TRADE-OFF WITH NATURE
The results were about as expected. When the dust had settled over the Mohave Desert several weeks ago, the motorcyclists and the environmentalists were back at the same old standoff.
The event had begun in an eerie silence as 1,000 "expert" rated riders tensed for the mass start of the 155-mile Barstow-to- Las Vegas Hare and Hound race sponsored by the San Gabriel Valley Motorcycle Club. On a signal, the morning burst into a fury of shrieking engines and blinding, choking dust. Quickly, the horde headed for the smoke bomb marking the course. A crew checked the first mile for injured riders and broken bikes, and then the cacophony was repeated as a second wave of 2,000 "novice" riders growled into the desert.
Add to the scene 12,000 or so spectators with their cars and campers and, at the fringes, clusters of naturalists, fearful of the terrible impact of the race on the fragile Mohave. Before issuing a permit this year, the Bureau of Land Management released an Environmental Impact Study that claimed: "To date, 4,675 acres of wildlife habitat have been lost [because of] the Barstow-Las Vegas race. An additional loss of 478 acres is anticipated from this event."
Vegetation-recovery estimates range from one to 10 years for annuals and to as much as centuries for other species. Some areas may never recover. Many animals become candidates for predators and starvation as they search for quieter areas. After previous races animals have been found with burst eardrums, and the BLM report says that whole species are threatened with extinction.
The recent race was a compromise. Clubs like the Brush Busters and the Dustmakers no longer are permitted to ride off in any direction for as long as their fuel holds out. Banning the race altogether might encourage some motorcyclists to go back to their old foraging ways on the desert or join the Hell's Angels on the highways and scare the wits out of all of us. But rather than the mass start, environmentalists suggest compromising further with an "enduro"—a limited number of riders starting a few at a time and running at reduced speeds. This might take some of the fun out of the sport—but it would certainly be a lot gentler on the wilderness.
A man in the audience was curious.
"How many goals," he asked the speaker, Babe Pratt, a Vancouver Canuck official and a former NHL star, "would Cyclone Taylor score in a season in today's watered-down NHL?"
"Seven or eight," Pratt said.