Over-nighters denied access to 54,000 acres of Imperial Sand Dunes in suit aftermath

January 30, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

Another 54,000 acres of the Imperial Sand Dunes have been closed to the public.

This time, however, it's campers who are affected. The closure is aimed at the overflow of desert visitors that spills eastward across Highway 78 from the Glamis area.

The closure is part of five so-called stipulations resulting from an agreement between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, several environmental groups that had filed a lawsuit against BLM alleging it failed to consult with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service regarding potential impacts to endangered species from off-highway vehicle use in the sand dunes, and several off-highway vehicle groups. A decision to not litigate the issue by the federal government led to the settlement.

The latest closure will not affect those who would like to walk, horse-back ride and drive vehicles on designated trails from entering the area, according to BLM spokesman Doran Sanchez. He said the closure is designed to further protect the desert tortoise.


The news of the latest closure was announced at last week's meeting of the county Board of Supervisors by Greg Thomson, El Centro BLM office field manager, who said the latest stipulation, the fifth, is the final settlement. He also said the federal district judge hearing the issue has not signed it yet.

"I think timing is of the essence. Hearings could be as early as February," he said.

For the most part, Imperial County supervisors have aligned against the closure.

Supervisor Gary Wyatt said the county should fight tooth and nail for what is still open to the public.

Supervisor Joe Maruca asked if the county would be relatively safe with a Republican administration now in office.

Meanwhile, BLM spokeswoman Jan Bedrosian confirmed Monday the judge will hold a hearing Feb. 14 after considering any objections people have to the most recent two stipulations: the one that prohibits camping and a prior one that closes off areas in Riverside County to protect bighorn sheep.

The latest stipulation, or agreement, includes dozens of actions to be carried out by BLM. Some are in Imperial County, some are farther to the north. All are within the 10.5-million acre California Desert Conservation Area plan.

Bedrosian said the BLM will do its utmost to comply with all the requirements.

Separately, legislation to counter the closures and all of the stipulations is expected to be introduced in Congress this month by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, according to Hunter spokesman Mike Harrison.

"The congressman is aware of the situation," Harrison said. "He plans on introducing legislation when we get back in session (this) week that would rescind that order."

Besides closing the east Algodones Sand Dunes to camping, BLM has agreed to undertake the following actions:

l the preparation of evaluation reports for all areas of critical environmental concern, including the desert tortoise natural area, the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard natural area, the North Algodones Dunes National Natural Landmark, the Yuha Basin ACEC and the West Mesa ACEC;

l an attempt to implement a multi-jurisdictional vehicle closure of Windy Point in the Coachella Valley among all relevant governmental agencies, including the city of Palm Springs and Riverside County;

l not authorize off-highway vehicle competitive motorized events outside designated OHV open areas except for events passing through the Navy Parachute Range between the Plaster City and Superstition Hills OHV open areas that comply with the flat-tailed horned lizard conservation strategy;

l provide a list of burro management activities undertaken in the last two years and place the highest priority of the management program on the removal of burros in the habitat of threatened or endangered species;

l delivery of a list of all activities that are likely to adversely affect threatened and endangered plants on BLM lands in the CDCA;

l mandate the use of ethylene glycol-free coolant in all BLM-maintained motor vehicles assigned to the California desert district, to be completed within 60 days of signing the final agreement. BLM is to encourage all participants in BLM-permitted motorized events in the CDCA to adopt similar actions;

l the implementation of roadside berm sizes and slopes for graded roads in BLM lands where there are desert tortoises;

l the amendment of brochures and maps to encourage people to camp in sites already disturbed;

l not authorizing any new mining plans or operations or expansions of existing mining plans of operations in excess of two acres per operation, not to exceed 20 acres cumulatively for all operations, in the critical habitat of threatened or endangered species or in occupied habitat for those species where critical habitat has not been designated.

The list of required actions continues.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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