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Prosecute off-roaders to the max

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opinion Dickinson, 58602
The Dickinson Press
(701) 225-4205 customer support
Dickinson North Dakota 1815 1st Street West 58602

Off-road vehicle damage in western North Dakota's Little Missouri Grasslands was described last week as "rampant" and "deplorable." It's worse. It's the result of thoughtless and arrogant behavior by off-roaders who qualify as lawless thugs.

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Forum News Service reporter Amy Dalrymple, who works out of Williston, wrote that recent cases of off-road vandalism involved pickup trucks and other vehicles that got stuck while "mudding" on U.S. Forest Service land. By the way, that's on land that belongs to all of us, and all of us should be offended by the blatant abuse of the privilege to use federal lands.

At least one incident reported by the service involved seven or eight pickups. Authorities identified some of the drivers. McKenzie County and Richland County (Mont.) authorities are investigating, and charges could range from misdemeanors to felonies. The U.S. Attorney's Office in North Dakota is assisting with the investigation.

The damage is more than a few ruts in a field, which is the kind of thing that happens with the occasional off-road violation in eastern North Dakota, most often on private property. The western damage is severe and, said one official, will be very expensive to fix. Moreover, there might be sensitive archeological and cultural resources on the damaged landscapes. Also, the fragility of vegetation and soils in the grasslands makes repair more difficult. Erosion of a scar that might be minor in other places can be severe on dry western lands because vegetation often is sparse.

In addition to the off-road damage, Forest Service personnel reported finding garbage and other trash, including more than 900 pounds of scrap steel from the cab of an abandoned, shot-up truck. It's the work of genuine slobs.

The service doesn't have the resources to police the more than 1 million acres of the grasslands. Only one full-time law enforcement officer stationed at Lemmon, S.D., is on the job. Until the oil boom, off-roading and trash dumping was manageable — usually the result of careless local folks. The situation today has changed because more people, many of them from out of state and attached to the oil boom, are engaged in criminal conduct on the land.

Enforcement should step up. The grasslands are part of the nation's natural heritage. A few high-profile arrests and prosecutions would send a message.

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