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Illegal Off-Roading Overran Mojave Desert on Holiday Weekend, BLM Says

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This presumably legal rider is making sand fly at Dumont Dunes | Photo: Kevin P. Rice/Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons License

About 30,000 off-road vehicles descended on the Mojave Desert in California over Thanksgiving weekend this year, and many of those off-road vehicles ended up out of bounds in places they shouldn't have gone, according to a report by the Bureau of Land Management.

The report filed by Ranger Patrick Chassie of the BLM's Barstow Field Office says that a number of riders were cited for trespass into the Cleghorn Lakes Wilderness near Twentynine Palms, with others noted trespassing on the nearby Poste Homestead site. Illegal riders were seen in other wilderness areas and Desert Wildlife Management Areas, Chassie wrote, as well as in other areas where off-roading is not allowed such as the Giant Rock area in Landers.

Chassie suggests that some of the illegal off-roading stems from riders looking for new places to go now that they've been barred from the portions of Johnson Valley into which the 29 Palms Marine Corps base is expanding.

"Evidence suggest the 29 Palms MCLB expansion with associated reduction of Johnson Valley OHV area, has lead to an increase of OHV use into other non-traditional riding areas to include sensitive biological and cultural sites," wrote Chassie, who suggested that the Barstow field office move its law enforcement staff to problem areas.

But, wrote Chassie, the amount of actual law enforcement BLM rangers can do in places where illegal riders move from public to private lands is somewhat limited:

We do not currently have peace officer authority to enforce county laws, rules or regulations. This poses some difficulties when attempting to enforce OHV use in urban interface environments like Wonder Valley or Sunfair Dry Lake.

According to Chassie, Wonder Valley northeast of Twentynine Palms and Sunfair Dry Lake in Joshua Tree were visited by 150 and 300 off-roaders, respectively. The checkerboard of public and private lands in both areas makes it hard for BLM rangers to effectively enforce the law, since they can only issue citations on BLM lands.

In a press release responding to the report, biologist Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity pointed out that two land use plans currently in the works for the Mojave Desert offer a chance to control illegal off-roading, but only if agencies take the opportunity to close many off-road routes so that law enforcement can effectively monitor those that remain.

"Both the draft Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan [DRECP] ... and the forthcoming West Mojave Route Designation Plan provide opportunities for BLM to rein in ORVs and effectively put protections in place for wildlife, fragile desert landscapes and irreplaceable cultural sites," wrote Anderson in the release.

"Unfortunately, the DRECP completely fails to address needed changes in ORV management and other opportunities to truly enhance conservation on public lands in the California desert," continued Anderson. "While there are numerous threats to the public lands resources in the California deserts, ORV use is one that can be and must be controlled to protect our precious wildlife, rare plants, and air and water quality. Public lands are for all the public, not just one type of motorized recreation that destroys them."

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