WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT!

Community ORV Watch is able to advocate for the protection of private and public lands with the generous contributions of its members and supporters. We have no office or paid staff (and therefore no overhead) and depend exclusively on volunteers spending hundreds of hours of their donated time to advance our programs.

Please donate using the button on the right side of the page or send us a check for $25, $50, $100 or more. Make the check out to the "Peace Development Fund/COW" our fiscal sponsor and mail to PO Box 3237, Landers, 92285. We cannot be effective without your support as we face off with well-financed ORV special interests.

COW Status Report

ORV PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS

We are addressing the crisis of widespread ORV abuse of private and public lands. When we testified at federal congressional hearings in 2010, we learned from federal land management officials that off-road damage is the NUMBER ONE threat to our public lands. ORV activity is uncontrolled and unmanaged, riders trespass with impunity, law enforcement is often resistant to enforcing the law or are so understaffed that they are ineffective.

The state Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Commission is stacked with representatives of the ORV industry and serves as an advocate for well-funded ORV special interests and resists taking the needed steps to enforce existing laws. One big problem that we are tackling at this time is that ORVs do not have to display any kind of visible identification. This enables riders who commit illegal acts including trespass to escape without identification. Law enforcement cannot trace them and so the problem persists. RIDERS TRESPASS WITH IMPUNITY. We are working through the OHMVR and governor's office to make visible ID a requirement, but it has been an uphill battle despite the fact that the policy is a matter of common sense. We are up against the significant influence of the ORV industry and a subculture of entitlement no matter the consequences.

It is extremely difficult to obtain protection from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) since they are severely understaffed and therefore hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands remain unprotected. Protection of the environment by the BLM remains a low priority while the agency continues to support large scale ORV events such as the King of Hammers and the huge gatherings at Dumont Dunes and other venues. The law enforcement landscape is skewed toward facilitating ORV events and activities at the cost of the environment, private property, invaluable cultural and historical sites and safety.

WEMO ORV ROUTE DESIGNATION

COW is a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit taking the BLM to task for designating 5,092 miles of ORV routes in the Western Mojave (WEMO) desert area without regard for the protection of endangered species, private property, designated wilderness and National Park lands. The federal court agreed with us that the process by which these routes were designated was arbitrary and capricious. Many of the routes pass through fragile desert washes, invade habitat for threatened and endangered species, wilderness areas and directly trespass on private lands. Although the court put the BLM on a timeline to “go back to the drawing board” and restart the process to receive public input, the BLM has successfully requested a series of delays claiming that they did not have the staff to follow through on the court order. In the meantime, riders are proliferating routes that threaten the integrity of the desert ecosystem.

At a recent status conference with the Department of Justice (the BLM’s legal representatives), the BLM and our attorneys, our concerns about the continuing impacts of ORVs on the Mojave desert were ignored. The magistrate granted the BLM another delay in the WEMO process. COW Steering Committee member Phil Klasky told the court: “Everyday the courts allow the BLM to delay implementation of a responsible policy regarding ORVs, the desert suffers – more damage to wildlife, more trespass on private and public lands, more landscapes denuded of vegetation, more erosion, more destruction of America’s natural and cultural heritage.” The statement fell on deaf ears as the court granted the BLM another year delay in the WEMO route designation process. We will continue to monitor the mandates of the federal court but it is an uphill battle. We have held workshops for our members to comment on the proposed WEMO route designation process and prepared extensive comments of our own. After contributing to the scoping process associated with the WEMO route designation, we need to make sure that the BLM incorporates these comments into the Draft EnvironmentaI Impact Report (EIR). We are in the process of asking the court to mandate that the BLM must close areas that they, by their own admission, cannot protect.

There is a pervasive ignorance among the riding public about the environmental impacts of ORV activity and the need to protect archeological, historical, cultural resources and sacred sites. ORVs are damaging critical habitat for endangered species (Desert Tortoise; Mojave Fringe-Toed Lizard; Burrowing Owls, etc.), are denuding landscapes of vegetation and destroying invaluable Native American and early American historical and cultural sites. We have personally witnessed the destruction of cultural resources on the Mojave Indian Tribe, Chemehuevi Indian Tribe and Quechan Indian Tribes in southeastern California and Arizona. ORVs cause widespread erosion of fragile desert soils held together by a network of fungal hypha that is crushed and compacted by the vehicles. Desert soils that take hundreds of years to form can be destroyed in minutes.

The solutions include: federal land use policy (Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service) that balances ORV recreation with conservation and restoration; public education regarding existing laws and the impact of ORVs on the environment; the well documented dangers associated with the use of ORVs by children; the need for increased law enforcement, stricter fines, penalties and the confiscation of vehicles; development and support for local chapters of ORV Watch; and, visible identification for all ORVs.

