Judge Rides Over Offroaders to Safeguard Dunes


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Judge Rides Over Offroaders to Safeguard Dunes

SAN DIEGO, California, June 27, 2003 (ENS) - A suit filed two years ago to take away endangered species protections and open the Algodones Sand Dunes to off road vehicle use was thrown out by Judge Rudi Brewster of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of California.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued the vehicle closures in November 2000 to implement a court approved settlement it agreed with conservation groups and some offroad organizations.

The dunes are located in the Sonoran desert 26 miles east of Brawley, California, and cover 1,000 square miles, making the area one of the largest dune complexes in North America.

The flat-tailed horned lizard, desert tortoise and Colorado desert fringe-toed lizard have all been spotted in the region.

The dunes are also impacted by as many as 240,000 offroad enthusiasts on some weekends.

The Bureau of Land Management closed 49,300 acres to offroad vehicles to protect the Peirson's milkvetch, a perennial plant found in the area, and other endangered species, while leaving open 68,000 acres to off road vehicles.

Shortly after the closures, the BLM initiated a review under the National Environmental Policy Act. A September 2001 decision kept the closures in place.

The American Sand Association, San Diego Offroad Coalition, and the Offroad Business Association sued the Bureau of Land Management to remove the Peirson's milkvetch from the endangered species list, claiming the National Environmental Policy Act and the Federal Lands Policy Management Act had been violated.

In an eight page decision Judge Brewster found that an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement is not necessary for federal actions that conserve the environment.

"The court upheld the legality and need for the closures to protect endangered species," said Daniel Patterson, a desert ecologist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

"This is a big win for the environment and a big loss for the offroad industry,” Patterson said. “But these fragile and scenic dunes are still threatened by a pending Bush administration decision to open all the conservation areas to intensive offroading."