By Richard Crowe
The purpose for my writing this article is not to denigrate recreation vehicle use in the California Desert (Desert) nor promote it for its importance for many families, racing clubs, and the commercial recreation vehicle industry. I also do not cast judgment on the importance of the U.S. Marine Corps training facility (it is important) and the merits of the proposed expansion to recreation vehicle use on public lands. My purpose is to provide an overview of a very controversial, complicated, and long-time building situation – one that involves many interests, and one that I spent most of my career on (1978-2007) working for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Desert as a manager, staff manager, and finally as a species-habitats plan lead.
Recreation vehicle users (i.e., both people who drive dirt roads to get somewhere as well as motorcycle, ATV, and dune buggy riders who enjoy family fun and competitive racing in desert “open areas” like the Johnson Valley Open Area and the Imperial Sand Dunes) have seen an erosion of space and roads for their interests in the Desert since the 1930s. This is why they are so concerned with the proposed expansion of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Training Center into the Johnson Valley Open Area. In fact, vehicle use is at the very heart of a fight among competing interests and land uses on public lands that BLM has been dealing with for 40 years. Below is a chronological overview of milestone events that have affected Desert vehicle access and the situation at hand:
1. Until the 1930s one could take a vehicle just about anywhere a vehicle could go
2. 1930s: 2 national monuments are designated, Death Valley and Joshua Tree
3. 1940s: withdrawal of several large tracts of public lands for WWII and post-war military training, research and development, and testing
By 1945 approximately 25% of the Desert is off limit or severely restricted to recreation vehicles. The effect of recreation vehicle use is light at this point.