Off-road vehicles eroding Hoosier National Forest

By The Associated Press

BLOOMINGTON — People illegally driving off-road vehicles in southern Indiana's Hoosier National Forest are leaving behind deep tire grooves that are causing erosion, an official said.

Mike Chaveas, forest supervisor, told The Herald-Times that the erosion created by the all-terrain vehicles is more of a problem because the national forest, which spans 204,000 acres (82,556 hectares) from the Bloomington area to the Ohio River, is a patchwork of land sandwiched between private and other public properties.

“It’s a year-round problem that we have,” said Chaveas.

Off-road vehicles are not permitted on any roads or trails in the forest, which includes campground roads. Also, various counties have different regulations regarding the use of all-terrain and off-road vehicles that people should follow, Chaveas noted.

The forest’s trails were never built for use by motorized vehicles. In fact, all wheeled vehicles are prohibited from the Charles C. Deam Wilderness area of the forest.

After soil is compacted by the vehicles, water is less likely to filter down off the surface, further into the ground. That leads to water following the trail, producing an artificial drainage path, which can erode the soil. That generates cuts and the formation of gullies. The muddy water and the sediment it carries ends up in the creeks and streams, which empty into larger bodies of water, including Lake Monroe.

“That affects the aquatic biology and leads to issues with water quality,” explained Chad Menke, hydrologist with the Hoosier National Forest. “People don’t realize that everything is connected.”

Created by off-road vehicle use, a “mini canyon” is an model of what can happen. “A truckload of soil” was lost because of illegal vehicle use, Menke said. Large rocks had to be placed in the area to help keep the remaining soil in place before other actions to rehabilitate the area could begin.

“Some of these areas evolve into a really big problem for us,” he said.

Those problems are beyond just the need to stop the erosion. Chaveas said that it takes staff time and money to restore damaged areas, which then strips away funds that should be allocated for other projects and programs on the Hoosier National Forest.

“Like everybody else, our budget is finite,” he said.

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