Eco-Friendly Dirt Bike Riding - Sustainably Sharing Trails
Though Global Warming (or Climate Change) has been happening for decades, the effects have now reached a point where they are hard for any one to ignore. The purpose of this article is to make dirt bike riders aware of some environmental issues that will ultimately effect where they will and won't be able to ride in the years to come. By adopting an Eco-Friendly dirt bike riding mindset now, a lot of potential problems may be avoided or at least minimised.
Though my interest in environmental issues goes back to before 1970, I was introduced to the concept of Environmental Sustainability as it is understood today in the early 1990's. As a freelance graphic designer and photographer (also helping with occasional field studies), I was privileged to work with the head of Research & Development for the CFTT in Victoria. Much of the work that I was involved with (for almost a decade) formed the basis of the RFAs (Regional Forest Agreements ) that are in place today.
The CFTT (Centre for Forest Tree Technology) provided R&D for the Victorian NRE (Dept. Natural Resources and Environment) that was later to be called the DSE (Dept. of Sustainability and Environment). Scientific literature generated by the CFTT is still available through the National Library of Australia, most of it relates to native forest management.
RFAs were created to govern the sustainable use and management of Australian native forests for ongoing environmental, commercial and public/social benefit. As I quickly learned, that's not an easy thing to get right ... and just for the record, I don't believe that we have "got it right" yet. For any "sustainable" system to succeed, one needs to plan on a timescale of decades, centuries or even longer.
I mention the above so that hopefully you might understand that what follows isn't something I dreamt up after having a puff on some weed, one too many scotch and cokes or inadvertently hugging a tree. My interest in environmental issues goes just as far back as my interest in dirt bikes and just enjoying the Aussie bush.
In a somewhat broader sense ... Having a healthy respect for the environment has always been a good idea. In fact, history tells us that whole civilisations have collapsed because they failed to properly understand their relationship with their environment. Whereas in the past this was generally restricted to a particular geographic region and/or period in history, we've now reached a point where the impact of human exploitation and ecological intervention effects the entire planet. That simply means that the environment is now officially everybody's problem.
So I guess the first and obvious question is ...
What does Eco-Friendly Dirt Bike Riding actually mean? [ TOP ]
In a nutshell, it means riding a dirt bike in an environmentally sustainable way.
Ideally this would be without negatively impacting on the natural environment or else riding in places where any adverse environmental impact can be appropriately managed, mitigated and/or repaired as required.
This of course applies to 4WDs, ATVs, Dune Buggies and Dirt Bikes alike ... for all practical purposes, any form of mechanical off-roading. In areas that are extremely ecologically sensitive, you could further add horse riding, cattle grazing and bush walking / hiking.
Another term that has been added to the Australian environmental discussion in recent year is "values".
What are Environmental Values? [ TOP ]
The term "Values" has been adopted as a kind of official (largely government level) shorthand or summary to avoid having to constantly describe each issue in detail. In reading any governmental documentation or report there are going to be a variety of Values that one is likely to encounter. The following will give you an idea of what I mean (this is in no way a definitive reference) ...
- Environmental Values are a rather broad range of issues that include the items that follow:
- Ecological Values often reference Rare, Endangered or Threatened flora and fauna species and will often include a discussion of any Pests, Weeds and Pathogens (diseases) that may effect a location.
- Archaeological Values (in Australia) will generally describe historically significant or sacred Aboriginal sites (which may include ancient Aboriginal camp or burial sites, middens & rock art).
- Social Values encompass the Educational, Historic and Recreational resources within a region. These may be somewhat subjective and vary considerably over time with changes in population demographics.
- Commercial Values will generally be related to Logging, Agriculture, Mining and Tourism.
In its simplest sense a "Value" is a feature or component of a location, landscape or region that has been determined (usually through a documented study or public discussion/debate) to be worth protecting and/or maintaining.
Values are an attempt to quantify issues. I would say, to allow governmental decision making that sounds like it's done for "good reasons". The overall strategy is intended to achieve the optimal long-term environmental outcome for all concerned.
It should be no surprise to note that some values may be conflicting, for example: Ecological vs Commercial (such as the obvious one: maintaining native forests vs logging ... or should I have said "forest harvesting"?).
