User fees divide OHV riders

Some local off-highway-vehicle users are fuming over a proposal to cut funding for trail building and rehabilitation by $2.24 million.

Proponents are asking Colorado State Parks to adopt a new formula for the distribution of OHV user fees, which riders pay to the state when they register their vehicles. The proposal asks that 40 percent of the $3.1 million available from user fees be used for enforcement of OHV laws, and that an additional 30 percent be used for additional signs that tell riders where they can and cannot legally ride.

“There is a desperate need for funding law enforcement,” said Aaron Clark, spokesman for the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance.

Clark said funding of enforcement of OHV riders is left to counties.

“We need to restore the damage and close the illegal routes and enforce those (closings), so we don’t have more damage,” Clark said. “This is a reasonable way to help pay for it.”

The proposal is supported by organizations such as Responsible Trails America, the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance, Trout Unlimited and the Colorado Wildlife Federation. It is opposed by organizations such as the Western Slope ATV Association and the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition.

Opponents of the measure say it is a disguised effort to close trails and is supported by out-of-state money and special interests.

One opponent is Jerry Abboud, executive director of the Colorado Off Highway Vehicle Coalition. He blames Responsible Trails America, which is based in Arlington, Va.

“They have seen fit to stick their nose into the programs of the Western states because they think motorized recreation is sort of a quasi-criminal recreational activity that needs a special jack-booted law enforcement,” Abboud said. “It is nothing more than an attempt to take money away from trails.”

Supporters of the proposal say closing trails is not their goal.

“Trying to close trails has nothing to do with it. Our view is we want law enforcement out there, and we want the damage that these machines have done to be repaired,” said David Petersen, state field director for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project. “They are minority users, yet they just kind of dominate.”

The Colorado State Parks Board is expected to hear initial arguments for and against the proposal at 10 a.m. Nov. 20 in the Frisco Town Council Chambers. The Parks Board is not expected to make any decisions on the matter during that meeting.

Steve Chapel, president of the Western Slope ATV Association, said the issue of law enforcement was resolved last year when the Legislature approved House Bill 1069, which authorized all Colorado Division of Wildlife officers to write citations on public lands for illegal ATV use.

“Law enforcement doesn’t need any more support ... HB 1069 quadrupled the amount of law enforcement out there,” Chapel said. “All law enforcement are able to write tickets and enforce the rules now, which wasn’t the case a year ago. It would be a waste of money.”

The Division of Wildlife tends to agree with Chapel, said Tyler Baskfield, communications manager agency.

“The amount of money would not allow it to make a huge difference. It would pay for about two full-time officers (for the entire state),” he said of shifting more user fees to enforcement.

The division favors an aggressive education process and more signs to let riders know which trails are legal and which are not, he said.

“A good majority of these areas are not properly signed,” Baskfield said. “People are breaking these regulations, not intentionally, it is just difficult to know where these ATVs are allowed.”

Clark said there is a working example in Colorado of how law enforcement can correct an OHV problem. But, because the OHV fund distributes all of its funds to trail building and restoration projects, there is no money that counties can apply for to help offset the cost of law enforcement needed to police OHV riders.

The counties of San Juan, San Miguel, Ouray and Hinsdale hired a pair of back-country rangers four years ago to police OHV riders in their counties.

William Tookey, San Juan County administrator, said the counties allow ATVs on all county roads. As a condition of that, three of the counties now require riders to be licensed, and all four require that they have liability insurance. In order to police those new regulations, they hired the rangers, Tookey said.

“I think it has had a real positive impact,” Tookey said.

The Mesa County Commission became aware of the proposal late last month and drafted a letter to the Colorado Parks Board to say it opposes the proposal.

“We fear that using the OHV funds for other uses will result in the closure of many trails,” reads the letter, dated Nov. 3. “We believe that this is, in fact, the intent of the anti-OHV group who submitted this proposal to the Parks Board.”

Scott Chase, spokesman for Responsible Trails America, said similar programs have been established in several Western states, including New Mexico, Arizona and California. He said it is the responsible thing to do in Colorado.


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