Rep. Paul Cook (R-Yucca Valley) presented his plan for the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) area on Friday morning to the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation. The bill, H.R. 1676, was introduced this past Tuesday and is co-sponsored by Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Cook stated, "I'm really worried about having a major military exercise when you also have a large concentration of people in recreational vehicles, which creates the opportunity for a catastrophic event. I cannot understand why we are expanding that base. Safety is a huge concern." Cook continued, "This bill recognizes that the area has grown and is one of the few places left for off-highway vehicle recreation. I will support the Marine Corps in other endeavors, but in terms of this expansion, I think it is a mistake."
Jeff Knoll, Chairman of the California Motorized Recreation Council subcommittee on base expansion, also submitted testimony in support of the bill, saying, "The legislation offered by Rep. Cook offers consensus between the Marine Corps training needs, continued growth of the local economy, which is supported by recreational activities, and sustained, motorized recreational access to the California Desert."
Others present in support of the measure included Stuart Gosswein on behalf of the Specialty Equipment Market Association.
Rep. Cook's proposal would withdraw the Johnson Valley OHV area for the purposes of recreation and designate it as the Johnson Valley National OHV Recreation Area. The withdrawn area would be designated specifically for recreational uses, including but not limited to off-highway vehicle use, camping, and hiking. U.S. Marine Corps activities would be permitted to take place twice annually and could not include any explosives that could be left behind without detonating.
If approved by the full House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Cook intends to include the bill in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2014, which will likely be debated on the floor of the House this summer.
A member of the House Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs Committees, Cook served as an infantry officer and retired after 26 years as a Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. During his time in combat, he was awarded the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.