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Browns Fan on Dirt!
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Better article:

Judge bars foes' bid to block access to state-owned land

By Mike Lee
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
January 27, 2007

Off-road enthusiasts maintained access to a hotly contested recreation site in Imperial County yesterday, when a judge denied a request by environmentalists to immediately bar their vehicles from the area.


The future of the land – known as both Truckhaven and the “desert Cahuilla property” – remains in legal limbo.

The larger and unresolved case involves conservationists' allegations that California State Parks officials didn't do proper environmental reviews when they acquired about 4,000 acres of the site in September.

Yesterday's ruling by Superior Court Judge Gail D. Ohanesian in Sacramento slows the momentum for environmental groups, which were able to force the cancellation of a major off-road event at the same site last weekend.

However, uncertainty about access to the area has prompted organizers of one of the nation's largest off-road gatherings to move their March “safari” to a different location.



After the ruling, State Parks officials said they would continue to require permits for events on the property while they develop a land-use plan for it. A lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that sued, said that's a good step.
“What we are really seeking is interim protection of the resources,” said Lisa Belenky in San Francisco. “It's taken (State Parks) a very long time.”

David Hubbard, an attorney for the California Off-Road Vehicle Association in Escondido, said that he was heartened by yesterday's decision, but that “there is still work to be done” to maintain off-road access.

State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns also was pleased by the ruling.

“We can go forward with good land planning and work to preserve and protect special places within this acquisition at the same time,” he said. “We do not believe there will be any further harm to the environment beyond what has already occurred” before the state owned the land.

Disputes over off-roading have simmered for years in California, but the current fight marks an escalation of tensions.

The properties purchased by State Parks are part of a checkerboard ownership pattern in a much larger area. The State Lands Commission and the Anza-Borrego Foundation own parcels nearby.

Conservationists want the entire area added to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park with the goal of protecting sheep habitat, palm oases and historical American Indian sites.

Off-roaders generally don't mind if sections of Truckhaven are off-limits, but they aim to keep riding trails that they say they have been using for decades. The area's terrain offers some of the most challenging four-wheel drives in California, they say.

The current uproar was sparked last week when the Center for Biological Diversity and the Desert Protective Council filed legal papers to stop the 12th annual Truckhaven Challenge.

In response, the California Off-Road Vehicle Association dropped its request for a permit and officially canceled its program.

David Hogan, San Diego-based conservation manager for the biological center, showed up at the site last Saturday and said he saw “the best-organized and best-attended so-called canceled event that I have ever witnessed.”

Hubbard responded in court papers that such accusations were “flat wrong.”

Regardless, the flare-up quickly worked in the environmentalists' favor. Tierra Del Sol, a large four-wheel-drive club in San Diego, has decided to move its annual March event from Truckhaven to the nearby Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area. Its Desert Safari attracted about 18,000 people last year.

“We are in this for long run, and we are willing to do what we can to support the continued existence of off-road recreation in that area,” said John Stewart, a consultant who works with off-road groups on resource issues. “If that means we have to wait until the state does . . . the environmental documentation, then fine.”
 

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TDS has received conditional approval for Desert Safari at Ocotillo Wells SVRA, which is south of Truckhaven. I'm sure they will update everyone.
 

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Tierra Del Sol Desert Safari will be held at Ocotillo Wells SVRA, as scheduled on March 2-4, 2007. More than ever, this event will be a fundraiser to fight land closures. We need your support. We will have very challenging trails, and a huge raffle on Saturday night.

Tim Augustine
Club Secretary and Safari Prize Chairman
Tierra Del Sol 4WD Club of San Diego
 
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