CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
| NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release Oct 20 05
Biologists move for protection of 17 Algodones Dunes endemic species
SAN DIEGO – In a move to protect unique desert wildlife threatened by off-road vehicles (ORVs), the Center for Biological Diversity today asked a federal court to order the Bush administration to consider protection of rare sand dunes species in southern California.
On Dec. 12, 2002 the Center filed a petition with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) to list the Andrew’s dunes scarab as a threatened or endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).
On July 19, 2004 the Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Sierra Club filed another petition with FWS to list 16 more Algodones Dunes endemic species: two sand wasps (Microbembex elegans Griswold and Stictiella villegasi Bohart); two bees (Perdita algodones Timberlake and P. glamis Timberlake); one vespid (Euparagia n. sp.); two velvet ants (Dasymutilla nocturna Mickel and Dasymutilla imperialis); three jewel beetles (Algodones sand jewel beetle, Lepismadora algodones Velten, Algodones white wax jewel beetle, Prasinalia imperialis (Barr), and Algodones Croton jewel beetle, Agrilus harenus Nelson); two scarab beetles (Hardy's dune beetle, Anomala hardyorum Potts and Cyclocephala wandae); and four subspecies of Roth's dune weevil (Trigonoscuta rothi rothi, T. r. algodones, T. r. imperialis, and T. r. punctata).
All 17 of these unique desert animals are found only at the Algodones Dunes, which are public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
FWS is required by law to respond within 90 days, but still has not ruled on the compelling information presented in the petitions, forcing the Center to ask the court today to order a ’90 day finding’.
"Our petitions present good scientific evidence to support listing, and we have to move for protection of these 17 endemic species now because the Bush BLM’s plan to sacrifice the Algodones Dunes to the off-road industry could wipe them out," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center who formerly worked with BLM. "The administration hasn’t even considered these unique and interesting desert animals, which clearly need Endangered Species Act protection.”
The most harmful impact on the Algodones Dunes is intensive off-road driving – the dunes are ripped by 240,000+ off-roaders on a single busy weekend. ORVs at the Algodones Dunes use special tires that cut deeply into the sand, directly killing animals and wrecking habitat. Many of these 17 species are most active February – April, a biologically critical time that coincides with the season of heavy ORV use on the dunes. A pending Bush administration decision would roll-back environmental protections on nearly 50,000 dunes acres, opening 85% of the habitat to ORV damage.
Pesticide drift from agricultural spraying may also be harming these 17 unique dune species.
FWS’s failure to provide legal protection for the beetle resulted in over two decades of dunes mis-management by BLM that failed to take into account the impacts of increasing ORV use on the beetle and the other rare and endangered fauna of the dunes. The dunes are currently managed under a 2000 agreement between BLM, off-roaders, and conservationists that keeps over 106 sq. miles open to ORVs, while the other half of the dunes are protected for wildlife, and scenic non-motorized recreation. But BLM is pushing a plan that not only fails to protect the 17 endemic animals, but also eliminates ORV closures designed to protect a threatened plant found only at the dunes, the Peirson’s milkvetch.
The preferred alternative in BLM's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Recreation Area Management Plan for the Algodones Dunes (BLM RAMP 2002) would permit ORVs in an astounding 198,220 acres and protect only 25,800 acres which are already designated wilderness by act of Congress. The EIS listed only five insect species as "known to occur or having the potential to occur" at the Algodones Dunes. Therefore, the BLM ignored the nearly two-dozen other endemic insects at the Algodones Dunes for which information has long been available in the scientific literature. Biologists at the Center were able to locate information on these endemics readily in published journals, reports to the agency, and via personal communication with entomologists familiar with the area. It is therefore very disturbing why the BLM made no acknowledgement of these species in its management plan.
FWS routinely cites an inadequate budget and heavy work load as justification for listing delays. But it is a crisis of its own making. The agency’s budget is established by Secretary of Interior Norton in her budget request to Congress. Congress routinely grants near the requested amount. The inadequate budget, therefore, is not the fault of Congress but of Secretary Norton who purposefully starves the listing budget to prevent species from being added the endangered species list.
FWS’s entire Endangered Species Act budget has increased over 500% since 1992. The listing budget is the only line item that’s been stagnant over that period. Every other line item increased at least 300%. The budget freeze is clearly political, not economic.
The Center is represented here by Lisa Belenky, staff Desert Attorney. This action is a part of the Center’s Imperial County/Sonoran Desert Conservation Campaign.