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Chemehuevi Indian Tribe Off-Roading Damage, CA, USA


Occupying more than 30,000 acres and bordering Lake Havasu for 25 miles along the Colorado River, the Chemehuevi tribe has been fighting against the off-road vehicle culture and industry to protect their lands and preserve their way of life. An increase in the number of off-road vehicles crossing over into their land has resulted in damage to sacred areas and natural resources this tribe relies on. Plant life, especially Greasewood, is being harmed by off-road vehicle emissions and physical destruction. While the Chemehuevi tribe utilizes plant life for food and basket-making, Greasewood in particular serves many other functions - including food and burrow material for animals in the area. Lake Havasu is also being threatened by runoff and sediment caused by off-roading [1]. Sacred areas such as West Well, a sacred spring for the Chemehuevi people and an ancient gathering place, are being destroyed by this recreational practice. Riders have vandalized interpretive signs and repeatedly ridden into the spring transforming the clear flow of water into a muddy hole [2]. The California Bureau of Land Management shares land in the area with the tribe and off-road vehicles are allowed on much of the BLM land. Without protective fences separating the two lands, riders can end up onto Chemehuevi land unintentionally. However, even with extra fences, riders have still found ways to get into tribal lands [1]. Informational signs have also not proven effective since they are often torn down. Nonetheless, the main issue with the established off road vehicle routes is that they are not connected and there is no way to get from one series to another without going through protected or private areas [3]. Federal managers acknowledge the problem, but say a lack of funding prevents the development of a comprehensive enforcement and education strategy to mitigate damage from off-road vehicles [4]. Political activity surrounding this issue has included congressional efforts, local media campaigns, and a lawsuit. Arizona representative Raul Grijalva, chairman of the subcommittee on Natural Park, Forests, and Public Lands, held a hearing in 2008 on the problem of off road vehicles because of concerns of tribal leaders. The Community ORV Watch, a key partner in this cause, testified at congressional hearings in 2010 and has subsequently fought on behalf of the Chemehuevi tribe, including as a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit taking on the Bureau of Land Management for designating over 5,000 miles of ORV routes in the Western Mojave (WEMO) desert area without regard for the protection of endangered species, private property, designated wilderness and National Park Lands [5]. The Chemehuevi tribe did what it could to put up trash posts across the land where riders go; educate riders about reservation petroglyphs and importance of the area to the tribe; put up fencing to help more clearly designate tribal land as separate from BLM land where riders are allowed to go; put up signs to inform riders of the sacredness of the area and how certain activities negatively impact their land; and patrol the land themselves to take down license plates of off road vehicles on Chemehuevi tribal land. Meanwhile, the Community ORV Watch (COW) filed a successful lawsuit where the federal court agreed that the process by which the ORV routes were designated was arbitrary and not conducted appropriately. The court put the BLM on a timeline to restart the process to receive public input, however the BLM requested a series of delays claiming lack of organizational capacity to follow through on the court order. The tribal community held workshops to comment on the proposed WEMO route designation process and prepared extensive comments [5]. The BLM continues to delay and avoid substantially improving their plan [6]. The deadline for the BLM to release the WEMO Final Environmental Impact Statement and proposed Travel Management Plans was April 29th, 2016 and November 30th, 2016 was the deadline for the BLM to finalize the WEMO decisions and publish the official Record of Decision on the Travel Management Plans. Once again, the BLM requested an extension and proposes to delay the process until 2020 [7].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Chemehuevi Indian Tribe Off-Roading Damage, CA, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:CA
Location of conflict:Havasu Lake
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Tourism Recreation
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Specific commodities:Land
Tourism services

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Increase in off road recreational vehicle use since the early 1990s (

5,092 miles of ORV routes in the Western Mohave desert area were designated by the Bureau of Land Management without proper public participation.

Project area:12,405
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:350
Start of the conflict:01/01/2000
Relevant government actors:California Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Congress, Chemehuevi Tribe, California Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Commission, local sheriff's department
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Representative Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz (, Community ORV Watch (, Sheriff's Department ORV Law Enforcement Team, Alliance for Responsible Recreation

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local government/political parties
Chemehuevi Indian Tribe
Forms of mobilization:Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution, Waste overflow
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsFugitive dust causing dense fog throughout the valley
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Extensions being provided to the BLM by the court to allow the BLM to have more time to comply with court orders
Development of alternatives:The solutions brought forward by the tribe include: federal land use policy (Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Service) that balances ORV recreation with conservation and restoration; public education regarding existing laws and the impact of ORVs on the environment; the well documented dangers associated with the use of ORVs by children; the need for increased law enforcement, stricter fines, penalties and the confiscation of vehicles; development and support for local chapters of ORV Watch; and, visible identification for all ORVs.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The Chemehuevi tribe, despite its many efforts to educate, encourage stronger enforcement and protection of their lands, has not seen any fruit and has continued to witness the degradation of their lands, cultural and spiritual icons, and overall environmental quality. Authorities do not have appropriate funding to adequately patrol and enforce these areas and legal processes have been delayed numerous times. This is a clear case of environmental injustice.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

San Bernadino County, CA Code of Ordinances: Ordinance 4103 Off Highway Motor Vehicle Use

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) - among other provisions it defines the way in which federal agencies must involve the public in land use decisions, something the Bureau of Land Management did not do sufficiently

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Chemehuevi sacred land scarred by off-roaders - Havasu News, April 18, 2009

[2] Rare Earth Mining at Mountain Pass - Desert Report, March 2011

[3] More off-road vehicle access coming to a neighborhood near you - Hi-Desert Star, December 17, 2015

[4] Recreational use of sacred sites damaging to spirituality - Indian Country Media Network, July 21, 2009

[5] COW Status Report - Community ORV Watch, ORV Problems and Solutions July 27, 2014

[6] The BLM's Proposal to Delay Resolving Problems with WEMO - Community ORV Watch, June 14, 2016

[7] Anatomy of a Successful Grass Roots Campaign: Communities Challenge a Flawed Travel Management Plan - Philip Klasky, Desert Report June 2016

Other documents

Geoglyph - Sacred Sites Protection Circle

Information kiosks on the reservation

ORV Damage to Signs

Map of West Mojave Area The area members of the Community ORV Watch are trying to protect

Meta information

Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update13/10/2016



ORV Damage to Signs


Map of West Mojave Area

The area members of the Community ORV Watch are trying to protect

Geoglyph - Sacred Sites Protection Circle


Information kiosks on the reservation