Government Opens Border Wildlife Refuge To Motorcycles, ATVs

June 01, 2011

A southern Arizona wildlife refuge will open some of its historic trails to motorcycles and All-terrain vehicles this summer, a decision that conservationists say will further degrade old areas better left alone.

Sport utilities and four-wheel drive trucks are already allowed on certain trails within the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge. Now, officials have opened those trails up to off-road motorcycles and ATVs.

Refuge manager, Sid Slone, says he had no choice. That he couldn't discriminate against motorcycles.

"It's people who've come to me who basically already have been out in the refuge in their pickup trucks. Who enjoy the refuge. And they want to experience it in their open-aired ATV vehicle," Slone said.

Three trails will open up. Among them, El Camino del Diablo, an ancient Native American trail used by the Spanish conquerors as a shortcut across the desert to California.

Ecologist and Southern Arizona Democrat Daniel Patterson anticipates chaos. He says the illegal pathways beaten down by cross-border smugglers that cobweb the refuge will only tempt dirt bikes and ATVs.

"It's going to be very easy and somewhat encouraged for off-road vehicles to use those routes which is both going to confuse the Border Patrol they could also run into safety problems with smugglers out there," Patterson said.

Slone, the refuge manager, said trails like Camino del Diablo have changed.

"Now it's being used on a regular basis by Border Patrol agents out there, in some cases being dragged so the road really doesn't have the same character it had a number of years ago."

He said he's only opening the area up for one year and if people do break the off-trail restrictions, he'll close it down to the new traffic.