The local Sheriff’s department ORV Law Enforcement Team has been responsive to the needs of the community. They work constructively with the community and attend public meetings, broadcast public service announcements (PSAs), deploy electronic message boards on holiday weekends, and contact problem riders who are a nuisance to the community. We support them in their annual grant application to the OHMVR.

We maintain contructive working relationships with the Barstow BLM, local Sheriff’s department, OHMVR, governor’s office, San Bernardino County supervisors, and business and residential groups in the Morongo Basin.

INFORMATIONAL KIOSKS

We firmly believe that public education is key to dealing with the crisis of ORV abuse of our private and public lands. We successfully installed informational kiosks at the Poste Homestead Natural and Historical area and in Landers and at Gold Crown with the assitance of the Bureau of Land Management. These kiosks contain a map of the area, interpretation and the relevant laws.

PLEASE SUPPORT OUR EFFORTS

We have been the recipients of financial and other assistance from the Community Foundation, Rose Foundation, Grosbeck Family Fund, Responsible Trails America, Mojave Desert Land Trust, Morongo Basin Conservation Association and many individuals who generously give their time and resources. We are grateful to our supporters and are in need of financial and other assistance. Contact us about how you can become involved and support policies and public education.

Fast, Furious, And Anonymous

Without visible identification, off-road vehicle riders continue to violate the law with impunity

Almost every weekend in the spring and fall and especially during holidays, rural communities in the
southern California desert are invaded by off-road vehicles (ORV) who use our neighborhoods as playgrounds and cause widespread damage to public lands, wilderness areas, critical habitat for endangered species and other landsoff-limits to all vehicles. Any attempt to report this illegal activity is hampered by the fact that these trespassers demonstrate no respect for private property or the law, are difficult for law enforcement to apprehend and, without visible identification, are virtually impossible to report.

Off-road vehicles in California are not required to display any visible identification. The only information
that could possibly link the vehicle to the rider is on a small sticker obscured behind or below the driver. Private property owners have no recourse from the onslaught of illegal and irresponsible ORV abuse. Riders violate the law without consequences, and law enforcement is frustrated in any attempt to apprehend them. On ORV web sites and blogs, riders boast that they are impervious to the law due to their anonymity. Imagine if automobiles on our nation's highways did not have to display visible identification. How would you report a hit-and-run incident or an intoxicated, reckless or speeding driver? Why should ORVs be any different than automobiles in displaying identification?

According to a recent report by Responsible Trails America (RTA), a non-profit organization that supports common-sense off-road vehicle enforcement and management policies, other states are taking the lead on requiring visible identification.

The report (found on www.responsibletrails.org), explains that twelve states require large, visible
identification in the form of a license plate or decal, and more states are joining the effort. The initiative helps to weed out the renegade riders and help protect opportunities for those who follow the law. Visible identification gives law enforcement the tools they have asked for in order to respond to illegal activity. The rules regarding ORV identification are different from state to state resulting in a confusing patchwork of regulations. Some states require visible identification, registration and decals while others have no title, visible identification or registration requirements at all.

The current situation is unacceptable, but there are remedies. The state of California, through the Off-
Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division, needs to mandate that the green stickers be visibly displayed. We invite ORV organizations in California to join in our efforts to support legislation requiring visible license plates. This is an important way that the Blue Ribbon Coalition, American Motorcycle Association, California Off-Road Vehicle Association, Off-Road Business Association and other ORV special interest groups can exhibit their often stated goal of encouraging legal and responsible behavior. Riders can encourage others to respect the rights of private property owners and businesses by policing themselves through "peer reporting". Advocacy for visible license plates would prove that the ORV industry and user groups are serious about reining in those who give the sport such a bad reputation.

Contact us if you are interested in supporting efforts to make riders more identifiable and therefore more responsible. We invite vendors and user groups to work with us on an ad campaign that encourages responsible recreation through education and accountability.

Responsible Trails America: Visible Identification of Off-Road Vehicles: A Trend Toward a Uniform Standard

From the Responsible Trails America Report - Visible Identification of Off-Road Vehicles:
A Trend Toward a Uniform Standard

Each year, millions of Americans use off-­‐road vehicles (ORVs). The majority of ORV riders respect the millions of acres of designated trails and millions of other outdoors users. However, reckless riders across the country are trespassing on private property and going off designated trails on public lands. They are causing costly damage for property owners and taxpayers. They are ruining hunting, fishing and outdoor experiences for other users and creating conflicts on the trails. And, they are placing an undue burden on already strained law enforcement officers.

Substantial resources recently have been invested by agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, in public planning efforts to identify and designate legal routes for ORV use throughout public lands. Successful implementation of designated route systems hinges largely on the question of whether or not these agencies have adequate tools to educate riders and to determine ownership of ORVs used by persons who knowingly break the rules.

