NRC South Report - September 2011
The California Motorized Recreation Council (CAMRC) a non-profit association comprised of the leadership of the largest Off Highway Vehicle recreation organizations in California met with members of the 29 Palms Marines base expansion committee to engage in a status update regarding the draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The CAMRC invited a number of relevant organization that are not currently CAMRC members in an effort to reach the largest audience and provide a well rounded direction to discussions regarding the Marine Corps base expansion efforts. The CAMRC also hoped to ensure the public was well represented in the event that additional options to the current alternatives where introduced by the Marine Corps.
The final base expansion EIS is scheduled for released in January 2012. Response to public comments will be included in the Final EIS, and the Marine Corps expressed first hand information that lead the group to believe that they are reading every one of the approximately 22,000 comments delivered to them during the comment period. The Final Record of Decision (ROD) is expected in April 2012. From there, the EIS will be submitted to the Department of Interior and subsequent submission to Congress. There is no estimated time frame for those actions.
The Marine Corps mission is to deliver a complete proposal to the Department of Defense regarding base expansion, and Alternative 6 (Expansion into the Johnson Valley OHV area) remains the preferred alternative. Chris Proudfoot represented the Marine Corps and expressed that due diligence regarding potential problems in Alternative 6 remained a priority for the Marine Corps. Seeing every problem within the preferred alternative, and management practices of the shared use area ranked as important issues for success.
A variety of options were discussed and opinions expressed. At this time, there is no negotiated compromise. The Marine Corps is pushing Alternative 6 (their preferred alternative) while recreation groups are pushing their opposition to Alternative 6.
What is the next step for the OHV community? Each association in attendance will be reporting back to its membership, and Board of Directors to formulate their position. CAMRC hopes to coordinate this effort in a unified voice and direct its efforts to Congress. The Marine Corps will execute its mission to completion, and deliver its findings to the Department of the Interior. The OHV community must now begin looking at spreading its message to members of congress and continue educating the public about this important issue.
CAMRC membership includes, The Off-Road Business Association (ORBA), California Association of 4 wheel Drive Clubs (Cal4Wheel), California Off-Highway Vehicle Association (CORVA), American Motorcyclists Association National (AMA), San Diego Off-Road Coalition (SDORC), American Sand Association (ASA), California Nevada Snow Mobile Association (CNSA) AMA D36, and AMA D37.
I spent two days the last week in September at a meeting in Albuquerque where about 40 resource managers representing California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas along with USFS, USFWS, BLM, DOD, BOR, USGS, and an assortment of Tribes were discussing the Landscape Conservation Cooperative initiative. There were five non-government organizations represented - Point Reyes Bird Observatory, Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, The Nature Conservancy, Sky Islands Alliance, and CA4WDC.
There are two points of importance from that meeting.
1 - State and federal agencies are feeling budget pressures where the underlying talk is about sharing resources and information to reduce expenses. In short, the state and federal agencies are doing what they can to reduce expenses without cutting jobs.
2 - Department of Defense (along with BLM) are engaged in a major land and resource assessment of the Mojave and Sonoran Desert regions (southern California and Arizona).
Point 1 is an unknown factor and in control of Congress. Everyone is anxiously watching the efforts of the congressional “super-committee” that will be making budget and tax decisions. There is significant pressure to reduce the federal deficit and no one knows the outcome. On the state level, many of the states (California included) are contending with serious budget deficit issues.
Of particular importance will be the outcome of the budget debate, especially on initiatives with conservation provisions as they will be critically important to the success of large-scale conservation efforts given what are expected to be very tight constraints on new conservation programs at the federal, state, and local levels over the next few years.
Point 2 is an item I reported on in June, In short, the southwest region is receiving a high level of interest from numerous agencies representing a variety of interests - wilderness, wildlife, water, air and energy.
There is movement with in military interests outside the proposed Johnson Valley expansion. The Department of Navy has begun NEPA process for renewal of the China Lake NAWS and Chocolate Mountains AGR. Both areas received land withdrawals under the California Desert Protection Act which required a 20-year review to re-authorize the expansion.
