CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Officials say bad behavior from some mountain bikers is leaving a North County nature preserve in rough shape, and the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife is stepping up their efforts to both educate and enforce the law with trail users.
From destroying signs to carving out illegal trails, berms and jumps that disrupt animals and the area's natural habitat, officials say the Carlsbad Highlands Ecological Reserve is under recurring abuse. Some illegal trails plow through areas that previously supported rare plants, while others disrupt the habitat of gnatcatchers, small, federally protected birds native to Southern California, officials said.
While the state acknowledged that misuse of the nature preserve is likely the product of a small group of bad actors, they released video evidence from over recent years on Saturday to bolster their claim that the issue has reached a breaking point.
The series of videos shows mountain bikers pushing, pulling, kicking and throwing signs that mark trails as closed or not for use by bikers.
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Bad 🚴♂️: Officials say these are a few examples from over the years of mountain bikers destroying signs asking them not to ride illegal trails in a Carlsbad nature reserve. While they say it's only a few bad apples, they're stepping up enforcement to protect the habitat. Tap the link in our bio for more. #mountainbiking #vandalism #fox5sandiego
New efforts to protect the area began over the weekend, with new signs installed and an increased presence of CDFW officers in the park to enforce existing laws on trail use.
“I believe the vast majority of the mountain biking community in San Diego County cares deeply about the environment and follows the law. That’s not what’s happening at the (reserve),” said Ed Pert, a CDFW manager.
“We’re dealing with vandals and trail poachers who take it upon themselves to build illegal trails and modify existing trails. These folks knowingly and willfully violate the law and the environment for their own amusement and personal gratification. Unfortunately, this group of bad actors is giving the entire mountain biking community here a bad name.”
In a lengthy response to the new emphasis on enforcing trail laws, the San Diego Mountain Biking Association said Fish and Wildlife has never done enough to develop a plan for trails in the area, which have been enjoyed by the public for decades.
"Periodic half-hearted attempts to manage the property failed to yield any semblance of a trails plan, and no attempt has been made to direct impacts to legal access points or established trails," the group wrote in part, saying they readily acknowledge that the current "haphazard patchwork of trails" can have damaging effects on the ecosystem.
"Given the history of mountain bike use at CHER ... it is highly unlikely that an outright ban on, and expulsion of, mountain bikes will be successful. Rather, such efforts will likely lead to a breakdown in cooperative inclination among user groups."
Instead the association asked for officials to collaborate with the groups that regularly use the reserve to develop a plan for legal use that also mitigates the effect on the environment.
Wildlife officials acknowledged that mountain bikers were not the only issue facing the preserve, listing vandalism, theft, drone use, motorcycle use, horse-riding and off-leash dogs among other common violations that can impact the area's delicate ecosystem. New enforcement efforts will target those violations, as well.
“CDFW has no interest in being punitive. We just want the illegal behavior to stop,” Pert said. “So we are getting the word out to anyone who might knowingly or unknowingly ride illegally on CHER. Please don’t ride there. You could be fined.”
"You don’t have to be disrespectful," one mountain biker told FOX 5. "I think the best way to go about it is to ask them what the rules are and then how can I respect the law and enjoy the sport at the same time.”
The Carlsbad reserve covers 473 acres and was formally established as a reserve for sensitive species and habitats in 2000.