Northern Natural Resources Consultant Report - February 2020

State Parks transformation meeting

California State Parks held a special Off-highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Commission meeting in Sacramento to discuss State Parks transformation process. The OHV community has always been very skeptical of the transformation process and many have asked why it was needed. State Parks says they had to fold the OHMVR Division back into State Parks because they felt it was more efficient and it would save money. But the OHV community fears that they just want to tap into our gas tax trust fund (green sticker fund) money. State Parks has always operated in the red and is always looking for more money from the general fund, while the OHMVR Division uses no general fund money and is always in the black.

State Parks wanted our input about transformation at this meeting and the OHV community gave State Parks plenty to think about. The common thread throughout the public comment period was that:

  • Transformation had failed the OHV community.
  • Transformation had intentionally or unintentionally begun to dismantle everything we had spent years building.
  • Transformation had caused staffing, law enforcement and equipment operator shortages at many of our State Vehicular Recreation Areas (SVRAs).
  • Transformation has caused a dilution of our SVRAs by pushing out our most experienced OHV employees.
  • OHV trust fund money must be spent on OHV projects only.

To see if these comments are true all you have to do is look at Oceano Dunes SVRA. The main issues at the park are law enforcement and staffing shortages, lack of maintenance in the park and the lack of a permanent park superintendent.

The California OHV program is the best OHV program in the nation, or possibly the world. I hope that State Parks will take a good look at all the public comment and make some changes.

Carnegie SVRA lawsuit

The Carnegie SVRA, currently has five lawsuits pending with various groups due to the planned expansion project. One of those lawsuits, the “Connolly Ranch Inc. vs. California State Parks, Department of Parks and Recreation Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division” lawsuit closed down 37 acres on the east end of the SVRA in January of 2019. That part of the SVRA included the 4x4 Play Area, Trails Bike Area and Motocross Practice Track.

In December of 2019, the Superior Court of the State of California rendered a verdict in favor of Carnegie SVRA. The jury’s verdict found the California Department of Parks and Recreation Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division’s environmentally sound OHV program at Carnegie SVRA did not substantially interfere with the Connolly Ranch’s operations.

On January 30, 2020, Carnegie SVRA reopened to off-highway recreation the 37 acres closed by the Connolly Ranch lawsuit.

AB 2551Carnegie SVRA: Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area

Similar legislation was shot down by both Gov. Brown and Gov. Newsom in the past few years. But they are back again trying to keep the expansion tied up in the legislature and the courts.

AB 2551 was introduced by Assembly Member Bauer-Kahan and co-authored by Senator Glazer. This bill would authorize the department to dispose of the portion of the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area known as the “Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area” to permanently preserve that land for conservation purposes, as specified, if the department determines that disposing of the land is in the public interest. The bill would require that the land only be sold to a local agency or nonprofit organization for use as a park or other open-space purpose. The bill would require any revenue from the disposition of the land to, upon appropriation by the legislature, first be used to reimburse the Department of General Services for any cost or expense incurred in the disposition of the land, and then would require any remaining revenue to be deposited in the Off-Highway Vehicle Trust Fund.

H.R.2250- Northern California Wilderness proposal

The House Natural Resources Committee approved a proposal by Congressman Jared Huffman and Senator Kamala Harris to create 260,000 acres of new designated-wilderness areas in northwest California.

The bill will create eight new designated wilderness areas and expands eight existing wilderness areas. It will set aside 379 miles of additional lands under the "wild and scenic rivers" designation. It also creates a 730,000-acre South Fork Trinity-Mad River "restoration area" on the westside of the Shasta Trinity National Forest, and the Mad River Ranger District on the Six Rivers National Forest.

In the last few years Northern California has been hit hard with massive wildfires that have burned down homes, destroyed local economies and burned thousands of acres of timberland. The last thing the state needs is more designated wilderness. The designation legally prohibits forest management on already fire prone forests and adds new land management designations that will threaten forest access.

Instead of creating more wilderness areas, Congressman Huffman and Senator Harris should help reduce fire risks and create more jobs in local communities by giving the Forest Service more tools, resources, and flexibility to do more forest management projects.

