National Public Lands News
P.O. Box 403
Inyokern, California 93527
October 13, 2011
U.S. Department of Interior
Bureau of Land Management
22835 Calle San Juan de Los Lagos
Moreno Valley, CA. 92553-9046
Attn: Terri Raml, District Manager
Alan Stein, Deputy District Manager
RE: Amendment of the California Desert Conservation Area Plan and Court-ordered Route Designation and possible future WEMO/NEMO/NECO Route Amendments
National Public Land News (NPLNEWS) is a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest organization. NPLNEWS focuses on the integrity of the public land management processes including the 1976 Federal Land Management Act (FLPMA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the pre and post permit/monitoring disclosure requirement programs.
NPLNEWS has long advocated for balanced management outcomes during the debates on allocation of the California desert resources. NPLNEWS goal is to assure the public that publicly owned resources will not be unduly degradated nor will the multiple use mission of the BLM concept be negated.
I have been involved in federal land management issues in the California Desert area since 1975. I have been commenting as a private citizen and as a chairman of many organizations with interest in public land issues including FLPMA, the California Desert Plan of 1980 and most of its amendments.
As a matter of fact, I was among interested parties that received notification after the ROD was listed in the Federal Register with points that were considered valid. As such, I am requesting status as an interested party in this newest phase.
This proposed federal action is on public lands within the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). Congress mandated, and BLM prepared, a comprehensive land management land and resource, management plan to manage the resources within the CDCA in accordance with FLPMA and NEPA.
After years and millions of taxpayer dollars, the 1980 California Desert Plan developed a public consensus on what the framework would be for making decisions on allocating resources of the CDCA. The framework and process was designed to avoid future conflicts and litigation by underscoring the concepts of shred responsibility and inclusive uses of the CDCA.
Notwithstanding the court-ordered document, please consider the following as our comments on the NEPA process:
A. Per 40 CFR 1500 regulations, this federal action qualifies as a programmatic EIS since BLM is proposing to implement a desert-wide action that is significant by any standard of measurement and requires a systematic and comprehensive disclosure and public involvement process.
B. The EIS would provide for alternative development (solutions) to the problems at hand and allow the public the opportunity to have ownership in any future decisions and actions,
C. Since Congress designated the CDCA as one single unit, there is no legal basis for the BLM to determine that route designation will be completed only on a portion of what the CDCA “used to be”.
Without consulting with Congress, BLM California Management divided up the CDCA into bioregions and inserted a new process using these bioregions as a basis to amend the CDCA Plan (NEMO, NECO, WEMO). This process was developed from a single use theme that never reached consensus or approval from the American people.
That explains the mess we are dealing with now. For instance, this vehicle part is in the WEMO Amendment, however, will it eventually apply to the whole CDCA? This must be addressed. Many of these roads are also segments of NEMO. All roads must be up for consideration in the road designation process so as to be able to demonstrate true “minimization” which has already occurred in the California Desert Conservation Area.
D. It appears that BLM is segmenting NEPA when it knows that it has to do further NEPA compliance but is choosing to complete an EA not a Programmatic EIS. As such, a request of 120 days extension is asked for.
E. The BLM has indicated it proposes to develop only one process utilizing one criteria for the route designation process. We believe, upon reading the “remand” document, that the BLM has an obligation to develop more than one route designation process and more than one road designation scheme and that there be differing route designation designs in those alternatives. We believe the court is asking for alternatives from which they may pick.
1) The Notice of Intent in the Department of Interior (DOI) by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) does not state whether it is to be an Environmental Assessment (EA) nor an Environmental Impact Statement as needed to amend the Vehicular aspect of West Mojave Plan. It also alludes that other amendments will be forth coming, however it does not state what they are and if their intent will negate this process.
2) The notice in the Federal Register states the end date as October 13, 2011. At the public meeting held in Ridgecrest and Barstow, it was announced that the ending date was October 17, 2011.
3) There is more than one legal document that should be involved in the road designation process. For instance, the CAPA decision started with road designation for that area beginning in 2006 and was extended for five years. This time frame ended in March of 2011. A request to begin road designation in the CAPA area was made at each meeting held in Ridgecrest for the past five years in a public forum. No decisions to open or close roads have been made with required community participation. The CAPA road designation process must be completed as a separate process.
4) The Sub Region matrix must also include a recreation category and a private land category. There have been many court decisions, which require land managers to provide vehicle access to the owners of private property. Roads to private property should not be closed.
5) The West Mojave Desert Off Road Vehicle Designation Project book indicates that the Sub-Regions do not match. The Notice and the maps show us 33 sub-regions. The old Off Road Vehicle Designation Project had 20 sub-regions.
6) All Sub-Regions should have the same criteria. Barstow and Ridgecrest differ.
