Bills threatening Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and endangered species defeated
For immediate release, Thursday, April 29, 2004
SACRAMENTO -- On Tuesday, April 27, the California Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife Committee voted down by a wide margin a bill (SB 1338) that would have forced Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to permit off-road vehicle (ORV) use through a previously-protected 3.1-mile stream in Coyote Canyon, and funded an unneeded study of ORV use through the canyon.
Any alternate route through the canyon would have to run through state designated wilderness areas where only non-motorized use is allowed.
“To put a road through these areas would not only threaten the integrity of a unique and sensitive area, but would require a reclassification of lands for which there is no precedent,” explained Bryn Jones, Desert Program Director for the California Wilderness Coalition.
This was the second of two bills offered by Senator Bill Morrow (R-Oceanside) to go down to defeat. Morrow’s first bill SB 1294 would have re-introduced a herd of non-native horses to Coyote Canyon that were removed by park biologists last March due to the horses’ starving in the harsh desert conditions, and their severe impacts to the rare Sonoran desert stream in northeastern San Diego County. That bill was defeated in committee on April 13.
“Morrow's bill would have destroyed the natural beauty of Coyote Canyon," said Cynthia Wilkerson, California Species Associate with Defenders of Wildlife. "The Senator was clearly trying to circumvent conservation laws and we applaud the Committee for standing on principle."
Morrow, a long-time anti-environmental critic of off-road restrictions in Anza-Borrego, was cited in 1996 for doing “doughnuts” in his state-leased pickup truck in an area closed to off-road activity only a couple days after his request to enter the closed portion of Coyote Canyon was denied by park officials. After receiving his citation, Senator Morrow told a reporter that he would use his power to retaliate against the Parks Department.
That year, when he failed to pass similar legislation requiring the road be re-opened, he inserted the provisions into the state budget. Governor Wilson vetoed all the provisions in his bill, except for funds to conduct an environmental study for an alternate route through Coyote Canyon. The study was completed in 1999 and concluded that there was no feasible alternate route through Coyote Canyon. Unhappy with the results of the study, Senator Morrow reintroduced the legislation this month, which failed in committee on Tuesday.
Coyote Canyon was closed to ORVs in 1996 to protect the sensitive habitat that is home to the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo and Peninsular Bighorn Sheep. The park offers over 500 miles of open roads.
“Morrow wants excess, not access," said David Hogan, Urban Wildlands Coordinator with the Center for Biological Diversity in San Diego. "Coyote Canyon must be protected from harmful off-road vehicles and non-native species, and the State Senate committee wisely agreed. The defeat of Morrow's bills is a victory for California's largest state park.”
The horse issue was covered in the April 12 L.A. Times.
Park Superintendent Mark Jorgensen may be reached at 760.767.4962.