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NEWS RELEASE: for immediate release Oct 20 05

Biologists move for protection of 17 Algodones Dunes endemic species
Bush BLM's plan to open 86% to off-road vehicles puts unique Sonoran Desert wildlife at risk of extinction.

Contact: Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist 520.623.5252 x306
More Information: Lawsuit, Andrew's dune scarab beetle, 16 other endemic dunes species, Algodones Dunes

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.
The Andrew’s dune scarab beetle was first proposed for ESA protection by FWS in 1978. At that time, FWS noted “this action is being taken because of their decreased population levels and anticipated adverse modification of their habitat.” FWS stated in the proposed rules that “the continued disruption of dune troughs by off-road vehicles prevents the accumulation of dead organic matter upon which the immature stages of this beetle feed.” In October 1980, FWS issued a notice to withdraw the proposal because final rulemaking had not been completed within a then required 2-year deadline. ESA protection for P. andrewsi was therefore denied due to the failure of FWS to meet mandatory deadlines rather than due to new scientific data indicating a listing was not warranted.

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.
Dunes are hotspots of biological diversity in desert regions, likely because they are more mesic than other desert habitats due to their ability to store water. The Algodones Dunes are no exception, harboring dozens of rare endemic insects and plants within its habitat island. Insect species endemic to the Algodones Dunes are adapted to the hot, arid environment and often exhibit habitat specialization, such as dependence upon a particular host plant. Narrow endemic species and habitat specialists are considered more prone to extinction than widespread habitat generalists (Rabinowitz 1981, Sarre et al. 1995, Fischer and Stocklin 1997, Henein et al.1998).
During daylight and early evening, perhaps 80% of desert fauna are buried underground, and are subsequently crushed and maimed by ORV tires (Stebbins 1995). For example, surveys comparing areas used by ORVs with unused areas at the Algodones Dunes indicate that ORVs cause drastic reductions in the abundance of several beetle species (Luckenbach and Bury 1983). These ORVs also result in reduced plant cover, further threatening the survival of the rare endemic species of the Algodones Dunes that depend on these plants for food and breeding sites. Studies at the dunes have indicated that even moderate ORV use results in significant reductions of plant cover (Luckenbach and Bury 1983, Hess in prep.).
BLM has continued to push its abysmal management plan despite demonstrated adverse impacts of ORVs on the species that inhabit the Algodones Dunes. Therefore, vulnerability from anthropogenic (historic, ongoing, and imminent human-caused habitat destruction) and environmental (restricted range, habitat specialist) pressures, as well as a complete failure of land management plans to protect this fragile dune habitat and the species it supports from excessive ORV use, puts the rare endemic wildlife of the Algodones Dunes at risk of extinction.
The Bush administration plan to remove the protected areas would be devastating to dozens of imperiled species – including the Peirson's milkvetch, desert tortoise, and flat-tailed horned lizard – worsen air pollution, and run off hikers, birdwatchers, photographers, Native Americans and others. In addition to allowing intense environmental harm, opening conservation areas to off-road vehicles would displace non-motorized visitors, costing nearby communities in Imperial and Yuma Counties at least $3.3 million annually in dunes sustainable recreation related spending.

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.


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