4×4 Access and Conservation – Access and Land Use Written by John Stewart
Tuesday, 20 January 2009 22:38 Trona, CA, (Jan 14, 2009): On Tuesday, the California Wilderness Coalition met with representative of the Searles Valley Minerals to review a CWC proposal for wilderness and potential impacts on plant operations. The plant manager later opened the meeting to let the general public hear the proposal and provide comment. Over 300 people attended the public meeting to listen to the CWC wilderness proposal. CWC representatives Ryan Hensen and Laurel Williams explained they are interested in providing legislative protection to the lands while retaining access to the routes used by recreation for access to desert areas.For purposes of this meeting, Searles Valley and the Great Falls Basin were the only areas open for discussion. Efforts to include Surprise Canyon in the discussion were rebuffed as irrelevant.During the CWC presentation, statistics were presented that indicated wilderness provided an economic growth and use of wilderness areas was increasing. John Stewart, Natural Resource Consultant for California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs challenged the data presented. Stewart noted that the numbers presented were for a mid-1990 time frame and did not reflect recent data indicating that use of wilderness areas has been in decline for the past 10 years. Further, the growth of motorized recreation on public lands has increased by over 25% during that period.In addition, Stewart stated the CA4WDC hosts the annual Panamint Valley Days event that brings significant financial contributions to the local economy. That economy impact for one weekend exceed the recorded hiking days per year for the area. Stewart noted, “Public meetings have a general tone to describe the meeting. This meeting had no general tone, only a direct, pointed message that said: No wilderness in our desert. Go back to your city life, We know how to care for our desert.”The CWC is seeking to gather “public support” for a wilderness proposal that identifies routes of travel and areas of special interest to exclude from wilderness. All other lands between the identified routes will be designated as wilderness. CWC representatives declined to guarantee that identified routes would be formally excluded, only that their proposal would request they be excluded.While still being developed, the entire wilderness proposal is expected to exceed 600,000 acres. While some is converting existing wilderness study area to wilderness, much of the acreage is expanding existing wilderness to preclude economic development. When pressed, CWC representatives did acknowledge their goal is to protect the desert from industrial development, Their definition of “industrial development” is mining and renewable energy projects.