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Natural Resources Report For May 2024

| Rose Winn, Cal4wheel Natural Resources Consultant | Natural Resources Consultant Reports

CALIFORNIA DESERT DISTRICT ADVISORY COUNCIL 2024 MEETING SERIES

The BLM will host a meeting series in 2024 for California’s Desert District Advisory Council. Meetings will be held on August 10 and December 7 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific Time. A virtual participation option will also be available on the Zoom platform. Field tours may be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. the day before each meeting. If weather or other circumstances arise and an on-site meeting is canceled, the meeting will be held virtually via Zoom, and the field tour will not occur.

The August meeting will be held at the Needles Field Office, 1303 S. Highway 95, Needles, CA 92363; and the December meeting will be held at the Barstow Field Office, 2601 Barstow Road, Barstow, CA 92311. The agendas for the public meetings, virtual meeting participation information, and field tour details will be posted on the Council's web page at: 

https://www.blm.gov/get-involved/​rac/​california/​california-desert-district

Agenda topics for the August meeting may include presentations on the Mojave Trails National Monument planning effort, the East Mojave Trail and partnership, and overviews from the district and field offices and fire program. Agenda topics for the December meeting may include a vote on the Barstow Business Plan, proposed recreation fees and plans for the Desert Discovery Center, and overviews from the district and field offices and fire program.

All Council meetings are open to the public, and there will be an opportunity for public comment during the meeting.

For more information, contact Kate Miyamoto, BLM California Desert District Office, telephone: 760-883-8528, email: kmiyamoto@blm.gov.

 

PROPOSED EXPANSION OF SAGE GROUSE PROTECTIONS ON BLM-MANAGED PUBLIC LANDS

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has proposed expansion of protected habitat and conservation management for the Greater Sage Grouse. BLM asserts that the Sage Grouse is in sharp decline, populations once in the millions now number fewer than 800,000 due to habitat loss, climate change effects, drought, wildfires and the spread of invasive species. There has been a long debate over the Sage Grouse with environmental advocates pushing to have the species listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In order to prevent an endangered species listing, the BLM developed a Sage Grouse Land Use Plan in 2015. The Sage Grouse still has not been listed to date, with official species status reports indicating that a listing is not warranted. Without an ESA listing, the BLM is not required to treat Sage Grouse and its habitat as endangered or threatened, and should not be managing land as such. The Sage Grouse Land Use Plan was amended in 2019, and the BLM is now proposing additional amendments.

The new proposed amendments will affect the states of California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. It includes 77 resource management plans across these states, covering 69 million acres. In California and Nevada, the amended plan will impact 19 to 22 million acres of BLM-managed public land. Most of which in California is located in the Northeastern side of the state between Susanville and Alturas. One major concern is the amended conservation plan would designate millions of acres as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). ACEC’s are typically managed as if they are wilderness – they are historically restrictive, have closed roads, and shut down access for all types of users.

The pressures and effects on the Sage Grouse vary from state to state. The BLM should not be creating a broad land use plan covering 10 different states that all feature unique terrain, multiple-uses of public land, community demographics, and socioeconomics. A plan this restrictive in nature will affect users who are not proven to have a significant negative impact on the species. A one-size-fits-all approach will not be beneficial to the species, and, will harm effective multiple-use public land management practices. Although studies have shown a decrease in Sage Grouse population, research shows that this is due in part to wildfires and urbanization. There is a notable lack of evidence to indicate that OHV recreation, outdoor recreation, and other popular forms of multiple-use interest in BLM managed lands have created negative impact on Sage Grouse. The Sage Grouse is being used as a pawn in a broader plan to give the federal government more control of our public lands even when the species population volume and health does not warrant an ESA listing.

The deadline to comment is June 13. For more information and to submit a comment: https://bit.ly/Proposed-Sage-Grouse-Protections

 

THE VALUE OF ADOPT-A-TRAIL PROGRAMS – PLEASE NOTIFY ME OF YOUR ADOPTED TRAILS

An area of focus in my work as NRC is to build up Cal4Wheel impact on public land access advocacy through adopt-a-trail programs. If you have not yet read my article in the April edition of the InGear magazine, I encourage you to, it shares more depth and context on the power of adopt-a-trail programs as an advocacy strategy. Cal4Wheel member involvement in adopt-a-trail programs is truly one of the most easily available means to protect access to your favorite OHV routes. Adopting a trail creates a tangible demonstration of the value of that trail. It ensures that the trail receives regular maintenance, as well as prompt response and repair to any route damage that may occur from weather, natural events, or careless users. When it comes time to prove the value of a trail during land management and travel management planning, adopted trails are highly effective at preventing false accusations that a route is no longer used, or minimally used, and should be considered for closure or decommissioning.

