Los Angeles— The Bureau of Land Management released a new recreational plan today for California’s Algodones Dunes that will open up almost 50,000 additional acres of land, including important habitat for rare and vanishing species, to unlimited off-road vehicle use. Currently, ORVs are prohibited from those 49,300 acres. The plan is the largest conservation rollback in the California desert in more than a decade and conflicts with the BLM’s own goals of ensuring meaningful, enduring conservation of dunes to offset the impacts of large-scale renewable energy projects in the California desert.
“This plan pushes the rare plants and animals of the Algodones Dunes closer to extinction, robbing them of a huge part of their safe haven,” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m shocked that the BLM decided to adopt such a destructive, damaging plan — right when it should be carefully protecting these wild creatures and places to make up for vast energy projects that are being developed nearby.”
Also known as the Imperial Dunes, Algodones is the largest active sand dune formation in North America, covering about 200,000 acres in the southeastern corner of California’s Imperial County. The dunes create unique habitats for numerous species, from lush woodlands on the east side to shifting blowsands in the middle and stabilized sand flats on the west side.
Among the imperiled species living on the dunes are the Peirson’s milk vetch and desert tortoise, both protected under the Endangered Species Act, along with the Algodones Dunes sunflower, flat-tailed horned lizard and several dozen invertebrate species that occur nowhere else on the planet. In July 2012 the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to protect another dunes species, the Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizard, under the Act.
“The Interior Department's decision is just baffling,” said Karen Schambach of PEER. “The current situation allows ample opportunity for vehicles on the dunes. This change displays a frightful ignorance of biology and a complete disregard for wildlife habitat from an agency the public trusts to protect these sensitive areas.”
“We had hoped Interior Secretary Sally Jewell would step forward and stop this train wreck, but unfortunately she’s apparently willing to let BLM sacrifice a crown jewel of the California Desert Conservation Area for no good reason other than to appease the ORV lobby,” said Terry Frewin, chair of the Sierra Club’s Desert Committee.
Since 2000 more than 75,000 acres of the dunes have been protected for plants, wildlife and non-motorized recreation, while ORVs are allowed on the other 125,000 acres. Under the BLM’s new plan, protected areas will be slashed to only 35,000 acres. The protections BLM would eliminate under the plan were put in place under a Clinton-era agreement between conservation groups, the BLM and ORV-advocacy groups to protect endangered species while allowing large areas to remain open to off-roaders.
“Imperial County’s wildlands are undergoing destruction at an unprecedented rate, already, and this plan tears another hole in the fabric of a fragile desert ecosystem,” said Terry Weiner of the Desert Protective Council.
“The Algodones Dunes’ rare and endemic plants are irreplaceable parts of nature,” said Greg Suba, conservation director of the California Native Plant Society. “BLM's plan would sacrifice these national treasures to destruction from off-roaders who can't even follow the rules already in place today.”