by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation
One of the biggest threats to New Jersey’s public land is illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) riding. The Pinelands Preservation Alliance has been on the front lines of addressing this problem for years, and has come up with a 12-point plan to protect the public lands of this state we’re in.
What would you do if someone tore up your lawn with an ORV? Probably file a complaint at least! But consider that public lands are your lands, too!
As far back as 2002, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection estimated that 343,000 acres of state land had been damaged by illegal ORVs. The problems have multiplied since then. Today’s threats still include ORVs, but some of the heaviest damage is done by four-wheeler jeeps and trucks.
In 2009, New Jersey passed important legislation to tighten up on ORV registrations and stiffen fines for illegal riding, but the law will not take effect until the state designates a state property where legal riding can take place. Finding an appropriate location has been difficult.
In the meantime, The Pinelands Preservation Alliance proposed a 12-point plan:
- The Department of Environmental Protection should issue a “no tolerance” policy directive for ORVs on public land.
- The Department of Environmental Protection should ask all law enforcement agencies to strictly enforce the directive.
- Law enforcement agencies should adopt zero tolerance in issuing citations for illegal ORV use.
- Local judges should levy stiff penalties on offenders, creating a deterrent and ensuring that violators pay for the damage they cause.
- The New Jersey Forest Fire Service should block access to temporary roads created in the course of fighting forest fires.
- State agencies with land management responsibilities should post “No Motorized Vehicles” signs at points where ORVs are likely to gain access to areas that are off-limits;
- Access to damaged areas should be closed off.
- New volunteer programs should be created for trail marking, posting off-limits signs and patrolling parks.
- ORV and other recreational clubs should better educate their members, and monitor and report illegal activities.
- Citizens should report violations and ORV damage, document the damage they observe with cell phone or other cameras, and share findings with law enforcement. If the police do not respond, citizens should file complaints.
- Conservation and recreational organizations should work with the Department of Environmental Protection to develop, fund, and implement restoration plans for degraded areas.
- The Pinelands Commission should formally request that access to damaged areas be shut off so the habitats can recover.
By allowing our public lands to be destroyed by a few, we undercut the investment in open space made by New Jersey’s citizens.
Individuals from various recreation and user groups have started a South Jersey Trail Lovers Coalition to help state authorities put these recommendations into action. All are welcome to join the group; details can be found at http://njtlc.proboards.com/.
If you would like to read more about the Pinelands Preservation Alliance and their 12-point plan to address motor vehicle destruction of state land, please visit www.pinelandsalliance.org .
And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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