New York State Ornithological Association

For the birders and birds of the Empire State   

ConservationPosted 2004
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ATV Use on State Lands Encouraged
by Proposed NYS Budget Provisions

An issue of concern for NY’s birds and birders has arisen in Governor George Pataki’s 2004-05 budget proposal.  Included in the budget is a plan to establish a fund to receive revenues from all-terrain vehicle (ATV) registrations.  Monies from this fund will be used to create a network of ATV trails on private and municipal lands, including NY State Department of Environmental Conservation easement lands.

Although these trails and the machines themselves will affect birds, it is recognized that use of ATVs on private lands currently occurs, and is likely to continue.  However, language in the same section of the budget would allow the DEC Commissioner to place ATV trails on state-owned lands, including state forests, wildlife management areas, and unique areas.  This language would permit these trails at the Commissioner's discretion without complying with critical environmental safeguards such as the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and without public participation.  Also, inclusion of this language with the provision establishing the trail fund suggests that the intent is to use the fund for ATV trails on state-owned lands in the future.

State forests, wildlife management areas, and other DEC-administered lands are among the most important habitat in the state for many species of birds—particularly those that require large forested tracts for nesting.  As the landscape of the state is increasingly urbanized, public lands become even more crucial for nesting birds. Species of special concern and those sensitive to disturbance are resident on these state lands.

In addition, ATVs directly damage vegetation, both on trails and more extensively when riders leave trails—a common problem.  Nesting birds, especially those using the forest floor or understory, are disturbed by the machines.  Breeding season for birds coincides with the periods of highest use of ATVs.

ATVs also create a host of other environmental problems—soil erosion, stream sedimentation, air pollution, and conflict with low-impact uses of state lands such as hiking, wildlife observation, or just enjoying the outdoors.  It is important that a thorough assessment of the potential impacts of ATVs be conducted during consideration of establishing trails.

The Federation board of directors has written the Governor asking him to remove the provision allowing the DEC Commissioner to place ATV trails on state lands, and to make clear that monies from the ATV trail fund will not be used for this purpose.

You can help in this effort by contacting Governor Pataki with your concerns. Letters should go to Executive Chambers, Albany, NY 12224.   Copies to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, NY State Senate, Albany, NY 12247; and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, NY State Assembly, Albany, NY 12248, are also helpful.

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