Pennsylvania Game Commission takes aim at ATV use
By Bob Frye
Published: Saturday, June 30, 2012, 8:51 p.m.
Updated: Saturday, June 30, 2012
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-838-5148.
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The state will spend thousands of dollars to patrol the game lands with game commission officers, helicopters and the state police. But they will not be proactive and allow riding with a yearly permit which would generate much needed state income. Look at all the riders that travel 5+ hours from our area to the Hatfield-Mccoy riding area in southern West Virginia. WV sells a trail permit and draws riders from all over the country. Many families vacation there together. It is a win win for riders and the state of WV. My family will be making a trip there this summer. We will buy permits, rent a cottage, and frequent the local eateries and businesses. This is all money that could and should stay in the state of Pennsylvania. This is not a unique scenario. Hundreds if not thousands of Pa state residents will do the same thing this year. Many of them will make multiple trips. The state needs to wake up and stop treating dirt bikers and ATV riders like criminals and embrace this wonderful family oriented sport and make it pay its way for land access. I doubt this will ever happen. In PA, the only outdoor loving people that have a voice or that matter to the state are hunters and fisherman. I say, sell use a permit/license and give us an equal voice and equal access to the land.
Submitted by: Kevin on Monday, July 2, 2012
This is a horrible thing to see and totally the wrong approach. This is EXACTLY the type of trail that should be open to ATV's and OHV's. Private land owners.. You want ATV's to stop riding on your land?? Then tell the state to give us a place to ride!! What a joke. I gues WV has no wildlife habbitat right?? WV has thousands of miles of legal ATV trails. It is a great family hobby that gets family's and kids out of the house and into nature. Sending game commission and flying choppers to stop this is a complete disgrace and waist of my tax dollars!!! I challenge any reader to look at that picture above and give me one good reason why ATV's should not be on that trail. We need to vote in politicians who understand these things. ATV/ OHV are good for the economy, good for the family, and great fun! Legalize more room to ride and enforce the rules and you will have a community that listens. Right now we could care less. The state gives us nowhere to ride so private land owners your trails are fair game. Ride on!!