Visible identification, such as a license plate or large decal, solves one of the biggest remaining obstacles to preventing illegal ORV use—identifying the rider. Appearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources, Frank Adams, former executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs’ & Chiefs’ Association and a member of Responsible Trails America’s (RTA) Advisory Board, summed up the challenge, “Part of the problem that encourages this reckless behavior stems from the feeling of anonymity that many of the ORV riders have because there is no way of identifying them or their vehicles.”

Read the whole report.

Thrillcraft - The environmental consequences of motorized recreation

Video created by George Wuerthner based on the book.

Video link.

Taxpayers Subsidize ORV Events on BLM Lands

Last year, a deadly ORV race on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands focused attention on "cost recovery" of these events - in other words, how much race promoters pay the government for the use of our public lands compared to what it actually cost the BLM for law enforcement, supervision and other expenses associated with these events. With the renewed scrutiny, the public asked:
"Why doesn't the BLM charge what it actually costs to administer these events especially in times of serious budget cuts?"

This situation is like a rock music concert promoter charging for attendance to an event on public lands, paying the government a fraction of what it cost to put on the concert and making a huge profit at the expense of the taxpayer.

At a time when the BLM reports that due to budget constraints they cannot adequately patrol public lands where ORV riders trespass and destroy invaluable cultural, historic and natural resources, we cannot afford to subsidize these races. In the Morongo Basin, ORVs regularly abuse public lands where they are prohibited and, in the checkerboard pattern of public and private lands, riders continue to trespass on our private property. With inadequate law enforcement and no visible identification on their vehicles, these outlaws break the law with impunity. My property in Wonder Valley is scarred with the evidence of years of ORV trespass, with tracks that run right past "No Trespassing" signs.

In February 2011, Hammerking Inc. conducted a race on BLM lands for thousands of ORV enthusiasts. We warned the BLM ahead of time that they needed to calculate the actual costs of the event and charge accordingly. After the event, we asked the agency to tell us how much they charged the promoter and an accounting of their costs. The BLM informed us that the only way we could get this information was to file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and so we did. After several weeks, we received tally sheets from the BLM's Recreation Division. We crunched the numbers and discovered that the King of Hammers event cost the taxpayers $43,390 but that the BLM only charged the promoter $27,650 - a deficit of $15,740. I confirmed this discrepancy with BLM staff who told me that they would try to do better next time.

Continued taxpayer subsidy of ORV races on public lands is unacceptable. The public has been paying for ORV events on public lands for years and we may never know the real cost of these government giveaways. We also want to know the cost of the environmental impacts (air quality, damage to adjacent private property, destruction of vegetation and wildlife habitat) of these races? What are the costs to local law enforcement such as the Sheriff's department and California Highway Patrol and what do they recover from the promoters? Who pays for local emergency response when accidents occur at these events?

If you want to protect our public lands from ORV abuse, you need to communicate your concerns to the Barstow Field Office of the BLM, the state BLM director, and our local elected representatives. Otherwise, ORV special interests will continue to use public lands at a discount and pass off the real costs to the taxpayer.

Teri Raml, California Desert District Manager for the BLM (951) 697-5214
Roxie Trost, Barstow Field Manager for the BLM (760) 252-6000

Federal Judge Rules to Protect Desert Communities from ORV Abuse

A long awaited judgment on remedies that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) must take to stop off-road vehicle (ORV) trespass and damage of public lands mandates that the federal agency complete a new designation of ORV routes by 2014. Other parts of the ruling require the BLM to increase law enforcement to prevent illegal activity; provide signage on designated routes; install informational kiosks; take measures to inform the public on ORV restrictions; and, immediately implement a plan for monitoring ORV abuse on public lands. A federal magistrate will monitor the BLM's compliance with the court order.

Local residents and conservation groups have been advocating for these policies for years, but it took action by the federal courts to mandate these changes. The judge determined that the BLM had favored ORV use over the protection of natural resources, water quality, endangered species and archeological sites. The judge ruled that the BLM must place notices on open routes, erect informational kiosks and actively prosecute riders found on routes and in areas off limits to ORVs. The BLM was joined by off-road vehicle special interest groups in the court case.

"This ruling is a huge victory for desert communities defending themselves from ORV abuse. The judge has mandated that the BLM go back to the drawing board and use a fair, accurate and open process when designating ORV routes. The ruling requires the BLM to consider the protection of our communities and natural, cultural and historical resources in their ORV management plans," said Phil Klasky of Community ORV Watch, a representative of one of the groups who successfully sued the BLM. Other plaintiffs include The Alliance for Responsible Recreation, The Wilderness Society, Friends of Juniper Flats, Western San Bernardino Landowners Association, California Native Plant Society, the Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Desert Survivors. The groups were represented by attorneys Robert Wiygul, Skye Stanfield and Lisa Belenky.

