Should motorized hunting be regulated?

By Mark Gamblin

The 2010 big game hunting season is now history, with stories of success, near misses, and golden memories for families and friends.  Last hunting season was also the first year of implementation for the motorized vehicle hunting rule (MVR) in the Diamond Creek Zone (big game management units 66-A and 76), creating much public interest and discussion.  In fact, the MVR has generated enough controversy statewide that it will be reviewed by the Idaho Legislature, with the possibility that it could be abolished if Senate Bills 1015 and 1016 are approved.  If you are a hunter with concerns or opinions about the use of motor vehicles as a hunting tool, this issue affects you.  Please read on.

What is this issue about?  The Idaho Fish and Game Commission (Commission) adopted the MVR in 2002 to address three important wildlife management challenges: 1) Conflicts between hunters using off highway vehicles (OHVs) and hunters not using OHVs, 2) Increasing harvest vulnerability of big game to hunters using OHVs to access remote areas, and 3) Meeting public expectations for continued general season hunting (hunt every year) and abundant big buck deer and bull elk.

The Idaho back-country is different today than only 25 years ago.  Today, road and motorized trail systems reach into the most remote areas of that era, making the use of motorized vehicles (especially OHVs) a hunting tool commonly used or encountered, except where off-road motorized travel is restricted by land managers.

As the technical capabilities of OHVs and their use by Idaho hunters have increased, social and biological conflicts have developed for the hunting public and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG).  Complaints caused by conflicts between hunters using OHVs and hunters without OHVs have steadily increased for years.  During the same time, the expansion of roads and motorized trails into remote country that provided security and escape cover for mule deer and elk, making hunting more difficult and hunter success less certain – has greatly increased the vulnerability of mule deer and elk to hunter harvest.  It is becoming increasingly clear that motorized access to formerly remote areas has greatly increased the exposure of mule deer bucks and bull elk to hunter harvest, making it harder for IDFG wildlife managers to provide general hunting opportunity for Idahoans and at the same time, provide the high quality hunting experience that most hunters naturally desire.

Like many wildlife management conflicts, there are numerous misconceptions about the MVR that cause confusion for this important issue.  To help better understand the rule and the consequences of greatly reduced regulation of motorized here is a review of the misconceptions, with correct information.

Common Misconceptions:

·         The MVR is an inappropriate land/travel management regulation by the IDFG.  The Idaho Fish and Game Commission lacks the authority to regulate use of motor vehicles by hunters.

The Commission adopted the rule via its statutory authority to regulate aids to hunting (hunting tools) consistent with such regulations as the use of dogs to hunt mountain lions.  The MVR is not a travel management regulation.  It does not regulate the use of motorized vehicles except as a hunting tool.  The MVR has been implemented only in areas where public land motorized travel regulations (U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management) do not adequately address the hunting management challenges above.  IDFG is committed to reviewing the continued need for the MVR in Game Management Units as travel planning is revised. As an example, two units were removed from the MVR by the Commission in 2010.

·         The MVR is unfair because it only restricts hunters.  Non-hunters are free to use legal OHVs on the same trails that hunters are prevented from using OHVs on and cause wildlife disturbance.

The MVR is not intended to eliminate big game disturbance by motorized travel. The Commission has no authority to affect other motorized use except on IDFG lands.  Both IDFG and the Commission recognize the legitimate desires and preferences of these two hunter categories:  those that hunt with OHVs and those who do not.  The purpose of the MVR is to reduce social and biological management conflicts affecting these specific user groups.

·         The MVR is opposed by most Idaho hunters

It is true that half of mule deer hunters use OHVs as an aid to hunting.  However, the most recent and relevant surveys of Idaho big game hunter opinions and preferences, identify continued general hunting and adequate OHV regulation during the hunting season as top priorities.  Put another way, many of those surveyed individuals who hunt with OHVs desire adequate OHV regulations.

·         There is little evidence that the use of motor vehicles by hunters is a problem.

The best research and other information available documents that increasing OHV use by hunters is causing increased dissatisfaction among the hunting public and that expanding motorized access by hunters makes deer and elk more vulnerable to hunter harvest.  Reducing or otherwise regulating the harvest vulnerability of mule deer and elk is essential to provide higher numbers of mature bucks and bulls.

·         The MVR is an unconstitutional infringement on our second amendment rights.

No.  The MVR does not restrict the right to carry firearms in any way.  It only restricts the use of motorized vehicles as hunting tools.  Those motorized recreationists who are not hunting but are carrying firearms are not affected.

·         The MVR makes large areas inaccessible to hunters and creates defacto wilderness.

No.  The MVR applies only to hunters in 31 (31%) of Idaho’s 99 big game management units all located south of the Salmon River.  If motorized travel is allowed for the general public, the MVR does not affect non-hunting recreational use of motorized vehicles.

Furthermore, it is important to note there are exceptions to the MVR.  Motorized vehicles can be used as an aid to hunting by holders of a valid Disabled Persons Motor Vehicle Permit, hunters retrieving downed game, and hunters packing in and out camping equipment if such travel is allowed by the landowner or land manager.  Private landowners, their authorized agents, and persons with written landowner permission may also hunt with the aid of a motorized vehicle on their private land.

The consequences of not having the MVR as a hunting management tool for the Commission and for the hunting public would be twofold.  Conflicts between hunters who use OHVs and hunters who do not are likely to increase; and, the ability to meet public expectations for general hunting seasons with abundant large antlered bucks and bulls will be greatly diminished.

Surveys show that the number one priority for Idaho mule deer hunters is to have the choice to hunt every year with family and friends – without having to sit out a year or more or draw a controlled hunt permit.  Without the MVR tool, general mule deer seasons in much of Idaho will likely be converted to controlled hunts resulting in a loss of hunting opportunities, fewer hunters afield, and economic impacts to vendors, communities, and the state of Idaho.   For these reasons, the Commission opposes Senate Bills 1015 and 1016.

If this issue is important to you, as a hunter and regardless of your support or opposition to the MVR – now is the time to contact your local state representatives and senators to help them understand your concerns and desires relative to Senate Bills 1015 and 1016.  You should also contact Senator Monty Pearce, Chairman of the Resources and Environment Committee, (208) 332-1325 and Representative John “Bert” Stevenson, Chairman of the Resources and Conservation Committee, (208) 332-1174.  Your legislators need your input.

Mark Gamblin is the Regional Supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Southeast Region.