Field officer reports reveal good news and bad news

Bear nuisance complaints and bears killed on highways indicate that these animals continue to increase in numbers, and continue to expand their range in the Northwest Region, according to the Pennsylvania Game Commission monthly Field Officer Reports.

This is great news for bear hunters, mildly annoying to entertaining news for folks who live in traditional bear habitat, annoying to frightening news to folks who are not accustomed to living with bears and threatening news to farmers who well understand the damage bears can inflict on crop fields.

Deer munch on ears of corn. Raccoons knock down a few corn stalks. Bears can smash large sections of corn fields. Of course, it is precisely this kind of excellent food that attracts bears to farmland. In some places bears make large scale movements to farmland when natural food is not adequate.

Also there are good reports about turkeys, rabbits and grouse around the region. My own travels indicate that deer numbers may be up a little. We will know more about all of these game animals as the season progresses.?

All is not good news, though.

Most disturbing in the most recent Field Officer Reports is the number of illegal acts that have been taking place in lands both public and private.

What seems to have been the most frequent cause of concern by Game Commission field officers over the past couple of decades is off-road vehicles. In years past, off-road vehicle sales people had been accused of telling customers to go to the Allegheny National Forest where they could ride wherever they pleased. It is inconceivable to think this still happens. Likewise, it is hard to imagine that anyone does not know that the use of off-road vehicles is very limited.

On the Allegheny National Forest, ATVs can only be driven on designated trails. ATVs generally are not allowed on state game lands nor on state forests. Yet abuse continues.

In the current Field Officer Report, Warren County WCO Jason R. Amory reported that charges were recently adjudicated successfully against an out-of-area man for operating an ATV on a forest service road not authorized for such activity, and without a helmet, without registration and without insurance on the ATV. That man’s multiple offenses resulted in about $540 in costs to him.

There are solutions to the problem of illegal use of ATVs.

One is parenting. ATVs should not be used as surrogate parents. Kids can not be expected to behave properly when given an ATV. It is virtually mandatory in kid terms to use an ATV irresponsibly. Parents should think back and consider whether they would have behaved responsibly on an ATV. The honest answer is almost certainly no.

Another solution to illegal ATV use is education. Folks who do not live near public lands, especially those from the urban/suburban landscape, are not always aware of the regulations governing ATV use. But the problem is reaching all ATV users and potential ATV users.

Educating the public about the proper uses for ATVs is not the sole responsibility of the Game Commission. They already do their part.

Who is responsible for educating people about the proper use of automobiles or big trucks?

Proper use of motor vehicles starts in public schools with driving classes. Unfortunately, this is years too late for the many kids who start driving ATVs before high school.

While education may be the best way of reaching people with the message of safe ATV use, it is not, nor will it ever, stop illegal ATV use.

I wish I could write that most kids and most adults are operating ATVs responsibly. But I can not, even though it might be true. There are too many instances of illegal ATV use on the landscape, too many tracks on national forest roads, crossing streams causing siltation, crossing private lands, tearing up state game lands. Sadly, there are too many cases of ATV accidents reported in newspapers, many involving death.

Speed is behind numerous ATV accidents. Why are ATVs built to go so fast? Other than the thrill of riding fast, what possible reason could there be for an ATV to travel faster that about 40 mph?

I generally an opposed to oppressive laws. But technology has given rise to so many ways for people to kill themselves and others. All high speed small vehicles, ATVs, snowmobiles or personal watercraft, are widely known for their disproportionate accident rates.

I wish I could offer a solution that would satisfy everyone, but I doubt if such a solution exists. All I can write is, please be safe.