NRC South Report - April 2011
On the legal front, there are some important developments in April. While the Eldorado and Stanislaus suits are still working through the various stages of legal arguments, the WEMO, and SoCal Roadless actions are semi-settled.
The WEMO (Western Mojave) area is the largest BLM planning area in the desert region. And, that area is a high concentration of motorized recreation opportunity. Under the settlement, BLM is required to validate their route inventory and sign routes that are open for motorized access. And, BLM is required to go back to the judge with a progress report this summer.
The SoCal Roadless suit involves the Los Padres, Angles, San Bernardino and Cleveland National Forests and how “Inventoried Roadless Areas” were addressed in their forest plans. The settlement required the Forest Service to establish a collaborative working group to establish criteria and priorities for decommissioning and resorting routes in Inventoried Roadless Areas.
Note the connection with “roadless areas” and “designated routes”. Not all “roadless areas” are pure and devoid of roads. Many of the roads are part of designated route systems. This fact exists in many National Forest System lands throughout the nation. Legislation establishing roadless areas allowed for existing routes to be used; however, construction of new routes was prohibited.
The focus of effort by the environmental community is to eliminate existing routes in IRAs under the argument that “designating” a route is the same as “constructing” a route. And, the more of these routes that can be eliminated, the easier it is to claim “wilderness quality” under future wilderness designation proposals.
I am the sole recreation representative on the working group that is determining the criteria and priorities for decommissioning and resorting routes in Inventoried Roadless Areas. That effort is expected to be complete by early August.
In more legal news, the Blue Ribbon Coalition filing for intervenor status in the Bridgeport Ranger District lawsuit was denied. That lawsuit, while similar in nature to the Eldorado and Stanislaus lawsuits, was filed within a different court jurisdiction system. While intervenor status was denied, the judge did invite BRC to submit an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) brief. That action will permit BRC to address the major points of concern for motorized recreation.
Finally, a lawsuit has been filed involving Truckhaven. For a quick recap, the Freeman Properties (aka, Truckhaven) was approximately 4,000 acres of private property acquired by OHMRV Trust Funds (OHV Green Sticker Funds). Upon completion of appropriate California Environmental Quality Act study and general plan development, portions of that land were projected to be included within Ocotillo Wells SVRA. And, a portion of that acquisition was expected to be transferred to Anza Borrego Desert State Park.
During California budget negations last year (summer of 2010), the Freeman Properties were divided between Anza Borrego Desert State Park and the Ocotillo Wells SVRA. The SVRA portion is now referred to as Ocotillo Wells North. The Ocotillo Wells North area still has numerous parcels of private property in-holdings.
As part of the budget negations, the Freeman Properties (and future private lands) can be brought into SVRA inventory without further bureaucratic (CEQA planning) delays. And, existing routes within the Anza Borrego DSP section were to be kept open to motorized access consistent with ABDSP roads and trails plan.
Early in 2011, ABDSP began a project to install a fence and signing along the boundary between the sections under ABDSP control and those under Ocotillo Wells SVRA control. This action was accomplished without the required CEQA review. This lawsuit is about forcing ABDSP to do the proper CEQA for their actions and to halt their overt effort to circumvent the intent of the negations where motorized access consistent with ABDSP roads and trails plan was to be retained.
I was invited to a meeting of the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative held in Phoenix, AZ. The Desert LCC stems from Department of Interior Secretary Order 3289 signed December 2009. Attendees included representative from state and federal agencies with land management responsibilities as well as Indian Tribes and other non-government agencies (NOG).
The order directed Department of Interior to begin developing a framework to manage from a "landscape" perspective with a focus on water (quality and quantity) and climate change.
The Desert LCC is one of 21 established for the nation. The Desert LCC is unique in that it covers parts of 5 western states and all or parts of 10 states in Mexico. The goal will be to establish science-based planning.
Three LCCs are in some stage of forming. Organization work for the DLCC has been ongoing for the past 9 months. They are at the stage where a "steering committee" and some sub-committees are being established.
To that extent, I am on the Steering Committee which will be laying out the overall direction of this effort as it begins to develop over the next year. I am also on the Communications/Outreach sub-committee.
My name was forwarded by California Desert Managers Group as a representative of a non-government organization that has a stakeholder interest in the outcome of the effort. The DLCC does cover the southern California desert region.
Since I received the invitation, I have been reviewing available information to determine the potential impact on CA4WDC interests. It is easy to find a loose connection; however, before committing time, I wanted to determine a strong connection to OHV recreation. After the day and half of meeting, I am comfortable that there is a strong connection with this effort is within CA4WDC interests.
