Washington Post: By Tony Perry June 27, 2016
The Marines initially intended to airlift more than 1,100 desert tortoises away from a combat training site. After protests arose, that plan has been put on hold. (Lauren Kurkimili/U.S. Marine Corps)
TWENTYNINE PALMS, CALIF. — Troops sent to the Marine Corps’s sprawling base in the Mojave Desert near here for advanced combat training are warned sternly about an unbreakable rule: no harming the desert tortoises or leaving behind food crumbs that are likely to attract ravens, the arch-predator of tortoises.
To further protect the creatures with the high-domed shells on their backs, certain areas of the base are off-limits. And to prop up the tortoise population on base, the Marines have teamed with UCLA for the past decade to run an on-base hatchery.
Yet a battle is brewing between the Marines and the tortoises — or, really, their environmental advocates — that shows how even a fast-moving fighting force must sometimes give way to some of the slowest creatures on Earth.
The issue is a live-fire exercise set for August to train troops in assaulting an enemy from numerous locations. Similar exercises have been done in the past, but this year’s event was to have included recently annexed property that is home to numerous desert tortoises.
Col. James F. Harp releases tortoise 2-4 from the Combat Center’s Desert Tortoise Headstart Program. The Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs released 35 tortoises from the program after they spent approximately 9 years at the Tortoise Research and Captive Rearing Site. (Lauren Kurkimili/U.S. Marine Corps)
To protect the tortoises from becoming collateral damage as bombs, mortars and artillery are fired and Humvees rumble around, the Marines were planning to airlift more than 1,100 of them away from the area.
But just weeks before the relocation was to begin, the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson protested that the effort would mean certain death for large numbers of the tortoises, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The group warned that it would go to court to stop the operation.
As a result, the airlift is on hold, the training exercise has been downsized and federal officials not aligned with the Marine Corps are reviewing the tortoise relocation to judge its impact on the creatures.
“This proposed translocation is a disaster for the already at-risk desert tortoises in the west Mojave Desert,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the diversity center.
The desert tortoise is found in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona. An adult tortoise can reach six inches in height, weigh up to 15 pounds, and live as long as 100 years. The tortoise population in the western Mojave, which includes the Marine base, has declined by 90 percent since the early 1980s, according to the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife.
Among the causes cited by the group and others for the decline are drought, respiratory disease, a population explosion among ravens, suburban development and increased use of the desert by off-roaders and other recreationalists.
The tortoises were required to grow at least 4 inches in length before being released, in order to ensure they could fend off predators. (Lauren Kurkimili/U.S. Marine Corps)
In response to the environmentalists’ concerns, the Marines say they have carefully monitored the health of tortoises set to be relocated and will continue to do so through small transmitters on the animals’ backs. The Corps has allocated $50 million for the airlift, environmental assessments, fencing, research and health monitoring of the tortoises through the year 2045.
“We’re not just going to throw them over a fence,” said Walter Christensen, natural and cultural resources branch manager at the base. Six spots adjacent to the base have been assigned for the relocation, he said. All have sufficient water and food and are far enough away from the tortoises’ current homes that they will not try to walk back, he said.
At 1,190 square miles, the Marine base is nearly the size of Rhode Island. Most Marines sent to Iraq and Afghanistan come here for training, under a program known as Mojave Viper.
Faced with the possible lawsuit over the tortoise airlift, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was reviewing its tentative approval of the relocation plan. Since the desert tortoise is listed as a threatened species — a notch below endangered — the service’s approval is needed for any such move.
The Marines have reconfigured and downscaled the August training away from tortoise-heavy areas, with fewer tanks and armored vehicles. In addition, no live-firing will be done in Johnson Valley, an area of the base that is central to the dispute.
Training is an everyday event at the base, located 140 miles east of Los Angeles. But the August exercise was meant to be special: It was to be the first time that the Marines used the Johnson Valley property, Marine brass hoped to find out whether the valley would be good not just for large-scale exercises such as this summer’s but also for even larger exercises in coming years.
For a decade, the Marines fought environmental groups, local landowners and off-road enthusiasts over annexing Johnson Valley, which was controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
In 2013, after intervention by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a deal was cut by Congress: 107,000 acres of Johnson Valley will be designated exclusively for use by the Marine Corps, another 50,000 will be shared between the Marines and civilians. The August exercise is to include sections of both, as well other areas of the base.
