Legal action targets federal authorization of off-road roads, grazing threatening endangered species in California deserts
SAN FRANCISCO – Environmental groups today sued the Home Office, the Bureau of Land Management and the US Fish and Wildlife Service for authorizing damaging activities in the California Desert Conservation Area, including an extensive network of all-terrain vehicle roads in the Western Mojave Desert. The routes bring desert turtles and other endangered and endangered species closer together and destroy these protected public lands.
“Fragile plants and animals rely on federal officials to protect them from pastures, all-terrain vehicles and other damage to their homes in these beautiful deserts,” said Ileene Anderson, senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity . “It’s heartbreaking to see our public lands torn apart by a massive network of dirt roads fragmenting habitat and destroying sensitive desert ecosystems as agencies do nothing to stop it. We hope a judge will force federal officials to do their job and protect these rare and vulnerable wildlife species that depend on California’s deserts for survival.
Today’s complaint – filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Desert Survivors, Sierra Club, California Native Plant Society, Defenders of Wildlife, and Desert Tortoise Council – says federal agencies have not sufficiently considered the damage environmental potential before approving the Mojave West Road Network Project and plan changes in 2019.
Agencies have also failed to protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats, and ignored federal laws requiring that damage to public lands by all-terrain vehicle routes be minimized.
“Management changes are needed to prevent further declines of the critically endangered desert turtle,” said Terry Frewin of the Sierra Club. “The BLM’s abdication of legal requirements and the Fish and Wildlife Service’s failure to use the best available science has created an unnecessary crisis for these species already on the brink of extinction.”
The lawsuit also challenges the Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion for the West Mojave Road Network Project and Plan Amendments, which are rife with inaccuracies and ignore important scientific information. For example, biological opinion ignores the continuing severe declines in the density and abundance of desert turtle populations and does not consider ways to help the turtle recover and thrive.
“The BLM and the US Fish and Wildlife Service must officially recognize the rapidly declining status of the Desert Turtle in the Western Mojave and proactively protect residual populations, not provide more opportunities for unrestricted recreational vehicles in habitats. fragile desert turtles, ”said Ed LaRue of the Desert Turtle Council.
In March 2020, the Desert Tortoise Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to raise the state’s list of Mojave Desert turtles from threatened status to on track. of disappearance. The committee is due to vote on the petition in October.
As part of the West Mojave Plan, the BLM has approved more than 6,000 miles of dirt tracks for all-terrain vehicle use (about a quarter of the circumference of the Earth’s circumference) over 3 million acres. The desert turtle population has now declined to unsustainable levels in the western Mojave Desert, largely due to the direct and indirect impacts of all-terrain vehicles.
“Public agencies need to be held accountable for their management decisions, especially when those decisions impact already sensitive ecosystems and species on the brink of extinction,” said Nick Jensen, director of the conservation program. California Native Plant Society. “BLM’s land management actions in the western Mojave could mean the difference between losing endangered species like Lane Mountain Milk-vetch forever or preserving them for generations to come. We hope the BLM upholds the species and habitats in its care. “
All-terrain vehicle use and livestock grazing permitted under the West Mojave Plan and changes to the new plan threaten other critically endangered plants and animals, including two rare plants (Astragalus of Lane Mountain and the Three-ribbed Milk-vetch), three birds (the lesser vireo, southwest willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo) and the arroyo toad.
Changes to the plan adopted as part of the 2019 decision cover the entire California Desert Conservation Area and could affect other listed species, including the American bighorn sheep of the peninsula, a marsh bird in critically endangered called the Yuma Ridgway rail and one of the most endangered mammals in the world. the endangered Amargosa vole.
“The BLM and the FWS have put endangered desert turtles in a precarious situation. With 95% of the species’ population lost since the congressional establishment of the California Desert Conservation Area in 1976, turtle populations are so small that they cannot sustain themselves and are on the verge of extinction, in especially in Western Mojave, ”said Jeff Aardahl. , California Senior Representative to Defenders of Wildlife. “Still, the BLM approved the increased use of all-terrain vehicles and continued cattle grazing, and the FWS granted the BLM permission to kill up to eight desert turtles per year during the next five years due to their crushing by the use of all-terrain vehicles on public lands. “
The groups filing today’s lawsuit are represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the Center for Biological Diversity.