WEMO: An Overview
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.