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***PRESS RELEASE***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
Kern County Sheriff's Department used grant funds to investigate whistle blowers
December 30, 2016
Bakersfield, CA - A Kern County Sheriff's Deputy used public grant monies to study reports of illegal off-roading in the Tehachapi Mountains, but ended his investigation with an attempt to prosecute volunteers who reported the complaints in the first place.
Sgt. Steven Williams, a 17-year veteran of the department, confirmed the abrupt U-turn in his efforts at a November 4, 2016 meeting of the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission (OHMVR). At that meeting, Williams referred to complaints reported by “The Group,” which he refused to identify by name in order “not to give them legitimacy.” He presented to Commission members a 15-page summary, and 64-page video presentation of his findings. He concluded that ORV Watch volunteers had “exaggerated” claims of damage to the wilderness areas, and had falsified at least two reports provided to law enforcement.
Williams launched a nearly four-year study of alleged illegal off-roading on East Kern's Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in 2013, largely based on reporting by ORV Watch Kern County, which has become a lightening rod for citizen complaints regarding off-road abuse, as well as a noxious influence to some in the off-road recreation community. The “complaints” investigated by Williams involved charges that high-profile professional riders, occasional recreationists and even members of law enforcement rode motorized vehicles throughout the Tehachapi Mountains. Citing historical recordations and judicial orders in an ongoing Federal lawsuit over recreation and land use in Eastern Kern County, ORV Watch contends that motorized recreation is not authorized for any areas in the Tehachapi Mountains (except for property owners on their own land). High tech off-road vehicles cause destruction to the PCT, an asset reserved to hikers and equestrians, and damage to sensitive soil, water, and wildlife ecosystems in the area.
Williams said he pursued a “criminal investigation” against ORV Watch, and brought a preliminary case for false reports to the Kern County District Attorney's Office.
“We attempted to pursue a criminal investigation,” Williams said during the meeting. “It's a misdemeanor to falsely report a crime. We needed additional information from the reporting party but we didn't get a response from the individual. Of course, at this stage, the statute of limitations has run out.”
Money for the 3+-year project, which involved multiple field personnel and equipment, as well as coordination with personnel from both the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and United States Forest Service (USFS) came from a grant for $135,000 the Sheriff's Department obtained from the OHMVR Division.
“We couldn't have done this without grant funds,” said Sgt. Fred Williams, who presented the findings along with Williams.
The total cost to taxpayers for an investigation that began with reports of criminal activity, and was redirected toward the reporters, has not been made public. ORV Watch has submitted a request for full disclosure under the State's Public Records Act, and the response will be reported as soon as it is received.
Letter to Sr. Deputy Williams regarding the "leaked" internal memo shared with Stewards of the Sequoias.
ORV WATCH's LTE response to the Kern Valley Sun article alleging that there are no dirt bikers on the PCT
Lawsuit challenges OHVs on Inyo County Roads [June 14, 2012]:
Lawsuit Filed Challenging Plan to Allow ORVs on Inyo County Roads
INDEPENDENCE, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility took action today to hold Inyo County accountable to adequately review the environmental impacts of an ill-conceived pilot project to allow off-road vehicles to use county roads. In a lawsuit filed in California Superior Court today, the two conservation organizations challenged the county’s recent approval of a procedure that would allow non-street-legal vehicles to use county roads without the environmental review required by California law.
The Inyo County Board of Supervisors’ action would allow all terrain vehicles, dirt bikes and other “greensticker” vehicles to use the same roadways as street-legal vehicles. “Greensticker” vehicles are not required to comply with emissions, noise and safety standards (e.g. lights and turn signals) required for street legal vehicles, and are not required to carry insurance. In addition to the obvious risk to human life and limb, increasing access for off-road riders, known to venture off roads and trails, also threatens the numerous sensitive plants and wildlife that call Inyo County home, and exposes residents to chronic noise and harmful particulate matter.
“Inyo County is setting up a wreck,” said Ileene Anderson, desert program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The county is home to so many threatened and endangered species that could be hurt by expanded ORV use — on both public and private lands. The county needs to figure out how to protect these resources, as well as public health, before it approves this new use of county roads.”
The plan’s poor-quality environmental review did not even attempt to identify and analyze the impacts of the countywide program, which is designed to expand off-road vehicle use in many sensitive areas and areas that have been restored for rare species.
“Inyo County has approached this proposal with blinders on,” said Karen Schambach, California director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “It’s too bad they have to be litigated into environmental review, but they are ignoring their responsibility to their own citizens, as well as to the natural resources that make Inyo County a destination for many kinds of outdoor-based recreation besides ORVs.”