7) The BLM proposes to include as part of the road designation and amendment of the CDCA Plan additional changes, which are not specifically a part of the road designation process.
8) The inventory of springs and seeps should also include tinajas, guzzlers and tanks.
9) Should the BLM decide to use the combined process, a Sub Region should be evaluated with differing subsets. How the Sub Regions are combined and the criteria for this decision are of great importance. The public should be involved.
10) When evaluating a road certain things must be considered. Some of these are:
Is it a through road?
Is it a road, which can be connected to another to relieve pressure on sensitive species?
Is it a road which dead ends at a space, which has room for parking and is it a trailhead for some other type of activity?
How long has the road been in existence? Does the road have a history?
Is the road in a sensitive area and has it had any impact to the sensitive issue?
Is the road a dead end, which is or could be used to access an area for family camping, picnicking, painting, photography or quiet contemplation?
Is the road needed to evacuate people in case of fire or flood?
Is the road a dead end at a special geologic or some other feature?
Is the road necessary to provide access to guzzlers, tanks, springs, seeps or tinajas?
Is the road a legal cherry stem? And so on.
11) The BLM should begin the road designation process with those roads for which it will be easy to justify their status; for example, Congressionally designated open “cherry stems” should be left open as Congress has already designated them open.
12) BLM should leave the words “existing roads and trails” in the CDCA Plan however it should be clarified as to reflect that this does not just mean 1980. It should mean whatever roads are in existence on the ground when access issues are determined.
13) All roads MUST be signed CLOSED. There is no signing of open or closed roads in an open area, as all roads in an open area are open even when unsigned. I think the BLM must insist to the judge that roads be signed.
14) NEPA requires that all relevant data be available to the public. Numerous documents are mentioned as available at BLM Moreno Valley and Sacramento only. Not all the public or even a significant portion of those wishing to comment can get to Moreno Valley or Sacramento during regular working hours. These documents should be posted on the BLM website, including all pertinent maps.
15) Predetermined outcomes violate the intent of NEPA. While the judge ordered some specific criteria, and outcomes the BLM has listed numerous issues, which may not be included by the public. We see this as an attempt to direct the public to a predetermined outcome.
16) The judge has ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species decisions were correct. The FWS decisions were part of the route designation process, which has been ordered by the same judge. Depending on which routes and which, of a number of issues BLM wishes to bring up; the FWS may have to do their decisions all over again.
17) Gem and Mineral Collectors have lost access to 98 percent of their collecting areas. No roads to collecting areas and mines should be closed.
18) Roads leading to extreme riding or driving places, which are few and far between, should be posted.
19) In 1980, the year mentioned by the judge, there were 30,000 miles of roads in the California Desert. The original maps that were drawn up, should be made available to the public as their input had been requested and was considered part of the basis for the decisions. Without these original maps the road designation process will be considered flawed by NEPA standards.
20) The BLM proposes to include as part of the road designation and amendment of the CDCA Plan additional changes, which are not specifically a part of the road designation process. Should the BLM proceed on this course the Vehicle Access Element of the plan needs to be amended to specifically reflect the wording contained in the California Desert Protection Act with respect to exempt vehicle access in Wilderness areas. The Closed section in Chapter 3 should read, “No vehicle travel is allowed.” Except that Vehicle Access is authorized for the purposes of fighting fire, protecting health and safety and maintaining and repairing and, in times of drought, carrying water to guzzlers, and tanks and maintaining and monitoring wells, and maintaining seeps, springs, and tinajas. Roads leading to the guzzlers, wells, seeps, springs tinajas and tanks will not be closed or eliminated but may be gated with locks.”
21) The 43CFR 8342.1 criteria which will be utilized in determining road designation includes options other than closure; such as: seasonal use, dry weather use, relocation of camping off road, reduction of the number of vehicles in an event or activity, etc. Court desired outcomes could be reached a number of ways.
The WEMO Amendment took 8 years of meetings and subcommittees, four years of a super-group that many were precluded from because of the times that the meetings were held and finally two years in house precluding the public from communication. The public needs to be involved in this process if NEPA is to be used.
There must be adequate discussion/consideration of lost recreation opportunities and how they might be mitigated. Quarterly open house meetings should be held so that the public can receive an update on the progress that is taking place to move forward with route designation recommendations and the plan amendment(s).
The footprint created by future projects in the CDCA will further fragment the existing road and trail system by severing existing routes of travel thus excluding the public from the acres within project boundaries and the lands near by. The Programmatic EIS must amend the Vehicle Access Element to provide that each future project shall provide specific environmental analysis to reconnect the severed access.
Should you need clarification on any one of the above comments please do not hesitate to contact me at the above telephone numbers or e-mail addresses.
Again, for myself and the organization,
Sophia A Merk