In addition, a geothermal project proposed for the Superstition Mountains OHV area has been temporarily withdrawn while the Department of Navy re-assess its power needs within their El Centro-Yuma complex; including the Chocolate Mountains range.
In other nation-wide efforts, a significant role is being played by the Department of Defense to conserve (and limit development on) lands adjacent to active military reservations. Such programs are now being used effectively to protect habitats and working lands from development and to limit landscape fragmentation.
Overall, the DLCC is a landscape-scale conservation concept that implies a need to move from performing random acts of conservation to more comprehensive and collaborative large-scale initiatives that engage many agencies and ownership types. Of interest (and concern) is the Landscape Conservation Cooperative concept is focused on climate change and water.
I submitted several scoping comments letters (China Lake NAWS, Armargosa WSR, DRECP, and WEMO).
The China Lake project is a re-authorization of the withdrawal approved in the California Desert Protection Act. While no new lands are under consideration, an increased training and research and development efforts are cited as justification for the renewal.
The Armargoas WSR stems from the recently passed Boxer-McKeon wilderness bill affecting the Eastern Sierra region. The Armargosa River was designated as Wild and Scenic. This designation is problematic as the Armargosa River is adjacent to the Dumont Dunes OHV Area. The Sperry Wash and Spanish Heritage Trail recreation opportunities are also adjacent.
Note, there are different levels of Wild and Scenic River designation. The highest level of WSR does not allow motorized activities while the “WSR Recreation” designation does allow conditional motorized access. The section of the Armargosa adjacent to Dumont Dunes and Sperry Wash is designated Wild and Scenic Recreation.
The DRECP (Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan) is in reality a habitat conservation plan which has more of an impact on private property than state or federal lands. Within the DRECP, is a component that will apply to federal lands. In short, the DRECP sets the guidelines for energy development projects. The “guidelines” are how the Fish and Wildlife Service will review their Biological Opinions during the permitting process.
Of note, a majority of the DRECP includes the WEMO (BLM’s Western Mojave Land Management Plan) planning area which in itself contains a “habitat conservation” component.
The WEMO scoping is in response to litigation. The lawsuit challenged the BLM’s Record of Decision (ROD) for the 2006 WEMO Plan. On January 28, 2011, the Court issued an Order-Remedy and remanded the 2006 WEMO ROD to the BLM and, in part, directed the BLM to amend the plan and to reconsider route designations. The court required that a revised decision for the WEMO route designation be completed by March 31, 2014.
The Truckhaven lawsuit is proceeding. Ecologic is compiling the necessary documents. No court hearing date has been scheduled.
I have participated in another Off-Road Radio interview. Show host has invited me to be a regular guest on the Wednesday afternoon internet radio show.
The House Natural Resources Sub-Committee held a Field hearing in Sacramento.
The high-light was that it was in Sacramento and featured Representatives Wally Herger and Tom McClintock and was chaired by Representative Bishop (R-UT).
Randy Moore (Region 5 Forester) represented the Forest Service. His testimony presented some inaccurate facts; one was dealing with timber harvest figures. That was keyed on by the Representatives who pressed for clarification. One other important fact not caught dealt with Forest Service treatment of special recreation permits and cost recovery. Mr. Moore stated that Forest Service and BLM are working in consonance with their respective regulations. In fact, their difference in approach has been pointed out at several OHMVR Commission meetings.
Of the ten panelists, three made direct anti-OHV references. However, two if those (Trout Unlimited and Quincy Library Group) did cover the importance of access and proper management of public lands. The third (Karen S.) made her usual round of anti-OHV statements. Representative Bishop politely chastised her for her negative comments.
Overall, planning efforts and travel management were the major topics. A number of good points were raised. The turnout was great with the lower seating area and the upper balcony packed with a broad spectrum of advocates for access to public lands.
Additional information about the hearing can be viewed at: http://naturalresources.house.gov/Blog/?postid=260358
The turnout was great in the lower seating and the upper balcony were packed with a broad spectrum of advocates for access to public lands.