Raise fines for damages to public lands, senators urge

Two Colorado Democrats introduced a bill that would allow for drastically increased fines for damage to public lands caused by recreationists.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall and U.S. Rep. John Salazar said Tuesday the measure would let the Secretary of the Interior and Secretary of Agriculture assess up to $100,000 in fines and 12 months in jail for such violations. Federal law prevents the Bureau of Land Management from imposing fines of more than $1,000, even for actions causing damage much more expensive to repair.

The measure also would make any reckless use of fire on public lands punishable by a fine of at least $500.

“While most visitors to our public lands are responsible and law-abiding, some either knowingly or carelessly cause serious harm to areas that were set aside for everyone to enjoy,” Udall said in the news release. “In some cases, as in the careless use of fire, they’re putting people’s lives and homes at risk. The public shouldn’t have to pay for damage caused by a few careless visitors. Increasing the penalties for people who knowingly or recklessly damage public lands would help restore damage, and just as importantly, prevent harm in the first place.”

The legislation would update a law that hasn’t changed for a quarter of a century, even though increasing visitation of public lands has meant increasing damage, the senators said.

Udall and Salazar said careless recreational use has resulted in numerous instances of serious damage to public lands. They cited a 2000 case in which drivers of two off-road vehicles ignored closure signs above Silverton and got stuck on a steep slope. The damaged alpine tundra may take thousands of years to recover, but the drivers were fined $600 apiece, which Udall and Salazar consider inadequate.

Besides helping pay for revegetation, habitat work and other repairs to damaged lands, higher fines could help fund installation of barriers and other means of deterring violations, Udall and Salazar said.


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