For Immediate Release, February 25, 2013
Contact: Cyndi Tuell, (520) 444-6603
New BLM Management Plan for Arizona's Ironwood Forest National Monument Will
Hurt Endangered Species, Quiet Recreation
TUCSON, Ariz.— The Bureau of Land Management released a new management plan for southern Arizona’s Ironwood Forest National Monument today that leaves fragile deserts and endangered species vulnerable to off-road vehicle destruction and fails to protect wilderness values across 74 percent of the monument’s wilderness-quality lands. The plan opens more than 100,000 acres to ORV use on 124 miles of designated motorized routes, all of which can destroy species like desert tortoises or result in damage to the very archaeological sites the monument was created to protect.
“The BLM had a real opportunity here to protect wildlife and its habitat and increase opportunities for horseback riding and hiking. Instead, it’s chosen to reward the most destructive kind of recreation around. Endangered species — as well as hikers and other quiet, low-impact recreationists — will pay a steep price,” said Cyndi Tuell, a conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity.
BLM’s own inventory of the monument identified 36,990 acres as having wilderness characteristics, but the agency’s plan only protects wilderness characteristics on 9,510 of those acres — roughly one-quarter, or 26 percent. Uses allowed by the new plan that scar that land may preclude its future designation and permanent protection as a wilderness area.
“For the BLM to fail in its moral duty to protect monument objects like the desert tortoise is beyond irresponsible — it’s a theft of our natural heritage from future generations,” said Tuell.
BLM did take the step of banning target shooting under the monument’s new plan, a benefit since target shooting leads to garbage, soil contamination with lead, and safety hazards for monument visitors and wildlife alike.
In a 2011 protest of the “final environmental impact statement” for the plan, the Center and other groups urged the Bureau to protect all wilderness-quality lands and ban off-road vehicles and new motorized routes for the sake of wildlife and other monument values. Also in 2011, the EPA raised concerns that the off-road vehicle network would worsen air quality, recommending that BLM select the “most environmentally protective alternative” to protect people from dust caused by off-road vehicles. The Center is now evaluating whether to appeal today’s plan.
The 129,000-acre Ironwood Forest National Monument in southern Arizona was designated in 2000 by President Bill Clinton to protect unique natural, geologic and cultural values. Its namesake ironwood tree is among the region’s oldest-growing trees. Several endangered species live in the monument, including Nichols Turk’s head cactuses, lesser long-nosed bats and cactus ferruginous pygmy owls. The monument’s population of desert bighorn sheep is the last viable native population in the Tucson basin.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.