Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Thursday, November 9, 2000



Contact: Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist, Center for Biological Diversity 520.623.5252 x 306
Peter Galvin, Conservation Biologist, Center for Biological Diversity 510.841.0812 x 2
Elden Hughes, Chair, Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee 562.941.5306
Brendan Cummings, Attorney 510.848.5486
More Information: Algodones Dunes, California Deserts, Goldenstate Biodiversity Initiative

ALGODONES DUNES, IMPERIAL COUNTY, S.E. CA — A coalition of environmental groups led by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, and including the Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), conclusively settled on November 2 the first major issue in their 10.5 million acre, 24 endangered species lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by agreeing to habitat protection by limiting off-road vehicle (ORV) use through large area closures on the Algodones Dunes.

Off-roaders dropped opposition to an October 20 agreement reached between the plaintiffs and BLM. Minor modifications to the closures to allow ORV use of two popular - and heavily damaged - hills in exchange for more acres closed in high plant areas lead to the agreement.

To protect the threatened Peirson’s milkvetch and other imperiled species, the plaintiffs, BLM and intervening off-road groups such as the Blue Ribbon Coalition and others agreed to cease off-roading on approximately 49,310 acres of the 150,000 acre dune ecosystem - the largest in California - of which about 118,000 acres or 77% was being managed by BLM exclusively for intensive ORV use. Protection of the 49,310 acres, combined with the 32,240 acre North Algodones Dunes Wilderness, brings more balanced land use to the dunes by increasing the amount of protected land to about 81,550 acres - 54% of the dunes. Most of the protective closure is focused on the central area of the dunes, with smaller closures north of the wilderness area and south of Interstate 8. An estimated 68,450 acres - 46% of the dunes - will remain open to ORVs.

“This dunes protection agreement is based on the biological needs of the species and will shield the minimum amount of habitat needed to protect and recover the Peirson’s milkvetch,” said Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist with CBD who formerly worked with BLM in the California desert. “It took our lawsuit to push BLM managers, but they are finally taking on-the-ground conservation action to save the milkvetch from extinction and protect the unique Algodones Dunes ecosystem.”

The settlement agreement between the plaintiffs, off-road groups and BLM, immediately went in to effect last Thursday as a court order when signed by federal Judge William Alsup. The protective closures will remain in place at least until BLM completes a desert-wide consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and that agency issues its biological opinion; likely in late 2001. Plaintiffs keep all rights to seek injunctive relief if off-roaders do not comply with the closures.

“For a decade the BLM has ignored its resource protection responsibilities in the Algodones Dunes,” said Elden Hughes, longtime desert environmental champion and Chair of Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Desert Committee. “It is a shame that it takes a lawsuit and a settlement to get the BLM to do what it should have done years ago.”
"PEER hopes that this agreement marks a new understanding by BLM that managing off-road vehicles involves more than simply accommodating the use.” said Karen Schambach, PEER’s California Coordinator. “We look forward to working with BLM to ensure that the appetite of off-roaders for the California desert won't drive to extinction plants and animals that live nowhere else on earth."

The situation remains tense. Environmentalists are facing death threats and harassment from some Glamis off-roaders as a result of agreements to protect the dunes. Three people died and three were paralyzed in ORV accidents on the dunes over Halloween weekend.

Peirson’s milkvetch (Astragulus magdelenae var. peirsonii) is a silvery, short-lived perennial plant. A member of the bean and pea family, it can grow to 2.5 feet tall and is notable among milkvetches for its greatly reduced leaves. It produces attractive, small purple flowers, generally in March or April, on stalks with 10 to 17 flowers per stalk. Peirson’s milkvetch also has the largest seeds of any milkvetch, an important adaptation to it’s dunes habitat. Large seeds provide a greater reservoir of stored food and enable a seedling to grow a greater distance before emergence and/or depletion of their stored energy. In the U.S., the plant is known only on the Algodones Dunes. It is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a 6,000 member science-based environmental advocacy organization based in Tucson, Arizona. CBD was formed in 1989 and has offices in San Diego and Berkeley, California, Phoenix, Arizona, Portland, Oregon, Shaw Island, Washington, and Silver City, New Mexico. This legal action is a part of the Center’s Golden State Biodiversity Initiative.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a 10,000 member national alliance of local, state and federal resource professionals. PEER is based in Washington DC with field representatives operating across California and the U.S.

The Sierra Club, headquartered in San Francisco, has over 600,000 members nationwide and over 100,000 in California. Sierra Club has existed to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth since being founded by John Muir in 1892. The Sierra Club was the lead activist organization in the 10-year campaign to pass the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.

The California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) lawsuit, CBD et al v. BLM, C000927WHA, was filed March 16 in the 9th district federal court in San Francisco and assigned to Judge William Alsup. BLM admitted liability and non-compliance with the Endangered Species Act in the case on August 25, 2000. The agency agreed to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service over desert-wide cumulative effects of land management as prescribed in BLM’s 1980 CDCA public land use plan and negotiate settlements with the plaintiffs to avoid further litigation.

The Algodones Dunes settlement is the first of what may be several agreements between the plaintiffs and BLM to better protect and recover endangered species across the vast CDCA. The CDCA stretches over 400 miles from the USMexico border to Death Valley and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The 25 million acre CDCA harbors 24 federally listed endangered plant and animal species and includes over 10.5 million acres of BLM public land featuring some of the California desert's most scenic areas in Imperial, San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo and Mono counties. Negotiations are on-going between the environmentalists and BLM to settle other major environmental issues raised in the lawsuit.


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