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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 enforcement program.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) 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 the 33,329-acre 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 scientifically 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 dozens of 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 opportunities."

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.

For more information contact the BLM's El Centro Field Office at (760) 337-4400 visit www.ca.blm.gov.

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