Indicators for Studying, Assessing and Evaluating Potential Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) Effects and Costs on West Virginia Public Lands

There are numerous parameters to be used in the study and evaluation which will serve as the indicators of the potential of ORV effects if permitted on the public lands of West Virginia.  Every attempt was made to provide an inclusive list of potential indicators of ORV effects described in the ORV effects literature. Of those listed, some correspond with the Bureau of Land Management’s 17 indicators of rangeland health; others are quite different but could provide supplemental data for evaluating or monitoring ORV effects (for 41 examples, erosion and/or sedimentation rates would complement assessments of rill formation and other surface changes) or fill indicator voids (such as those pertaining to wildlife ecology).

(1) Soil health and watershed condition analysis of:

  • Soil strength 
  • Soil bulk density 
  • Water infiltration rate
  • Permeability
  • Erosion and sedimentation rate 
  • Sedimentation or turbidity in wetlands 
  • Surface changes (for example, formation of rills, gullies, and terracettes) 
  • Presence/condition of soil crusts (in some cases: depending on crust type) 

(2) Vegetation health analysis of:

  • Plant community composition (including species diversity, ratio of native to non-native or invasive species, structural diversity) 
  • Abundance of individuals and/or stem density 
  • Percent vegetation cover 
  • Plant size 
  • Growth rate 
  • Biomass

(3) Habitat condition and health of wildlife populations (direct and indirect) analysis of:

  • Habitat patch size and connectivity 
  • Wildlife community composition (including species diversity, ratio of native to non-native or invasive species) 
  • Abundance, density, and distribution 
  • Population sizes and trends 
  • Survivorship, productivity, body mass, and roadkill rates 
  • Age-class and gender structure 
  • Frequency of ORVs passing through a given area 
  • Road or trail type and width 
  • Level (decibels), duration, and timing of traffic noise 

(4) Water quality analysis of:

  • Hydrologic alteration, meaning changes in flow path and changes in extreme (high and low) runoff conditions, which is a long-term impact on steep ground.
  • Sedimentation rate 
  • Levels of turbidity and suspended solids 
  • Contaminants levels, including levels of petroleum-derived compounds from spills (aromatic hydrocarbons in particular)

(5) Air quality analysis of:

  • Dust levels 
  • Levels of by-products of ORV emissions (including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone, and sulfur dioxide)

(6) Socioeconomics (direct and indirect) analysis of:

  • Compliance with ORV (or other) regulations 
  • Knowledge regarding effects of user activities on various aspects of land health  
  • Mapping the distribution and intensity of OHV versus non-motorized recreation and other land Recreator satisfaction with their recreation (or other) experiences 
  • uses
  • Patterns of regulation compliance (as evidenced by creation of unauthorized trails, damage to vegetation, and so on) 
  • Trends in local economic indicators associated with ORV and nonmotorized recreation and other land uses (for example, sales in camping equipment, gasoline, restaurants, lodging facilities)

(7) Maintenance cost analysis:

(8) Law enforcement cost analysis:

  • The key to successful ORV use monitoring is adequate law enforcement. A good place to start with a calculation would be to obtain a copy of the Hatfield McCoy budget and talk to Jeff Lusk the director, which would only be a start. Budgets for our public lands are already inadequate and this extra burden would most likely be unaffordable.

Specific research questions and management goals—as well as sensitivity to the potential ORV effects and the availability of funding and personnel—will determine the potential efficacy of using any one indicator to evaluate or monitor ORV effects on West Virginia Federal and state public lands. Qualitative indicators may be most useful for rapid assessments, whereas quantitative indicators may be needed to determine long-term potential effects. Ultimately, however, implementing an ORV effects study and evaluation program will require consultation with topical experts and additional research to identify or develop appropriate and efficient indicators and field methods for evaluating potential long-term ORV effects. 


  • There is a need to prepare an EIS type assessment of all West Virginia public lands to ensure compliance with the environmental concerns of society.
  • Public land managers must do the analysis, which needs to be accomplished, if they are to protect the public land environment and habitat.
  • Habitat degradation for cold water fish like the brook trout and the candy darter is already damaged by sedimentation and getting worse, not better.
  • Most of the sedimentation is due to roads and trails which would be used by ORVs.

Prepared by the Public Lands Committee of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.