County mulls action on latest dunes closures

November 01, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

The county Board of Supervisors is weighing what it might do about the latest Imperial Sand Dune closures ordered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The bureau ordered some driveable washes and 25,600 acres east of the Imperial Sand Dunes closed to camping Oct. 19 as part of a settlement with environmental groups.

In Imperial County, most driveable washes on BLM lands within the North Eastern Colorado Planning Area, but outside wilderness areas, are open, said Greg Thomsen, field manager at the bureau's El Centro office.

The bureau closed a total of 49,300 acres to vehicles in five separate areas in the Imperial Sand Dunes as part of the settlement.


The Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued the bureau to force it to close portions of the sand dunes in order to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Endangered species found in the Imperial Sand Dunes include the desert tortoise and the purple-flowered Pierson's milk vetch.

"Public lands should be there for the public," Supervisor Wally Leimgruber said.

Bob Ham, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business, encouraged the county to file an appeal with the U.S. Interior Department's bureau of land appeals.

The American Sand Association will be appealing the closures but a county appeal would have more weight with the bureau, Ham said.

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

"All closures were approved and signed off on by off-road groups," said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist for the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson.

The American Sand Association was not part of the recent negotiation, Patterson said.

After the appeals, if the BLM is not in compliance with the law, the environmental groups still have room for action, he said.

"We have a very strong case for closure of the entire dunes," Patterson said. "But we don't want to have to do that."

Patterson thinks Imperial County is missing a huge piece of the economic pie because there are hikers, photographers, wildlife watchers and others who would like to enjoy the areas closed to vehicles.

The deadline for the county to file an appeal is Nov. 26.

Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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