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Following from our community's work to submit comments on the BLM's flawed 2015 WEMO plan we have been waiting for the BLM to respond to our significant input and criticism regarding their proposals. The BLM's response has been to try and kick the can down the road and not substantively improve the shortcomings of the plan. We are actively working with the Alliance for Responsible Recreation and other concerned entities to respond to this delay and most importantly to limit further damage to the desert.
From the article:
The deadline for the BLM to release the WEMO Final Environmental Impact Statement and proposed Travel Management Plans was April 29th, 2016 and November 30th, 2016 was the deadline for the BLM to finalize the WEMO decisions and publish the official Record of Decision (ROD) on the TMPs. In fact, the agency has asked the courts for an extension. We were disturbed to learn that the BLM proposes to delay the process until 2020! First, they want the public to do their work for them by commenting on specific routes in a flawed document, and now they want to delay the process another four years. Every day that the agency’s ORV policy remains unclear or confusing, illegal routes will proliferate and, given the BLM’s inability to enforce the law, there will be no consequences for riders who are in violation. The desert cannot survive four more years of uncontrolled and unmanaged ORV abuse. In the meantime, constant threats to the desert continue to be challenged by a growing network of skilled and activated people who love our precious lands and are prepared
to defend them.
Photo credit: Steve Bardwell
The January 25th deadline for submitting comments to the BLM about the WEMO plan has passed. We are beyond grateful for the large number of you who have done such impressive, detailed, and high quality work in documenting and submitting your concerns about the BLM's proposed plan.
According to the BLM they will release, in late spring 2016, their proposed WEMO Plan Amendment/FSEIS and Proposed Travel Management Plans for each Travel Management Area. Our hope is that the BLM will take the community's comments and concerns into account with their revised plan. We understand that when those plans are released there will be an additional 45 day comment period when the community can provide feedback to them.
In the meantime if you have not yet sent a letter to the Secretary of the Interior to convey your concerns about WEMO you may do so here.
Keep up to date by checking back to this website for updates, following and liking us on Facebook at facebook.com/orvwatch, and following on Twitter at @orvwatchmorongo.
Send an e-mail to Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell to convey your concerns about the BLM's WEMO plan. We are providing suggested verbiage but feel free to modify to convey your concerns. Be sure to include your name and address as well as any contact information so that any responses can be directed there.
Why comment? Submitting a comment to the BLM before January 25, 2016, is the most effective action citizens can take on WEMO at this time. The BLM is obligated by law to address properly submitted comments. Although it’s true there’s no guarantee they’ll follow your recommendations, they’ll have to say on record why if they choose not to and may be held accountable in court for that choice.
How do I comment? Submitting a comment can be very simple and take only a moment of your time, or you may choose to craft a more detailed response – it’s up to you. We’ve provided resources to support you, including a sample letter in email format you can just click and send, all the way to forms that help you document issues with a particular route that concerns you. You might want to read the WEMO Overview first to better understand how WEMO might affect you, your neighborhood, and the desert.
Ways to comment, from easy to more effortful, general to detailed:
- Sample letter, available as email format or Word format
- Route Designation Maps
- Sample comments – for you to draw from as you craft your own letter
- WEMO Route Form - how to identify and specify concerns for a particular road
- The BLM also provides a Comment Form, if you prefer to use that
SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS TO:
Bureau of Land Management
California Desert District
WMRNP Plan Amendment
22835 Calle San Juan de Los Lagos
Moreno Valley, California 92553
email at firstname.lastname@example.org
If possible, please also send a copy to Community ORV Watch at:
COW c/o MBCA
PO Box 24
Joshua Tree, CA 92252
email at email@example.com
Thanks! You just took action to preserve your roads and the quality of life in your neighborhood and the desert. Congratulations! If you want to stay informed on this issue, send your contact information including you e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to join our mailing list.
What we call “WEMO”, or the WEst MOjave Route Network Project (WMRNP), is a proposal by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to designate thousands of miles of routes across the Mojave Desert, most of which would be open to off-road vehicles. And many of those miles would be right here, in the Morongo Basin. WEMO as currently proposed would superimpose ORV routes on top of many of our residential roads – roads that local residents live on, drive on, and pay to maintain.
