Judge Overturns Decision to Open Off-road Vehicle Routes That Hurt Tortoise

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Ileene Anderson, Center for Biological Diversity, (323) 654-5943, ianderson@biologicaldiversity.org

Judge Overturns Decision to Open Off-road Vehicle Routes That Hurt Tortoise

LOS ANGELES - An administrative law judge for the Interior Board of Land Appeals
upheld the Center for Biological Diversity appeal of the Bureau of Land
Management's decision to open two off-road vehicle routes in desert
tortoise habitat in eastern Kern County. The Bureau's decision was
tiered to the flawed West Mojave Plan, which was struck down
in federal court last year. The two routes at issue in the Rand
Mountains Management Area, an area of critical environmental concern,
had been closed in 2002 to protect the imperiled desert tortoise from destructive off-road vehicle use that was tearing up the fragile desert habitat.

In
rendering its decision, the board set aside and remanded the decision
to the Bureau of Land Management. As a result, the Bureau will need to
reinstitute the closure of the routes and go back to the drawing board.
The Bureau's 2008 decision was based on an inadequate education and
permit program that provided no education and no permit tracking and
merely required riders to obtain and carry a map of the Rand Mountain
Management Area with information on the back. The Bureau's own
monitoring over the past year has documented repeated cases in which
off-roaders illegally cut fences and drove off designated routes into
sensitive habitats.

"The number of illegal actions
that have occurred since the education and permit program has been in
place confirms the failure of the program," said Ileene Anderson, a
biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The judge agreed
with us that the Bureau needs to rethink the decision to open these
routes."

The Bureau fast-tracked the route opening
and permit process and precluded public review of, and comment on, the
shortcomings of the flawed plan. The routes are directly adjacent to
the Desert Tortoise Natural Area, private conservation lands set up to
protect desert tortoise in the wild.  

Having
survived tens of thousands of years in California's deserts, desert
tortoise numbers have declined rapidly in recent years. The crash of
populations is due to many factors, including disease, crushing by
vehicles, military and suburban development, habitat degradation, and
predation by dogs and ravens. Because of its dwindling numbers, the
desert tortoise, which is California's official state reptile, is now
protected under both federal and state endangered species law.

Population
genetics studies have recently shown that the desert tortoise in the
western Mojave desert, including the Rand Mountain tortoises, is
distinctly different from its relatives to the north, east, and south.
This finding sheds new light on why increased conservation is more
important than ever for the animals in the western Mojave.

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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