How to Stop Off Road Vehicles (part 1)

Infection: many of the yellow lines are illegal ORV routes that may become established roads

Imagine your community used to be prosperous and well-run, that it once provided everything you needed and you never thought about giving back to it, because you always did and everyone else did, too.  Imagine never worrying about losing your home or your means of making a living.  Imagine remembering what this was like, and knowing that it hasn’t been this way for a long time.  Imagine your community impoverished by the theft of others, of an organization so self-important that it takes without guilt (or even thought) from your land.  Imagine this alien organization building its roads, power lines, and reservoirs all around you, until it’s efficiently siphoning every spare bit of your resources, and your neighbors’ resources, for its own purposes.  Imagine having no recourse when an oil rig is set up in your town’s park.  Or its hospital, or swimming pool.  Suppose there is nothing you can do about it, so you and your parents and your children and everyone you know struggle on with no police to protect your property, no court to hear your grievance.  The aliens are all-powerful.

It’s not enough they’ve poisoned your water, built roads through your forest or desert, not enough they’ve grazed their cattle across your land, not enough they’ve stripped the grass from the ground that whips up into gritty brown curtains in the smallest wind.  It’s not enough that some of your friends have been shot and left to rot in the street, not enough that some of your children have been taken and kept in cages for the aliens’ amusement.  They want what’s left.  They want everything, every inch of ground that once gave you all the wealth you ever wanted, could ever want.

One day in a dusty fragment that once was rich and whole, one day when you don’t feel well to begin with because you barely get enough to eat and your water smells of some sharp chemical, engine noise comes from where no one has heard it before.  Not along the slices in the once-complete land, where your kin are occasionally crushed to death, but in your place, your last sad vestige of the flowering provident earth you’ve always loved.  The machines come in packs, aliens guiding them over hills and through streams, muddying the water you and your children must drink; they roll over your friend’s house and you can hear the children screaming inside, see their torn bodies, their entrails stirred into the wreckage, smell their blood.  You run wildly away, in pure bright panic as the machines veer insanely this way and that, destroying the neighborhood you grew up in.  You might get away, but very likely, you won’t.

This is what off road vehicles do.

Because illegal ORV use is so dispersed, it’s difficult for underfunded and understaffed public lands law enforcement to catch anyone in the act.  Usually what they see—what anyone sees—are the long-lasting impacts (tire ruts, crushed vegetation) and not the machines themselves.  Without any evidence, there can’t be any enforcement.  If you complain to the BLM or Forest Service about illegal trails, this is the response you can expect.  If you can catch someone in the act, a license plate number—especially if you can photograph it—will be helpful, but there’s still the underlying issue of it not being all that illegal in the first place.  A fine isn’t much of a deterrent.

This is from a California organization called Community ORV Watch:

“Given current conditions, assistance in dealing with lawless OHV [off highway vehicle] activity in the vicinity of your home is more likely from the Sheriff’s Department than either the BLM or the [California Highway Patrol, CHP]. None of the three agencies consider unlawful OHV activity to be a high priority, so if you are to gain any benefit from an attempted contact with them it is important that you be willing to take the time and effort to see the call through. This isn’t always easy; responses are frequently hours late in arriving or do not come at all, so be prepared for a wait…this can be inconvenient, and it’s tempting to just let it slide rather than commit to a process that could tie you up for hours, but here’s why it’s important to make that call:

“If the Sheriff’s Department receives few calls from a community regarding OHV abuse, they assume that it must not be a problem in that community. In the long run, this can affect future budgetary and patrol allocation decisions.

“If nobody calls, the perpetrators get the impression that nobody cares about their behavior and they persist. Worse, over time they tell friends that our community is a great place to go tear around on your OHV because nobody will bother you, and the problem steadily worsens.

“By not calling, we participate in our own victimization by succumbing to a ‘what’s the use?’ attitude. This hurts community morale and perception over time, and lowers community expectations for services we are absolutely entitled to.” [1]

This organization’s focus, the Morongo Basin in Southern California, is especially unfortunate to be near large population areas where there are lots of ORVers.  Illegal ORV use has so affected both private and public lands there that citizens were forced to organize and at least mediate the problem.  Stopping ORVs is difficult, but short of an end to gasoline—which we can’t wait for—the problem will continue to worsen. In remote areas like the Four Corners, where would-be activists are scattered and overwhelmed by the immensity of the problem and the police are essentially powerless and blasé, all strategies for stopping ORVs involve an active, time consuming, and above all persistent and sustained effort.  Here are a few:

Pressure law enforcement to do their jobs.  Carry a camera with you always, and photograph illegal activity, if at all possible getting clear images of license plates.  Document the time, place, and circumstances.  Bring it to the attention of both the local and federal police, if on federal land.  Be polite but persistent.

Physically close illegal trails.  One long-time activist we talked to said this can be surprisingly effective.  Adopt an area and close off illegal trails with rocks, logs, whatever is handy and doesn’t further disturb the land.  ORVers will keep trying to use the trail, but continued discouragement might eventually work.

Work to close and reclaim established, legal routes.  It’s the open roads that draw ORVs deeper into land they can then illegally violate, so every closed road is particularly helpful.  This, too, takes a long and sustained effort.  One helpful organization is Wildlands CPR, [2] but don’t expect any non-profit group to have the resources to do the job for you.  If you love the land you live in, be prepared to fight for it.  As always, the answer is simple, even if it means a hard, dedicated effort—organize and resist.

1: http://www.orvwatch.com/?q=node/5

2: http://www.wildlandscpr.org

About Michael Carter

Activist and author of Kingfisher's Song: Memories Against Civilization, Wasteland Press, 2012. View all posts by Michael Carter

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