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ARTICLES

 

 

 

Desert District Council (DAC) meeting report

March 27, 2018
by Lisbet Thoresen
Public Lands Representative for San Diego Mineral & Gem Society, Inc.
(updated 3/30/2018)

 

Comment period now open on
the draft West Mojave Route Network Project
(WEMO / WMRNP) DSEIS/LUPA

Comment Period Deadline: June 14, 2018

BLM has prepared a Draft Land Use Plan Amendment (LUPA) and Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) for the West Mojave Route Network Project (WMRNP) within the West Mojave (WEMO) Planning Area of the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). A 90-day comment period was opened on March 16th. Its scope:
"The WMRNP will delineate travel management areas, adopt transportation and travel management strategies, and designate routes on public lands in the WEMO Planning Area. The WEMO Planning Area covers 9.4-million acres of the CDCA in the western portion of the Mojave Desert in southern California, including parts of San Bernardino, Los Angeles, Riverside, Kern, and Inyo counties. The WMRNP applies to the 3.1-million acres of public lands within the WEMO Planning Area."

Why is the Route Network Plan
important for Rockhounds?

The WMNRP is a critical component of the DRECP for Rockhounds, because its maps incorporate routes to collecting areas. Destinations without vehicular access will make it impossible for many rockhounds to visit them. Rockhounds should review BLM's map data and submit comment letters for routes that are missing or delineated inaccurately to ensure continued access to ther favorite collecting areas.

Here's the rub. BLM has map data specifically for hobby collecting areas; however, the maps made available for the comment period do not include maps with the Rockhound-specific layers. We have asked BLM to provide these maps in time to review them before the comment period closes. We have some time, stay tuned.

Federal Register doc 2018-05272
https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2018-05272

See BLM's press release for more details »

 

 

The BLM invites members of the public to attend open houses from 5:00-7:00 p.m. at the following dates and locations:

April 17 · Victorville
Hilton Garden Inn
12603 Mariposa Rd.
Victorville, CA 92395

April 18 · Ridgecrest
Kerr McGee Center
100 W. California Ave.
Ridgecrest, CA 93555

April 24 · Lone Pine
Statham Hall (Lone Pine Senior Center)
138 N. Jackson St.
Lone Pine, CA 93545

April 25 · Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree Community Center
6171 Sunburst St.
Joshua Tree, CA 92252

See BLM's press release for more details »

 

 

If you want to write you own letter,
email or post it to BLM by June 14, 2018

 

For more information on WMRNP, contact:

Matt Toedtli
Planning and Environmental Coordinator
2601 Barstow Road
Barstow, CA 92311

760-252-6026 or mtoedtli@blm.gov

 

SOME USEFUL RESOURCES

What's the difference between
a great letter,
a good letter,
and a bad letter »

Want to write your own letter?
Things you should know about DRECP and some tips on making comments »

Why opening DRECP to Review is unnecessary and could be bad for Rockhounds »

What did Rockhounds get in DRECP?
What are the misconceptions about what it did not do?
Download a Rockhound Fact Sheet »

 

BLM DAC meeting

Agenda: WMRNP
April 2018 (date, location tbd)

 

 

Who opposes the DRECP Review?

Karen Douglas
Commissioner, California Energy Commission (one of the original architects of DRECP)

 

John Laird
California Secretary for Natural Resources Agency

 

California Desert Coalition and Bodie Hills Conservancy

 

Vet Voice Foundation

 

The Pew Charitable Trusts

 

Alliance for Desert Preservation (A4DP)

 

Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative (M3C)

 

Newberry Springs Economic Development Association

 

Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association

 

Lucerne Valley Museum and History Association

 

National Parks Conservation Association

 

… and many other conservation groups

 

 

 

BLM special meeting of the Desert District Advisory Council (DAC)

Report, March 27, 2018

BLM's Desert District Advisory Council (DAC) held its first meeting in over one year on March 20, 2018. About 25 members of the public, including four Rockhounding advocates, attended the meeting, which was held in Victorville. It may have been better attended had the meeting not been scheduled during regular business hours, during the work week. It was the first time in the 42-history of the DAC that a meeting was not held on a Saturday. Three DAC members were unable to attend, with nine members and District Manager Beth Ransel present.

