The fight to save Johnson Valley OHV Area is finally over after a long hard-fought battle with the U.S. Marine Corps over access to the legendary off-road playground. You might recall that last time we brought you news about Johnson Valley OHV, we told you about the proposal that Congressman Paul Cook, a combat veteran Marine who served as the Inspector General at 29 Palms, had introduced as legislation that met the Marine Corps training needs while retaining public access to all of Johnson Valley. This proposal was a modified version of the Marine Corps Alternative Four which would result in The Johnson Valley National OHV Area. Congressman Cook’s proposal went unopposed in the House of Representatives and is now part of the National Defense Authorization Act awaiting confirmation by the Senate next week. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 is expected to be ratified by the U.S. Senate and shortly thereafter should be signed into law by President Obama.
The provision to expand the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California – and preserve off-highway vehicle (OHV) access to Johnson Valley is contained in Subtitle C of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2014. Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Service Committees announced an agreement on the NDAA on December 9, 2013 while the U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill on December 12.
Once signed into law, Johnson Valley will be designated by Congress as the “Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area,” under the continued management of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
When enacted, this will create “Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area,” providing federal protection to an area established in 1980 for OHV recreation by the State of California. This would also be the first time an OHV area has been provided national recognition.
The proposal includes three land areas that have been designated for specific types of use; Johnson Valley OHV Area, Shared Use Area, and the Exclusive Military Use Area (You can see the PDF map here). The Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area includes 43,431 acres of the existing area as well as 53,231 acres of Shared Use Area, a total acreage of 96,662.
The Marine Corps’ Military Use & Shared Use Areas include the Exclusive Military Use Area which consists of 78,993 acres to the west as well as 18,704 acres to the south, a total acreage of 97, 697. The Shared Use Area includes 53, 231 total acres.
The proposal also states that the Marine Corps shall provide access between the two non-contiguous areas included in the Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area in the northeast corner of the OHV Area. It also states that the Exclusive Military Use Area boundary shall be clearly identified and maintained by the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps shall be permitted to engage in large-scale, live-fire field training exercises on this land at any time during the year. The Shared Use Area will be available to the Marine Corps for training twice a year for 30 days (60 days total). The Shared Use Area shall otherwise be available for public recreation at all other times. The Shared Use Area shall be managed by the BLM except for those times when the Marine Corps is conducting its training exercises.
Another key component of the proposal is that Dud-producing ordnance (artillery shells, bombs, etc.) will be prohibited in the Shared Use Area. The Marine Corps is permitted to set-aside two “Company Objective Areas” within the Shared Use Area for special needs associated with its semi-annual training exercises. Each area will be no larger than 22 acres and the Marine Corps shall be permitted to use small, short-range explosives on this land when training. Nevertheless, an ordnance disposal team will sweep the area after the training exercise to confirm removal of any hazards. Military vehicles may be permitted to transit the Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area during training exercise periods. A Resource Management Group will be established by the Secretary of the Navy (Marine Corps) and Secretary of the Interior (BLM) to determine the location of the Company Objective Areas and coordinate management of the lands. The Marine Corps and BLM will seek input from state agencies and the OHV, recreation and environmental communities regarding land use issues, such as recreational use within the Shared Use Area. The entire land-use provision will expire on March 31, 2039.
Here’s what SEMA had to say about this:
The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) strongly supports a provision to end a six-year clash over access to 189,000 acres of Southern California desert between the military and off-highway vehicle (OHV) users.
“SEMA commends Rep. Paul Cook (R-CA) for the instrumental role he has played in reaching a reasonable shared-use solution,” said Chris Kersting, SEMA President & CEO. “SEMA joined with a number of other organizations representing the off-road community to support this provision that addresses the nation’s military training needs while providing access for recreational activities. We consider this ground-breaking provision a positive result for both the OHV community and the United States Marine Corps.”