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Enviromental Hazards when Riding ATVs

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September 2, 2019

Announcer: Farm & Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Taylor: Today we're talking about environmental hazards to consider when riding ATVs. Hello, I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and welcome to Farm & Family. Today we're speaking with Leslie Burger, Mississippi State University Extension Assistant Professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Leslie recently I read a newspaper article about ATVs and nature. And I know folks like to ride them for fun or to use them around the farm or while deer hunting. But this article said there were some considerations besides fun or safety, can you explain a little bit more?

Leslie Burger: Sure Amy. In addition to recreational safety consideration of ATVs, riders also need to consider the effects that ATVs and other off road vehicles may have on wildlife, and on the environment. Off road vehicles like four wheelers can really be a lot of fun, and they can be really useful for transportation, on hunting grounds or around the farm and the house. But they can also be an environmental hazard if they're used incorrectly.

Amy Taylor: And I know it's popular in some areas for people to ride four wheelers in streams. Is this what you're referring to when you say that they are environmental considerations?

Leslie Burger: Exactly. The tires of these vehicles will grind up the bottom of the creek or the river, and they crush the small animals that live there, and they destroy the habitat that's there. These creatures support populations of larger fish or maybe it's even the fish eggs themselves, and things that will affect the bottom of the food chain, will eventually be harmful to the wildlife that's further up that food chain. And this habit of riding in the creeks, also clouds the water, and the that interferes with the natural growth of plants, and also interferes with the ability of the fish to feed.

So it may be a lot of fun to ride in that stream, you also need to know that it's illegal. The waterways of Mississippi are protected, and running an ATV down the stream is really breaking the law.

Amy Taylor: I bet a lot of people don't know that. Is there a way to cross the stream without harming it?

Leslie Burger: Sure. If you just cross at a designated [00:02:10 fjording] location, like a low water crossing, that would be better. And also, just continuing to use the same place each time, instead of crossing at many different locations, will keep the damage to a minimum. It's also important to stay off the steep banks, to reduce erosion, 'cause that extra soil in the water is also harmful.

Amy Taylor: I would think the oil and gasoline on the ATV, would also get into the water.

Leslie Burger: Yes Amy, those residues from the oil and gas, wash off and they get into the water. And that hurts water quality and the aquatic life that's in that stream. So it's better to cross when the water levels are low, and to move slowly to reduce the splashing up onto the vehicle.

Amy Taylor: What are environmental considerations in other locations, like on an ATV established trail?

Leslie Burger: That's a good question. ATV trails do minimize the damage to the surrounding environment, so riders should use this option when they're available. But riding the trails when they're muddy, can really tear them up, and that can ruin the fun for others and increase soil erosion. And erosion is also a consideration if it's really dry, like it's been lately, and especially if it's windy. Riding really fast with a big dust plume rising off the tail end of that ATV, contributes to the loss of the trail, as well as polluting the air. Just simply slowing down, especially on corners, will help keep the dirt on the trail and reduce the erosion.

Amy Taylor: What about wildlife? Is that a consideration too?

Leslie Burger: Definitely. Riders should respect wildlife, and give them the right away when they're encountered. Although some animals will run when frightened, like they'll run from the ATV, others will freeze in place, and hope that they can avoid detection. And obviously, that's not a good strategy for avoiding a moving vehicle. So it's important to be alert for those critters that might not be able to get away, and to give them plenty of room to escape. It's also just not appropriate to be chasing 'em or intentionally running over animals, or otherwise harassing them.

Amy Taylor: Are there other environmental considerations to remember?

Leslie Burger: Turning off the machine, rather than letting them idle will reduce air pollution and conserve your fuel. To rinse of your ATV when you're done, because research has shown that those tires can distribute the seeds of invasive plants or noxious weeds. And finally, people who are riding ATVs need to remember to pack out the trash that they may have brought in there with them. If you bring in a water bottle, or some snack bags, take them back out with you, make sure they don't blow off the back of the vehicle, so that you're not littering unintentionally. As long as ATV riders practice these good environmental stewardship activities, this will remain a tool for recreation and for work into the future.

Amy Taylor: Today we've been speaking with Leslie Burger, Assistant Professor. I'm Amy Taylor Myers, and this has been Farm & Family, have a great day.

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