Feds Ban OHV Use In SoCal

Calvin Kim
by Calvin Kim
Motorcyclists all over the country have been affected by "public" land closures. As environmentalists and preservationists slowly push for closing more and more public land, it would appear that our off-highway vehicle fun may soon come to an end.

The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it would ban OHVs (Off-Highway Vehicles) from 49,305 acres of Southern California desert by Thanksgiving. Not just any desert, mind you, but the Algodones Dunes area, including the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, more commonly known as Glamis to its loyal users...

Unfortunately, the BLM closed the land with a proverbial gun against their back. The closure is part of an out-of-court settlement against a lawsuit filed in March by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility that alleges the BLM violated the federal Endangered Species Act.

The suit alleges the BLM failed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effects of the BLM-administered California Desert Conservation Area Plan on a number of threatened and endangered species. The preservationists alleged the ban was needed to protect the endangered Peirson's milk-vetch plant, a member of the bean and pea family.

The BLM warned that settlement negotiations would continue and further restrictions may be imposed on public uses in other areas of the California desert. The Glamis settlement "is part of the ongoing overall settlement discussions going on to avoid trial in the lawsuit filed against the BLM," said the BLM.

"This land closure is outrageous," said Royce Wood, AMA legislative affairs specialist. "It's another example of preservationists using the threat of lawsuits to shut down OHV riding areas instead of trying to accomplish their goals through any process that allows for public debate."

"We've seen this same tactic used in Kentucky and Utah in an effort to bully government officials," Wood continued. "These groups hope that federal agencies charged with administering lands for all Americans will cave in to their special-interest demands and reach an out-of-court settlement rather than face drawn-out and expensive court battles."

"What's particularly egregious about this latest action," he added, "is that it further restricts OHV use in an already limited riding area-- the Algodones Dunes area. Over the years, federal officials have cut OHV access further and further in the California desert, and it's time for that to stop."

The settlement earned court approval on November 3, 2000 and closure signs will be posted by November 22. This does not fare well for the approximately 100,000 visitors expected to partake in the lands bounty over the the Thanksgiving weekend.

A coalition of recreational groups including the High Desert Multiple Use Coalition, Desert Vipers, San Diego Off-Road Coalition, California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs and the Blue Ribbon Coalition intervened in the action and were involved in last-minute settlement negotiations to try to protect OHV riding areas.

The 49,305-acre closure at Glamis is considered one of the first interim measures agreed to by the BLM and those who filed the lawsuit.

In August, in response to the lawsuit, the BLM agreed to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the effect of the California Desert Conservation Area Plan on threatened and endangered species. The interim closure will be in place at least until those talks conclude.

The BLM hopes to complete those talks late next year. The discussions could lead to further, and possibly permanent restrictions on public use of the desert covered by the California Desert Conservation Area Plan.

This new closure means that more than half of the 150,000 acre land will be closed to OHVs. Previously, a 32,240-acre parcel -- about 20 percent of the total -- was designated as the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area and closed to OHVs. That wilderness area was designated specifically to preserve native species, leaving other parts of the dunes open to motorized recreation.

"The California Desert Protection Act dealt a massive blow to motorized recreation," Wood said. "It closed off access to vast areas of the desert and confined open OHV recreation to less than 2 percent of the land. But even that wasn't good enough for preservationist groups. They have clearly targeted the remaining acres open to motorized recreation with the intent of shutting down the entire desert."

Also protesting the closure were Imperial Valley County supervisors, who noted that the shutdown could deliver a major blow to the area's economy. County officials estimate that recreational use of the area pumps about $54 millioninto the local economy each year.

In addition, county officials said this closure could pose safety risks, since it has the potential to crowd more OHV enthusiasts into a smaller area.

"The AMA encourages all OHV enthusiasts to contact BLM California State Director Mike Pool and tell him that we deserve compensation for the lost land," Wood said. "We want the BLM to find us, at minimum, an equal-sized riding area for every area we lose. We just can't afford to lose another acre."

Letters should go to: State Director Mike Pool, Bureau of Land Management, California State Office, 2800 Cottage Way, RM W-1834, Sacramento, CA 95825.

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