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ADV NewsEnvironmentalists Lose Fight to Close California’s Oceano Dunes OHV

Environmentalists Lose Fight to Close California’s Oceano Dunes OHV

A rare win for off-roaders in the fight to keep land open to riding.

Published on 08.02.2023

It’s all too often we hear news about public lands being closed to off-road use, but this summer is just a bit brighter after a Superior Court Judge in San Luis Obispo, California, ruled last month against environmentalists, making way for the popular stretch of seashore known as Oceano Dunes, near Pismo Beach, to remain open for OHV travel and camping for the foreseeable future. 

For those who have followed the contentious power struggle involving the four-mile stretch of sandy dunes, you’re aware it had been on track for closure to all vehicle usage by 2024, as decided by the California Coastal Commission (CCC) after a unanimous vote by its board back in March of 2022. 

California Oceano Dunes OHV
Photo: D. Johnson

The grounds for the closure order cited disruption of habitat for western snowy plovers, little shorebirds that are protected species under state and federal treaties dating back to the early 70s. They nest on the shoreline and regular visitors to Oceano Dunes will have seen portions of the state run park cordoned off to isolate them during peak nesting season. 


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Another explanation for the closure order related to air pollution caused by the roosting throngs, and indeed, most summer afternoons there is a fog-like layer of dust that hangs in the air. The Coastal Commission reasoned the cause was constant churning of the dunes, which not only damaged vegetation but prevented the dunes from establishing a stabilizing crust.  

Additional arguments were tagged on, including land rights of the indigenous Chumash tribe, as well as negative effects on future development. 

California Oceano Dunes OHV
Photo: Rob Dabney

So who do we have to thank for defeating this encroachment on an off-road park that has already dwindled from 3600 acres to about 1500? At a grass-roots level, Friends of Oceano Dunes, a non-profit dedicated to keeping the small slice of off-road paradise open for shoreline driving, dune riding and camping, all activities that have been popular on this particular stretch of sand for more than 100 years. 

But standing behind the non-profit was the powerhouse of Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), as well as EcoLogic Partners, which fronts a collective of entities including the Off-Road Business Association (ORBA), American Sand Association (ASA) and American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) District 37. 

Arguments filed in the four lawsuits against the CCC’s proposed closure of Oceano Dunes to off-highway usage included studies showing that the snowy plover’s habitat is not necessarily being negatively affected by off-road enthusiasts. One remarkable case in point uses the park’s long prolonged pandemic closure as an example. With no humans throttling about you’d guess the plover’s population would have surged, yet instead, its hatch rate decreased during that period.

And let’s remember that the little shore birds aren’t limited in any way to this relatively small stretch of sand in Central California anyway. They can be found propagating on beaches all the way from Baja California Sur, Mexico to Washington State. 

California Oceano Dunes OHV
Photo: Stephen Gregory

As for the air pollution, arguments against the ban included geological studies that explained the dunes around Pismo Beach are constantly moving due to the forces of wind and sea, not necessarily vehicular traffic, and would not form a permanent hard “crust” under any circumstance. 

And while you’d think that off-road riding on the dunes would indeed tear up stabilizing vegetation, the Friend’s lawsuits included aerial photography from the 1930s being compared to today, showing there is actually more vegetation at Oceano Dunes now thanks to the state’s replanting programs.

But the backbone of the legal efforts to keep Oceano open was not debatable. It turned out the CCC’s closure order directly violated San Luis Obispo’s county’s pro-tourism Coastal Act, which not only permits, but encourages off-road activity in the area. Because obviously, Oceano Dunes SVRA is a huge cash cow for the county. 

And ironically, the millions spent on snowy plover protection is paid for by visitor fees to the area.

There was simply no good reason to hyper regulate this tiny 4-mile stretch of beach — the only section of California’s 840 miles of shoreline legally rideable for OHVs — and the hard work of volunteers and powersports industry backing proved that. And while it might be a small park, this is a big win for the off-roading community and a sign to stand strong in our fight to keep our precious few off-road options open.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge
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Dawg
Dawg
August 2, 2023 11:56 am

Environmentalists Didn’t Lose Fight to Close California’s Oceano Dunes OHV. They are just closing it giant chunks at a time. Oceano OHV area was once 35,000 acres. It is now 3,500 acres and only 1,500 of that is available to off-roaders. Just because they haven’t put the final nail in the coffin, they are sure damn close.

MICHAEL E SCOTT
MICHAEL E SCOTT
August 2, 2023 12:00 pm

And in case you all haven’t figured it out, environmentalists will gladly compromise and only take 50%. And then they will only take 50% of that. And then they will only take 50% of that. It doesn’t take long until the area is now too small to support any offroading, so now it has to be closed.

Johny
Johny
August 2, 2023 2:37 pm

Bikers crying over people wanting to protect the animals and erosion, shows how pathetic you look

Jamie Elvidge
Jamie Elvidge
August 2, 2023 3:45 pm
Reply to  Johny

The article makes it clear that the judge who put a stop to the ban was presented with factual evidence that motorized vehicle usage in the tiny area is not negatively affecting the birds or causing new erosion.

