July 11, 2007

Off-road groups want in on debate

Victorville Daily Press

Off-roading groups are concerned that they could be left out of the discussion on how to prevent motorized vehicle damage to public lands.

In late June, a group of 13 former rangers and public land managers calling themselves the Rangers for Responsible Recreation identified reckless off-roading as the No. 1 problem facing public lands across the U.S.

The group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is supporting the ranger group, continued its national campaign on Tuesday when it released figures on criminal activity on lands under the protection of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or the BLM between 2004 and 2007.

Across California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah, BLM records showed about 6,600 off-road violations for hit-and-run and other driving offenses, and about twice as many incidents of driving under the influence for off-roaders as compared to automobiles, according to a press release from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility or PEER.

In interviews Tuesday, representatives of the national Off-Road Business Association and BlueRibbon Coalition said they support law enforcement cracking down on irresponsible riders who give the sport a bad name, but they also feel scapegoated.

Off-roaders are increasing while the amount of land available to them is shrinking as more wildlands are protected, off-roading rights advocates said. This results in increased trespassing and resource damage, they said.

A 2005 survey by the U.S. Forest Service found that participants in off-road activities increased by 42 percent nationwide between 2000 and 2004.

Meanwhile, public land where off-roaders can ride has been cut in half through closures, such as under the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, said Don Amador, the western representative of the BlueRibbon Coalition. Amador said that he would like to see more routes opened to riders.

“The Rangers really should reconsider pointing fingers at the OHV community when it was their agencies that often placed recreation management at the bottom of the priority list,” Amador wrote in an e-mail.

Meg Grossglass, a spokeswoman for the Off-Road Business Association Inc., said that off-roading groups want to partner with the Rangers for Responsible Recreation to increase enforcement of off-roading rules and educate riders through maps and other methods. Development in areas such as the High Desert has also cut down on areas where longtime residents used to be able to ride through open parcels of land, she said.

“The name of the game is you have to be reasonable,” she said. “Each side has to be a little unhappy.”