The next question is ...
Why is Dirt Bike Riding Environmentally Unsustainable in some areas? [ TOP ]
Let's take a look at some of the more common environmental problems associated with dirt bike riding ... or for that matter, any off-road adventures:
- NOISE - The most common complaint against dirt bike riders (and other off-road vehicle users) is
noise. Specifically, the intrusion into the peace and tranquility of the Aussie Bush and the impact of motor noise on bush walkers and campers seeking to enjoy the great Australian outdoors.
While most responsible dirt bikers will avoid ripping up camping areas with wheelies and thundering up and down hiking trails ... there will of course always be a few idiots that will give us all a bad name.
- WILDLIFE - Disturbance to wildlife including: disruption to mating, nesting and just habitat disturbance in general, is a very real problem. The human species has already done a rather comprehensive job of wiping out numerous species of plants and animals. As a result, the number of locations with ever shrinking populations of threatened or endangered wildlife continues to rapidly increase. That will ultimately mean that the number of amazing dirt bike adventures you can have may actually shrink (at least until there is nothing left to protect).
As someone who has had the opportunity to enjoy some of the world's wild places in their lifetime, I would hope that the generations to come might have a similar opportunity. But with the ever increasing pressure of a growing global population, that will only happen if we look after what is still left. In some cases that will simply mean not going there.
- EROSION - Though Erosion can be extremely destructive, it generally takes a lot of dirt bikes and/or very frequent use by dirt bikes before it becomes a serious issue. And of course, this is where a track or trail's growing popularity can become a real problem.
This always reminds me of the song The Last Resort by the Eagles and that classic last line from the song ... "You call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye".
There are some highly sensitive forest and dune ecosystem locations that really should be avoided. Australia is a huge continent and it's not at all unreasonable to exclude off-roading from some sensitive areas ... to set aside some places just for wildlife and their lasting scenic beauty.
- POLLUTION - A problem that is far more insidious than erosion is that of Organic Pollution. The mud trapped in knobby tyres and the other crevices of a dirt bike may contain seeds, spores and pathogens (diseases, primarily fungi & bacteria). When these contaminants are introduced into another region, they may have a devastating effect on the existing native wildlife and/or vegetation.
The real depth of the issue is that any infection or infestation may be subtle, slow to develop and therefore go unnoticed for years. By the time it becomes an obvious and visible problem, it will probably be too late to do anything about it. In some cases there is no cure or fix for the problem ... there is only prevention. It only takes one ride, one bike!
As a dirt bike rider, keeping your machine thoroughly clean between rides is doing the environment a HUGE favour ... and don't forget your boots!
If you are participating in a trail ride, cross-country event or enduro type ride that traverses different terrains, covers lots of kilometres (like the ST2ST down in Tassie), you might want to consider hosing your bike down each night if at all possible.
So ... How Can Dirt Bike Riders Minimise Their Environmental Impact? [ TOP ]
A few simple and easy to follow tips that will prevent dirt bike riders from becoming a mobile environmental disaster on two wheels.
- Research Your Ride. Find out whether the place(s) you want to go to are ok to ride in at that time of year. Check (you know Google it) whether there are any environmental reasons (bird/animal breeding, erosion risks) for going there at some other and more suitable time. Another option is to sign up with an Eco-certified dirt bike tour.
- Keep your Dirt Bike and Riding Gear clean between rides - It's really hard to over-stress this simple and fundamental point of environmental hygiene.
- Don't leave your rubbish behind - Whatever you bring along, you take home. Pollution sucks! There are few things more annoying than arriving at some remote location only to discover that the place looks like a tip because some arsehole(s) left their rubbish behind.
- Ride on existing and/or designated Tracks and Trails - Particularly if riding in environmentally sensitive areas. Avoid the temptation to go bush-bashing and trail blazing. It may be fun, but you could be doing way more damage than you could possibly imagine.
- Have respect for other trail users, both people and wildlife ... sometimes they like a bit of quiet. Whether we like to admit it or not, life is ultimately an exercise in compromise. The people that you might annoy could well be the same ones who will sign a petition to ban dirt bikes. Of course, getting a quieter baffle would always be a good start.
