OHV rules may be made stricter

Organized backcountry tour operators are among those supporting the off-road regulations adopted by four southwest Colorado counties in an effort to protect the resource and visitors.

Thursday’s agenda for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission includes a petition from Hinsdale, Ouray, San Miguel and San Juan counties allowing them to enforce off-highway-vehicle rules stricter than current Parks and Wildlife OHV regulations.

In 2002, the counties responded to concerns about young, unlicensed OHV operators on backcountry roads and pushed to initiate regulations protecting the backcountry and the people out there enjoying it.

State regulations allow anyone 10 years and older to operate all-terrain vehicles and OHVs on backcountry roads without a license or insurance.

“It was a proactive move,” San Juan County Commissioner Pete McKay said. “Our roads, especially in San Juan County, are largely dirt roads, and these roads are our thoroughfares.

“We love our ATVers and our OHVers, but we also have mining trucks, Jeep tours and people commuting between communities on these roads. It wasn’t working to have underage, uninsured drivers on these roads.”

In 2006 the counties strengthened their regulations to require a license and liability insurance.

Since then, the counties have seen a sharp decline in enforcement problems and off-road damage along with a wide acceptance of the counties’ regulations.

“Once people started to understand the regulations and that we were going to enforce them, it’s now become much more of an education program,” McKay said.

Two rangers, one in Hinsdale and San Juan counties and one in Ouray and San Miguel counties, enforce the regulations.

“Our ranger wrote only two tickets last year and had more than 4,000 positive encounters,” McKay said.

McKay says support for the regulations comes from the Bureau of Land Management, conservation groups (including Trout Unlimited) and backcountry vehicle groups including the Western Slope 4 Wheelers.

The backcountry ranger program is funded by the counties, but if the Parks and Wildlife Commission accepts the petition, the counties will be eligible for grants from the state OHV sticker fund.

McKay said the counties are seeking a “carve out” for their regulations, thereby allowing Parks and Wildlife to continue with their current rules for other parts of the state.

“It’s a model for the future,” McKay said of the backcountry rules. “Having the rangers and the license requirement have made things so much safer, and the support has been so positive, it’s a very heart-warming thing.”


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