Yuma Sun Article

Paige

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No one pleased with new dunes plan

BY LUKE TURF
Mar 30, 2002


The Bureau of Land Management's new plan for the Imperial Sand Dunes will likely create more tension between the two groups battling over public uses of the area.

The first draft of the Recreation Area Management Plan would overturn the closure of 49,000 acres in the dunes to off-roading. About 15,000 acres would be completely re-opened to off-road use and the other 34,000 acres would be used as a "limited access area" while the bureau determined whether off-roading is having an impact on the wildlife, said Doran Sanchez, public affairs officer for the bureau.

The bureau's spokesman for the dunes, Stephen Razo, said to gain access to the limited access area off-roaders would have to fill out paperwork and pass a test proving they were aware of endangered species in the area. Razo said only 525 off-roaders would be allowed in that area at one time.

Off-roaders and conservation organizations both have their own agendas for the dunes. Conservationists, such as the Center for Biological Diversity, claim off-roading jeopardizes the existence of plants and animals listed on the Endangered Species Act. Off-roaders, like the American Sand Association, claim they have no impact on the wildlife and do their best to avoid it on their vehicles.

Neither of the groups is happy with the new plan.

The 49,000 acres of closures were implemented in November 2000 after the center and other agencies filed a lawsuit claiming federal agencies weren't doing enough to protect species like the Pierson's milk-vetch, which is listed as threatened.

"I expect that we will probably have to challenge BLM again and again," said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist for the center. "Unless BLM wakes up and starts to manage the dunes for more than off-roaders."

Sanchez said the closures wouldn't be lifted until after the public comment period ends June 28 and a final decision is prepared and released for public review.

Though off-roaders now face fines for entering the closed areas, they don't view the proposed lifting of the closures positively.
"It's like a guy robbing you and saying we'll give you half of the money back if you drop the charges," said ASA President Jerry Seaver. "Why should we be overjoyed that they reopened 15,000 acres after they took 49,000 acres from us?"

Sanchez said "based on what we have" the bureau has determined opening the closed areas won't hurt the milk-vetch. Razo said studies show the milk-vetch was more populous between 1998 and 2000 than it was in 1977. And it's flourishing more in the open areas than the closed areas, he said.

"We feel we can achieve a balanced use of this national resource," Razo said when asked if off-roaders and the milk-vetch can coexist.

Patterson said the bureau's count of plants from 1977 was during a drought year, while the study in 1998 was done during one of the wettest years in the past two decades. In the 1977 study, Patterson said, people counted milk-vetches from an airplane and in 1998 the counters were on the ground. So obviously, Patterson said, more plants were found in the latter study.

"It's totally unacceptable," Patterson said.

Patterson said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could overturn the decision if it conflicts with preserving species.

Another group angered by the lifting of the closures is Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

PEER'S California coordinator, Karen Schambach, said the bureau has a tough enough time maintaining law in the dunes with the closures, and she doesn't understand how they can do it by allowing off-roaders into even more areas.

"We're disappointed and hope that the final changes," Schambach said.

But Razo said it takes more manpower and resources to keep off-roaders out of the closed areas than it does to patrol them as an open area.

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Junior

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I attended the DRAMP BLM meeting in Yuma last night. Turnout consisted of about 300 duners and dezert people and 2 greenies. One greenie was a bird watcher whe claimed that the Milkvetch would someday save the life of someone in the room. The other was a biologist who admitted to knowing nothing about the applicable issues but spoke in support of limiting OHV access to public lands. I did speak "on the record" on the proposed or D RAMP. Thanks to Paige for providing me with some cliff notes on the issues.

The room was SHOCKED when I pointed out that the economic impact study conducted by the BLM did not consider the impact of areas other than Imperial County! Yuma County is only 13 miles from Buttercup and relies heavily on dune sports enthusiasts. I Imperial County is the only area impacted then why the BLM meetings in Phoenix and Yuma? Unfortunately, lots of speakers whined about the greenies taking over the world and did not address the specific issues presented in the EIC or the RAMP. Overall, great showing by the duners at this meeting. You guys in So-Cal need to Rock the meeting in San Diego!



Junior
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