The large area of desert controlled by the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) comprises about 830,000 acres of land that allows for U.S. military testing of all kinds to excel the United States wartime capabilities.
While the terrain and space are vital and attract customers of all kinds to test equipment, it also attracts those venturing off-road in their recreational vehicles.
According to Conservation Law Enforcement Officer Sgt. Shawn Baker with the YPG Police Department, the number of illegal access breaches – otherwise known as trespassing - has seen a significant increase over the years on YPG’s property.
The proving ground has no authorized off-road recreation on the installation. However, Baker sees the issues firsthand as he travels to areas of the range where trails created by unlawful entry have become defined in areas restricted to the public.
“It is difficult to define the full extent of the trespassing occurring on the installation,” said Baker, who sees the number of citations trending higher. “The available data reflects the number of interdictions performed by in-person contact with violators and those obtained from photographic surveillance."
18.USC.1382 is the U.S. law regarding unlawful entry onto U.S. Military, Coast Guard, or Naval Property. “Public access to YPG property located outside of the cantonment areas is restricted to permitted hunters only-- all other access by the public is unlawful,” said Baker.
Having found unauthorized trails on the installation from off-roaders, YPG’s perimeter security is robust, using a combination of both personal and electronic means of detection. “I review and print the photos, run the vehicle registration, then issue a ticket for the violation and certify mail the ticket and a letter of notice to the registered address,” said Baker.
Popular trails see a high volume of unknowing passengers in several locations, due to YPG’s and BLM’s shared borders.
However, seasonal visitors may be unaware of their off-road limitations. he proving ground’s footprint is rugged and vast, which has challenged YPG law enforcement and its physical security posture to become creative and develop and prioritize security in layers throughout the installation.
“There is signage almost every kilometer along the base boundary that reads: “U.S. government property, no trespassing,” said Baker.
One area of confusion for riders is not knowing an established trail from a designated trail.
“They [recreators] think if they are riding on a marked BLM trail and the trail leads to the YPG property line they are authorized to continue if they do not travel off the trail because that is an established trail. This is a common misconception within the offroad community. The BLM designated trails are marked, numbered, mapped, and only apply on land owned by BLM. Though several of these trails lead to the YPG boundary that is where they and their designation and legality of use come to an end.”
One way to avoid crossing onto a trail that may have been established but is not designated is to pre-plan your trip ahead of time. This can also ensure a safe ride and return.
“Let people know where you are going, when you will be leaving, when you will be back and give them a hit time. ‘If I am not back at this time you need to contact law enforcement’. One thing I do is use my contacts with people to educate them, there is a lot of confusion in the off-road community of what they can and cannot do legally and most are ill prepared in the event of an emergency.”
Crossing onto YPG property poses many risks that include more than just the common off-road accident. There is always the possibility of coming across an unexploded ordnance from the proving ground’s distant history as a World War II training facility.
One area of great concern is an area north of Wellton. According to Baker there is a wash that many ride along that comes straight into an impact area.
“There have been numerous contacts with off-roaders which have ended up in our Kofa Firing Range test areas over the years due to unlawful entry along the southern boundary. There are trails which lead directly into live fire areas.The main point for the public is to educate themselves both for safety reasons and to avoid potential legal ramifications.”
Those resources can be found via https://www.azgfd.com/OHV/ or https://yuma.isportsman.net/ https://www.blm.gov/maps/georeferenced-PDFs