With the closure of the lower Houston Creek area off Moonlight Drive in Star Valley to all motor vehicles, the Payson Ranger District has taken a major first step in confronting a growing problem.
If you've spent any time at all in the Rim Country's forests over the last few years, you've seen the damage caused by off-highway vehicles. It isn't pretty.
Many existing trails have been cut to the width of single-lane roads. New trails appear seemingly overnight, crisscrossing existing trails in a senseless pattern. Often a new trail simply runs parallel to an existing trail, only to rejoin it somewhere up ahead.
Entire meadows have been trashed, with giant patches of land now devoid of vegetation -- scorched by OHVs running in mindless circles. Fences have been torn down or run over. Gates are left ajar.
Of course there are responsible OHV users, and they are as concerned as the rest of us. In fact, the Rim Country 4 Wheelers are working closely with the district on the OHV problem.
Chuck Jacobs, Houston Mesa Fire Chief and president of the group, knows that restrictions are needed.
"The organized four-wheel drive community opposes any kind of blanket closure because we believe in public access to public lands, but we also understand that there is misuse out there, and somewhere along the line you have to get a handle on the misuse," Jacobs said.
The closure of the lower Houston Creek area will protect one small area from further abuse.
"When you have an area where the peace and quiet of the residents is being disturbed, something has to be done, and we understand that," Jacobs said. "We certainly don't oppose it."
And more help is on the horizon. Ed Armenta, district ranger, said he expects a nationwide ban on off-highway vehicles, leaving established roads and trails to be implemented in the next several months.
"There's an executive order coming out real soon to eliminate cross-country travel on a national level," Armenta said. "Along with that is a requirement that we designate those roads and trails that we're going to allow to be used, including which new trails we might add to the system to allow loop opportunities."
Armenta believes there is widespread support for greater regulation of OHVs, but Jacobs reminds everyone to place the blame where it really belongs.
"Everybody likes to hate quads," he said. "But the quads aren't the problem. It's the riders on the quads that are the problem, and there's irresponsible people in other vehicles as well."
Let's hope that limited closures like lower Houston Creek and the national ban on cross-country travel will eliminate the problem. The time has come to take back our forests.