Bill Allots 154,663 Acres In The Mojave Desert To Marines For Training

(November 25)  TWENTYNINE PALMS—The full U.S. Senate this week took up legislation that will advance the Navy’s request to expand the Marine Corps’ military training grounds into Johnson Valley and Wonder Valley.
The Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week approved the proposed Military Land Withdrawals Act,  and a Senate vote on it is anticipated soon.
The bill allows for military use of public lands in Johnson Valley and Wonder Valley, as well as land in Imperial and Riverside counties and Montana for military training exercises.
The bill sets aside 154,663 acres in San Bernardino County for training, extending to a  36,755-acre “shared-use” area in Johnson Valley, to be available both to the military and the public in Johnson Valley. Under the provisions of the bill, the Secretary of the Interior would be able to close public lands when deemed necessary for military or public safety or national security.
The Department of the Navy maintains the land heretofore unused by the military in the Mojave Desert is needed for training exercises that aren’t possible on the existing Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center grounds. The Marine Corps envisions training exercises that would involve a Marine Expeditionary Brigade-sized unit, comprised of about 15,000 Marines and a full complement of land and aviation equipment and vehicles. Those exercises require that elements of the force be well removed from other elements, including being beyond visual range. The exercises are likely to involve a coordinated attack or effort at vectoring disparate forces to a single location, involving precise location finding and timing.
The Navy had intended to use an even larger area in the Mojave, but reduced its request in compliance with public input and protests.
The expansion in the Military Land Withdrawals Act would prohibit public access to roughly half of the land now available for off-road use in Johnson Valley. The shared-use provision turns over to the military the area so designated for two months out of the year, during which time the Secretary of the Navy has exclusive management authority for the land so maneuvers can be held. The Secretary of the Interior would have authority over the property for the balance of time.
Congressman Paul Cook, who represents the area and was a Marine colonel, promoted an alternate version of the act that was apparently less acceptable to the Navy than the draft now before the Senate. His recommendations were not included in the Senate bill, which will upon passage become a part of the National Defense Authorization Act.
While Cook pursues rivaling legislation from his position in the House of Representatives, a circumstance could develop where conflicting language in the two bills could result in a bicameral conference committee being formed to hash out the differences.

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