San Bernardino County Supervisors Brad Mitzelfelt and Neil Derry sent letters to members of Congress and the Obama Administration on June 1, endorsing a plan to retain full public access to the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle recreation area while allowing periodic military training in Johnson Valley as desired by the neighboring Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms.
The Supervisors oppose the option recommended by the Department of Defense, which would be to remove most of the lands in the recreation area from Bureau of Land Management holdings and add them within the military base's boundaries.
“Supervisor Derry and I are both Marine Corps veterans who served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and we fully support giving our Marines the most realistic, high quality training possible,” said Supervisor Mitzelfelt. “We believe that we have a solution that will allow the Marines to conduct the necessary training in Johnson Valley while allowing full public access during most of the year when exercises are not being conducted. Activities in Johnson Valley, including OHV recreation, filming and mining, provide critical economic support to surrounding communities.”
The Supervisors endorsed an alternative proposed by stakeholder groups that would keep Johnson Valley under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, while the Marines would conduct their training for roughly two months a year under a permit issued by the BLM. Currently, the preferred alternative in the Draft Environmental Impact (DEIS) for the Land Acquisition/Airspace Establishment Study would have 108,530 acres of Johnson Valley brought under exclusive military control, while another 38,137 acres would remain available to the public for the 10 months of the year when exercises are not occurring.
Supervisors Mitzelfelt and Derry support the base expanding to the eastern study area, where the impacts to OHV and other recreation, filming and mining would be far less than by expanding into Johnson Valley, which at 189,000 acres is the largest OHV area in the country and contributes an estimated $70 million annually to the local economy.
Supervisor Mitzelfelt also proposed previously that limited sections of a designated wilderness area, which was the site of military maneuvers years ago and is adjacent to the eastern study area, could be opened to military use in order to provide a larger area for realistic maneuvers.
“Eastward expansion is the least invasive and disruptive scenario,” said Supervisor Derry, whose district includes the Morongo Basin. “The area to the west is a treasured recreational asset that draws visitors from the entire Southwestern United States. Prohibiting civilian use would result in significant economic losses to the Morongo Basin.”
The letter was sent to U.S. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. It was copied to House and Senate members on relevant committees, and to other top Administration officials, including the Secretary of the Navy.
The Sun Runner supports the preservation of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area for recreational use during most of the year, and does not support eastward expansion of the Marine base.