Basin residents are familiar with the problems that can accompany irresponsible ORV use in their neighborhoods. Trespass and vandalism on private and public property, noise, dust, fumes, conflict – the issue has been a headache for years. Law enforcement is swamped and underfunded, and many complaints go un-remedied. The current BLM proposal would intensify the issues by drastically increasing the miles open to ORVs, bringing them into our neighborhoods and making the area a magnet for out-of-area riders.
The WEMO plan designates almost all roads and tracks that cross BLM land as “routes”. In the Basin, due to our homestead legacy and checkerboard pattern of public-private land ownership, many of these routes also cross private property and pass through residential areas.
Example of Routes Proposed Under Alternative 3, WEMO Plan
The bright green line segments are proposed ORV routes. They are on BLM land (beige color), but they frequently run into private property (white color) and private or taxpayer maintained roads. This snapshot from a WEMO map is a neighborhood north of Amboy Road in Wonder Valley and is typical of other homestead areas in the Morongo Basin. Source: WEMO SDEIS, TMA 3, Map 18 .
This would create unsafe conditions in our communities and conflict with street legal vehicles, and it is in direct violation of San Bernardino County Ordinance 3973/4103, which regulates ORV use. Many of the proposed ORV routes would lie on top of CSA roads that are maintained by assessments on local residents, with resultant damage to roads, berms, and flood control infrastructure creating a tax burden on residents. Further, as many residents have experienced, off-road vehicle use does NOT stay restricted to the roads, but often spills over onto private property and public lands, increasing trespass and escalating the potential for vandalism, crime, and intimidation of residents.
How did we get here?
The WEMO plan was originally completed by the BLM in 2006. Thereafter residential and conservation groups successfully sued the BLM over their designation of over 5,000 miles of ORV routes in the Western Mojave, since the routes cause damage to invaluable natural and cultural resources and encourage trespass on private lands. The current WEMO Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is the result of that lawsuit, but the BLM has failed to meet the mandates of the legal decision, instead doubling the amount of miles proposed for motorized recreation and ignoring other requirements of the court. The current proposal designates a spaghetti network of over 10,000 miles of ORV routes – most of which were created haphazardly through decades of mismanaged and irresponsible ORV use.
What happens next?
The original comment period on the WEMO DEIS ended in June, but the BLM agreed to commenters’ demands and reopened the comment period. The new deadline is January 25, 2016. After that the BLM will issue a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), with final recommendations on route designations within Travel Management Plans (TMP). Following the FEIS release, there will be a public-comment period of 45 days.
What can we do about WEMO?
It is up to Basin residents to tell the BLM that we do NOT want the WEMO plan as proposed, that our roads are NOT intended to be ORV raceways, that our neighborhoods are NOT available to be de facto ORV playgrounds, and that our tax dollars are spent to maintain our roads for street-legal vehicles and residential and other appropriate access, NOT recreation. You can comment to the BLM by January 25, 2016; find out how here.
More about WEMO:
The full document of the WEMO Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (WEMO SDEIS) and supporting information is available through the BLM project website here .
What is WEMO supposed to accomplish?
The WEMO Supplemental Draft Impact Statement (SDEIS) states: “The purpose and need of the West Mojave Route Network Project (WMRNP) is to provide a framework for transportation management, and specific travel management implementation strategies in Limited Access Areas of the West Mojave Planning Area. This framework and these strategies would (1) limit conflicts and threats to sensitive resources, (2) respond to current and anticipated future transportation and travel needs, (3) provide appropriate recreational access, and (4) be consistent with the overall motor vehicle access goal of the 2006 WEMO Plan. The MVA goal of the 2006 WEMO Plan is to provide appropriate motorized vehicle access to public lands for commercial, recreational, and other purposes in a manner that is compatible with species conservation.”
Anatomy of WEMO:
Alternatives: The SDEIS proposes for review four Alternatives, each having variations in, for example, number of routes and conservation strategy. Alternative 3 is the BLM’s Preferred Alternative – the Alternative they have decided is most likely to meet their goals. It also has the highest number of miles of motorized routes (10,428) of any of the alternatives.
