I recently had a conversation with somebody who has driven and ridden in off-road vehicle areas maintained by the Bureau of Land Management for more than 20 years. This person was confident he knew and understood the rules that applied to various types of OHV areas. But as our discussion progressed, it became apparent he did not. This conversation caused me to think that other people who use those areas may not fully know or understand these rules.
Why is it important to know and obey these rules? One of the most obvious reasons is that driving or riding in areas where you are not allowed is a Class-A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and-or one year imprisonment. Another fairly obvious reason is that it can harm plants and animals and their habitat as well as areas that are important for historical and cultural reasons.
Other reasons are not quite as obvious. If you drive or ride in an off-limits area, you might pick up and spread seeds of non-native grasses. Non-native grass seeds can be spread inadvertently from one area to another when they attach to shoes, clothing, vehicles and pets. Fires occur more frequently in areas that have non-native grasses, because these grasses are easier to ignite and provide more continuous fuel for the fire.
Public perception is an additional reason to make sure you are following the OHV rules. If off-roaders violate the rules, they give a bad name to those who follow the rules. The public typically hears only about the off-roaders who do not follow the rules and who, as a result, end up killing a desert tortoise or destroying a Native American petroglyph. The public then assumes all off-roaders are breaking the rules and wreaking havoc in our deserts.
Fig. 1: Open Area
There are three types of BLM areas in which riding and driving off road are permitted. When you enter one of these areas, there will be signage telling you what type of area you are entering.
In Open Areas, you are allowed to operate a motorized vehicle anywhere your vehicle and skill can go, within the boundaries of the Open Area. Some examples of Open Areas are Jawbone Canyon OHV Area and Spangler Hills OHV Area. The BLM signage for an Open Area is shown in Fig. 1.
In Limited Use Areas that allow use of existing routes, motorized vehicle travel is restricted to existing routes. An existing route is any road or trail that is at least 24 inches wide and shows some previous use. Desert washes are also considered to be existing routes, even if floods have erased all evidence of their previous use.
Fig. 2: Limited Use-Existing Routes
All cross-country travel is prohibited in these areas. You may only use existing routes – all other trails are closed – even if you do not see a barricade or red “closed” sign.
Some examples of this type of Limited Use Area are the El Paso Mountains and the Panamint Valley. When entering this type of area, you will see the BLM sign shown in Fig. 2.
Fig. 3: Limited Use-Designated Routes
In Limited Use Areas that allow use of designated routes, motorized vehicle travel is restricted to a specific designated route network, in order to protect natural and cultural resources.
Designated routes are those marked with brown trail markers and white route numbers. All cross-country travel is prohibited in these areas. You may use only the designated route network – all other trails are closed – even if you do not see a red “closed” sign.
Fig. 4: Closed Area
An example of this type of Limited Use Area is Jawbone-Butterbredt Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The BLM signage for this type of Limited Use Area is shown in Fig. 3.
The BLM also has Closed Areas. Motor vehicles are completely prohibited in these areas. Examples of these areas include all “wilderness” areas, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Desert Tortoise Natural Area. A Closed Area will be marked with the BLM sign shown in Fig. 4.
It is important that we all respect and protect our deserts so that our children and their children will be able to enjoy what we are able to enjoy today. One excellent way to do that is to learn about and obey the BLM’s OHV rules.
Linda Castro is a nature enthusiast and animal lover. She is the Desert Field Organizer for the California Wilderness Coalition and serves on the board of the SCV-based Community Hiking Club. Her commentaries relate to California’s deserts.