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Dunes enforcement: Conscientious or overzealous?
Canadians Mike and Erica Combs got involved in duning about three years ago, investing about $70,000 in a sand rail and other equipment, and have been hooked ever since.
Every year, the Combs make the 29-hour, 1,500-mile-plus trip from their home in British Columbia to the Imperial Sand Dunes to spend a few months playing in the sun and sand.
But with some duners complaining about what they are calling overaggressive enforcement by U.S. Bureau of Land Management rangers in the sand dunes, the Combs say they may not be making the trip anymore.
"We are considering not coming anymore based on everything we have heard and seen," Mike Combs said. "It makes us nervous since we aren't from this country."
Michael Sommer, media affairs chairman for the American Sand Association, says while the organization has received some complaints from duners about overaggressive enforcement, he says that isn't what is happening.
"The only people who are complaining about the overzealous law enforcement are the ones who are breaking the rules. There are rules, regulations and laws at the Imperial Sand Dunes and people haven't been following them," Sommer said.
"Until this year, if you didn't come into contact with a ranger, you weren't being fined for anything. This season they are out actively looking to do the enforcement that they have been lax in enforcing in the past."
Duner Rick Cottington, of Phoenix, said he doesn't think enforcement at the dunes has been overzealous either, but added it may be due to more to people not knowing they are breaking any rules.
"The enforcement is valid, just not well-explained," Cottington said. "There should be some kind warning given initially."
Sommer went on to say duners should be grateful they are being allowed on federal land, which is what the dunes are, and that it is their responsibility to educate themselves on what the rules and regulations are and follow them at all times.
"I think a lot of people would discover that they are breaking more rules than they realize," Sommer said. "The complaints aren't unwarranted, it's just that they haven't made the effort to educate themselves. There are reasons for the rules and regulations. They aren't just there to harass people."
BLM spokesman David Briery said the agency has never been lax in enforcing regulations at the dunes and that the level of law enforcement there has remained constant over the past several years.
"I wouldn't say we have been overzealous. I haven't heard anything about us being stricter," Briery said. "I would say we have been zealous in enforcing the laws in the interest of everyone's safety."
According to statistics provided by the BLM, from Dec. 27, 2007 to Jan. 1, 2008, there were 102,974 visitors to the sand dunes, with 15 arrests and 899 citations issued.
By comparison, from Dec. 20, 2008 to Jan. 5, 2009, there were 119,000 visitors to the sand dunes, with 23 arrests and 1,276 citations issued.
Briery also suggested duners take the time to better educate themselves about all the rules and suggested they go to the agency's Web site.
While Cottington said he thought the enforcement could be used as a revenue stream for the agency, Briery responded that the BLM doesn't get the money for the citations. Imperial County actually receives the money, according to Briery.
Briery went on to say the only time deputies from the Imperial County Sheriff's Office, as well as law enforcement from other agencies, are brought in is during the big holiday weekends.
He suggested that since there are fewer people going to the dunes, maybe those who do still go are encountering rangers more often now.
James Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6854.