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.

::

Read the LA Times Report.

ACTION ALERT! Attend the SB County Board of Supervisors - Tuesday, March 23rd at 2:30 PM

(If you need transportation assistance to attend the hearing on Tuesday, please go to the end of this message for information.)

On Tuesday, March 23rd at 2:30pm at the San Bernardino Board of Supervisors hearing room, proposed changes to weaken the county ORV ordinance by eliminating controls on large stagings will be discussed and perhaps voted on.

(Note: Our recent ads in the HiDesert Star and Desert Trail stated that the meeting time would be at 10 AM. That is the usual time that Supervisors meeting begin. After the deadline to submit our ads, the BOS issued a statement saying that public comment on the ORV Ordinance would start at 2:30 PM. We suggest that you arrive at the Government Center no later than 2 PM.)

If the off-roaders get their way, as many as 199 riders will be able to gather on 2.5 acres of land in a neighborhood near you to ride for 6 days out of every 30 days without permits or oversight.

The off-roaders will be there in force and if you want to defend our communities from large stagings of ORVs Morongo Basin residents must be present to protest the decision by Supervisors Mitzelfelt and Derry to weaken the ordinance.

They need to hear loud and clear:

* DO NOT remove the staging portion of the ordinance.

* RE-CONVENE the stakeholder's process to address any proposed changes to the ordinance.

* DO NOT allow special interests to dictate public policy.

* PROTECT our private and public lands from ORV abuse.

Attend this meeting has sign-up to speak your mind to the Supervisors.

STAND UP AND BE COUNTED -- defend our desert communities from ORV abuse.

Update: Transportation Assistance:

If you need assistance getting to the SB Government Center for this hearing there are a few people who can provide a ride. If you need a ride contact us at orvwatch@orvwatch.com NO LATER THAN MONDAY, 3/22 AT 8 PM and we will try to make arrangements to get you there. We will have two pick up points:

Twentynine Palms Pick up location
Bucklin Park
Located at Desert Queen and 29 Palms Hwy
Map Link

Yucca Valley Pick up location
Yucca Valley Park-n-Ride, located near the west end of Yucca Valley, on the northeast corner of State Route 62 and Kickapoo Trail. You can safely leave cars in one of the 137 lighted parking spaces.
Map Link

Ordinance 3973 Fact Sheet

This fact sheet provides Community ORV Watch's Position on the proposal to eliminate the staging provision of San Bernardino County Ordinance 3973 and covers the following areas:

  • Why We Support Retaining the Staging Portion of Ordinance 3973
  • While We Strongly Oppose Eliminating the Staging Provision We Are Open to Dialog
  • Community ORV Watch Responses to Arguments Against the Staging Provision

Printable (PDF) Version


Why We Support Retaining the Staging Portion of Ordinance 3973

The elimination of the staging permit requirement will weaken county ordinance 3973 by removing an important tool for the management of ORV activities on private and public lands. There continues to be conflicts between ORVs and residents in our communities and we need fair and effective laws to protect our private property. Before the ordinance, large stagings of 15, 25, and even 50 vehicles would ride day and night with no oversight resulting in conflicts with neighbors who experienced excessive noise, dust, nuisance and trespass on their private property. These problems still exist, but the situation has improved due to code enforcement’s oversight on staging.

This is an issue of the protection of private property rights and the quality of life in San Bernardino County.

The requirement for a staging permit has prevented problems with stagings. Code enforcement has used the requirement for a permit as a means to contact hundreds of riders and dozens of unpermitted stagings to inform riders of the law and break up groups that are trespassing on CSA roads, private property and public lands off-limits to ORVs. County residents have been able to be the eyes and ears for code enforcement by reporting unpermitted stagings that have been disruptive to their neighborhoods. Both code enforcement and the Sheriff’s department report that the staging portion of the ordinance has improved the situation in the Morongo Basin.

The ordinance was developed thought a stakeholder process in 2006 facilitated by Randy Rogers of county Code Enforcement that included stakeholders from community (COW, Western San Bernardino Homeowners Association) and conservation groups (CWC and Sierra Club) and representatives from the California Off-Road Vehicle Association (CORVA), the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA) and a rider’s group. After four months of negotiations, county Code Enforcement brought the ordinance before the board where it passed unanimously.

Residents fought for the ordinance because they want to protect their private property from ORV trespass that often occurs as a result of stagings. A wide spectrum of constituencies support keeping the ordinance strong including residents, businesses, homeowners associations, all the conservation groups in the Morongo Basin and a former San Bernardino County Sheriff’s captain.

