Natural resources report for March 2023
CAL4WHEEL SEEKS CONGRESSIONAL OVERSIGHT FOR SEQUOIA AND SIERRA NATIONAL FOREST LAND MANAGEMENT PLAN OBJECTIONS
As many of you have been following… the saga that has encompassed the Land Management Plan revision process for Sequoia and Sierra National Forest for the last 10+ years continues. In January, I submitted a formal complaint to the Forest Service to request immediate resolution, and set the stage to escalate a request for Congressional oversight, regarding the Forest Service’s implementation of NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) process violations within the Sequoia and Sierra National Forest Land Management Plan Revisions objection resolution.
The Forest Service responded with a brief letter that only partially addressed the items noted in the Complaint, dismissing some, and completely ignoring the others. I have submitted a response to their response to reiterate each issue and the imperative for full resolution.
Additionally, I have been collaborating with county leaders within Fresno and Tulare County to ensure that local governments are aware of the gross overreach of authority that the Forest Service is attempting to execute through implementation of this set of National Forest Land Management Plan revisions. I am encouraged that county leadership has taken interest in the issue and have reached out to Congressional representatives independently to further escalate the call for Congressional oversight.
Read the Complaint letter and history on the Plans via this link: https://bit.ly/nepa-complaint
There are many egregious components of the Sequoia and Sierra revised Land Management Plan Revisions that bear a range of immediate, future, and permanent negative impacts on motorized recreation. Among the worst include:
- Setting the framework for severe restrictions on recreational access and timber management within the proposed Pacific Crest Trail Management Area… a 1-mile wide corridor spanning the full length of the PCT in each national forest.
- Cementing the loss of 43,000 acres of motorized recreation access in Sequoia National Forest through failure to balance the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum… 43,000 acres were lost with the creation of the Kiavah Wilderness in 1994… the Forest Service has shirked their responsibility to create new motorized access to replace those 43,000 acres for nearly 3 decades, and they will set that loss into permanence within the structure of the revised Land Management Plan.
- Cementing the loss of 30 miles of motorized trails in the Piute Mountains through failure to complete Travel Management prior to the release of a finalized Land Management Plan.
We urge all Cal4Wheel members to take action now to support the call for Congressional oversight of the Sequoia and Sierra Land Management Plan revisions.
Please make phone calls to the Congressional representatives noted below, each have jurisdiction over Sequoia and Sierra National Forest lands.
Key talking points:
- I am concerned about the Sequoia and Sierra National Forest violating the objection resolution process for the Land Management Plan revisions for each forest.
- The Forest Service has failed to respond to objections, they are violating public process, which is allowing them to illegally implement a predetermined plan outcome that has significant negative impact on public access, recreation, forest health, and public safety in our public lands.
- I urge the Congressman to begin oversight of this issue to require the Forest Service to meet with objectors, including Cal4Wheel, to discuss and resolve public objections and require the Forest Service to remove illegal components of the Sequoia and Sierra National Forest revised Plans before they release their Record of Decision.
It is best to call in during morning hours Monday through Friday. If you are unable to reach a live representative, please state your concerns as a voice message. Call daily to reiterate the need for Congressional oversight – and please ask your club members to call as well!
- Kevin McCarthy – District 20
- Tom McClintock – District 5
916.786.5560 (El Dorado Hills)
- Kevin Kiley – District 3
- House Natural Resources Committee
RED ROCK CANYON STATE PARK GENERAL PLAN UPDATE
On March 3, the California State Park Recreation Commission met to review and vote on the Red Rock Canyon State Park (RRCSP) Preliminary General Plan; they voted to approve the plan for implementation. This Plan was crafted following four years of prior scoping, analysis, and public comment. The plan was intended to address changing conditions, analyze the latest information and data, and incorporate lands that were added to RRCSP since a General Plan was approved in 1982. While the 1982 Plan only covers the original 8,180 acres of the park, the Revised General Plan includes the entire area of approximately 25,000 acres currently under park ownership and management. The General Plan presents the long-term management framework for natural and cultural resource stewardship, interpretation, facilities, operations, and visitor experience. It is the primary management document for a State Park (SP), establishing its vision, purpose, and management direction for the future.
