San Francisco – Endangered species in the California desert will be better protected through a landmark legal settlement reached between environmental groups, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and a coalition of off- road vehicle groups. The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by a coalition of environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity, and including Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The settlement is awaiting approval by Judge William Alsup in the 9th district court.
Congress designated the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) in 1976 and directed BLM to manage its scenic and fragile lands for conservation and protection of wildlife habitat. The CDCA stretches over 25 million acres from the USMexico 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.
“This negotiated agreement jump-starts needed stronger endangered species protection while still allowing sustainable use and enjoyment of the desert,” said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist with CBD who formerly worked with BLM in the Mojave desert. He adds, “The CDCA settlement, along with our intensifying grassroots advocacy, sets the tone for what we anticipate will be more pro-active conservation management by BLM in the California desert for many years to come.”
The coalition charged in the lawsuit that the BLM was violating the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing to analyze the effects to endangered species of the implementation of the 1980 CDCA plan – which guides the management of 11 million acres of public land within the 25 million acre conservation area. BLM admitted liability in the case last summer and entered in to settlement negotiations with the plaintiffs on August 25 to determine interim relief for listed species while the agency worked to comply with the law. In November, the parties agreed to the first item of settlement by protecting 49,310 acres of the Algodones Sand Dunes from off- road vehicles to recover a threatened plant found nowhere else in the U.S., the Peirson’s milkvetch.
“This lawsuit would not have been necessary if BLM had been adequately staffed and diligently managed to do the job required by statute,” said Karen Schambach, California Coordinator for PEER. “This settlement requires BLM to field enough rangers and biologists with clear direction to implement and enforce this plan so we do not end up back in court.”