Press Releases

New Report: Legislature Must Protect Forest Preserve, Park Lands & Waters from All-Terrain Vehicle Misuse

Coalition of Organizations Calls on State to Act to Address Serious Problems with ATVs

ALBANY, N.Y. – A coalition of conservation organizations called on the State Legislature on Monday to address how the misuse of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) is harming public lands, public waters and public safety in the Adirondack Park.

Advocates for non-motorized access and environmental organizations said the state’s policies against ATVs on public lands are weak and often ignored. A law is needed to prevent worsening harm to New York’s most sensitive parks, forests, pristine lakes, wild rivers and rare wildlife, they said.

“ATV violations are the largest source of citations issued by the Ranger Force today,” said Scott van Laer Director or of New York State Forest Ranger Benevolent Association. “As Police Officers our sworn duties are not only to safeguard human life, they are to steward the states magnificent environmental resources. Without further controls – a complete ban would be best – we cannot fulfill that.”

“State Forest Rangers’ annual reports call misuse of ATVs the most problematic enforcement issue they face,” said Neil Woodworth of the Adirondack Mountain Club. “Rangers have issued an average of 496 tickets per year for misuse of ATVs over the last decade, but the ones alleging trespass on public lands are frequently dismissed or result in no penalty and therefore don’t deter repeat offenses.”

“What is needed is a law that makes it clear that ATVs are not allowed on public lands, with very few exceptions,” said William C. Janeway, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council, whose organization released a report Monday entitled WRONG WAY: How New York State Can Course-Correct on ATV Use. “Each Ranger is now responsible for patrolling more than 50,000 acres of land, more than twice the amount they patrolled in the 1970s. The illegal use of ATVs on state lands is frequent, difficult to prevent, and presents significant enforcement issues. The Legislature needs to help deter ATV misuse.”

“ATVs cause damage to sensitive forests in the Long Island Pine Barrens, the Adirondacks, Catskills and the Albany Pine Bush,” said Adrienne Esposito, Executive Director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We want the public to explore and enjoy these magnificent natural resources but enjoying them shouldn't result in destroying them. New Yorkers need the Legislature to enact new laws to protect our trails, wildlife and public safety from ATV abuse.”

“The forest preserve is the backbone of our tourism-based economy and way of life in the Catskills. ATVs rut and ruin forest preserve trails, and destroy wildlife habitat – the damage ATVs cause can be irreversible, and is 100% preventable,” said Katherine Nadeau, Catskill Mountainkeeper's deputy director. “New York State must do everything it can to keep these dangerous vehicles out of the forest preserve.”

“The New York Forest Preserve is a unique and special place. Recreation has a home here as well as the need for conservation,” said Jeff Senterman, Catskill Center Executive Director. “While the Catskill Center supports non-motorized access on Forest Preserve Lands, we recognize that any motorized use results in impacts which may be irreversible. For this reason the Catskill Center stands by the Adirondack Council in ATV reform, requesting that legislation be passed to prevent ATV use on public lands.”

“ATVs can do great and lasting damage to wet, organic soils prevalent throughout many public lands of the Adirondacks,” said David Gibson with the group Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve. “One can still observe ATV tracks in wetland bogs and bog meadows created by riders years ago. Some ATV riders come from downstate and may be unaware that riding can cause great damage to sensitive lowlands of the Park. A law which expressly prohibits ATV riding on public lands would be both educational to those who ride and helpful to Forest Rangers and Environmental Conservation Officers who enforce laws protective of vulnerable natural resources.”

“New York’s public lands include some of the most important natural resources that we have in the state,” said Maureen Cunningham, Senior Director for Clean Water at Environmental Advocates of New York. “We need to ensure that the streams, wetlands and forests on these lands are protected against the damage that ATVs can cause. We urge the Legislature to adopt a ban on ATVs on public lands.”

"Illegal ATV use is a continuing scourge across the public Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks,” said Peter Bauer, Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks. “These machines destroy public hiking and snowmobile trails. They cause extensive damage to these trials and long-term damage to soils and wetlands. ATVs are also dangerous when ridden on public roads. Many local governments have illegally open local roads for ATV riding. These machine are marketed for wild riding to make the mud fly and to chew up the forest. The State of New York needs to pass legislation that protects public and private lands from ATV damage."

“Too often, offenders get little or no penalties from local courts, which have broad discretion over penalties for state land trespass,” said Caitlin Ferrante, Conservation Program Manager for the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. “By specifying the penalties for riding an ATV through a protected state forest, New York can finally curb this abusive behavior.”

The Adirondack Council’s report shows that amid a flood of new visitors to the Adirondack Park’s scenic Forest Preserve, state officials have proposed loosening restrictions on a destructive recreational activity found on state lands and on private lands where the state holds conservation easements. This would lead to increased erosion and water pollution, while threatening public safety, the report says.

Janeway said getting ATVs under control is even more important as the park’s visitor numbers continue to rise due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s investments in tourism. Janeway said the 25-percent boost in visitors over the past decade (from 10 million to more than 12.4 million) was welcome. 

“ATVs have their place in this Park on private lands such as farms, construction sites and logging operations, but as a recreational vehicle, they are a menace to public resources,” Janeway explained.  “They don’t belong on the Forest Preserve, unless used for search and rescue, for actions relating to the management of the natural resources, or in providing access for a person with a disability. 

At 9,300 square miles (six million acre), the Adirondack Park is the largest park in the contiguous United States. It protects the world’s largest intact, temperate, deciduous forest. Just less than half of the Park is public Forest Preserve, which must remain a wild forest forever, as mandated by the NYS Constitution.  The rest of the park consists of commercial timberlands, resorts, private estates, seasonal camps and 130 small, rural communities. 

“The state has had a policy against allowing ATVs on public trails in the Adirondacks for many years,” Janeway said. “But policies can change. Over the past decade, state agencies have been loosening restrictions on ATV use. Instead of suing to stop ATV unlawful use, they have proposed new ATV riding areas and created new recreational routes that increase the likelihood of trespass on to off-limits public lands.”

This is occurring despite the fact that state Forest Rangers have repeatedly warned state officials that ATV use is harming public resources.

Janeway said the Adirondack Council has been tracking ATV damage inside the Adirondack Park since the 1990s and the damage continues to mount as more ATVs are registered and used, and as younger and younger riders are introduced to the activity. New York law currently allows riders as young as 10 years old to operate an ATV by themselves.

“Because some local governments have insisted on opening public roads to ATVs, this allows kids as young as 10 to ride roads along with cars and trucks,” Janeway said. “Too often, the results are tragic.  We have sued successfully to overturn local laws that open local roads to ATV traffic in violation of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. But towns keep opening new ones.”

ATV crashes sent 101,200 Americans to the emergency room in 2016. Of those, nearly 27,000 were children under 16 years old.

The Adirondack Council is a privately funded not-for-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. 

The Council envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, comprised of core wilderness areas, surrounded by farms and working forests, as well as vibrant communities. The Adirondack Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action to ensure the legacy of the Adirondack Park is safeguarded for future generations. Adirondack Council members live in all 50 United States.

For more information:

John Sheehan, Adirondack Council, 518-441-1340 cell

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, April 8, 2019

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