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Friday, March 21, 2008

Off-roaders taking on the Marines

Enthusiasts prize site of potential training ground for Twentynine Palms Marine Corps base

SACRAMENTO – California's off-road riders have launched an aggressive campaign to oppose any move by the Marines to annex Johnson Valley, a nationally acclaimed high-desert recreation area on the perimeter of an important military base at Twentynine Palms...

...The 140,000-acre off-highway vehicle area, located southeast of Barstow in San Bernardino County, also is home to the federally protected desert tortoise, a fact that could provoke strident opposition from environmentalists.

Protecting the tortoise was a key issue when the Army expanded training facilities near Fort Irwin a few years ago.

Johnson Valley is under the supervision of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. Mike Pool, California's BLM director, is expected to attend Hunter's March 22 meeting with off-road enthusiasts.

John Dearing, a BLM spokesman, said the military followed a regular process before taking other federal lands.

“We have not yet received an application from the Marines,” said Dearing, referring specific questions about Johnson Valley to the military.

The Marine Corps said it plans to prepare an environmental review of alternatives once a decision is made. It promises full disclosure and public participation.

Johnson Valley is nationally known as “the Hammers” – one of the best four-wheeling, boulder-hopping areas in the country, off-roaders say.

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