WASHINGTON -- Reckless off-road vehicle abuse of public lands is spinning out of control, say federal law enforcement rangers in a first-ever survey released today during a Congressionl briefing by Rangers for Responsible Recreation. Tougher penalties and a new enforcement emphasis are critically needed, according to vast majority of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers polled in the five-state Southwest region.
This survey of federal rangers’ views on off-road vehicle (ORV) issues leaves little doubt that law enforcement officers on the ground perceive the situation as extremely serious and worsening:
More than nine out of ten (91%) of respondent rangers agree that “off-road vehicles present a significant law enforcement problem in my jurisdiction”;
More than half (53%) feel “off-road vehicle problems in my jurisdiction are out of control”;
and Nearly three out of four (74%) say that off-road abuses “are worse than they were five years ago” while fewer than one in six (15.2%) believe the situation is improving.
In the essay portion of the survey, a Forest Service ranger conveyed the scope of impacts by noting: “The numbers of off road vehicles on public lands, especially National Forests, are creating resource damage at an alarming rate.” One BLM ranger wrote bluntly, “User attitudes are atrocious. They are the single biggest destruction on public lands these days, far worse than grazing or energy development.”
The mailed survey sent to federal rangers in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and the southern desert area of California found widespread agreement that there isn’t a meaningful deterrent to violators on off-road vehicles. The surveyed rangers strongly support much stiffer penalties and enforcement:
Nearly two out of three (65%) think current penalties for ORV violators are not tough enough; and
A similar proportion (65%) agrees that “loss of hunting and fishing licenses” would be a effective deterrent for violators; and
More than two out of three (67%) feel they lack or are uncertain if they “have the authority to confiscate ORVs used in violations of ORV use rules.”
One BLM ranger said “90% of ORV users cause resource damage every day they ride. Most will violate a rule, regulation or law daily.” Another added “Possibly the greatest weakness in the ORV enforcement program is the lack of bite in judicial penalties. There is often little penalty in not paying tickets.”
Rangers found that their agencies are unequal to the task of controlling ORV abuse:
Nearly two out of three (62%) believe their agency is not “prepared to deal with the ORV problems we are experiencing”; and
More than three out of four (78%) do not think their department “devotes adequate resources to cope with ORV problems.”
“This survey reflects the overwhelming nature of ORV problems on public lands – vast landscapes, a deeply entrenched pattern of abuse, far too little enforcement, and soft penalties,” stated Jim Furnish, former Deputy Chief of the Forest Service, who is appearing today at a congressional briefing to present the survey results. “Agencies like the Forest Service are making belated progress, but still lack the leadership and will to reverse the runaway crisis.”
Rangers for Responsible Recreation is a coalition of retired federal and state law enforcement and land management professionals. The coalition mailed nearly 300 BLM and Forest Service rangers and supervisors a 21-question survey plus two open-ended essays. More than one in five (23%) replied, exceeding the national standard for success among professional opinion researchers.
“The rangers are all saying the same thing – there's no meaningful response to the reckless use of off-road vehicles,” added Daniel Patterson, Southwest Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), who coordinated the survey. “Congress needs to get a handle on this problem before it spins further out of control.”