Federal Court Issues Injunction Prohibiting OHV Travel in Desert
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.