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Report suggests more sand dunes areas be closed to off-road vehicles

March 08, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

A report released today recommends additional areas of the Algodones Sand Dunes be closed to off-road vehicles and camping, that law enforcement in the dunes be increased and that increased monitoring of the effects of off-road vehicles on dunes vegetation and wildlife take place.

The report, released by the Davis-based California Wilderness Coalition, also says the local dunes have become unsafe for families due to the use of drugs and alcohol, and the problems of lawlessness associated with such use.

CWC executive director Paul Spitler said the report is the culmination of a year's worth of research into the environmental impacts of off-road vehicles. He said the report is intended to make the American public and policy makers aware of those impacts so they can begin addressing the issue.

"What we found through that process was shocking," Spitler said Wednesday afternoon. "There has been severe and widespread impacts to the environment across the state of California."

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The report has numerous chapters on different areas in the state, including the local dunes. The CWC's concerns included lawlessness, environmental damage and wilderness trespass.

Spitler, a geologist, was asked if there are any areas of the local dunes that, in his opinion, should remain open to off-road vehicles including the accompanying damage.

He said the answer is best left to scientists, and that the American people, through the Endangered Species Act, said they do not want to be responsible for the extinction of any species.

Spitler was also asked if he knows what the compliance rate is for keeping off-road vehicles out of the closed areas.

"It's really difficult to come up with numbers for that," he said. "All you have is tire tracks."

He said the report documents that trespassing into closed areas is occurring in as many as 40 areas in the state, and termed the unauthorized entries "extensive."

Meanwhile, the report was criticized by the American Sand Association for its lack of scientific studies and its dependence on old opinions.

"It's all innuendo," said Vicki Warren, ASA executive committee chairwoman. "We're all supporters of the lawful use of the sand dunes."

Warren, who limited her comments to those portions of the report aimed at the Algodones area, said the report's authors are more interested in protecting their "trophies," that is, the media and environmental supporters, by calling for more closures instead of addressing any potential effects on the area's plant and animal life.

"The report is merely a compilation of opinion with very few facts," she said. "Its publication is for dramatic effect. There is no focus on protecting species. It focuses on lawlessness."

Greg Thomsen, field manager for the El Centro BLM office, said the majority of dunes users are honoring the closed areas.

"We feel like (compliance) has generally been pretty good," he said this morning, adding that there are some problem areas. He said off-road groups are helping with the efforts to keep people out of closed areas.

On the issue of lawlessness, Thomsen said over the past several years people have expressed concerns with the issue, and that increased law enforcement is the top issue as reported in surveys. He said it is a small number of individual causing trouble, and that the number of arrests and citation has increased. He also said law enforcement presence has been increased.

The 68-page report recommends:

l the existing closures should remain in place, be made permanent and be expanded to include closure of the Mammoth Wash area north of the Algodones wilderness area;

l if off-road vehicle trespassing into the closure areas cannot be minimized, then larger closures should be implemented;

l the East Mesa area of critical environmental concern and certain lands east of the dunes should be closed to off-road vehicles and recreational vehicle camping;

l microphyll woodland washes east of the dunes should be closed to motor vehicle use;

l the BLM should conduct a carrying capacity report on the dunes and restrict visitors to numbers within the area's capacity.

The report can be found online at www.calwild.org/pubs/reports/orv/presscenter.htm

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

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