Where the rubber leaves the road

  Updated April 17, 2008



As of July 1, you might want to think twice about driving your ATV off designated trails in Colorado. That’s when HB 1069 – signed by Gov. Bill Ritter, D, on March 20 – goes into effect. In what might be the strongest attempt yet to keep off-road vehicles from ripping up the backcountry, the bill gives local peace officers the power to ticket off-roaders on federal lands. It’s a move that’s unprecedented in public-land management.


Now, Colorado county sheriffs, state Division of Wildlife law enforcement or even state police officers will be able to enforce off-road violations on national forest or Bureau of Land Management lands, writing tickets and imposing fines instead of just handing out court summons. “It’s a major shift in policy,” says one of the bill’s primary sponsors, Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison. “People all across the country have been watching to see if this would pass.”


So will a bill like this really keep people from off-roading in prohibited areas?


“Any time we have more people out there who can cite people, it could help with prevention. More eyes, more feet on the ground,” says Paul Krisanits, a Forest Service law enforcement officer. If off-roaders think that there’s a good chance they’ll be seen going off designated routes and cited, they might decide to avoid the hassle – and the expense -- and stay on the trail.


The fine for riding off designated trails is $100 in a non-wilderness area, and $200 in a designated wilderness area. And if a rider is ticketed while hunting or fishing, he or she will also receive license suspension points. A non-wilderness violation gets 10 points, and a wilderness violation gets 15.


The real teeth of the bill could be in those suspension points. “Hunters and anglers are allowed 20 penalty points on a license,” says John Smeltzer of the Colorado Wildlife Federation. A $100 or $200 fine might not matter much to someone who can spend, say, $5,000 dollars on an ATV. But the license points could add up quickly and, as Smeltzer says, “You could lose your hunting and fishing privileges in Colorado,” as well as in the other 25 states that are part of the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. (Under the 1989 agreement, a hunting or fishing suspension in any member state is recognized in the others.)


The new law has another important provision that federal agencies are already in the process of implementing. Previously, off-road trails were designated closed with signage. Anything without a sign was considered open. The new law reverses that: Signs and maps will designate trails as open, while anything unmarked will be considered closed.


But the state’s law enforcement officers won’t be handing out tickets right away. “The first year will be an educational transition period for everybody,” says Glenn Graham of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition. That means lots of warnings will be given to rogue off-roaders, while the Forest Service and BLM begin to update their maps and post new signs. It’s the start of a more effective way to address off-road use on public lands, notes John Smeltzer. “This is a model piece of legislation for the West.”


The author is an intern for High Country News.
Apr 03, 2008 11:24 AM

I think it is a good idea to limit off-road use to an extent.  Alaska is getting all ribboned up with 4 wheeler trails. Some soil and water conservation districts are doing trail hardening projects.  It only takes one or two disrespectful users to destroy habitat and natural resources.  Most hunters and fisherman care about the areas they use, have faith in them when they are educated. On another note what about livestock permit owners that might use ORVs as a tool for their operation, don't see how you could ticket them for spreading salt or checking cattle or fixing fence. Cant really put signs to all those places, would be a waste of tax dollars. We are finding out up here in AK that a little education goes along way. Chris Flickinger 

Apr 03, 2008 12:51 PM

Chris, the law passed in Colorado allows OHV use in accordance with permitted activities of the governing land management agency, usually the BLM or the USFS.  Grazing, mining and forestry activities are covered by their permits.  The only problem we anticpate is from other users who may not at first understand activitied done on the basis of a permit.  As you say, eduction goes a long way and we hope that this will be the case with permitted activities.

Frozen Jay

Jun 18, 2008 02:18 PM


More government, gota love Socialist / Communist growth in this USofA . . You’ll re-educate us well I’m sure!


Jul 02, 2008 11:27 AM

Its just another way to put more stress on an already stressed out law enforcement system, and taking it away from the real problems that face our society. Too few to to cover to much area.

Unless these people can drop out of the sky or hide behind every other tree this effort will be futile, and just another way to raise taxes on an strained economy. 

I have a lot of respect for the outdoors and all it's entities, but there is one thing I do know for sure (THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A FEW JACKASSES THAT WILL SPOIL IT FOR THE REST OF US NO MATTER WHAT LAWS OR FINES ARE IMPOSED). Its not the the hunters or the fisherman that puchase a license that break the law, its the ones who don't.

Aug 01, 2008 09:30 AM
I'm more than willing to pay the price of admission to ride historic trails through colorado. Just ponder for a moment that lift tickets are approaching $100 at any of the local ski areas. Why wouldn't I be willing to pay that to ride the trails that I have grown up with?