Judge orders BLM to revise proposed off-road routes
WESTERN MOJAVE DESERT • A plan proposed for the designation of off-highway vehicle routes throughout the western Mojave Desert has been rejected by a federal judge because of concerns about adequate protection of wildlife as well as water and air quality in the proposed off-road areas.
Although the plan was finalized in 2006, several environmental groups had concerns about the plan because of concerns about air and water quality and wildlife safety. Several groups filed a suit in 2006, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Desert Survivors. A judge rejected the plan in 2009, but did not decide if the plan should be revised. The new order will ensure that the plan is revised to address specific environmental concerns.
One of the biggest concerns that the Center for Biological Diversity — one of the groups who challenged the West Mojave Plan — had about the plan was the fact that there was no air quality monitoring done around areas which have a high amount of off-road vehicle use, said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. She also said that the proposed routes had a lot of redundancies, with multiple routes proposed when only one was needed to get from one place to another.
“The BLM has been ordered back to the drawing board on off-road vehicle route designations in the West Mojave to take into account the significant damage these vehicles cause to our public lands and the wildlife that depend on those lands to survive,” said Belenky.
Although the portion of the plan which talked about route designation for off-road vehicles needs to be revisited, the other parts of the plan that deal with both conservation and habitat protection will remain the same. Belenky said she was pleased that the conservation measures would remain in place.
David Briery, spokesman for the California Desert District of Bureau of Land Management, said in a statement that the BLM would now have until March 31, 2014 to issue a revised Record of Decision that would address issues related to off-highway vehicle route designation. He said the decision would be developed with full public involvement.
The plan does not cover the same lands as the desert protection act that Sen. Dianne Feinstein proposed last week, said Briery. The rejection of the plan will not close any lands currently open for off-road use.
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