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.