BARSTOW, CA -- The US Department of Interior is reassigning a keySouthern California Bureau of Land Management land manager because heangered ranchers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts when he settled alawsuit with environmental groups to protect endangered speciesincluding the desert tortoise and peninsular bighorn sheep. Thatsettlement curbs grazing, off-road vehicle use, and mining on BLM desertlands.
Tim Salt, Desert District manager for the Bureau of Land Managementoversaw the 11 million acres California Desert Conservation Area, whichincludes California desert's most environmentally sensitive areas in SanDiego, Los Angeles, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo, andMono counties.
Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employeesfor Environmental Responsibility (PEER) strongly condemn the retaliatorymove against Mr. Salt. They believe the reassignment is part of anemerging trend by the Bush administration to get rid of public landsofficials who bring balance to land management decisions.
In December, Kate Cannon, manager of the Grand Staircase EscalanteNational Monument, was reassigned after ranchers and a Republicancongressman complained about lack of grazing access for cattle in themonument. In California, the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Regionhead, Brad Powell, was reassigned after approving a management plan forSierra Nevada national forests 10 years in the making that didn'tsatisfy logging interests. His replacement has taken steps to reopen themanagement plan to allow more logging.
"The Interior Department's action against Salt followed a months-longcampaign for his dismissal by so-called 'wise use' groups," said PEERCalifornia Coordinator Karen Schambach. "Ranchers and off-roaders havebecome accustomed to BLM going to the mat in their defense. Tim Saltknew they could not win a case against species protections andnegotiated the best deal he and BLM attorneys could for these folks."
The environmental organizations are concerned that other field managerswho anger wise-users will share Salt's fate. The same groups who sought Salt'sdismissal are taking aim at BLM's Arcata Field Manager, Lynda Roush. They are angry at the closure of Black Sands Beach to off-road vehicles.
The lawsuit Salt helped settle was filed in 2000 by Earthjusticeattorney Jay Tutchton and co-counsel Brendan Cummings representing theSierra Club, PEER, and the Center for Biological Diversity. It soughtstronger protections for plants and animals under the Endangered SpeciesAct including the desert tortoise and peninsular bighorn sheep. Thenegotiations produced restrictions on grazing in the Mojave Desert,closures of off-roading areas, and limits on new mining projects.
"Tim Salt urged BLM to settle because it was going to lose the case, thesettlement was reasonable and approved by the court, but it angeredoff-roaders and ranchers," said Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton."They called for Salt's head and got it. Interior Secretary GaleNorton's message to her staff seems to be, 'comply with the law at yourperil.' We had our differences with Salt, but at least he was trying tofollow the law," said Tutchton.
"Salt reached a reasonable compromise with the environmental groups andwas trying to move BLM into compliance with the law. Ms. Norton'sremoval of Salt signals a disturbing return to the day when the Agencyignored its legal obligations to protect the public lands," said DanielPatterson of the Center for Biological Diversity.