Sacramento — Several conservation organizations, increasingly dismayed by the growing influence of the small but wealthy and influential off-road lobby, have signed a letter to Ruth Coleman, Director of California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR), Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Senator Dianne Feinstein, demanding an end to interference by DPR’s Off-Highway Vehicle Division (OHV) in state parks resource decisions.
The letter cites emails obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) under a Public Records Act request, confirming intervention by OHV Division Director Daphne Greene, who blocked adoption of a long-overdue General Plan Amendment for Red Rock Canyon State Park, because off-roaders didn’t like the plan. The letter also cites Greene’s objecting to road closures for resource protection requested by State Parks resources staff, which resulted in continuing damage to a valuable archaeological site.
Senator Feinstein’s Desert Protection Act transferred Red Rock Canyon’s Last Chance Addition from the Bureau of Land Management to DPR in 1994, primarily to ensure protection of its vast cultural resources from off-road vehicles. State Parks initiated a General Plan Amendment for management of the area, but a stakeholder plan, which was to go to the Parks and Recreation Commission in December 2005, was held up when off-roaders complained to Greene about road closures. The General Plan process was allowed to wither, and with it the management of Red Rock Canyon’s spectacular geologic formations, rare desert riparian areas, and rich cultural resources. The net result has been absence of a management plan 13 years after state park acquisition and the gradual transformaton of this unique landscape into an off-road Mecca.
Pressure from conservationists over the past two years resulted in a promise by DPR for a new General Plan process. The groups do not want a repeat of the Off Highway Division’s historic interference.
Karen Schambach, California Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) points out, “It is absolutely outrageous that the Director would allow OHV interests to undermine the recommendations of Department resource specialists. With three off-road open areas and over 800 miles of roads surrounding Red Rock Canyon State Park, the desires of one California recreation community should not take precedence over the needs and interests of all others. California State Parks should honor the Congressional vision that these lands should be managed “to provide maximum protection for the area’s scenic and scientific values.”
The OHV Division has an annual budget of $55 million, primarily from transfers from the state’s fuel tax. That budget will increase dramatically if the legislature passes SB742 this session.
“Apparently money really does talk. In this instance it spoke more loudly than the agency’s duty to protect important resources and public lands for the majority,” said Chris Kassar, a wildlife biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The previous effort to provide timely and essential protection for this special place was hijacked by wealthy off-road interests and we are committed to ensuring this doesn’t happen a second time.”
Desert Protective Council Conservation Coordinator Terry Weiner observed, “Surveys conducted by State Parks document that only 15% or so of California’s recreating public indicate that they indulge in ORV recreation as their favorite recreation and that 85% instead head to California state parks and other public lands to bird-watch, hike, camp, fish and hunt. They deserve to be able to visit Red Rock Canyon State Park and experience the unique desert formations and tranquility for which the park was established. We expect our State Park managers to protect the irreplaceable resources entrusted to their care.”