Key U.S. lawmaker opposes Navy takeover of California's Johnson Valley riding area
April 19, 2013
PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- In a blow
to U.S. Navy efforts to expand a military base into the popular Johnson Valley
off-highway vehicle riding area in Southern California, a key federal lawmaker
is offering a proposal to block the effort, the American Motorcyclist
The Department of the Navy wants to expand a Marine Corps base at Twentynine
Palms, Calif., into Johnson Valley. But U.S. Rep. Paul Cook (R-Calif.), who
represents the area, said on April 19 that he would offer a proposal to
designate Johnson Valley as a national off-highway vehicle recreation area,
protecting it from a Navy takeover.
The bill also would authorize limited military use of the area.
"The training of the U.S. Marine Corps is vital to the safety of the
American people, and the exercises taking place on the Twentynine Palms base
enable our Marine forces to defend our nation and its allies throughout the
world," Cook said. "However, I can't support the expansion plan
offered by the Marine Corps, which would hand them ownership of Johnson Valley.
Marine Corps ownership would prevent many public-space activities, including
big public off-highway events like King of the Hammers, from taking place.
Off-roaders and other users of Johnson Valley make huge contributions to the
economic well-being of the Morongo Valley, and losing that revenue during slow
economic times would be devastating.
"Protecting the Marine Corps' budget is extremely important to me, and I
believe the funds set aside for purchasing this land for the Marine Corps could
be put to better use," Cook said.
"Instead, I'm authoring a plan that would create the Johnson Valley
National Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area and keep the land in the hands of
the Bureau of Land Management. Marine training could still take place at
specific times, but only with agreement by the Bureau of Land Management and
only at times that would not interfere with the many off-highway motor vehicle
events in the area," he said.
The military hopes to begin training on the Johnson Valley land next year. But
it will be up to Congress to decide whether the base can expand.
A coalition of groups is working to stop the Navy takeover of Johnson Valley,
including the California Motorized Recreation Council, which is a non-profit
association that includes the leadership of the largest off-highway vehicle
recreation organizations in California. CMRC membership includes the Off-Road
Business Association, California Association of 4-Wheel Drive Clubs Inc.,
California Off-Road Vehicle Association, the AMA, American Sand Association,
California-Nevada Snowmobile Association, AMA District 36 (Northern California,
Northwestern Nevada) and AMA District 37 (Southern California) Off-Road.
In July 2012, the Navy released a final environmental impact statement for the
expansion of the Marine Corps base. Under the Navy's plan, it would allow
public use of only about 40,000 acres of the 190,000-acre Johnson Valley off-highway
vehicle area, and for only 10 months a year.
The Navy began the formal process several years ago to take over some 365,906
acres of public land near San Bernardino to use for live-fire training for the
Marines, including Johnson Valley. At that time, the Navy filed an application
with the U.S. Interior Department seeking control of the public land under the
jurisdiction of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.