As I read this opinion piece from The Salt Lake Tribune, all I could utter were long, deep sighs. Like most opinion pieces these days, it’s from a person who feels aggrieved about something and who sent a letter to the editor. The publication then hit “Print” with the helluva headline "Opinion: ATVs are spoiling Utah’s canyon country" attached to it. It’s blatant clickbait and something that I hope most folks disregard whenever they see “Opinion: X,Y and Z” in any headline. 

But rather than clicking away, I kept reading it and became further frustrated with both the paper and the writer as the words within fail even the most minor of fact-checking, rely on a lot of anecdotal evidence, and offer such shortsighted thoughts and opinions that if any of the writer’s words were taken seriously by lawmakers, everyone would likely lose access to public lands, not just those “snarling machines” blowing past the author’s campsite. 

I’m currently working on a series about public land issues in this country, intending to bring in folks from all the disparate outdoor camps to talk about the challenges we all face, including how best to halt federal and state agencies’ progress of removing our inherited public land access. It will include examples of righteous indignation from within the outdoor community’s subgroups, like the one in the Tribune above, and how these proclamations do more harm than good for all public land users, not just their intended targets. Though that’s on the way, after reading this story, I knew I had to interject ahead of that series’ publication. 

Why? Not only is this article full of inaccuracies and a failure to do even the most basic of research by both the paper and author, it also commits what I think is the cardinal sin of any adventurer: Call into question another group’s love for the outdoors.

But let’s first get through the factual inaccuracies, of which there are a few. 


First, the author doesn’t know the difference between ATVs and UTVs, which isn’t uncommon. But in his argument, he calls UTVs ATVs, and then tells the reader that only “utility vehicles” should have access to certain trails. This is the least objectionable example of his lack of basic comprehension of the topic, but it’s somewhat funny in that he accidentally OKs UTV access while also calling for RZRs and their ilk to not have access. It’s also the hero image for his article.

Less funny, however, is that he lacks even a basic understanding of current laws within Utah, and couldn't even be bothered to Google his own topic, saying, “Another solution is to make ATV use contingent upon obtaining a permit. This would allow the state to regulate how many of these machines may visit a given area while providing greater capability to police irresponsible riders.” 

But as of January of 2023, Utah requires OHV operators, including those who drive UTVs, to obtain a permit. How do I know? I took the course and have one.

According to Utah’s Department of Natural Resources, “Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, Utah will require all OHV operators to complete the Utah Off-Highway Vehicle Education Course. Operators under the age of 18 shall possess a youth OHV education certificate in order to operate an OHV on public land, road or trail. Operators 18 years of age or older may operate an OHV if they possess an approved adult OHV education certificate. The test will be available beginning January 1, 2023.” And the test includes questions and statements about being good stewards of the environment, as well as courteous to fellow outdoor lovers—including hikers.

I’m not saying there aren’t bad actors who do everyone a disservice by not picking up their litter, going off-trail, and generally being pricks. But that’s indicative with all groups—again including hikers—and it’s up to their communities to inform and police those people.

For off-roaders, it’s why groups like Tread Lightly! exist. 

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Furthermore, his ideas of prescribing times or days of the week to limit access and reduce intergroup issues open the door to further limiting access because one group of outdoor enthusiasts is louder than the other within a state’s legislature or public. If successful, that could just mean hikers could limit access to the dirt bikers. It could also mean dirt bikers could limit UTVs, UTVs vs. campers, campers vs. hikers, and so on and so on. I understand the sentiment, as well as the want to reduce those conflicts, but when you’re dealing with either the federal or state government, you never want to give them an inch to reduce your access to something, as you’ll never get it back. And in uplifting one group's aggreviance over another, everyone will lose in the end. 

Far worse, however, is the op-ed writer’s anecdotal belief that UTV drivers, and by association all those who use motorized transportation in the backcountry, are more in love with the sound of the engine than the outdoors, stating, “The driver behind the wheel of an RZR zipping through a canyon seems more enamored with the power of their engine or the music blaring through their speakers than the landscape flying past their open window.” 

