles carry more gear, with potential to leave more litter;
  4. Vandalism: motorized ease of access is often coupled with increase of acts of vandalism on public and private property; and
  5. Fire: illegally or improperly operated vehicles can often create a fire hazard on public or private lands.


I have nothing against the responsible use of all terrain vehicles as part of farm or land management work, or by those who have a genuine disability who need to access certain areas and have considered the ramifications thoughtfully. But these are by far the exception to the use patterns you see today. Most use is purely recreational.

Does this sound like a form of recreation that is compatible with a land ethic?

Follow the money. It's just industrialized, corporate sponsored, mechanized, mass marketed land rape, catering to the irresponsible, self centered "me first" generation.

1 comment:

lené said...

Hi Deb,
I really like your site. I found it through your comments on bigflybigfish's blog.

Thank you for posting the ATV information and for encouraging us to think about our communities as including all species rather than just humans. I think if we can do that, we're on the right path.

When looking at snowmobile damage last winter, I found an interesting analysis on the International Snowmobiling website about the impact of a hiker vs. a snowmobile on the ground. Of course, they didn't address impact to the subnivean environment, the impact of exhaust, etc., but they did raise a question for me about the pounds of pressure per square inch that I contribute to compaction every time I walk to see wild orchids in bloom.

Just a thought, and slightly off topic, but I'm really glad you're engaging the issues. I think you're right on.