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, 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.

Report ORV Abuse

A Guide for Callers to the Sheriff’s Department

Given current conditions, assistance in dealing with lawless OHV activity in the vicinity of your home is more likely from the Sheriff’s Dept. than either the BLM or the CHP. None of the three agencies consider unlawful OHV activity to be a high priority, so if you are to gain any benefit from an attempted contact with them it is important that you be willing to take the time and effort to see the call through. This isn’t always easy; responses are frequently hours late in arriving or do not come at all, so be prepared for a wait. Deputies aren’t always familiar with our community, so once you call it’s wise to stay near a phone so you can give further directions as needed. This can be inconvenient, and it’s tempting to just let it slide rather than commit to a process that could tie you up for hours, but here’s why it’s important to make that call:

  • If the Sheriff’s, Dept. receives few calls from a community regarding OHV abuse, they assume that it must not be a problem in that community. In the long run, this can affect future budgetary and patrol allocation decisions.
  • If nobody calls, the perpetrators get the impression that nobody cares about their behavior and they persist. Worse, over time they tell friends that our community is a great place to go tear around on your OHV because nobody will bother you, and the problem steadily worsens.
  • By not calling, we participate in our own victimization by succumbing to a "what’s the use?" attitude. This hurts community morale and perception over time, and lowers community expectations for services we are absolutely entitled to.

It really isn’t possible to write a "one size fits all" script for assuring a positive outcome on an OHV related call. Variables are numerous, and circumstances such as deputy availability, nature of the OHV activity, potential threat to life or safety, etc. may dictate a departure from the "script" during any given incident. Speaking of safety, that is the premier concern with any request for law enforcement. IMPORTANT: If you believe that the developing situation presents an eminent threat to life, health, or safety, then forget the OHV aspect and dial 911. If on the other hand, the situation is non threatening then the OHV complaint should be called in on the Sheriff Department’s regular non- emergency line. Here are a few pointers to maximize the possibility of a favorable outcome:                      


Tell the dispatcher the nature of your complaint, (trespass? disturbing the peace? reckless driving? damage to public or private property?) your name, phone number, the location where the OHV activity is occurring and your Home address. be sure to tell the dispatcher what community you live in, and the nearest cross street.

Depending on the hour you call, the SBSO dispatcher you speak to may be in either Victorville or Morongo Basin Station, and may have no idea where you are.

Take notes:

It is important to note the name of the dispatcher you are speaking to, the time, and the incident number. They may not give you an incident number unless you ask. This information serves two purposes:

  1. It helps you to follow up on a specific call at a later time or date
  2. We may can your call information to verify that OHV related calls from our community are being recorded accurately by the Sheriff’s Dept.

Be sure to ask for a "deputy contact". This assures you an opportunity to discuss the problem with the deputy and increases the likelihood that the Incident number will be officially recorded. Without a deputy contact, call information is not always retained by the Sheriff’s Dept. Note the time a deputy arrives. If a deputy fails to show up, that information is also important to pass on for eventual use in negotiating with officials on behalf of our community.

Be a good observer:

While you wait for a deputy, gather as much information as possible:

  • Write it down along with the incident number, date, etc. What were they riding? what do they look like?
  • Which way did they come from and what direction are they going? Did they appear to have proper helmets and safety gear?
  • Do you have any idea what cabin, home, or street they are originating from?
  • Are they trespassing on your land? Your neighbor’s land?
  • Are they making a lot of noise late at night? Are they juveniles or adults?
  • What kind(s) of OHV’s? How many? Anything you can tell the deputy may help.

Be courteous:

Whether speaking to a dispatcher or a deputy, always be courteous.

Regardless of how we feel about being ignored or marginalized by the county, the law enforcement employees we make contact with perform a very difficult job and deserve our respect. They aren’t necessarily in a position to make policy decisions, and by treating them with dignity and respect we bring out their best while representing our community in a positive light. If the response time is long, the deputy isn’t necessarily to blame. Calls in the basin that involve risk to human life take priority over non – emergency calls.

Be assertive:

Dispatchers may try to dissuade you or convince you that it’s "not the Sheriff Department’s responsibility". If you believe that your situation requires a deputy, be assertive. If you believe that the developing situation presents an immediate threat to human safety (yours or otherwise) stress that point. If the dispatcher is still uncooperative, ask to speak with the Watch Commander. other agencies:

If you feel your situation should rightfully include contact with the BLM or CHP, reporting your situation to them is a good additional step.

An example of a situation where you might want to make such an added contact might be observing OHVs trespassing both  on private property and closed BLM lands. The likelihood of a response from either the BLM or CHP is (currently) very low in unincorporated areas, but every call we make makes us harder to ignore. Your call counts.

Useful Phone Numbers:

Emergencies – call 911

Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Office, Non Emergency calls:

From 29 Palms or Wonder Valley, call (760) 367 – 9546 or (760) 367 -9544

Morongo Basin CHP Office: (760) 366 – 3707

San Bernardino County Sheriffs Department Dispatch — ask for Sergeant
Rick Collins or the watch commander– follow instructions on how to
make a report

(760) 366-3781

County Code Enforcement – Call (760) 366-4110 – Supervisor Ignacio Nunez – Senior Code Enforcement Officer Hugh Oram — Document and incidents of ORV abuse with video and photograph them. Leave a message if you get a recording. At this writing (February 2017 Code Enforcement is only staffed during M-F business hours.

(760) 366-4110

Bureau of Land Management — ask for resident Ranger Kevin MacClean

(760) 252-6075

About Community ORV Watch

Who is Community ORV Watch?

Community ORV Watch (COW) was formed in early 2004 as a response to increasing illegal off-road vehicle use in the Morongo Basin in the Southern California desert. The time was ripe for residents and property-owners to start turning the tide on the destruction of public and private lands and a presumed “right to ride” that is trampling over the real rights—and property!—of desert residents. Since then, we’ve helped ignite the fuse that has brought the issue front and center in the desert and redrawn the lines of the debate. Our members are residents, property owners, and supporters in the Morongo Basin—and you!

What has COW accomplished so far?

We’ve worked steadily with law enforcement to improve their response to ORV abuse, including helping to develop an informational brochure for riders and residents; working to clarify and, when necessary, change routes, law, and policy; and supporting the Sheriff’s Office in obtaining a State OHV Commission Grant for enforcement in Yucca Valley. We’ve developed and made available “No ORVs Allowed/No Trespassing” signs and will soon erect a large-format “ORV Enforcement Area” sign on Highway 62.

We’ve brought the ORV abuse issue into the public debate by working with the local press and by networking with other desert areas that are experiencing the same problem.

With a number of other groups we’ve helped form the Alliance for Responsible Recreation, and together we presented the very successful and empowering “Desert Communities Under Seige” Conference in Joshua Tree in February 2005. We’re building the capacity of local groups throughout the Morongo Basin and beyond to organize in their areas to defend their lands through neighborhood watch and respond programs.

What do we want?


We are local residents and property owners who are responding to the crisis of unlawful Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use in the Morongo Basin.

ORV lawlessness is causing widespread and frequently permanent damage to private property and our public lands. It is menacing our communities, endangering the health and safety of rider and non-rider alike, degrading our property values, and increasing resident and community costs. This vandalism is in violation of the law, and our public agencies have been ineffective in addressing this problem by failing to uphold existing law.

We intend to stop it! How?

Community organizing and neighborhood vigilance.
Demanding effective law enforcement.
Holding our elected officials accountable.
Public education about rights and responsibilities.
Holding riders and parents liable for the damage they do, through enforcement of the law and civil action.
Pursuing every legal means available to us.

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.