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    Good news for off-roaders

    The government lifts a ban, saying they pose no threat to the desert tortoise living in thousands of acres of desert washes

    11:50 PM PST on Friday, April 1, 2005

    By JENNIFER BOWLES / The Press-Enterprise

    The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Friday lifted a three-month ban on off-roading across 571,000 acres of desert washes in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

    A federal judge ordered the ban in early January after the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups argued that vehicles damage the habitat of the desert tortoise and can kick up dust and kill the threatened reptiles. The particular washes, they said, are inside areas specifically designed to protect the tortoises that mate, forage and burrow into the sides.

    "To turn them into off-road open areas is a huge mistake, and we don't think it's going to stand up in court," said Daniel Patterson of the Center.

    The BLM made its announcement after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service cleared the move, saying the vehicles would not likely jeopardize the continued existence of the tortoise or its habitat, said Tony Staed, a BLM spokesman.

    Cindy Kennedy, an off-roader who lives in Beaumont, said keeping the washes closed would have posed a safety threat for off-roaders.

    "When you lose that large amount of land it makes it more dangerous because there's less land for everyone to ride on," she said.

    The washes, she said, are wide enough to avoid the reptiles although she's never come across one in 30 years of riding.

    The federal wildlife agency, while conceding that off-roading poses the greatest risk to tortoises, said it anticipates that few tortoises would be killed or injured because of their low population in washes.

    In its report, the agency also noted the BLM had already taken steps to reduce other threats to the tortoise, including reducing the number of cattle that graze in the reptile's habitat, out-competing them for food and stomping on young tortoises.
    2002 TJ on 35s a bit of lift with some stuff
    Rock-ItMan all the way around

  • #2
    Riders seeking smooth route

    OFF-ROADERS: They're optimistic -- but skeptical -- that new desert roads will be opened for them.

    07:22 AM PST on Friday, March 25, 2005

    By BEN GOAD / The Press-Enterprise

    The modern version of the classic tortoise vs. hare tale might substitute a mud-covered dirt bike or souped-up Jeep for the speedy rabbit that always seems to lose the race.

    For years, off-road enthusiasts have seen their access limited by environmental measures meant to protect the threatened desert tortoise and other imperiled species. As recently as January, concerns over the tortoise prompted off-road bans in desert washes on some 527,000 acres in San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties.

    So Corona resident Kurt Misner was a tad skeptical Thursday when he learned that off-roaders will be allowed to drive on more than 800 miles of newly recognized desert roads.

    Delicate balance

    Riders seeking smooth route

    Environmentalists oppose plan for Imperial Sand Dunes

    As of May 1, 5,098 miles of desert roads will be recognized as open routes, according to the much-anticipated West Mojave Plan, released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The plan includes many specific closures and openings of trails and roadways but ultimately calls for a significant net increase from the 4,260 miles of currently recognized routes.

    "We were hoping for that -- and it sounds like a good deal -- but sometimes it's a long, rocky transition from paper to reality," said Misner, president of The Dirt Devils of Southern California offroader group.

    Opponents of the increase in recognized routes question whether the BLM has viable plans -- or resources -- to enforce the new guidelines.

    "No one has demonstrated that off-roaders can be managed onto the trails," said Kim Floyd, conservation chair for the Mojave Group of the Sierra Club.

    Doug Parham, who lives in a remote corner of desert near Edwards Air Force Base, echoed Floyd's concerns and suggested the increase validates the actions of off-roaders who have illegally forged their own trails. Some of those "rogue trails," he said, could now be deemed open routes.

    Caitlin M. Kelly / the Press-Enterprise
    Anthony Robles, 24, of Barstow, rides his all-terrain vehicle Thursday into the Stoddard off-highway vehicle area near Barstow.

    Parham said he and a group of roughly 50 other landowners have opposed the increases. In spite of their pleas, the number of open routes "skyrocketed" with "absolutely zero control."

    Part of the increase is due to recent surveys that revealed previously unrecognized but viable routes, particularly single-track motorcycle trails, said biologist Larry LaPre, a member of the BLM planning team.

