& U.S. BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT AGREE TO PROTECT LARGE AREAS OF THE
ALGODONES DUNES FROM OFF-ROAD VEHICLES IN FIRST ACTION FOR CALIFORNIA
DESERT LAWSUIT SETTLEMENT
COLORADO DESERT FRINGE-TOED LIZARD, ALGODONES DUNES SUNFLOWER AND MANY
OTHER RARE ENDEMIC DESERT SPECIES TO BE PROTECTED THROUGH MORE BALANCED
IMPERIAL COUNTY, S.E. CA A coalition of environmental groups led
by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, and including the
Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER),
settled on Friday the first major issue in their 10.5 million acre, 24
endangered species lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
(BLM) by agreeing to habitat protection by limiting off-road vehicle (ORV)
use through large area closures on the Algodones
To protect the threatened
Peirson's milkvetch and other imperiled species, BLM agreed to cease off-roading
on approximately 48,000 acres of the 150,000 acre dune ecosystem - the
largest in California - of which about 118,000 acres or 77% was being
managed by BLM exclusively for intensive ORV use. Protection of the 48,000
acres, combined with the 32,240 acre North Algodones Dunes Wilderness,
brings more balanced land use to the dunes by increasing the amount of
protected land to about 80,240 acres - 54% of the dunes. Most of the protective
closure is focused on the central area of the dunes, with smaller closures
north of the wilderness area and south of Interstate 8. An estimated 69,760
acres - 46% of the dunes - will remain open to ORVs.
with BLM is based on the biological needs of the species and will shield
the minimum amount of habitat needed to protect and recover the Peirson's
milkvetch," said Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist with CBD who
formerly worked with BLM in the California desert. "It took our lawsuit
to push BLM managers, but they are finally taking on-the-ground conservation
action to save the milkvetch from extinction and protect the unique Algodones
The settlement agreement,
signed Friday by the plaintiffs and U.S. Department of Justice attorney
Lisa Lynne Russell on behalf of BLM, went in to effect Friday afternoon
and will become a court order upon approval by the Judge. The protective
closures will remain in place at least until BLM completes a desert-wide
consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and that agency
issues its biological opinion; likely in late 2001.
"For a decade the BLM has ignored its resource protection responsibilities
in the Algodones Dunes," said Elden Hughes, longtime desert environmental
champion and Chair of Sierra Club's California/Nevada Desert Committee.
"It is a shame that it takes a lawsuit and a settlement to get the
BLM to do what it should have done years ago."
"PEER hopes that this agreement marks a new understanding by BLM
that managing off-road vehicles involves more than simply accommodating
the use." said Karen Schambach, PEER's California Coordinator. "We
look forward to working with BLM to ensure that the appetite of off-roaders
for the California desert won't drive to extinction plants and animals
that live nowhere else on earth."
(Astragulus magdelenae var. peirsonii) is a silvery, short-lived
perennial plant. A member of the bean and pea family, it can grow to 2.5
feet tall and is notable among milkvetches for its greatly reduced leaves.
It produces attractive, small purple flowers, generally in March or April,
on stalks with 10 to 17 flowers per stalk. Peirson's milkvetch also has
the largest seeds of any milkvetch, an important adaptation to it's dunes
habitat. Large seeds provide a greater reservoir of stored food and enable
a seedling to grow a greater distance before emergence and/or depletion
of their stored energy. In the U.S., the plant is known only on the Algodones
Dunes. It is listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species
for Biological Diversity is a 6,000 member science-based environmental
advocacy organization based in Tucson, Arizona. CBD was formed in 1989
and has offices in San Diego and Berkeley, California, Phoenix, Arizona,
Portland, Oregon, Shaw Island, Washington, and Silver City, New Mexico.
This legal action is a part of the Center's Golden State Biodiversity
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a 10,000 member
national alliance of local, state and federal resource professionals.
PEER is based in Washington DC with field representatives operating across
California and the U.S.
Club, headquartered in San Francisco, has over 600,000 members nationwide
and over 100,000 in California. Sierra Club has existed to explore, enjoy,
and protect the wild places of the earth since being founded by John Muir
in 1892. The Sierra Club was the lead activist organization in the 10-year
campaign to pass the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.
Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) lawsuit, CBD et al v. BLM, C-00-0927-WHA,
was filed March 16 in the 9th district federal court in San Francisco
and assigned to Judge Alsup. BLM admitted liability and non-compliance
with the Endangered Species Act in the case on August 25, 2000. The agency
agreed to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service over desert-wide
cumulative effects of land management as prescribed in BLM's 1980 CDCA
public land use plan and negotiate settlements with the plaintiffs to
avoid further litigation.
The CDCA stretches
over 400 miles from the US-Mexico border to Death Valley and the foothills
of the Sierra Nevada. The CDCA harbors 24 federally listed endangered
plant and animal species and includes over 10.5 million acres of BLM public
land featuring some of the California desert's most scenic areas in Imperial,
San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo and Mono