Contact: Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223;
Karen Schambach, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, (530) 333-1106
LOS ANGELES — Today the Bush administration issued a new final critical habitat for the federally and state-protected Peirson’s milk-vetch, as mandated by federal law. The new determination identifies a meager 12,105 acres of land in the Algodones Dunes as habitat necessary for the survival and recovery of the rare plant, representing a 33-percent reduction from last year’s proposal. The new designation also fragments the area that would be enforced for conservation of the plant and fails to protect areas where the rare plant is currently growing.
The Peirson’s milk-vetch is found nowhere in the United States save on a small portion of southern California’s Algodones Dunes, where it ekes out life amongst the abrasive shifting sands. It has purple-pink, pea-like flowers and produces large, inflated pods, which blow off the plant shedding seeds. The Algodones Dunes, also known as the Imperial Dunes, are a hub for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, who tear at high speeds over the shifting sands, killing the plants and animals that live in this fragile ecosystem.
“The Bush administration seems bent on driving this plant closer to extinction,” says Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The ongoing systematic reductions and now fragmentation of habitat is no Valentine’s Day gift for the struggling plant.”
Just five years ago, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed 52,780 acres of critical habitat for the Peirson’s milk-vetch. A year later that proposal was slashed by more than 60 percent to 21, 836 acres. Because of that, a federal court judge found that the Service had ignored the recovery goal and the regulatory benefit to the species that critical habitat provides, and required the agency to reinstate the earlier designation while a new critical habitat designation was formulated. Last year, the feds proposed 16,108 acres of critical habitat, but today decreased and fragmented that proposal.
“The Interior Department’s decision to continue to cut the amount of protected habitat defies the recommendations of local biologists with the best knowledge of what the milk-vetch needs to survive millions of menacing knobby tires,” said Karen Schambach of PEER. “Clearly, the Bush administration is continuing its shoddy practice of allowing political considerations to trump science.”
Elden Hughes, honorary vice president of the Sierra Club, noted: “This administration fails to act on endangered species until the species is right at the abyss of extinction and then its action consists of pushing the species over the cliff.”
Located in the Sonoran desert of southeastern California’s Imperial County, the scenic and remote Algodones Dunes are the largest dune ecosystem in the United States. The dunes harbor at least 160 different animal and plant species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. The dunes are heavily damaged by as many as 240,000 off-roaders on some weekends, which destroys vegetation and wildlife habitat, pollutes the air, creates criminal problems that stress law enforcement, and burdens local emergency services.