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When the dust settles

Nevada is about to join the states that regulate off-road vehicles—sort of

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Illustration: Ryan Olbrysh

The thrill you get from catching air on a dirt bike—speed, danger, the general grittiness of being off-road and ripping through a quiet day with the throttle open—is a declaration of freedom. But the thing about freedom is that sooner or later you have to fence it in with laws to preserve it. It’s the conundrum civilization bears over and over—the balancing act between responsibility and reckless abandon; oftentimes a real buzzkill.

Nevada off-roaders have avoided meaningful regulation for years; it’s the last Western state not to have off-road vehicle titling and registration. But that’s about to change. Senate Bill 384 was a compromise between off-roaders and conservationists hammered out over the course of eight years, and was finally passed this year (despite a momentary, pointless stop in the governor’s veto pot). The measure sets up a $20 registration fee for every off-road vehicle, new or not. It also imposes mandatory titling with varying fees for new off-road vehicles, and optional titling for existing vehicles should owners want documented ownership in case of theft or loss. Right now, there’s really no way of proving the wheels are yours.

The majority of the fees collected will go to public lands projects and trail maintenance—planning, mapping, signage, that sort of thing. Conservationists issued a celebratory press release Monday saying, “Unfortunately, a small number of [off-highway vehicle] riders have destroyed delicate public lands … this bill will increase accountability for OHV users and create a funding mechanism to improve the wilderness …”

But ask a politically inactive ATVer at a local off-roading rental and repair shop what she thinks of the idea, and you’ll hear this: “I think it’s BS.”

A working group of many interested parties, including the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife, Motorcycle Racing Association of Nevada, Nevada Conservation League, Nevada Powersports Dealers Association and Nevada Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, negotiated this bill; it was introduced in various forms in three prior legislative sessions. But this is Nevada, the holdout of Wild West lawlessness.

“We’re pretty much the only state around that doesn’t have this,” says Leah Bradle, executive director of Nevada Powersports Dealers Association and an advocate of the bill.

“The federal government wanted to come in and map trails and close down ones that aren’t designated trails. The U.S. Forest Service has been pushing to make designated trails, and if they’re not designated, you’re not supposed to be on them.” Senate Bill 394 is aimed in part at preventing that by taking regulatory matters into the state’s hands first. Preservation of freedom by leashing oneself.

“A lot of users and riders onboard understood we need something before we have nothing—before the feds close down off-road areas,” Bradle says.

“We tried to pull the best elements from other states, but we tailored it to Nevada. Some people have been upset about California not using the funds for OHV programs; we tried to really make sure it benefits OHVs and the riders,” Bradle says. In California, it’s $52 a year to register a vehicle, according to their DMV.

But the measure won’t kick in for at least another year. Somewhere in the ghastly legislative process, the funding provision was snipped out by the guardians of the state’s empty pockets. So in keeping with Nevada’s fend-for-yourself DNA, the initial $500,000 start-up costs won’t be footed by the state, but must be raised by interested parties. Only then will the DMV begin the program, and from there, the public will be made aware of the rules and fees. Pencil it in for 2011.

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