Pasco deputies cracking down on illegal ATV riding
HUDSON - Sandy soil covers much of the area where green grass should be flourishing during the wet summer months. Tires, plastic bags and bits of old mattresses are just some of the debris littering the ground.The damage and litter are part of a problem the Pasco County Sheriff's Office is targeting: trespassers with ATVs and trucks on private land. "Outside of the dumping of trash, it causes the ground to not be able to regenerate," said Cpl. Gennis Folsom of the sheriff's office's environmental crimes and agriculture unit. "When they operate ATVs or mud trucks in a certain area more than once, the ground just gets destroyed. It turns into a sandy beach."The problem is of particular concern to Hudson-area land owners, many of whom live out of the county or state. These absentee owners rely on a contractual agreement with the Pasco Sheriff's Office to routinely patrol the lands for trespassers. Under Florida law, however, if a property is not fenced, is undercultivated or doesn't have a no-trespassing sign posted, deputies cannot make an immediate arrest. Instead, a trespasser is given a written warning. Anyone found without permission on the property after receiving a written warning can be arrested on a misdemeanor carrying a sentence of up to a year in jail. ATVs are not recognized by the state as a motor vehicle. They aren't registered and are banned from public roadways. They are only supposed to be used on private property, with the property owner's permission. "It's actually considered a criminal traffic violation and operating an unregistered motor vehicle," Folsom said of operating an ATV on a public road.Florida law does not require a permit to ride an ATV, but it does mandate that the vehicle be titled and riders under the age of 16 wear a helmet and eye protection at all times. This time of year, Folsom said, illegal ATV riding is a bigger problem, "because school's out, so we get a lot more of the juveniles who would normally be in school right now, out riding."If an ATV rider is flagged down by a deputy, Folsom said, the deputy will contact the owner to make sure the rider has permission to be there. If not, they will be given a warning if it's their first offense and arrested if it's their second. Folsom is part of a three-man unit that regularly patrols the properties, sometimes setting up "Enforcement Action Plans," in which they team up and go after ATV riders in a particular place at a particular time.When the agricultural unit is not busting trespassers, it is dealing with livestock issues, rooster and dog fighting, illegal dumping and farm and ranch theft.