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Compliance with law requiring $25 decals for OHVs below expectations in first year

Supporters hoped a state law requiring owners to purchase $25 decals to operate off-highway vehicles would raise $4 million to $6 million annually to help fund rider education, law enforcement and other projects.

But fewer owners than expected have purchased decals, bringing in about $2.3 million since the law took effect Jan. 1, a Cronkite News Service review found.

State officials say the numbers are less than they’d anticipated, but they added that the requirement is still new for OHV owners and that heightened enforcement and education should boost compliance.

“It certainly limits the effectiveness of the program,” said Jay Ziemann, assistant director of Arizona State Parks, one of the agencies tasked with carrying out the law’s provisions. “We do the best we can with the money that’s available. If people don’t contribute, don’t buy the sticker, then we can’t do programs and provide greater access for them to ride their OHVs.”

Through the end of July, the last month for which figures were available, owners of about 92,000 of Arizona’s estimated 400,000 OHVs had purchased decals, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Division.

In January, owners purchased decals for 31,618 OHVs. The number has dropped every month since then and stood at 7,135 in July.

Jeff Gursh, director of education, grants and agreements for the Arizona OHV Coalition, one of the groups that pushed for the law, said it’s possible that many riders, especially those who don’t belong to clubs, simply don’t know about the law.

“It’s very difficult to get the word out that they’re required,” he said Gursh also noted that it’s challenging for authorities to enforce OHV laws across such a wide area.

The law, which also makes certain types of riding illegal, is intended to help protect and repair areas damaged by OHV use, educate riders about responsible riding and fund more law enforcement.

Thirty percent of the money from decals goes to the Highway Users Revenue Fund, which distributes the money to cities, towns and counties and the State Highway Fund. The rest goes into the Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Fund administered by Arizona State Parks, with 60 percent going to State Parks, 35 percent going to the Arizona Game and Fish Department and 5 percent going to the Arizona State Land Department.

The law calls for decal money to fund seven additional Game and Fish officers to enforce OHV laws. Joe Sacco, the department’s OHV law enforcement program manager, said he’s confident the deparment will still be able to add those positions.

Sacco added that a new brochure and a plan for public service advertising in newspapers are intended to help increase compliance.

“Hopefully we’ll get the word out more,” Sacco said.

He said authorities offered six-month grace period but now are enforcing the decal requirement.

“So that deterrent will hopefully get people to comply with that program,” Sacco said.

Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, shepherded the legislation, saying that failing to deal with damage from illegal riding could leave public lands closed to OHVs. He didn’t return two phone calls seeking comment on compliance with the law but directed Nick Simonetta, an attorney who advises the Arizona OHV Coalition on regulatory matters, to contact a reporter.

“I think we’re in the period of time right now where you have to live with this law a little bit and see where it may or may not need to be tweaked,” Simonetta said. “But you have to give it some time.”

Jim Harken, a Game and Fish spokesman who deals with OHV issues, said he think officials can boost compliance.

“We would hope so. We also hope that through continued education we can get more people understanding that this is a new law, this is important to the people of Arizona and you do need to take part in this,” he said.

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