SEMA News—March 2014
LEGISLATIVE AND TECHNICAL AFFAIRS
By Stuart Gosswein
SEMA Helps Save Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area
Intense Advocacy Effort Results in Decisive Victory for Recreation Enthusiasts
For more than six years, a battle brewed over the future of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Recreation Area in the Southern California desert. The issue was simple: how to expand the adjoining Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms while preserving recreation access to 189,000 acres at Johnson Valley. The Marines needed the additional land to simulate movements of brigade-level expeditionary forces (about 15,000 troops), and the Johnson Valley topography seemed ideal for training purposes.
The debate reached a critical point in 2013, and a decision required Congressional approval. As a result of a consistent grassroots effort from SEMA and many partner organizations, a legislative solution was reached to create a dedicated OHV recreation area and provide land for military training exercises.
Under a provision included within the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act signed into law last December, 79,000 acres of Johnson Valley has been transferred to the Twentynine Palms base. Simultaneously, the law created the “Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Area,” providing federal protection to more than 96,000 acres established in 1980 for OHV recreation by the State of California. It is the first time an OHV area has been granted national recognition. Twice a year, 53,000 acres of the OHV area will be provided to the Marine Corps for 30 days of military training exercises. No dud-producing ordinance will be used at that time in order to assure safety and continued OHV access to the area.
The Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area will continue to be controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It contains a unique mix of open desert, dry-lake beds and formidable rock-
crawling formations that attract off-roading enthusiasts from around the world. The area hosts the famous King of the Hammers race, which drew more than 50,000 people in 2013. The BLM estimates that Johnson Valley generates more than $71 million annually for local economies—a number that will continue to grow.
“The agreement preserves California’s most important off-road recreation area for future generations,” said Rep. Paul Cook. “After years in which off-roaders lived in fear of the closure of Johnson Valley, this permanently ends the threat of base expansion into off-road areas.”
Prior to being elected to Congress in 2012, Rep. Cook served a 26-year distinguished military career in the Marine Corps before retiring as a colonel. He has lived for years in the area that includes Johnson Valley and the Twentynine Palms base and represented those communities in the California State Legislature before his election to Congress.