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Dedicated to conservation and multiple use of public lands for recreation opportunities.

Edited by: John Stewart

Putting Lives at Risk

By Jim Suty and Pete Conaty
California League of Off Road Voters

Environmental extremists have shown, once again, that they are willing to put people's lives at risk in order to obtain their goal of closing down off highway recreation. This time their target is one of only two entrances accessible to emergency vehicles, in the last five remaining miles of the California Coastline open to recreational vehicles, at Oceano Dunes, in San Luis Obispo County.

This is just another example of environmental extremists putting so called "environmental protection" above the lives of people. Recently, forest fighters died in the state of Washington because authorities couldn't decide if they could take water out of rivers and lakes that contain endangered species. Farmers in Klamath Falls, Oregon lose their farms to "save" a couple of species of fish, while the US Bureau of Reclamation buys water for bald eagles, but not for farms. All this in the name of environmental protection of "endangered species". The real endangered species are family oriented OHV recreatioinsts along with other multi-use outdoor recreationists.

For years, since the early 1900's, driving along the beach in San Luis Obispo County was considered family recreation. Families frequently camped out along the coast and enjoyed the beaches. But the area slowly came under the control of state agencies and, since 1982, in order to control access to the area and more importantly to protect several endangered or threatened bird species, the State has managed the Oceano Dunes State Recreation Area (SVRA), under the Department of Parks and Recreation. Also, during this period, beach frontage available for OHV recreation has shrunk gradually over the years until there is only five miles left.

Recently the Coastal Commission issued a permanent permit granting California State Parks permission to remove windblown sand accumulating around the Pier Avenue ramp, one of only two entrances to Oceano Dunes SVRA. Without this permit, California State Parks would be prohibited from removing the sand from the ramp.

This permanent permit granted by the Coastal Commission has been appealed by individuals aligned with the San Luis Obispo Environmental Defense Center (EDC). These individuals, some rich homeowners and the EDC contend that removing the windblown sand from the ramp will harm the endangered Western Snowy Plover. 

The Coastal Commission will vote on this appeal at its September meeting in Eureka. If the environmentalists are successful in their appeal to the Coastal Commission, emergency vehicles, such as ambulances, fire and law enforcement vehicles will only have one entrance into Oceano Dunes.

Because of the seriousness of this situation, in late June, the state Department of Parks and Recreation requested and was issued a temporary "Emergency Vehicle Permit" by San Luis Obispo County, to conduct periodic maintenance on the ramp. State Parks made the case that accumulations of windblown sand was reaching a depth that made it impossible for ambulance, police or fire vehicles to enter or exit at the Pier Avenue beach access ramp. This temporary permit was appealed by the same individuals who are now appealing the permanent permit at the Coastal Commission. The county turned down that appeal.

In its application, State Parks said that limiting use to the only other ramp, the Grand Avenue access ramp, would add 6 to 10 minutes to fire department and ambulance service response times. In many medical emergencies, 6 to 10 minutes can make the difference between life and death. Just ask a paramedic. These additional minutes could potentially result in fatalities caused by this delay in response, especially on common occurrences such as heart attacks, heat stroke and other medical problems that require immediate attention.

"The magnitude of delay in response time could make a critical difference in first aid/first response care of accident victims in the event of life threatening injury," said Jim Suty, President of Friends of Oceano Dunes. "This could cost people their lives".

Besides the effect this appeal will have on people's lives, it will also seriously damage the economy of the Oceano Dunes area and limit access to the many working class families that use Oceano Dunes for inexpensive recreation. This was shown very dramatically when the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club went to court to close the Oceano Dunes ramp over the recent Memorial Day weekend. This legal maneuver, at the last minute, when people were already on the road for the Dunes caused tourists, local citizens, retirees, fishermen, families and disabled people to get stuck in the sand. But the real losers were the small business people on Pier Avenue whose sales plummeted when the ramp had to be limited to in-bound traffic.

Just as they caused the Imperial Sand Dunes to be closed down on the Thanksgiving weekend last year, environmental extremists time their lawsuits to inflict the maximum number of problems for the most people, usually the busiest weekends of the year.

The only way to stop these environmental extremist attacks on all forms of human recreation, as well as on our livelihoods, is to reform the Endangered Species Act since it is very evident that the extremists do not care if their fellow citizens are the endangered species. In the mean time, CORVA and the Friends of Oceano Dunes will be fighting to keep the Dunes open.

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