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.
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.