LAS VEGAS — Still reeling from the death of eight spectators at an off-road vehicle race this past Saturday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is slated to host an even bigger, faster and more wide-open race this weekend. The “Vegas-to-Reno” Race is even harder to police than last Saturday’s California 200 Race in San Bernardino County, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The 534-mile Vegas-to-Reno Race crosses the scenic and fragile Mojave and Great Basin Deserts. Its fast open course crosses roads and public lands near towns where spectators can gather. The race also cuts through the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Depot. This race has a history of problems and is notoriously difficult for BLM to monitor to ensure that permit conditions for the event are followed.
To date, BLM has yet to announce any new restrictions or safeguards for this weekend’s event in Nevada. In a telephone message to PEER yesterday, BLM Tonopah manager Tom Seley indicated that he will have to rely mostly on the speed racers themselves to monitor the course and try to avoid coming close to spectators.
Following last year’s race, Stacey Antilla, a BLM Outdoor Recreation Planner at the Tonopah BLM station, resigned in frustration, after her efforts to properly plan and mitigate the damage resulting from the Vegas-to-Reno ORV race were thwarted by her own agency management. A PEER whistleblower complaint to BLM Director Bob Abbey, the former BLM Nevada Director, disappointingly has not produced admission of fault or promises to reform.
“Just like last weekend, this race has high danger risk and is nearly impossible to patrol, but BLM puts its head in the sand during every one of these big events,” stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, an ecologist who formerly worked with BLM in the Mojave Desert. “As Stacy Antilla’s experience last year demonstrated, these off-road races can go wrong but BLM has simply looked the other way.”
Besides the danger to participants, spectators and BLM staff, off-road races wreak havoc on fragile desert landscapes and devastate sensitive species, such as desert tortoises and plants. BLM typically does not deploy sufficient rangers to maintain more than a token enforcement presence.
"BLM has a responsibility to ensure permit stipulations are carried out, especially for public safety,” said Edward Patrovsky, a retired BLM Law Enforcement Ranger who is also a member of Rangers for Responsible Recreation, a national safety network. "During last weekend's tragic event it appears some safety restrictions were not followed, allowing unprotected spectators to get too close to racing trucks. These events need to be adequately monitored by BLM, or they shouldn't be allowed."
“Off-road speed races can be like driving the Indianapolis 500 in snow. Racers get out of control,” Patterson added. “After the tragic preventable deaths in California, BLM must immediately reconsider if they can safely handle these desert mega-races.”