For Immediate Release, October 25, 2007
Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943
Judge Orders Conservation Groups Included in
Mojave National Preserve Lawsuit
National Park Will Get Support Defending Against County’s Bid to Control Roads
RIVERSIDE, Calif.– Conservation groups must be included in a lawsuit that threatens to turn the Mojave National Preserve into a throughway by widening small rural roads and turning them into freeways, a federal district court judge has ruled. San Bernardino County is attempting to gain control over 14 roads within the preserve by laying claim to these federal lands under a repealed Civil War-era law known as R.S. 2477.
The ruling, issued October 24, allows the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, and Sierra Club to intervene in the suit by San Bernardino County to control the improvement and use of roads through the Mojave National Preserve and strip the National Park Service of its authority to manage these lands for conservation.
“San Bernardino County is seeking rights-of-way so that it can turn 14 small rural roads into high-speed, modern two-lane freeways in an area set aside for preservation of the environment and historic resources,” said Ileene Anderson, wildlife biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The County’s plans would vastly increase the through traffic in the preserve and increase the spread of nonnative weeds — the primary cause of fire in the desert. Increased through traffic would also threaten imperiled desert tortoises, other wildlife, and historic sites.”
U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips said the conservation groups have an interest in protecting the natural values found in the preserve, which the federal government might not adequately defend; therefore the groups have a right to help fight efforts that would damage the environment.
“San Bernardino County’s efforts could undermine the values that the Mojave National Preserve was established to protect: the unique plants and wildlife and the historic character of the area,” said Sid Silliman, a member of the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The court understood that those with the strongest interest in protecting the preserve should be part of defending this suit.”
Routes mentioned in the suit include Kelbaker Road, Kelso-Cima Road, and Morning Star Mine Road, all of which cross designated critical habitat for the threatened and declining desert tortoise — an animal that has existed for between 15 and 20 million years.
“This is a good day for the Mojave,” said Anderson. “This preserve provides refuge for more than 1,000 kinds of plants and rare animals, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world. It should remain a quiet sanctuary for wildlife, not a highway.”