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Game and Fish: Low OHV registrations hurting enforcement, education programs

Low compliance with a law requiring off-highway vehicle owners to purchase a $25 annual decal is hampering Arizona’s efforts to educate riders and protect areas from illegal use, state officials say.

In response, the Arizona Game and Fish Department is readying special patrols to catch riders who don’t have decals. The penalty: $250.

Jim Harken, a Game and Fish spokesman, said his agency has done as much as it can to inform riders of the law, which took effect Jan. 1.

“We only have a certain amount of funding,” he said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t given funding at the front end of this program to get out and promote it.”

Game and Fish announced last week that only 21 percent of the state’s riders have purchased decals so far. Cronkite News Service reported on the low compliance rate in September.

That means lower-than-expected revenues for departments trying to improve OHV access, education and safety.

One of the key provisions in the bill is the creation of seven new OHV enforcement officer positions within Game and Fish.

“If we don’t get the funding that we thought would be available through this program, we won’t be able to hire all those officers,” Harken said.

“For us, the money is to be used for education programs,” said Jay Ziemann, assistant director of Arizona State Parks. “So if we don’t get the money in, then we just do less of the public information and education kind of stuff.”

Jeff Gursh, director of education, grants and agreements for the Arizona Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, said that lack of information is one of the reasons for the low compliance numbers.

“We do these meet-and-greets and still run into half the people who have never heard of the decal program,” he said.

The low compliance numbers also mean less money for improvement and maintenance programs, which can lead to area closures, he said.

“Without money, there’s no way to improve trails or create new trails or print maps or do dust treatments,” Gursh said. “And without that, the agencies have to close their trails for lack of compliance.”

Harken said the decal program has brought in enough money so far to hire all seven officers, but he said the department might only hire three or four because of concerns about whether the Legislature will later sweep money from the department.

“I believe that within the next month we will actually have four officers hired, and then we would start training,” Harken said.

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