As a newcomer to Cal4Wheel, I appreciate the enthusiastic welcome I’ve received from members across the state. Many thanks to everyone who has responded to my outreach or reached out to me proactively to connect. It is exciting to join a membership of thousands who share my enthusiasm for public land issues. There is never a shortage of issues to address in California, and this season presents an array of critical priorities, including forest management, species-related access restrictions, burn scar restoration, OHV program financing, and Oceano Dunes SVRA.
STANISLAUS NATIONAL FOREST SERAL PROJECT
USDA and forest management staff in Stanislaus National Forest proposed a comprehensive vegetation management project with the goal of reducing fuel load and risk of catastrophic wildfire over 71,000 acres of forest located North of Twain Harte and East of Murphy’s (https://bit.ly/seral-project). I submitted comments to advocate for protection of OHV access, and to support effective vegetation management including mechanical thinning, timber harvest, timber salvage, and prescribed fire. The proposal process has finally reached its conclusion, and I’m pleased to share that despite hefty objections from environmental groups, the project has been approved to move forward to implementation. Per proposal policy, objectors are provided one more window of opportunity to oppose pieces of the project plan. Implementation will still take place, if there are objections at this point it could impact pieces of the total project scope. Hopefully there will be few, or zero, additional objections and the project will move forward in full.
THREAT OF PUBLIC ACCESS RESTRICTIONS - FOOTHILL YELLOW LEGGED FROG
The US Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed listing four distinct subspecies of the foothill yellow legged frog (FYLF) as Endangered or Threatened. Two subspecies are slated for endangered status, and two for threatened. If approved, this set of designations threatens public access to public lands across both the Sierra Nevada mountains and the coastline, stretching nearly the full length of the state on the East and the West (https://bit.ly/yellow-frog). I am in the process of digging through the science and species population data that is being used to justify the proposal to prepare a comment to object. Comments were being accepted through March 30.
THREAT OF PUBLIC ACCESS RESTRICTIONS - SIERRA FISHER
The US Fish & Wildlife Service proposed critical habitat designation of 554,454 acres of the Sierra Nevada mountains for the Southern Sierra Fisher. If approved, this designation threatens public access to public lands across six counties: Tulare, Kern, Fresno, Madera, Mariposa, and Tuolumne (https://bit.ly/sierra-fisher). I submitted comments to oppose the designation based on significant flaws within the science and justification used to issue the proposal. While the comment period closed in December 2021, the decision is pending, and will be monitored closely to evaluate further action and advocacy as available and needed.
CREEK FIRE RESTORATION
Restoration of public lands within the burn scars across the state will be a critical issue for OHV users for many years to come. Over 6.8 million acres were burned in California in 2020 and 2021. The USDA has proposed a restoration project for the Creek Fire burn scar, which covers over 380,000 acres in the Sierra National Forest across Fresno and Madera counties (https://bit.ly/creek-fire-recovery). Post-fire restoration of public lands is badly needed, and it is good to see land management agencies investing resources, funds, and manpower into it. However, it will be important to monitor restoration projects to ensure that OHV access is not unnecessarily restricted or closed during active restoration projects, or as an outcome of post-project regulation. I am in the process of evaluating the scope of the Creek Fire Restoration proposal to prepare a comment to support or object elements that impact OHV access. Comments were being accepted through March 18.
OHV GRANT SEASON
Spring is the season for BLM and Forest Service to propose grants for OHV projects throughout the state. Grants that are secured in 2022 will be used for projects that are completed in 2023. I attended meetings with BLM’s Bakersfield office, and the Forest Service Plumas NF office, to learn about their OHV grant proposals. Unfortunately for both offices, OHV grants are being focused on law enforcement and operations/maintenance rather than on projects that directly impact OHV trail access, quality, and usage. Historically, the purpose of OHV grant funds was intended specifically for OHV user benefit. Details on specifics for all statewide OHV grant proposals will be available for public review and comment from March 8 to May 2 (https://bit.ly/ohv-grants-2022). I plan to submit comments on multiple grant proposals to advocate for grant funds to be allocated towards improvements of trail access, trail quality, OHV rider staging areas, and other projects that would create immediate and direct benefit to OHV users. I encourage members to review grant proposals that impact trails in your region and consider submitting comments to advocate for grant projects that would directly benefit OHV users.
OCEANO DUNES SVRA
The battle to preserve OHV access at Oceano Dunes SVRA continues to be held up in legal action. I attended an OHMVR Commission meeting that focused on the Stipulated Order of Abatement between San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and the Department of Parks and Recreation. The meeting included an opportunity for public comment in preparation for the APCD Hearing Board meeting scheduled for March 23, 2022. At the March 23 meeting, the APCD Hearing Board will be reviewing, and may possibly take action, on the Stipulated Order of Abatement. Through public comment from myself and others, the OHMVR Commission was urged to take a stronger stance in requesting reopening of specific sections of riding and camping areas that have been closed, and use of research from the SCRIPPS Institute that indicates a very low correlation between OHV use on the dunes and production of harmful airborne particulate matter. I was encouraged that many members of the OHMVR Commission responded positively to these suggestions. With Oceano Dunes SVRA taking precedence as a critical issue for members across Cal4Wheel, I will continue to be closely involved with all activity that will advance the case to protect OHV use at Oceano.
I look forward to connecting and collaborating with more of the Cal4 membership in time. If you would like to discuss issues related to public land access and management that are affecting your club and trails, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.