Local News

Friday, Apr 20 2012 06:43 PM

Plan would balance fun, environmental protection near Taft

BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles have been roaring along the fire roads and dirt trails in the Temblor Range west of Taft for decades, cutting through Suicide Canyon and over Deadman's Bluff in pursuit of their sport.

Federal land managers want them to have their fun but also need to protect sensitive areas threatened by it. So they and riders have launched a process that seeks to both limit off-highway use and protect the right to ride.

They are seeking a grant to launch an environmental study process that could result in a formal management plan for the area -- with designated trails, a dedicated access route, informational kiosks and staff dedicated to overseeing motorized access to the area.

And Taft-area locals are helping as best they can in the hopes that they won't ultimately be banned from riding in the hills they love.

RIDING RISE

As with most popular riding areas used by fans of the growing pastime, the area has seen growing interest for years.

And that always spells trouble.

The Bureau of Land Management manages the range of rolling hills sandwiched between the oilfields around Taft and the federally protected Carrizo Plain National Monument -- where off-road motor vehicle use is prohibited.

BLM rangers have been watching off-road use in the Temblor Range to make sure that riders don't wander over into the Carrizo Plain and aren't abusing their current right to ride in the Temblor.

"That use has steadily increased out there in the past few years," said Peter Dwitt, outdoor recreation planner for the BLM.

He's involved with the grant process that dedicate more than $625,000 to a formal environmental process to explore the creation of a dedicated off-highway riding area in the Temblor Range.

If the Bakersfield office of the BLM receives the grant in October, it would kick off years of environmental work that is expected to be complete in 2014.

Development of the riding area would proceed from there.

Tim Crabb, treasurer of the Taft Motorcycle Club, has been working with BLM to protect off-highway opportunities in the Temblor hills for years.

He knows what will happen if the number of riders continues to increase, the area begins to get beaten up and people start trespassing into the Carrizo Plain.

"They could say, 'OK, no more riding,'" Crabb said.

It is in the interest of riders not to let that happen, he said.

"We've been working with the BLM and mapping trails and giving our recommendations. What's the alternative? We either help them and help ourselves at the same time, or they close it all down."

GOOD RIDE

Kern County supervisors, on Tuesday, voted to support the grant process.

Supervisor Ray Watson, who represents Taft, said the effort to design a riding area with managed trails and a dedicated route into the area should work for riders "if we can come up with 25,000 acres for their use that has a variety of terrain to challenge their skills."

At the same time, Watson said, the BLM needs to "keep them out of the portions of the Carrizo Plain that are truly sensitive environmentally."

And oil company development in the area needs to be protected from trespass as well.

Dwitt said riders have to bless the area's trails, riding areas and technical challenges or they will be tempted to ignore the area and trespass where they shouldn't.

"We have to create an experience that people want to use," he said.

WATCHFUL EYE

The BLM is already watching the Temblor Range closely.

Dwitt said rangers patrol the area on weekends to make sure off-road riders abide by the rules.

Eventually, grant or not, there will need to be signage and some fencing to protect sensitive issues.

But ultimately, he said, the BLM needs to get a detailed understanding of what areas of the Temblor need special protection and what will be available for riders who are willing to respect the area.

"We're really glad that the BLM is willing to work with us hand-in-hand," Crabb said.

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