Northern Natural Resources Consultant Report - August 2020

Friends of Oceano Dunes wins lawsuit with Coastal Commission

In late 2017, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) approved a large expansion of dust control measures at the Oceano Dunes State Vehicle Recreation Area.

The Friends of Oceano Dunes contended that the dust control measures approved by the CCC did not comply with the California Environmental Policy Act (CEQA).

The Friends of Oceano Dunes sued the CCC to block the new dust control measures and in February 2020 they won that battle and a judge ordered the CCC to pay The Friends of Oceano Dunes $252,726 for attorney’s fees and costs.
Laws permit attorneys who undertake cases with a “significant public benefit” to request attorney’s fees if they win. Attorneys for the commission argued that friend’s court victory was technical, and as such they should not have to pay fees and costs. The court rejected the commission’s argument.

Friends of Oceano File Another lawsuit

The Friends of Oceano Dunes filed a civil lawsuit against the Coastal Commission, its executive director, and State Parks in SLO County Superior Court on July 28, challenging, among other things, a recently issued cease and desist order that effectively closed the Oceano Dunes to vehicles until October 1.

In early June, local conservationists complained that State Parks employees were attempting to prevent plovers from nesting in areas that are typically open for vehicle use in preparation for the park’s potential reopening.

But the Friends of Oceano Dunes argues that Coastal Commission Executive Director Jack Ainsworth, who issued the cease and desist order, exceeded his authority in doing so.

The Oceano Dunes SVRA was established expressly for off-highway vehicle recreation and camping, the plaintiff argues in the lawsuit, and it is the state’s duty to ensure public access to the park is available.
The lawsuit also challenges various dust mitigation measures planned in the park.

Economic impact of the Oceano Dunes SVRA

With the SVRA now closed due to the recent COVID-19 restrictions, the surrounding local economy has been devastated. The tourism which bringing 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.

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

The Oceano Dunes SVRA itself generates more than $250 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.

We must all stay Involved in the process

The SVRA right now faces four big issues, each one could be used to close the Oceano Dunes SVRA to OHV forever if we do not stay involved.

  • 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.
  • Habitat Preservation Plan - Endangered Species Conservation plan within the SVRA.
  • California Coastal Commission Meetings - Combination of all the above topics.

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

Yolo OHV Project Stakeholder Meeting

In February and March 2018, the county held public outreach meetings and released an online survey to gain insights into the types of OHV opportunities that are desired in Yolo County.

The project will focus on two objectives. First, we will seek grant funding to prepare a market analysis to ascertain if there is enough community and stakeholder support for OHV opportunities in Yolo County. Second, assuming there is demand and support for OHV opportunities, they will prepare a feasibility study to examine two different scenarios:

  • improving access to existing OHV trail riding opportunities within the unincorporated county.
  • creating a small-medium sized OHV park in the unincorporated county.

Currently the public is using an area near Cache Creek to operate OHV vehicles. The area they use now is about 5 miles long and about 2,300 acres. Recreational usage has increased dramatically over the past few years and so have the usual problems that accompany open riding areas.

Middle Fork Feather River National Monument

Currently the Middle Fork of the Feather River has a Wild River designation, but there is an environmental group out of the Quincy area that wants to change that designation to a National Monument. The group wants the monument to cover Quincy down to Lake Oroville to be able to protect the watershed.

The group is just starting the process and understands that Monument designation must go through Congress and that may take quite a few years to complete if they are successful. The group “says” it does not want close access to the area (including OHV trails) but wants to restrict any new construction within the proposed monument.

The group plans to start having public meetings and we need locals who know the area to represent motorized recreation and attend these meetings. This group plans to try to change the designation with or without us, so it is better to have a seat at the table and be able to give them our motorized recreation perspective on the proposal.

I have been working with a couple of Cal4 members who are interested in working on this proposal. They have invited individuals from the monument group to attend a local club meeting next month to explain why they think this is needed and I will be attending also.  

Cow Mountain Recreation Area

The Bureau of Land Management Ukiah Field Office has recently acquired the Blue Oak Ranch, the ranch will provide greater public access for staging and camping for the South Cow Mountain OHV Management Area. The nearly 1,400-acre Blue Oak Ranch is located along State Route 175 near Lakeport in Lake County and was purchased with funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the California State Park Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division Grants Program.

The South Cow Mountain OHV Management Area encompasses approximately 23,000 acres of public land in the Mayacamas Mountains that has more than 90 miles of designated roads and trails ranging from easy to extremely difficult and the recommended vehicle type depending on the width of the trail appropriate for motorcycles, OHVs and four-wheel drive vehicles.

The additional staging and camping area will enhance existing facilities. Currently there are two developed OHV staging areas within South Cow Mountain with graveled access roads accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles.

Great American Outdoor Act

President Trump signed H.R. 1957. By signing the Great American Outdoors Act, the single largest investment in America’s national parks and public lands in history. The President’s actions will improve national parks and public lands, permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and create thousands of direct and indirect jobs.

For the first time since the Land and Water Conservation Fund's creation in 1964, the program will be fully and permanently funded at $900 million annually, the yearly allocations no longer left to the whims of congressional appropriators.
The new law also will create a five-year trust fund to start driving down a nearly $20 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects at national parks and on public lands around the country.

The legislation will provide $900 million a year in permanent funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and will allocate $9.5 billion over the next five years to restore facilities and infrastructure in our cherished national parks and public lands. The Great American Outdoors Act received support from more than 850 conservation groups, as well as 43 sportsmen and sportswomen groups.

BLM Northern California District Resource Advisory Council (RAC)

I recently found out that I was appointed to the BLM Northern California District RAC for a three-year term representing Outdoor Recreation. The Bureau of Land Management's Northern California RAC is composed of citizens chosen for their expertise in natural resource issues. These citizens help the bureau carry out its stewardship public lands in Northern California. The RAC works with managers of the BLM's field offices in Susanville, Alturas, Arcata and Redding.

The Northern California RAC is comprised of 15 members representing a balance of public land resources and users in the following categories: conservationists, ranchers, outdoor recreationists, state and local government officials, Tribal officials, and academics. The diverse membership of each RAC helps ensure that BLM land managers get the varying perspectives they need to achieve their mission, which is to manage the public lands for multiple uses.

Fordyce Creek Trail

The construction project at Fordyce Lake is well underway and we have heard from PG&E that they are scheduled to open the floodgates October 23 to draw down the lake for winter. The water flows will be nearly impassable from that point on until the lake is down to winter level.

The construction project at Fordyce Lake will close the Fordyce Lake road early summer 2021 for at least the entire 2021 season. The closure may extend into 2022 depending on the construction progress. This will mean there will be no entering/exiting the Sierra Trek committee trail during this time and access to committee leaving the creek area will be blocked off to keep people from entering the construction zone.

The Meadow Lake area has seen a huge increase in usage this summer, many of the local landowners are very upset with how some of these people treat our public and private lands. A meeting is being planned to talk about the issues and see how Cal4, Friends of Fordyce and all interested parties can help.

Unfortunately, we are seeing this type of thing happen all over the state. Huge numbers of campers, garbage left all over, illegal campfires, white flowers, people driving off the trails and just general lawlessness. I don’t know what is causing this? Is it COVID-19, boredom, unemployed, no one taking large vacations or all of the above? But it is sure taking a toll on some of our favorite camp areas and trails.

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, 2020. Passed (10-2) - Assembly Committee on Transportation on August 10, 2020.

About the Author

Jeff Blewett

Jeff Blewett

Natural Resources Consultant - North
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