Introduction Desert degradation is usually caused by a set of interlocking factors These include the fragility of the desert environment, flawed economics, weak laws and regulations, and human "needs" for immediate gratification A doctor can't cure many diseases without treating the causes, neither can we
Anatomy The desert remains under unprecedented assault from development, infrastructure, air pollution, nitrogen deposition, invasive species, military operations, mining, and OHV activity OHV activity is the least necessary, very extensive; and very damaging The full extent of OHV damage remains unknown
Physiology Plant communities are disrupted by direct impacts, crushing, and damage to roots Weed invasions make desert ecosystems much more vulnerable to wildfire leading to loss of key species Compaction is often severe in heavily used areas and infiltration can be very limited Water flow changes and erosion increases Reduced levels of hyphae and bacteria are found
Damage is extensive The most apparent level of OHV damage is total destruction of all vegetation in high use areas Even in areas of moderate use the damage is quite extensive, although to the untrained eye it may appear less severe if the larger shrubs are still standing Root damage and destruction of soil communities can be largely invisible but critical Extensive use of desert washes for OHVs has been a disaster for wash ecosystems
Psychology Understanding the allure of OHV operation is not difficult “its fun” OHV exploration on roads (the more sedate part of the OHV community) enables families to discover new areas and enjoy the beauty of the desert It makes it easy to reach remote areas for camping
OHV play areas OHV play is noisy, involves speed and power, danger, and requires intense concentration “That’s fun!!” A small percentage of the OHV population needs the added “kick” of outlaw behavior Flouting route restrictions, damage of undisturbed areas, vandalizing fences and gates, signs, and displays, smashing plants
Hill climbs This is a legal play area. Repairs are difficult and costly
Failed education The OHV community, like most Americans, have "affluenza", falling prey to relentless and sophisticated advertising, "If I just have more, I'll be happy" Poorly educated by a failed school system, they also have no concept of ”Nature's Services", ”Natural Capital", and "sustainability" or any concern for plants, animals, birds and ecosystems
Economics “It’s the economy, stupid” $The OHV community of manufacturers, retailers, and suppliers and their advertising agencies and dependents is big business $The economic impact is $5-10 billion dollars a year in California $More than 40% of the money spent on OHVs is for vehicles and almost 10% is for fuel
Flawed accounting Existing economic analyses neglect environmental affects and uncompensated costs to taxpayers This provides a picture of OHV economics that is so misleading it would make Enron's accountants blush. $econ activity minus damage $eco = less than zero Mojave JapanDetroit $$$$$
Autistic accounting Neoclassical economics says value is determined by sales price or use value, perhaps $500 to $700 per hectare for desert lands and ecosystems Ecological economics says a better way to judge value is replacement cost for the ecosystem structure and function, perhaps $50,000 per hectare Knowing this we can say that a full size 4x4 can do $40,000 dollars of damage in a day of ripping across the virgin desert
Restoration experience has illustrated the high repair costs Tall pots for revegetation at the Ant Hill Anza Borrego
Dove Springs, California Damage and repair assessment ConditionArea/lengthCost/unitTotal ha denuded or dense tracks19450,0009700000 with OHV impact74020,000 14800000 km route57612,0006912000 km wash routes7725,0001925000 Net $3,333,7000 Damage assessment from Matchett et al., 2004. Repair estimates from experience.
Other uncompensated costs Some could be determined, but haven't been well studied; while others are quite challenging to cost Medical treatment, perhaps $20-30 million a year for uninsured treatment in hospitals and ambulance services Enforcement Cleanup and repair of facilities and fixing vandalism The economic cost of Global Change The economic cost of weed control The economic cost of increased fire risk
Cost related to Natural Capital and Nature's Services What is the value of biodiversity? Of beauty? Of endangered species? Of natural hydrologic function? What is the ecological cost of exotic species invasion? What is the ecological cost of increased fire? The ecological cost of nitrogen deposition? What is the ecological cost of global warming? Almost certainly these are in the billions...
Subsidies Subsidies - you gotta love ‘em! Some studies of automobile operation in the U.S. suggests we all get about a 90% subsidy OHV operators are currently getting a subsidy closer to 99%, but users complain heavily about existing fees An OHV green sticker costs only $12.50 a year, just $50 a year for an OHV park pass, or $90 a year for an Imperial Dunes pass In contrast $120 a year for a state park pass!
OHV industry profits, taxpayers pay The OHV industry is mining the value of the desert at the expense of the desert owners (the American public) and future generations The value of the desert's scenic beauty, “Natural Capital”, and “Nature's Services” is being exported to Japan and Detroit While the beneficiaries pay lip service to “tread lightly”, advertising almost always shows the “tread heavily” mode
The future Desert restoration is not a technical problem Desert destruction is the result of poor accounting It will be difficult to do anything about the enormous problem of desert deterioration until we address this “driver” Unless we do, we are as the Dutch say, “mopping up the floor without turning off the water”
The education problem Users need to be aware of costs, impacts, and responsibility Control of the worst outlaws is most important and most difficult, they do the most damage Responsible off-highway recreation does relatively little damage and users support cleanup and repair work I like OHV activity but don’t ramble off route (just as I might like to shoot skeet in the Crystal Palace but don’t) Managers need to better understand and factor in cost issues - Joshua Tree has had good luck in court recovering restoration costs for illegal activity
Just because it’s fun, doesn’t mean it’s right Skeet shooting in the Crystal Palace would be fun!
Manufacturers must play a bigger role in “tread lightly” A special sales tax on OHVs (5- 10%) might be advisable OHV manufacturers should be charged $50-100,000 for each advertisement exhibiting “tread heavily” behavior If a park pass costs $120 a year, then an OHV pass should probably cost $1,000 a year or at least $500 If a ski pass costs $36 a day, then an OHV pass should be probably cost $100 a day Implementing this level of fee would be politically unfeasible, but perhaps $250 a year would be plausible
Taxes and fees would help pay uncompensated costs Medical system costs Better management Enforcement Critically needed funding for research (Recovery and Vulnerability $50 million year) Active restoration program ($50 million year) Money to develop new, high quality OHV play areas on lands removed from agriculture due to water transfers Funding for new OHV play areas closer to urban areas
Resources Desert Manager’s Group A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration. Island Press. 2007
More information Images and reprints: Special collections UC Davis Library Introductory bulletins at http://works.bepress.com/david.a.bainbridge/ Technical papers and reports http://alliant.academia.edu/DavidBainbridge Books: 2015. Garden with Less Water. Storey (in press) 2012. Restoration of arid and semi-arid lands. Chapter 10 In J. van Andel and J. Aronson, Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier. Blackwell. 2007. A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration: New Hope for Arid Lands. Island Press, Washington, DC. 391 p.