While We Strongly Oppose Eliminating the Staging Provision We Are Open to Dialog

If the supervisors want to change the ordinance, they should convene a group of stakeholders who, along with code enforcement, can recommend changes to the board. In this way we can come to a compromise that will serve both our communities and ORV riders. In 2007, Friends of Giant Rock (FOGR) attempted to repeal the ordinance and the board once again voted in favor of retaining the law. In December 2009, Supervisor Mitzelfelt proposed eliminating the staging portion of the ordinance without consulting with any of the original stakeholder groups. Policy should be based on the needs of our communities and not special interests.

We would agree to some changes to the ordinance including: a reduction or elimination of the permit fee (without removing the requirement for a permit); the definition of staging as 10 vehicles instead of 10 persons gathered to ride (which is how code enforcement currently interprets the ordinance); and, the ability of riders to apply for a permit once a year listing all of the dates of their stagings. These are similar to the recommendations proposed by code enforcement and are the kinds of compromises that are worked out in a stakeholder process.

Community ORV Watch Responses to Issues Raised Against the Staging Provision

Issue: Removing the requirement for a staging permit will make no difference.
Response: We know from reports by county residents, code enforcement personnel, Sheriff’s department and BLM rangers that the staging portion of the ordinance has worked to deter large, unmanaged gatherings of ORVs. This is the tool law enforcement asked for when the ordinance was passed. Code enforcement has used the permit requirement to approach dozens of unpermitted stagings when riders are engaging in illegal activity such as trespass on private property. The change would make a BIG DIFFERENCE and that is why so many people, groups and law enforcement are opposed to it.

Issue: Only ten groups have filed for permits.
Response: That’s because people do not want to spend $155 for a weekend of ORV recreation. We propose reducing the fee, but not eliminating the permit. Filing for a permit allows code enforcement to keep track of the stagings and monitor them. The fact that permitees expect to be monitored improves their behavior. Very importantly -- the permit process provides neighbors with advance notice and the chance to challenge the permit with evidence of past behavior by a particular group.

Issue: The permit requirement has "disrupted Grandma’s birthday party".
Response: This argument has absolutely no merit. Ask Mike Romage of Code Enforcement if his officers have ever broken up Grandma’s birthday or any similar type of gathering of people who are not there to ride. It may sound dramatic, but it just isn’t true.

Issue: People should not have to get a permit to recreate on their own land.
Response: People need to get a permit for activities that will impact their neighbors -- bonfires, large and noisy parties or large gatherings, etc. This is how counties protect their residents from nuisance and disturbance. Residents have the right, and the county has an obligation, to protect their private property from trespass and their neighborhoods from the impacts of large groups of ORVs. Even ten ORVs make a big impact on the neighbors – noise, dust and nuisance. Many of the large stagings consist of people who come from outside of our communities and do not have to pay for the extra costs of law enforcement and damage to roads, berms and flood control.

Issue: The nuisance portion of the ordinance can take care of stagings.
Response: NOT TRUE. The nuisance portion of the ordinance puts the burden of proof on residents experiencing difficulties with stagings and has resulted in conflicts between neighbors over documentation. Some riders have sought restraining orders against neighbors who attempt to document trespass and nuisance. Code enforcement does not work evenings and cannot be everywhere at all times. If residents leave home for the holidays, no one will be there to report trespass often resulting from a large staging, and the nuisance portion does not cover damage to remote public lands.

Issue: Higher fines and stiffer penalties will adequately deter bad behavior at large stagings.
Response: Removing the staging element of 3973 replaces an effective deterrent. It is cheaper and more efficient to prevent problems than to have to respond to them. Major stagings frequently coincide with holiday periods when law enforcement resources are already stretched thin. Higher fines and penalties are a good idea and may serve as a deterrent as well, but it can be very difficult to catch riders to issue them a citation.

Issue: The staging element of 3973 is not enforceable.
Response: This is not our experience on the ground or the opinion of code enforcement, the Sheriff’s department, public lands managers or county residents. We know of many examples of large, disruptive stagings that have been disbursed by code enforcement and the riders directed to Johnson Valley. When stagings are permitted, code enforcement has a list of the staging events and monitors them. When they observe a large staging or get a report of one, they can consult the list and determine if it has been permitted. County residents can call in a large, disruptive staging and code enforcement can investigate. When riders trespass on private property, investigating Sheriffs can approach the riders where they gather.

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