The Environmentally Friendly Off-Road Driver
It seems, sometimes, that all a person has to do to sound off the environmental alarms, is stop to smell the roses while taking a leisurely stroll. A major criticism among who find the popularity of off road driving a perplexity, is that it adds to environmental damage. Actually, although they may not look as attractive, unpaved roads are more environmentally friendly than paved highways. Asphalt adds to the global warming effects by reflecting sunlight and trapping in heat. Unpaved roads create indents in the earth’s surface, but have very little impact on the surrounding area.
To minimize off-road damage, do not create multiple tracks. Stick to the trail already in place to prevent additional tearing of plant-life and the possible disturbance of animal life burrowing near the trail. There are plenty of places you can free-wheel; rock structures, sand dunes, mud flats that get washed by the tide, gravel beds and rock quarries, but if the terrain is tender, stay on the trail. Tender terrain includes estuaries, marshes, meadows and tundra.
If you are driving in on an unpaved road that has a lot of soft mud, try to avoid the ruts. Straddle them if you are able to do so. If you sink into a rut, don’t spin your tires. It will only add further damage to the off-road for the next vehicle. Rock your vehicle gently backward and forward until you regain traction. If that doesn’t work, use your winch or come-along to pull yourself out.
Some states regulate where you are allowed to do creek crossings as certain areas contain fish nurseries. If there is no evidence other vehicles have been crossing a creek, there is a usually a good reason for it. Either it has a deep end making the crossing difficult, or it’s a protected habitat.
Do not throw out any garbage, no matter how remote the area you are going into. Carry along a large plastic bag for your litter and dispose of it at the next dumpster or garbage can you come across.
Many off-roads contain campgrounds for overnight stays. The services will include out-houses, fire pits, and garbage disposal. Use these services when they are available. If the area you are going into is so remote, you must set up your own campsite; there are a few simple rules to follow. Before making your fire, set up a fire pit by digging a hole and lining it with rocks. Keep your fire fairly small, making sure it is free of tree branches. Put it completely out, dousing it with water before you go to bed or when you leave your campsite. Dig a hole for relieving yourself and cover it completely when you are finished.
If you are camping out in bear country, do not store your food in your tent. This is for your own safety. Lock your food in your vehicle or tie it in the trees away from your campsite. Do not leave any containers open, not even in your vehicle. Bears have a very keen sense of smell. An open container in your Jeep is an open invitation for a bear to wreck your vehicle.
Be especially careful about leaving excess fishing line, pop tops or plastic six-pack holders on the ground. These items are a trap for birds, tangling their beaks, wings, heads and feet.
Spend some time learning about the flora and fauna in the area you wish to go into. What appears to be barren terrain may contain rare or endangered plant life, miniature eco-systems or burrowing animals. Check with the local wildlife or conservation center if you’re not sure of what you should avoid.
Practice safe driving on off-roads. Leave your racing urges to race tracks. Not only are you far from help if you should have an accident, if you are driving too fast, you’ll startle the wild animals. You could hit a deer, elk, moose, caribou, fox or coyote from reckless driving.
The best rule of thumb when driving in remote areas is to leave as little evidence as possible that you’ve been there. Clean up after yourself. Leave no unnecessary tracks. Drive gently. Your purpose is to enjoy the great outdoors and you’ll enjoy it a lot more if you are a quiet, cautious off-road driver. You’ll see more, enjoy more and you’ll have a better chance of viewing your furry, wild neighbors.
For more information on ways to preserve the trails you trek visit Tread Lightly.
About the Author: Karla Fetrow is an experienced off-road driver tackling some of the toughest terrain in the U.S in Alaska on a daily basis. Having been raised in the remote areas of Alaska, it is common knowledge to the rural inhabitant that there are places you just can’t go without a Jeep, Jeep Wrangler or other sturdy off-road vehicle. Karla frequently writes on behalf of Extreme Terrain.