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Milk vetch growing in some areas

February 21, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

Peirson's milk vetch appears to be doing well in the Imperial Sand Dunes, resulting in praise from environmentalists to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Peirson's milk vetch is a purple-flowered perennial on the endangered species list. The bureau, which oversees the dunes, temporarily closed portions of the dunes last year after environmental groups sued to protect the plant.

"I feel really good that it's working," said Daniel Patterson, a desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit.

Three years ago, the closure near the Buttercup campground in the south dunes had no live milk vetch plants. Today there are some 15 healthy, blooming milk vetches, Patterson said.

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He said the species would have been lost in the Buttercup area if not for the closure.

Environmentalists also feel good about how the bureau is handling the closures.

"I couldn't have been more impressed with the BLM," Desert Protective Council conservation consultant Terry Weiner said.

Not everyone is honoring the closure boundaries but rangers were responsive when called about infractions, Patterson said.

Representatives from environmental groups were in the sand dunes over the President's Day weekend to monitor and assist the bureau in protecting the closures.

Cary Meister, conservation chairman of the Yuma Audubon Society, monitors the closures from the skies.

"When I'm flying overhead, I see a lot of red stakes. I think it's obvious where the protected area is. Overall, I think the bureau has done an admirable job," Meister said.

Weiner also said the closure boundaries are adequately marked.

There are places where riders just don't care and cross the boundaries, she said. There is a route in the large central closure that people on vehicles still use.

The boundaries could be enforced more effectively if the bureau would post rangers at the closures, she said. The central closure is farther away from everything, so it's harder to enforce, Weiner said.

"It still looks like protecting resources is at the bottom of the list," she said.

Bureau spokesman Stephen Razo said the closure area is too large, about 50,000 acres, to have rangers posted.

"We don't have the resources. We would be hard-pressed to have stationary rangers and it would be difficult to enforce the zero-tolerance policy," Razo said.

But the bureau does regularly monitor the area, especially on a busy holiday weekend, he said.

When an environmental monitor calls and reports a violation, a ranger is immediately dispatched to assist in investigating the violation, and if trespassers are caught, they are issued a citation, Razo said

The citation fine is based on the severity of the violation. The basic fine is $50 but it can go much higher, up to $10,000, if there is serious resource damage, he said.

Jeneiene Schaffer, education outreach coordinator at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the bureau could be proactive with education programs.

"I think education would help people be more receptive to protecting endangered species," Schaffer said.

Weiner said she recommended educational ranger hikes and talks for the bureau's recreation area management plan, due next month.

Resident dunes manager Tom Sharkey said the management plan addresses education.

"We do educational outreach through schools. I take the school kids out all the time," Sharkey said.

There are several educational programs covering a variety of topics such as horsemanship, reptiles and astronomy, he said. Another program, dubbed "Tread Lightly," teaches people how to enjoy the dunes while protecting its environment.

"We talk about wilderness, the open and closed areas, tell them about the resources and why we protect things," Sharkey said.

"But, to be real honest, we scheduled the astronomy program over the Thanksgiving weekend, where 190,000 people visited the dunes, but only two people showed up," he said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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