The Marines insist they need to use the property to devise a training exercise in which three large infantry groups can practice assaulting a common target, each using artillery, mortars and air power. Without the Johnson Valley area, the corps has no base large enough for such an exercise, officials said.
At the crux of environmentalists’ concerns was a tortoise relocation done in 2008 at the Army’s Fort Irwin, which is east of Twentynine Palms. That program was suspended after only a year when it was learned that about 30 percent of the relocated tortoises had died.
“It was a debacle,” Anderson said of the Fort Irwin program.
To the Center for Biological Diversity, that experience shows that relocation is a dreadful strategy and that the Marines’ plan, which would involve many more tortoises,needs further scrutiny.
The Marines assert that the Fort Irwin deaths are misleading. Brian Henen, a civilian ecologist at the Twentynine Palms base, said the mortality rate of the tortoises that were moved was the same as that of tortoises that were not relocated, suggesting the main cause was a drought that decreased water and forage. Federal officials, who did an investigation of the Fort Irwin deaths, also concluded that the deaths most likely were attributable to the drought. Environmental groups disputed the finding.
Brian Croft, a wildlife biologist and division chief with the Fish and Wildlife Service, has sympathy for both sides in this dispute. His agency has dealt with numerous problems related to the moving of tortoises, including ones caused by solar projects and a community college expansion next to the Twentynine Palms base.
“From everything we know from studying translocation, as long as it’s planned properly, it can be done without increasing the mortality rate of the animals,” Croft said.
The Fish and Wildlife Service expects to decide in September whether the Marines can go ahead with the airlift, Croft said.
Jennifer Loda, the Center for Biological Diversity’s attorney for amphibian and reptile issues, said she hopes the final decision will leave the desert tortoises undisturbed. The tortoise’s ancestors lived in the Mojave Desert thousands of years before the Army and Marine Corps arrived, she noted.
“They have an inherent right to be here. They have the same right as we do.”
PRESS RELEASE #16-004 June 23, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ANNOUNCEMENT REGARDING LAND USE IN THE JOHNSON VALLEY AREA
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. –
The Johnson Valley Shared Use Area will be temporarily closed to the public August 14-21, 2016 while the Marine Corps conducts convoy operations and resupply missions to support a large-scale exercise. It was determined the window of closure for military use could be shortened from the previous announcement of August 1-30, 2016 after the Marine Corps refined the scope of training.
The closure period will include the time required to ensure the Shared Use Area is clear of recreation activity prior to training and to confirm the land is clear of hazards prior to reopening the land for public access.
The adjacent Johnson Valley OHV Recreation Area will remain open to the public during the closure of the Shared Use Area. The Marine Corps will continue to implement robust public outreach to ensure the public is informed of the temporary change in land use.
In addition, the Marine Corps has announced the next planned use of the Shared Use Area for military training in August 1-30, 2017, honoring the commitment to provide a minimum of 12 months advance notice to the public of training in the Shared Use Area.
For additional information, please contact the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Public
Affairs Office at 760-830-6213 or SMBPLMSWEBPAO@usmc.mil.
For additional information including a map of the area, please visit http://www.29palms.marines.mil/Staff/G5-Government-and-External-Affairs/Johnson-Valley.
“Our Trails, Our Opportunities, Making a Difference with CORVA – Moving into the Future with CORVA”
This year CORVA held our Annual Meeting at Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, which allowed us to get our buggies, UTV’s and 4 wheelers out on the trails and enjoy everything the park has to offer. The park is looking better than ever thanks to an expanded obstacles course and great trails. We enjoyed fantastic weather – even the wind stopped on Saturday evening so we could enjoy our campfire barbeque. Thanks to the staff of Hollister Hills who were extremely welcoming and helpful, and much appreciation to all our CORVA friends and members who attended the meeting and offered fresh new ideas to move the organization forward.
We held elections for CORVA Board of Directors positions, and gave awards to some wonderful and well-deserved clubs and individuals that really make a difference in keeping public land open to motorized use.
Elected to board positions:
· Chad Clopton, VP of Administration
· Clayton Miller, VP of Education
· Mike Moore, Treasurer
Bob & Beckie Casebeer and Ed Stovin
LOONEY DUNERS CHARITY AWARD FOR A CLUB
District 37, AMA Dual Sport
LOS AVENTUREROS ANNUAL CONSERVATION TROPHY
NORTHERN CLUB OF THE YEAR
Northern California Land Rover Club
SOUTHERN CLUB OF THE YEAR
Eastern Sierra 4x4 Club
PAST PRESIDENT’S TROPHY
Congratulations and appreciation to all!
