By Jeff Tittel
Illegal off-road vehicle use continues to be a major problem in New Jersey, especially in environmentally sensitive areas like the Pinelands.
State parks like Cedar Lake in Gloucester County and Wharton State Forest are covered in tire marks and deep ruts from jeeps, dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
New Jersey has not done enough to regulate ATVs and dirt bikes. This is a statewide problem, but it is most acute and most known in the Pinelands.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has failed to put a real plan in place to protect Wharton State Forest for years, and meanwhile the damage keeps happening. New Jersey needs tougher laws, stricter penalties and a real plan to stop the illegal operation of ATVs.
Illegal ATVs are turning our state parks into road rallies, trampling plants and damaging rare plant and animal habitats. This is public land that was put in the public trust for all of us. The state needs to stand up to protect this land by coming up with a real plan to stop illegal ATV use in our parks.
In 2016, the DEP announced they were creating a plan to deal with off-road vehicles in Wharton State Forest, but they have done nothing since. Their plan included increased enforcement, increased signs and repairing the forest’s sand and dirt roads. Motorized use would be restricted in certain environmental areas that have sustained too much damage.
We have been trying to get the DEP to implement a plan to limit ATVs in Wharton State Forest for years. They talked about creating a plan in 2016, but nothing has happened and damage is still taking place from illegal ATVs.
They need to create a real plan that closes off environmentally sensitive areas by using barriers to stop ATVs. It needs to include increased penalties, real enforcement and funding for education for ATV riders on what they can and can’t do.
Wharton Forest is one of the biggest pieces of open space in New Jersey. It is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. DEP needs to step up and protect this critical and environmentally ensitive area from illegal ATVs.
In the past, New Jersey allowed ATVs to be used legally in parks, causing a lot of damage. Years ago they allowed for a one-day ATV rally in Allamuchy Park, causing $60,000 worth of damage. Sierra Club studies in other states have shown that legal ATV parks increase illegal ridership in the areas.
Illegal ATVs cause serious damage to the environment. They destroy wetlands and streambeds and trample small plants. They can damage rare plant and animal species found in the Pinelands and other areas of the state.
They kill endangered pine snakes and endangered pitcher plants, swamp pink and other endangered species. The siltation and runoff alone hurts water quality and makes it harder for trout to lay eggs. These vehicles not only disrupt important natural habitats, but they contribute to air pollution as well.
We need the state to step up and take action to stop illegal ATV use. These vehicles are a scourge and there needs to be enforcement and a real plan to deal with this problem.
Earlier this year, Gov. Phil Murphy signed a law that revised certain penalties for illegally operating snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes on public streets, highways and rights of way in violation of existing laws.
However, we need stricter laws and more enforcement, especially to protect the Pinelands and other environmentally sensitive areas in New Jersey.
New Jersey needs to do more to stop the illegal operation of ATVs and dirt bikes because they pose a serious safety threat as well as damaging the environment.
They are endangering our most precious wild places like the Pinelands, the Highlands and the Skylands.
People are getting killed or hurt by illegal ATV drivers and the drivers are getting hurt as well. If an ATV driver is illegally riding in the forest and is involved in an accident, they may not be found immediately.
DEP needs to be impounding more vehicles. They also need to block trails. We need the state to enact tougher laws and put together a real plan of action to stop illegal ATVs from hurting people and the environment.
Jeff Tittel is the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.