BAKER CITY - Because of melting snow and rainy weather conditions, driving off-road on soggy and muddy ground can cause serious damage to the forest resources, stated Kurt Wiedenmann, La Grande district ranger. "Damage can be avoided by being a conscientious forest user. We ask that you stay on designated forest roads and trails at this time of the year, when the soils are most vulnerable to damage."

Driving on muddy roads or trails, off-road across wetlands and meadows, and up steep hills are a growing concern to resource managers, law enforcement officials, and responsible ATV users. These types of forest activities destroy the vegetation, expose the soil to erosion, and leave a scar upon the land that may last for many years, according a press release.

"Whether you drive an ATV or a four-wheel drive vehicle on soft ground, the compaction and imprints from the tires will damage that site," Wiedenmann said. "The terrain is currently saturated with moisture and off-road travel can make deep scars on fragile soil."

According to Dwight Johnson, law enforcement official for the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, deliberate damage caused to the resources, which in extreme cases includes mud bogging, is illegal under federal and state law and can result in penalties up to $400. In some situations, individuals can be indicted and ordered to pay costly restitution charges for illegal use of the forest.

"We encourage forest users to enjoy their national forest. Responsible riding will not only avoid further damage of the resources, but also ensure that there are future riding opportunities across the forest," Wiedenmann said.

For more information about driving on the national forest, call Wiedenmann, at 541-962-8582.

Rules of the off-road

• Tread lightly with your motor vehicle. Go easy if muddy.

• Stay on designated trails and roads.

• Honor road and trail closures.

• Building your own trails causes damage and is illegal.

• In open riding areas, learn to read the terrain. Avoid low spots and watercourses that could lead to wetlands and meadows.

• Bypass wetlands altogether. If you can't avoid them, go easy.

• Be part of the solution! Report resource damage to the Forest Service office nearest you.

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