PRESS RELEASE #16-003 June 3, 2016
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PUBLIC MEETING REGARDING LAND USE IN THE JOHNSON VALLEY AREA
MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. - Representatives from the Marine Corps will host a public meeting regarding land use in the Johnson Valley area at the Johnson Valley Community Center, June 25 from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
The purpose of the meeting is to communicate the Marine Corps' plans to conduct a large-scale exercise August 1-30, 2016 that will include training in the congressionally-established Shared Use Area. Information concerning temporary land closures and public safety information will be discussed with attendees. All members of the public are welcome to attend.
Tree mortality due to drought and insect infestation is rising exponentially in California. Many forests have over 50% tree mortality rate, leading to unsafe conditions and closures in some forests. Few of trees falling on visitors are leading these closures.
The risk of wildfire increases as tree mortality rises as well. Be fire safe when visiting forested areas, and if you have plans to camp this summer in a forest check their website to make sure the campground is still open. FOr more about tree mortality visit: http://egis.fire.ca.gov/TreeMortalityViewer/
Thanks to California assemblyman Jones, we have a good chance at stopping the $10M annual transfer from the Motor Vehicle Fuel Account, monies that would have gone into the OHV Trust Fund, to the General Fund. AB2175 has passed out of the Appropriations Committee on May 27 with a vote of 20 ayes to 0 noes. It should make it to the assembly floor soon for a full house vote.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa of California has introduced H.R. 5129, which is long overdue legislation to streamline and reduce the cost of obtaining special recreation permits for use on both BLM and Forest Service lands. For the last several years, the special use permit process has significantly increased the cost to put on OHV events on public lands to the extent that some events were canceled. The time it currently takes to obtain the special use permits has also increased in many cases. This legislation addresses both of these issues.
Please contact your US Congressman and Senators and ask for their support of H.R.5129.
To read the text and progress of H.R.5129:
I would also like to thank the BRC for bringing this to the publics attention.
The BLM is asking for public input for the development of the Rasor Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area Management Plan.
The goal of public input is to assess a variety of issues and proposed solutions. Comments and concerns regarding land use, off-highway vehicle area access, visitor services, off-highway vehicle recreational opportunities, facilities, resource values, and monitoring are welcomed.
For times and locations of the meetings:
The EPA is trying to add competition only vehicles to the list of vehicles that they regulate under the Clean Air Act. Two bills have been introduced to congress to exclude competition only vehicles from regulations of the Clean Air Act. H.R 4715 and S.2659 need our support.
Contact you House and Senate representatives and ask them to support these bills.
NOW ACCEPTING NOMINATIONS
Each year CORVA honors those in our community for exceptional efforts benefiting the OHV Community. The following awards will be presented at this year’s CORVA Annual Meeting on May 21st at Hollister Hills
SVRA, Hollister CA. If you know of anyone deserving of one or more of these awards send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
ANNUAL CORVA AWARDS
George Thomas Memorial Trophy for Off Roader Of The Year: This trophy is presented to the one individual whose contributions to the betterment of off-roading during the preceding year are worthy of this very special recognition. The recipient may be any individual who has provided special help to off-roading. The person does not have to be a member of CORVA or any affiliated organization. The nomination should be submitted with an explanation of the individual’s accomplishments.
Looney Duners Trophy to Charity: This is a Club Award, and to be eligible for this award, the club must belong to CORVA. The award goes to the club that donates the most time and effort to charity. Money is not a factor.
Northern & Southern Club Award: This award is given annually to one club in each region, Northern and Southern. Each club shall submit what it deems to be its outstanding project for the year. The Board of Directors shall award the trophy to that project it deems best bolsters the image of off-roading.
Los Aventureros State Conservation Award: This award is presented to the individual club which during the year has contributed the most towards conservation.
American Buggy Association Political Activism Award: To have one’s name added to this plaque requires exceptional activity in dealing with elected officials and civil servants. While significant success is not always possible, it is important that some progress toward a goal was achieved. In addition,
this person’s efforts should always increase the perception of CORVA as a political powerhouse.