Off-highway vehicle bill passes Arizona Senate, goes to Governor

[Source: Arizona Game & Fish Department, June 24, 2008] — Long-awaited legislation that will help better manage off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation and protect wildlife habitat passed the Arizona Senate yesterday and has been sent to the Governor.  Senate Bill 1167, also known as the “Off-Highway Vehicle Bill,” passed the Senate by a vote of 16-7, with 7 members not voting.  The bill has been transmitted to Gov. Janet Napolitano and awaits her signature.  SB 1167 will provide long-overdue resources to better manage issues created by the dramatic increase in OHV use in Arizona (347 percent in the last decade). Irresponsible riding has damaged habitat and created the potential for closures of some areas.

With the passage of SB 1167, revenue raised through an estimated $20 annual user fee (exact amount to be determined through a public rule making process) on off-highway vehicles will help provide funding for additional law enforcement, trail/facility maintenance and reconstruction, rider education and information (including identification of lawful places for operators to ride), and mitigation of resource damage from OHVs.  This “user play, user pay” approach is similar to that used by hunters and anglers, where sportsmen pay license fees to support their hunting and fishing opportunities and benefits.  In this case, OHV users will pay the annual user fee to support the sustainable management of their recreational opportunities and resource protection.  “We’re thrilled to see this legislation pass,” said Arizona Game and Fish Commission Chairman Bill McLean.  “Balancing the protection of wildlife habitat with opportunities for responsible OHV recreation has been a priority of the Game and Fish Commission.  We worked hard on this bill with sponsor Rep. Jerry Weiers and the coalition of supporters, and we’re looking forward to its implementation.”

“This was drastically needed to keep up with the explosive growth of OHV use in our state,” said Mike Senn, assistant director for field operations for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.  “It provides beefed-up tools—information/education efforts on responsible riding, trail development and habitat mitigation, new laws to address irresponsible riding, and seven new OHV law enforcement officers — to better manage OHV recreation and protect wildlife habitat.”

The bill passed through the Arizona House of Representatives in April by a vote of 42-13.  Key supporters in the Legislature were Rep. Jerry Weiers (R-District 10) and Sen. Linda Gray (R-District 12).  The bill was supported by a diverse coalition of organizations, including the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Responsible Trails America (Arizona Chapter), Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife, Arizona Power Sports Industry Association, Wildlife Conservation Council, Apache County ATV Roughriders, Sierra Club (Grand Canyon Chapter), Arizona Motor Sports Association, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Drew and the Crew Motor Sports, National Rifle Association, Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Sonoran Institute, Arizona State Parks, and Arizona State Land Department, among others.  When signed by the Governor, the OHV bill would become law on Jan. 1, 2009.

Upper Verde suffers from off-road vehicle abuse

It’s illegal to drive vehicles anywhere off authorized roads and trails on the Prescott National Forest, and it has been that way for a decade.[Source: Joanna Dodder Nellans, Verde News, June 10, 2008] — The spectacular scenery and cool waters of the Upper Verde make it a magnet for an ever-increasing number of illegal ORV users who are destroying signs and then carving roads along its banks.  Arizona Game and Fish Department estimates Arizona has experienced a 347% increase in ORV users in the last decade.  Some have a huge attraction to driving through the water, evidenced by some of the illegal activities they post on Internet sites such as You Tube.

The state Senate Natural Resource Committee conducted a hearing this week about off-road vehicle issues.  Despite all the increasing problems, the Legislature raided the remaining four months worth of money ($395,000) in the Game and Fish 2007-08 budget for ORV law enforcement and education.  It also swept the Arizona State Parks fund for ORV education and grant money.  And it’s highly likely this will happen again for the entire budget year that begins July 1, said Sen. Tom O’Halleran of Sedona, who opposes such budget raids.

The Prescott National Forest used one of the State Parks grants recently to replace vandalized signs in the Upper Verde area.  The State Parks Ambassador Program is another victim of the budget cuts, said Jeff Gursh of the Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition.  It trains ORV volunteers to monitor trails including one on the Prescott National Forest below Crown King.  State Parks also provides educational brochures to ATV dealers out of the cut funds.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]