9 ways the Cook Amendment saves Johnson Valley
December 13, 2013
The Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area in California has been under threat of military takeover for some time. However, thanks to language included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 that was approved by a U.S. House-Senate conference committee on Dec. 11, the majority of Johnson Valley has been saved for off-highway vehicle access.
The protection was part of the Cook Amendment to the act, which was presented by U.S. Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.). Below are nine ways that Rep. Cook's amendment is good for off-highway riders and racers in Southern California.
- The U.S. Navy’s/Marine Corps’ original proposal to take over vast acreage in the Johnson Valley area of southern California, if left unchallenged, would have eliminated the majority of public access year round to the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Riding Area and resulted in the end of most major recreational and competition events in the area.
Without intervention, local economies that survive on OHV and recreational tourism would have been devastated.
Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.), a retired Marine Corps colonel, authored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014 that included language developed by a broad coalition of recreational interests: the California Motorized Recreation Council. Tens of thousands of letters, emails and phone calls from coalition constituents go the attention of federal legislators and forced the military to scale back its plans while still providing for its long-term needs.
Initial proposals from the military would have restricted OHV access to just 30,000 acres. The Cook Amendment preserves access to 100,000 acres. Included in this amendment is the entire “Hammers” area, both the front and back side. Spooners, Aftershock, Sunbonnet, the Riffle Monument, and the Cal200 Memorial (The Rockpile) are also located within the preserved off-road area. The majority of the Fry Mountains and full access to Soggy Dry Lake Bed are also guaranteed for OHV use, as well as access to Emerson Dry Lake Bed.
The Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area will continue to be controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The first proposal had the Marines managing the shared-use area. Now, only during 60 days of military training will the Marine Corps manage the shared use area.
Under the Cook Amendment, dud-producing ordnance will be prohibited in the shared-use area. The initial proposal had live fire with large ammunitions in the shared-use area, which -- after just one exercise -- would have allowed the Marines to shut out the public due to the potential of unexploded ordnance or other hazards. To ensure public safety, an ordnance disposal team will sweep the area after every training exercise to confirm removal of any hazards.
In keeping with the CMRC’s desire to preserve military preparedness, the Marine Corps will be able to conduct fully integrated, live-fire exercises based on current training requirements, while still preserving safe public access for OHV recreation in Johnson Valley.
When the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area becomes law, it establishes new protection for those lands by creating the first federal land-use designation specifically for OHV use -- setting a precedent for future off-highway motorized recreation land use efforts.
Without the Cook amendment, there was a very real possibility of further restrictions on access due to a future Wilderness designation or federal renewable energy project, together with the likelihood that the BLM would change their land-use management plan to restrict or eliminate OHV access use
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