Cal4Wheel participated in previous public comment periods that preceded the final draft and vote to approve. Concerns with the draft plan included:
- Permanent closure of Nightmare Gulch to all but hiking and horseback riding access due to alleged concerns over public safety and preservation of archeological sites
- Closure to motorized access in Black Rock Canyon, and parts of Last Chance Canyon
- Only street legal vehicles allowed within the park, with the exception of a few connector routes
- Side by Sides (SxS) no longer allowed in the park
- Misalignment with SB 155
- Disparate equity of access for disabled visitors
- Violation of the California Desert Protection Act, and California Public Resource Codes (PRC) Sections §5002.2 and 5019.53
- Misuse of “Zones” to severely restrict public access
Review the draft plan comment letter: https://bit.ly/red-rock-comments-121622
Public comment was allowed prior to the Commission’s vote on March 3. I attended the meeting to provide comments on behalf of Cal4Wheel, as follows:
My name is Rose Winn, I am the Natural Resource Consultant for California Four Wheel Drive Association, representing over 3,500 citizens who are vested stakeholders in the Red Rock Canyon State Park General Plan Revision. Cal4Wheel has been actively engaged in the Red Rock Canyon planning process for many years. Today, as the Commission is weighing a vote to approve or disapprove this Plan, I would like to highlight several legal violations, and violations of planning requirements, that are evident within the draft final Plan. If the Commission does vote to approve this plan, the Commission will become party to and liable for the legal repercussions stemming from implementation of each violation, which include:
- Misalignment with SB 155
- Failure to ensure equity of access for disabled visitors as required by EO13985
- Violation of the California Desert Protection Act, and California Public Resource Codes (PRC) Sections §5002.2 and 5019.53
- Elimination of motorized access within the proposed Birds of Prey Natural Preserve
First, the Commission must consider the Plan’s violation of SB 155, which was designed to expand motorized recreation across the state, including within State Parks. Unfortunately, rather than expand or create new OHV access in RRCSP, the Plan serves to eliminate existing OHV access to the most desired locations where the public may enjoy the iconic features of the Red Rock Canyon landscape. As remedy, in order to align the Plan with SB 155, State Parks should designate the existing roads in Nightmare Gulch, Black Rock Canyon, El Paseo Road, and all roads throughout Last Chance Canyon Road as suitable for all forms of off highway vehicles.
Second, State Parks must finally begin to reverse pervasive and systematic discrimination against those with mobility disabilities. Management policies that result in closures of roads for public access, including OHV road closures, creates discrimination against disabled persons. Maintaining motorized access within Red Rock Canyon is critically important, as it provides access where those with disabilities would otherwise be banished. biden’s Executive Order 13985 was issued to Advance Equity for Underserved Communities. The Plan violates the State Park requirement to maintain compliance with federal regulation by imposing policy that contravenes EO13985. In order to achieve compliance, State Parks must designate existing roads including Nightmare Gulch, Black Rock Canyon, El Paseo Road, and Last Chance Canyon as suitable for all forms of off highway vehicles.
Third, the Plan violates the protections of motorized use that were embedded within the California Desert Protection Act and California Public Resources Code 5002.2. Whereas State Parks has asserted that it is reasonable to convert OHV roads to non-motorized access because Red Rock Canyon State Parks is not a State Recreation Area, it is clear that this position has no foundation in reality. This position contravenes the CDPA and two Public Resource Codes that were in effect during Analysis and preparation of the Plan revision, this position also contradicts the clear direction set forth in SB 155.
