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Petitioners: Dunes plant isn't endangered

October 25, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

A group of off-road and sand dune enthusiasts filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the Pierson's Milk Vetch from the endangered species list.

The move was in response to actions by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to close portions of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.

The American Sand Association, San Diego Off-Road Coalition and the California Off-Road Vehicle Association filed the petition Wednesday based on BLM and their own independent studies, American Sand Association Environmental Liaison Grant George said.

"Our studies show the Pierson's Milk Vetch is thriving," George said.

The Pierson's Milk Vetch is a short-lived perennial with purple flowers. It grows up to 27 inches high and is found in the sand dunes of Imperial County.

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The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the BLM to force the bureau to close portions of the sand dunes in order to protect the endangered flower.

On Friday the BLM released a report on its decision a year ago to close 49,300 acres of the Imperial Sand Dunes to vehicles as a settlement with the environmental groups.

The bureau also ordered another 25,600 acres east of the Imperial Sand Dunes closed to camping. The closure is part of a settlement with the same environmental groups to protect desert tortoise habitat.

A news release Friday stating the BLM would close all driveable washes in San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties was incorrect, BLM Field Manager Greg Thomsen said.

Some, but not all, driveable washes in the desert tortoise habitat are closed, Thomsen said.

"On BLM lands in Imperial County within the Northeast Colorado Planning Area, but outside of wilderness areas, driveable washes generally are open," Thomsen said.

About 50 percent of the 150,000 acres that make up the Imperial Sand Dunes is closed, Thomsen said.

The BLM has been monitoring the Pierson's Milk Vetch since 1998, BLM Resource Branch Chief Roxy Trost said.

The off-road enthusiasts' independent study by Thomas Olsen and Associates of Flagstaff, Ariz., found over 71,000 individual plants in the open areas, George said.

The Olsen botanists were not allowed in 49,000 acres of closed areas and did not count plants in 32,000 acres of the Algodones Sand Dunes Wilderness Area, which can only be entered on foot, he said.

The process to add or remove a species from the endangered species list is lengthy, Thomsen said. He added the BLM will use the data gathered by the Olsen study in updating its management plan.

"Extreme environmentalists have taken so many dunes away from us, we have no where else to go," George said. "And science has now proven we can co-exist."

Staff writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 760-337-3452 or la_mitchel1@yahoo.com

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