Over three hours of a five-hour meeting was devoted to discussion focused on the BLM's proposed plan-level review of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP). A March 2017 Executive Order instructed BLM "to seek more opportunities for renewable energy projects." Opening the plan to review was the agency's response in California, even though the DRECP is less than 18 months into its implementation.

Someone has to lose
for someone else to win

It is clear to all the DAC members that redesignating land for a few Stakeholder groups will necessarily have to come at the expense of other groups. The question for each Stakeholder, then, is: "For whom is it worth taking the gamble and opening the DRECP to review to find out?" Every council member was concerned that significant amending very well may cause the whole DRECP to unravel completely, with 50 Stakeholder groups involved, many of whom have conflicting values and all of whom are competing for the same land.

Everyone agreed there are significant flaws in the DRECP which need fixing, but both members of the council and the public were about evenly divided – within stakeholder groups and between them – on whether to proceed cautiously or go extreme to remedy the plan's defects.

The time constraints of the March 20 meeting could not accommodate extended discussion on several specific topics that are inextricably interrelated components of the DRECP. Yet, they came up repeatedly throughout the day's discussions. They include the following subject areas:

  • Stakeholders who were completely left out of the DRECP Record of Decision (ROD) (e.g., rural communities and ranchers)
  • Disturbance caps
  • DRECP's special designation for Areas of Critical Concern (ACEC) – the problem of how ACECs are defined and how they are understood by the public
  • The West Mojave (WEMO) Route Network Project, or WMRNP

These topics will be on the agenda of the next DAC meeting, date and venue TBD.

Who's for opening DRECP to a plan-level review?

Ranching and grazing was the subject of extended discussion, with an impassioned letter read by a fourth-generation rancher whose approved land lease applications had been revoked by BLM. The issue typified the experience all the ranching families have been facing with increasing severity over the past decade. Council member Billy Mitchell represents Renewable Resources. He is the spokesman for the six remaining ranching families of 16 that originally settled in the Mojave Desert in the 1800s. He explained that ranchers are being driven out of business. Land leases the ranchers have historically been able to obtain are not being renewed, are being cancelled, and instead are being given over to renewable energy projects.

The notice of intent posted in the Federal Register indicates that a review would revisit land designations for ranching and grazing, tribal interests, and other stakeholders, including recreationalists, but several DAC members think that such considerations are gratuitous add-ons, because opening the DRECP to review was wholly predicated on "seek[ing] more opportunities for renewable energy project" and resource development, i.e., large-scale commercial mining. Because long-standing problems for ranchers were not resolved in the DRECP, ranchers favor opening it to a plan-level review, if that is what getting resolution of old, unresolved issues requires. However, several DAC members asked Mitchell if ranchers would be receptive to seeing modifications made to the plan without going to a full plan-level review. He was fine with that, so long as the leasing issue was made Priority One and finally resolved.

Robert Robinson, council member representing Tribal Interests spoke about a plan-level review being necessary to correct defects of the DRECP related to the statistical model employed for the WEMO travel plan. He said the methodology for sampling existing route designations which provide baseline data for creating new route designations was inherently flawed. He said the method is fundamentally flawed, because it enables opportunity to manipulate calculations in a manner that could be skewed in favor of whatever resource is desired.

Paul Mendes, council member representing Mining, and James Kenney, council member representing the Public-at-Large, made similar critical observations about how disturbance caps are calculated. The standard of 1% disturbance is supposed to be calculated on a baseline within ACECs and NCLS areas. It is supposed to exclude pre-existing disturbances from the baseline calculation. The problem is the criteria used to propose the boundaries of ACECs were never clearly defined, and detailed maps based on BLM's datasets are not even available to the public. Hence, according to James Kenney, a standard of reference based on a set of known variables does not really exist, which led him to ask rhetorically, "based on one percent of what [can a disturbance cap be calculated]?" Mendes observed that small patented mineral claims and small mining operations will almost certainly be wiped out due to the flaws associated with calculating disturbance caps in the ACECs.