United States District Court for Northern California Judge Susan Illston ruled that the process by which the BLM designated 5,098 miles of ORV routes as part of the Western Mojave (WEMO) Plan violated federal laws and the BLM's own route designation guidelines. The judge found that the BLM was not doing enough to educate the public about where they can and cannot ride and is failing to sufficiently monitor ORV abuse. In addition, the BLM has not maintained accurate maps of the areas under their jurisdiction and did not conduct adequate "ground truthing studies" in the determination of the location of the routes. The ruling requires the BLM to reconsider the destructive environmental impacts on public lands in the Western Mojave Region.

Huge ORV race a chance for education

From Feb. 6 to 12, off-road vehicle promoters are expecting more than 15,000 participants to the Johnson Valley area for a huge ORV race. As we have seen in the past, these large gatherings can result in adverse impacts on local communities including traffic congestion, accidents, drunk drivers, trespass on private property and public lands, damage to CSA roads and fugitive dust.

An ORV race on public lands last August had tragic results when unsupervised participants acted irresponsibly. Both the Bureau of Land Management and the race promoter were faulted for failing to control the crowd. The cost of the permit for the event represented a fraction of the real costs of law enforcement and other public services. The BLM has now pledged to enforce a “cost recovery system” by which these kinds of races will pay for themselves instead of being an unwelcome burden on law enforcement and the taxpayer.

We are asking the sheriff’s department, California Highway Patrol, city and county code enforcement, state OHMVR division and the Bureau of Land Management to coordinate their efforts to protect our communities from the impacts of huge ORV events on public lands. We would like to offer the following recommendations:

1. Use of electronic message boards along major highways and roads to direct riders to the location of the event.

2. Public service announcements in local newspapers and radio stations to inform race participants about the relevant laws, encourage responsible recreation and rider safety.

3. Outreach by law enforcement at the site to educate the thousands of riders attending the event to respect the property rights of surrounding communities.

4. Mitigate the dust that will be generated by thousands of ORVs in an area that is out-of-compliance with state air quality control standards.

We see the race on Feb. 6 as an excellent opportunity to educate the riding public about the need to respect our communities. We believe that many of the law-abiding participants would welcome the information. Outreach about rider safety coupled with adequate supervision could save lives and decrease the chance for accidents — prevention and education are much less costly in both lives and resources.

Community Meeting on Off-Road Vehicle Law Enforcement - November 22

The public is invited to a Community Meeting on Monday, November 22nd at 6:00pm at the Joshua Tree Community Center located at 6171 Sunburst Street just north of Highway 62 in Joshua Tree.

Representatives from the Sheriff's Department, Code Enforcement, Bureau of Land Management, the California Highway Patrol and District Attorney's office have been invited to discuss how they are addressing trespass, staging, nuisance, harassment and intimidation and property destruction by off-road vehicles.

The public will have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments to these officials at the meeting at this free event.

This event is sponsored by Community ORV Watch with support from the Desert Legacy Fund of the Community Foundation serving Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

Back to the Bad Old Days - Supervisors Eliminate Permit Requirement from Ordinance

On March 23, 2010, in a vote of 3-1, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, voted to eliminate the Staging Permit requirement from the County ORV Ordinance, in an action that threatens to make County residents more vulnerable to increased noise, dust, harassment and trespassing from abusive ORV riders. This unfortunate action removes an important protection from the Ordinance, one that has definitely improved the quality of life of County residents.

A large number of residents made public statements in support of preserving the Ordinance as is. These statements were passionate, informed and spoke directly to the issue of the negative consequences of changing the Ordinance. These statements also spoke to the fact that the process undertaken to gut the Ordinance by Supervisor Mitzelfelt was deeply flawed, as he only listened to the pro-access special interests, ignoring other views.

Supervisors Mitzelfelt, Derry and Ovitt voted to remove this protection from the Ordinance. Supervisor Gonzales expressed reservations that residents adversely affected by ORV abuse were not being heard, and voted not to change the Ordinance. Supervisor Biane was not present.

Supervisor Mitzelfelt had cut this deal with pro-access advocates, inappropriately negotiating this change with them last year. Supervisors Mitzelfelt and Derry came into this hearing with the issue already decided in their minds and nothing said was going to sway their vote. We thank Supervisor Gonzales for listening with an open mind and expressing well considered reservations on the negative effect that this action will cause.

We thank everyone who has been supportive of the efforts to protect the quality of life of residents affected by ORV abuse and protecting our beautiful desert.

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Read the LA Times Report.

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