BLM Bound to Betray Nevada Desert Monument
Reviews Rigged to Preclude Challenge to Last Minute Approval of Off-Road Race
Washington, DC — Despite the availability of alternate routes, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has doubled down on directing a controversial off-road race through a newly created national monument in Nevada, according to comments filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). To preclude any legal challenge, BLM is poised to permit the through-monument route just hours before the race start on August 16th while sponsors are already assured of the outcome.
On July 10, 2015, President Obama established the Basin and Range National Monument on 704,000 acres of some of the nation’s most undisturbed desert lands. But before the ink was dry on this presidential proclamation for conservation, BLM was working with sponsors to run a high-speed race – an event seemingly at odds with its conservation mandate – through the new monument.
For nearly a year, BLM shut out public involvement on the race. It even opened a sham public forum for developing a general management plan for the monument that did not even mention the race. PEER blew the whistle on the scheme in mid-June through complaints filed with both the White House and Secretary of Interior. On the afternoon of July 1st, the Friday before the 4th of July weekend, BLM finally unveiled its draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the race; it is open for public comment until August 3rd.
In comments filed today, PEER blasted both the EA’s quality and dubious BLM tactics, including –
- Giving race sponsors assurances of approval even before the assessment had begun and promising them advance notice of the permit issuance date before public comments have concluded;
- Positing alternative routes that neither BLM or race sponsors had any intention of considering; and
- Foreordaining a “Finding of No Significant Impact” to clear the path for a timely permit even though there are obvious impacts and federal rules prohibit use of this device in these cases.
“This desert race episode shows BLM at its worst – misdirected, duplicitous and downright sleazy,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that the EA lists 30 staff contributors from a Nevada shop facing a host of other challenges. “It is disturbing that BLM lavished such a large amount of its scarce resources to accomplish the opposite of its mission.”
Notwithstanding this large dedication of staff time, PEER points out that the EA is patently deficient and ignores the realities of impacts from a high-speed motorized race through the desert, such as –
- Ignoring the possibility of vehicle breakdowns (or even flat tires) which could result in fuel spills heightened fire risks and off-course damage;
- Offering no meaningful control over high-speed passing with racers veering off the course to pass slower vehicles; and
- Seriously overestimating the effectiveness of road rehabilitation efforts, pointing to reports of significant damage evident long after races in prior years.
Beyond the Basin and Range Monument race, this affair raises troubling questions about BLM’s stewardship of the 24 other national monuments and scores of other protected areas in its custody. Called the National Landscape Conservation System, they contain some of the West’s most spectacular landscapes, covering approximately 32 million acres – an area the size of North Carolina.
“BLM takes the oxymoronic position that Basin and Range is a ‘multiple-use monument,’” added Ruch, noting that, after similar experiences, several have argued that the National Landscape Conservation System should be taken away from BLM. “This episode suggests that BLM remains allergic to assuming a conservation mantle.”