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By: Robert Janis

Traditional Battle between Environmentalists and OHV Users Reaching New Level


We all know that when a person is diagnosed as paranoid, then he thinks that there are people out to get him when in fact there is no such thing. However, what if a person or group discovers that there is indeed someone out to get them? The person should not be considered a paranoid, but a realist.

Lawsuits between environmentalists and off-highway vehicle recreationists appear to be on an upswing, believes Don Amador, western representative for the BlueRibbon Coalition, a legal advocacy group that fights to assure access to land for OHV users. "We are in a real serious time for off-road recreation throughout the country," warned Amador. "And I think that 2010 is going to be a very active time in the legal and administration process. Why? It's because we are in a perfect storm. The Forest Service nationwide is doing travel management and as the various forests complete their travel management plans, many of them will be challenged by environmental groups because they don't think the management plans closed enough trails.

"Some people may have heard of the timber wars back in the 1990s during which environmentalists went after the timber industry. Then you had the private property wars during which environmentalists questioned how people could use their own land. Then there were the roadless wars. Well, starting back in 2001-2002, we've been in the OHV wars in which environmentalists are trying to end off-highway vehicle recreation."

There are two stunning examples taking place in California that shows that this may be the case--the Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area (SVRA) in Alameda County, California; and the Clear Creek Management Area, described by an off-road magazine as one of the 10 most popular OHV destinations in the U.S. and the one-time home of the Quick Silver National Enduro. There have been attempts by environmentalists groups to close both of these sites and ban OHV use on them.

The Carnegie State Vehicular Recreation Area

According to Amador, the Carnegie Park has been a popular off-road park since the early 1960s. When it first opened, it was owned by a private individual. However, in the mid-1970s the California State Parks purchased the property from the individual for the purpose of dedicating it for use by OHV recreationists. No one thought there would be any problem. The land was exactly what environmental groups were saying would be ideal as an OHV recreation area as far back as the 1970s. Environmentalists believed that whole dump sites, rock pits and garbage dumps would be appropriate places for off-roaders to go and ride. Carnegie Park is essentially that.

Core Meeting

"The Park is essentially an old dump site where there is an old, abandoned brick factory. There are mining tails caused by a water project, and it is right next to the Lawrence Livermore Weapons Testing facility," said Amador.

Environmental groups are taking advantage of some confusion between the California Water Board, State Parks and the courts. The site includes water run-off due to a creek that runs four or five weeks out of the year that ends outside of the park in agricultural land. Environmentalists and other groups like the California Sports Fishing Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity and PEER claim that the run-off adversely affect fish in the area, and they have sued asking that the park be closed. In fact, there are no fish in the area and the question of the run-off is the sole jurisdiction of the California Water Board and other regulatory agencies.

Judge Frank Roesch was expected to rule to keep the park open while a water permit was obtained. Instead, he ruled in favor of the suit and closed the park.

"Historically in California laws are passed and then the state agencies like the California Water Board, Fish & Game, and the California Highway Patrol are given mandates to enforce the laws and regulations. Conflicts are left up to the agencies to settle among themselves," said Amador. "The California Water Board, State Parks, and even the Army Corps of Engineers have been working on this for some time and at no time has the California Water Board asked for a permit. In fact, their counsel sent a letter to the court saying that the board strongly opposed the efforts of the environmental groups to get involved in what is an agency-to-agency decision making process."

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