Southern Natural Resources Consultant Report - November 2019

Fall in southern California signals the beginning to the desert off-road season. This time of year is also accompanied by Santa Anna winds and wildfires. Added to the offerings this year are strong winds, wildfires, and rolling blackouts throughout the state. As experienced the past couple of years, wildfires take a toll on human lives, homes, and trails. As the winds, fires and smoke subsides, help your friends and neighbors rebuild their lives. And, help the land managers rebuild your trails.

Fall also signals the annual political duels of the federal budget with looming government shutdowns and cries of anguish from the politician assigning blame for the disruption to everyone but themselves. November 21 is the looming date for passing a budget or beginning the theater of government shutdown. The U.S. House of Representatives has yet to complete work on several key appropriation bills. When (if) they do complete their tasks, the ball moves to the Senate. So, how does this affect OHV recreation? Well, funding for wildfire recovery efforts is in the mix. That is funding the agencies need to rebuild trail systems damaged by wildfire.

There is also the pending move of the Bureau of Land Management from headquarters in Washington, D.C. to Grand Junction, Colorado. Accompanying this move is a yet to be clarified regional reorganization that would split California between two (maybe three) BLM regions. The proposed split would align the southern California desert region with Arizona, New Mexico, and southern Nevada with northern California aligned with Nevada. Politics (money) will decide the fate of the proposed reorganization.

District 25 Special Election

There is the specter of the pending special election in the California District 25 triggered by the resignation of Representative Hill. District 25 covers from Simi Valley to Santa Clarita to Lancaster. This pending special election is considered a bell-weather election with national implications.

Forest Plan Revisions

In other news, the Forest Plan Revision for the Inyo National Forest is complete. The plan has been almost ten years in the making with several early aborted attempts before moving forward under the revised Forest Service Planning Rule. The Inyo was one of eight National Forest (one of three in California) to develop plan revisions under the new planning rule. The three in California (Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra) developed one approach while others moved forward with slight variations. The Inyo is the first to complete without threat of lawsuit. A key distinction with the revised planning rule from the older version is the addition of an “Objection” phase.

After the various rounds of public comment, a final revised plan is released along with a signed Record of Decision. Under the Objection process, the Record of Decision is unsigned, basically a draft stating a pending decision and requesting “objections” prior to issuing a final ROD.

With the Inyo plan, I provided comments on behalf of Cal4Wheel at each step and submitted an Objection as requested. My Objection, along with about 20 others, was reviewed through an Objectors Resolution meeting where I was afforded the opportunity to defend my comments in person. That meeting was in February, 2019. In October, 2019 the final Record of Decision was released. I won some minor wording changes but lost on the Pacific Crest Trail corridor.

Plan revisions for the Sequoia and Sierra are progressing with a final expected late spring of 2020. These plans will follow the same sequence as the Inyo with an Objection process before the final signed ROD. Other national forests within California (USFS Region 5) are expected to begin their plan revisions during 2020. That is, provided funding is available to cover costs associated. The Pacific Crest Trail corridor appears to be a big issue with many of the pending plans.

While the new planning process has provided some similarity between plans, making it easier to develop comments, it does lack one critical component - travel management. Travel management is critical in discussion of recreation opportunities. While travel management has been linked to motorized trails, it also involves other forms of recreation. The omission of travel management from the forest planning process means some decisions (restrictions) will be placed that may eliminate routes necessary for recreation. Review of future plan revisions must be done with future (undefined) travel management in mind.

Wildfire trail recovery

Areas burdened with wildfire recovery efforts are at risk as the recovery efforts often eliminate trails. That trail you enjoyed pre-wildfire may have been the route for a D-9 to lay down a fire break. During post-wildfire recovery, that firebreak will be restored to natural, perhaps without the original trail in place. Work with the agencies to maintain your trails before wildfires come. Work with the agencies to restore your trails during recovery efforts. You can prevent trail loss…

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John Stewart

John Stewart

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