You're out on your ATV, and there isn't another person for miles -- but that doesn't mean you're alone. One of the biggest concerns when it comes to off-roading is how it impacts wildlife. The most obvious danger is that an off-road vehicle can wound or kill an animal that has wandered onto the trail, and that's certainly something drivers must always be on the lookout to avoid. You can reduce the risk of such an incident by familiarizing yourself with the local wildlife before you go. Talk to park officials and land administrators about where the animals live, what times they're most active, and what signs you should check for to determine whether an animal is in the area. Find out what areas are to be avoided entirely, such as the habitats of endangered species or fragile ecosystems like wetlands.
But it's not just direct encounters with animals that cause problems. Off-trail driving can damage animal nests and burrows. Snowmobiles can crush small animals dwelling between the snow and the ground. Damage to vegetation impacts shelter and food sources for local fauna, as does chemical pollution from the machines themselves. Vehicle noise deters some species entirely, driving them from their preferred habitats. And, even if the animals do not vacate the area, the presence of machines can cause stress and a change in behavior [source: Natural Trails and Waters Coalition].
So what can you do to lessen your impact while off-roading? Choosing the right vehicle can help. Many off-highway vehicles and watercraft are available with either two- or four-stroke engines. Four-stroke engines are the more environmentally-friendly preference, as they create less pollution, use fuel more efficiently and produce less noise than two-strokes [source: Surfrider Foundation]. Using your vehicle responsibly is also important -- avoid high speeds, and don't spin your tires or do any unnecessary idling. New advancements in biofuels also give off-pavement drivers a cleaner choice. Biodiesel, made from animal fat or vegetable oil, can be used in standard diesel engines when you blend it with petroleum diesel. Modified engines are capable of running on 100 percent biodiesel [source: National Biodiesel Board].
So take heart, environmentalists -- off-roading doesn't have to mean you're hurting the environment. See the next page for lots more information about responsible off-roading.