Boca Chica cracking down on all-terrain vehicles

BOCA CHICA — The dunes at Boca Chica Beach are a magnet for all-terrain and off-road vehicle enthusiasts who enjoy racing up and down and kicking up sand.

But now they’ll have to get their kicks somewhere else.

Effective immediately, ATVs and ORVs are banned from the dunes, beach and tidal flats around Boca Chica, according to a May 15 announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Boca Chica is part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, which in turn is part of the USFWS South Texas Refuge Complex.

The edict is backed by Texas Natural Resource Code Section 63.093, adopted in 1977 and stating: “No person may operate a recreational vehicle on a sand dune seaward of the dune protection line in any county in which a dune protection line has been established.”

The Cameron County Dune Protection and Beach Access Plan, which established that line, was adopted in 1994. In that sense, the announcement merely reiterates an existing rule, which has not been strictly enforced in the past. The Boca Chica beach area was made part of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1990.

The restriction has the backing of the Texas Land Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which said the crackdown is to protect critical habitat for threatened species such as piping plovers, red knots and other migratory birds, and for nesting sea turtles — particularly the Kemp’s ridley, the most endangered marine turtle species.

The ban does not affect beach access for passenger cars and trucks, though it does target specific types of recreational vehicles designed for off-highway use. USFWS said the prohibition on ATVs and ORVs was prompted by their increasing numbers at Boca Chica and a corresponding rise in wildlife deaths. Also, larger and faster ORVs pose a safety concern for other visitors to the area, USFWS said.

Also effective immediately, access to South Bay will be restricted to the south jetty of the Brownsville Ship Channel. Formerly used routes behind the dunes and through “washover” areas — gaps cut through the dunes by storms — are now off limits, according to USFWS. Washover sites are “the most highly productive nesting sites used annually by migratory birds,” the agency said.

USFWS also cited as justification for the change the need to “improve vehicle/visitor management” around the Boca Chica area in advance of unmanned SpaceX launches “scheduled to begin in 2019” and necessitating “expedited beach closures.”

The new rule will be strictly enforced by state and federal law enforcement, and violators will be subject to fines and forfeiture of their vehicles, according to USFWS.

Is my car banned?

• The ban does not affect beach access for passenger cars and trucks.

• It targets specific types of recreational vehicles designed for off-highway use.