Ag Crime Unit Steps Up Citations for Off-Road Users in Areas of State Forests
NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s (TDA) Agricultural Crime Unit (ACU) is teaming up with the Division of Forestry (TDF) to elevate enforcement of state forest regulations.
The increased law enforcement activity centers around misuse by off-highway vehicle (OHV) and all-terrain vehicle (ATV) users in the state forests. A particular area of concern is land in and around Prentice Cooper State Forest in Chattanooga where destruction of roads and trails has been discovered by visitors, foresters, and ACU agents.
“When people harm our state forests, it affects visitors and nearby residents, the landscape, drinking water, and the overall health of the forest,” State Forester David Arnold said. “The damage we have seen takes years to reverse so our goal is to prevent it. Ag crime special agents are working with our foresters to protect state forests and to protect citizens’ right to enjoy Tennessee’s great outdoors.”
People using OHVs and ATVs for recreation in the state forests should look for the jeep symbol that indicates the road is open to motorized vehicles. A road use map for Prentice Cooper State Forest can be found here: www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/agriculture/documents/forestry/stateforests/2020/PrenticeCooperSF-road-map.pdf. Roads are open to all forest visitors including bicyclists and horseback riders. In the recent cases, people using recreational vehicles have damaged hiking trails so that the paths are unusable for other visitors.
“The type of damage we find in Prentice Cooper is preventable,” Captain Greg Whitehead said. “We urge people to be aware of what roads and trails are meant for OHV or ATV use. Ag crime agents are committed to working with visitors who treat the forest with care. But we also want people to know if we find visitors who are violating state forest rules, we will issue a citation which could result in fines and jail time.”
Information about regulations in Prentice Cooper State Forest can be found here: www.tn.gov/agriculture/forests/state-forests/prentice-cooper.html.
Persons found using off-road vehicles in unauthorized areas of state forests may be charged with criminal trespass and/or vandalism. The offenses carry penalties as high as one year in jail and a $2,500 fine or the value of damages caused, whichever is greater.
The Agricultural Crime Unit is the law enforcement arm of TDA and is the chief agency responsible for investigation of suspected wildland arson. ACU also investigates and enforces state laws and regulations related to agriculture, forestry, animal health, and agribusinesses.
The Division of Forestry protects Tennessee’s forests by fighting wildfires, coordinating hazard emergency response, providing prescribed fire guidance and contract services, as well as wildland fire training. Additionally, the Division promotes the responsible use of forest resources by assisting landowners, providing quality seedlings, monitoring insects and diseases, improving urban forests, managing state forests, protecting water quality, and collecting forest inventory data. The Division also works to promote primary and secondary forest industries to stimulate the state’s economy.
Pictured: Prentice Cooper State Forest hiking trail damaged by off-highway vehicle use in unauthorized area.