Off-Highway Vehicle Working Group Project
The popularity of off-highway vehicles (OHVs) surged in Massachusetts over the last 15 years. As the recreational use of off-highway vehicles increased, so did the frequency of accidents – some fatal – and reports of property and environmental damage associated with OHV activity. While there are thousands of safe and responsible OHV users in the Commonwealth, a process was needed to address concerns voiced about the deterioration of legal OHV trails, damage to wetlands, sensitive habitats, and water bodies through soil compaction and erosion accelerated due to the proliferation of illegal riding trails.
The MA Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) had been working with a variety of stakeholder groups for a number of years to address these issues. Everyone involved agreed that they needed to continue to work collaboratively to resolve these issues and that clear policies were needed to protect the safety of OHV users and the environment To that end, in 2008 EEA and DCR convened a working group – the Off-Highway Vehicle Enforcement and Education Working Group – which was composed of OHV enthusiasts, law enforcement officials, advocates for parks and the environment, and land managers to assist in establishing OHV management policies that would have the support of the various stakeholders. MOPC was asked to lend its expertise in consensus building, collaborative problem-solving, and public engagement to facilitate the working group’s efforts to reconcile their disparate interests and find ways to combat illegal and unsafe OHV use while protecting the rights and safety of responsible OHV users.
The working group was specifically charged with assessing existing laws and regulations concerning recreational OHV activity, reviewing current enforcement capacity, and identifying short-term solutions to reducing unsafe and illegal OHV use. Another key objective of this process was to improve communication among stakeholders. Although the issues facing the working group proved contentious at times, the group, with MOPC’s assistance and DCR’s support, was able to engage in a productive dialogue in which stakeholders shared their underlying interests and concerns and explored options for resolving their differences. Where appropriate, the MOPC facilitators intervened to help the group work through disagreements, maintain task focus, and manage between-meeting communications. Summaries of meetings, briefings on key topic areas, and a draft recommendation report were also supplied by MOPC. The process proved productive as the group coalesced around 40 recommendations that integrated support for safe OHV recreation with the need for environmental protection.
The OHV working group’s effectiveness in promoting OHV safety and environmental and property protection was signaled by the 2010 passage of G. L. Ch. 90B, which introduced changes to the state’s recreational vehicle laws that mirrored the group’s recommendations regarding age restrictions on vehicle operation, mandatory safety training, OHV registration requirements, increased penalties for illegal vehicle operation, caps on noise levels, funds to increase enforcement and riding opportunities, and the establishment of an OHV Advisory Committee to enhance stakeholder communication.
Bowles, I.A. & Sullivan, R. (August 9, 2010). Letter to stakeholders in the Off Highway Vehicle Enforcement Working Group. Retrieved May 17, 2012, from http://www.massland.org/files/OHV080910_Letter.pdf
Della Porta, L.M. MA Office of Dispute Resolution & Public Collaboration summary of Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Enforcement and Education Working Group facilitation project, July 2007-July 2008. Massachusetts Office of Dispute Resolution & Public Collaboration.
Department of Conservation and Recreation. (n.d.). Off-road vehicles. Retrieved May 21, 2012, from http://www.mass.gov/eea/agencies/dcr/massparks/recreational-activities/off-road-vehicles.html.
Department of Conservation and Recreation & Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs. (March 6, 2008). Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Enforcement and Education Working Group final recommendations.
Wicked Local Wareham. Environmental police warn off highway vehicle operators of new rules. (March 16, 2011).