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Too many motorheads

Posted: August 12, 2011 - 10:40am

Since arriving in Alaska shortly after the 1964 earthquake, I’ve seen more than a few changes that have affected fishing, hunting and the outdoors in general.

In the 50 years between 1960 and 2010, Alaska’s population more than tripled, increasing from 226,000 to 710,000. When combined with an annual deluge of about 1.4 million out-of-state tourists, this population increase has caused crowded fishing and hunting areas, unsustainable pressures on many fish and game populations, and a dramatic increase in onerous restrictions on outdoor activities.

I’ve become somewhat used to these changes, but something that has eaten at me for years is the extent to which we’ve become motorheads.

In 1960, the first of what we now call snowmobiles arrived in Alaska on a demonstration trek from Bethel to Fairbanks. Today, these machines are climbing to the mountaintops. In villages, they’re as common as cars in a city and are used for most everything. Their speed makes them a hazard to sled dogs and to other trail users. In my neighborhood in Sterling, some snowmobile riders act as if the public roads are their racetrack. On the extreme end, a turbo-charged 1100cc model that accelerates fast enough to yank arms from sockets runs about $14,000.

In 1970, Honda introduced the first 3-wheeler all-terrain vehicle (ATV). Alaskans quickly caught on that three-wheelers could be helpful in hunting, hauling things and countless other uses. The US90 sported a single-cylinder, air-cooled, 4-stroke engine that cranked out 7 horsepower and sold for $595. Suzuki introduced the first 4-wheeler ATV in 1982. Today, you can buy a two-seater, liquid-cooled Kawasaki Brute Force 750 4x4i sport-utility ATV with a 750cc, fuel-injected, 2-stroke, V-Twin motor and power steering for somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000. Depending on your point of view, ATVs are useful, a blight upon the land or the most fun you can have off a bed.

Personal Water Craft (PWCs) came to the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and soon showed up in Alaskan waters. More fun than a box full of bobble heads, they can disrupt wildlife and conflict with land owners and other users on the water. PWCs are specifically banned on the Kenai River and Kachemak Bay. Some new models can carry up to four passengers and skim along at more than 60 miles per hour. Among other things, they’re now used for fishing and deer hunting in Prince William Sound.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not for banning the internal combustion engine. It’s not so much the motorized use that bothers me, but the sheer volume of motorheads. Every year more of them are buzzing along our roads, trails and waterways, and every year more of them seem to be careless.

Seems to me that all this irresponsible roaring around is just one more way of paving paradise.

Les Palmer can be reached at lpalmer@alaska.net.

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