August 4, 2008

Off-road people may see impact of dust controls

The Arizona Land Department is considering closing a major portion of state trust land to motorized vehicles. In particular, it would target off-roaders


Yuma Sun

Trying to keep the dust from being stirred up in the middle of the desert has always seemed a little futile to us, despite the fact that federal environmental officials insist that it is necessary.

The federal government has certain standards for air quality and one of them involves keeping levels of dust in the air below certain levels. If states or cities do not meet those standards, then they are "punished" by imposition of strict control rules and the eventual loss of federal funding.

Arizona and Yuma County are under the gun for not meeting these dust standards and a number of steps have been required over the years to minimize dust, including watering dirt roads and watering down construction sites.

Now a new wrinkle has been added by the Arizona Land Department for some parts of Maricopa County and Pinal County. The department is considering closing a major portion of state trust land to motorized vehicles. It in particular would target off-roaders.

Four-wheel vehicles, dirt bikes and ATVs would be banned from popular trail areas because the Land Department says they stir up too much dust, raising the potential the state would not meet dust attainment standards and would lose federal road money.

Some off road groups have a different suspicion, and that is that the Land Department just doesn't like off-roaders going into the rugged back country areas, and that it is using the dust attainment rule as an excuse.

There is no proof of that, but the end result would be the same whatever the reason - off-roaders couldn't enjoy their recreational activity. And there are a substantial number of them in Arizona and in our area.

The Associated Press reported that some believe as many as 500,000 people in our state participate in off-roading, with much of the growth in the past decade. There has been as much as a 350 percent increase.

Off-roading is also popular in our area, and keeping within dust containment levels here is an ongoing problem. Could this activity eventually be limited here also? Perhaps.

There needs to be recognition by the federal government that dust is a natural part of our desert environment. Yes, human activity can cause dust, but a big factor is natural causes like the wind. So far, controlling nature is beyond the reach of the government, so they focus on human activity, unfairly imposing impractical standards on dust control.

The federal government needs to back off and accept that dust is natural part of our environment here.