CARSON CITY, Nev.--The Bush administration decided yesterday that it will not follow several applicable laws and regulations--and that it will ignore a compromise that was recommended by U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff and supported by the Fallon-Paiute Shoshone Tribe, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and conservationists--to close sensitive habitat to off-road vehicles at Sand Mountain, Nevada. BLM Carson City Field Office Manager John O. Singlaub's decision only encourages voluntary avoidance of 1,000 acres of remaining vegetated habitat within and adjacent to the 4,700-acre Sand Mountain Recreation Area.
Earlier this spring BLM staff recommended closure of the best remaining habitat at Sand Mountain to protect the Sand Mountain blue butterfly, its host plant Kearny buckwheat, and other rare endemic species. BLM convened a subgroup of conservationists, off-roaders and a representative of the tribe to make a recommendation. Conservationists focused on protection of the 1,000-acre habitat area, and at no time proposed closure of more popular off-road riding areas, despite severe environmental damage there. Off-road industry groups were unwilling to consider any closure, demanding the entire Sand Mountain area be open to intensive off-roading. The subgroup did not agree on any recommendations, but BLM's statewide Resource Advisory Group of political appointees voted anyway to recommend implementation of only voluntary measures. BLM is obligated to follow applicable laws and regulations, not recommendations of advisory groups.
"BLM must follow the law to conserve public lands resources with balanced management, not just meekly ask off-roaders to please not trash the area," said Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, who represents the national conservation perspective on the BLM's Sand Mountain subgroup. He adds, "This is a one-sided, toothless political move that ignores the compelling national interest for conservation and balanced public land use."
"The law requires land managers to close areas to off-road vehicles where clear damage to natural resources is occurring, as it is at Sand Mountain," said Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "It does not allow managers to avoid needed closures with voluntary approaches. When asked, BLM could not identify any place where voluntary off-road vehicle restrictions have worked to conserve or restore habitat."
"BLM has shamefully allowed Sand Mountain to be taken over by destructive off-roading, and now they make a political decision to avoid upsetting the industry that will allow continued harm to endemic species and cultural sites," said Charles S. Watson Jr., longtime Nevada conservation champion and director of the Carson City-based Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association.
Copies of comments are available upon request.
View the BLM News Release BLM's John Singlaub can be reached at (775) 885-6151.