BLM holds final local wilderness workshop

Bureau still collecting user input for route-closure plan

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

n Bureau still collecting user input for route-closure plan

By REBECCA NEIPP, News Review Staff Writer

About 100 members of the public attended the final workshop the Bureau of Land Management hosted to update their database on usage of the local public wilderness — one of the first steps in crafting the plan for public access in the El Paso Mountains and surrounding areas, scheduled to be completed by April 2014.

The issue of public access has historically been a controversial one. In 2000 the BLM published the West Mojave Management Plan, which made only a small part of the extensive network of routes previously available to motorists, cyclists, rockhounders and other enthusiasts. Opponents challenged the plan in court, and a judge ruled that the process must start over with more public input.

“In fairness to the BLM, they are just the agency caught in the middle of a fight between environmental extremists and those who want to keep the status quo,” said Vice Mayor Jerry Taylor, who said he has been involved in the issue as an off-road motorist and a cyclist even before he became a public official.

“There is definitely a lot of interest in this issue, but it seems like the level of public frustration was not quite as high at this last workshop. I think there is still some anxiety about the potential of route closures but maybe a better understanding of where people can voice their concerns.”

“I agree this was a much better exchange of information,” said Craig Beck, assistant project manager for WEMO. “Hopefully we’ve gotten better at the public education part of things, and there is less confusion about the process.”

With the Collaborative Access Process (CAPA), established to help the BLM develop better field information about route usage, Beck said he expects a more well-rounded plan. But even with more input, there are still competing interests.

“We are trying to find a middle ground, and finding out where people desire to go and for what reasons helps in that discussion,” said Beck.

Generally, the participants of the workshops tend to be those who want to keep route access. “And it seems like we get more motorized enthusiasts than any other kind of user. They have traditionally been the ones who have been the most affected by our designations.”

In addition to finding a balance between access and preservation, Beck said, the BLM is also trying to accommodate the diversity among the users.

“We are trying to prevent conflict situations from the standpoint of protecting nesting birds of pray or cultural resources, but in some cases we are trying to separate motorists and nonmechanized traffic. There are going to be places designated just for hikers, for example. We are trying to balance that, too.”

Beck said that anyone with an interest is encouraged to submit feedback to the local field office — which will accept paper forms at 300 S. Richmond Rd., as well as e-mails to cawemopa@blm.gov. Input is also accepted at www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/cdd/west_mojave_wemo.html.

The BLM will accept input until Jan. 25. But Beck noted that even afterward, the plan is open to adaptation relative to any critical new information.

“This will still be flexible — what we call an implementation-level plan,” he said.

Taylor stressed that a critical component for success is public involvement.

“It’s like voting — the bottom line is that you can’t complain if you didn’t participate.”

Story First Published: 2012-11-28