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Federal Court Issues Injunction Prohibiting OHV Travel in Desert Washes

January 4, 2005 - A Federal Court in San Francisco has issued an injunction prohibiting off-highway vehicle (OHV) use in wash zones within 571,000 acres of public lands in the Northern and Eastern Colorado Desert region of the California Desert to protect the threatened desert tortoise.

The areas affected are public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within designated desert wildlife management areas (DWMAs) in Imperial, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. Map of affected area.

The order, issued Dec. 30, 2004 partially grants a motion filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, and others alleging violations of the Endangered Species Act. In the same ruling, the Court denied the Center's requests to close the DWMAs to livestock grazing and to restrict the public from parking or stopping farther than 15 feet from the centerline on 2,000 miles of routes. The Court further denied the Center's request to overturn BLM's land use plan decisions for the Northern and Eastern Colorado and Mojave Desert regions issued after extensive public participation in 2002, and left intact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) issuance to BLM of "incidental take" authority for the plans under the Endangered Species Act.

The Court ruled the injunction will remain in place until the FWS prepares and issues a new biological opinion in compliance with the court's ruling. FWS Ventura Field Office Supervisor Diane Noda estimates that the new biological opinion, already underway, will be issued by the last week in February 2005.

BLM Desert District Manager Linda Hansen emphasized that the public still has OHV access to more than 1,700 miles of designated open routes within the two DWMAs (Chemehuevi and Chuckwalla) covering 1.7 million acres of public lands.

The court's ruling is available online at www.ca.blm.gov/pdfs/caso_pdfs/Ilston.ruling.12.30.04.pdf (This is a PDF file, about 65 kilobytes). The injunction is part of a lawsuit filed in 2003 challenging the FWS' biological opinion on the plans, issued in 2002. In August 2004, the Court overturned the biological opinion based on a legal determination involving the regulatory definition of "adverse modification" of critical habitat for the desert tortoise.

Hansen said BLM will immediately begin steps to implement the injunction, including issuance of a closure order. She said BLM will focus on public education efforts, posting public notices and making personal contacts by BLM personnel, including BLM's desert rangers.

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