NRC South January Report - 31 Jan 2011
The Piute Mountains Travel Management Collaborative Planning has ended its public involvement phase. The Piute Mountains was omitted from the original Sequoia Travel Management as it was part of a Burn Area Recovery Unit. USFS engaged stakeholders to craft an alternative for that segment of their travel management planning. The proposed schedule calls for Sequoia NF to release a Notice of Intent to develop an Environmental Impact Statement for the travel management with a projected January 2012 completion date. A system of routes has been identified as a starting point for analysis. There is a possibility some routes will be omitted from the final EIS due to some issue that cannot be mitigated. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft which is expected to be released fall 2011.
The long anticipated Forest Service Water Quality Management Plan has been delayed. The draft WQMP has been revised in response to comments received and was expected to be forwarded to the Forest Service editor late January. Region 5 has indicated the Forest Service portion will be ready in February 2011. The current delay (originally due early December) appears to be on the part of the State Water Board for unspecified reasons.
Bureau of Land Management Special Recreation Permits has been a time-consuming focus during the month of January. There was a January 28 deadline to submit comments on a proposed Staffing Matrix. Working with Jerry Grabow, AMA D-37, we pulled together representatives from groups that host events in the California Desert District to ensure we were on the same page when submitting the requested comments to the Desert Advisory Council (DAC). Over the course of three conference calls and numerous emails, the ten participating groups were able to craft their comments with a central theme of everyone is willing to work with BLM to establish a fair process to permit events.
On January 12, I, along with several other OHV representatives, met with BLM (Teri Raml and Craig Beck) to discuss our concerns with the SRP process. A range of topics were discussed including the different types of events and staffing and some ideas were presented for further discussion. BLM expressed concern for public safety and resource protection as major factors they must consider. Teri Raml expressed she was willing to consider some ideas but there were other point she deferred as being out of her authority.
One important point discussed was staffing levels and cost recovery. Teri did indicate that California BLM is the last state to implement cost recovery actions. She cannot suspend cost recovery pending review of SRPs. A follow-up meeting has been scheduled with Teri on February 15. The next critical date will be the DAC meeting March 25-26.
Ocotillo Wells SVRA General Plan is being updated and they are looking for input through an online questionnaire. They are interested in recreation interest input on the area now called “Ocotillo Wells North” (Truckhaven). That area is the Freeman Property (also known as Desert Cahuilla and Truckhaven) and is the area north of S-22, which is now the northern portion of the SVRA.
You can complete the on-line questionnaire at http://www.planocotillowells.org/ by March 31.
The Freeman property (also known as Truckhaven/Desert Cahuilla) was acquired by California State Parks in 2006 with OHMVR Trust Funds. Senator Denise Ducheny and Senator Dennis Hollingsworth recently convened a group of stakeholders to establish a plan for dividing the Freeman Property between Anza Borrego Desert State Park and Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA).
Following the stakeholder group meetings, the plan was finalized under Senate Bill 855. (http://www.planocotillowells.org/documents/SB855.pdf) This legislation specifies that the northwestern portion of the property be annexed to Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the southeastern portion of the property be annexed to Ocotillo Wells SVRA. This map depicts the annexations. The Ocotillo Wells SVRA addition, now called “Ocotillo Wells North” for general planning purposes only, will be included in the General Plan and Environmental Impact Report (EIR) project that is underway.
Senator Feinstein re-introduced the California Desert Protection Act of 2011. The bill is the same bill (S-2921) introduced in the 110th Congressional session minus the energy title so that this bill focuses on public lands issues. A separate renewable energy bill which may or may not include some of the items that were in the energy title is a possibility.
There is one proposed addition to the bill, Section 4, which would require the BLM to complete it’s solar EIS and study whether a solar zone in the West Mojave is possible. It is not clear whether this provision will be in the bill when introduced.
A number of issues and suggested edits to the bill have been raised over the past year. Senator Feinstein has opted to introduce the previous bill version and continue working to incorporate changes in a final bill as soon as possible.
Another lawsuit has reached the court decision point; WEMO. A detailed analysis of the results of this case are being prepared by Paul Turke (BRC Legal) and David Hubbard (EcoLogic Partners). In short, the parties met several times in settlement conferences. The excruciatingly slow process finally revealed the plaintiff’s "wish list" of closures, which was nothing more than personal vendettas from a few hand-picked plaintiffs representatives.
Basically, Judge Illston denied ALL of plaintiff’s requests for closures. She properly acknowledge case law stressing deference to agency experts and cautioning of judicial interference.
The issue was remanded to the BLM with some court ordered remedies leading up to a revision of the WEMO plan by March 2014. This will be an issue to watch as there are a number of on-going issues that could threaten new motorized recreation restrictions in the desert area.
Finally, Ninth Circuit issued a ruling on their "federal defendant rule". The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit's "federal defendant rule" prevented anyone other than the federal government from defending claims under the National Environmental Policy Act, the main legal mechanism for challenging government actions that affect the environment. On the whole, the rule effectively stopped interested parties from making perfectly valid arguments that could help the court reach better decisions. While it makes it easier to gain status as an intervenor, it does not remove the need to maintain standing in an issue before the court. The court arguments were lead by BlueRibbon Coalition legal counsel Paul Turke before the entire sitting justices (“en banc”) on the Ninth Circuit Court.