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For Immediate Release, December 14, 2009

Contacts:  Terry Weiner, Desert Protective Council (619) 342-5524
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity (323) 654-5943

Off-road Vehicles Trashing State-park Lands, Report Shows 

SAN DIEGO— Off-road vehicle use continues to damage both cultural and natural resources in the Desert Cahuilla Prehistoric Area, according to a report released today by the Desert Protective Council. Despite assurances from the California Department of Parks and Recreation  that it would ensure adequate patrolling and signage to deter inappropriate vehicle use, the agency has done little to protect the area from increasing off-road damage.

The report, by the engineering firm SCS Engineers, compares aerial photos of the Desert Cahuilla Prehistoric Area taken in December 2007 and again in March 2009. Comparing the two sets of photos, SCS found evidence that off-road vehicle damage to the area has increased dramatically. The photographs show that since December 2007, off-roaders have carved new cross-country trails and spun “donuts” on delicate “desert pavement” that takes tens of thousand of years to form. Vehicles have crushed desert plants and petrified wood and created new “hill climbs” – vertical tracks up hillsides that result in extreme erosion. Since acquiring the lands, Department of Parks and Recreation has failed to maintain even minimal staffing or signage educating users about the fragility of the landscape.

The agency acquired 4,000 acres in the 23 square miles of mostly state-owned fragile desert land, located between Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and the Salton Sea, in a controversial acquisition three years ago. In 2006 conservation groups, which had attempted to buy the area as an addition to Anza Borrego State Park, urged that the area be closed to vehicular use until resource surveys could be conducted and a sound management plan created. The Department of Parks and Recreation maintained that existing staff and policies were sufficient to protect the land until a management plan could be put in place.

“The agency decided not to close Desert Cahuilla to off-road vehicles, and the land has paid the price,” said Terry Weiner, conservation coordinator for the Desert Protective Council. “As a compromise, we suggested they restrict off-road vehicle use to the southern portion of the Desert Cahuilla Area, and State Parks declined to do even that much. This report shows that the agency isn’t able to manage the existing use and needs to suspend off-road use in Desert Cahuilla until resources surveys are completed and a management plan has been crafted that can stop the destruction.”

“The tragedy of this out-of-control off-roading, which has destroyed plants, animals, cultural sites and other irreplaceable resources, was predictable and preventable,” said Ileene Anderson, biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This report unequivocally compels State Parks to act responsibly and immediately safeguard the public’s treasured resources before even more damage is done.”

Background: In addition to being home to the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep, rare plant species, golden eagles, prairie falcons, and desert horned lizards, the Desert Cahuilla Prehistoric Area hosts a fossil record of 7 million years of geological and ecological change in present-day Imperial County. Petrified wood, remains of some of the largest known mammoths, and remnant landforms detailing many millions of years of California geological history, are found here. In addition, the Desert Cahuilla Prehistoric Area contains a fragile archaeological record of thousands of years of human occupation. Relics of the area’s ancient culture include old fish traps along the ancient Lake Cahuilla shoreline, ceremonial areas, and millennia-old footpaths.

The report can be downloaded at An executive summary is available at

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