CARSON CITY, Nev.--Despite a legal mandate to work with all interested parties, the Bush administration is collaborating only with off-road groups on an excessive route plan for Sand Mountain. As a busy off-roading weekend approaches, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is bowing to industry pressure by missing a deadline to start a weak voluntary habitat avoidance program.
On July 21 BLM decided that it would ignore several applicable laws and regulations--as well as a compromise recommended by 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 to only encourage voluntary avoidance of 1,000 acres of remaining vegetated habitat within and adjacent to the 4,700 acre Sand Mountain Recreation Area has yet to take effect.
"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. This Labor Day weekend they are not even asking," said Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which represents the national conservation perspective on the BLM's Sand Mountain subgroup. He adds that "Even weak voluntary measures are unacceptable to a radical off-road lobby that wants excess, not access; and BLM bows down to them by cutting others out of the planning process and stalling on-the-ground action. Call them the Bureau of Land for Motorcycles." Earlier this spring BLM staff recommended closure of the best remaining habitat at Sand Mountain (much has already been lost) to protect the Sand Mountain blue butterfly, its host plant Kearny buckwheat and several other rare and 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 settled on toothless voluntary measures that were to be implemented by this weekend, but then stalled action.
"The law requires land managers to close areas to off-road vehicles where clear damage to natural resources it occurring, as it is at Sand Mountain. It does not allow managers to avoid needed closures with voluntary approaches," said Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "When asked, BLM could not identify anyplace 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 Watson, longtime Nevada conservation champion and director of the Carson City-based Nevada Outdoor Recreation Association.
Contact John O. Singlaub, BLM Carson City Field Office Manager at (775) 885-6151.