Fourth, the Birds of Prey Closure was established in 1986 by the federal government to protect the reproductive capabilities and the nesting grounds of the Golden Eagle and Prairie Falcon. Following closure, motorized recreation continued in Nightmare Gulch for 27 years. Motorized access through Nightmare Gulch was only ended as the result of State Parks issuing an Emergency Closure in 2013 following summer storm damage to the existing route. While the storm closure was intended to be temporary, the closure has remained in place from 2013 to present day. This is insensible on many levels, including the fact that the storm damage on the Nightmare Gulch section was negligible and easily corrected.
Throughout the 27 years that the road through Nightmare Gulch was open following the creation of the Birds of Prey Closure, mitigation to protect Golden Eagles and Prairie Falcons was put in place by closing the road to public access during raptor breeding season, from February to July of each year. Given the pervasive, historical public use of Nightmare Gulch Road, and the prolific evidence of the efficacy of mitigation to protect birds of prey through temporary, seasonal closures during raptor breeding season, there is no sensible justification for creating a permanent closure of motorized access in Nightmare Gulch through the Plan revision. State Parks must reopen Nightmare Gulch Road to restore permission for motorized travel and designate the road as a historically valuable corridor, which is aligned with the original purpose for designation of Red Rock Canyon as a state park.
Finally, the General Plan purpose and need specifies that the General Plan revision is a:
- “blueprint for future decisions”
- “does not attempt to provide detailed management recommendations”
- “provides conceptual parameters for future management actions”
As stated in the purpose and need, it is a legal and policy violation for the Plan revision to include road and trail specific directives. Road and trail management is a detailed management action and this General Plan cannot make “detailed management recommendations.” Therefore, this General Plan must not close or open specific roads or trails, or recommend closure of roads and trails. That may only be accomplished within a road and trail management plan. This General Plan must only address long-term goals. The Plan is, in fact, prohibited from making specific changes to trail and road management. We at Cal4Wheel take this opportunity to draw the Commission’s attention to the fact that inclusion of road and trail management decisions within the General Plan constitutes both legal and planning policy violations. If the Commission does vote to approve this plan, the Commission will become party to and liable for the legal repercussions stemming from implementation of each violation.
Unfortunately, despite the comments I shared, along with comments from several other motorized recreation advocates, the Commission voted to approve the plan and subsequently eliminate the vast majority of motorized recreation routes throughout Red Rock Canyon State Park.
ELDORADO NATIONAL FOREST ROADSIDE HAZARD TREE MITIGATION PROJECT OBJECTIONS
On March 11, 2023, I submitted Objections to a Roadside Hazard Tree Mitigation project for Eldorado National Forest (ENF). Previously in August 2022, I submitted comments on the project’s Proposed Action for Scoping to urge the Forest Service to maximize the total acreage for hazard tree abatement in order to increase public safety, protect public access to motorized recreation opportunities and general outdoor recreation, and decrease future risk of wildfire. Of positive note, ENF included the full 2,461 miles from the original proposal within the draft final decision.
However, my comments included objections to other components of the draft final decision given that it fails to effectively fulfill the Purpose and Need for the project through unnecessary limitation on scope of implementation related to:
- Maintenance level 1 roads
- Catastrophic wildfire prevention
- OHV and outdoor recreation
- Social and economic impacts
- NEPA review
Additionally, ongoing support was offered in the means of club membership as volunteers to support the success of both immediate hazard tree mitigation and post-project maintenance needs.
Read the Objection letter: https://bit.ly/eldorado-hazard-obj
SB155 / OHV ACCESS PROJECT PUBLIC MEETING
California State Parks (CSP) will hold an open house to inform the public about the Off-Highway Vehicle Access Project and receive input.
|Date:||March 31, 2023|
|Location:||Renaissance Palm Springs Hotel, 888 Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs 92262|
|Time:||9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.|
The meeting will be held in person, and the public can join anytime between 9:00a.m. and 1:00 p.m. There will be stations with topics of interest and time to discuss the project with State Parks staff. The public will learn about Senate Bill 155 and the Department’s process for searching, selecting, and acquiring property; discuss OHV recreation opportunities and visitor needs; and discuss potential locations for OHV recreation opportunities, including partnerships, leases, and new properties.
