By Dan Thompson

The Bitterroot National Forest (BNF) concluded their Travel Planning process in 2015.  A case can be made that the dominant theme of the Travel Plan alleged that there are wide spread conflicts among forest visitors that needed to be resolved as part of the Travel Planning process.  One of the lines of evidence brought forward by the BNF to support their “conflicts” claim were comments submitted during the process by Montana FWP that hunters complain about use of OHVs during hunting season.  The exact, complete quotation from FWP’s scoping comments is:

“Each year FWP staff in the Bitterroot gets the chance to talk to several thousand of these hunters at the Darby Check Station.  And each year comments about OHV use ranks first or second among complaints, rating right up there with comments about wolves.”

The lack of specific details in FWP’s comments coupled with my own personal hunting experiences got me to wondering about who exactly is complaining about what exactly.  So, I launched a little research project to try to figure that out.  Specifically, what proportion of elk and deer hunters use an OHV to assist them during the hunt?

We know how many elk and/or deer hunters there were in Ravalli County in 2013 from the FWP Harvest & Hunting Reports1; and we know how many registered OHVs there were in Ravalli County in 2013 from the BBER report2 and census data3.  What we don’t know is how many of those registered OHVs were used for hunting in 2013.4  The only information available concerning what fraction of all OHVs are used for hunting comes from a 2006 FWP report5 that documents that 64% of OHV owners use their machines for hunting.  While this number is quite out of date, FWP has never updated this information.  Due to the aging of the population and the increased ownership of OHVs since 2006, that has likely increased over the years.  However, since 64% is the only documented information available, I will use it in subsequent calculations. 

From the data gleaned from the above-identified sources, the calculation is very simple:

  • In 2013, there were 9,318 deer and/or elk hunters in the BNF
  • In 2013, 6,502 OHV’s were used by hunters (64% of 10,160 registered OHVs)
  • In 2013, 70% of the hunters in the BNF were OHV-assisted

Knowing that more than two thirds of hunters employ an OHV to assist them in their activity helps to narrow down the “Who’s complaining about what?” question.  Some of the possibilities are:

  • One OHV-assisted hunter is complaining about another OHV-assisted hunter;
  • A vocal minority of non-OHV hunters are complaining about use of OHVs for hunting;
  • Both OHV-assisted and non-OHV hunters are complaining about the recreational use of OHVs unrelated to hunting activities (during hunting season);
  • Complaints received at FWP game check stations may be a symptom of overcrowding:  For decades, Forest policies, encouraged by FWP, have forced hunters into increasingly smaller and smaller accessible portions of the Forest.  Hunters need lots of space – crowding them into small areas creates conflict and generates complaints.

In any event, based upon this simple analysis, it is clear that closing more roads and trails yearlong or seasonally to OHVs penalizes rather than benefits the overwhelming majority of hunters.  Clearly, claims that denying motorized access to public land is useful to hunters are not justified.

This analysis was based on quantitative publicly available data collected using proper analytic methodology.  Anyone with a computer can do this work in a few hours.  Yet neither FWP nor the Forest Service did it.  Rather, they brought forward subjective, non-quantitative arguments claiming “social” conflicts without any attempt at quantitative analysis.  Federal Agencies are required to perform quantitative analysis whenever possible and to apply best available science.  With respect to the BNF Travel Plan and the agency’s claim that there are widespread conflicts between hunters and OHV use, even a superficial look at the data would have shown that assertion to be false.

 

Dan Thompson
Victor, MT 59875

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