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Gridley Herald - Gridley, CA
  • BLM gives public last chance to weigh in on OHV routes

  • Another round of discussions and presentations is scheduled Saturday for public input on the future development of public land access.
    The Bureau of Land Management will host its last meeting regarding the Ridgecrest and El Paso Mountain Travel Management subregions that is part of the West Mojave (WEMO) Management Plan at the Carriage Inn from 9 a.m. to noon.
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  • Another round of discussions and presentations is scheduled Saturday for public input on the future development of public land access.
    The Bureau of Land Management will host its last meeting regarding the Ridgecrest and El Paso Mountain Travel Management subregions that is part of the West Mojave (WEMO) Management Plan at the Carriage Inn  from 9 a.m. to noon.
    “I hope that this workshop will achieve public involvement and public input on the matter,” said Craig Beck, BLM’s recreation and, wilderness and operations branch chief for Ridgecrest’s office.
    The first meeting, held on Oct. 25 at the same location, drew a large crowd of deeply concerned people that made use of the public land in and around Ridgecrest.
    A second meeting is being held today at the BLM field office in Bakersfield from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and the third one at the Jawbone Station Visitors Center on Highway 14 in Cantil from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
    Beck said he hoped that the meeting would not be as intense as the first one.
    “We’re just at the beginning phase of this project,” Beck said.
    The Saturday meeting will have a format similar to the first one, with a presentation and maps of the affected areas available to the public.
    “We can take input any way people can provide that document the paths used,” he said.
    The original framework for the WEMO plan dates back to the late 1990s, Beck said.
    WEMO established the El Paso and Ridgecrest travel subregions in 2003 as part of the El Paso Collaborative Access Planning Area (CAPA) to help designate routes for off-highway vehicle and  other activities otherwise not reflected in the original 2000 WEMO framework.
    However, according to Beck, CAPA was put on hold when a lawsuit was filed by environmental groups in 2006.
    In 2011, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston ruled a that a revised WEMO plan was required that complied with environmental laws, essentially scrapping the old one.
    The final process needs to be completed by March 31, 2014 with the court’s approval.
    “The court issued a remedy order for the BLM to implement the WEMO project while telling us to go back the drawing board,” Beck said.
    However, the process has drummed up a lot of frustration from all sides of the table, including people who utilize the public land and are concerned that more paths will be shuttered to public land.
    City Councilman Steve Morgan, who has been involved in the public land discussion for almost 16 years, said it boiled down to one question.
    “What’s the guarantee that what is left open will remain open?” Morgan said Tuesday. “There’s no guarantee.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Morgan said from a politically standpoint, there were many overlapping areas, from habitats that contain the desert tortoise to the Mohave squirrel, among other flora and fauna that land on the roster of federal and state endangered species.
    “You lay everything out and then ask what is left,” he said. “After you ask that, whether for Kern County, Ridgecrest or others, the answer is ‘Not enough,’” Morgan said.
    Part of the problem that stymies the process is the number of legal obstacles established by environmental groups.
    “They nut up the system with attorneys and with concepts,” Morgan said.
    It was also a matter “the best science available” and whether the data gathered was an accurate representation of species population decline.
    “In my opinion, the main thing is that groups got an environmental expert who stuck their finger in their mouth, waved it in the air and came up with a number,” Morgan said.
    Morgan said although he has seen some movement in the whole process, there hasn’t been a large amount.
    The possibility of more  path closures may also hold large ramifications for those that travel from out of the area to use the land for casual recreational or commercial use.
    “They like coming up here because there’s more open land and because public land down south has become closed,” Morgan said.
    The less land that becomes available, Morgan said, the more people will start trying to skirt rules, no matter how unintentionally.
    “You’re going to impact all those who use public land,” Morgan said. An example would be the Ridgecrest Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which utilizes several public land areas for film sites.
    “What happens if we lose two or three of those sites?” Morgan said. “People will go seeking those filming locations elsewhere.”
    Both Morgan and Beck stressed that the community should be involved in the process.
    Beck said that the process was naturally one people were concerned about.
    “The public land is the back yard of the community,” Beck said.
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