Imperial Dunes Plan Approved
El Centro, CA (March
24, 2005) - The Imperial Sand Dunes, one of the
most popular recreation sites in the country with more than 1.2 million
visitors annually, has a new land use plan balancing off-highway
vehicle (OHV) use with protection of wilderness and threatened plant
and wildlife species, and emphasizing a family-oriented safety and law
Bureau of Land
State Director Mike Pool said he today signed a record of decision
(ROD) approving a new Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) that will
guide management of the 160,000-acre Dunes for the next 15 years. "I am
very pleased to be able to finalize this five-year cooperative planning
effort and move management of the Dunes forward into a new, progressive
era." The ROD is available online at www.ca.blm.gov.
Pool said the
key feature of the
RAMP is "zoning" the entire Dunes into eight distinct management areas,
each designed to emphasize varying levels of OHV use or environmental
protection. These areas range from no vehicle use in the 26,202-acre
North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area to intensive OHV use in the
21,225-acre Gecko Management Area.
In the middle is
Adaptive Management Area (AMA), which will mostly replace temporary
closures covering 49,300 acres put in place at the Dunes in 2000 due to
a court-approved settlement. OHV use will be allowed in the AMA, but
restricted to permit holders only (after completing a short
environmental education course onsite), limited to no more than 525
vehicles a day, not open to overnight camping (dawn to dusk use only),
and only open during certain parts of the year (October 15 to March 31).
Pool said due to
a recent court
order, as well seasonal factors, regulatory requirements, and necessary
on-the-ground work as specified in the ROD, BLM must leave the
temporary closures in effect until at least October 15, 2005, the
opening of the new use season. This timing will allow for pending legal
challenges from both environmental and OHV groups to be heard by a
Federal Court in San Francisco and a ruling issued. Unless the Court
rules otherwise, BLM's approved ROD states that the existing temporary
closures in four separate areas, including the area covered by the AMA,
will be lifted and replaced by the management direction in the plan.
BLM will keep the public informed on the litigation status and how it
may affect the area's availability for OHV use.
The AMA will be
monitored to determine impacts of OHV use on the Peirson's milk-vetch,
listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). To
gather baseline data, BLM initiated an intensive monitoring effort in
spring 2004 and Pool said the second year field work is already
underway. Pool noted the RAMP is in full compliance with the Endangered
Species Act. The FWS determined the RAMP posed "no jeopardy" to the
listed milk-vetch or desert tortoise, nor "adversely modified" critical
habitat in a January 2005 Biological Opinion. The opinion included
numerous terms and conditions that are clearly reflected in the RAMP.
The RAMP and its
individual planned actions, including improvements to visitor
facilities, construction of an interpretive area, development of
education programs, and law enforcement, monitoring, and maintenance
activities, will be implemented gradually, with some actions completed
immediately and some adjusted over time, based on visitation, available
funding, monitoring data, visitor compliance, and other factors.
"Many of these
visitor services and
improvements will be directly supported by the recreation fees paid for
by visitors who enjoy the Dunes," Pool said. "The only exception is the
environmental monitoring that is paid for directly from Congressionally
appropriated funds by law. As in past years, we will consult and
coordinate with the Dunes' Technical Review Team (TRT), made up of
volunteers, on how best to spend the recreation fee funds."
"We have all
come a long way in the
last five years to restore civility, ensure a high quality recreation
experience, and protect sensitive resources at the Dunes," Pool said.
"The TRT has contributed greatly to this positive effort, and we have
appreciated the excellent cooperation and support from Imperial County,
our other law enforcement partners, and user groups such as the
American Sand Association, the Off-Road Business Assn., the California
Off-Highway Vehicle Assn., California Four-Wheel Drive, and others.
"We are also
very encouraged with
the new, recently formed, United Desert Gateway Partnership with the
Chambers of Commerce for El Centro, Brawley, and Yuma," he stated.
"These communities have embraced the Imperial Sand Dunes as a high
quality tourist destination designed to promote family-based recreation
The Dunes RAMP
was initiated in
2001 with public scoping of issues, followed by publication of a draft
RAMP and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in March 2002. More than
7,339 individuals, organizations, and government entities provided
written and oral comments. A proposed RAMP and final EIS were published
in May 2003 and the public was given an opportunity to protest to BLM's
Director. Receipt of the FWS Biological Opinion, a recent court ruling,
and resolution of those protests allowed for issuance of the ROD.
"We thank the
thousands of people
who gave us comments and advice on the Dunes RAMP. While we couldn't
satisfy every point of view, the wide range of opinions helped us
achieve a fair balance in management prescriptions evident in this
dynamic and innovative plan," he stated.
information contact the
BLM's El Centro Field Office at (760) 337-4400 visit www.ca.blm.gov.