Responsible off-highway vehicle recreation in a desert environment

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.