In September 2021, Senate Bill 155 amended Public Resources Code Section 5090.42. This bill transferred funding from the General Fund to the Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Trust Fund to explore the acquisition and development of properties and opportunities to expand OHV recreation in new and existing facilities. The bill was amended as a result of the botched Carnegie SVRA expansion and subsequent loss of the Tesla property, for which OHV funds had already been expended. The amended bill recommends prioritizing opportunities that can serve large urban areas such as the Bay Area and Central Valley and offer potential recreational opportunities for OHV recreation and motorized access to nonmotorized recreation.
The March 31 meeting is the second of several opportunities to be involved in this project, including virtual and in-person meetings. California State Parks will develop a preliminary report, feasibility study, and OHV Recreation Access Plan with recommendations and strategies to enhance existing OHV recreation areas or expand OHV recreation within the State through an acquisition, lease, land swap, or other available means. The project would also consider developing motorized access to non-motorized recreational opportunities.
The OHV Access webpage will also list future meetings Off-Highway Vehicle Access Project (ca.gov).
NOHVCC / BLM LISTENING SESSIONS – SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA SERIES
The National Off-Highway Vehicle Conservation Council (NOHVCC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a positive future for off-highway vehicle recreation. You can learn more at www.nohvcc.org. NOHVCC is working in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to create a California Statewide OHV Action Plan. BLM is seeking assistance from the OHV community to learn how the BLM can improve access to high quality OHV recreation experiences in the state of California.
In 2014 NOHVCC and the BLM partnered to develop a National Motorized Recreation Action Strategy designed to help the BLM develop individual state action plans for providing high quality OHV opportunities and develop partnerships to help maintain those opportunities. This process has created state specific OHV action plans in 7 other states where the BLM manages public land. The strategies will be used to help guide future travel management and resource management decisions; however, the strategies are NOT part of a specific travel management plan. In developing these strategies, OHV enthusiasts have a chance to share your thoughts on the following topics:
- What activities are taking place on BLM-managed lands in California?
- Where in general are these OHV activities taking place?
- What experiences are you looking for on BLM-managed lands?
- Where might these missing activities fit on BLM-managed lands in California?
- What could the land managers do better to enhance your recreation experience?
Without the help of OHV recreationalists like you, BLM may not have accurate answers to the questions above, and you could miss out on a chance to provide ideas that could lead to enhancements to the areas and trail systems you enjoy. To gather your input, NOHVCC will hold two series of community listening sessions. The first round of listening sessions will be in Northern California in November 2022, with the second round will be April 27-May 4, 2023.
All upcoming sessions will be held virtually from 6:00 - 9:00pm Pacific on the following nights:
- April 27: for those who live in or recreate in the San Diego, Glendale areas
- May 2: for those who live in or recreate in the Covina/Ontario, Riverside/San Bernadino areas
- May 3: for those who live in or recreate in the Ridgecrest, Bakersfield, Bishop areas
- May 4: for anyone who lives or recreates in Southern CA (or who couldn’t make a regional session)
To register for a meeting please click here.
These sessions are not being organized by the BLM; however, staff from these agencies have been invited to attend these meetings as participants and will be on-hand to discuss current travel management processes and how your suggestions could help shape future decisions. The listening sessions will also be an excellent time for you to meet national, state, and local agency personnel. These organizations are interested in developing partnerships with individuals and organizations to improve the management of OHV recreation on public lands.
The more information that is provided directly from the OHV community, the greater the potential for a high-quality statewide strategy and action plan. Please participate in the listening sessions and invite your fellow club members and riding buddies as well. For more information on the meetings please contact NOHVCC at firstname.lastname@example.org.