by Sheir Kibbe -- District 37 Secretary/Newsletter Editor

Twenty years after the last River Run, with numerous years of studies, the West Mojave Coordinated Management Plan (WEMO) and the Northern and Eastern Coordinated Management Plan (NECO) have given off-roaders access to the corridor that was closed. With this information, the Checkers MC have decided to keep their history going and put on their 35th Annual Check Chase, 3rd Annual Chuck Stearns Memorial. It has been put on the District calendar for November 19th and is listed as the "River Run". After applying for the permit, the harsh reality set in that this wasnít going to happen this year. In fact, it might take about three years for the banner to drop. Although the WEMO Plan allows access into the corridor, the NECO Plan specifically requires that an Environmental Assessment be completed to assess any change in circumstances which led to the establishment of these corridors. The NECO Plan relied on the Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the race when it was last held. Since that time, the Desert Tortoise has been listed on the Endangered Species List, there has been designation of Critical Habitat and there is development of the Recovery Plan for the Desert Tortoise. The list of requirements for the application process to host the event involves a lot of time and money. Although the BLM have stated that they want to see the event go on, they are requiring an Environmental Assessment, which will primarily assess any change in conditions since the 1980 EIS (Environmental Impact Study). The application states the Environmental Assessment will require the following survey for completion: Archeological Survey. The project will have to comply with all National Historic Preservation Act, section 106 requirements (complete 100% survey) for the proposed route due to the age and findings of the previous survey. Biological. It is agreed that the race corridor will need to be surveyed for sensitive, threatened and endangered plant and animal species to identify possible mitigations of impacts and to support consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service. SHPO Consultation NFO (Needles Field Office) will consult with the SHPO (State Historic Preservation Officer) regarding the findings of the archeological survey. Native American Tribal Consultations. NFO will consult with approximately six different tribal governments on the project. Unexploded Ordinance. Unexploded ordinance (UXO) is known to exist within the project area. Following your complete application, a determination will be made regarding any necessary UXO survey needs.

Greg McGrath, President of Checkers MC says, "The pivotal issue at this stage is the Biological Study. The earliest a Biological Study of any value can be done is February of 2007 (when species of concern are active). Pending the outcome of the biological study (and those other things) there is a possibility the Check Chase could happen in late 2007. However, depending on the outcome of the Biological study, Archaeological Study and Plan of Action (Environmental Assessment, EA), the BLM could decide a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) be prepared for the race course / event. If they make that decision, the race could be delayed for years".

The application states an Environmental Impact Study would fully document the potential impacts to the environment. This would require additional time and funding. As this event will certainly exceed the 50 hour threshold for Cost Recovery, the applicant will be required to pay for all cost associated with permit processing and administration. We anticipate that the cost of resource surveys, preparation and review of the EA, consultations with the State Historic Preservation Officer, Native American Tribes and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and pre/during/post monitoring of the event will likely cost $300,000-$500,000. A detailed estimate of all cost for each BLM office will be developed if you choose to proceed. The applicant will be expected to pay 80% of the cost before work on the permit begins.

After digesting that, there is one more paragraph at the end of the application that reads, BLM could lose the current biological opinions on the CDCA plan (The California Desert Conservation Area) amendments if the CBD (Center for Biological Diversity) follows through with their NOI (Notice of Intent to Sue). In this case the application would be mute until a new biological opinion is approved. There is also a 500 entry limit.

The good news in all of this is that the Checkers are not quitters no matter how difficult things get. They have started the ball rolling by contacting a Biologist, Ross Martin who has a tortoise certificate and has also raced the Check Chase in past years. He foresees the process taking three years. The first year would involve planning, the second year for problems and the third year for analysis. The Checkers are hoping it can be done sooner. Once all of the assessments get established, they will be good for 8-10 years. Itís going to take a lot of help and financial aid to see this through. The Checkers are currently applying for Governmental Grants, Grants from the Action Program and have been given financial backing from District 37. They are now accepting donations.