Off-road vehicles disturbing fossil sites and natural vegetation have created an emergency in the Pine Nut Mountains in Douglas County, a federal manager said Monday.
The problems are increasing as the traffic grows. More roads and trails are created each year, and the destruction has to stop, said Elayne Briggs, associate field manager for the Bureau of Land Management.
"This is truly an emergency. In the last three to five years, the damage has been enormous," Briggs said. "Inappropriate hill climbs and people driving anywhere they want at any time must stop."
The area became a bone of contention between the BLM and off-road enthusiasts after 2,340 acres near Ruhenstroth were closed to ORVs last week. More than 250 off-roaders protested the closure Sunday, claiming the area was closed without warning.
Off-highway vehicle use is appropriate in the Pine Nut Mountains, and that will not change, but in addition to protests against the closure, the BLM has received many complaints about the degradation, Briggs said.
The restricted area represents a fraction of the estimated 306,000 acres managed by the BLM there - less than 1 percent of the total range available to ORVs, Briggs said.
"And we aren't talking about complete restriction in the 2,300-acre area," she said. "We're working with the Pine Nut Trails Association and other groups to keep roads open for access to other areas."
In addition to at least 10 fossil sites, some archaeological sites are in the restricted area, BLM officials said. They showed a map indicating a proliferation of roads were created in the area between 1995 and 1998, and said the trend has continued since.
"This a tough one. A lot of people who have moved to the area feel that if they own an off-road vehicle, they should be able to take it wherever they want," said BLM spokesman Mark Struble. "We're sympathetic, but it's our responsibility to make this area work for everyone. We need to let people know they're not just running over rocks."
BLM officials are working with various interest groups concerning issues and uses in the Pine Nut Mountains. A draft of the Pine Nut Resource Management Plan, which is expected to include designated routes for ORVs, is expected in late summer, Briggs said.
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