For Immediate Release, December 18, 2008
Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 490-0223
Joan Taylor, Sierra Club, (760) 408-2488
Erin Ziegler, California Wilderness Coalition, (510) 451-1450
Groups Sue to Protect Endangered Bighorn Sheep
PALM SPRINGS, Calif.— The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and California Wilderness Coalition filed suit in federal court today challenging a flawed Bureau of Land Management plan amendment that would have grave consequences for endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep living in the mountains flanking Palm Springs.
The groups’ lawsuit claims that the Bureau, or BLM, failed to adequately consider the environmental effects of its 2002 Coachella Valley amendment of the California Desert Conservation Area Plan. The amendment would allow Dunn Road, an illegally constructed roadway in Peninsular bighorn critical habitat, to be opened to commercial vehicular use. Dunn Road bisects a crucial lambing area for bighorn in the northern part of their range. Bighorn sheep abandon lambing areas when confronted with aggravating human activities such as vehicular traffic.
“BLM clearly fails to fulfill its mandate to protect rare and endangered species on public lands, including the Peninsular bighorn sheep, by allowing motorized access to Dunn Road,” said Ileene Anderson, public lands deserts director for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Dunn Road was illegally built 30 years ago in an effort to open up the Santa Rosa Mountains to real estate development. Since then, the area has become a national monument and critical habitat for Peninsular bighorn. Most of the private land in the mountains has been acquired for preservation. In 2001, the conservation groups compelled BLM to severely restrict use of Dunn Road and to prevent it being mechanically maintained. Since that time, the road has become impassable and bighorn have thrived in the area.
“Decades ago, bighorn loved this area, but when the BLM allowed jeep tours on it, the sheep avoided it,” said Joan Taylor, local Sierra Club representative. “Now that the road has been essentially closed for several years, the bighorn are back again – big time. The BLM’s proposal to reopen Dunn Road is particularly troubling, because this road bisects a sensitive lambing areas and movement corridors for these endangered animals.”
“The California Wilderness Coalition and other groups have worked for years to get the wildlands lands west of Dunn Road protected as wilderness” said Erin Ziegler, with the California Wilderness Coalition. “Reopening the Dunn Road to vehicles will seriously degrade the areas wild qualities. It should continue to be managed as a trail.”
The Peninsular Ranges population of desert bighorn inhabits the rugged desert mountains running from the San Gorgonio Pass south into Baja California. Once the most numerous of desert bighorn, the U.S. population of Peninsular bighorn plummeted from 1,171 sheep in 1974, to a mere 276 by 1996. In the decade since being listed as an endangered species, the population has increased to 800. Known as the “bighorn of the inverted mountain ranges,” Peninsular bighorn are restricted to lower slopes due to the dense chaparral that grows at higher elevations in these mountains, which forces the species to live near urban areas in the Coachella Valley. The federal listing identified urban impacts as a primary threat to the species’ survival.
“The Santa Rosa Mountains ewes still needs protection from urban impacts,” Anderson said. “Repairing and opening Dunn Road to motorized use again would be a violation of the Recovery Plan as well as a tragedy for this magnificent species.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national nonprofit conservation organization with 200,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.