Johny
Johny
August 3, 2023 11:44 am
Reply to  Jamie Elvidge

Evidence provided by motorcycle companies to keep them in business ? Lol

Jamie Elvidge
Jamie Elvidge
August 3, 2023 11:50 am
Reply to  Johny

That doesn’t change it from being evidence

Norman Xu
Norman Xu
August 2, 2023 8:35 pm
Reply to  Johny

That’s not pathetic at all, all these protections of animal or environment we do nowaday, the ultimately goal is for the wellbeing of human race, so it has to be balanced and we cannot go extreme with it, because if went extreme evitably it will cause some damage in the other aspects.

It has been discussed before many times, one of the most extreme case of environmental protection can be simply remove human race from the planet, as the existence of human race is often viewed as the root cause of many issues in this planet.

However most would agree that defeats the purpose and we should not go for that route.

Off road riding might not seem something important to you, so it feels to you as something you can throw it away lightly in exchange for a “greater good”, it is something “sacrificable” to you.

But for many people it is a vital part of their life. some of us got stress from the work or from the family, after continuously hard working for 5 days, have a good ride is the only thing that can loose them up. Riding in a natural environment not only gonna help these people physically as it is a very demanding sport, and also help them mentally. There are many people claim that riding helps with their depression.

I don’t think it is a fair judgement to consider it trivial, just because you don’t enjoy the sport as much as these people.

Thousands acres lands have already taken away from these people and was given back to the nature, now they are only asking for small part for their habit. That’s more reasonable.

Johny
Johny
August 2, 2023 2:38 pm

Seeing bikers crying over people wanting to protect the birds and animals.. that’s pathetic

DonF
DonF
August 2, 2023 2:50 pm
Reply to  Johny

Seeing someone who can’t write a proper comment w/o doubling it while excluding any context both times is more pathetic

Johny
Johny
August 3, 2023 11:45 am
Reply to  DonF

Says the guy who deletes his comments lol

DonF
DonF
August 3, 2023 5:45 pm
Reply to  Johny

Exactly. I make sure my comments make sense lol

Norman Xu
Norman Xu
August 2, 2023 9:05 pm
Reply to  Johny

if you truly consider the other non-human animals are worth protection no matter what’s the cost, then you should start replying the same comment to every blog post about meat recipe and say the same thing to every non-vegan person you meet.

i reckon you don’t do that, so that means you are very likely agree that the ultimate goal for evironmental protection is for the wellbeing of human race, hence it has to be done in a balanced manor.

now if you are still considering giving up something that you don’t care in exchange for something that’s “greater good”, even tho that “thing” you don’t care means a lot to a large number of people (albeit still minority), and very often it is vital to their wellbeing.

then you are both:

1. patronizing
2. a hypocrite

Johny
Johny
August 3, 2023 11:47 am

I ride for a living and own land in Oceano area. Who are you?

Norman Xu
Norman Xu
August 9, 2023 1:18 pm
Reply to  Johny

> I ride for a living

i don’t understand why did you even mention this, there are plenty people who ride/drive for a living, like taxi driver, but riding/driving isn’t actually mentally important to them, just tool for living really and mentioning this doesn’t really help to support your argument.

> own land in Oceano area.

so what? does owning a piece land or being a richer person automatically make your more righeous than others? if not why do you even mention it?

> Who are you?

that doesn’t matter

Linda Wallace
Linda Wallace
August 4, 2023 3:13 pm

Allowing off road vehicles in the Oceano Dunes is a sad loss for children, families, the dunes and the plants and creatures living there who have survived the off road vehicles so far. I grew up in Santa Maria over 70 years ago and my family visited the dunes often. My sisters and I climbed the dunes and rolled down enjoying the the peaceful atmosphere where only the seabirds could be heard. Now it is not safe for children to play in the sand dunes They risk being killed or injured. Beach buggies were allowed when I was in high school and one of my classmates was killed riding in one. Indigenous plants and creatures have not survived the cars on the beach. When I was growing up we dug for Pismo clams, now there are none. And the noise cancels out the sounds of nature and robs us of the peace and spiritual transcendence of spending time in nature.

Norman Xu
Norman Xu
August 9, 2023 1:20 pm

> Oceano OHV area was once 35,000 acres. It is now 3,500 acres and only 1,500 of that is available to off-roaders.

and you and your family must go where is left available to off roader to play huh?

why not go on to the highway and complaint about that is not safe for children to play?

Norman Xu
Norman Xu
August 9, 2023 1:22 pm

> Oceano OHV area was once 35,000 acres. It is now 3,500 acres and only 1,500 of that is available to off-roaders.

and you and your family must go where is left available to off roader to climb and roll the dunes huh?

why not go on to the highway and complaint about that is not safe for children to play?

Dave Vitagliano
Dave Vitagliano
September 19, 2023 7:42 pm

I was just there today for the first time. Beautiful stretch of beach. I can see both sides, but if the bird is not endangered and nests along the entire coast, there should be no problem. I also observed how clean and well maintained that stretch is.

John Smith
John Smith
December 7, 2023 6:56 pm

You cant say environmentalist without saying mental

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