Panamint Range, Inyo County, CA - The unique, lush riparian habitats of the Surprise Canyon Area of Critical Environmental Concern were protected today when the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) published a protective closure notice in the federal register. The protective measures to ban motor vehicle use in the canyon go in to effect immediately and will remain at least until BLM completes its National Environmental Policy Act and California Desert Conservation Area Plan amendment processes. The vehicle closures may remain in place for good, as permanent protection of Surprise Canyon will be a top option considered by BLM.
"Protecting Surprise Canyon guards the essence of biological diversity in the California Desert," said Daniel Patterson, CBD's Desert Ecologist. "Surprise Canyon is a crown jewel desert riparian area and it will now be allowed to thrive, and be sustainably enjoyed by people, without the constant attack and pollution of off-roading."
Surprise Canyon, adjacent to Death Valley National Park, is an important habitat and water source for wildlife in this ultra-arid part of California. It is known to harbor the rare endemic Panamint alligator lizard and is potential habitat for endangered riparian obligate birds such as the Southwestern willow flycatcher and Least Bell's vireo.
"The Bureau of Land Management has not protected the wonderful hourglass riparian areas of the Panamint Mountains." said Elden Hughes, Chair of the Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee. "It is finally happening, but it's a shame it has taken a lawsuit to do it."
For years, BLM had allowed unregulated extreme off-road vehicle use of Surprise Canyon. Off-road vehicles regularly winched-up unique waterfalls, cut native vegetation and spilled oil & gas in to the water. The damage is so bad that BLM states in today's notice: "The canyon riparian zone currently does not meet the BLM's minimum standards for a properly functioning riparian system due to soil erosion and streambed alterations caused by off- highway vehicle use."
"The trashing of Surprise Canyon by off-roaders forced this closure," said Jeff Ruch, Executive Director of Washington DC-based Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "BLM must take these actions to avoid a contempt of court citation."