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From our friends at SEMA

ENDANGERED SPECIES: Enviros sue BLM over Calif. off-road vehicle plan

A coalition of environmental and property groups filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in federal court yesterday, alleging that the agency's plans to allow off-road vehicles in portions of the Southern California desert will harm the habitat of the endangered desert tortoise and disrupt homeowners.

Led by attorneys for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the lawsuit seeks to overturn BLM's land-use plans for 7.1 million acres of the desert that were approved over the past few years.

At issue is the survival of the desert tortoises, which CBD biologist Jeff Aardahl said have diminished by 90 percent since the 1970s. Where there were 200 or 400 tortoises per square mile, there is now only about 10 percent of that, he said.

Environmentalists say the tortoises are diminishing because all-terrain vehicles are allowed to run rampant by BLM in areas such as the Sonoran Desert in San Bernadino, Riverside and Imperial counties, often times crushing the reptiles in their burrows.

The lawsuit seeks to have BLM's current plans for the use of the deserts and the presence of ATVs modified or invalidated because off-highway vehicle routes have been expanded and poorly thought out, the groups said (Andrew Silva, San Bernadino County Sun, Aug. 15).

But a U.S. Geological Survey report published last week concluded that it would be a lot easier to justify off-road vehicle restrictions and other controversial tortoise-related measures in the region if scientists kept better track of the results of various recovery plans aimed at reviving the animals' ailing population (Benjamin Spillman, Palm Springs Desert Sun, Aug. 14).

Aardahl said that "there is no question that excessive off-roading causes extensive damage to desert soils, vegetation and wildlife" and that BLM is "doing little to nothing" to stop the harm being caused by the vehicles to the tortoises.

But Off-Road Business Association President Roy Denner said that BLM's plans for the region "were developed with an effort to appease the environment as much as possible." Denner added that his organization was "really unhappy" with how restrictive they are (Jennifer Bowles, Riverside [Calif.] Press-Enterprise, Aug. 14). -- RJD

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