- Never Forget that We Are All Sharing the World's Natural Resources - Every year sees the introduction of ever tighter legislation to control access to what is left of the world's natural environments.
If Aussie dirt bike riders can show that as a group they are environmentally responsible, then there is a chance that all riders will be able to continue enjoying their sport well into the future. The alternative is that bans and exclusions will continue to just get more frequent, tougher and tighter.
How much Off-roading is Too Much? [ TOP ]
The reality is that it's all a numbers game. It is the cumulative damage and degradation of a region over time that may ultimately destroy the environmental values of that region.
The fundamental problem faced by government, land management and other decision making bodies is that there is often insufficient research or historical data to enable anyone to reasonably predict or extrapolate the future loss of environmental values.
The Australian continent is already covered with countless examples of massive environmental degradation and destruction.
Since any environmental recovery is likely to be extremely expensive and may in some cases be impossible over any reasonable time-frame, extreme caution is often the only logical approach to preventing new ecological disasters.
So in truth, one might as well ask "how long is a piece of string?" as any answer will depend almost entirely on specific circumstances. Perhaps more effort should be put into getting governments to allow/assign areas specifically for use in off-road adventures. There are several off-road forums that are working in that direction.
Getting Your Voice Heard [ TOP ]
I happen to be a firm supporter of the democratic process and in particular the power of email submissions and petitions to influence and change public policy. Experience suggests that they can prove VERY effective. I would however humbly suggest that if you are going to put your name to something, that you do so with a full understanding of the available facts.
Avoid a hasty decision to sign a petition just because someone on a forum got all excited and wound up when the phrase "trail closures" was mentioned.
Before signing any petition to keep some wilderness trail open for off road vehicles ... ask yourself ... is it really necessary to keep that trail (or those trails) open? Now, if you understand the environmental implications and your answer is yes, then you should exercise your democratic right ... without delay!
And lastly ... If you have doubts about the merits of your decision ... simply ask yourself whether you could look your children, or perhaps even your grand children in the eye and say "I supported that".
How Dirt Bike Riders Can Help The Environment [ TOP ]
Environmental management requires the input of information to be successful. For this reason Dirt bike riders are actually in an excellent position to assist in the process of environmental management and protection.
Since dirt bikes can access areas and trails that may be inaccessible to 4WD vehicles, and cover way more ground in a day than hikers, there is a real opportunity to get involved and contribute observations on the state of the natural environment across Australia.
Riders who share our concern for the environment and Outdoor Ethics may also care to consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the non-profit Leave No Trace Australia organisation. LNTA aims to educate all Australians about how best to preserve our native and natural environmental resources into the future.
Useful Items To Facilitate Making a Report
- GPS Unit - Being able to provide accurate location data for where a problem was encountered (particularly in remote areas) will greatly speed up getting that problem addressed. Though not essential, a GPS unit is certainly the most precise way to pinpoint a remote location.
- Digital Camera - A photograph is hard to beat when it comes to providing evidence of a problem. No one is going to expect photo-journalist quality images, but every little bit of clarity will help.
- Mobile Phone - For serious or hazardous issues having your mobile on hand is the best bet (assuming there is any reception where you are). If your mobile phone happens to have a decent built in camera, all the better.
What to Report
- Pollution and Illegal Dumping - All pollution is toxic to the environment, however illegal chemical dumping and old car bodies are particularly nasty and should be reported.
- Damaged Infrastructure - Could include washed out or dangerous bridges, recent fire damage to fences, damage to remote buildings/shacks, vandalism to public property and/or private machinery.
- Serious Erosion and/or Land Slip - Erosion will only continue to get worse over time. A rut across a track can easily become a metre deep hole after one good rain storm. The sooner an impassable or dangerous track is reported, the better.
- Fallen Trees, Branches and Rocks - Trail obstructions can prove lethal if they are not seen in time. Reporting such problems could save lives.
The Bush will be around in one form or another long after we are gone. We have a responsibility to keep it healthy for those who come after us.
It's worth remembering that it's all that green stuff that produces the oxygen we breathe!
Incept: 100417 - Updated: 100817