Who opposes opening DRECP to a plan-level review?

Dr. Al Muth, council member representing Wildlife was very critical of BLM's action linking the Executive Order to the DRECP, saying: "These two things have nothing to do with each other." He opined the years of effort – hundreds of meetings, countless studies, tens of thousands of man-hours and hundreds of millions of dollars that will all have been wasted if a review goes forward.

Former DAC member Mark Algazy reiterated Muth's assessment in both oral remarks and his comment letter submitted to the BLM. His letter points out that the representation of a scientific process guiding the drafting of the plan would have no credibility, if the DRECP was revised with no new data to provide an objective standard to justify it. He also criticized how the ACECs were drawn, reinforcing some of the arguments articulated by council members Mendes and Kenney. He stressed the significance of ACECs being a key component of the plan. He pointed out that this special designation in the DRECP was a formulation of ill-defined, abstract ideas that did not translate into a set of clearly defined physical boundaries based on science-based data. Hence, ACECs are impossible for the public to understand, and indeed, no detailed maps are available for the public to apprehend precisely how they were drawn and what they represent. However, rather than undoing the DRECP and re-doing the ACECs under a plan-level review process, DRECP should make clear the delineations of these special designated areas in the existing plan, provide to the public the science-based rationale for defining their boundaries, and then give the public opportunity to comment on them.

In his comment letter, Algazy also criticized BLM's "7% rationale" for considering re-opening DRECP to a full review/amending process. He pointed out that "only" 7% of the lands designated as DFAs was still FOUR HUNDRED THOUSAND ACRES. Furthermore, the relevant agencies deemed the amount of lands so-designated more than adequate for California's longterm renewable energy needs. Like many other critics of opening the DRECP to a plan-level review, he cited the 8-year struggle and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on studies and meetings to finally produce a Record of Decision, which has only barely begun to be implemented.

Rural Communities are another Stakeholder group that was profoundly unhappy with the DRECP ROD, because there were no considerations for them reflected in the plan, and since the ROD was published, they have seen Development Focus Areas (DFAs) proliferate in their backyards, literally. Some of the more organized rural communities' advocates are centered around the Lucerne Valley, with Alliance for Desert Preservation (A4DP) and Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative (MC3) being leading proponents of the same coalition that prepared a devastingly critical comment letter on the Draft DRECP back in 2015. Perhaps surprisingly, this time they are against opening the DRECP to review. They concluded that changes could and should be made to the plan without resorting to starting over – a worse outcome was too great a risk.

John Stewart represents the ORV advocacy organization Blue Ribbon Coalition, which opposes opening the DRECP to review. Stewart brought up two important topics not discussed by the council. First, he cited tourist economies, which were overlooked from consideration in the Draft DRECP in 2014/15, in the Record of Decision in 2016, and now in BLM's proposed review. To support his argument, he presented data prepared by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an entity of the U.S. government's Department of Commerce. The government's own analyses show that jobs creation and economic benefits from tourism exceeds the job opportunities or economic benefits obtained from building renewable energy projects. (For reference, see: https://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/industry/orsa/orsanewsrelease.htm).

Stewart also brought up broadband, which is one of the values cited as a criterion for opening the DRECP to review. Specifically, the Federal Register notice states that broadband for underserved rural communities needed to be addressed (not having been addressed previously), so amending the plan would provide opportunity to correct the oversight. Stewart refuted the claim that the intended beneficiary would be rural communities. He said all one had to do is go out to the desert and see all the mobile towers proliferating everywhere. The real objective, he said, is not to build needed infrastructure to support broadband availability to rural communities, but to expand the mobile networks that serve distant communities.