I own a Can-Am UTV and ride dirt bikes and ADVs. I also hunt, fish, hike and camp. I’ve spent more time in the woods than most people will ever do in their lifetimes. But who are you to tell me, or anyone else, how I should enjoy the outdoors? Or rather, how I don’t actually enjoy the outdoors just because I do so behind the wheel of a UTV or the bars of a dirt bike? 

The author then quotes “Famed writer and radical environmentalist Edward Abbey”, repeating Abbey’s claim that “A man on foot, on horse-back or on bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourist can in a hundred miles,” adding that, “In many ways, I agree with Abbey.”

There's a lot wrong with that, chief among them being Abbey's views seem to have only wanted the national parks preserved for himself. But I'll just say that without motorization, we wouldn’t have Ansel Adams’ photography, David Attenborough’s entire career as one of the most well-known conservationists, and countless others who’ve impacted our views of wild places over the last 100-plus years. And that’s not to say machines don’t have their evils, everything does, but discounting their occupants’ love for nature just because you feel personally aggrieved and don’t understand the attraction is a “you” problem, not a “we” problem. And it leads to fighting a group of like-minded individuals, rather than the true villain, which I’ll get to in a moment. 


And though I could get into how ableist this argument is, detailing how my dad who suffers from a leg disability would then be barred from national and state parks (along with countless others) if motorized transportation was banned from these places, I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt that he just didn’t think about those people. I mean, he didn’t think about a lot. 

What’s more frustrating is that this author and his piece prominently featured in The Salt Lake Tribune miss the actual issue facing himself and everyone who loves the outdoors: Diminishing public land access for everyone. 

He says, “If we don’t act now, we risk allowing one of the last bastions of these precious resources to become just like the bustling cities that so many of us are trying to escape.” Guess what, those UTVs and dirt bikers and off-roaders aren’t the actual risk. Neither are hikers, hunters, fishermen or campers. The real risk comes from our state and federal governments selling or leasing off public land to the highest bidders, and you could open up the very pages of The Salt Lake Tribune to see it happening almost daily throughout the country, but especially in the state of Utah where both the author of the opinion and I reside. 

You have closures of public trails in Moab, along with huge tracts of land being potentially optioned by The HOUSES Act that’s currently making its way through the state legislature, and the selling off of public land to developers. These all do far more damage than any perceived slights by UTVers, as both state and federal governments don't care whether you hike, fish, hunt, or drive a UTV. They're just going to take the land. As they've done so many times before. 

At the end of the day, do you think reducing the size of who gets to love the outdoors will help you stop those public land encroachments by these large-scale actors? No. You’ll lose. And in the process of fighting amongst ourselves, we’ll all lose those public lands everyone loves. 


Maybe that won’t be today or tomorrow thanks to groups like Tread Lightly!, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, onX, and countless others fighting these grabs with the help of a few political allies. But soon enough, we’re going to lose if we don’t stop this type of finger-pointing, as these land leases and sell-offs are happening everywhere, and both at a federal and state level. Governments see dollar signs as housing developers and mineral companies are lining up to offer billions for land state and federal agencies just don’t want to manage. 

These are everyone’s lands, not just hikers, UTV drivers, hunters, anglers, campers or any other specific group. They’re all of ours, and if we don’t get our shit together and stop this tit-for-tat name-calling both in the press and amongst ourselves, we risk it all. We risk our children not having anything to fight for and enjoy, let alone ourselves.

There'll be more I have to say on this subject in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that. But for now, I'll leave you with this. Dear author, and those reading at home, how will everything stated above affect your love for the “peace, quiet and the majesty of nature”? Cause it'll surely be quiet, as you'll be sitting in your home, bemoaning the loss of your rights after everything gets closed off to you.

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