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For Immediate Release, July 17, 2008

Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943 or (323) 490-0223

Federal Government Recognizes Extinction Threat and
Upholds Threatened Status for the Imperiled Peirson's Milk-vetch

LOS ANGELES— Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dismissed a sham petition to remove the Peirson’s milk-vetch from Endangered Species Act protection. The Service determined that the rare plant is still threatened with extinction owing to rampant off-road vehicle activities in its habitat at the Algodones Dunes in Southern California.

“Keeping protections for the Peirson’s milk-vetch is scientifically defensible and a good move,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, “but more is needed to ensure the plant doesn’t just teeter on the brink of extinction. We need to stop off-road vehicles from tearing up habitat and running over the plants.”

The Peirson’s milk-vetch is found only on a small portion of Southern California’s Algodones Dunes, where it ekes out life amongst the abrasive shifting sands. It has purple-pink, pea-like flowers and produces large, inflated pods, which blow off the plant, shedding seeds. The Algodones Dunes, also known as the Imperial Dunes, have become a hub for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, who tear over the shifting sands at high speeds, killing the plants and animals that live in this fragile ecosystem. The Bureau of Land Management which is responsible for protecting the dunes, allows hundreds of thousands of off-road vehicles to tear up the habitat, creating a Mad Max-like scenario between October and May and threatening the survival of the milk-vetch.

“The Bureau of Land Management needs to put in place additional protections for the milk-vetch, including significant new restrictions on off-road vehicle mayhem, to prevent this special plant from going extinct,” added Anderson.

Located in the Sonoran Desert of southeastern California’s Imperial County, the scenic and remote Algodones Dunes are the largest dune ecosystem in the United States, spilling into Mexico on their southern end. They harbor at least 160 different animal and plant species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. The dunes are heavily damaged, with as many as 240,000 off-road vehicles driving across the dunes destroying vegetation, wildlife habitat, and polluting the air on some weekends. The heavy visitor use has also resulted in criminal problems that stress law enforcement and burden local emergency services. The free-play areas on the southern end of the dunes along the border are a conduit for illegal drug and human smuggling. Smugglers blend in with off-road vehicle riders and make their illegal beeline to Interstate 8, much to the frustration of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol.

The petition to delist the milk-vetch was submitted by off-road vehicle interest groups.


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