News: Encroachment causes safety risks in East Miramar
Story by Lance Cpl. Erica Kirsop
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRIMAR, Calif. -- Random police patrols have increased on East Miramar aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar due to encroachment by the public and acts of vandalism to historic sites located in the area.
Officials at MCAS Miramar have noticed increased incursions into the more remote eastern areas of the base. Local hikers and mountain bikers have been traversing federal government property along a 3-mile portion of the Stowe Trail that connects with regional outdoor recreational areas, including Mission Trails Park. Evidence of graffiti and other destruction of government property have been witnessed in the area.
“While we are concerned with people violating the law, our main concern is ultimately the dangers of that area,” said Lt. Col. Mike Mizell, provost marshal for MCAS Miramar and a Yakima, Wash., native. “This land is a training area with multiple different safety and environmental risks.”
The remote area of the base that is being trespassed is part of the East Miramar Training Areas. While many hiking and biking trail publications feature Stowe Trail as a public route, there is a 3-mile stretch that cuts through portions of Federally-owned land within those training areas. They are used by all branches of the military to conduct patrol training, rifle and pistol training, and explosive ordnance disposal. As well, a large portion of East Miramar was used during and shortly after World War II as a training area for artillery and mortar firing. Miramar officials continue to find unexploded ordnance periodically and it is a real concern for public safety.
“People have been breaking into dangerous areas by cutting fences and destroying or tearing down the signs that we put out about the danger and risks,” said Maj. Richard Thompson, MCAS Miramar training officer and a Portland, Ore., native. “When people tear down these signs, it puts others at risk for what can end up being fatal injuries. They may not even know they are on East Miramar when they are wandering around.”
The rough and varied terrain, combined with the remote nature of this region increases the risks of injury because of the lack of radio and cell phone coverage in the area. Marines patrolling the region are routinely without radio contact to the mainside facilities west of I-15 and worry that injured trespassers would not be able to reach vital emergency services.
“If by some miracle someone were to call us in the event of an injury, it would be a minimum of 45 minutes to reach them,” said Mizell. “That is assuming they could even accurately describe which canyon they were even in. That area can be very easy to get lost in for those that don’t know it very well.”
The area being encroached upon is also home to various endangered species. As people walk, hike, or bike through this area, they are destroying the natural habitat of protected plants and animals.
“The area along the Stowe Trail on East Miramar is home to different rare and endangered species like the Willowy Monardella, a type of mint,” said JoEllen Kassebaum, a botanist with MCAS Miramar Environmental Management Services. “This portion of land, especially down in the canyons, is also the habitat of the Least Bell’s Vireo, a bird that is currently endangered as well. People encroaching in this area are also endangering the few oaks that remain after the 2003 fire.”
The use of off-road vehicles in these areas also contributes to corrosion of natural waterways, paths and the further disruption of endangered species like the fairy shrimp, which live in vernal pools. These pools are seasonal wetlands that fill with water during fall and winter rains and are home to many plants and animals that, in turn, form a valuable part of the food chain for a wide array of animals. Following rain fall, many parts of the canyons are impassable and off-road vehicles transiting through these areas disturb the environment and pose a greater risk for flooding and damage to these endangered species.
To decrease interest in possible encroachment on East Miramar, the Provost Marshal’s Office treats all cases of trespassing very seriously.
“Trespassers must also understand that while they risk injury, they are also allowing themselves to be treated as trespassers on federal land by military police,” said Mizell. “They can be arrested. The hazards are a great risk to civilians wandering around on a military installation.”
In response to increased public encroachment, authorities are replacing signs and increasing patrols in the area, but it is ultimately up to the public to maintain their own safety.