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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Death in the desert — there's more to be told

Published 08/30/10
By Reed Parsell, content developer/editor

News coverage of the Aug. 14 off-road race crash that killed eight spectators and injured a dozen others in California’s Mojave Desert focused on a few questions. Why were people allowed to stand practically within arm’s reach of careening, dust-spewing trucks that attained speeds approaching 80 mph? Will the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land on which the California 200 was contested, continue to issue permits for such events? What are people who enjoy “off-roading” supposed to do with their expensive vehicles if further restrictions are imposed on where they can drive?

Without question, the media did their job in describing the accident, reporting on deaths and injuries, and taking a step back to discuss the tragedy’s possible ramifications on off-road desert racing. What really would be refreshing, however, is if journalists and bloggers took a further step back and considered how such events harm animals.

The crash, in which the unfortunately named Brett M. Sloppy lost control of his vehicle as he roared down a portion of the 40-mile course called The Rock Pile, was horrific. A CBS News video submitted by a spectator shows Sloppy’s truck from behind as it launches over a bump. Off camera, something bad obviously happens next, as people crane their necks and wander out onto the course, some looking down toward the accident, others waving frantically toward oncoming drivers to slow down. Inevitably, many spectators try to photograph or film the scene, straining to lift their cell phones or cameras with upraised arms as other people are running for help or appearing dazed by the carnage. Capturing the scene digitally becomes more important than being a part of it, apparently.

Rather than allowing the California 200 incident to be buried and forgotten in the inevitable onslaught of coming sensational news stories, some enlightened reporter could follow up with an analysis of what off-road driving does to the Mojave’s animals, more than a dozen of which are formally classified as threatened or endangered. She or he could stress how most desert animals emerge to forage or hunt at dusk — right when the California 200 race was held. Imagine how disruptive it would be for any creatures to suddenly one evening have in their midst more than 1,000 people, driving and then trampling over plants the animals eat and holes in which they burrow, talking loudly and cheering as racing trucks thunder by.

New questions might arise. Can we justify such off-road races, not just from a human-safety standpoint, but from their impact on animals? How much “fun” at animals’ expense are people entitled to have? An estimated 400 million creatures are killed by U.S. drivers each year along paved roads; what’s the death toll off-road?

Sharing the planet with wildlife, and respecting their native habitats, is a major concern here at Born Free USA. We all should strive to better co-exist with wildlife.

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