Off-highway vehicle routes approved at Sand Mountain | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Off-highway vehicle routes approved at Sand Mountain

Burke Wasson

In the near future, off-highway vehicle riders will have to follow designated routes at Sand Mountain. If not, for the first time, they’ll pay the price.

As part of an effort to preserve the habitat of plants and a rare butterfly at Sand Mountain, the Bureau of Land Management has approved new designated routes for OHV riders at the giant sand dune about 30 miles east of Fallon.

BLM Associate Field Manager Elayn Briggs said rangers will be ticketing riders who go off the routes as soon as the new rules have been approved by the federal government.

“We have to fill out an emergency closure notice, which includes a legal description of the routes, and send that to the Federal Register,” Briggs said. “There’s that process. Other than that, we’d like to have this in place as soon as possible.”

While the main dune at Sand Mountain would be unaffected by the changes, the designated routes are the same as the existing voluntary routes outside the shrub habitat, which are currently posted. The only difference in the future, Briggs said, is that instead of warning riders who stray off the routes, BLM rangers would now fine them.

“If people chose to ignore those voluntary routes and use some of the other routes, there really wasn’t much we could do except talk to them and say, ‘Please don’t do this,'” Briggs said. “There was nothing we could actually write tickets for. If we make that route system mandatory, now law enforcement can say, ‘You’re off the route. You’re getting a ticket.'”

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The routes were submitted to the BLM as a proposal by the Lahontan Valley Environmental Alliance. The LVEA established the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly Working Group last year as an effort to protect Sand Mountain’s Kearney buckwheat, which is the blue butterfly’s food source and is in danger of being depleted because of OHV riding.

But while the concern for the butterfly’s survival is a priority, so is the desire to continue to have Sand Mountain be a viable spot for OHV enthusiasts.

In order to bridge the gap and keep all sides happy, the LVEA coordinated the working group last year.

The group and the BLM have taken input from OHV riders, and Briggs believes the routes would be suitable to both sides.

“In a sense, this is something that everybody has agreed to that really needs to be done,” Briggs said. “Our compliance monitoring of the voluntary route system for the last year has shown it to be pretty much a failure. So even the OHV groups are saying at this point we need to do something to make it work better.”

LVEA Executive Director Jeanette Dahl, who has taken on an active role in the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly Working Group, said the routes are one part of the group’s five goals. These include: Designating the routes, educating the public, developing a maintenance program for signage and the proposed trails, increasing law enforcement of the proposed trails and closing Sand Mountain’s shrub habitat to livestock.

As for the new routes, Dahl said they would be more defined than what riders have used in the past.

But even with a little change, she doesn’t anticipate many problems.

“It’ll be a little bit different for riders because there won’t be as many cross routes as there have been in the past,” Dahl said. “But we’ve had tremendous cooperation with the off-highway vehicle folks. They’re the ones that have more or less directed the designations in that they’re the ones that are telling us where the most important routes are for their riders. What we’re hoping is that we’ll be able to conserve the habitat and still give the off-highway vehicle folks a good riding experience out there and something they can really enjoy.”

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