ALGODONES DUNES, CA--Using a proven recovery tool provided by the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) today proposed that 52,780 acres of the 160,000 acre Algodones (Imperial) Dunes be designated critical habitat for the survival and recovery of the Peirson's milkvetch (Astragulus magdalenae var. peirsonii), an endangered attractive flowering plant threatened by off-road vehicle use, and found only on these Sonoran desert dunes.
"It's been shown that species with critical habitat are less likely to decline and twice as likely to be recovering as those without," said Daniel R. Patterson, desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "This proposal is a fair start and should be expanded, not gutted by Bush administration anti-environmental appointees in Washington DC."
"It's a modest proposal from an agency under the thumb of an administration that is environmentally clueless. This makes it remarkably courageous," said Karen Schambach of PEER.
"We generally support the proposal because of its firm basis in all of the best available science and current conservation biology tenets," said Ileene Anderson, botanist with the California Native Plant Society. "We still have concerns about fragmentation of habitat in the south dunes, the lack of connectivity between critical habitat areas, and a failure to include habitat for recovery purposes."
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which administers the dunes, is set to finalize a plan (RAMP) later this summer that would open 50,000 acres of currently protected dunes habitat. Parts of that plan are already being challenged in court by conservationists. FWS stated in today's proposed rule that "Species specific management needs and measures for Astragulus magdalenae var. peirsonii are not addressed in the RAMP." The State of California OHV Commission weighed in on the RAMP last December, denying BLM $1.1M in state funding due to repeated failures to protect the dunes and manage for sustainability.
Located in the Sonoran desert of southeastern California's Imperial County, the Algodones Dunes are the largest dune ecosystem in the U.S. They harbor at least 160 different animal and plant species, many of which are endemic. The dunes also are heavily impacted by as many as 240,000 off-roaders on some weekends. This intensive use destroys vegetation and wildlife habitat, pollutes the air, and creates criminal problems that stress law enforcement.
"Is the critical habitat proposal perfect? No. Some portions are too small or fragmented," said Elden Hughes, Chair of the Sierra Club Desert Committee. "Is it the right first step for protecting the Peirson's milkvetch? Absolutely."
FWS must finalize the rule and designated critical habitat within a year.