SACRAMENTO, CA – The State of California moved recently with a new policy to protect critically endangered desert streams, which are essential to the desert web-of-life and have declined by over 90% in California. The California Off-Highway Vehicle Commission (OHV Commission) wisely passed this policy in December: Because desert riparian areas are very important for wildlife, water quality, and non-motorized recreation, and California has already lost over 90% of our desert riparian areas, Desert riparian lands should be conserved and restored, and protected in their natural state. ORV recreation should not be expanded, encouraged, or maintained in fragile desert riparian landscapes.

It is the policy of the Commission that absent extraordinary and demonstrable need, it will not to fund or support any grants or cooperative agreements which will directly or indirectly encourage, increase, or maintain off-road vehicle use in or through the bed, bank, or channel of any existing desert riparian botanical area. The Commission shall maintain a list of priority Desert Riparian lands and shall evaluate the list at least every five years to maintain the integrity of these protected areas. The Division shall not solicit or approve any grant or cooperative agreement which will develop or reestablish OHV use in a desert riparian area unless exempted from this policy by noticed vote of the Commission. Read the policy >>

Showing no support for state control, the Bush Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is currently trying to open fragile desert streams to off-road excess in places like the White Mountains and Death Valley National Park, responded with a recent letter to the State from BLM California Director Mike Pool opposing and resisting the desert riparian areas policy.

“California acted in the public-interest to protect the few remaining desert streams, but BLM and off-road lobbyists are unethically fighting it,” said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center who formerly worked with BLM in the California Desert Conservation Area. “Nature and society need healthy desert streams. Mud bogging and winching ORVs up waterfalls in rare desert streams isn’t access, it is excess for a few destructive extremists and California is wise to not support it.”

California Senators Feinstein and Boxer recently told BLM and the National Park Service they support keeping off-road vehicles out of a scenic desert stream at Surprise Canyon in Inyo County. Surprise Canyon slideshow >>

“Desert springs and streams provide extraordinary and irreplaceable wildlife habitat. The OHV Commission should be applauded for taking this action to protect desert riparian areas, and BLM should be ashamed for attempting to obstruct this protection,” said Karen Schambach, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility’s California Director.

“BLM first criticizes the State for not defining policy terms and then for listing desert streams in need of protection. There is no better definition than a list,” said Elden Hughes, Co-Chair of the Sierra Club’s California Desert Committee. “Citizens welcome the Commission’s initiative to conserve and restore desert riparian areas.”

“Protecting our desert streams is vital to the survival of wildlife, quality-of-life, and responsible recreation. Our state funds should not be used to in any way subsidize further destruction or degradation of our desert streams. We applaud the California Off-Highway Vehicle Commission for acting to protect these national treasures for future generations,” said Cynthia Wilkerson, California Representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

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