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For Immediate Release: Mar 06, 2008
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

CONSERVATION GROUPS CHALLENGE SHRINKING HABITAT FOR RARE PLANT ON ALGODONES DUNES


Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943
Karen Schambach, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (530) 333-1106
Elden Hughes, Sierra Club, (760) 366-7544


LOS ANGELES, Calif.— In response to the Bush administration slashing protected habitat for the federally and state-protected Peirson’s milk-vetch, the Center for Biological Diversity, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Desert Survivors, and the Sierra Club have filed notice of a lawsuit challenging the systematic reductions in critical habitat for this imperiled species.

The Peirson’s milk-vetch is found nowhere in the United States save on a small portion of southern California’s Algodones Dunes, where it ekes out life amongst the abrasive shifting sands. It has purple-pink, pea-like flowers and produces large, inflated pods, which blow off the plant, shedding seeds. The Algodones Dunes, also known as the Imperial Dunes, are a hub for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, who tear over the shifting sands at high speeds, killing the plants and animals that live in this fragile ecosystem.

“Because the Bush administration seems bent on driving this plant closer to extinction,” says Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, “our only option is to challenge the critical habitat determination in court, where science will prevail. Shame on the federal government for wasting tax dollars doing junk science.”

Reduced from an original proposal of 52,780 acres just four years ago, the meager 12,105 protected acres is a 77-percent decrease in protection on the Algodones Dunes, where hundreds of thousands of off-road vehicles create a Mad Max scenario between October and May, threatening the rare Peirson’s milk-metch in the only place it exists in the United States. Furthermore, the protected acreage is bisected by an off-road open-riding area that is likely to result in the extermination of the plants that currently occupy that portion of the shifting sand dunes.

"The Interior Department's determination to continue to sacrifice the amount of protected habitat defies the recommendations of local biologists with the best knowledge of what the milk-vetch needs to survive millions of menacing knobby tires," said Karen Schambach of PEER. "Clearly, the Bush administration is continuing its shoddy practice of allowing political considerations to trump science.”

Elden Hughes, honorary vice president of the Sierra Club, noted: "This administration fails to act on endangered species until the species is right at the abyss of extinction, and then its action consists of pushing the species over the cliff."

Located in the Sonoran Desert of southeastern California’s Imperial County, the scenic and remote Algodones Dunes are the largest dune ecosystem in the United States and spill over into Mexico on its southern end. The dunes harbor at least 160 different animal and plant species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. The dunes are heavily damaged by as many as 240,000 off-roaders on some weekends, who destroy vegetation and wildlife habitat, pollute the air, create criminal problems that stress law enforcement, burden local emergency services, and often tragically cause human death. The free-play areas on the southern end of the dunes along the border are also a conduit for illegal drug and human smuggling. Smugglers blend in with off-road vehicle riders and make their illegal beeline to Interstate 8, much to the frustration of homeland security and border patrol.

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