Michelle Long, council member representing Right-of-Way, favored leaving the DRECP alone, citing being "steps away" from refining the comments. Frazier Haney, council member representing Environmental, joined Bob Burke, representing Public at Large and a Bighorn Sheep advocate, and Dr. Muth to advocate making minor amendments within the existing guideline without tossing out the entire DRECP and starting over.

Lisbet Thoresen, representing San Diego Mineral & Gem Society and nine other societies and 14 individual rockhound advocates, reiterated the concerns of council members opposed to opening the DRECP to a plan-level review, adding that Rockhounds do not need the review to ask for accommodations beyond those the DRECP currently allows. (See the comment letter submitted to the BLM on March 22, 2018). Thoresen provided a written statement to the court reporter to supplement her oral remarks.

Who's on the fence?

Randy Banis, council chair and representative for Recreation was undecided about a plan-level review of the DRECP, saying that the draft of the WMRNP DSEIS/LUPA had only been posted on the Federal Register five days earlier (March 16th), and he hadn't had the opportunity to evaluate what ORV routes were preserved or removed from the proposed travel plan. In 2014/15, the Draft DRECP had about 5,100 miles of designated ORV routes. The ROD provided more – nearly 6,300 miles. He wondered: if the DRECP was opened to a plan-level review, could ORVers obtain more, perhaps 10,000–11,000 miles? On the other hand, ORV could lose routes, with conservationists almost sure to challenge any increases in the courts.

Who wants none of it?

Several rockhounds stepped to the podium to declaim the DRECP as a guideline. Ron Schiller, Sophia "Sam" Merk, and Marie Brashear said they did not think making minor amendments to the plan would be helpful to rockhounds. Brashear also expressed concern for the existential threat the plan poses for ranchers, which she remarked was a more important value than recreation. For these Rockhounds, plan-level amending was needed, but their strong preference was not one of the options under consideration by BLM: their preference is to throw out the DRECP altogether. Sam Merk also pointed out that the WEMO travel plan was supposed to have been completed before the DRECP was implemented, so whether a review is undertaken or not, nothing should be decided before the travel plan is finalized.

The DAC's recommendation to the BLM

Toward the end of the meeting, the nine council members present voted on a motion to make the following recommendation [paraphrased] to the BLM:

"All DAC members have troubling concerns about re-opening the DRECP. We advise BLM to proceed cautiously with its implementation, to identify and examine issues that can be amended with minor amendments to the LUPA, and to encourage public participation throughout the process."
(The motion included a provision specifically related to giving grazing top priority for correcting outstanding issues related to leases, which were discussed earlier in the meeting.)


The full transcript of the DAC meeting will be published online, probably in the next two to three months.


Download the DAC meeting agenda »

Download a Fact Sheet on What Rockhounds got in DRECP, misconceptions about what DRECP did not do, and what amending DRECP could mean for Rockhounds »

Things you should know about DRECP and some tips on making comments to BLM ».

Download the BLM press release on the March 20 DAC meeting »

What's DRECP?

What DRECP did for Rockhounds and what it did not do »


 

 

Some documents and resources on the DRECP Review

Fact Sheet on What Rockhounds got from DRECP and misconceptons about what DRECP did not do (3/13/2018)

Flyer with FAQS on DRECP and tips for writing effective comments on BLM's proposed Review

BLM Press Release on DAC Meeting scheduled for March 20, 2018, Victorville, CA (3/12/18)

BLM's schedule of public meetings on DRECP (2/8/18)

BLM Press Release on DRECP Review (2/1/18)

Federal Register notice on the DRECP Review (2/2/18)
https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2018-02098 (short url)
(Federal Register Document Citation: 83 FR 4921
Docket Number 2018-02098)

 

 

Cite this article: L. Thoresen. 27 March 2018. DAC meeting report. San Diego Mineral & Gem Society, Inc. Available online at: http://www.sdmg.org/articles/201803/DAC-meeting-report/. Updated 28 March 2018.

When you tweet this article, use the hashtag #DRECP. 

 

 

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