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Pennsylvania Game Commission takes aim at ATV use

| Saturday, June 30, 2012, 8:51 p.m.
The Game Commission limits vehicle access on state game lands, but some ride their all-terrain vehicles there illegally anyway.

Randy Pilarcik recently issued a warning of sorts to operators of all-terrain vehicles.

One of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's wildlife conservation officers in Butler County, Pilarcik said the use of ATVs, as the vehicles are called, has been on the increase. The problem is many of the riders operate illegally by driving them where they shouldn't.

The commission has been battling that problem for a while and planned to be more aggressive in the future, he said.

“The rule of thumb for those looking to take their ATVs out for a ride is this: If it isn't your property and you don't have permission, then it is illegal to ride there. By heeding this advice, you could save hundreds of dollars in fines,” Pilarcik said.

It turns out that's soon likely going to be more true than ever.

Pennsylvania Game Commissioners this past week gave preliminary approval to a proposal that will make it easier for conservation officers to levy additional fines for illegal riding. The hope is that “stacking” fines that way will deter people from riding where they shouldn't.

Right now, the commission can fine people for riding ATVs on places like game lands and private properties enrolled in its various cooperative access programs. The fine is typically $100 to $200. That's not proven to be much of a deterrent, said Rich Palmer, the top law enforcement official in the agency's bureau of wildlife protection.

“Quite frankly, a lot of people look at that $100 fee as the cost of riding,” Palmer said.

Officers have not had the authority to fine people for riding without a helmet or having the proper registration or insurance. They've had to ask local and state police to prosecute those offenses, which carry fines of up to $300 each. This regulation would essentially change that.

If given final approval in September, as is expected, it will make it a violation “to possess, maintain, operate, occupy or travel by all-terrain vehicle or snowmobile in violation of the state's Vehicle Code.” Officers who catch people in violation of the regulation will potentially be able to fine riders hundreds of dollars each for multiple issues.

“It could make the fines more significant,” Palmer said.

The change is needed because illegal ATV use — and its attendant problems for wildlife and habitat — consistently ranks among the top 10 violations officers deal with each year, commission executive director Carl Roe said.

The agency has been running task forces in each region of the state to combat the problem. In those cases, large numbers of officers — often with local and state police, some operating from the air — overwhelm a problem area in an attempt to stop the activity.

“I will tell you that we spend a lot of time doing these operations,” Roe said.

Several were conducted over the Memorial Day weekend; others are planned for this summer and fall, he said. That's not solved the problem, said commission president Ralph Martone of New Castle. Illegal ATV use remains persists on state game lands.

It's a big issue with farmers, too, said Jeff Grove, local affairs director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. It represents one of the chief complaints forwarded by members.

That's why the bureau supports any effort to give officers the authority to stack fines, he said.

“I think that's a pretty stiff penalty and a pretty stiff deterrent,” Grove said.

Martone said he hopes that proves to be the case.

“I want us to be more proactive in eliminating this ATV problem. It's a frustrating and growing issue,” he said.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 724-838-5148.

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