Another instance of people illegally driving off-road in alpine tundra outside Silverton has put the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office on the search for three suspects.
Sheriff Bruce Conrad said three people on Sunday morning were riding motorcycles over delicate wetlands and alpine tundra in the Eureka Gulch area near Lake Emma, north of Silverton.
A person hiking in the area took photos and video of the motorcyclists and turned the information over to the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.
“You can’t go off-road anywhere,” Conrad said. “If it’s not obvious you should be there, you don’t belong there.”
Alpine tundra usually exists at elevations between 11,000 and 11,500 feet. Vegetation there is extremely fragile, and it can take hundreds of years for the landscape to recover from damage like off-roading.
Through social media, the Sheriff’s Office said it has likely identified two of the three suspects. Dominic Willis and Nathan Bemo are wanted for questioning about the incident, Conrad said.
“Social media ... this is where it shines,” Conrad said.
The Sheriff’s Office is also asking for help to identify a group that drove off-road in the Animas Forks area, also north of Silverton, around 5 p.m. Thursday.
Conrad said authorities haven’t been able to identify the suspects from photos taken of the incident.
The Sheriff’s Office was able to identify and charge a suspect who led a group of ATV’ers off road in the Velocity Basin area last month, also damaging alpine tundra and wetlands.
In that incident, a hiker took photos of the group driving off-road, which quickly spread on social media. The group was eventually identified, and the adult driver of one of the ATVs was charged by the Sheriff’s Office.
Conrad said the Bureau of Land Management is also involved because the ATV’ers drove across land the agency manages.
In recent years, the high country around Silverton has become a popular spot for motorized sports, such as ATVs, dirt bikes and backcountry jeeping.
But with that popularity, “more and more people are being boneheads going off-road,” Conrad said.
The Sheriff’s Office asks people who witness these incidents to take photos and video of the vehicles. Conrad said the Sheriff’s Office will prosecute those caught to the fullest extent of the law.
When possible, Conrad said it’s good for people to educate riders that going off-road is illegal. But the Sheriff’s Office is concerned that confrontations could turn dangerous.
“It’s tough, because I’m worried about something dangerous happening at some point,” he said. “We are taking this very, very seriously.”