Travel Management Areas: The WEMO planning area is divided into eight Travel Management Areas, or TMAs. The Morongo Basin is within TMA 3. TMA 3 is further divided into subregions, viewable on the WEMO maps. Of note, the WEMO maps are almost impossible to view through the BLM website; view them instead on the COW website here
Minimization criteria: When designating routes, the BLM is required to meet the Minimization Criteria for Motorized Recreation, 43 CFR Section 8342.1. Their failure to consider the Minimization Criteria was one of the issues on which the court sent the BLM back to the drawing board. View the Minimization Criteria here.
According to BLM officials who attended a meeting at the Wonder Valley Community Center on December 14, 2015, the agency has received many comments from Morongo Basin residents. Edythe Seehafer (WEMO Project Manager) and Katrina Simons (Field Manager, Barstow BLM ) attended at the invitation of Teresa Sitz, Municipal Advisory Council (MAC) representative for Wonder Valley. They gave a brief presentation and answered questions from two dozen strongly focused residents.
Among many points covered in a lively discussion, the BLM revealed the following: The Final WEMO plan proposal will be dependent on provisions of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which is expected to be finalized in the first quarter of 2016. The Final WEMO plan proposal will include a fifth alternative, in addition to the original four, that is currently being developed by the WEMO Interdisciplinary Team. When the Final plan proposal is issued, refinements of all the proposed WEMO routes and designations will be in the form of Travel Management Plans (TMP). The public will then have 45 days to comment on the TMPs.
The officials said the BLM has been working with San Bernardino County about Special Districts issues, meaning our CSA roads. They currently are exploring using a route sub-designation of "Street-Legal Only" on our residential roads, which they believe would simplify the regulatory frameworks and law enforcement.
For more details on these and other points of the discussion, Teresa Sitz’s notes may be viewed here.
On Saturday, December 5th COW hosted a public meeting and workshop on the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) West Mojave Plan (“WEMO”) for the purposes of informing participants of concerns with the current proposal from the BLM, supporting participants in identifying and documenting their concerns about proposed ORV routes in their neighborhoods, and sharing these concerns with the BLM during this open comment period (until January 25, 2016.)
The workshop was well attended (standing room only at some points!) and participants were quite engaged with the speakers.
A few comments from the workshop's attendees:
- I am a bit newer to community activism, but I would say that the workshop exceeded my expectations in its civility and warmth in its approach; genuine concern and individual empowerment.
- The workshop went beyond my expectations and included more information than I imagined! I found it very helpful.
- The workshop acted as an excellent link between concerned citizens and actions they can take. PS- suggest a larger venue next time.
- The workshop explained the issue clearly and simply, and offered problem solving suggestions.
The forms for you to document routes have now been posted to the website (see the side column), and for your convenience are shared again here:
- WEMO Route Form Orientation - To get you started
- WEMO Route Form - Use to actually document routes of concern
- BLM Tips and Tricks Document - Helpful in using the route designation maps
Many thanks to those of you who attended the WEMO workshop. Thank you for braving the cold room (Brrr!!) and hanging in there during the workshop. We appreciate your participation and your support in preserving our neighborhoods and natural environment.
The BLM is proposing to designate a spaghetti network of over 10,000 miles of OHV routes – most of which were created haphazardly through decades of mismanaged and irresponsible OHV use. This is double the mileage of the 2006 route network that a federal court found was illegal.
OHV use on this vast network has and will continue to:
- Result in crushing of fragile desert soils and vegetation
- Produce dust, noise, and fumes that disturb wildlife, hikers, equestrian users, and other members of the public enjoying the desert through quiet forms of recreation
- Encourage illegal dumping, vandalism and looting of archaeological resources, and other irresponsible and illegal behavior
- Facilitate trespass across private lands and parks and other areas closed to motorized use to protect their sensitive resources
- Disturb desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, and other sensitive wildlife
According to BLM’s own environmental analysis, the proposed route network will have the most adverse impacts to fragile desert resources of any options considered, despite the legal requirement that routes open to OHV use minimize resource damage.
Hundreds of proposed routes crisscross the West Mojave’s crown jewels that BLM itself has identified as warranting the highest level of conservation protection.
Tell BLM it must close damaging OHV routes and come up with a new plan that does not reward decades of illegal and irresponsible OHV use and does not prioritize that use at the expense of our beloved desert resources and communities.
Attend our workshop on Saturday, December 5 (details here) on how the WEMO plan could negatively effect you and the desert.