Center for Biological Diversity
Protecting endangered species and wild
NEWS RELEASE For Immediate Release: Thursday, December 13, 2001
Defense Authorization Bill Passes With Provision to Expand Ft. Irwin; Conservationists Decry Loss of Wildlife and Wilderness.
WASHINGTON DC -- The Defense Authorization bill was approved by both the House and Senate today, amid the disappointment of many conservation organizations. Groups including the California Wilderness Coalition, the Center for Biological Diversity and others were hoping to see environmental protections written into the provision to expand the Army's Fort Irwin National Training Center located in California's Mojave desert.
Before ground disturbing training could begin the Army must successfully pass environmental law review and consultation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
The expansion would end conservation of 110,000 acres of spectacular and botanically diverse wildlands in the California Desert, including lands Congress identified as meriting wilderness protection.
"We do not support Ft. Irwin expansion," said desert ecologist Daniel Patterson "Tanks would wipe out the Lane Mountain milkvetch, many wilderness areas, and the desert tortoise in the west Mojave." He adds, "We did not favor this legislation, but congress was clear in requiring the Army to comply with environmental laws. Whether or not they can comply has yet to be determined, and will likely be decided in the courts."
The legislation passed without environmental protections requested by conservationists as well as members of Congress. Several conservation organizations along with U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Representatives Barbara Lee (D-9th), Susan Davis (D-49th), George Miller (D-7th) and others asked the Armed Services Committee to incorporate changes into the legislation to protect fragile wildlife habitat and ensure survival of the threatened desert tortoise and an endangered plant. Furthermore, Senators Feinstien and Boxer were also pushing for wilderness designation of several areas not overtaken by the base.
"We are disappointed that the legislation did not include critical environmental protections, but we applaud both California Senators as well as other members of the California delegation who fought to protect desert wildlife and wilderness," said Paul Spitler of the California Wilderness Coalition. "We look forward to working with Senators Feinstein and Boxer to achieve wilderness designation for the areas not protected by this legislation."
The Fort Irwin expansion would eliminate 35,000 acres of potential wilderness areas, which are home to desert bighorn sheep, sacred Native American sites and part of the historic Old Spanish Emigrant Trail. Furthermore, it will engulf the Superior Valley, home to two species threatened with extinction: the desert tortoise and a flowering plant know as the Lane Mountain milkvetch.
Groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Endangered Species Coalition, Earthjustice Legal Defense, The Desert Protective Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and the California Wilderness Coalition wrote letters to Senators Feinstein and Boxer and Representative Miller thanking them for their "efforts to protect California's natural environment during the proposal to expand the Fort Irwin National Training Center." Unfortunately the Army blocked greater environmental protections in the final bill.
Copies of the letters are available by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org