Building California’s “Green Wall”

Since the November 2016 elections, we’ve seen news on a daily basis of attempts to repeal environmental laws and weaken the federal agencies tasked to enforce them. The U.S. EPA, the BLM, the USFS and the lands and resources they manage are all facing threats from the current administration and Congress in Washington D.C. The most recent example is this week’s executive order to review national monuments for possible repeal or modification of their designations.

Carrizo Plain

National Monuments like Carrizo Plain are now under attack with the President’s recent executive order.

CNPS is working on several fronts to help establish a “green wall” around California by helping federal agencies to pick up the slack where they no longer have support from D.C., and by ensuring environmental protection in California remains at or even improves from today’s nation-leading standards. Some of this is work CNPS has always done, and some is new. Both take on added urgency and importance because of the assault on the environment coming from D.C.

Legislatively, CNPS is working to improve current state standards, and to support new laws that will ensure the actions in D.C. are countered at California’s border.

Improving Current State Standards

To improve current state standards, CNPS Conservation Director Greg Suba, and Legislative Consultant Vern Goehring are actively involved in campaigning for legislation, senate bill SB 249 authored by Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), that will improve conservation standards within the California State Parks Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation (OHMVR) Division.

The OHMVR Division manages the operations of 115,000 acres of California’s State Vehicle Recreation Areas (SVRAs), as well as millions of dollars in grants each year funding operation, maintenance, law enforcement, and repair work performed across millions of acres of OHV trails on BLM and USFS-managed federal lands in California.

Over the last 10 years, environmental damage and illegal OHV activity within SVRAs and on federal lands have led to multiple lawsuits brought against the State Parks OHMVR Division. Complaints include endangered species act and air quality violations, cultural resource impacts, inadequate CEQA review related to both SVRA General Plan development and SVRA expansion.

California state vehicle recreation area

Uncontrolled riding yields a scarred landscape at a California State vehicle recreation area.

SB 249 reforms and modernizes the OHMVR Division in three fundamental ways. First, it establishes a more equitable composition of the OHMVR Commission to ensure no one interest group — be it OHV or environmental community representatives — dominates the commission, and ensures the Director of State Parks has clear decision-making power over both the director of the OHMVR Division and the OHMVR Commission.

Second, SB 249 addresses how the OHMVR program is funded and how the funding is spent. Did you know that every time you pump gas into your car, you are paying for the expansion and maintenance of OHV riding in California? Yes you are. Even if financially supporting OHV expansion is the very last thing you want to do, that is how your fuel tax money has been spent since 1990 up to today. What is more, OHMVR grant money coming from our fuel taxes is currently not used on trail maintenance if those trails don’t allow OHV riding. SB 249 will ensure at least a portion of that fuel tax money will go to maintain and improve hiking and equestrian trails where OHV riding is not allowed.

And third, Senator Allen’s OHMVR reform bill establishes requirements for reviewing and updating conservation standards, and providing greater law enforcement measures that will protect sensitive cultural and natural resources within SVRAs and on any public lands tied to OHMVR grant funding.

The OHV community is lobbying hard to kill SB 249 and have effectively clouded the issues among key, moderate Democratic state senators whose districts are home to robust OHV user groups. They are pushing their own bill, AB 1077 (O’Donnell, D-San Diego) that will do nothing but extend the current program as is, with no further reforms or revisions.

We need your help to pass SB 249.

Find out who your state senator and state assembly members are via this website. Then call or email them and tell them you support SB 249, and want a fairer spending of our fuel taxes, better conservation standards, better law enforcement, and clearer oversight related to California State Park’s OHMVR program.

Other Important Legislation

California legislators have introduced bills intended to put a backstop to any regressive environmental laws or policies enacted by the current President and/or Congress. One example is SB49 (DeLeon, D-Los Angeles) that would, among other things, provide that federally listed threatened or endangered species that are not currently listed under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) would be designated as threatened or endangered under CESA if and when there are backsliding amendments adopted to the federal law. A second important bill is SB 50 (Allen, D-Santa Monica) which would provide the state of California first right of refusal to buy any federal public lands in California that this Congress or President seek to sell off for whatever reason.

CNPS supports these legislative efforts, and will lobby for their successful passage. You can help by contacting your state Senator and Assembly member and telling them you support SB 49 and SB 50.

Supporting Understaffed Federal Agencies

The USFS in California has asked CNPS to review the status of rare plants occurring within national forests in Northern California as part of USFS Region 5’s Forest Plan Revision process. Evaluations for hundreds of plants will represent the best available science information that USFS planners will use to update their Forest Plans over the next several years. CNPS staff from several Programs will be conducting workshops and data-mining USFS records in work intended not only to improve Forest Plan baseline data, but also to help forest botanists who are chronically overworked and understaffed.

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