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Mojave Desert
Desert tortoise

San Bernardino Sun, August 12, 2008

Death Valley roads kept shut
Judge throws out Inyo County's suit
By Jason Pesick

Environmentalists are celebrating a lawsuit's dismissal, which they say will result in the protection of swaths of Death Valley National Park.

On Friday, a federal judge dismissed much of a lawsuit filed by Inyo County against the Department of the Interior and the National Park Service.

"It is a good day for Death Valley National Park," said Ted Zukoski, a lawyer for Earthjustice. The nonprofit environmental law firm represented six environmental groups that intervened on the federal government's behalf.

The county wanted possession of roads in the park, but the environmentalists want the pristine areas free of motorized vehicles. Most of those roads were included in wilderness study areas created by the federal government in 1979. On Friday, a federal judge said the county waited too long to file the suit.

The county never planned to pave the roads, said Randy Keller, assistant counsel for Inyo County.

The county wanted to remove blocks the federal government set up to stop motorized vehicles. The federal government closed the roads without the authority to do so, Keller said.

"It's partly the principle of the thing," he added.

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors will decide what to do next, but the ruling put an end to the suit, Keller said.

"It pretty much terminates it, I think," he said.

Those intervening were the Sierra Club, Wilderness Society, California Wilderness Coalition, National Parks Conservation Association, Center for Biological Diversity and Friends of the Inyo.

According to those groups, Greenwater Canyon, Greenwater Valley and Last Chance Canyon will be preserved. Those areas are home to prehistoric sites, desert bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, cougars, deer, coyotes, badgers, various plants and scenic landscape.

Environmentalists, including Paul McFarland of the Bishop- based Friends of the Inyo, were pleased with the ruling.

"I'll bet the horned lizards and chuckwallas are dancing in the desert washes right now," he said in a news release.

San Bernardino County is trying to obtain rights of way to existing roads on federal land in Lucerne Valley and the Mojave National Preserve.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton