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From ATVs to Hunting on Private Lands…It’s all about respect

    Everybody has an opinion about all terrain vehicles (ATV's). Those opinions are strongly held. People either love them, or hate them. The increasing use of ATV's for hunting has resulted in growing conflicts between those who have and use ATV's... and those who do not.

    The Idaho ATV Association and several resource management agencies in Idaho recently got together and developed some guidelines for hunters who use ATV's. The effort is an attempt to minimize impacts upon the land, and reduce conflicts that are arising among those who use public lands. The resource management agencies involved include the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, the Idaho Department of Lands, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Forest Service. The group just released a publication entitled "Hunting and ATV's: Responsibility or Regulation". The publication is available free from any of these organizations.

    Since 1995, the number of ATV's in Idaho has increased three fold. There are now over 33,000 ATV's registered in the state. Hikers, horse enthusiasts, campers, rock climbers, anglers, mountain bikers etc. are also all growing in number...and all recreational users of public lands are being asked to minimize their impacts on the land. When it comes to ATV's, however, misuse by only a few can cause a tremendous amount of damage to the land and to relations among those using the land. Operating ATV's in closed areas, operating without exhaust and emission controls, driving through wetlands or during wet seasons...each contribute to strained relations and degraded habitats.

    Eight years ago in southeastern Idaho, I had a 1000 pound bull moose on the ground that I was packing out in pieces by myself. After considerable work, I remembered a friend who lived close by had offered his help if I shot a moose on my once in a lifetime permit. Recognizing the task that lay ahead, I went to his house for help. He loaded up his ATV which we were then able to get to within about a hundred yards of the moose on one of the game trails common in sagebrush country. It still took us all day to get the moose out, but when we were done the only visible impacts we had made were tire tracks on the game trail that surely washed away with the next rain. We gave special attention to minimizing our impacts while we used the ATV as a tool, and you could only tell we had been there for a short time. On this particular day, I thought these new ATV things were great.

    A few years later, I was in the St. Joe hiking into a spot where a Conservation Officer told me lots of elk hang out. He said I would have the whole area to myself. After hiking in a few miles with my bow, I heard the distant drone of gasoline engines. In a matter of minutes, I was surrounded by ATV's, on a road closed to all motor vehicle use. The camo- clad bow hunters stopped their ATV's long enough to ask if I had seen any elk. I replied that I hadn't yet, but until a few minutes ago I thought I would. Needless to say, I hated ATV's on this particular day.

    Why the difference in my opinion on ATV's from one event to the other? In the first, I was the one benefiting from the use of the ATV. In the second, my experience and opportunity were reduced due to the use of an ATV by others. That is where the new publication comes in. It is full of tips on how to use an ATV to enhance your experience while not negatively impacting the experiences of others.

    Another valuable section of the publication includes laws regarding ATV use. Finally, there is information regarding what actions resource agencies may need to take when irresponsible ATV use causes unacceptable impacts. If you are an ATV user, stop by and pick up a copy of "Hunting and ATV's". The information and suggestions will help you reduce your impacts upon the land and upon others who use our public lands.

     The nights are getting cooler, pick-ups are hauling firewood, fields and  hillsides are turning red, yellow and brown. These are reminders that  Idaho's great fall hunting seasons are beginning.

    Hunters are sighting in rifles, poring over maps of hunting areas and in general "gearing up" for good times ahead. There is one other important item hunters cannot overlook, and that is making contact with private landowners on whose property they may wish to hunt.

    According to a survey of Idaho landowners, 88% will allow hunting on their property if hunters ask permission first. In addition, the vast majority of those landowners are more likely to grant access to their land to people who ask well in advance. Hunters should contact landowners at least two weeks before a hunting trip. I like to ask even sooner on prime properties because some landowners set a "quota" on their property. I want to be included on that list, because the limit they place on the number of hunters makes for a high quality hunting experience. Now is the time to make sure you are

 included. Certainly every hunter has asked for permission at least once when the landowner said he/she had already given permission to as many hunters as they would allow for the season.

    Sportsmen may pick up free hunter courtesy cards at Fish and Game offices. These contain spaces for the hunter's (or angler's) name, address etc. to be given to landowners who grant access to their land. Landowners in turn sign a card the hunter keeps which verifies permission to access the property. The cards do not increase the landowners liability in the case of an injury. These simply provide proof that the landowner has been personally contacted prior to entering private land.

    Idaho law provides that it is a misdemeanor for a person to enter another person's property without permission for the purpose of hunting, trapping or fishing if the land is cultivated or irrigated. In these instances, permission must be obtained even when the land is not posted. If the landowner wishes to restrict hunting, fishing or trapping access on land that is not irrigated or cultivated, e.g. forest land, the land must be posted every 660 feet. But if a hunter is aware a piece of land is privately owned, even if it is not irrigated, cultivated or posted; it is most appropriate to ask permission as a courtesy.     Sportsmen can improve landowner/sportsman relations considerably by their behavior.

    In addition to always asking for permission in advance, there are other "do's and don'ts" that apply to hunting activities. Road hunting is one of the most irritating practices to landowners since this leads to shooting from roads, often onto private property near buildings, livestock and people. In addition, shooting from or across a public road or from a vehicle is illegal and dangerous as people (poachers) climb in and out of vehicles with loaded firearms. While Idaho law does not prohibit possession of a fully loaded gun in a vehicle, common sense and accident statistics indicate this is a foolish practice and one which can only hurt the image of  the fine sport of hunting. If we all pay attention to how we treat landowners, we will have more private land available to hunt in the future.

    Bear season in all regions is now open. Hunters are reminded that grizzly bears are found in Unit 1, and they are protected from harvest. Grizzlies have also been known to travel and could be found outside of the grizzly recovery zone. Please use extra caution to be certain of your target when hunting black bears. The Montana Department of Fish Wildlife and Parks has developed an excellent educational tool to assist hunters with differentiating black bears from grizzly bears. If you plan to hunt bears, the test on their web site is educational and fun.


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Phil Cooper

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