    "We checked each one out, and if it was an acceptable way to go from here to there without killing tortoises or other species, we recognized it and declared it an open route," LaPre said.

    In his 17 years of Jeep and four-wheeler recreation, Misner said he has never come across a desert tortoise in the High Desert.

    Much of the concern over the environmental impact of off-roaders is based on an unwarranted stigma, he said. Despite its name, The Dirt Devils is a family-oriented group made up largely of members who are 40 or older.

    Drinking is prohibited, and outings are strictly limited to official, open routes, Misner said.

    The Dirt Devils have participated in programs in which they bring children with muscular dystrophy, elderly people and children from urban areas to the desert -- an environment they otherwise may never know, he said.

    Too often, he said, off-highway enthusiasts are equated with hard-driving, hard-partying types.

    "Those are very few, and we want them to go away," Misner said. "We generally drive as slow as possible. The reason we go out there is that we like nature."
    2002 TJ on 35s a bit of lift with some stuff
    Rock-ItMan all the way around


    • #3
      Environmentalists oppose plan for Imperial Sand Dunes

      11:08 PM PST on Thursday, March 24, 2005

      By STEVE MOORE and PAUL DeCARLO / The Press-Enterprise
      Getting more information:

      Details of the plan for the Imperial Sand Dunes can be found at:

      A federal agency says its new plan regulating how land is used in the popular Imperial Sand Dunes area will balance off-road use with the need to protect the wilderness and threatened plant and animal species.

      On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management announced a Recreation Area Management Plan for the 160,000-acre area in Imperial County. The dunes draw more than 1.2 million visitors annually.

      "I am very pleased to be able to finalize this five-year cooperative planning effort and move management of the Dunes forward into a new, progressive era," BLM State Director Mike Pool said in a press release.

      Delicate balance

      Riders seeking smooth route

      Environmentalists oppose plan for Imperial Sand Dunes

      But environmentalists criticized the plan, calling it "flawed." They predicted it will not withstand legal challenges.

      "We're not trying to close the whole place down," Daniel R. Patterson, desert ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, said by phone. "These dunes have dozens of endemic species unique to that environment.

      "If the habitat is not protected, those species could be wiped out," he said.

      A joint press release from the Center, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Sierra Club said "intensive" off-roading harms the dunes.

      Environmentalists said the BLM plan would be "devastating" to dozens of rare and imperiled species, including Peirson's milk-vetch, the desert tortoise, the flat-tailed horned lizard, the burrowing owl and Andrew's dunes scarab beetle.

      The release also said the BLM plan will worsen air pollution and run off hikers, birdwatchers, photographers and keep away others.

      A key off-roading group praised the BLM plan in a press release, but said it changes little on the ground for the sport.

      "This is just one more step in a five-year journey to re-open areas that were unnecessarily closed," Vince Brunasso, founder and legal chairman of the American Sand Association, said in the release.

      BLM must leave temporary closures in effect until at least Oct. 15 while awaiting a court ruling in a lawsuit involving Peirson's milk-vetch, a member of the pea family that sprouts purple flowers in the spring. It was listed as threatened in 1998 under the Endangered Species Act.

      The BLM plan divides the Dunes into eight different management areas, emphasizing different levels of off-road use or environmental protection. They range from no vehicle use in the 26,202-acre North Algodones Dunes Wilderness area to "intensive" off-road use in the 21,225-acre Gecko Management area.

      In the middle is a 33,329-acre Adaptive Management Area that will mostly replace temporary closures. Those areas cover 49,300 acres and are due to a court-approved settlement, according to a BLM release. Off-road use would be allowed in the area, but with certain restrictions. Scientific monitoring will take place in the area to determine the impacts of off-roading on the Peirson's milk-vetch.

      Permits would be required and those applying would have to complete a short, onsite environmental education course. Only 525 vehicles a day would be allowed, no overnight camping and the area would only be open during certain parts of the year.

      The BLM plan also includes improved visitor facilities, building an interpretive center and maintenance activities
      2002 TJ on 35s a bit of lift with some stuff
      Rock-ItMan all the way around