Main content area

Drawing a line in the sand: Effectiveness of off-highway vehicle management in California's Sonoran desert

Custer, Nathan A., DeFalco, Lesley A., Nussear, Kenneth E., Esque, Todd C.
Journal of environmental management 2017 v.193 pp. 448-457
Gopherus agassizii, all-terrain vehicles, compliance, conservation areas, ephemeral streams, hydroxyl radicals, issues and policy, landscapes, monitoring, public lands, recreation, recreational vehicles, roads, spring, tortoises, vegetation, wildlife habitats, wildlife management, winter, California, Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert
Public land policies manage multiple uses while striving to protect vulnerable plant and wildlife habitats from degradation; yet the effectiveness of such policies are infrequently evaluated, particularly for remote landscapes that are difficult to monitor. We assessed the use and impacts of recreational vehicles on Mojave Desert washes (intermittent streams) in the Chemehuevi Desert Wildlife Management Area (DWMA) of southern California. Wash zones designated as open and closed to off-highway vehicle (OHV) activity were designed in part to protect Mojave desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) habitat while allowing recreation in designated areas. OHV tracks were monitored in washes located near access roads during winter and early spring holidays – when recreation is typically high – and at randomly dispersed locations away from roads. Washes near access roads had fewer vehicle tracks within closed than open zones; further away from roads, OHV tracks were infrequent and their occurrence was not different between wash designations. Washes were in better condition in closed zones following major holidays as indicated by less vegetation damage, presence of trash, and wash bank damage. Furthermore, the frequency of washes with live tortoises and their sign was marginally greater in closed than open wash zones. Collectively, these results suggest that low impacts to habitats in designated closed wash zones reflect public compliance with federal OHV policy and regulations in the Chemehuevi DWMA during our study. Future monitoring to contrast wash use and impacts during other seasons as well as in other DWMAs will elucidate spatial and temporal patterns of recreation in these important conservation areas.