The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Friday slapped a motorcycle association with a notice of trespassing after the group graded a race path through 5 1/2 miles of public land in a scenic area of the California desert proposed as a national park.
The BLM said that District 37 of the American Motorcyclists Assn. carried out the unauthorized grading in preparation for the annual 170-mile Thanksgiving weekend Barstow-to-Las Vegas motorcycle race, which is expected to attract 1,200 riders.
The bureau slapped the association with the notice of trespass and said the grading took place before a legally required environmental assessment was completed. The notice of trespass is "only the first step in a series of legal actions," including fines, that could be taken, the BLM said.
The motorcycle group's action drew angry comments from the Wilderness Society, which is backing a California desert national park and wilderness bill introduced by Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.). The motorcycle group was also assailed by Cranston's son, Kim, who is leading a citizens group in support of the legislation.
Patricia Schifferle, California and Nevada director of the Wilderness Society, said Friday that the annual race should either be canceled until the damage is repaired, or the route changed.
'Shouldn't Be Rewarded'
"Lawbreakers shouldn't be rewarded by being allowed to use a road that they push through a proposed national park area," Schifferle declared.
Rick Hammel, race chairman for the motorcycle association, acknowledged in an interview with The Times that the grading took place. "It was a judgment call on my part," he said. He said he was aware that the environmental assessment was still in progress.
Hammel said that the area graded was a part of a route used previously in the race and which was severely potted. "What we did was clean off the tops of the bumps. It's not a road. . . . You would not think about driving a car on there unless it was a four-wheel drive," Hammel said. The BLM said the grading took place 4 1/2 miles east of Baker, and crosses Kelbaker Road.
The 5 1/2 miles is in the existing East Mojave National Scenic Area. The bureau said its environmental assessment found that some grading was "a preferred" action because it would encourage motorcycle racers to remain on course and not stray into the desert to avoid the potholes.
But, the BLM said the grading uprooted "much more brush" than the agency would have approved. Schifferle said the swath was 17 feet wide but the BLM said the cut was no wider than 10 feet. Hammel reported that another seven miles not on public lands was also graded.
BLM Desert District Manager Gerry Hillier said Friday, "We consider this to be a serious trespass. We are extremely concerned. It is unfortunate that this took place. While we recognize the value of maintaining recreational opportunities, we cannot condone unauthorized actions that ignore the public (environmental) review process." The public comment period continues until Monday. Schifferle said she first learned of the grading last Sunday.
Kim Cranston said, "I think it's outrageous. I applaud the BLM for their efforts to crack down on this kind of thing." But he added, "It's hard for me to believe that had this legislation passed and had this been a national park that the American Motorcyclists Assn. would have gone out and taken this action without a permit."
Schifferle and Cranston said that while the BLM can order the association to rehabilitate the area, they doubt that would do much good.
"Remedial action is extremely difficult in the desert. There are still marks in the Mojave when wagon trains came through in the 1800s. The scars from this blading and this race could be there 100 years from now," Cranston said.
Claims Five-Year Permit
Hammel said in an interview that the association has a five-year permit for the race, good until 1991.
"No they don't," retorted Southern California BLM spokeswoman Candy Johnson. "They applied for a permit, but they don't have it yet. I don't care whether Rick says he has a permit or not. He applied for one. He hasn't got one."
Johnson said she did not know what further actions the BLM might take. "What they do I don't know, but I know (bureau officials are) mad as hell," she said.
Sen. Cranston's bill, which is pending before a subcommittee, would upgrade Death Valley and Joshua Tree national monuments to national park status. It would also create a new national park in the East Mojave where the motorcycle race takes place and create 82 wilderness areas and an Indian Canyons national historic site.