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ARTICLES

 

 

 

BLM RESOURCES FOR ROCKHOUNDS

  

DRECP, one year later:
implications for rockhounding

January 1, 2016
by Lisbet Thoresen

 

DRECP poster - save California's desert

 

DRECP Phase I proposed land exchange

Map. Proposed Phase I land exchange transaction involving the conveyance of up to approximately 61,000± acres of school lands to the Bureau of Land Management in exchange for approximately 5,600± acres of federal lands pursuant to California Public Resources Code Division 7.7, located in San Bernardino, Inyo and Riverside counties.

 

THIS TIME LAST YEAR, rockhounds were rallying together to voice their concerns about the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), one of the most far-reaching land use plan amendments (LUPAs) in California State history. Its scope covers land usage of 22.5 million acres of California's deserts. The proposed LUPA created new land use designations, including one that leaves the door open to future energy development without transparent accountability to the public.(1)

The changes in the DRECP threatened to restrict or close access to some longtime, favorite rock collecting areas. They would also pave the way to pave the desert with utility-scale energy projects and transmission corridors connecting power links to the grid.

Shirley Leeson helped draft a survey to show the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) how rockhounds use public lands and services near collecting areas. She observed that rockhounds are #ghostsofthedesert whose concerns had been overlooked in the DRECP LUPA, so the survey was intended to elevate the BLM's awareness of our concerns and the size of our constituency. SDMG tabulated the survey results collected over a two-month period and incorporated 186 responses into a 48-page comment letter submitted to the DRECP.(2, 3)

There were many other comment letters submitted separately by concerned rockhounds.(4) They were specific and constructive, and it appears that they made a difference.

Public comments from many organizations and concerned citizens – more than 12,000 letters – were so critical about the draft plan that the DRECP decided to implement the final plan in phases. On November 10, 2015, the BLM released part of Phase I of the proposed LUPA and Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), see: http://www.drecp.org.

Phase I covers 10 million acres of BLM-managed lands in the DRECP plan area. It is not easy reading. To help rockhounds understand what the implications are at this stage, Shaun Gonzales, who has been a longtime blogger monitoring the DRECP, wrote a very readable review of the Final LUPA in an article posted on November 11, 2015: "Final Plans for Public Lands Portion of DRECP Introduce Ambiguity."(5)

 

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For the present article, Shaun Gonzales reviewed the Final DRECP and provided some useful observations specifically of interest to rockhounds. Overall, it appears that the Final DRECP made some accommodation to specific rockhounding requests. And as expected, the newly created Special Recreational Management Areas (SRMAs) and National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) areas allow for open designated routes to responsible motorized access. The SRMA plans also specifically mention rockhounding as an allowable activity. Below are some additional comments.

  • The Final DRECP acknowledges the value of access to intact desert wildlands for the rockhounding community on public lands; although, Phase II of the DRECP will determine how local jurisdictions manage development and recreation on private lands.
  • As a result of comments submitted by the rockhound community, the BLM eliminated or reduced DFAs around Gem Hill and Lonely Butte in the western Mojave Desert to ensure continued access to these rockhounding sites.
  • Additionally, the SRMA in the Amargosa/Grimshaw area was expanded to include the Sperry Wash, which is popular for rockhounding. The designated route remains open to allow responsible access for rock collecting and other recreational activities.
  • The DRECP did not close designated routes in the Mojave Trails (Route 66) area, so access remains open to popular rockhounding sites, such as Chambless.
  • Another example of rockhounding accommodation in the Final DRECP is the designation of the Savahia Peak Rock Collection Area along Highway 95 in the Chemehuevi Valley. The management prescription for this area recognizes that "[t]his area is heavily dependent on the use of motorized-vehicles to access the area due to its remoteness, while the recreation action is hiking areas seeking out that one perfect specimen to add to one's own collection."
  • The open designated routes will conform to the Northern and Eastern Colorado Desert Coordinated Management Plan 2002.
  • Some SRMAs overlap with National Landscape Conservation System lands to emphasize recreational values in management plans. However, where SRMAs do not overlap with NLCS lands, the DRECP still allows for continued use of designated routes for recreational activities that do not conflict with the values of the NLCS lands. (See page II.3-225 of the Final DRECP, available at: www.drecp.org)

This is all good news concerning Phase I. However, Phase II of the DRECP will determine how local jurisdictions manage development on private lands in the southern California desert. What transpires in Phase II could impact open routes that cross private lands needed to access rockhound collection sites. The rockhound community should stay tuned for this phase of the DRECP to review how local and state authorities propose to deal with private lands.

Probably, both rockhounds and the environmental community will face an uphill battle in Phase II. Protecting open space on private lands will require more stringent local development codes and investments in conservation easements that encourage land owners to preserve open space. This will require a lot of political capital and money.

 

Thank you to Shirley Leeson and Dee Holland, who galvanized support to ensure that the concerns of rockhounds would be heard by the DRECP. Thanks to all the rockhounds, prospectors, and concerned citizens who took the time to write comment letters and/or participate in the survey submitted to the DRECP. You made a difference.

A very special thank you to Shaun Gonzales, who has provided continuing cogent commentary about the DRECP. He has helped identify critical areas of concern specifically affecting the rockhound community. He has also provided input on how to write constructive comments that optimize the prospect of DRECP responding positively to our concerns.

 

References

  1. DRECP disputes this point, saying there will be public hearings in the future; however, this author and other organizations, including Alliance for Desert Preservation (A4DP), perceive ambiguity in the DRECP's vague language and also the potential for arbitrary interpretation of different parts of the DRECP which contain conflicting directives, especially concerning the 1.3 million acres of "Undesignated Lands", see A4DP's February 20, 2015, comment letter (see especially item 17, pg 54) at (short url): http://goo.gl/kSC29P or: http://www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/comments/Alliance_for_Desert_Preservation_et_al_comments_all_2015-02-20.pdf. [Accessed 31 December 2015.]
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  2. SDMG's comment letter is available at (short url): http://goo.gl/OwwG3K or: http://www.drecp.org/draftdrecp/comments/San_Diego_Mineral_and_Gem_Society_comments_2015-02-21.pdf. [Accessed 31 December 2015.]
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  3. DRECP LUPA's response to SDMG's comment letter is available at (short url): http://goo.gl/AhKfxT or: http://www.drecp.org/finaldrecp/pdf_files/Appendices/Appendix_AA_Comments_and_Response_to_Comments/Letters_E_Community_Groups_Non-Profit_and_Private_Organizations/E115_RTC_San_Diego_Mineral__and__Gem_Society_Inc.pdf. [Accessed 31 December 2015.]
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  4. DRECP proposed LUPA and final EIS response to comment letter submitted by 75 rockhounds available at (short url): http://goo.gl/1opBj7 or: http://www.drecp.org/finaldrecp/pdf_files/Appendices/Appendix_AA_Comments_and_Response_to_Comments/Letters_G_Form_Letters/G5_RTC_Rock_Collecting_Sites.pdf. [Accessed 31 December 2015.]
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  5. Available at (short url): http://goo.gl/bpZtFO or: http://www.mojavedesertblog.com/2015/11/final-plans-for-public-lands-portion-of.html. [Accessed 31 December 2015.]
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