For Immediate Release, December 2, 2008
Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943 or (323) 490-0223 (cell)
Center for Biological Diversity Appeals New Illegal Vehicle Routes
That Threaten Tortoise
LOS ANGELES— The Center for Biological Diversity on Monday evening appealed a Bureau of Land Management decision opening two off-road vehicle routes in desert tortoise habitat in eastern Kern County. The Bureau’s decision allows access to sensitive lands in the Rand Mountains, an area that has suffered from rampant off-road vehicle abuse, which has inflicted catastrophic harm to the imperiled tortoise and the fragile desert ecosystem. In rendering its decision, the Bureau sidestepped public-involvement procedures required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
The Bureau’s decision relies on an inadequate education and permit program that provides no education and no permit tracking. The program merely requires the public to carry a one-page flyer that includes sparse information and a map of the Rand Mountain Management Area. A signature that certifies the recipient will carry the map while in the area is considered a permit. The Bureau is not retaining any information about the permittees, will not track use by permittees, and intends to provide only limited monitoring.
“The education and permit program is a joke,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Anyone can now drive those roads, which were previously closed to protect desert tortoise. To open them now, when illegal driving has been such a chronic problem in the area, is unfathomable and dooms this area of critical environmental concern to continued environmental degradation, trash and pollution.”
The Bureau fast-tracked the opening of the routes and permit process and precluded the opportunity for the public to review and comment on the shortcomings of the flawed plan. The routes are directly adjacent to the Desert Tortoise Natural Area, private conservation lands set up to protect desert tortoise in the wild. Although the two routes recently have been fenced, rogue off-roaders have in the past cut fences and desecrated tortoise habitat.
Having survived tens of thousands of years in California’s deserts, desert tortoise numbers have in recent years declined precipitously. The crash of populations is due to many factors, including disease, crushing by vehicles, military and suburban development, habitat degradation, and predation by dogs and ravens. Because of its dwindling numbers, the desert tortoise, which is California’s official state reptile, is now protected under both federal and state endangered species acts.
Population genetics studies recently have shown that the desert tortoise in the western Mojave desert, including the Rand Mountain tortoises, is distinctly different from its relatives to the north, east and south. This finding sheds new light on why increased conservation is more important than ever for the animals in the western Mojave.
“The BLM must follow the law and protect the tortoise and its habitat from all manageable threats, which in the Rand Mountains should include keeping key habitat closed to off-road vehicles,” said Anderson. “The only reason that these roads were re-opened was because members of the Bush administration on their way out the door threw the off-roaders a bone. It is not based on science, and it surely does not support the recovery of these animals, which are the bellwether of the environmental health of our deserts.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.