November 16, 2007
By Gary Gerhardt
The Colorado Division of Wildlife is closer to calling for a legislative bill that would give wildlife officers power to enforce off-road vehicle laws on federal and state lands.
John Smeltzer, vice-chairman of the board of the Colorado Wildlife Federation, said enacting a law giving district wildlife managers enforcement powers is designed to reduce problems by egregious abusers, especially during prime hunting and fishing seasons.
“This is something that has been discussed for many years by various state and federal agencies, and the wildlife commission finally said ‘enough is enough’ when it came to complaints by off-road vehicle violators, and directed wildlife division assistant director John Bredehoft to head a commission to look into the matter as it applies to hunting and fishing activities.
Smeltzer said the meetings started with a handful of groups being represented, but by last Tuesday, 25 to 30 people were on hand to discuss how the additional enforcement by the DOW would aid in cutting down on off-road vehicles that violate the trail laws.
“Rules have been established under federal law, but this law would mean all peace officers would be able to enforce off-road activity in closure areas, wilderness areas, and other areas such as where eagles or peregrine falcons are nesting, or in elk calving areas, for example.” Smeltzer said.
The bill would seek Title 33 status and a violation would have a penalty, probably a fine and possibly points assessed against a sporting license. That is still under discussion.
He said the DOW did sampling of field officers and found overwhelming support for the authority, the officers saying they needed it to do something when they see a violation involving closure areas and habitat destruction, for example.
Among the groups participating in the discussions are the Colorado Wildlife Federation, Colorado Off-Road Vehicle Coalition, Colorado Mountain Club, and Colorado Environmental Coalition.
“Right now, the discussion is if there is a bill, who would sponsor it in the Legislature and should they try for legislation this year or wait until next.
One major hurdle in off-road vehicle enforcement is mapping, something each individual forest in the state is in the process of preparing.
A Sept. 2 editorial in the Rocky Mountain News stated individual forest districts will be drawing up motor-vehicle travel maps over the next two years and the restrictions should be in place by 2010.
“Whatever the decision, this will be a very sensitive issue,” Smeltzer said.