ORV Damage in Yucca Valley

There is a great editorial in the Hi-Desert Star by Russel Drake drawing attention to off-road vehicle (ORV) damage to a key wildlife corridor connecting the San Bernardino Mountains to the Mojave Desert.  The land, known as Section 11, was set aside as off-limits to ORVs but signs had not yet been posted when the land was trampled in early December 2009.  The Yucca Valley Town Council still plans to post signage prohibiting ORV use and illegal trash dumping.  The land in question was identified in research used by the Morongo Basin Open Space Group to argue for its preservation.  You can access some of the research on ecosystem linkages on the SC Wildlands website here.

Published February 10 on the Hi-Desert Star website:

Land under attack is critical to wild animals

By Russell Drake
Yucca Valley
Published: Wednesday, February 10, 2010 1:49 AM CST
When wildlife resource advocate Pat Flanagan told the Yucca Valley Town Council last October that Section 11, a square mile of town-owned desert, deserved protection as a “wildlife highway” between the San Bernardino Mountains and the eastern Mojave, council members unanimously approved placement of signs banning off-road vehicles and illegal trash dumpers.

But before the edict could be carried out, some unknowns ripped Section 11 right up the gut. Within days following a gentle evening rain Dec. 12, while the ground was still wet, two heavy, wide-tracked vehicles entered Section 11 where the chaparrosa wash crosses Sage Avenue on its way to an intersection with Pipes Canyon Wash, part of the network of “wildlife highways” critical to animal mobility.

Flattening brush and a myriad of desert plants on both sides of the wash and up the middle, the big machines laid down a trail of mayhem to an intersection with an ugly scar formed by ORV tracks slicing diagonally across Section 11 from near the corner of Highway 247 and New Horizons Road, to the northeast corner of Aberdeen Drive and Sage Avenue.

The drivers exited Section 11 with a wild ride across a barren mesa struggling to recover from an August 1995 burn that left hundreds of whitened Joshua tree skeletons in its wake.

Who were the mysterious drivers? Were they off-roaders sending a message to those who would limit their access to wildlands? Where they a sheriff’s posse of four-by-fours chasing fleeing dirt bikers? Or could they have been only joy riders impetuously turning into the desert for a quick high?

Recreational driving can be expensive. “One four-wheel-drive vehicle can do $40,000 to $50,000 in damage to the desert in a single day,” says David Bainbridge, associate professor of business at Alliant International University in San Diego. Dr. Bainbridge has written a book on the subject.

Desert ecologist Jeffrey E. Lovich of the U.S Geological Survey in Flagstaff, Ariz., says repairing ORV damage in the Colorado and Mojave deserts alone could exceed $1 billion and “take many years.”

Seemingly an insignificant patch on the vast Mojave checkerboard, Section 11 is becoming a significant player, if not a superstar, in the battle to save the desert from recreational ORV holocaust and other mindless assaults on defenseless land.

“Section 11 is part of something bigger,” observes Joshua Tree National Park chief ecologist Michael Vamstad.

In recognition of its key location, Section 11 is outlined in red on a “linkage design” map used by Stephanie Weigel, a regional land use planner with the Morongo Basin Open Space Group, to study ways in which humans and wildlife can coexist on the shrinking Mojave Desert.

The new type of map was prepared by Kristeen Penrod of Southcoast Wildlands and funded by The Wildlands Conservancy.

As the term “linkage design” suggests, the map shows the connectivity of wildlife corridors (highways) between the San Bernardino Mountains and the Bullion Mountains behind the Twentynine Palms Marine base.

One early morning last summer, Dawn Noble, who has lived on the border of Section 11 since 1970, saw a veritable herd of coyotes, numbering an estimated of 20 to 30 animals consisting equally of adults and half-grown pups, crossing the beleaguered desert outpost, an encouraging sign that it still serves as a key link in the chain of wild-animal highways.

In an effort to preserve this function, the town expects in weeks to complete the installation of signs banning off-road vehicles  and trash dumping, according to Deputy Town Manager Shane Stueckle.


  1. When someone unfairly correlates illegal dumping with off-roading, the agenda should be obvious to all! Don’t drink the “cool aid Folks”!

    Instead, go take a look at the property yourself or you can check it out on Google Earth. You’ll see it is the off-road community that is being trashed!

    Drake is a prolific writer of fiction who aligns himself with a local anti-OHV group. He has used section 11 to set the stage for many articles critical of off-roading and in doing so always manages to paint a scene somewhat different than real life. In fact he always overlooks some very sticky details.

    For instance, a very busy highway, 247, runs right through the middle of the property severely hampering any of the animal migration alluded to.

    Additionally it is bounded by roads on three sides with homes on the north and east and an auto-wrecking business on the south.

    In the property's north west quarter section is a, huge, gaud awful rock work the City had installed to attract tourists onto the property. And it does! There is an assortment of roads up and down the hillside at the site.

    There is also a dirt road running across the property west of the highway. It’s the original “Old Woman Springs Road”. It connected Lucerne Valley to Yucca Valley when travel was done with mules and wagons and has been used ever since.

    A greater portion of the property burned a few years ago leaving not only the burn area but a network of deep ruts caused by the heavy fire fighting equipment.

    Section 11 was private property that was gifted to Yucca Valley for public use and actually sets adjacent to and extends beyond what was the town’s northern boundary. At the time that Yucca outlawed off-roading within the Town limits they agreed that an off-road park could benefit the community. Some, present and past, Town Council members conceder section 11 a good location to do that. I agree!


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