| FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 5, 2003
Brian Segee, Southwest Public Lands Director, Center for Biological Diversity (520) 623-5252 x308
TinaMarie Ekker, Policy Coordinator, Wilderness Watch (406) 542-2048
Don Hoffman, Executive Director, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, (928) 339-4426
ROAD CONSTRUCTION, DEVELOPMENT WITHIN
TUCSON, AZ: In response to an appeal filed by a coalition of environmental organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Wilderness Watch and Maricopa Audubon Society, the Department of Interiors Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) has issued a stay halting a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decision allowing construction of a new road within the Congressionally-designated Mount Tipton Wilderness area. The road construction was requested by two California residents wishing to develop a 60-acre inholding (private land completely surrounded by federal or other non-private land) within the middle of the Wilderness into an upscale, private horse ranch. The IBLAs decision means that no construction will occur on the proposed road until the appeal is resolved on the merits.
With only 5% of the land in Arizona designated as Wilderness, it is imperative that all of these areas be afforded the highest degree of protection, stated Brian Segee, southwest public lands director with the Center for Biological Diversity. The BLMs decision to permit road construction and private development within the Mount Tipton Wilderness would fragment important wildlife habitat and eliminate opportunities for quiet and solitude, essentially destroying the areas natural and wild character.
Designated under the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990, the 31,000-acre Mount Tipton Wilderness lies in the Cerbat Mountains in remote western Arizona, north of Kingman. A diverse range of habitats within the Wildernessranging from Mohave desert scrub and chaparral communities at lower elevations to a remnant stand of old-growth ponderosa pine near the summit of 7,148 foot Mount Tiptonprovide habitat for a wide diversity of wildlife species including bobcat, kit fox, several species of raptors, mule deer and Gambels quail. The proposed road construction and associated development of a private residence, barns, riding areas, and installation of a well and septic system, would permanently and irreversibly degrade the natural character and ecological value of this important Wilderness area. According to the BLM, over 1,100 vehicles would use the newly constructed road each year, and the lights and noise associated with the proposed horse ranch would directly impact thousands of acres within the Wilderness boundary.
The BLM could, and should say no to this proposal, said Don Hoffman, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. The agencys job is to protect the wilderness qualities of Mount Tipton, not to facilitate the development of private land.
Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, federal agencies such as the BLM are required to preserve the existing character of designated Wilderness areas, defined as areas without permanent improvements or human habitation, where man himself is a visitor. While the Wilderness Act does allow the BLM to provide adequate access to inholdings of private property within Wilderness areas, the scope of such access must be balanced against the agencys duty to protect Wilderness values. Thus, judicial interpretations of the Wilderness Act have concluded that non-motorized forms of travel, such as the use of pack animals, are often an appropriate and adequate form of inholding access.
Land owners have certain rights regarding the use of their land, states TinaMarie Ekker, policy coordinator of Wilderness Watch. But they do not have the right to destroy the publics wilderness resource in the process.
The existence of inholdings within Wilderness areas and other federal lands represents an enormous issue for both wilderness advocates and land management agencies. Problems associated with this issue include environmental degradation caused by motorized access, land speculation and threatened development, and use of inholdings that are incompatible with Wilderness designation. There are an estimated 311,500 acres of privately owned land within BLM Wilderness areas and an additional 132,600 acres within Forest Service Wilderness nationwide. The parties to the Mount Tipton appeal strongly oppose all forms of road-building and mechanized access within Wilderness areas, and believe federal agencies should make all efforts to address inholding access claims by attempting to buy the land through funds appropriated through the Land and Water Conservation Fund or other mechanisms, through land exchange with willing landowners, or through the support of private land trusts.