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Northern Natural Resources Consultant Report - July 2020

Oceano Dunes SVRA

With the SVRA now closed due to the recent Covid-19 restrictions, the surrounding local economy has been devastated. The tourism that brings revenue into the community has come to a halt. Nearly all of the retail stores, restaurants, hotels, rental companies, and other small businesses in the area are just struggling to stay afloat.

The continued attacks on OHV recreation by the California Coastal Commission (CCC), Air Pollution Control District (APCD) and the Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) have really hurt local low- and middle-income families and small family owned businesses in the area. But sadly, many of these businesses will not survive the Covid-19 restrictions.

This paints the perfect picture of what the local economic impact to the surrounding communities would look like with closure of Oceano Dunes SVRA.

The Oceano Dunes SVRA provides a major economic benefit to the local businesses and residents and the dunes also offer a unique recreational experience that provides access to coastal recreation for millions of Californians.

The Oceano Dunes SVRA itself generates more than $200 million dollars a year in economic activity from outside visitors. It is a major contributor to the SLO County’s tourism industry that has already been hit hard by the Covid-19 lock down
Since the Oceano Dunes is now closed due to Covid-19 restrictions, there has been zero OHV activity or vehicle access to the dunes for months. But the dust emissions are much worse now.

For example, at the CDF site in May 2019, there were six exceedances, but this year, as of May 22, the exceedances have doubled to 12. At the Nipomo-Guadalupe Road site in May 2019, there were only three exceedances, but as of May 22, exceedances have nearly quadrupled to 11.

The state has spent approximately $14 million in taxpayer revenue in the last ten years to reduce dust concentrations on the mesa. The state covered more than 150 acres of dune sand with vegetation or orange plastic fencing. Additional dune-covering projects are anticipated in the coming months and years, under the theory that the obstructions would help reduce dust produced by the blowing sand.
In January, State Parks Director Lisa Mangat shut down approximately half of the camping area and about 5 percent of the riding area at the Oceano Dunes, or approximately 50 acres near the shoreline. The area was popular with campers and provided 50 percent of the park’s camping availability.

The Scientific Advisory Group (SAG) is the group responsible for much of the revegetation and wind fencing projects and the continued loss of acreage for OHV recreation. Here is the statement that the SAG released on the dust emissions at the SVRA:
“It is the opinion of the SAG that the accumulated impact of OHV off highway vehicle] activity remains a significant contributor to observed PM [dust] emissions at ODSVRA, even during this period in which the ODSVRA is temporarily closed to recreational uses,” according to the memorandum. “The SAG acknowledges that the Oceano Dunes are a naturally dusty surface that would experience PM emissions even in the absence of human activity, especially during this spring windy season. But the SAG is also clearly aware that decades of OHV activity have fundamentally altered the natural beach-dune landscape, making the dunes significantly more susceptible to PM emissions than they would be in a natural state.”

Not surprisingly the SAG continues to blame OHV for all the dust emissions at the SVRA, they continue to reduce the areas of the park in which we recreate in with more wind fences and revegetation projects.
State Parks needs to stand up to the APCD and the California Coastal Commission. The park was bought and paid for with Green Sticker Trust Fund money for the protection and preservation of OHV recreation at the Oceano Dunes SVRA. 
Oceano Dunes SVRA should be managed as a State Vehicular Recreation Area, not a bird sanctuary or a butterfly grove. It should be managed as a park designated for OHV recreation.  
The SVRA right now has four big issues going on, each one could determine the future of OHV recreation at the Oceano Dunes SVRA:

  • San Luis Obispo Air Pollution Control District (SLO APCD) - They monitor PM10/ dust issues at the SVRA.
  • State Parks Public Works Plan - General Operating plan for SVRA, including future projects.
  • State Parks Habitat Preservation Plan - Endangered Species Conservation plan within the SVRA.
  • California Coastal Commission Meetings - Combination of all the above topics.

San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury finds Oceano Dunes safe

The San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury released a new report on safety at the Oceano Dunes SVRA. The newly released report by the Grand Jury finds that the Oceano Dunes are safe for ATV/UTV riders.

The Grand Jury investigation was prompted by local groups and individuals who want to close down the dunes to OHV recreation. Those same groups have challenged that the dunes are unsafe and too many children are injured while recreating at the SVRA.

Unfortunately, last year six people died in ATV/UTV accidents at the Oceano Dunes SVRA. Each accident was investigated and only one of the six accidents had alcohol as a factor. The report shows most accidents were due to inexperience, speed, or not paying attention.

The Grand Jury recommended that the county actively promote public safety at the dunes, encouraging riders to be educated to the surroundings and vehicle, be attentive and be mindful of speed.

