March 2019 - The “administrative” issues are many in number and have a major impact on OHV recreation. Forest Plan revisions are high priority at the federal level while State Parks re-organization and SVRA plan updates are a high priority at the state level.
Nineteen national forests are wholly or partially within the borders of California and are important recreation destinations for Cal4Wheel members. Of those, the four southern California Forests (Los Padres, Angles, San Bernardino and Cleveland) have current forest plans. The Sequoia, Sierra, and Inyo NFs have forest plan revisions in progress. The Inyo NF is now in the “objection” phase. On behalf of Cal4Wheel, I attended meetings and submitted comments to the proposed Forest Plan revisions. The final draft for the Inyo NF has been released and, on behalf of Cal4Wheel, I submitted objections to the proposed final plan. Those objections have been deemed valid concerns to be addressed prior to the final plan release. A conference was scheduled for Feb 19-21 to address my objections along with objections of others.
The objector’s meeting produced a few clarifications and a few point of continuing discussion. Of note, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is becoming a major point of contention. I have been exchanging email with the Pacific crest Trail Association concerning differing points of view. I have some concerns within the Forest Plan that may be more semantics. However, some specific issues of concern for me involve viewshed, adjacent, corridor and management area.
I have reviewed a recent decision from the 9th Circuit that upheld a Kaibab NF Travel Management plan concerning limited off route travel for game retrieval. However, the big issue with Inyo and other forests is the application of Travel Management SubPart C which deals with winter recreation. Summer use (Travel Management SubPart B) for motorized travel on a routes, including within a Pacific Crest Trail Management Area, is possible through a project level decision. At issue is the legal construct of agreeing that NO motorized travel can occur “adjacent” to the trail. In general, Travel Management allows provisions for travel (multiple use) up to (adjacent) the Trail or through “crossing zones” across the Trail.
Being proposed is defining “areas” which is problematic when stipulations begin to be applied; especially when coupled with the concepts of viewshed and adjacent. Both of those concepts involve subjective definitions rooted in emotions and feelings and elicit different responses from different people.
The PCT is covered within legislation and succeeding regulations and policy that directs the management of the various designated trails of the National Trail System, most notable is the Appalachian Trail. While the National Trails Act does not prohibit motorized access across the designated trails, it does prohibit motorized use on the designated trails. And, it does set forth value goals to be achieved that define the users experience. That is where my concerns involving viewshed, adjacent, corridor and management area apply.
The Inyo NF is the wrong forest plan to be addressing these issues in depth. Potential for motorized vs non-motorized conflict involving the PCT within the Inyo NF is minimal, summer or winter. However, a precedence established for a corridor or management area is problematic when applied to other forest in future planning decisions. The discussions will continue.
Overall, a resolution to the objections raised with the Inyo Forest Plan is expected fall of 2019. At that time, the Sierra and Sequoia NF Forest Plans are expected to be released for the “objection” process.
As this is the season for legislation to be introduced within the California Legislature, several proposals have been submitted for possible action. One, AB 209 captured my attention.
As I read the proposed legislation, it is adding another category to some existing grants program.
See: 5090.75. (a) The director shall establish the Outdoor Equity Grants Program to increase the ability of under-served and at-risk populations to participate in outdoor environmental educational experiences at state parks and other public lands where outdoor environmental education programs take place. The program shall award grants to public organizations, including local governments and local education agencies, joint powers authorities, open-space authorities, regional open-space districts, other relevant public agencies, or nonprofit organizations, with a focus on funding transportation, logistical, and program operations and capacity costs associated with reaching historically under-served communities.
There is significant lack of clarity within this section as to the over arching “manager” (bureaucratic oversight) of the grants component focusing on environmental education and relationship (impact) to existing State Parks grants programs. Of concerns the potential for conflicts to arise between existing grants programs for sources of funding and grant applications. As written, I cannot support this proposed legislation.
One promising piece of legislation is SB 402 - Vehicles: off-highway vehicle recreation: County of Inyo. Currently, Inyo County is working under a pilot program to create a linked system of designated OHV trails. The “linkage” of the trails would provide for non-street legal vehicles to travel between designated trails on a specific combine-use highways (generally, county roads). The current pilot program is due to end in January 2020. The proposed legislation would extent the end date to January 2025. I supported the original concept that established this pilot program and am in support of the continuation of the program.
Another proposed legislation is SB 442 - State parks: resource exploitation exceptions: scientific investigations. The intent of the legislation is to expand opportunities for scientific investigation within the California state park system. While scientific studies (peer-reviewed and published) are a means to base decisions on facts, there is a major problem related to scientific studies. Studies require funding to conduct and complete. To obtain the funding, as synopsis is presented for review and funding consideration. Therein lies the problem. That synopsis of a proposed study is subject to the bias of the funds providers. All too often, studies that do not meet a predetermined conclusion are not funded. And, should study be funded, if the results do not provide for the desired outcome, it is not subject to peer-review and publishing. SB 442, as drafted, is legislation I cannot support.
There is one proposed legislation that will have a major impact on OHV recreation - SB 767 - Off-highway vehicular recreation: Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area: Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area. This is another attempt to invalidate the Carnegie SVRA General Plan, an attempt that was addressed in the past California legislature and failed. While the author has modified some of the language, it still remains offensive to OHV recreation interests. Carnegie is and will remain a very contentious issue for OHV recreation. Aside from the legislative effort, there are several lawsuits under review by the courts. As it stands, I do not support the legislation and would encourage the state to engage an independent 3rd party to review the circumstances surrounding the creation of Carnegie SVRA and subsequent acquisition of the Tesla properties to validate that all actions have been conducted within existing laws and regulations. The point of providing for disposal of State Park properties purchased with dedicated funds allocated for a legal purpose sets a bad precedence for other State Park properties that may become attractive for non-park use.
In short, this legislative session has 24 pieces of legislation concerning recreation and State Park related issues. While some do not impact OHV recreation, they have a potential to influence OHV issues.
Red Rock Canyon State Park is updating their general plan. The scoping process has completed and four alternatives have been released for comment. On behalf of Cal4Wheel, I submitted scoping comments and am in the process of reviewing the alternative to submit comments concerning them.
Finally, federal issues are in a state of flux. The recent signing of S.47 contained many good points for OHV recreation in the southern California desert region. Overall, it will be several months before the administrative process works its strange magic to see the final impact. West Mojave Travel Management, DRECP, and several other on-going planning efforts have inter-relationships that will take time to sort through.