For Immediate Release, May 9, 2008
Nada Culver, The Wilderness Society, (303) 650-5818, ext. 117
Peter Bungart, Archaeologist, (928) 213-0984
William Boarman, Conservation Science Research and Consulting, (619) 861-9450
Kim Crumbo, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council, (928) 638-2304
Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, (520) 326-4300
Taylor McKinnon, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 310-6713
National Monuments, Wildlife, and Archaeological Sites
Threatened by New Federal Plan for Northern Arizona
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— A Bureau of Land Management plan issued yesterday for a remote area north of the Grand Canyon sacrifices wildlife habitat and archaeological sites to off-road vehicles, livestock grazing, and oil and gas development. The 20-year plan spans 2.8 million acres of the Arizona Strip, including the Grand Canyon Parashant and Vermillion Cliffs national monuments.
The 3,000-page plan ignores the very reason the national monuments were created and disregards the public’s desire for them to be protected, said Wilderness Society senior counsel Nada Culver. “Page after page, the BLM finds ways to promote continued off-road vehicle use in places that were set aside for their ancient artifacts, rugged landscapes, and habitat for desert species,” she said.
Despite a presidential proclamation ordering the Bureau to keep off-road vehicles to real “roads,” the plan allows them on more than 1,700 miles of trails and primitive roads in the monuments and across broad swaths of the Arizona Strip.
Only 27 percent of the lands in a wilderness proposal created by the Arizona Wilderness Coalition are protected under the plan, which also ignores the impacts of livestock grazing, fire regimes, and invasive species.
“Poll after poll shows that people love their wilderness lands,” said Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “It’s BLM’s responsibility as a public agency to protect what Arizona citizens want and deserve.”
Mountain lions and the deer and elk they feed on need large swaths of unbroken wildland to keep their populations healthy and viable, said Kim Crumbo of the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.
“This plan does very little to ensure that the key species that rely on the monuments are protected from noise and widespread habitat fragmentation that off-road vehicle use causes on a large scale,” Crumbo said.
The plan also covers habitat for threatened, endangered, and sensitive species including the desert tortoise, southwestern willow flycatcher, bald eagle, Yuma clapper rail, relict leopard frog, woundfin minnow, and Virgin River chub.
Dr. William I. Boarman, a desert tortoise specialist who submitted comments to the agency, said the plan does very little to reduce the threats to the tortoise from motorized recreation, oil and gas development, and high-tension utility lines on which ravens perch and prey on the tortoises.
“In order for national monuments to offer sanctuary, their management must address factors threatening desert tortoise,” said Dr. Boarman. “I’m not convinced this plan does so.”
“The federal government has a duty under the Endangered Species Act to protect imperiled species and their habitat,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This plan falls short of that duty.”
The Arizona Strip is one of the last truly remote places in the West, and its monuments protect the region’s rich archaeology and historical sites, all of which are threatened by looting, vandalism, and unintentional damage by vehicles, said archaeologist Peter Bungart, director of Circa Cultural Consulting in Flagstaff.
“The BLM is trying to argue in this plan that keeping roads open will discourage looters from accessing sensitive sites. This is simply not a sensible approach,” he said. “The most significant and intact archaeological sites are found in remote places. Conversely, the most seriously damaged sites are near roads.”
Recreational use of the Arizona Strip will increase dramatically over the 20-year life of the plan. The population of the surrounding five counties is expected to double with the addition of 1.4 million new residents by 2020. Given the population explosion in the West and the monuments’ growing popularity, this 20-year management plan will determine the future of wildlife and other resources in the monuments.