Snowy Plover lawsuit

Since the park was closed to vehicles earlier this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, snowy plovers and terns have expanded their habitat into areas previously used by off-roaders and now the Center for Biological Diversity has threatened to sue State Parks if they interfere with the nesting of this endangered species.

The center took its complaint to the Coastal Commission and they formally ordered State Parks to halt its activities disrupting snowy plover nesting areas. The CCC plans to meet with State Parks prior to the Oceano Dunes reopening to vehicles, and they urged the agency to map out plover nesting areas and develop plans to ensure the birds are protected when vehicles and camping return to the dunes.

Those options could include fencing off new areas, modifying park use or adjusting the reopening schedule. They also urged the CCC to hold off on opening the park until after the breeding session ends in September.

Do you see the pattern here? Right now, the particulate matter plan seems to be faltering, so we shift to the next issue. Grand Jury on safety (that doesn’t work), and now we are back to issues with endangered species. They do not care what issue they use. Just so the dunes never reopen.

Sierra National Forest Motorized Recreation Project

The Sierra NF is initiating a 30-day public comment period for the Motorized Recreation Project Environmental Assessment. The project identifies roads, trails, and areas across the Sierra NF to be added to the Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM). It includes 29 miles of trails and 12 areas to be added to the National Forest Trail System, of which 1.7 miles are being changed from road/trail to mixed use.

The purpose of the project is reevaluating trails that were removed from the MVUM and work to get them added back on to the MVUM. I was very disappointed in the Sierra NF process at the public meetings. Many of our Cal4 clubs were present and gave the Forest a lot of input on trails that should have been added back on to the MVUM.

When the final plan was announced it seemed like very few trails were actually proposed to be added back on to the MVUM. They chose to ignore the clubs and all the input they gave. 

So here is your chance make comments on this project. Comments need to be received by July 27 at midnight to be considered part of the 30-day public comment period.

Subject: Sierra NF Motorized Recreation Project
Mail: 1600 Tollhouse Road, Clovis, CA 93612
Email: comments-pacificsouthwest-sierra@usda.gov

USFS Region 5 Fire Restrictions

The USFS has imposed fire restrictions on most of California forests starting May 31. The restrictions prohibit using wood, or stove campfires outside developed recreation and wilderness campsites. The restrictions are part of a broader push by the National Forest Service to minimize risks for manmade forest fires during Northern California’s driest summer months.

This order serves to protect the health and safety of employees and surrounding communities from the potential of catastrophic wildfires. As listed in the order, outside of developed recreation sites and designated wilderness areas, igniting, building, maintaining, or using a fire on national forests in California will be prohibited.

Fallon Naval Air Station Expansion - Cancellation

The Navy for the past few years has been working to increase the footprint of the Fallon Range Training Complex. If they had been successful, this would have increased the military-controlled lands in the area to nearly 1,000 square miles — quadrupling their area of control to nearly 770,000 acres.

Naval Air Station Fallon is the US Navy's premier tactical aviation training facility. Located 70 miles east of Reno, Nevada, the facility provides comprehensive integrated combat training to deploying carrier air wings.

Native American groups, conservationists and OHV groups have strongly opposed the plan to close nearly 770,000 acres in 5 rural counties to public access. The Navy argued they needed the added land because training in modern, high speed aircraft requires much more space.

The Senate’s initial version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2020-2021 leaves out the planned expansion of the airbase. The construction program this year will focus on deferred maintenance and upgrades to existing bases and sites.

OHV Legislation to monitor

AB 2551- Carnegie SVRA- Alameda-Tesla Expansion Area

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. 

Status- First hearing was canceled on request of the author on April 30, 2020.

SB 1147- Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area

SB1147 was introduced by Senator Steve Glazer (D) on February 20, 2020. This bill would express the intent of the Legislature to enact subsequent legislation that would preserve the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area for conservation purposes.”
The previous legislation has all been focused on the Alameda-Tesla Expansion property, but now they are going after Carnegie SVRA. This bill looks to remove all OHV from the SVRA.

Status- NO movement- Referred to Committee on March 5, 2020.

SB1024- Competition OHV Sticker Program

SB 1024 was introduced by Senator Brian Jones (R- Santee).  Currently, competition off-highway vehicles are registered though the Red Sticker program within the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This program has allowed off-highway vehicles to operate in the state for the past two decades. The Red Sticker program is set to end in 2021 with no plan to replace it within CARB. Without a new program, off-highway vehicle competitions and practice riding on public lands will be put to an end in California at a great loss to local businesses, manufacturers, and a storied tradition of valued competition. SB 1024 moves the Red Sticker competition program into a responsible Competition Sticker program under California State Parks.

Status- The Senate unanimously passed SB1024 on June 24 and now goes to the Assembly Committee on Transportation.

About the Author

Jeff Blewett

Jeff Blewett

Natural Resources Consultant - North
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