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Conservation IssuesATV Legislation Needed to Protect Our Parks
Pat Sziber

ATV Legislation Needed to Protect Our Parks
Pat Sziber

Comprehensive legislation regarding use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) in state parks has been proposed by NJ Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, who represents District 15 in our chapter area. The bill would close gaping loopholes in current laws governing use of ATVs. Environmental groups have long pressed for such legislation.

No one who tries to enjoy our state parks and other open spaces has failed to notice the damage done by irresponsible ATV users. According to NJDEP, about 343,000 acres of state park, forest and wilderness have been damaged as a result of illegal ATV use. Rutted trails, torn-up vegetation, erosion, habitat destruction: all are hallmarks of freewheeling joy riding. Fixing the damage caused by ATVs is very costly. A natural gas transmission company in Maine spends $100,000 a year repairing such damage along its right-of-way. In their 2003 report, "Rutted and Ruined: ATV Damage in the Adirondack Forest Preserve," the Residents’ Committee to Protect the Adirondacks states, "The problem with ATVs is that they destroy the ground over which they are driven. And, by doing so they leave scars that will be visible for a generation, eroding public use and enjoyment for all who follow." (The 7.3 mb report, which contains many disturbing photos, can be downloaded at www.rcpa.org. Click on "Library," then "Special Reports.")

In spite of human injury and even death caused by the reckless use of these vehicles, New Jersey currently does not have a requirement that they be registered and insured or that their operators be licensed or trained in safe operation. There is a DEP rule prohibiting the use of ATVs in state parks; however, a rule does not have the same clout as a law.

Assemblyman Gusciora’s bill would make the prohibition of ATVs in state parks a law. Furthermore, it would require ATVs to be registered and insured, and their operators to be licensed and trained in safe use. ATVs would have to bear standard sized license plates. As of this writing, the bill does not yet have a number or co-sponsors. But it’s not too early to get behind the campaign to tighten up regulation of these vehicles. There is much work to be done: getting co-sponsors for the Assembly bill; launching a similar bill in the State Senate; getting the bills through committees; and, finally, getting the bills passed. At the same time, we need to work on getting local ordinances in place to protect parks and other open spaces that would not be covered by the state park ATV prohibition.

What you can do:

  • Contact your two Assemblypersons and urge them to sign on as co-sponsors of Reed Gusciora’s bill and thank Mr. Gusciora for his initiative. Contact your State Senator and ask him or her to work with NJDEP and the New York-New Jersey Trails Conference to draw up a similar bill in the Senate. You can find your legislators’ contact information at www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/municipalities.asp.

  • Urge your municipality to develop an ordinance prohibiting use of ATVs on its preserved open spaces if it does not already have one (check with your municipal clerk to find out if it does.) The best place to start is with your Environmental Commission. Their meetings are open to the public and covered under the sunshine law. Ask if they’ve considered such an ordinance and point out the damage caused by ATVs. You can probably find local examples…it’s everywhere. Take photos and bring them to the meeting. Note the location on a map. If you have a GPS unit, record the coordinates at the site. Ask the EC to contact the Association of NJ Environmental Commissions for model or sample ordinances on the issue. If your municipality has an Open Space Committee, bring up the issue with them as well. Check out additional information resources by Googling "ATV damage."

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    Last revision: May 16, 2006 - 03:45 PM