NEMO Route Designations - EDITORIAL

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Posted by Last Chance Rand on July 08, 2004 at 16:44:01:

In Reply to: Route Designation in NEMO posted by Backroad Joe on July 06, 2004 at 14:59:10:

The recently approved Northern and Eastern Mojave (NEMO) route designations by the BLM are to no one's surprise a mixed bag.

Until now we've been living with route inventories in the NEMO planning area that were done in 1985 and 1987. Those who were around and active in access issues during that time recall the inventory process as badly flawed, but little was at stake, for there was little or no enforcement of the inventory. This was due much in part to the BLM's realization that the inventory poorly represented the actual route network as it truly existed on the ground. The BLM's designations in the areas now known as NEMO was so poor that even some BLM carsonite-signed & numbered routes, such as P168 - Manly Pass, were not recognized by the official inventory. As long as users kept their motor vehicles on existing routes not signed closed, travel was permitted.

However, all this is changing.

Through a complex series of environmental lawsuits, the BLM agreed to quickly develop a management plan for the NEMO area, including motor vehicle route designations. Unfortunately, the BLM opted not to conduct a route inventory project, as had been done for much of the WEMO plan (NEMO's sibling, known as the West Mojave Plan). Instead, the BLM would simply re-designate routes from their 1985/87 inventories, as augmented by specific public input. Routes not present in the 1985/87 inventories nor specifically identified by the public would not be designated, and would therefore be automatically closed.

You see, the recent flurry of BLM desert management plans -- NECO, WEMO, NEMO -- all introduce a radically new paradigm for backcountry travelers: all routes are closed unless specifically signed open. This is a 180-degree change from the generations-old understanding that routes are "open unless signed closed". The significance of this is that without an accurate route inventory to precede the designation process, hundreds, if not thousands, of legitimate, existing and commonly traveled backcountry routes will be closed simply because they were ignored by the planning process. And this is very much the case with NEMO.

If you read the newspapers you are led to believe that the new NEMO route designations actually increases open routes by some 145 miles, as compared to 1985/87 inventories. But to the frequent backcountry traveler, NEMO's omissions are great, particularly in the Barstow and Needles resource areas, and the number of now lost routes is virtually incalculable.

In August of 2003 the late Paul Condon and I organized a volunteer team of some 25 people (including one or two who post here at to systematically survey routes in the portion of the NEMO planning area that fell within the Ridgecrest Resource Area. Using high-end consumer GPS units and GIS software, and utilizing the methods learned from the WEMO professional survey effort, in the areas we covered we mapped twice as many routes as was recognized by the 1985/87 inventory. Sadly, we could only cover two-thirds of our target area during this fully volunteer effort, and no such effort was ever done for the plan's Barstow or Needles Resource Areas.

When finished, we provided the BLM our digital route data which directly contributed to the open designation of more than 60 miles of routes not previously contained in the 1985/87 inventory -- some 75% of our route data was accepted and designated open.

For complete results, see:

Even having proved that the 1985/87 inventories grossly under-represented the actual motor vehicle route network, no survey effort was undertaken by the BLM, nor is any in the works. NEMO planners, backed by California Desert District Director Linda Hansen and State Director Mike Pool, are content to ignore many of the routes that you, our readers, regularly use rather designate them via a public process.

Those opposed to access complain that among the routes not recognized by the old 1985/87 inventories are those that were illegally made. And they are right, some of these are new routes that were made without the BLM's consent. But not all of them. In fact, a large number of routes overlooked by the 1985/87 inventories are actually clearly marked on the commonly used and easily available USGS 1:24,000 and 1:100,000 scale maps. Some even appear on versions of these maps that date back to the turn of the 20th Century.

But without a formal route survey and a resulting inventory that accurately depicts the actual route network as it exists on the ground, the BLM will be lacking an important benchmark against which newly appearing routes can be unquestionably identified as unauthorized or illegal. Such an inventory would greatly assist the Bureau's recreational planners, OHV and wilderness coordinators, archeologists, wildlife monitors, and law enforcement officers.

Although the new NEMO designations do include more miles of routes than were in the previous flawed inventories, it still ignores hundreds of miles of existing, regularly used backcountry routes -- routes that will not receive consideration for an open or closed designation. Instead, these routes will be left to be closed automatically due to the new "closed unless signed open" policy soon to be implemented along with the NEMO designations.

Users of such routes include hunters and wildlife watchers, hikers and picnicers, rockhounds and weekend gold and mineral miners, equestrians, amateur historians and families seeking a glimpse of the past, wildflower watchers, rocket launchers and landscape painters, OHV enthusiasts and solitude seekers. All of these people will be denied motor vehicle access to backcountry destinations because they were ignored by planners.

Last Chance Rand

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