Recommendations to Reduce Illegal ATV Use on Public Property in Suffolk County
A Multiple Issue Strategic Initiative
I recommend that we institute a formal revitalization program to improve the well-being of the trails and the natural open space contiguous to them. Currently, there are 0.06 acres of open space per capita on Long Island. Undeveloped land on Long Island is at a premium, we must do everything within our power to protect the land we have purchased with taxpayer’s money. It is our responsibility to engage the residents of Long Island in an initiative to develop a sustainable stewardship plan for our public lands.
The stresses on public lands are much more complex than damage caused by illegal motorized use. Here is a list of some of the causes of damage: we have a big dumping and littering problem; people are purposely and accidentally introducing invasive species; a significant number of people are damaging the landscape by cutting trees to build paintball forts, tree houses, bridges etc., and expanding their yards into public space; digging trenches for play combat and bicycle jumps; indiscriminately wrecking trails and applying graffiti to rocks and trees; engaging in illegal hunting; many trails are engineered incorrectly and wearing out faster than they should; illegal trails are being created and public trails are being used for unsanctioned commercial purposes; there are illegal clearing and sand mine operations; people are purposely and inadvertently starting fires on public land and as a result well-meaning fire fighters are impacting the ecological integrity of our public land while working to serve us; homeless people are disturbing the ecosystems while creating residences in our natural open spaces; people are extracting rare and endangered plants and animals from our public lands; and some people are disturbing nesting animals while brooks and streams are being blocked and contaminated water is being dumped on public land. These seem like they are all separate issues, but they all are part of a much larger concern. Much of this activity might not happen if the public were educated to appreciate the value of our natural open spaces.
We won’t transform the consciousness of people by trying to address any one, or any combination of the aforementioned issues. What we can do is promote change in several carefully chosen geographic areas. This will lead to more far reaching effects impacting other initiatives and locales. What we need to do is designate well-defined public areas for community stewardship, with well-defined tactical goals that evolve into long-term goals. Implementing these projects can build strong coalitions that will be effective in addressing similar initiatives in other places. This process will create new alliances and new political possibilities. We can describe these as “Revitalization Initiatives”. These are positive programs that can be easily marketed to the public. Positive programs reflect well on our elected and appointed officials. One can perhaps be faulted for trying to keep people from the enjoyment of ATV recreation, but who could fault someone for working to protect our sole source aquifers by revitalizing a damaged ecology thus restoring the integrity of natural processes and biodiversity? The larger and more visionary the programs are, the more attractive they will be to the media, and to private and corporate sponsors. Who could help but have their imagination fired up by the prospect of creating nature trails where we can renew our bonds to Mother Earth? We want the end users of public lands to be doers, not just users. Our service is to bring about a change in the minds of the people who visit the public lands; to bring people closer to nature and get them involved in a solution-oriented program.
To market to the public, we need literature describing this region’s geology, flora and fauna. We need to include Long Island environmental studies with field trips as part of elementary, high school, and college curriculum. We must facilitate more public service opportunities on our public land for youth groups and students. We need a full-time liaison to the local media who will give exposure to the stewardship initiative.
What I want to talk about is creating a sustainable stewardship plan that could make the trail system in Suffolk County one of the best in the world and a boon to our economy.
-Define an area with qualities both vital to the environment, and to the local community and then commit to protecting it from abuse:
-Erect a kiosk at a point of public access, proclaiming it to be a Suffolk County Resource Revitalization Area (SCRR).
“Illegally Operating an ATV in SCRR posted areas, will be treated as Fourth Degree Criminal Mischief. Intentionally and recklessly causing more than $250 damage to this publicly stewarded property is a Class A Misdemeanor carrying a potential sentence of up to one year in jail and $1,000 in fines.”
-Disturbing a posted resource restoration project can be considered criminal or malicious mischief. Causing damage to a posted project site should be subject to a misdemeanor action. The penalties for damaging the public lands should be very high, after all, these are irreplaceable treasures.
-Generate legislation that doubles the fines for all environmental offences committed within a designated, posted Resource Revitalization Area.
-Institute a natural resource damage surcharge on all ATV fines.
-One half of the collected fines should be channeled into a fund dedicated to resource revitalization projects. Funds can be used to pay professional trail stewards to guide volunteers and train them in trail restoration techniques, and pay for enforcement personnel overtime, and advanced surveillance devices.
-Record all costs involved in restoring trails to help determine the proper size of a “damage fine.” STPS’s Board approved an initiative to repair a section of damaged trail in a way that will engage the local community (see attached). This project can be used as a baseline for cost. We can designate a section of the Paumanok Path as our initial Resource Restoration Project and document the cost of restoring a defined length of trail. This will enable us to quantify damages.
-Institute a policy of automatic seizure of any off-road vehicle apprehended in one of these designated posted areas. Have offenders dismantle their machines for recycling, or repair some of the damage they are responsible for.
-When an area is designated for revitalization, send a mailing to the nearby communities describing the initiative, ATV laws and concerns, in order to solicit public involvement.
-When building new trails, build them to be ATV unfriendly. Build them between large trees and through dense woods. While building the trails, leave access to roads unmarked and uncut; finish the outer portions of the trail last. Install a series of “kissing gates” in densely wooded areas (places where you would have to cut trees to get around gates). When you bring the trails to the trailheads and roads install gates and signs. Have volunteers monitor gates and reinforce them when necessary.
-Utilize electronic surveillance equipment in access areas.
-If it is obvious that an SCRR area is being illegally accessed from contiguous property, notify the homeowner of their legal liabilities.
-Set up sting operations utilizing Wi-Fi motion detector cameras and drones.
-Coordinate sting initiatives with DOT, LIPA, DEC, County Parks, and volunteers.
-Work with media to communicate issues and initiatives with the public.
-Enforce the truth in selling legislation and augment the wording to include the phrase “possible seizure of vehicle”
The three major trails groups:
The Long Island Greenbelt Trail Conference
Southampton Trails Preservation Society
East Hampton Trails Preservation Society
-They are populated with some very intelligent and talented members with a wide range of skills.
-They have motivated trail crews and other volunteers.
-They have a comprehensive knowledge of the resource.
-They have a media infrastructure
-They have experience organizing initiatives
-They have extensive political and social influence
-Natural resource surcharge on all fines that apply to an SCRR area
-People value things they pay for. There should be a small users fee for the use of trails enhanced by this program. The funds collected should be applied to the resource revitalization effort. Issue a card that states I support SC gentle use trails. There is also more incentive for a government entity to improve a resource if the resource helps fund itself.
-Fund raising walks and races.
-Sponsors can adopt projects, e.g.: hotels, sporting goods retailers
-Gov. Andrew Cuomo $150 million left of 550 million to transform Long Island
Lately I’ve been hearing people say that signs don’t work, that barriers don’t work, that mailings don’t work. My answer is that penicillin doesn’t work if you only take one tablet.
I hear other people say that we will always have an ATV problem. That is true if we think so. If we visualize the issue as one we can solve, then we will solve it.
There are people who tell me that I am exaggerating the magnitude of the impact that the ATVs and dirt bikes are having on our trail system. Let’s scientifically measure the damage. I suggest thermographic aerials taken in the spring and fall. This will show that I am not exaggerating the magnitude of the impact.
First, we need to define our goals, and then we need to determine how we will generate the capital and manpower necessary to achieve them. Demonizing the ATVers and fighting them at every turn will perpetuate the problem and will not get us closer to our goal which must be a spectacular trail system visiting a beautiful, unique and healthy ecology.