My Turn: The roach on the cupcake

Only prudent answer to snowmobile club's proposal is to say 'No'

Posted: Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When someone says, "Just try it! You'll like it!" or "What could go wrong?" anyone over the age of 3 knows that the proposal immediately requires closer inspection.

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The snowmobile club is suggesting we "just try it" with a large hunk of our public lands. And the cockroach glued to the bottom of this particular cupcake is:

Enforcement: Snow machines are automotive vehicles. We now have over a century of experience that demonstrates an indisputable link between automotive vehicles and noise, exhaust, speeding, recklessness, injury, destruction and alcohol. Snowmobilers claim, "Oh, we'd never do any of those bad things," but evidence is already to the contrary - skiers driven from Dan Moller by noise and safety concerns, tracks across our berry meadows, a landmark on the Spaulding Meadows snowmobiling trail known as "the beer tree."

Motor vehicles require registration, license plates, mufflers, insurance, competency and eyesight exams, and bar drivers under the age of 14. And yet even with all this, we still need a significant police presence to maintain order and safety on our public roads and highways. The skyrocketed accident rate from our recent snowy winter certainly does not bode well for increased off-road use by motor vehicles. To make matters worse, Juneau currently has no effective ordinances regulating off-road activity and noise.

But even if we had ironclad ordinances, how are the police supposed to patrol snowmobile routes? The snowmobile club lamely suggests a camera. Any park ranger will tell you that cameras get spotted and destroyed almost as soon as they're put up. But even if an offender is caught on camera, anyone in law enforcement - or anyone who's ever watched a TV crime show, for that matter - knows that identification is often very difficult, if not impossible.

Enforcement requires training in hazardous confrontations, and the legal requirements for ticket writing - a specialty of the police. Nevertheless, our police force is already stretched thin. There's no way the dispatcher could send an officer driving all the way up to Eaglecrest to take a trespass or safety complaint on an unidentifiable and long-gone snowmobile. Nor could we afford to have an officer posted to Eaglecrest 24/7 (snowmobiles have headlights, remember, and can drive around in the dark).

And it's not just the Eaglecrest area, but a major portion of Douglas Island that's in jeopardy from motorized abuse. Removing the ban on motorized vehicles in Eaglecrest effectively opens up a large chunk of backcountry to bootleg trails. Do we really want our meadows and forest covered by tire tracks and muddy hog wallows and echoing with unmuffled engine noise? But who's going to be on patrol to ensure that this abuse doesn't happen? Not the Forest Service - they don't have the staff either.

In short, when it comes to this particular "Let's just try it" proposal, the only prudent course for a public resource manager is to just say "No."

• Chris Prussing is a resident of Seward.

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