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Peninsular bighorn sheep
San Bernardino Sun, December 18, 2008

Bighorn sheep lawsuit over habitat protection filed
By Lauren McSherry

Three environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the Bureau of Land Management for a small change to a desert conservation plan that they claim will have a big impact on the bighorn sheep living south of San Gorgonio pass.

The Sierra Club, California Wilderness Coalition and Center for Biological Diversity are suing the BLM to keep the agency from opening a mountain road that bisects the area where the sheep bear and nurse their young.

Bighorn sheep north of the pass in the San Bernardino Mountains are thriving, but the numbers south of the pass in the San Jacinto Mountains have been dwindling, and the population there has been listed as endangered, said Ileene Anderson, public lands deserts director with the Center for Biological Diversity's Los Angeles office.

A lawsuit settlement in 2001 required the BLM to close Dunn Road, near Palm Desert.

But an amendment to the California Desert Conservation Area Plan now allows for the road to be reopened, said Erin Ziegler, staff attorney with the California Wilderness Coalition.

"Dunn Road crosses important high mountain habitat for the bighorn sheep and a lambing area," Ziegler said. "The road was illegally constructed, and it trespassed over BLM land in the Santa Rosa Mountains."

Part of complaint filed Thursday also includes the Coachella Valley milk vetch and the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, two federally listed endangered species, Anderson said.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton