OHRV Commission Holds First Meeting
In the last Legislative session, the Forest Society opposed HB 1396, which allows for the operation of off-highway recreational vehicles (OHRVs) on certain highways in Grafton County. Our opposition is based on the fact that the N.H. Fish and Game Department simply does not have the capacity right now to manage and enforce the existing OHRV trail network. Expanding this system and the number of riders, as HB 1396 will do, further stresses the Department’s ability to respond to OHRV-related patrol responsibilities.
While HB 1396 was signed into law, Sen. Dan Feltes amended it to establish a commission that will study the State’s law enforcement and emergency response resources and responsibilities relative to OHRVs. Fortunately, the bill placed both the Forest Society and the Nature Conservancy on the commission. Having a seat at this table is a positive step. It gives us another opportunity to highlight the importance of providing Fish and Game with the necessary resources to carry out its ever-growing responsibilities.
On July 26, the OHRV Commission met for the first time. The goal over the next two to three months is for this body to make specific recommendations for legislative action in the upcoming 2017 session. Based on the discussion at this first meeting, these issues will likely see further discussion:
- Jurisdiction. Right now, the Fish and Game Department appears to have primary responsibility to respond to ATV incidents on both trails and on public roads. Should local law enforcement departments assume greater responsibility for ATV operations on municipal roads?
- Capacity. Regardless of which law enforcement agency responds to an ATV accident or complaint, do they have the staff capacity and resources to appropriately address these problems? The Fish and Game Department, for example, has five conservation officers and one supervisor to oversee all the ATV trails in Coos County. Is that enough?
- Age of operation. Current law allows a 12 year old who has completed an OHRV safety course to operate an ATV on approved local and state roads when they are accompanied by a qualified adult who is at least 18 years. Should that age be raised to age 16 or should ATV operating laws be brought into line with those for operating a motor vehicle?
- Safety. The Specialty Vehicle Industry Association, which represents ATV manufacturers and distributors, says that ATVs should never be operated on paved or public roads. Given that New Hampshire, and most other states, allow ATV’s on these public roads (and have not shown any willingness to remove them), what can New Hampshire do to improve the public’s safety of both ATV operators and non-operators?
- Private property rights. The Forest Society does not allow ATV’s on our reservations and yet each year we continually experience cases of trespassing and property damage from their unauthorized use. In most cases, we are unable to identify those riders who are responsible for these problems. How can the State educate ATV users about where they can and cannot operate their vehicles and how can the State better support private property owners who suffer these damages?