I am starting this thread at the risk of sounding presumptuous. I do not claim to be an expert in the area by any stretch of the imagination, I am merely thinking out loud. Up till now, I have been more of a 4x4 vehicle enthusiast, and so my interest in off-roading has been incidental. This is something I see changing soon.
Over the years we have seen a rise in off road enthusiasts, many of them members of the Pakwheels community. This is a positive development since it has also contributed to the rise of clubs where off-roading enthusiasts and their families can partake in healthy, good natured, outdoor fun. As off-roading gains popularity it will also, without a doubt, present its own set of challenges.
Globally, off-roading has inspired two "camps": 1) Off-road enthusiasts passionate about exploring the great outdoors (and of course their vehicles), and 2) The "environmentalist camp" equally passionate about nature, but viewing off-roading as a threat to it. The common thread that runs between the two camps is enthusiasm about nature and all that it has to offer. While one group focuses on exploring the natural wonders of our planet, the other's main focus is on preserving the natural setting.
Since we have witnessed a rise in "formal" off-road groups here in Pakistan, perhaps now is the right time to start talking about putting some best practices for responsible/green off-roading into effect, e.g., as part of the new member orientation, educating other outdoors based organizations, etc.
You will find below a collection of best practices and opinions gathered from various online sources and edited according to the local context. Please keep in mind that this is not an exhaustive list. The aim is to start a conversation on the subject and to have a space where members of the "off-road community" - affiliated with an off-road club or otherwise - can not only draw information from but will actively contribute ideas/comments/suggestions/thoughts and practices already in place. Hopefully, this thread will be an ongoing one.
By definition, off-roading puts automobiles in areas not designed for automobiles. This has a variety of effects on the natural environment, including:
<ul><li><u>Disturbing the ground</u>: Off-road vehicles can churn up soil, leading to ruts, damaged root systems, compacted soil, accelerated erosion, more frequent dust storms and/or increased sedimentation in waterways.</li>
<li><u>Disturbing vegetation</u>: In addition to damaging plants in the process of driving over them, off-road vehicles can spread seeds as they churn up soil and vegetation, aiding in the spread of weeds that can damage native plant life. A Montana State University Extension Service study found that one dirt bike can distribute 2,000 seeds over a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius [source: NTWC].</li>
<li><u>Disturbing wildlife</u>: As a natural habitat is churned up, eroded or invaded by noxious weeds, the wildlife that depends on it suffers. Also, the engine noise from off-road vehicles can frighten off animals, not only kicking them out of their habitat but also depriving hikers and campers of the chance to spot them.</li>
<li><u>Increase in pollution</u>: Toxic emissions, particulates, and soil or water contamination are all possible consequences of off-roading [source: Wildlands CPR].</li></ul>
<b>Suggested Best Practices</b>
<ul><li>Drive over, not around obstacles to avoid widening the ?trail?.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.</li>
<li>Should you need to pile stones up to get over an obstacle, then be sure to put the stones back where you found them afterwards.</li>
<li>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.</li>
<li>Know where the differential or the lowest point on your vehicle is. This will help in negotiating terrain and prevent vehicle damage resulting in oil and fluid spills on the trail.</li>
<li>When using a tree as an anchor for winching, use a wide tree strap to avoid damaging the trunk of the tree.</li>
<li>Do not disturb historical, archeological or paleontological sites.</li>
<li>Do your part by modeling appropriate behavior, leaving the area better than you found it, properly disposing of waste, minimizing the use of fire, avoiding the spread of invasive species and restoring degraded areas.</li>
<li>Carry a trash bag on your vehicle and pick up litter left by others.</li>
<li>Protect the soundscape by preventing unnecessary noise created by a poorly tuned vehicle or revving your engine.</li>
<li>Before and after a ride, wash your vehicle to reduce the spread of invasive species.</li>
<li>Respect our flora and fauna. Stop and look, but never disturb.</li></ul>
There is, of course, plenty of disagreement about the extent of these effects, making it difficult to establish sweeping regulations. For their part, many off-roaders do agree there needs to be some level of regulation. Perhaps the most important rule of thumb for responsible off-roading is to <u>leave no trace behind</u>.
Tread Lightly – Quick Tips for Responsible Four Wheeling
Ethics Off- Road
The Environmentally Friendly Off-Road Driver | Earth Torch
Rules of the Offroad - Trail Etiquette for Offroading - Responsible Offroading Tips for Beginners on Trails
HowStuffWorks "Is off-roading bad for the environment?"
HowStuffWorks "How Responsible Off-Roading Works"