SAN FRANCISCO – A coalition of environmental groups led by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, and including Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), filed a major lawsuit today against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in federal district court.
The coalition charges in the suit that the BLM has violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to analyze the effects to endangered species of the implementation of the 1980 California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) plan which guides the management of the over 10.2 million acre conservation area.
Congress designated the CDCA in 1976 and directed BLM to plan for conservation and protection of wildlife habitat. The CDCA Plan was issued in 1980. Unfortunately, BLM has never fully implemented conservation sections of the plan or properly considered the plan’s overall effects on threatened and endangered species.
The CDCA stretches over 400 miles from the US-Mexico border to Death Valley and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The CDCA includes some of the California desert’s most scenic areas in Imperial, San Diego, Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo and Mono counties.
At stake is the survival and recovery of at least 24 threatened and endangered species and their habitat in southern California’s Mojave and Sonoran deserts.
“Many of these species were not listed when the CDCA plan was written, and therefore the effects of the plan on them have never been looked at with the biological scrutiny required under the law.” explains Daniel Patterson, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who formerly worked on species recovery with BLM in the Mojave desert. “Rare desert plants and animals are suffering as BLM keeps its eyes closed.”
The desert tortoise is a key species for recovery of California’s fragile desert lands. Thriving on Earth for 67 million years, tortoises have been decimated in just over 100 years by livestock grazing, mining, off road vehicles, utility projects, and urban sprawl.
“BLM has helped push the tortoise to the edge of extinction. The tortoise has waited a decade for BLM to start setting things right. That’s too long to wait.” says Elden Hughes, a longtime desert champion with the Sierra Club.
The Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep, Inyo California towhee, Desert pupfish, and rare plants like the Peirson’s milkvetch and Cushenberry buckwheat also are mandated significantly more protection under the law than BLM has been offering.
At the heart of the suit is the BLMs failures under the ESA to fully consider and mitigate effects on species of habitat harming activities as allowed in land use plans.
“BLM managers have ignored the repeated recommendations of their own biologists to reduce impacts from grazing, mining and off-road vehicles,” explains Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “This suit is the only means to induce BLM to faithfully execute their environmental duties.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a 5,000 member science based environmental advocacy organization based in Tucson, Arizona. CBD was formed in 1989 and has offices in San Diego and Berkeley, California, Phoenix, Arizona, and Silver City, New Mexico. This legal action is a part of the Center’s Golden State Biodiversity Initiative.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a 10,000 member national alliance of local, state and federal resource professionals. PEER is based in Washington DC with field representatives operating across the U.S.
The Sierra Club, headquartered in San Francisco, has over 600,000 members nationwide and over 100,000 in California. Sierra Club has existed to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth since being founded by John Muir in 1892. The Sierra Club was the lead activist organization in the 10-year campaign to pass the California Desert Protection Act of 1994.
Species & habitat photos available at www.sw-center.org (under late breaking news).