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If there is one topic that frequently confuses visitors to western off-road areas, it’s the California OHV red and green sticker regulations. If you reside in California it is expected that you are familiar with these regulations, but if you are visiting from another state, you'll want to be prepared. As a tourist with a full understanding the fine print of these guidelines, you will actually have more riding opportunities than the residents themselves. Keep reading and you'll see how.
The green sticker is valid for two years from the date of purchase and applies to OHVs that were manufactured in 2002 or prior (grandfather clause) as well as any 2003 or newer OHV that meets California Air Resources Board (CARB) emission standards. (Most newer 4-stroke trail bikes and trail ATVs will meet this requirement.) A green sticker allows you to ride your OHV on designated public lands year round.
Dirt bikes and ATVs that are from year 2003 or newer and have a '3' or a 'C' in the eighth position of the VIN number will get a red sticker. This is usually the case for two-strokes, four-stroke motocrossers, and racing quads. The red sticker is valid for two years from the date of purchase and allows you to ride on public lands only during designated annual periods (in most areas). The exact dates vary from one area to the next, and may change from year to year, but they usually coincide with the wetter, winter months or some portion thereof. For some areas, the annual red sticker riding window can be as short as 30 days. You can still ride red sticker bikes year-round at private motocross tracks.
If you do not live in California and your home state does not require OHV registration, you can purchase a Non-Resident Permit. With this permit you can ride on any of the OHV designated public lands in the state of California. What's more interesting, is that as long as you carry your out-of-state driver's license with you on the trail, you can ignore the red sticker dates, even if you have what would be a 'red sicker' vehicle! A non-resident permit sticker is valid for one year, one bike.
If you live in California, you'll need to go to your local DMV office and register your OHV. From there you will be issued either a green or red sticker. If you are visiting from elsewhere, you can purchase a non-resident permit from most any motorcycle shop or powersports dealer in California as well as some of the shops and dealerships in bordering states such as Nevada. Note that on July 1, 2009 a new OHV registration law took effect in Nevada. This means Nevada residents will need to register in Nevada, and therefore eventually the non-resident permit will no longer be required to ride a Nevada OHV in California. The Nevada OHV registration program is new and technically in effect, however, it has not yet been fully implemented.
Well first and foremost, because it is the law. But if that's not enough for you, a second reason would be that a substantial portion of the money actually does go to help maintain and support the State Vehicle Recreation Areas (SVRAs) and to purchase land to build more of these motorized-only riding parks. Even with the new, higher rates for 2008, the fines for riding without a sticker are far more expensive than the sticker itself, and repeated offenses can lead to impounding of your vehicle or even suspension of your driver's license! Dirt bike mounted rangers on the trails are common, certainly at SVRAs but also in the National Forests near the state borders. Sticker enforcement at SVRAs is typically strict. In other public lands however, you may be lucky enough to receive just a warning and get booted IF you are from out of state and can prove it, AND you weren't carving up the trail, AND especially if you are... mature. Younger, louder, or more aggressive riders will get the ticket every time.
Some of the money that is collected per sticker sold helps fund the DMV, the highway patrol, the in-lieu gas tax fund (another avenue that allows cities or counties to fund law enforcement to help regulate and control illegal riding activities) and the OHV program, which maintains and helps support SVRAs and conservation programs.
In some places... yes, and that's been a sore spot for all of us for years and years. Until very recently this particular program had a pretty good track record of actually spending the money to support and enhance OHV riding opportunities in California. The state of California has obviously been encouraged by the amount of tourism dollars that off-road have brought to the state in recent years, and frankly they need the money now more than ever. It's true that fees were increased recently, but managing these areas is not cheap and they are obviously struggling. During this time of cutbacks and shrinkage, and blistering energy prices - it's all the more important to pay the fees. As long as off-road tourism is a strong source of revenue, we will very likely get the political attention we deserve. Regardless of what type of rider you are, we recommend that you just get the sticker so you can relax and enjoy yourself. That being said, we must now also say this... it has been widely reported that during the 2009 California economic crunch, the State of California has attempted to raid millions of dollars from the OHV fund to pay for other programs. We are not sure what the final outcome was, but we feel the same way about this as you do.