Hunters Split Over Proposed Off-Road Vehicle Regs

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A proposed regulation to restrict hunters' use of off-road vehicles stirred emotional debate before the Nevada Wildlife Commission.

The proposal to prohibit hunters from driving all-terrain vehicles more than 25 yards off established roads is pitting traditionalists who hunt on foot against machine sportsmen.

Wildlife division officials said it comes in response to numerous complaints by traditional hunters about ATVs' impact on wildlife and habitat.

No action was taken after about 75 hunters turned out at commission workshops Friday and Saturday. Commissioners pledged to take action sometime after their Feb. 6-7 meeting in Las Vegas.

With off-road vehicle use soaring in the backcountry and continual improvements in technology, the problem will only worsen in the future, commissioners warned.

"ATVs will crash brush and go places where other (off-road vehicles) couldn't," said Commissioner Eric Olsen, himself an ATV owner. "I see it as a real problem that we need to address."

Traditional hunters accuse their counterparts on machines of carving out new trails in unspoiled areas, disturbing other hunters and engaging in unfair chases for wildlife.

Lifetime hunter Dan Heinz, a Sparks-area retiree, noted many machine sportsmen also hunt with cell phones, global positioning units and long-range telescopic rifles.

"They're trying to substitute technology for skill," Heinz said. "We're losing the sportsmen and woodmanship skills in hunting. I'm heart broken with the trend."

Chukar hunter Leonard Mackedon of Reno said off-road vehicles already have cut enough new tracks in the outback and he fears what the future holds in the nation's fastest growing state.

"Everywhere we went, we saw tracks ... It's tearing up the country I love," Mackedon said.

"You'll walk up to a ridge and hear a gas motor. (Machines) take the challenge out of hunting and put more pressure on wildlife," he added.

Supporters of the proposal cite a Bureau of Land Management study that found 15 to 20 miles of new road a year have been created by off-road vehicles in White Pine County's Duck Creek Basin in recent years.

But Mark Cooper of Sparks, who uses an ATV to hunt, came out against the proposal. He contends it restricts the Second Amendment right to bear arms and will only lead to further off-road crackdowns in the future.

"I'm facing another impingement on my rights because of this," he said. "There are other possibilities besides new rules and regulations. Education is a possibility."

Gerald Lent of the Nevada Hunters Association said he thinks the proposal unfairly singles out hunters while shielding non-hunters from any blame for the new roads. The regulations also would penalize the elderly and handicapped, he said.

Like commission members, Lent said only a relative handful of irresponsible hunters are to blame for the proposal.

"I've not seen proof there's a major problem. That's why I want a scientific study, " Lent said, adding he views the plan as just another step to ban hunting on public lands.

But commission members said the vast majority of Nevada hunters think there's a problem with off-road vehicles and want it addressed.

"The only dispute is the approach we should take," panel Chairman Tommy Ford said.

Commissioner John Moran Jr. said he thinks non-hunters share the blame and he wants the board to consider imposing restrictions on all off-road vehicle enthusiasts, not just hunters.

He thinks the commission has the authority to do so because of the vehicles' impact on wildlife and habitat.

"If we don't seize the opportunity ... somebody will do it for us," Moran warned. "And it could be the federal government and they could close it all down."

Off-road vehicle use is unrestricted on most public lands in Nevada.