Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) was recently happy to celebrate the courage and commitment of two brothers, Brad and Brian Phillips, who played a crucial role in combating illegal off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on Colorado’s public lands. Their actions not only led to a significant enforcement action but also underscored the vital role of public involvement in conservation efforts.
During a recent November day in the Gunnison National Forest, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Michael Fuller was patrolling in GMU 551, an area nestled within the Gunnison Ranger District, encompassing the Dutchman and Owens Creek drainages. It was here, at the bottom of Owens Creek, that Officer Fuller encountered Brad Phillips and learned of a concerning incident.
Brad and his son, while perched on a ridge separating Dutchman and Owens Creek, had spotted a red Ford Ranger pickup truck with two occupants dressed in hunter orange. This vehicle was traversing a route that was closed to motorized traffic. Realizing the potential harm of the situation, Brad promptly informed Officer Fuller.
Further up the road, Officer Fuller met Brian Phillips and the rest of their hunting party. Brian revealed a critical detail: a road closure sign had been conspicuously posted at the start of the 3rd rifle season, clearly indicating the area's restrictions on motorized travel. The Phillips brothers, well aware of these regulations, had even advised a fellow hunter about the closure.
Thanks to their vigilance, they were able to provide a crucial piece of evidence: the license plate number of the offending vehicle. This information allowed Officer Fuller to track down the vehicle's owner and confront them about their actions.
The owner, a licensed hunter, initially denied any wrongdoing but eventually admitted to driving on the closed route after noticing that the closure sign had been removed. A violation notice was issued for unlawfully operating a motor vehicle on federal public land not authorized for such use while hunting. The hunter accepted the penalty and agreed to pay the fine, a clear acknowledgment of the breach of regulations.
Officer Fuller's account highlights a critical aspect of conservation enforcement: the reliance on public observations and involvement. With limited federal land management law enforcement officers in Colorado, reports from conscientious citizens like the Phillips brothers are invaluable. Officer Fuller emphasized his commitment to providing quality service to those who report illegal activities, ensuring a thorough investigation follows.
In recognition of their efforts, BHA awarded the Phillips brothers from the OHV Reward Fund. This reward is part of BHA's initiative to encourage public participation in monitoring and reporting illegal off-road activities. BHA understands that while most OHV users are responsible, the actions of a few can significantly impact the outdoor experience and success rate of hunters and anglers. The reward serves as an incentive for the public to help self-police our precious public lands. In addition, thanks to the generosity of the Colorado Chapter, the rewards for this program are doubled in Colorado.
CO BHA is deeply engaged in local conservation efforts, working closely with the USFS on planning decisions, work projects, and more through initiatives like the Habitat Watch Volunteer Program. The organization encourages everyone to get involved and help support our public lands through reporting of illegal OHV use.
The story of the Phillips brothers is more than just a tale of responsible citizenship; it's a testament to the power of collective action in preserving our natural heritage. By standing up for wildlife and our public lands, they have set a commendable example for us all. We should all take inspiration from their actions and remain vigilant protectors of our backcountry.
Remember, every effort counts in the quest to protect and preserve our public lands and wildlife for future generations.
To learn more about how you can get involved with BHA's conservation efforts and to support the OHV Reward Fund, click here.