For Immediate Release, February 21, 2007
CONTACTS: Terry Weiner, Desert Protective Council, (619) 342-5524
Chris Kassar, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 609-7685
Off-Road Vehicles Harming Endangered Bighorn Sheep Habitat
Conservationists File Suit to Protect Fragile Desert
SACRAMENTO, Calif.– Two conservation organizations announced today they will sue the California Department of Parks and Recreation for continuing to allow destructive off-road vehicle use of recently acquired lands known as the “Desert Cahuilla lands,” home to endangered peninsular bighorn sheep. The lands also contain other unique biological, geological, and cultural resources. The Center for Biological Diversity and Desert Protective Council served a 60-day notice of intent to sue the parks department under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“The Desert Cahuilla lands were intended to be acquired as an addition to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to protect them,” said Terry Weiner of the Desert Protective Council. “But the Off Highway Vehicle Division of State Parks became involved in the acquisition, and the land is now under joint management. And since the sale was completed last September, the department has refused to place any limits on off-road vehicle use. Unfortunately, many off-roaders have taken this as an open invitation to blaze new trails and run roughshod with impunity over these fragile desert lands.”
The peninsular bighorn sheep was listed as an endangered species in 1998, imperiled by dramatic habitat loss and pressure from human activity and development. Its current habitat is limited to a narrow band along the east side of the Peninsular Mountain ranges, where the animals use desert washes for forage and seek shade beneath the steep cliffs in hot summer months. The area also contains valuable archeological sites associated with the shoreline of ancient Lake Cahuilla.
Federal law prohibits any person or state from harming endangered species or their habitats; the bighorns’ reliance on this area for foraging is well documented. Conservationists have put the parks department on notice that it is violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing ongoing damage to habitat essential to the species’ survival and recovery.
“The parks department should be taking strong steps to protect this highly endangered species,” said Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with the Center. “Instead it is turning away—ignoring the basic needs of an animal whose numbers have dwindled drastically. By allowing unrestricted off-roading in the bighorn’s home, the department is directly condoning the destruction of plants the bighorn needs to eat and of soils any new plants would need to grow.”
The conservation groups have urged the Department of Parks and Recreation to close the newly acquired lands to all off-road use until the resources have been thoroughly surveyed and adequate management measures can be put in place to protect bighorn habitat.
More information about the Desert Cahuilla lands can be found at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/swcbd/programs/deserts/desert-cahuilla/index.html.
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The Center for Biological Diversity (www.biologicaldiversity.org) is a nonprofit conservation organization with over 32,000 members dedicated to the protection of imperiled species and their habitats.
The Desert Protective Council (www.dpcinc.org) is a nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1954 dedicated to protecting and preserving the natural and cultural heritage of our deserts.