In 2006, wildlife officers with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) identified habitat destruction from OHV over-use and abuse as the number one problem facing wildlife management in the state. In response, the Colorado DOW convened interested parties to address this problem through draft legislation, which gave DOW officers the authority to enforce the Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) regulations on federal lands. This DOW-led proposal corresponded with a change in federal land use regulations, which designated federal lands as “closed unless designated open” to off-route motorized use, rather than “open unless closed.”
Through subsequent discussions between interested parties, which included the OHV community, sportsmen and environmental organizations, a compromise was made and legislation (HB 08-1069) was drafted. In sum, 1069:
- Assessed penalties which, at the time, were equivalent to federal levels: $100 for illegal off-trail use and $200 for illegal operation in a wilderness area
- Assessed stiffer penalties on hunters, with 10 and 15 license points assessed (respectively) for illegal operation off-trail or in a wilderness area
- Limited enforcement authority to areas where ongoing travel management plans had been updated, maps were available, and signs were in place
Because large portions of Colorado’s federal lands still remain without travel management plans (particularly on BLM landS), officers’ authority to enforce habitat degradation via OHV abuse remains limited. Further, when the legislation was written, the authority provided to officers was purposefully defined as ancillary to their core duties, so as not to pull them away from their primary tasks of wildlife enforcement. Lastly, officers were instructed to educate OHV users with warnings for the first year, rather than fines. In the end, a combination of these limiting factors resulted in relatively few tickets being issued by wildlife officers each year (~20-25).
Nonetheless, wildlife officers acknowledge the value of the enforcement authority provided by 08-1069 and as federal lands continue to adopt new travel management plans, the value of, and need for, this legislation will only become greater. Sportsmen understand that illegal OHV use can ruin hunts, degrade habitat, and jeopardize public opinion of hunters and anglers. Therefore, BHA strongly supports reauthorization of this legislation. Recently, this legislation was introduced as SB 67 and it would:
- Permanently reauthorize officer's authority to enforce OHV regulations on federally managed lands
- Move the authority of the program from the wildlife department, under the direction of the OHV program, which is responsible for the administration of OHV permits, grants and some enforcement as provided through a (pending) enforcement pilot program.
- Maintain the current fine structure for illegal off-trail use ($100/$200) while giving officers the discretion whether or not to assess a loss of hunting license points (10/15). For hunters who ride illegally the penalty appropriately stiff, as it has the potential of limiting ones’ ability to hunt in Colorado
- Include bicycles under the authority of the program
While permanent reauthorization is clearly a priority, we have some concerns with the following aspects of SB 67
- Inconsistent fines: When the legislation was drafted, the fines set for illegal OHV use were consistent with the federal lands the legislation is intended to address. Since then, the BLM and USFS have elevated fines to $250 for illegal off-trail use and $500 for operation in wilderness areas, with escalating fine amounts for repeat offenders. Meanwhile, fines set by 08-1069 for re-authorization are less than half the federal level for the same offense ($100/$200). We believe the federal fine structure is appropriate and that escalating penalties should be assessed on repeat offenders. As proposed, repeat off-route offenders would continue to be fined at $100.
- Penalties for hunters: Currently, a hunter who rides illegally off-trail receives a much more substantial fine then a non-hunting OHV user. We agree with maintaining a hunting license point penalty but think recreational users should be penalized at comparable levels, for comparable offenses.
- Bicycles: While we agree that bicycle use should be limited to routes designated through the travel management process, and that enforcement of such is warranted where routes have been designated, we believe this provision is misplaced. HB 08-1069 was developed to address impacts on habitat and wildlife by OHV’s, as recognized by wildlife officers. We’d like to see cross-country bicycle use addressed, but do not believe that this is time or place to do it.
We would like SB 67 to include:
- Escalating fines for repeat offenders.
- Penalities for recreational users which are comparable to the loss of hunting points
- Elimination of the provision on bicycles