Lawsuits threaten forest management

Last month the U.S. Forest Service announced it sold nearly 3.3 billion board feet of timber in 2019, or 75 million board feet more than the 20-year high set in 2018. The agency also conducted forest restoration and fuels reduction on over four million acres through timber harvest and removing hazardous fuels like dead and downed trees, and combating disease, insect and invasive species infestations. This is good news, but there are over 80 million acres of National Forest system lands that are still at risk and need treatment.

While the Forest Service continues to ramp up on forest management, environmental groups are filing more lawsuits. These lawsuits force the Forest Service and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to engage in lengthy and expensive studies even after federal scientists determine a forest project wouldn't adversely affect a vulnerable species.

Currently, The Forest Service has nearly 100 projects that are under the threat of litigation that will delay or even prohibit those needed treatments. A court injunction on National Forests in New Mexico and Arizona banned all firewood gathering. Thinning projects in New Mexico are still being held up on the basis that the federal agencies didn't adequately consult on the Mexican Spotted Owl, even though recent studies show the biggest threat to the species is high-intensity wildfires.

This type of litigation undermines family-wage jobs. Last week a company announced they are suspending operations at their mill at Townsend, Montana, costing this small community 70 jobs. This mill has been impacted by years of litigation and delays that have frequently made the local Forest Service timber program inoperable and our public forests unhealthy.

Winnemucca Sand Dunes Recreation Area Management Plan

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Humboldt River Field Office will be seeking public input during the development of the Winnemucca Sand Dunes (WSD) Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP).

The Winnemucca Sand Dunes Recreation Area is a low-lying sand dune complex in Humboldt County in Winnemucca, Nevada that stretches approximately 40 miles east to west. The area has historically been a popular destination for off-roading recreation, along with camping and mountain biking.

The BLM recreation planners gathered the information at the entrance to the Winnemucca Sand Dunes Recreation Area on weekends in 2019. The information they collected from the users of the Winnemucca Sand Dunes Recreation Area will be used in the RAMP. The RAMP will address items like recreation, visitor services, long-term goals and maintenance.

The BLM plans to collect information from the public and will not start scoping until late January or early February of 2020. You may submit comments or address questions regarding the RAMP by emailing Heather Hanlon at hohanlon@blm.gov.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) modernization The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced a notice of proposed rulemaking titled “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.” For the first time in over 40 years, CEQ is proposing to modernize its NEPA regulations. The outdated regulations have slowed and impeded the development of needed infrastructure in communities across the nation. Environmental impact statements (EISs) for federal highway projects have averaged over seven years to complete and many reviews have taken a decade or more. CEQ’s proposed rule would modernize and clarify the CEQ regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews. The proposed rule seeks to reduce unnecessary paperwork and delays, and to promote better decision-making consistent with NEPA’s statutory requirements.

The National Environmental Policy Act was signed into law in 1970 and is a procedural statute that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions. The Council on Environmental Quality issued regulations for federal agencies to implement NEPA in 1978. CEQ has not comprehensively updated these regulations in over 40 years.

In 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13807 establishing a One Federal Decision policy, including a two-year goal for completing environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects, and directing CEQ to consider revisions to modernize its regulations.

In 2018, CEQ issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking requesting comment on potential updates to its regulations. CEQ received over 12,500 comments. CEQ has found that the average length of an EIS is over 600 pages, and that the average time for federal agencies to conduct these NEPA reviews is four and a half years. However, reviews for some projects have taken much longer. NEPA analyses are frequently challenged in the courts, and while federal agencies ultimately prevail in many cases, litigation can unnecessarily delay and increase costs for important projects such as needed transportation, water, and other infrastructure that benefit states, tribes, and local communities. The increased costs and complexity of NEPA reviews and litigation make it very challenging for large and small businesses to plan, finance, and build projects in the United States.

About the Author

Jeff Blewett

Jeff Blewett

Natural Resources Consultant - North
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