People could lose 103,000 acres of Johnson Valley multi-use area.

John Conger, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment at the Department of Defense. • September 27, 2013

Thank you for your petition.
The Administration’s proposal for expansion of the land reserved for
use by the Marine Corps balances Marine Corps training requirements that
extend throughout the year with preserving safe public access for
recreational activities within certain areas of the Johnson Valley
Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) Area. The proposal was transmitted to Congress
for consideration on April 26, 2013, because, for areas greater than
5,000 acres, Congress is responsible for creating and renewing
withdrawal of public land for military training and testing.
This base expansion plan was developed over the course of nine years
in consultation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), community
leaders, and recreational users and was subject to an environmental
impact statement that assessed the needs, alternatives and impacts of
large-scale training exercises at the Twentynine Palms Marine Corps Air
Ground Combat Center.

If enacted, the proposal would affect approximately 188,000 acres of
the Johnson Valley Area: 42,000 acres would be designated for
recreational use, 43,000 acres would be shared recreational and military
use, and 103,000 acres would be reserved for exclusive military use.
The 42,000 acre recreational use area and the 43,000 acre shared use
area would remain under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the
Interior, managed by the BLM. The 43,000 acre shared use area would be
available for public recreation, except for two 30-day periods annually,
when it would be closed to the public for military use. In addition,
the Administration also proposes to designate these approximately 85,000
acres of land (the 42,000 acres and 43,000 acres referenced above) as
the “Johnson Valley Off Highway Vehicle Recreation Area” under
management of the BLM. This area would remain available for OHV
recreational activities, both informal and organized. Approximately
103,000 acres of the 188,000 acre area would be reserved for exclusive
military use. The King of the Hammers race is an example of the type of
organized race that could continue in the shared use area. This race,
which has in the past crossed both what would be the shared use area and
the exclusive use area, has been a significant generator of economic
activity associated with OHV recreation in the Johnson Valley Area,
accounting for over 15% of the total yearly visitation. In addition the
Marine Corps will consider, on a case by case basis and under controlled
conditions, the use of this exclusive military use area for organized
races, including the King of the Hammers race.
Enactment of this proposal is essential to provide the space required
to train Marines for specific missions and to ensure the Marines’
continued success when called upon. There are no other Marine Corps
properties where this requirement can be met. Marines need to train in
as close to a real-world setting as possible and Marine Expeditionary
Brigade (MEB) training must allow Marines to conduct intensive
operations over extended distances that allow for maneuvering in the
presence of ground and air live-fire. A MEB consists of 15,000 Marines
and sailors, and their aviation and ground combat equipment, including
artillery and mortars. Currently, training of this scope must rely on
classroom instruction and simulation which cannot provide realistic and
practical experience for command, control, and maneuver. This absence of
a MEB-level training range limits Marine Corps readiness by leaving the
USMC without a venue for conducting fully integrated, live fire MEB
training.
Since 2000, the Department of the Navy has intensively studied the
Marines’ warfighting requirements. In November 2000, the Marine Corps
published Marine Corps Strategy 21, which identified the MEB as the
primary contingency response force of the Marine Corps. An independent
study by CNA’s Center for Naval Analyses in 2004 concluded that
MEB-level realistic large-scale air, ground training is essential for
the Marine Corps to prepare units to respond to large-scale
contingencies, and that this training can only be conducted at an
expanded Twentynine Palms. In 2008, the Office of the Secretary of
Defense, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and
Logistics, concurred. In February 2013, after nine years of study and
analysis, the Marine Corps determined the only viable cost effective
alternative was to expand the Twentynine Palms training area into the
Johnson Valley OHV Area.
The Department of the Navy’s Environmental Impact Statement evaluated
the economic impacts of the proposed expansion on communities and
businesses. The proposed base expansion would provide net benefits to
the local economy, including 110 new jobs, $4 million in additional
salaries, and $7.5 million in additional regional sales. This would be
in addition to the existing contributions by Twentynine Palms to the
local economy, including a 2012 workforce payroll of approximately $600
million (most of which is spent in the local area by personnel stationed
and employed on the base), $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of
Education to San Bernardino County schools, and base contracts valued at
$28 million awarded to local vendors. The increase in jobs and
expenditures is expected to offset a projected loss from the
recreational and film industries of $1.5 million in sales and $216,000
in taxes. (The $1.5 million in sales represents approximately .01% of
the $1.1 billion in sales the Retail Trade and Accommodation/Food
Services sectors of Yucca Valley, Apple Valley and Victorville generate
annually).
The Department of the Navy places a high value on maintaining
positive relationships in the communities in which they are based and
Johnson Valley is no exception. The development of this proposal has
been carried out in consideration of extensive public input with the
goal of balancing the needs of Marine Corps’ training requirements with
existing recreational activities.
Tell us what you think about this response and We the People.