Responsible off-highway vehicle recreation in a desert environment

(Courtesy of Arizona Game & Fish Department)

(Courtesy of Arizona Game & Fish Department)

Off-highway vehicle recreation can be a safe, enjoyable and low impact activity when owners obey the laws, stay on designated roads and trails, ride responsibly and respect the environment.

The topic was addressed by Skip Varney, OHV coordinator for Arizona State Parks, and Chris Gammage, Arizona State OHV Ambassador Program coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management, in a recent presentation co-sponsored by the Superstition Area Land Trust and the Apache Junction Parks and Recreation Department.

What is an OHV? Any motor vehicle operated on unimproved roads, trails and approved use areas not suitable for conventional two-wheel-drive vehicular travel, including sport utility vehicles, four-wheel drive vehicles, all-terrain vehicles, dirt bikes, dune buggies, sand rails and snowmobiles.

All OHV users should know the new laws that went into effect statewide in 2009, summarized in the OHV Laws and Places to Ride booklet produced by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona State Parks and the Arizona State Land Department. Among these is a requirement to purchase an OHV decal for vehicles designed primarily for travel over unimproved terrain and weighing less than 1,800 pounds. Pickup trucks and cars are exempt.

Why is the decal needed? With over 125,000 registered OHVs in Arizona, use has exploded, outpacing existing funds to manage that growth, protect wildlife habitat, and maintain sustainable access. Revenues from the decal user fee provide funding and grants that pay for trail maintenance and improvement, signage, maps, facility development, mitigation for habitat damage and dust pollution, OHV information outreach events, educational and safety programs and enforcement.

They also enable partnerships between land management agencies and statewide “OHV Ambassadors” volunteer groups that educate and promote safe, ethical and responsible OHV use.

What does responsible use entail? To eliminate safety hazards, protect resources and avoid closure of riding areas:

1. Stay on legal roads and trails. Respect property by leaving gates as you found them and keeping out of closed areas. Know the specific regulations for the areas in which you ride. For example, the OHV decal allows riders to cross state trust land on existing roads and trails, but a State Land Department Recreation Permit is required for any other activities on state land.

2. Avoid wet areas. Even lighter weight OHVs can do serious damage to meadows, streams and riparian areas important to wildlife and Arizona’s water supply.

3. Respect other recreationists. Remember that all designated motorized trails in Arizona are multiuser. Slow down or stop when you approach others on the trail, and pass in a safe and courteous manner. When meeting horses, pull over, shut off your engine and remove your helmet.

4. To reduce noise and emissions, keep your OHV tuned and muffled below the 96 decibel noise limit. Noise can disturb other recreationists including hikers, equestrians, wildlife watchers, campers and hunters. Avoid creating dust by slowing down.
Staging areas are treated with environmentally-friendly dust abatement, but trails are not.

5. Leave signs — which are important for travel and safety — intact and in place.

6. Be responsible for your children’s safety. Arizona has no requirement for an OHV training course and there is no age limit to ride.

A helmet is required for drivers under the age of 18, and eye protection for all operators of OHVs without a windshield.

And lastly, remember that off-trail, cross-country use on Arizona public lands (with few exceptions) is illegal.

You can do your part to minimize soil erosion and damage to natural and cultural resources — and preserve the future of ethical OHV recreation — by obeying the law.

Rebecca Goff
Superstition Area Land Trust

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