For California riders, Governor Gray Davis signed into law AB 2274, called the most sweeping reform of California’s Off-Highway Vehicle program in its 30 year history. But this is actually a good thing. The key elements of the law were developed by a Stakeholder Roundtable established in 2000 to address reauthorization of the state’s OHV program and optimize the off-highway recreation program. The Roundtable advises the State Parks and Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission and includes more than 50 member made up of OHV enthusiasts, non-motorized recreationists, environmental organizations, private property owners, public land management agencies, law enforcement agencies, local communities, businesses and local government. The big change that affects you right now is the new 96 dB sound limit for off-road bikes, effective January 1, 2003. While the law doesn’t apply to motocross or supercross races, it does affect all bikes ridden on public lands. Competition bikes (CR, KX, RM, SX, YZ, etc.) built after January 1, 1998 must be under 96dB. Those built prior have a limit of 101dB. For dirt bikes and ATV’s that comply with EPA noise standards (they come with a little sticker that talks about EPA sound levels – KDX, KLX, DR/Z, XR, WR) the magic date for the 96/101dB split is January 1, 1986.But wait there’s more. AB 2274 also addresses a couple of issues that have been nagging off-road recreationists and land management agencies for quite some time now. Under Conservation and Enforcement Funds, the bill requires 100 percent of fuel taxes from non-registered OHVs – some $21 million a year – to used as the income for the state’s Conservation and Enforcement Services Account. In a 70/30 split, the account’s funds will provide for conservation and enforcement/ restoration of areas damaged by OHVs. The OHMVR Commission’s scope was broadened to include mountain biker interests. To provide rider safety instruction and the means to increase effective law enforcement funding, several new programs, such as the OHV Rider Opportunity and OHV Grant Program, were instituted in the legislative piece.
Resistance to the proposed California Wilderness Act (S2535) continues to grow. I recently attended a Kern Co Board of Supervisors meeting to hear support for and against a proposal for the board to oppose the impending law. Like about every county in California, Kern stands to have land proclaimed as Wilderness. Creating the Brightstar Wilderness in the Paiute Mountains south of Weldon would close off 48,000 acres with another 47,050 acres added to the Chumash Wilderness in southwestern Kern County. Additionally, the Lower Kern River would be designated as Wild and Scenic. Fortunately, a strong contingent showed up to oppose Boxer’s new law, practically outnumbering the supporters 2:1. Not only did they outnumber the pro-Wilderness camp, but most of them, like Dick Taylor of Kern Off-Highway Vehicle Association and Ron Schiller from the High Desert Multiple Use Coalition, to name a few, showed up noticeably more prepared than their counterparts and were well spoken. Kudos! It will most likely be spring by the time the legislative process reaches the bill. So that leaves you some time for letters to be mailed and phone calls made.
However, I’m not going to use this space extolling on you the virtues of democracy and your obligation to oppose this heinous legislative draft. Nope I’ll leave that to capable guys like Don Amador of the BlueRibbon Coalition, www.sharetrails.org, who have this well in hand. While you are on the web, visit the California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA) website; www.corva.org. Both are loaded with info and the means for you to help keep this bill from becoming a reality. What I want to bring up are a couple of reasons people are willing to support the choking restrictions on outdoor recreation that are part and parcel of the California Wilderness Act. You see I went to the meeting with some preconceived notions about why folks want OHVs banned from the land – if not about these people too. Well, I did hear the standard arguments – like people need a place to find peace and solitude, bikes are supposedly deteriorating the trails and urban expansion is encroaching on remaining habitats and blocking animal migration corridors. But to declare them Wilderness is a severe classification and quite simply overkill. It’s like using a sledge hammer to pound in finishing nails. Quite a few fingers are getting smashed in the process too.
AND THE UGLY
What woke me up from my woolgathering were the comments from two people supporting more Wilderness areas in Kern. I was listening to an older gentleman describe how he has watched trails in the Brightstar Region originally just wide enough for a hiker or a single bike grow wider as horseback riders rode on the sides to avoid the roughened trails. Eventually the trails became so wide, even 4×4′s can now use them. But when he went on to claim an ancient Indian cave with rare cave paintings that used to be fairly remote and inaccessible was being used for target practice, I perked up. I hate being grouped with a bunch of irresponsible miscreants who shoot up valuable historical monuments as much as any of my fellow enthusiasts. Especially, when it is highly unlikely that anyone on a bike would be toting a gun out to plink rounds into a cave. We simply want to ride.
It turned out to be a one, two delivery. The next speaker was a woman from a private land where they raise wolves adjacent to the proposed Chumash Wilderness. Her beef was with trespassers. A couple of OHV trails butt up against the property and she told the board of the struggle to keep riders off this land. Evidently, posting a “No Trespassing, Private Property” sign wasn’t enough. Adding a gate on the road didn’t stop the incursions either. So adding an entire Wilderness Area buffer sounds like an ideal solution to her. These two weren’t the usual professional protesters or tree-huggers we’re accustomed to seeing on the evening news, but ordinary citizens like us. And they presented two unique justifications. However, the bottom line is the consequences of some undesirable elements have made two more foes for the rest of us to deal with.
No matter how many hundreds of hours volunteers are spent fighting to keep riding areas open it is flushed down the toilet when stunts like this are pulled. This is exactly the kind of ammo we can’t afford to give Wilderness advocates who already have an easy task convincing the uninformed voting population that adding 2.5 million acres of wilderness is a great idea – everyone wants more land to recreate in and, unfortunately in many cases, the “save the environment” argument is very effective. So think before you go riding next time. So, please don’t be the doofus who ruins it for those who do follow the rules and try to make a good impression on their fellow trail users who could potentially view dirt bikers and ATV riders as detriment to society and the land.