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What We Have to Say About Johnson Valley
By John Conger
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.
John Conger is Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment at the Department of Defense.