Within the concept of landscape planning and science-based decisions, this effort is the start of developing the criteria that will determine the "science" collected and used to make planning decisions. Recreation has always been low priority for reason to develop science-based data to support decisions. I am hoping the DLCC effort can be used to increase the amount of scientific data that will support recreation access to public lands.
Interestingly, I did spend considerable time one evening with a representative from the Point Reyes Bird Observatory and a representative from Nevada Department of Fish and Game.
PRBO does have a contract with OHMVR Division to survey bird habitat in the SVRAs. Nevada DFG is also doing habitat surveys in areas with high OHV use. Both are concluding that managed OHV activity is not an adverse impact.
Overall, the time spent was productive and continued involvement is in the best interests of CA4WDC. There remains an underlying caveat that this effort will be impacted due to federal budget issues or by a change in administration priorities. Until that time, this remains a viable effort to pursue.
In the past two years, there have been an increasing number of reports and initiatives dealing with water and climate change. This is one of those efforts which will have an impact on the data used in land management planning efforts.
The State of Utah has filed suit to block the 'wild lands' policy. As a refresher, during the federal budget negations for the current fiscal year, the Department of Interior was prohibited from spending funds to implement the Secretary Order creating the 'wild lands' policy. That prohibition ends with the 2012 fiscal year -- Oct 1, 2011.
Also, there is legislation introduced in the House which will block implementation of the Secretary Order. There is a possibility that legislation could pass the House. However, it is not assured to pass the Senate. And, it does face a veto threat from the President.
On April 16, it was my pleasure to be Master of Ceremonies for the Giant Sequoia National Monument Association Volunteer Recognition Banquet and Fund Raiser. The Volunteer Recognition singled out eleven individuals and groups that have contributed to enhancing the recreation experience in the Giant Sequoia National Monument and Sequoia National Forest.
The GSNMA is working out details on a partnership with the Buck Rock Foundation for a project involving Buck Rock Lookout and the Buck Rock Jeep Trail, which is the Adopt a Trail of the Central Valley Crawlers.
Monday, April 11, was the day when off-roaders from around the state converged at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. The annual Lobby Day, sponsored by the California League of Off Road Voters, is an opportunity for recreation enthusiasts to visit with their elected representatives and let them know the importance of outdoor recreation with family and friends.
CA4WDC was well represented with members from Tierra del Sol Four Wheel Drive Club of San Diego and the San Diego 4 Wheelers joining Association President Mark Cave.
The day started with remarks from California State Parks Director Ruth Coleman followed by Off Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Deputy Director Daphne Greene explaining the looming impact of the state budget crisis on motorized recreation opportunities. During the afternoon, OHV enthusiasts walked he hall of the Capitol and visited with their elected representatives.
Senate and Assembly Members and their staff were invited to and evening reception hosted by CLORV. During the reception, recognition awards were presented. CA4WDC Natural Resources Consultant John Stewart was recognized as Southern California Recreation Advocate for 2011 and Dave Picket, American Motorcyclist Association District 36 was recognized as the Northern California Advocate. Tony Peligrino, GenRight and 2nd Place finisher at 2011 King of the Hammers, was recognized as the 2011 Business Advocate.
In addition to meeting with elected representatives, Mark Cave and John Stewart were able to arrange private meetings with OHV lobbyist Terry McHale and OHMVR Deputy Director Daphne Greene to discuss issues of importance to Cal4 members.
On April 20, I was interviewed on the Off Road Live internet radio show (off-road1.com). This is the second time I have been and interview guest on that internet radio show.
Finally, the long awaited Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan is expected to be released first week in May. A Recovery Implementation Team composed of various stakeholders is being put together. As of this writing, I expect to be involved with the RIT in some capacity representing recreation.
For those techies, there is an iPhone and Droid app related to the Desert Tortoise. The Mojave Desert Tortoise application is a tool for people to use when they out in the desert and happen to come across this threatened species. This solution allows the user to become better educated about the species and then share their finding with government on a voluntary basis. The app allows the user to take a photo for submitting to the US Fish and Wildlife Service or click on additional information on the species. The intent with this application is to give the user an opportunity to submit their findings of this rare species and learn interesting facts as well.
The iPhone app is available through iTunes and the Droid app is available through the Android App Store. Direct links are available at: http://www.californiadesert.gov/ (bottom of the page).