Mudders, take note: It is against the law to tear up forest roads and meadows for fun, and the legal and financial consequences can be steep. Tearing up high-country meadows with four-wheel-drive and off-road vehicles destroys wildlife habitat and ecosystems.
During a recent investigation, Forest Service law enforcement officers gathered information about mudding that occurred over Memorial Day weekend on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest at Buck Lake Campground, near Winthrop, Wash.
A meadow near the campground was torn up by vehicles. Where there was green grass there are now mud pits and tire tracks. The activities that caused this damage are illegal under both state and federal law. Participants could face charges including malicious mischief and fines up to and including paying for the costs of restoration. Smoothing ruts, reseeding or planting and repairing roadbeds cost a lot of money.
Mudding, or driving through wet areas and puddles while mud sprays up onto a vehicle is considered fun by some motor sports enthusiasts. Some people enjoy the challenge of maneuvering a vehicle through a situation where they could get stuck, or they may simply get a thrill out of seeing how high they can fling mud. There are websites and groups that cater to this interest and there are places, mostly private land (with a landowners permission), where such activities are allowed.
But a national forest is not such a place.
The results of this incident on the Okanogan-Wenatchee are a familiar sight to natural resource specialists across the Forest Service. There is a difference between acceptable use of off-highway vehicles and mudding — tearing through grass to expose underlying soil or unnecessarily driving through a soft spot in the road.
Spinning tires on plants destroys the plants, leaving behind bare dirt. When plants are gone, there is nothing to stop soil from washing into nearby streams and lakes. Muddy streams and lakes are bad for fish, wildlife, irrigators and recreationists, and many local towns depend on clean water and tourism for survival. When native plants are gone, noxious weeds move in. A meadow of native grasses and flowers may soon become a field of thistles and knapweed.
Believe it or not, mudding actually compacts soil. It’s hard for plants to grow in compacted soil.
Healthy soil should bounce a bit when you walk on it. Tire tracks create hard, dried-up soil where water runs down tire tracks and into creeks and lakes, carrying mud and pollutants with it.
Meadows and wetlands provide important breeding, rearing and foraging habitats for many birds and other animals. Tearing-up these areas removes nesting and hiding cover, decreases forage, interferes with feeding and pushes animals out into areas where they may not survive.
Off-highway vehicles are permitted on designated trails within the National Forest System. These trails are built specifically to minimize the impact of vehicles on fragile ecosystems such as meadows and streams. Many trails are maintained by volunteers and are prime examples of citizens acting as stewards of public land.