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Voice: There are times to hang the ‘no vacancy' sign at the dunes

January 05, 2002

With all the environmental and human carnage off-roaders are causing at the Algodones Sand Dunes we are glad to see the public lands managers stepping in to assert their authority after years of turning a blind eye.

The Interior Department's approach of treating the out-of-control situation as similar to a forest fire or natural disaster is intriguing.

Indeed, the assault of the dune habitat by hundreds of thousands of off-roaders is a natural disaster. Hundreds of square miles of the dunes have been stripped bare of unique plant and animal life by off-roaders.

But in a forest fire or natural disaster, the response is to end the threat.

Interior Secretary Norton is not doing that at the dunes by sending natural resource staff from distant public lands to do crowd control at the dunes. Instead of establishing reasonable visitation limits at the dunes to reduce the mob mentality, land managers are abandoning their responsibilities by moving park and forest rangers to the dunes, leaving millions of acres elsewhere unprotected.


This is also very expensive and amounts to a security subsidy of the off-road industry, which resists reasonable limitations.

Norton has to learn to turn on the "no vacancy" sign. The government's duty is to conserve all lands it manages for sustainable uses. Pulling staff from other sensitive areas to police rowdy off-roaders ignores the big picture of natural resource protection.

The dunes "natural disaster" will strike again next month over Presidents Day weekend. Will Interior limit dunes visitation to what it can handle, or again ignore its conservation duties elsewhere as it rushes to protect unlimited off-roading at the dunes?


Desert ecologist

Center for Biological Diversity


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