NRC Report - September 2010
Special Use Permits are at the top of the list of concerns. The investigation of the the California 200 accident is expected to be complete late October. Already, BLM is taking steps in response to that accident. As directed by Washington headquarters, BLM has begun a review of their permit policies to ensure that all permits are issued in strict compliance with existing rules and Code of Federal Regulations. This review has been directed agency-wide. Within the California Desert District, one immediate change is being applied. Permit applications are required six months prior to event date.
A formal letter articulating recreation concerns with the permit process has been submitted to CDD Manager on behalf of CA4WDC. In addition, a formal request to be part of future discussions concerning the permit process was presented to CDD Manager at the Desert Advisory Council meeting in Needles on Oct. 2.
Additional fall-out form the scrutiny of the permit process directly affects the access to Devil’s Canyon. Under initial agreement, the requirement for insurance was to be waived. However, the requirement for insurance is stated in the Code of Federal Regulations and cannot be waived. Parts of an administrative rule can be waived, but not parts of CFR.
I spent a couple hours in discussion with the El Centro Field Office Manger to reach a compromise. We have a tentative plan of action to approach the issue that addresses the Fish and Wildlife Service Biological Opinion concerns, is in compliance with CFR, and does not impose an undue financial impact on recreation users. Final resolution is several weeks away. In the meantime, BLM is accepting permit applications for groups to access Devil’s Canyon. Each group is required to have insurance coverage.
Imperial County is pursuing all appropriate legal remedies, including litigation, against the Environmental Protection Agency after EPA disapproved proposed rules to address “fugitive dust standards”; AKA PM-10. The rules mirror stringent dust requirements used on other “serious” PM10 non-attainment areas such as San Joaquin Valley, the South Coast Air Basin, and Maricopa County, Arizona. The American Sand Association and San Diego Off Road Coalition have been the lead recreation groups for this issue. The proposed rules had negligible impact on recreation activities. The rules (State Implementation Plan) demonstrate the Imperial County is in compliance except for “exceptional events” and transport of emissions from Mexico.
Energy remains a growing issue. Interestingly, U.S. Is energy independent with respect to power generation due to abundant supplies of natural gas, coal and uranium. However, there is an on-going political push to achieve “energy independence” through the development of renewal energy for power generation.
There are two on-going geothermal projects with a potential impact on recreation opportunities: Truckhaven and Superstition Mountains. Each geothermal project has three phases - leasing, exploration, and development. The Truckhaven project has completed the “leasing” phase and is in the “exploration” phase. There is an on-going effort to form a singular “unit” comprised of the lease holders to continue through the exploration and development phases. The Superstition Mountains project is currently in the “leasing” phase and under control of the US Navy. Both projects are long term and not progressing at a rapid pace.
Solar projects are proceeding at a rapid pace with undetermined impact on recreation opportunities. Solar projects are facing continued development pressures being forced by biological and cultural issues with growing opposition from the environmental community.
All renewable projects, especially in Imperial County, are highly dependent on upgrades to the power transmission grid.
The complexity of issues has lead to establishing Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan. This stakeholders group composed of many (not all) parties with an interest in the Mojave and Colorado Desert regions is meeting to address the resource goals of the desert region while streamlining the permitting of renewable energy projects.
This process, formed under Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act, will be developing a habitat conservation plan. That HCP will be used to develop an amendment to the California Desert Plan. The current desert plan is composed of five sub-plans, one of which -- WEMO (Western Mojave) -- is under litigation. CA4WDC and BRC are interveners in that litigation.
The National Association of Counties is working on two resolutions with a potential positive impact on recreation opportunities. The resolutions (Resolution on mitigation for historic and recognized federal land multiple uses when renewable energy projects are developed on federal land and Resolution on acquisition of private land for wildlife mitigation, associated with renewable energy development, with subsequent transfer to federal agencies) are currently circulating through member counties for adoption.
The first resolution provides for mitigation of lands/routes lost due to renewable energy development and has a direct impact on recreation. The second resolution addresses a potential property tax loss to the counties when private property is removed from property tax roles. This issue arises when wildlife mitigation is required due to impact on habitat and/or species. BLM requires a 1 to 1 mitigation while California Department of Fish and Game requires a 2 to 1 mitigation. The cumulative loss is three acres of recreation opportunity for each acre of impact on habitat and/or species. The mitigation is purchase of private lands to replace the impacted lands.
The Forest Service Water Quality Management Plan is progressing. The final Best Management Practices (dealing with OHV) have been released for stakeholder review and comment. I am in general agreement with the overall intent of the BMPs and I like how they reference the relevant Forest Service Handbook section. This is the type of structure/format all BMPs should exhibit. I am finishing comments (to be submitted to Forest Service by Oct 6) on the BMPs.
The OHV BMPs are a Forest management tool dealing with designated OHV routes within the Forest. However, a significant source of funding for route maintenance and recreation management comes from the California OHMVR program. As such, it is important that close coordination occur between the federal and state agency to ensure that recreation opportunities are managed and maintained efficiently and effectively.
Somewhere within the BMPs, I requesting to see a reference to where both state and federal guidelines dealing with OHV related actions are coordinated to avoid issues where one is more stringent than the other or where they are in conflict. Such a situation could lead to confusion and potential of BMPs not being implemented in an efficient and effective manner.
I receive a call from the Forest Service concerning an El Dorado Manzanita Restoration on Eldorado NF project. A user-defined hill climb from Forest Road 11N88 (Mosquito Road) allowed access to an occurrence of the Forest Service Sensitive plant El Dorado manzanita (aka dwarf manzanita, Nissenan manzanita, or Arctostaphylos nissenana). The area had previously been restored and this effort was to address new damage to the area and re-establish the road closure. In 2006, a Decision Memo was signed to install a gate on 11N88, to implement a Forest Order to prohibit motorized vehicles beyond the gate, to reposition the rock barrier, to restore a 200-foot section of unauthorized trail, and to replace signage identifying the site as rehabilitation area. 11N88 not designated as open for public motorized travel under the Eldorado National Forest Travel Management Plan. An OHMVR Grant was issued in October 2009 with work to begin October 2010. I requested that Forest Service release and official press release to inform members of the public prior to starting the project.
I have been invited to be a stakeholder on the Piute Travel Management Collaborative Planning process beginning in October. This will address an area that was omitted form the Sequoia NF Travel Management Plan as it was part of a Burn Area Recovery unit.
The Giant Sequoia National Monument Association has completed its first year as a 501(c)3. I was instrumental in getting that Association (comprised of a variety of recreation, including Safari Club International, California Deer Association, snowmobile and other recreation groups, and property owners) formed. In September a challenge cost-share challenge agreement with the Sequoia NF was signed. Through the agreement, Forest Service can provide funding (and has provided $20,000) for projects they cannot accomplish and the Association can transfer grant funding to the Forest Service to accomplish projects.
The GSNMA was formed as a result of collaborative meetings by signers of a Mediated Settlement Agreement with the Sequoia National Forest prior to the signing of the Giant Sequoia National Monument proclamation. CA4WDC was one of the original signers of the MSA and I was invited to represent CA4WDC interests when the collaborative process was formed in 2006 to resolve issues and work towards a Monument Management Plan. That collaborative process developed two of the six alternatives in the Draft GSNM EIS currently open for public comment. I am current Chairman of the Board of Directors of the GSNMA.
Forest Service scheduled six public meetings for the Draft GSNM EIS and invited a representative of the Association to speak during each public meeting, I will be attending the final two public meetings, Oct 6 and 7 (Valencia and Pasadena) and I will be speaking at the Pasadena meeting.