BLM rangers get authority to crack down on drinking
FALLON – Popular party spots such as Churchill County’s Sand Mountain will soon be a little less hospitable to underage drinkers, with federal rangers set to take on new authority this year.
Due to the abundance of underage drinking on public lands, and the safety issues it creates, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is in the process of implementing a minor in possession code, which will allow federal rangers to cite young drinkers in Nevada.
With no specific code in place, rangers generally pour out what liquor they find in underage people’s possession, chastise the youngsters and sometimes call parents or local law enforcement, according to BLM Associate Field Manager Elayn Briggs.
“We certainly don’t ignore underage drinking,” Briggs said.
A request for minor in possession authority is the direct result of frequent alcohol-related problems at Sand Mountain Recreation Area, located about 30 miles east of Fallon, and at the Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas, Briggs said.
The new “MIP” code will not be nationwide, but it will be in effect for all BLM land in Nevada early this summer, bureau officials hope.
“I would love to think this thing would be in place by Memorial Day, but I’m not sure,” Briggs said.
Memorial Day weekend is a huge draw for Sand Mountain. Between 4,000 and 5,000 visitors are expected to flock there, mostly from California, for the holiday.
Briggs said underage drinking was widespread at Sand Mountain on Easter weekend, when a dozen visitors suffered serious injuries, with several other minor injuries.
The BLM hopes the ability of rangers to actually bust underage drinkers will curb the injury count, especially on such crowded days.
The Churchill County Sheriff’s office has the authority to cite underage drinkers on public land, but its response time to calls from the recreation area is up to 20 minutes.
Deputies frequently patrol some of the county’s more popular party spots on public land, Sheriff Rich Ingram said.
“Sheriff’s deputies are keenly aware that juvenile parties do occur in our area. If they see or hear of a party, they’re instructed to stop in and say hello,” he said.
Drinkers under the age of 18 are cited with an infraction, their guardians are notified and the case is turned over to juvenile probation authorities. Results of minors’ cases are not disclosed.
Drinkers older than 18 but younger than 21 are arrested and booked into Churchill County jail, according to the sheriff’s office.