NRC Report - August 2010
A developing issue involves the fatal crash at the California 200 off-road race in Johnson Valley OHV Area. While the event was a commercial/competition event, it was a permitted event. Early word from BLM indicates there is significant pressure from Washington to closely review future permitted events. BLM has begun a review of event permit criteria with an eye towards safety. The environmental community has stepped up lobbying efforts to halt future permitted events.
Early indications lean toward more stringent participant and spectator safety requirements. And, indications are insurance will surface as a major issue.
I have been advocating a distinction between the different types of events that occur on BLM lands. After close to four years, Devil’s Canyon is set to re-open on a limited basis under a permit system. While final details are yet to be determined, the trail is expected to be open for one weekend a month from October to April. User limits will apply and will be controlled by a permit system. Much of the on-going discussion to open Devil’s Canyon dealt with the difference between a “recreation” event and a “competition” event.
Recreation events do not have contestants, spectators, pits, start/finish line, or other things associated with racing or competitive events. While we do not foresee any combination of circumstances that would lead to such a catastrophe as occurred at the California 200, CA4WDC events are subject to the same permit requirements as competitive race events.
Many rumors are circulating. Final action is pending the BLM completing their investigation and submitting potential recommendations for changes to the permit process. For the past several years, I have worked with California Desert District to ensure consistency of permit process between the Field Offices. BLM now has one handbook detailing the permit process that is used state-wide. Hopefully that handbook will remain intact.
Travel management (or travel analysis) is back in a new form. By now, everyone should be familiar with Travel Management in the form of Route Designation. The up and coming effort, Sub-Part A, is referred to as travel analysis, to determine the minimum system of routes necessary to manage forest lands.
I attended a briefing provided by Inyo NF in June on the topic that generated more questions than answers. A follow-up Region 5 meeting on August 4 did not yield any new information. A September 1 meeting scheduled for Inyo to discuss their plans was cancelled.
While there is speculation, a key phrase from Forest Service representatives is "Forest Service is currently reviewing its approach associated with Travel Analysis to ensure consistency and that as a result, there is going to be an immediate postponement in the near term of their communications and meetings with external stakeholders."
This delay in implementing Travel Management Sub-Part A is a win for participation in the administrative process. In my meetings with the Forest Service on this topic, I have stressed consistency of a process that is based on well-defined criteria. And, that criteria must be based on a current Land and Resource Management Plan (LRMP) which defines the guidelines for Forest management practices. Of the 19 National Forests in California, four have LRMPs that are current; all others are more than 20 years old.
Overall, we have won a significant delay in yet another round of the battle to close recreation opportunities. This is not the end as the issue of roads in forests is central to two lawsuits CA4WDC and BlueRibbon Coalition have intervener status. And, a new lawsuit has been filed and more are expected that will have an impact on recreation opportunity on Forest Service managed lands.
Best Management Practices (BMPs) are an important topic as the Forest Service Water Quality Management Plan (WQMP) begins to take shape. Of interest to recreation is how the plan will affect OHV routes.
The BMPs are of major importance as they govern activities such as road/trail maintenance, allowed activities on Forest lands, and how special events on Forest lands will be regulated. As part of this effort, the Forest is developing an inventory of high risk areas/issues and will be applying BMPs to solve related water quality issues. Roads, OHV use, and grazing are currently identified as high risk issues. Drafts of some BMPs were released for comment in June.
Since January, I have been attending, on average, two meetings per month concerning the WQMP, adaptive management, and Best Management Practices. The draft plan is expected to be released for public comment in November 2010.
Preliminary indications are that high risk activities will have some type of controls applied. High risk activities are those that cause or contribute to erosion and/or increased sediment deposits in wetlands and riparian areas. Roads and trails (and the activities that depend on roads and trails) are examples of high risk activities. Central to the discussion is how the BMPs will be employed reduce erosion and/or sedimentation. The BMP is expected to be applied as a condition to issuing a permit for the activity. Many OHV activities are conducted under a permit and adding conditions to the permit may increase the overall cost to conduct the event.
The three topics discussed in this report will be the focus of my activities over the coming months. They will have an impact on recreation activities and opportunities.