Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places through
science, policy, education, and environmental law.

Friday, 9/13/02

BLM Lobbies for Off-Road Industry by Pushing Politics Into Dunes Planning Process
State Director Leans on Wildlife Service to Rely on Industry Study, Ignore Other Experts

Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist, Center 909.659.6053 x 306
Karen Schambach, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility 530.333.1106

SACRAMENTO -- Land managers with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are in disagreement over the environmental affects of BLM’s plans to open over 50,000 acres of the Algodones Dunes to off-road vehicle use, as reported in today’s Los Angeles Times.

The BLM is aggressively pushing a Bush Administration plan to allow off-roading on over 50,000 acres currently protected by a 2000 court-ordered settlement between BLM, off-road groups and the Center, Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Under the settlement agreement, almost 70,000 acres remain open to unlimited off-roading, while the other half of the dunes are protected for wildlife and non-motorized recreation.

A key legal issue is the continued survival of endangered species on the dunes, including the Peirson’s milkvetch, a rare and attractive plant that must be preserved under the federal Endangered Species Act. As indicators of overall dunes ecosystem health, the milkvetch and other rare species including the Algodones Dunes sunflower, Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizard, Flat-tailed horned lizard, Sand food, Giant Spanish needle and desert tortoise have been harmed by off-roading on the dunes. The BLM plan to remove most protection would be devastating to rare species, greatly worsen air pollution, and run off hikers, birdwatchers, Native Americans and others.

The FWS is charged with overseeing federal planning that may affect endangered species, such as the BLM proposed plan for the dunes currently under review, and issuing a type of permit called a biological opinion. In rare cases, where the plan proposed would be so damaging as to extinct an endangered species, FWS may issue a “jeopardy” biological opinion ordering significant revisions to a plan or action to allow species to survive. FWS biologists and managers in the Carlsbad field office had concluded after much review that BLM’s plan would likely call for a jeopardy opinion.

On August 16, in a letter to top FWS California official Steve Thompson, BLM State Director Mike Pool states, “In my recent conversations with you, you indicated that your Carlsbad Office is considering issuing a jeopardy opinion on our proposed management of the Imperial Sand Dunes…” Pool continues in the letter to strongly urge a jeopardy opinion not be issued, makes arguments based on an off-road industry financed report, and pushes for a rushed schedule for a FWS opinion that will allow BLM to meet industry timelines.

Conservation groups and expert botanists with many years of on-the-ground experience on the dunes have responded with letters urging FWS to resist industry and BLM’s political pressure and follow through with the jeopardy opinion, pushing BLM back to the table to offer more conservation. The Algodones Dunes lie within the Sonoran Desert region of California, a large area threatened by BLM’s proposed NECO plan. Recently, 10 environmental groups challenged the NECO plan over its provisions to reduce wildlife and habitat conservation across 5.5 million acres of public lands in southeastern California. (Los Angeles Times, 9/7/02)

For a copy of the Pool letter to FWS, conservationist responses and to talk with other dunes experts, please contact Daniel Patterson.


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