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8:13 PM Thu, Nov. 15th

Off-roaders ask for BOS's help against BLM plan to close trails

KINGMAN - The Board of Supervisors threw its weight behind local off-road vehicle enthusiasts and businesses against the Bureau of Land Management Monday.

The Bureau of Land Management's Lake Havasu Office is working on a travel management plan for more than 25 percent of the 1,100 off-road vehicle trails on BLM land located south of I-40 in Arizona and California, north, east and south of Lake Havasu City, including parts of the California shoreline and south within 5-7 miles of the Bill Williams River.

A news release issued Monday from the BLM stated that the comment period on the project has been extended from Oct. 31 to Feb. 28, 2011.

At the Board's Oct. 4 meeting, representatives from BLM explained that they had been working with local off-road vehicle groups for the past two years to inventory trails in the area.

The BLM was looking at closing some of the trails to motorized traffic only due to misuse, over-use and the destruction of habitat by the creation of new trails in some areas.

The BLM realizes that it is only a small minority that is responsible for the damage, but the bureau is in charge of managing the land for future generations, said BLM Lake Havasu City Project Manager Ramone McCay.

Only routes not on the BLM's current trail inventory or severely damaged trails would be closed to motorized traffic. The BLM has already received more than 1,200 comments on the project, she said.

Several members of the Lake Havasu 4-Wheelers and other local off-road vehicle groups disputed those facts at Monday's Board meeting.

Several speakers said the BLM's maps were inaccurate and incomplete. Many of the trails did not have GPS coordinates or were not physically marked which made it difficult to locate them and determine which trails were to be closed, they said.

Off-road enthusiasts also argued that the Lake Havasu BLM Office had not followed BLM rules about creating a travel management plan.

People were not notified of the Aug. 18 open house the office held to discuss the issue. Others said the office did not follow BLM guidelines when creating a report of trails in the area.

Many speakers expressed concern about the damage that might happen to the local economy if the trails were closed.

"We need to put some pressure on BLM. They shouldn't be closing existing roads and trails," said Joe Caldwell of the Bullhead City 4-Wheelers.

Shane Miller from Lake Havasu City said his calls to the BLM have been ignored.

If the BLM wants to conserve the land, it should leave the trails open, said Paul Cleveland. A lot of people have never experienced the open desert, what better way to show them then by riding down a trail?

More than just the trails marked on BLM's map will be closed, Cleveland said. Riders will also be denied access to trails that feed off of those closed trails.

Off-road vehicle users provide thousands of dollars in fees to the BLM every year, he said. "The BLM should be using that money to improve the trails, not close them."

Steve Phillips from Eugene, Ore., told the Board that he and his wife had purchased a lot at a Lake Havasu City RV resort.

He doesn't boat, he said, but he does enjoy riding dirt bikes on the nearby trails. "The BLM has made zero effort to identify routes used by four-wheeler," he said.

John Guyer, a Lake Havasu businessman, expressed concern that the closure of the trails would damage the local economy. Tourism was a major industry in Mohave County and Lake Havasu City, he said. Closing the trails would mean that local off-road vehicle dealers would lose business.

"We should be looking at expanding them in a reasonable way. We have to allow people to use them in order to help the economy," he said.

"We need to understand what's happening," said District I Supervisor Gary Watson. There were several special interest groups, such as the Western Watershed Alliance, that were interested in shutting down public access to BLM and other federal lands to recreation, ranching and other uses.

Board Chairman Buster Johnson encouraged the chambers of commerce from each of the three major cities in the county to get involved in the issue.

"This is too important to Mohave County," he said.

The Board then unanimously approved having county staff write a letter to the BLM stating that the county did not want any of the trails closed.

More information on the BLM travel management plan for the Lake Havasu off-road trails can be found at www.blm.gov/az/st/en/fo/lake_havasu_field.html.