You’d think the barren desert lands east of Los Angeles would be almost worthless. Instead, it is currently the topic of intense discussions between outdoor recreation enthusiasts and the United States Marine Corps.
There are only a handful of places in the US where large unit formations (brigade or regimental sized) can conduct live fire maneuver exercises. The Marines have long operated out of 29 Palms in the high desert, conducting live fire exercises for units preparing to deploy. But even as large as 29 Palms is, it isn’t large enough to conduct exercises on the scale the Marines need. So they are looking at putting land currently under the auspices of the Bureau of Land Management to use in conjunction with existing range lands. The problem is, the land the Marines are looking at is one of the most popular chunks of land for off road vehicle users.
The Marine Corps, whose Twenty-nine Palms base is directly adjacent to Johnson Valley, also likes the valley’s challenging terrain — for similar yet different reasons.
The Marine Corps would like to include the land inside the boundaries of its Air-Ground Combat Center as a training area for large-scale, live-fire exercises where three battalions could simultaneously practice assaulting a fixed location. The land is controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
Johnson Valley would give the Marine Corps a large-scale training capability it lacks at any of its bases, according to Marine brass. Even in a budget-tightening season when other projects are being dropped or trimmed, the Marine Corps has allocated $60 million for the expansion project.
You’ve seen this land, by the way. This chunk of land is very popular with Hollywood for all sorts of desert scenes and car chases.
I’m fairly sympathetic to the off roaders. Half the land west of the Mississippi is pretty much empty nothingness (and most of it is owned by the federal government) but huge swaths of that land is off limits to the public. But Johnson Valley, convenient to the the LA basin, is open to the public, and not encumbered by the hassles of so many other outdoor activity areas.
But the Marines have a valid need. There is simply no substitute for large scale live fire exercises. Until you get la-de-dah-de everybody out there shootin’ and movin’, you don’t really know how they’ll do in the real world. And the increasingly long range of weapons, and the higher speeds of the mounted systems drives a need for ever larger live fire ranges. And it is a lot easier and cheaper to expand an existing installation than start building a new one from scratch. The Marines are looking at spending about $60 million to expand 29 Palms. That’s dirt cheap. Imagine if they had to build a whole new post with roads , range control, aviation support, housing and other infrastructure.
I think the only part of the article that really annoys me is the bit from California State Parks. Really, if the issue is that important to California State Parks, perhaps they should have provides some of the states land for off road vehicles, instead of fobbing that off on the feds.