An ATV solution will only help Long Island’s environment

08/19/2010 12:00 AM |

ATV riders and Long Island’s powerful environmental community have long been at odds. For the most part, the environmentalists — with the backing of the state DEC — view the sport as dangerous and destructive to nature.

The ATV operators don’t entirely disagree, but they feel they’re mistreated and misunderstood, and that if Suffolk County established public trails, riders would be better monitored and destructive practices could be reined in.

From an economic standpoint, a county task force formed five years ago found that public tracks, operated privately, could generate revenue for the county. Such facilities could also help keep ATV enthusiasts from traveling off Long Island — to other states where there are legal public trails — to practice their sport, keeping their money at local businesses.

Public tracks would also keep ATV users off environmentally sensitive areas of Long Island, the task force found.

But there appear to be a few roadblocks in the way of that happening. Chief among these, according to county legislator and task force member Dan Losquadro, is that there is little support among environmentalists or in government for spending conservation money on damaged sites — such as former sand mines — to establish public riding spots. That’s shortsighted.

We can’t deny what Pine Barrens Society head Dick Amper told the News-Review last week: that “ATVs tear up the terrain, destroy plants, scare animals, introduce pollutants into the air and water and pose a serious safety risk for people peacefully using the woods.”

But he can’t deny this: that ATV riders are doing that anyway, every day, and in many cases on the region’s most pristine lands, such as in the Pine Barrens and on the beaches and bluffs of Northville.

Mr. Amper says he doubts public trails will cut down on drivers practicing their sport illegally throughout Long Island.

We say spending to create trails will prove to be money well spent.

Both the ATV riders and our environment need the support of our politicians and residents for the purchase of open space properties on which to build legal tracks.

As of now, police agencies don’t have the resources to effectively curb illegal ATV use. ATV operators are running rampant, destroying woods and spreading invasive species, introducing pollutants into water and doing everything else Mr. Amper speaks of. And they’ll keep on doing it, unless a plan is put in place.

Public locations, while not eradicating illegal use altogether, should diminish the number of illegal riders, so that enforcing the law could be more manageable for our police. And as Mr. Losquadro told the editorial board of this newspaper, the more public facilities are established, the more our local governments should increase fines and punishment for any violators.

With ATV ridership on Long Island at an all-time high, according to Mr. Losquadro, the time to act is now.