For Immediate Release, September 10, 2012
Contact: Ileene Anderson, (323) 654-5943, firstname.lastname@example.org
New BLM Plan for California's Algodones Dunes Slashes Protections for Rare Species,
Undermines Renewable-energy Planning
SACRAMENTO, Calif.— The Bureau of Land Management’s new recreational plan for California’s Algodones Dunes will eliminate protections on more than 40,000 acres of crucial habitat for rare and vanishing species by allowing off-road vehicles unlimited access to areas they can’t enter now. The plan, the largest conservation rollback in the California desert in more than a decade, was released Friday, just two days after the BLM assured the public that conservation measures it would adopt to offset the impacts of large-scale renewable energy projects in the California desert would be meaningful and enduring.
“Less than a week ago, the BLM assured the public it could be trusted to protect tortoise, lizard and other wildlife’s habitat to offset the impacts of large-scale green-energy projects in the California desert. This plan does exactly the opposite,” said Ileene Anderson with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s beyond belief that the agency would open up tens of thousands of acres of protected lands to be destroyed by ORVs.”
The state of California and federal Department of the Interior are now developing a “Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP),” that would streamline permitting for large-scale solar, wind and geothermal projects in the California desert. A key component of that plan is that the impacts to endangered species and sensitive habitats from renewable-energy projects on both private and public lands would be partially offset by better management of federal lands by the BLM — which should include firm restrictions on ORV use in endangered species habitat.
State and federal wildlife laws require that conservation measures be both certain and lasting if they are to qualify as mitigation in the new renewable-energy plan. A major stumbling block in the energy-planning process is that BLM officials in California are continuing to insist that they should simply be trusted to maintain any conservation measures adopted under the plan rather than agree to more binding restrictions. At a public planning workshop held last week in Sacramento, representatives from both the conservation community and the renewable-energy industry generally agreed that for the desert energy plan to work conservation measures must be made enduring.
“It’s as though the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. The BLM says it can be trusted to ensure lasting conservation in the California desert on the one hand — through the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan — and on the other hand announces plans to slash conservation in one of the rarest, most fragile desert habitats in North America,” said Anderson. “The Algodones Dunes decision shows that BLM officials in California are either completely clueless or actually want to scuttle the renewable-energy plan.”
Also known as the Imperial Dunes, Algodones is the largest active sand dune formation in North America, covering about 200,000 acres in the southeastern corner of Imperial County. The dunes create unique habitats for numerous species of plants and animals, from lush woodlands on the east side to shifting blowsands in the middle and stabilized sand flats on the west side. Among the imperiled species living on the dunes are the Peirson’s milk vetch and desert tortoise, both protected under the Endangered Species Act, along with the Algodones Dunes sunflower, flat-tailed horned lizard and several dozen invertebrate species that occur nowhere else on the planet. In July 2012 the Center for Biological Diversity formally petitioned to list another dunes species, the Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizard, under the Act.
Since 2000 more than 75,000 acres of the dunes have been protected for plants, wildlife and nonmotorized recreation, while ORVs are allowed on the other 125,000 acres. Under the BLM’s new plan, protected areas will be slashed to only 35,000 acres. The protections BLM would eliminate under the plan were put in place under a Clinton-era agreement between conservation groups, the BLM and off-road-advocacy groups to protect endangered species while allowing large areas to remain open to off-roaders.
The release of the Algodones Dunes management plan triggers a 30-day window in which protests can be filed before the plan becomes final. Once it’s finalized it can be challenged in federal court. The separate, but intertwined, Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan should be released in draft form in late 2012 and finalized in early 2013.
“It’s a sad irony that the first species listed on the renewable-energy plan website to be saved under that plan, the Algodones Dunes sunflower, is one of several species that’ll be doomed if the BLM’s allowed to finalize its new plan for the dunes,” said Anderson.