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23-YEAR-OLD ORV RULES HAVEN’T STOPPED DAMAGE

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Federal rules issued 23 years ago for off-road vehicles have never been fully implemented. And that helps scar public lands, congressional investigators say.

Problems include often not posting signs or making maps to mark closed and open areas; not systematically monitoring or repairing damage by such vehicles; and not providing enough law enforcement to discourage trespassing into closed areas.That was found by the U.S. General Accounting Office, a research arm of Congress, in a spot check of eight major off-road vehicle areas nationally - including Utah's Salt Lake Ranger District of the Forest Service and the San Rafael Resource Area of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The GAO said full implementation of federal rules first issued in 1972 is hindered by limited funding and staffing, and because Forest Service and BLM officials often give higher priority to other activities.

The San Rafael Swell area provided examples of most types of problems found - including that officials there have never issued required maps of which areas are open and closed to vehicles such as motorcycles, off-road vehicles and four-wheel drives.

The GAO said the BLM is currently conducting an inventory of existing roads and trails there for such a map, which would also help determine when new trails have been improperly started so they could be closed and replanted.

San Rafael also has not posted signs warning whether many key areas and trails are open or closed.

Another problem in San Rafael is that only one BLM ranger is available to patrol 2.5 million acres of land for all law enforcement purposes - which makes it difficult to catch vehicles that trespass into closed areas.

The GAO also said San Rafael officials do not systematically monitor damage from vehicles. Instead, that is limited to casual observations made by rangers while doing other range work.

Still, the GAO said San Rafael rangers have noted and tried to correct such problems as stopping vehicles from entering sensitive lands and wilderness study areas near Mexican Mountain and Jus-tensen Flats by placing gates and signs on roads.

The GAO noted that despite such signs, trespassing continues - and its report included a photo of a "no motor vehicles" sign near Justensen Flats surrounded by ruts from vehicles that ignored it.

In the Salt Lake Ranger District, the GAO said Forest Service officials have prepared a map of routes that are open to off-road vehicles - and have finished posting 80 percent of the signs planned for the area.

However, it said such maps and posting have only been available recently.

The GAO also said the Salt Lake Ranger District has only two people involved in law enforcement. They issued 100 citations for trespassing into closed areas in 1993.

The GAO said the Salt Lake district also does not systematically monitor off-road vehicle use, but has identified several problem areas - such as Wasatch canyons in Davis County.