Victory! House passes Off-Highway Vehicle Bill!
In early June the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed priority legislation addressing long-standing environmental and child safety concerns regarding Off Highway Vehicles (OHVs), which includes all terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, and dirt bikes. The bill passed the Senate earlier this year. The House and Senate versions are slightly different, and the bills may either go to conference committee for reconciliation before being signed into law or the Senate may accept the House version, sending it to Governor Patrick's desk for his signature.
With over 300 miles of illegal, environmentally destructive OHV trails on Department of Fish and Game lands, over 80% of Department of Conservation and Recreation park managers reporting illegal OHV use on their properties, and similar complaints from the hunting and fishing community, land trusts, parks groups, water supply land managers, municipal officials, and utilities, this much-needed bill will give law enforcement officers the tools they need to curb illegal, dangerous, and destructive OHV use.
The bill reflects many of the Department of Conservation and Recreation OHV Working Group Recommendations, in which the Mass Land Trust Coalition, Mass Audubon and many others participated.
- Expands law enforcement capacity to provide consistent and effective enforcement of OHV laws and regulations. Strengthens fines and penalties for OHV offenses, including trespassing.
- Provides funding for enforcement through sharing of a portion of penalty revenue with municipal and state enforcement officials.
- Requires registration for most OHVs.
- Creates a revenue source for public OHV trail acquisition and maintenance, using a portion of registration and penalty revenues. Having safe, well maintained trails paired with strengthened fines for illegal use should encourage riders to stay in appropriate areas and not on sensitive conservation lands.
- Prohibits children under 14 from riding OHVs unless in a race, rally, or event. Both nationally and in Massachusetts, OHV accidents causing death or serious injury to children have been on the rise, including recent local tragic deaths of young children and teenagers. Under existing law, children as young as 10 can ride on their own property. The child safety provisions of the bill were a major driver of the legislation, with parents and the medical community working closely with the legislature.
- Strengthens communication among riders, land managers, conservation organizations, enforcement agencies and other stakeholders by establishing an OHV Advisory Group similar to those in other states.
The new law will likely take effect in January. Check Mass Audubon's Weekly Roundup at www.massaudubon.org/advocacy/beaconhill.php for mor information as the OHV legislation takes the final few steps to the Governor's desk. This has been a team effort across the conservation community and with the Department of Conservation and Recreation. Thank you for your support on this important issue!
June 12, 2010