July 16, 2001
Patterson, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 623-5252 x306
Michael Connor, Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, (909) 683-3872
Carrie Sandstedt, California Wilderness Coalition, (530) 758-0380
to expand Fort Irwin Army base
presented to Congress
California Desert page
organizations blast Army's plan to expand tank warfare training in fragile
wildlife and wilderness are subject to attack by a U.S. Army proposal
to expand the Fort Irwin National Training Center in the western Mojave
Desert. The expansion would destroy pristine public lands, plants and
animals in the increasingly beleaguered California desert.
A growing coalition
of public interest organizations decried the Army's proposal, responding
to draft legislation released last Friday which would add over 100,000
acres of what are now lands currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management-including
critical desert tortoise habitat and undesignated wilderness-to the sprawling
Fort Irwin base.
The groups charge
that the Army and the Department of Interior are rushing the expansion.
They allege that this is a premature land grab and the Army should comply
with the law before they take an area that they admit is an essential
sanctuary for the desert tortoise. Since the animal was listed as threatened
under the Endangered Species Act in 1989, desert tortoise numbers have
plummeted in the western Mojave, partly due to the loss of its habitat
to development, mining, grazing, off-roading and military training.
"If the Army
expands its tank training into the Superior Valley, we will be faced with
a major battle to protect the desert tortoise and the flowering Lane Mountain
milkvetch from extinction in the West Mojave that will impact all desert
users," stated Dr. Michael Connor, Executive Director of the Desert
Tortoise Preserve Committee.
say the eastern expansion will also destroy the wilderness values of two
longstanding candidates for protection as federal Wilderness: the Avawatz
Mountains and South Avawatz Mountains Wilderness Study Areas. "These
pristine lands contain many special values and deserve to be protected
as wilderness. The areas are simply too beautiful and wild to be run over
by tanks." said Paul Spitler, Executive Director of the California
The groups also argue
that the Army needs to better justify its need for these lands at a time
when military needs and the Army's role is changing. "They last analyzed
their land needs eight years ago. Since that time, there have been significant
changes in technology and the global political landscape. The legislation
for this expansion should not proceed until the Army has done a current
analysis of their land use requirements," asserts Spitler.
The coalition of organizations
vows to fight the current legislation. "Desert wildlife cannot afford
to loose any critical habitat. The transfer of these lands should not
even be considered until the public's loss and the impacts of tank training
are evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered
Species Act," states Daniel Patterson, of the Center for Biological
Diversity. "Passing this legislation to give the Army these lands
now doesn't make any sense and short-circuits the public process."
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