Keith Johnson, File, Deseret News
The Western United States is a sportsman's paradise, and Utah is home to some of the finest spots for enjoying nonmotorized and motorized recreation. From spring turkey hunting on Boulder Mountain to hiking and off-roading in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utahns have an abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Unfortunately, access to these opportunities is being threatened by a minority of reckless, off-road vehicle, or ORV, riders. We have experienced ruined hunts and hikes because riders have decided that the many riding areas they already have aren't enough. Their illegal riding is causing significant damage to public lands and creating conflicts with other outdoor users. Unfortunately, responsible outdoor users and taxpayers are bearing the brunt of their irresponsible behavior, and we think something needs to be done.
Frank Adams, former executive director of the Nevada Sheriffs' & Chiefs' Association, summed up during a Senate hearing on ORV management what we believe is the primary reason illegal riders think they can get away with it: "Part of the problem that encourages this reckless behavior stems from the feeling of anonymity that many of the ORV riders have because there is no way of identifying them or their vehicles." Frank also recommended what we think is a first step to combating the problem: a uniform, visible identification system.
This inability to identify lawbreakers is a big hindrance for law enforcement. In addition to making it easier to identify illegal riders, license plates or large decals could help to avoid chases that endanger law enforcement and other outdoors users. They can also enable the majority of responsible riders to self-police better and for outdoor users like us to identify and report illegal use.
This solution is growing in popularity across the country. A report recently released by Responsible Trails America analyzed each state's visible identification standards and found that only 12 states require a license plate or large decal. In its state ranking, Utah scored a "C" because it only requires a small decal that is 3 inches by 3 inches.
In contrast to Utah's small decal, we think the ideal license plate or large decal should be at least 4 inches by 7 inches, with a font for the registration number that is at least 1.5 inches, on a highly contrasting background. Utah doesn't have very far to look for models. Arizona and Nevada require a plate and large decal, respectively, that is 4 inches by 7 inches with registration numbers in a font that is at least 1.5 inches tall. Idaho, Montana and Wyoming also allow for ORVs to display a license plate. And last year, Colorado debated a bill that would have required a license plate.
It's clear to us that there is a trend in the region that is being driven by sportsmen, outdoorsmen and private property owners who are fed up with ruined recreational experiences and trespass. In a tight budget climate that is limiting the ability to patrol for illegal riding and educate riders, we are looking to visible identification as a way to put a stop to this problem.
Utah would benefit from following this trend if it is dedicated to responsible ORV management. The recent election of Gov. Gary Herbert as chairman of the Western Governors' Association provides an opportunity for him to talk with his fellow governors about how their laws work and show leadership when it comes to preserving our sporting heritage in Utah and across the Western United States.
Jay Banta is the Utah chairman of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Shannon Raborn is the director of Responsible Trails America.