Is your club involved in an adopt-a-trail program? Or are you involved as an individual? If so, please send me your club or individual name, and the name(s), location, and mileage of your adopted trails. You can email this information to me at rwinn@cal4nrc.com. As the Cal4Wheel NRC, I’d like to collect the names of all clubs and individuals who are actively involved in adopt-a-trail programs in order to create an accurate catalog of the routes and mileage that are adopted collectively through Cal4Wheel membership across the state. This catalog of adopted trails will play an important role in preserving access to our favorite trails as they can be cited as reference within Cal4Wheel comments on public land management plans, travel management plans, proposed endangered species listings, and within other public land management issues.

 

BLM FINALIZES APPROVAL OF PROPOSED RULE ON CONSERVATION & LANDSCAPE HEALTH

On April 18, the Bureau of Land Management announced final approval of their Rule on Conservation and Landscape Health. This new Rule will negatively impact Cal4Wheel members and all members of the general public who enjoy outdoor recreation on BLM managed lands by significantly minimizing access to public land. The Rule creates the opportunity for the BLM to sell public land through conservation leases to private parties; those private parties will then be granted the authority to decide who may access the land within the borders of their lease, and what activities may be permitted on the leased land. This lease structure shifts ownership of public lands away from the citizens of the US, and places it in the hands of private parties. The Rule also wholly eradicates the multiple-use mandate by which the BLM is required to manage public lands.

The Rule is problematic in other ways – it introduces “conservation” as a designated use of public land, increases regulatory complexity of land management policies through Landscape Health protocol, and expands designation of Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC’s). The BLM manages over 245 million acres of public land in the USA. In California, over 15 million acres of public land are managed by the BLM, comprising over 15% of the total land mass in this state. California’s public lands are a primary source for the public to enjoy outdoor recreation. The Proposed Rule will result in increased user conflicts and potential resource damage by removing sufficient access to public lands for all forms of recreation, including OHV.

During the public comment period for the Rule, Cal4Wheel shared opposition based on: 

  • Violation of Congressional direction and intent
  • Violation of BLM operational guidelines
  • Federal regulatory overreach
  • Creation of an opportunity for the BLM to generate revenue
  • Expansion of the 30x30 agenda
  • Lack of a definition for “conservation”
  • The Proposed Rule is unnecessary
  • Discrimination of individuals with disabilities, and impoverished communities
  • Increased risk of economic and national security threats

Review the full comment letter via this link: https://bit.ly/BLM-Proposed-Conservation-Rule

 

NEW PUBLIC LAND ACCESS IMPACTS ON THE HORIZON FROM CALIFORNIA FISH & GAME

I attended the California Fish & Game Commission (F&G) meeting on April 17-28. F&G is responsible for the following, in addition to other efforts focused on conservation and management of wildlife and wildlife habitat in California:

  • Establishing and managing hunting policy statewide
  • Reviewing, approving or disapproving, and managing petitions to list species as Threatened or Endangered under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA)

New areas of focus for F&G’s planned actions over the next year were shared in this meeting, including several that will directly impact public access and OHV recreation on public lands.

  • Governor Newsom (California) and Governor Lombardo (Nevada) have formed an agreement to fast-track construction of high-speed-rail (HSR) to connect Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The goal is to have the new HSR route completed before the 2028 Olympics that will be held in Los Angeles. The HSR route will traverse the Mojave Desert. We need to be engaged in any elements of HSR project planning and implementation in which the public will have opportunity for input and influence regarding the location of the HSR track, construction process, and other factors that may impact public access and OHV recreation in the Mojave Desert.
  • Multiple scientists, along with Native American tribes, are actively advocating for reintroduction of grizzly bears to California. A formal program to bring grizzlies back to our state has not been announced, though it is a topic of enthusiastic discussion in F&G Commission meetings. I anticipate that we’ll see a formal program for reintroduction presented in a near-future F&G Commission meeting. The presence of grizzly bears in California’s public lands will necessarily impact public safety and access, as we will have new, heightened risk from potential interaction with this apex predator. During the April 18 meeting, the F&G Commission members unanimously voted to add grizzly bear reintroduction as an agenda item in the next F&G Commission meeting.We will need to monitor the potential for a reintroduction program and take advantage of any possibility to bear influence through public comment.
  • The Mojave Desert Tortoise (MDT) was recommended for upgrade in CESA status from Threatened to Endangered. While the MDT has been protected as a Threatened species under CESA since 1989, it has not recovered sufficiently, per the science presented to the F&G, to justify designation for recovery and removal from CESA listing. Proponents of upgrading MDT to Endangered state that protections that have been implemented thus far are insufficient, additional protections are needed. MDT protections currently impact public access and OHV recreation in a variety of ways throughout the desert regions of Southern California. An upgrade in CESA status will require formal review with the opportunity for public comment. We will need to be prepared to investigate data to analyze the real current status of MDT as a species, and provide public comment to urge the F&G Commission to deny a petition to upgrade status if, in fact, it is not warranted. If an upgrade in status is warranted, we will need to be prepared to provide comments with recommendations to mitigate impact from OHV recreation on MDT habitat in order to prevent prospect for restriction or closure of access to public lands.

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