One of the most challenging issues affecting public land in the Pinelands is the widespread use and abuse of off-road vehicles (ORV). ORV use has been identified as one of the four major threats to National Forests (Bosworth 2005) and we are finding the issue just as pernicious here in the Pinelands National Reserve. We work with land managers and policy makers to enact practical solutions to help alleviate some of the worst effects of ORV use. This issue can be contentious because of conflicts arising from years of unmanaged use. Our position is not to eliminate driving in the Pines, but to protect sensitive habitats and species by keeping vehicles to the officially established sand roads. This helps to ensure that other users – hikers, bikers, forest fire fighters and others – can safely travel sand roads on public lands.
You can take action to protect our state parks and forests!
Join the Fix Our Parks Campaign
Fix Our Parks is a movement to ensure that New Jersey’s state parks and forests and wildlife management areas are protected and enhanced for future generations. Fix Our Parks is coordinated by the Pinelands Preservation Alliance along with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and New Jersey Highlands Coalition. Volunteer today!
Twenty-one major state conservation organizations issued a joint letter to Governor Murphy ahead of his budget address requesting that he include significant funding to restore New Jersey’s state park system, state forests, wildlife management areas and open space preserves. Sign the petiton to Governor Murphy.
Read the press release dated February 27, 2023.
Graphic Document – NJ Pinelands at Risk
PPA created this graphic document to show what is happening in our parks, forests and wildlife management areas. Share this guide with your public officials. The state must take action before it is too late:
NJ Pinelands at Risk: Protecting Wild Places from Off-Road Vehicles
PPA’s Policy Recommendations
PPA has presented policy recommendations to the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection:
PPA’s Off-Road Vehicle Policy Recommendations
PPA and the South Jersey Land and Water Trust have been documenting ORV damage on preserved lands for the last few years.
Wharton State Forest
Wharton State Forest is the largest state managed area in the Pinelands at 124,000 acres +/- and has over 900,000 visitors per year. Wharton wholly contained within the Pinelands Preservation Area, which has the highest levels of protections under the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan(CMP). The forest is under the direct management of NJ Parks and Forestry, but any management must also be in accordance with the rules set forth in the CMP. To put the management concerns of Wharton State Forest in context, Shenandoah National Park is only 100,000 acres and has 4 times the budget of Wharton. This is one of the reasons why we have prioritized Wharton as the most important area to reign in ORV use in the Pines. Our strategy in Wharton is to protect the most sensitive areas with physical barriers and advocate for the implementation of a Travel Management Plan that designates where vehicle use is permitted and where it is not prohibited based on species data and other factors. The Pinelands Commission passed such a basic plan in September 2017 and we are now advocating for the Department of Parks and Forestry to begin its implementation.
A wetland in the Pinelands severely damaged by illegal ORV use.
Wetland after barriers were put in place to prevent ORVs from entering.
Pinelands wetland damaged by illegal ORV use before the area was restored.
Wetland in the Pinelands after barriers were created to prevent ORVs from entering.
Brendan T. Byrne State Forest
Brendan T. Byrne State Forest (BTB), is named in honor of Governor Byrne who initiated Pinelands Protections in the State of New Jersey in late 1970s. The State Forest is over 80,000 acres and is also wholly within the Preservation Area of the Pinelands. BTB has had less widespread wetlands destruction than in Wharton State Forest, but because of its proximity to population centers it has been harder for Park Police to enforce small ORV vehicles (ATVS and Dirt-bikes) than in Wharton and other remote Pinelands Areas. Dirt-bikes and ATVs, which often travel at high rates of speed, present serious dangers to reptiles, amphibians, and other wildlife.
Greenwood Wildlife Management Area (WMA)
Wildlife Management Areas are primarily managed for wildlife, hunting, and passive outdoor activities, however, ORV use has become a serious issue within the WMA because of the proximity to the NJ Parkway and shore population centers. Large trailers loads of ATVs from New York, Pennsylvania, and other areas park in remote areas adjacent to the WMA and have caused significant damaged to the natural areas contained within. We are working to contain and remove the ability of these trailers to hide on public or private land by identifying which sites are being targeted and designing and implementing preventative measures with the help of volunteers and land managers.
An ORV is any motorized vehicle whose driver is willing to take the vehicle off paved roads, but typically ORVs fall into one of these categories: Jeeps/ SUVs, Dirt Bikes or Other Motorcycles, All-terrain vehicles (ATVs),
Frequently Asked Questions
If you give them a place to go to use ORVS legally, won’t that decrease illegal use?
The New Jersey Conservation Foundation began an off-road vehicle park in the early 2000s to test this theory, unfortunately they found that illegal riding did not decrease on their land because of the presence of a legal area. In an off-road vehicle park run by the State or a private interest, there are rules of behavior, equipment requirements, safety requirements, and other necessities that are not endorsed by much of the ORV culture. Based on our experience, it is our opinion that even if the State designated huge tracts of land exclusive to ORVs, there would still be illegal use throughout other areas because of widespread resistance rules and other factors.
Isn’t ORV riding/driving just another outdoor activity like any other?
Our position is that unmanaged ORV use constitutes a significant threat to many of our State’s natural and scenic resources. This is based on years of observation and documentation of the effects of ORV use in the Pinelands. The same can-not be said of any other outdoor activity. Unlike hiking, paddling, biking, or horseback riding, ORV is much less about the place then it is about the machine. ORV drivers/riders are not coming to the Pinelands to experience nature, but simply because it is an area on which they can use and test their machines with some degree of impunity.
Should all vehicles just be banned from the Pinelands?
Our position is that vehicles can be used responsibly as transportation on designated sand trails and roads within in the Pinelands. The key to responsible use is effective designation. It is known that hillsides, low-lying wetlands, and sand dunes are commonly targeted by ORV users and that is why most designated routes should be kept away from these areas. With proper management and thoughtful designation, we will be able to all continue to enjoy the Pinelands for years to come.