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By: Robert Janis

Arizona OHV Coalition

A Coalition of Diverse Groups Gets Comprehensive OHV Legislation in Arizona -- A Case Study

No one knows more about the importance of regulating off-highway vehicle use than the OHV enthusiasts themselves. They understand that state laws are necessary to develop an apparatus to raise funds for the maintenance and creation of trails, for the policing of the use of those trails, for the proper marking of the trails, and providing the authority for off-highway riders to cross different designations of trails or roadways to get to the actual trails they wish to traverse.

The OHV community in Arizona realized that there were certain things lacking, and they coalesced along with other groups who had a vested interest in using trails and were able to get a law passed out of the state legislature and signed by the governor.

The Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition was the initial group that got the ball rolling. The coalition, under the direction of Jeff Gursh, hired a lobbyist, Nick Simonetta, and teamed up with a state representative dedicated to the issues, Jerry Weiers.

In conversations they isolated what issues needed to be addressed in a comprehensive bill. The issues included:

  • Funding and creating a proper mechanism to disperse and account for the use of the funds
  • Proper marking and maintenance of the trails
  • Proper Law Enforcement
  • Proper Environmental Stewardship
  • The recognition of the use of crossing trails, state trust land, BLM land and roadways to get to the designated OHV trails
  • Creation of an education program that would alert the users on the proper use of the trails
  • Creation of safety programs

Simonetta indicated that as far as OHV recreation was concerned, things were a mess. “Public land managers were threatening closures, and OHV owners were having a hard time knowing where they could ride,” said Simonetta. “And, although there was a funding process, it was highly lacking. It was based on a portion of the gas tax that contributes a disproportionally low amount to the OHV fund. On top of that, since that funding mechanism was created, off-highway vehicle use went up 350 percent. This combined with regular fund sweeps during the state budget processes has resulted in a lack of adequate money to create trails, maintain the trails, mitigate damage, provide education on how to maximize responsible enjoyment in the use of trails, and to address safety issues.”

Moreover, money that was raised was not properly tracked. Agencies that had the right to the funds were using it in diverse ways other than OHV recreation. This contributed to the fact that there was not enough money for the trails. The result was bad management all around.

“When things are not properly managed, there is a downward spiral effect,” said Simonetta. “You wind up with land managers who say that they don’t have the money to deal with things that are necessary. So, they can’t deal with or ignore complaints from users of the trails or local residents who happen to live next to the trails.

“Ultimately, land managers find it easier to consider shutting things down because they don’t have the money to deal with key issues,” continued Simonetta. “In these circumstances, you have people who have a legitimate recreation to pursue, but they don’t have any place to pursue it. So you wind up with people all over the place “free for all’ing” and that creates more danger, more damage, and generally putting people who want to do the right thing into a position of breaking the law--a position they should never have to be in.”

This was the situation facing OHVers in Arizona in 2007 when Representative Weiers introduced his first attempt at a comprehensive bill.

Drafting the Bill

The concern of raising funds in the 2007 legislation concentrated on the sale of a permit sticker for an approximate fee of $20 per year. Now some may look upon this as a tax. However, OHV enthusiasts realized that it was the only workable way to raise funds; and they went along with it. Moreover, a procedure was included to assure accountability. That is, a mechanism was included that monitored how the money was being spent by the state agencies receiving it. So, it went to OHV concerns and not to other issues.

A number of things were used to address the problem of crossing different designations of land to reach the OHV trails. Many of those crossing areas are actual roads. So, an OHV crossing these roads would have to be street worthy. The law included what constituted a street-worthy OHV, and a fee of about $4 was added so that the OHV rider would not have to spend more money for permission to use these roads. Therefore, the authority to cross state trust land was allowed for people who had the permit without need to purchase the typically required recreational permit.

Usable trails would be clearly marked. Currently, trails are generally not adequately marked nor are they well thought out so people ride into dead ends and would have to turn around and come back out again. Or, they would follow a non-marked trail and would be surprisingly confronted by a mine shaft. It became a question of safety and connectivity so the trails would make sense on a number of levels, noted Simonetta. The legislation also called for funds to be used to mark trails and to develop materials that would help riders navigate different areas.

Representative Weiers was able to build a coalition that included the Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, other ATV and OHV associations and groups, local clubs, sportsmen and hunting groups, and other groups who had a vested interest in a managed trail system.

One important constituency was lukewarm toward the bill--they didn’t oppose it but they didn’t promote it, either. That group was conservationists.

The bill passed the Arizona State House of Representatives, and it was sent over to the state senate. The bill didn’t come up for a vote in the senate until the last day of the legislative session, and it lost by one vote. Simonetta believes that the fact that it was voted on the last day of the session when some senators were not in attendance and the lukewarm reaction toward the bill by the environmental community caused the defeat.

So, after the legislation failed, Simonetta, Gursh, and Weiers began working together with other stakeholders to draft a new bill for the 2008 legislative calendar.

They worked hard to develop the same coalition of support they had for the 2007 bill, but this time included conservation groups as fully interested partners in the effort. They worked with each and every group or organization to assure that they had input in the modification of the legislation. Through the process, all groups ultimately felt they had a vested interest in the success of the legislation.

For the most part, the same things that were in the 2007 bill were included in the 2008 bill with adjustments that sharpened the focus of the scope, use, and accountability of the funds. In short, everyone was onboard.

The bill passed the State House of Representatives, the state senate, and was signed by the governor. It goes into effect at the end of September this year, and the OHV funding mechanism begins January 1, 2009.

“All parties worked together in good faith and rallied behind the leadership of Representative Weiers as the prime sponsor with tremendous help from Senator Linda Gray. Everyone coalesced around issues each group cared about, and we worked together to satisfy everyone’s various needs. That’s why we had such a broad level of support that included hunters, sportsmen, conservationists, law enforcement groups, recreational groups, OHV dealers, responsible trail groups, and others. We could all work together in good faith because we all believed we had a good product that could benefit the public, the state, and all the stakeholders,” concluded Simonetta.

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