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.

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.

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.