The use of ATVs on public lands has outfitters who follow the law upset that those who break the law aren't suitably penalized for their crime.
"The number of complaints about ATVs has gone up exponentially over the last two years," said Mike Bauman, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife. "They are restricted to certain trails and areas, but I, and everyone else here, have seen the tracks in other places."
The Northwest Colorado Outfitters Association, an organization of hunting guides and outfitters, hosted an informal gathering Thursday night for members to discuss issues and ask questions of the area's Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Division of Wildlife agents.
According to Bauman, the DOW would like to increase the penalties for infractions, because the present $50 fine is one that ATV users who break the rules, "consider a cost of doing business" on public lands.
"My experience is that monetary punishments are not completely effective, and that a more clear penalty is needed," Bauman said. "A system that has points in addition to monetary fines, one where the points add up to a suspension of hunting privileges, would probably have a significant impact.
"Colorado is in a compact of several western states, and a suspension here, or in any of the participating states, means that person couldn't hunt in any of those states," Bauman said.
The suspensions could be anywhere from five to 10 years, if the system is implemented.
"I think we can all agree that it is the illegal use of ATVs that upset us and the outfitters," said Dan McIntyre of the U.S. Forest Service. "ATVs, when used properly, are a part of the outfitting business and part of hunting today. What we are looking to deal with are those hunters and outfitters that are illegally and inappropriately using these vehicles."
Several studies have shown that heavy ATV use drives big-game herds out of public lands and onto private land, making hunting and herd control extremely difficult.
To be able to punish those who abuse ATV use, there has to be a better way to identify them, said several outfitters in the audience. The present system of numbering doesn't allow for easy identification from more than a few feet away.
"The state has recognized there is a problem with illegal ATV use, and recent decisions show that," McIntyre said. "With the approval of motorized trail crews for trail maintenance, department research and most notably, law enforcement, we will have a better opportunity to deal with that issue.
"Further conversation from a group such as this one will bring even more attention and action to deal with inappropriate ATV use."