Proper off-road vehicle use on reservation lands

Most of the Southern Ute Reservation is still a vast and pristine wilderness. This is especially true of the eastern side of the reservation where there are few roads, fewer still with what could be termed good driving conditions. The western side of the reservation is where most of the gas and oil fields are located and such roads are kept in passable conditions through most of the year.

This still leaves the majority of the reservation unreachable by normal vehicles or even most four-wheel-drive vehicles. So what options does that leave the majority of the tribal members? Many of the membership have access to ATVs, UTVs or horses. These are all safer and more effective ways of accessing these parts of the reservation. It does, however, lead to an issue of potential abuse.

Most areas of the reservation are clearly marked with signs that notify that no motorized-vehicle traffic is allowed. To protect the reservation lands it was passed into tribal law that no vehicle is to be taken off of a roadway. This is not limited to just major-motorized vehicles such as cars and trucks. It also includes all-terrain vehicles such as 4 wheelers, 3 wheelers and UTVs. Many of the roads on the reservation are not maintained, and as such, these more rugged vehicles are needed to pass through them safely. Leaving a marked roadway is a violation with a potentially steep fine.

There are many reasons that driving these vehicles off the roadways are not allowed. It raises issues with things such as erosion control and damage to plants and animals. There are many areas of the reservation that are pristine enough that there are still thriving colonies of cryptobiotic soil. These delicate organisms can be wiped out with something as simple as a footprint, let alone the damage of vehicular traffic.

A few years ago a few off-road enthusiasts disobeyed posted signs and nearly wiped the already endangered Boreal Toad from their last foothold in Colorado. From examples like these it is easy to see why the tribe takes issues of land management and protection so seriously. The land and the animals are there for the members to access and enjoy for generations to come. What seems like a small problem may have long lasting, or even permanent, consequences. We owe it to future generations of tribal members to maintain the reservation in a way that they don’t lose access to many of the things that we take for granted.

This article isn’t just to raise awareness of the membership of a potential problem. It is also written to ask for the membership’s help. If you see someone driving in an area where they are not allowed, please call it in to dispatch at (970) 563-4401.

The Lands, Range and Ranger Departments would all be very grateful for the help. This could be a tribal member, oil and gas workers where they aren’t supposed to be, or even a trespass case. With your help we can keep the Southern Ute Reservation the beautiful and pristine place that it deserves to be.


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