The back-and-forth about the fate of Johnson Valley started several years ago, and it’s finally drawn to a conclusion.
I find myself feeling a mixture of gratitude and anger as I try to digest the outcome. The short version is that a compromise was reached. The very nature of a compromise usually means every party got some of what it wanted, but not all of what it wanted. Off-roaders wanted the Marines to stay completely out of Johnson Valley. The Marines wanted to take almost everything.
The total area we’re talking about adds up to 188,000 acres. The final acreage tally states the Johnson Valley OHV area now has 43,431 acres that will be permanently set aside exclusively for OHV use. An additional 56,439 acres will be used by the Marines for up to 60 days per year, and be open to OHV use for the remaining 305 days of the year. That sounds good, as it preserves 99,870 acres for OHV use during the majority of the year. What did the Marines walk away with? The Marines have won 88,130 acres to add to their base and to drop dud-producing ordnance on. Those 88,130 acres are now lost to public access.
Most of us are learning how to do more with less these days. The recent economic downturn and slow recovery has hurt just about everyone. Still, we carry on. If the rest of us have to carry on and do more with less, why does our government demand to do more with more? During one of the scoping meetings I attended, a Marine representative told me that about 40 percent of the land at the existing 29 Palms Marine Base wasn’t usable, and that’s why they needed the additional area. That’s a weak-sauce reason. If they were only able to use 60 percent of their existing available area, perhaps they could’ve figured out how to better utilize that 60 percent, or applied some innovation to allow them to use more of the remaining 40 percent. However, the Marines are part of the Federal government, and from that point of view it was both necessary and prudent to take more area for their own use, no matter where it came from.
We recognize the need for a national defense. We also support those who put their lives on the line to keep us free. We’ve got a problem with the top brass’s actions, not the ones whose boots are on the ground.
Thanks are in order, especially to off-road advocacy groups such as CORVA, ORBA (the Off-Road Business Association), Partnership for Johnson Valley, and SaveTheHammers.org. Dave Cole, one of the founders of King of the Hammers, was especially involved in the Johnson Valley preservation efforts and merits an individual mention. Congressman Paul Cook (who is also a retired Marine Colonel) introduced a bill that would have saved most of Johnson Valley. Even though the final agreement doesn’t mirror Cook’s original plan, Representative Cook still put himself on the line to help preserve access and we’re grateful for his efforts.
If the off-road community had not stood up for ourselves, and if Representative Cook hadn’t thrown his support our way, the entirety of Johnson Valley might have been forever taken from the public.
At the end of it all, this isn’t a win for the off-road community, nor for the Marines. I see this compromise as a loss, yet not a total defeat. It bothers me that the Marines even got one acre. There is no celebration when a schoolyard bully only steals half your lunch money.