Over this year's Easter break, a survey released Tuesday says, partiers at the off-road vehicle haven, Little Sahara Recreation Area in Juab County, blocked a section and forced women to bare their breasts before they were allowed to leave.

There were "numerous incidents of unwanted fondling of women," adds the survey, released by the group Rangers for Responsible Recreation, based in Washington, D.C. The narrative supports the survey, which was carried out among U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management rangers in a five-state area that included Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and the southern desert portion of California.

The group believes stronger enforcement actions are needed to deal with ORV abuse that includes damage to public land, assault and other violations.

Nearly 300 BLM and Forest Service rangers and supervisors in the five states were contacted. About 23 percent of agency employees responded to the questionnaire. Their conclusions were:

• 91 percent of BLM and Forest Service rangers responding think ORVs pose "a significant law enforcement problem" in their areas.

• 53 percent said off-road vehicle problems in their jurisdictions are "out of control."

• 74 percent said ORV problems are worse than five years ago.

• Only 15 percent said ORV problems are "turning around for the better."

The narrative portion of the material describes incidents in nearly every state. In the Little Sahara area, it notes that during that Easter break, more than 50 law enforcement officers from several agencies were assigned to the region. About 35,000 visitors were present from April 29 through May 5.

"Officers were faced with near-riot conditions on two separate nights involving approximately 200 people, which required all available officers and over five hours to mitigate the situation," it reports. About 200 people were ejected from the main hill area, and several were arrested when they returned.

After groups forced women to bare their breasts and submitted some to unwanted fondling, the report adds, officers took action. "The crowd became unruly, throwing objects at the officers.

"A Utah HP (Highway Patrol) was struck in the head and sustained minor injuries. Medical assistance was rendered on 37 incidents. Over 300 incidents resulted in arrests and/or citations."

Jim Furnish, former deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service, told the Deseret Morning News that this type of survey had not been carried out before. It showed that agency officers in the field think the problem with ORV users is getting worse and is difficult to deal with. Rangers feel understaffed and overwhelmed, he said.

"There have been some reports of private citizens run over by ATVs (all-terrain vehicles) or law enforcement officials run over or kind of aimed at" by vehicles.

"There seems to be an entrenched renegade element within the off-highway vehicle community," he said. "I would characterize the attitude as 'we're going to go where we want, we're going to do what we want, we don't care."'

Furnish added that most ORV users are not in that category, but enough are that it is causing serious problems.

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Meanwhile, federal managers think penalties are often too light for ORV infractions. Someone with a $5,000 vehicle, who paid $200 for gas to get to the recreation area and back, is not going to be badly fazed by a $50 fine, he said.

Furnish said his experience is with the Forest Service, but the BLM is "dealing with a lot of the same issues. It's a very big issue there in Utah and Nevada, because there's so much BLM land."

One suggestion many federal land managers think may help is to "beef up the penalties associated with infractions." For example, vehicles could be confiscated. The report also suggests taking away hunting and fishing privileges as possible deterrents.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com