Off-road vehicle enthusiasts who have been busy tearing up Utah County foothills can soon look forward to a crackdown on their illegal recreation.

Utah County commissioners, Sheriffs Department deputies and Uinta National Forest officials on Wednesday discussed ways of saving critical watershed areas from further erosion caused by motorcycles, four-wheelers and other off-road vehicles. Officials fear resulting erosion problems could lead to increased flooding and mudslides.Those at Wednesday's meeting plan to seek support for solving the problem from the Council of Governments, which compromises mayors from all Utah County cities.

"There's so much in this area to do," said Don Nebeker, Uinta National Forest Superintendent. He said officials can win the battle against illegal ORVs, "but we're not feeling confident."

Existing laws prohibit use of vehicles in watershed areas in the hills above local cities. Vehicles also are prohibited on public property unless posted signs indicate otherwise, and they are unlawful on private property with signs stating the property is closed.> Nebeker said only one-quarter of the terrain damage from ORVs occurs on forest land. Most damage occurs on city, county and private land.

About 95 percent of the complaints are coming from the north part of the county," he said. The sheriff's department last year issued 300 citations in the area, Deputy Sheriff Alex Hunt said.

In the past eight years, the Forest Service has spent $20,000 on reseedigng and rehabilitating damaged areas. "We're holding quite a bit of money now until we can get control" of the problem, Nebeker said.

He praised Pleasant Grove residents for organizing a citizens committee to help combat illegal ORV use, and he said similar efforts are needed countywide.

"I guess it's going to boil down to enforcement," County Commission Chairman Brent Morris said. "I think the bottom line is manpower and bucks."

Use of ORVs in unauthorized areas is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. Typically, however, offenders are fined only about $45, said Deputy County Attorney John Allen.

He said support from local circuit court judges is needed to see that fines are increased. Offenders also could be required to do community service by repairing areas eroded by off-road vehicles, Allen suggested.

Other options include impounding more vehicles, instituting a "watershed protection" fine and requiring that ORV enthusiasts take a course so they know where not to ride.

They county also could turn to the state Legislature for help. To date, however, the Legislature has been "part of the problem," Nebeker said.

He said 400 miles of road for ORVs is located within a half hour of Provo. Officials discussed the possibility of designating closer areas for such use.

Loyal Clark, Uinta Forest Service public information officer, said the Forest Service has had little cooperation from some ORV dealers in educating vehicle buyers about where they can legally ride.

"Some of them wouldn't even let me in the door," she said. Added Sheriff's Capt. Owen Quarnberg, "Retail outlets don't want any type of publicity that will reduce their sales.'