Guest opinion: Time to restart off-highway reform billby Tucson Citizen on Apr. 03, 2008, under Opinion
Rarely do wide-ranging groups such as all-terrain vehicle riders, hunters, sportsmen, conservation groups, environmentalists, gun enthusiasts and state agencies all come together to support a piece of legislation.
But under Rep. Jerry Weiers’ leadership, more than 40 organizations have done just that for HB 2573.
Since last summer, these groups have worked to create a comprehensive, balanced approach to off-highway vehicle riding in Arizona.
The resulting bill reflected a realistic and responsible approach that embraced the growing popularity of OHV use while still protecting Arizona’s important lands and waters.
Unfortunately, this crucial bill came to a screeching halt in the Senate when it died in committee on a 3-3 vote.
OHV riding is a $4 billion industry in Arizona, creating 36,900 jobs. In Pima County alone, the economic benefit is $323 million a year, with an estimated $17.7 million in sales tax revenues, creating more than 3,300 jobs.
Off-highway vehicle use in Arizona has skyrocketed 350 percent since 1998. An estimated 29 percent of Arizonans participate in some form of this recreation.
It makes sense, because Arizona has beautiful land and scenery to enjoy while riding.
But while many people stick to roads and designated trails, some irresponsible off-road riders go off established trails and ride unauthorized on public and private lands, diminishing our state’s scenic beauty; littering; creating illegal trails; harming our air quality; and putting the safety of other riders at risk.
This issue will not go away. With Arizona’s growing population, the ridership is projected to increase, creating an urgent need for a comprehensive approach to the issues.
HB 2573 would require OHV owners to pay a user fee of $20. The resulting fund would pay to educate people on where it’s legal to ride, set aside officers to enforce the laws, create riding safety standards, close damaged or unsafe trails, mitigate damage from off-road vehicle abuse and open safe areas to ride.
This fee would replace current costs associated for allowing use on state land and would solely dedicate the funds collected to OHV management.
The bill recently passed the House with bipartisan support on a vote of 43-13. In addition, 37 legislators – more than one-third – signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill moved to the Senate but hit a roadblock when it was dually assigned to two committees.
It died in the Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee by one absent vote and has little chance of making it out of the Transportation Committee, which is headed by an adamant opponent of the bill.
The Arizona Senate now has the opportunity to advance landmark legislation that deals with an issue all too familiar for Arizona – balancing growth and protecting our important lands and waters.
This bill is critically needed. If the Legislature fails to endorse an OHV program, damage to public lands will continue with no end in sight, and responsible OHV riders will have fewer and fewer places to ride legally.
Approving such legislation would ensure OHV enthusiasts can enjoy riding safely and responsibly, and that our state’s natural resources are protected for all to enjoy.
At this critical time, we encourage Senate President Tim Bee to take a leadership role in supporting this bill by helping to give it a fair shot on the Senate floor when the opportunity arises.
Genevra Richardson is with Responsible Trails Arizona.
GROUPS BACKING HB 2573 INCLUDE
Responsible Trails America
Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition
Arizona Power Sports Industry Association
Sierra Club, Grand Canyon chapter
Arizona Council of Trout Unlimited
Arizona Wildlife Federation
Wildlife Conservation Council
Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife
Joe Hart, state mine inspector
The Nature Conservancy