Law & Order

U.S. House of Representatives Votes to Support Off-Road Recreation in Johnson Valley, California

The U.S. House of Representatives amended the annual defense strategy bill to include a requirement that the United States Marines issue a report that considers alternative ways to share the “Johnson Valley” off-highway (OHV) recreation area in southern California without taking ownership rights to the land. The land has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for decades. SEMA and its SEMA Action Network (SAN) is working with the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA), American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and others in the “Save Johnson Valley” Coalition to support issuance of a BLM special-use permit to the Marines for the one or two months a year that it needs access to the land. The Marines have suggested taking ownership rights and issuing OHV-use permits on a limited portion of the land.

Nearly 189,000 acres of land adjacent to the Marine Corps Ground Air Combat Center Twenty-Nine Palms is designated by the 1980 California Desert Conservation Plan as an off-highway vehicle (OHV) recreation area. The Marines are expected to issue plans in the near future to acquire 160,000 acres of the land, including Johnson Valley, site of the “King of the Hammers” event and scores of other OHV activities throughout the year. Currently, only 2% of the California Desert is open for OHV recreation and Johnson Valley represents about half of that land.  

The Marines want to use the additional lands for up to two months a year to accommodate large-scale troop maneuver training. The House-approved defense bill would give the motorized recreation community and the Marines additional time to identify a mutually beneficial solution on ownership and access issues. The recreation community brings in more than $70 million per year to the local economy through various forms of recreation, including OHVs, motorcycles, rock hounds, bicycles, campers, hikers, bird watchers, model airplane groups and the commercial movie industry.

The U.S. Senate is considering its version of the defense strategy bill. When passed, lawmakers will negotiate a single bill to be sent to the President for his final approval. The “Johnson Valley amendment” was introduced by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD), who worked with California Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Buck McKeon and Jerry Lewis.

For more information, contact Stuart Gosswein at