Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco is applying for $264,107 from the California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Division Grants and Cooperative Agreements Program funding for law enforcement projects, such as the Hemet OHV Team.
The Hemet Station area is about 750 square miles. Most of the area patrolled is accessible to OHV-style vehicles. The area is comprised of both state and federal wildlife areas, Bureau of Land Management areas and Riverside County Open Space Habitat Conservation Land.
Hemet Station’s area has several OHV-approved riding areas such as Bee Canyon below Idyllwild and Hixon Canyon in Anza. The approved riding areas are about 20 to 30 miles.
The issue at the Hemet Station is OHVs riding unapproved areas that encompass several hundred miles. Patrols cover the unincorporated areas of Aguanga, Anza, Cahuilla Tribal Nation, East Hemet, Garner Valley, Gilman Hot Springs, Green Acres, Idyllwild, Lake Riverside, Mountain Center, Pine Cove, Pine Meadow, Ramona Tribal Nation, Sage, San Jacinto and San Jacinto riverbed area, Santa Rosa Tribal Nation, Soboba Hot Springs and Valle Vista.
The Hemet Station is experiencing an increase in illegal OHV activity, along with illegal marijuana growers using OHV-style vehicles to travel to their grow sites.
The Hemet Station area is comprised of mountain, valley, desert and wilderness areas. The area has hundreds of miles of open space and contains all types of weather, such as several feet of snow, torrential rain, high winds, extreme heat and debris flow issues after two large wildland fires in the area.
The Hemet Station area has multiple open-space, habitat-protected areas that have seen multiple issues of fencing being cut and OHV tracks in the protected areas. The Sage area has had specific incidents of trespassing in protected areas and Riverside County Park rangers and biologists have discovered and recorded OHV tracks.
In 2021, Hemet Station personnel served more than 200 search warrants and recovered more than 85 tons of illegal marijuana. Hemet Station has recovered several illegal OHV-style vehicles and have seen proof that the growers use these vehicles to travel from grow site to grow site. More than 100 firearms also have been recovered resulting in a serious officer safety issue for anyone patrolling OHV areas.
Within the jurisdiction of the Hemet Station, many areas exist where endangered species are being directly negatively impacted by Illegal OHV activities on the lands that have been acquired for their protection. In the San Jacinto River wash, which sees daily OHV trespassing, San Bernardino Kangaroo Rats and Least Bell’s Vireo regularly have their burrows collapsed or nesting behavior disturbed.
Further south in the Sage and Aguanga areas the same can be said for Stephen’s and Aguanga Kangaroo Rats and the Coastal California Gnatcatcher.
And to the east in the Anza area, OHVs frequent prime Quino Checkerspot Butterfly habitat, and have been implicated as a major cause of mortality of young caterpillars who enjoy sunning themselves on open trails. The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher is an endangered bird and OHV activity in closed areas could disturb their nesting areas. The Arroyo Toad is an endangered toad and OHV operation in closed areas can collapse its burrows.
Due to this destructive potential, Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP) ranger staff spend a great deal of time addressing the issue of OHV trespassing. In 2021, rangers contacted 121 OHVs on conserved land. However, MSHCP rangers do not possess citation authority and have little recourse in these interactions other than a verbal warning and an escort off property. Many more contacts were attempted but were unsuccessful as the individuals fled the area.
During the same time period, rangers discovered and repaired 101 cut fences and 19 damaged gates associated with illegal OHV activity. In 2020, The U.S. Forest Service had to cut most of its programs related to OHV enforcement and education. This increased the burden and need for the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’ss involvement in OHV matters.
To address the issue, The department’s Hemet OHV Team was formed to actively patrol no-go areas within Hemet Station’s jurisdiction. The OHV Team will cite illegal OHV operators and guide OHV riders to legal riding areas. The Hemet OHV Team educates OHV riders on where to ride and provides maps to show legal riding areas within the Hemet jurisdictional area.
Any comments or questions may be directed to the Hemet Station at 951-791-3400 or [email protected]. The period for application review and public comment ends at 5 p.m. Monday, May 2. Visit https://olga.ohv.parks.ca.gov/egrams_ohmvr/user/ReviewProjects.aspx for more information and to make comments.