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For Immediate Release, May 14, 2007


Chris Kassar, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 609-7685
Paul McFarland, Friends of the Inyo, (760) 709-1093

America’s Highest Desert Mountain Range Threatened
By Road Building in Furnace Creek

SAN FRANCISCO— Today the Bureau of Land Management announced that it will allow the construction of a new road through Furnace Creek, a rare perennial desert stream that winds its way through the White Mountains Wilderness Study Area near the California-Nevada border.

Despite receiving more than 7,000 comments from the public in opposition to new construction, as well as one from the California Department of Fish and Game, the Bureau has taken the first step toward ensuring destruction of this unique desert canyon by claiming a finding of “no significant impact” to the resources. The next step will come in a joint Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management proposal to build a new road through this desert oasis with 14 stream crossings along only 4.5 miles of the creek.

“The BLM is bending over backwards to make a bad decision. They have completely ignored the well-known environmental consequences of this decision and made a choice based on politics, not science,” said Paul McFarland, executive director of Friends of the Inyo. “Even their own Environmental Assessment issued in November stated that the preferred alternative would be to keep the area protected from off-road vehicle damage.”

Due to the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service’s own concern and environmental analysis, Furnace Creek’s wetlands have been protected from needless off-road vehicle abuse since 2003. “Over the last four years what little evidence there is of damage to Furnace Creek has been obscured by the return of willows, cottonwoods and cattails. The music of birdsong has replaced the whine of motors in the mud,” said Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “For the federal government to ignore its own regulations and build a new road through this desert stream is intolerable.”

Furnace Creek provides streamside habitat used by the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher during migration, along with breeding habitat for Costa’s hummingbird and eight other bird species of conservation concern. The closure has also helped curtail illegal road proliferation into the heart of the White Mountains on the Inyo National Forest, home to the sage grouse and the world’s oldest trees, bristlecone pines.

Friends of the Inyo, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility will respond by filling a formal protest. “This is far from over,” Kassar concluded. “Furnace Creek is too important for us to just walk away. We will continue to fight to keep the closure in place and to protect this delicate creek ecosystem and the life it supports.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a nonprofit conservation organization with more than 35,000 members dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Friends of the Inyo is a nonprofit conservation organization based in Bishop, California dedicated to the protection, enjoyment and stewardship of the public lands and wildlife in the Eastern Sierra.

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