Center for Biological Diversity

Protecting endangered species and wild places of western North America
and the Pacific through science, policy, education, and environmental law.

July 26, 2001

Contact: Daniel Patterson, Center for Biological Diversity, 520-906-2159
Barak Gale, Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life, 925-934-6299
Paul Spitler, California Wilderness Coalition, 530-758-0380
Michael Connor, Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, 909-683-3872


Nearly one hundred public interest and community groups are protesting the Army's plan to expand tank training in the Mojave Desert, which would destroy over 100,000 acres of pristine desert lands and sabotage the future recovery of an endangered plant and animal.

The environmental, religious and public health organizations, said in a letter to Secretary of Interior Gale Norton that the Army's proposal to expand the Fort Irwin National Training Center would destroy what are now protected public lands, including potential wilderness areas. Tanks would also overrun a region critical to the recovery of the threatened desert tortoise and endangered Lane Mountain milkvetch, both of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

"The desert tortoise and the Lane Mountain milkvetch don't stand much of a chance against the Army's tanks. The desert tortoise's future is already precarious, and we can't afford the loss of this many animals and this much of their habitat," said Dr. Michael Connor with Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee."

The expansion also engulfs part or all of two Wilderness Study Areas in the Avawatz Mountains, an area known for its colorful and rugged mountains, desert bighorn sheep, the historic Old Spanish Emigrant Trail and Shoshone tribal artifacts. "The loss of these potential wilderness areas and their natural and cultural values is irrevocable. Torah prohibits the extinction of species and commands us to choose life. This sanctuary for desert plants and wildlife merits permanent protection and this expansion will forever eliminate that option," said Barak Gale with the Coalition on Environment and Jewish Life.

The group charges the Secretary to bar the expansion until the Army fully justifies the need for this expansion. "We are fighting this proposed expansion for the wildlife and wilderness that is rapidly disappearing from the California desert. The current huge base is the size of Rhode Island and has proven an effective training ground." He adds, "The Army has not justified taking this land from the public and wildlife to support the fading defense strategy of tank warfare." said Daniel Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. The groups point out that the costs of addressing the impacts to the desert tortoise alone could cost 300 million dollars.

The coalition criticizes current legislation that prematurely gives the expansion lands to the Army prior to compliance with environmental and public health laws. "Giving the Army 100,000 acres of unprotected wilderness and critical tortoise habitat before they can demonstrate compliance with environmental laws is unacceptable-it's absolutely backwards," said Paul Spitler of the California Wilderness Coalition.

text of letter

CBD's California Desert page


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