By Don Torino
The preservation and protection of open space and wildlife habitat have always been dear to the citizens of New Jersey. Despite our deep concerns we still continue to be up against unchecked over development and a source of funding to purchase the remaining critical habitat that remains in the Garden State. But there is another less talked about threat to many of our already precious preserved wild places, illegal off road vehicles.
Illegal off-road vehicles or ATV’s run rampant and unchecked on many local nature preserves, forests, and parks. These vehicles destroy nesting places for birds, eliminate endangered species of plants, destroy the natural beauty and landscape, and kill countless ground dwelling wildlife species such as turtles, snakes, salamanders, ground nesting birds and pollinators, some already on the State endangered species list. Unfortunately, the destruction often goes unchecked and at times ignored by local authorities.
Whether it is because they are overwhelmed with other local issues or lack the understanding on how these lawbreakers are devastating our public property, more often than not, nothing gets done to stop the vandalizing of our New Jersey open spaces. Make no mistake; the illegal use of these vehicles on the public’s property is nothing but vandalism, plain and simple. It’s ironic that if someone was knocking down fences, destroying park benches, or damaging a playground, it would be on the evening news and local communities would be fast to act to make sure the people responsible were stopped but when it comes to the illegal use of off-road vehicles on our wild places. Officials don’t recognize the harm, which is often far worse than most people imagine.
I am sure that the people using these vehicles are otherwise good people, have families and go to work every day but they fail to see or care about the toll they are taking on our fragile wildlife habitats. They believe that they are just having harmless fun and in some twisted way think it is their right to violate the public trust by riding unchecked on habitat that was paid for and put aside by the people of New Jersey for the protection of our wildlife.
At times, these people have personally threatened me when I confronted them at local nature preserves. I am sure this goes on across New Jersey but it is about time we no longer tolerate these bullies on our public lands and let our elected officials know about it.
Our last wild places are havens not only for our wildlife but for us too. They are sanctuaries where we can go and reconnect with nature, renew our souls and appreciate the wonders of the natural world. We cannot do that when the roar of off-road vehicles extinguish the peace, devastate the wildlife and deny our children the enjoyment of our natural environment.
Our wildlife and their environment in New Jersey is on the brink, we lose more critical habitat every year we cannot allow the vandalism and destruction of our last remaining fields and forests to be shattered by a few uncaring heartless lawbreakers. It is up to us to let out local officials know we will not tolerate the theft of our wild places by a few indifferent individuals on motorized vehicles.