We are a family ranch, that has been in operation on the same ranch since the mid seventies. I am part of the third generation on the ranch and have raised the fourth generation here. My boys have attended school locally, and we are active community members. The ranch foreman has been working here for 15 years, and his wife was born and raised here on the ranch. For more than forty-five years we have contributed to our local economy, paid taxes and worked very hard to improve the quality of our rangeland that expands for approximately 100,000 acres. But recreation overuse is sometimes making it nearly impossible to operate our business.
We have always shared this area with recreational users. We understand that being close to town brings hiking, camping, and hunting. But in the past five years, we have watched usage on the forest grow exponentially. High camping and OHV use, with little to no management or law enforcement has created extremely low expectation for environmental care and protection. Many people do not care to leave no trace anymore. The other group of people that damage the forest truly do not know that driving or camping in undisturbed areas creates damage on the forest. I have confronted people that do not understand when I explain to them that they are not allowed to drive in the forest. All they understand that their OHV can go anywhere. Every single day on the ranch I see campers and OHV people breaking the law, which generally includes driving and/or camping off road. COVID only has made things worse. USFS law enforcement has estimated that visitors to our area have doubled. The user of the forest this year is very different. People leave trash everywhere and it is deliberate action. On October 31, 2020 I counted 89 separate campsites in the first two and a half miles of the USFS Road 525, which accesses the ranch. Most of these campers were car and van campers with no bathroom in camp.
Currently, OHV’s are doing the most damage. They have turned small two track roads built and used to access our ranch improvements into race tracks. They make the roads extremely dangerous to use while working on the ranch, or even just traveling to and from our homes. We have ended up in the bar ditch three times just in 2020, avoiding OHV’s. My neighbor that lives on a road that the OHV community uses a lot, counted 315 OHV’s pass her house on May 24, 2020 in an eight hour period. All those OHV’s were on our allotment, as it surrounds her neighborhood. This is one of the multiple access points to our grazing allotment, but her count is nothing less than shocking and extremely discouraging for us.
We have had calves killed in our pastures, struck and killed by vehicles. We cannot confirm what kind of vehicle it is, but we can’t help but think it most likely would have happened by the type of vehicles that are traveling the fastest. Our neighbors have told us stories about cattle being harassed by campers. One specific story about a calf that a camper caught and kept away from its mother is especially frustrating. From a personal standpoint, these visitors to the forest come in to the place we have lived for three decades and our place of business for more than four decades, tear up the landscape for their entertainment and head back to their homes. They are hurting us economically and hurting our quality of life. We have pastures on the ranch that are so populated with camping and OHV use, that the cattle do not use those areas anymore for grazing. The cattle are pushed into only using parts of those pastures which creates a potential overgrazing issue.
The current drought is only exacerbating the damage. The off road tracks are very apparent in this dry year. Many new roads have been created by off road driving. The fire risk is high, and the agency that should protect us from a potential fire is operating as a skeleton crew due to budget restraints and employees required to fight fires in other regions. If the USFS cannot patrol and manage these forest, usage needs to be restricted or eliminated due to the drought.
I recently learned from a coworker from the Phoenix area, that he has purchased a brand new Can-Am OHV, one of the those great big four seaters that cost almost as much as my pickup. He is going to rent it to make the payments on it. He asked about trails in the Sedona and Flagstaff areas. He has a broker that handles the management of buying, renting (and most likely repairing) this vehicle for the owner. It sounds like an AirBnB for OHV’s. It’s just another layer of the excessive usage on the forest. These folk aren’t paying for any maintenance on the forest roads that they are tearing up, renting from a valley resident. Will one of these renters get into an accident and require assistance from local law enforcement, fire and EMT’s? Seems like they will leave us locals holding the bill for that.