Sunday, January 24, 2010

San Bernardino County Easing On ORV Rules?

As soon as 26 January (delayed vote) the San Bernardino County supervisors may vote to repeal an existing county ordinance (Ordinance 3973) that requires a permit for gatherings of 10 or more Off-Road Vehicle users on private property. This issue should fall into the property rights and public nuisance debate more than a Mojave Desert wilderness preservation issue, but it's a good hook to examine the current state of regulation and enforcement in ORV use in the Mojave Desert area in general.

As the Hi-Desert Star newspaper reported earlier this month, only six individuals have applied for the permits over the past 3 years.  Almost certainly more people have held gatherings that would meet the permit threshold that did not apply.   San Bernardino County may repeal the ordinance and it would take a great deal of pressure to argue that it remain in place, quite simply because it is most likely not an efficient mechanism to control or deter the public nuisance caused by large gatherings.

ORV recreation is an easy entry sport.  As long as you can afford to buy, rent, or use an off-road vehicle (or if you know someone that has access to one), and you can find the space to use it, you have entered the sport.  In the State of California ORV riders are required to purchase a two-year permit from the DMV, the proceeds of which help maintain some of the State's recreational vehicle areas.  However, given the the meager resources devoted to enforcing ORV laws relative to the open areas, it is not difficult for ORV users to avoid law enforcement for a weekend in wilderness areas.  It would only take a weekend of ORV use to inflict serious damage to a large swath of the desert, destroying the fragile biotic crust responsible for the nitrogen in the soil (an important nutrient for desert plants).

If you have an issue with the San Bernardino County supervisors repealing the public nuisance ordinance, you can find their contact information on this website, but when writing your comments I'd recommend urging them to consider more meaningful methods of controlling the impact of ORV use, such as educating riders about appropriate sites for ORV use, the negative impact of ORV use in designated wilderness areas, and stricter penalties for ORV use in areas where it is prohibited.

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