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