For Immediate Release, May 9, 2008
Contact: Emily Roberson, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 970-0394
Public Meetings Held to Discuss Future of Clear Creek Management Area, Closed to Public Due to Asbestos Pollution
SAN FRANCISCO— The Bureau of Land Management held the first of a series of public meetings last night to discuss the closure of 31,000 acres within the Clear Creek Management Area in Fresno and San Benito Counties. The closure came at the conclusion of a multi-year study by the Environmental Protection Agency, which found hazards to public health due to extremely high airborne asbestos levels, primarily caused by off-road vehicles.
Clear Creek has been a center of controversy for decades. The area is home to numerous rare species, including the federally threatened San Benito evening primrose. The area draws wildflower enthusiasts from all over the world. It is also used by hunters, hikers, campers, amateur geologists, and others.
Clear Creek is also extremely popular with off-road vehicle users. Scientists, agencies, and environmentalists have long warned that the heavy off-road vehicle use damages soils and harms fragile plants and wildlife. In 2004, the California Native Plant Society and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the Bureau of Land Management asking that the agency manage off-road vehicle use to protect the Evening Primrose and other resources. Following the lawsuit, the BLM developed a management plan that maintained off-road vehicle use while protecting sensitive areas and species. However, the plan has been poorly enforced.
“While BLM insists that compliance with the new management plan is improving, my independent monitoring of cut fences, numbers of areas where illegal riding is occurring, and the overall numbers of illegal tracks has not improved and actually shows a slight increase. On one monitoring visit this year I counted 1,993 different tracks that were off designated routes. Riders to this date still believe they can ride anyplace they want and do so,” said Brian LeNeve of the Monterey Chapter of California Native Plant Society, a long-time frequent visitor to the area.
The off-road vehicles also create public-health concerns. Clear Creek soils are rich in asbestos, and off-road vehicles generate clouds of toxic dust. The Bureau of Land Management and Clear Creek users have long worried about the consequences of exposure. This led to the EPA study and the closure discussed at the meeting.
“Now the area is closed to all users. Years of virtually unrestricted off-road vehicle use and lax management by BLM mean that now no one can enjoy this beautiful area. It is very disappointing,” said LeNeve.
“We commend EPA for its meticulous and thorough study,” said Emily Roberson, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Native Plant Conservation Campaign. “And although we are saddened by the report’s findings and by the closure, we are glad that the agencies are being conservative in protecting public health.”
“We are particularly troubled by the EPA’s finding that children using Clear Creek had higher levels of asbestos exposure than adults. The heavy off-roading has endangered the public and ruined the area for everyone. We hope that Clear Creek can someday be opened again to some uses without endangering public health,” said Amanda Jorgenson, executive director of the California Native Plant Society, after the meeting. “We will continue to work with the BLM to develop public uses that protect human health and natural resources.”