Beetle petition adds fuel to ORV debate in Calif.

Discussion in 'Land Use' started by Bubba Ray Boudreaux, Jan 2, 2003.

  1. Bubba Ray Boudreaux

    Bubba Ray Boudreaux 1 ton status

    Jan 21, 2001
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    Larisa Epatko, Environment & Energy Daily editor

    The Center for Biological Diversity is turning to the
    Endangered Species Act in its fight to limit off-road
    vehicles (ORVs) from part of the Imperial Sand Dunes
    Recreation Area -- the Algodones Dunes, straddling the
    California-Mexico border.

    The environmental organization says an upcoming final
    Bureau of Land Management plan for the area would open
    sections to ORVs that would send the Andrew's dune
    scarab beetle population into steep decline.

    But ORV users are confident the beetle population will
    be no worse for the wear, and say environmentalists
    are using the ESA more and more not to save species,
    but to limit uses on public lands that they do not

    The Algodones Dunes sweep across 159,000 acres of
    southeastern California and contain such species as
    the flat-tailed horned lizard, Colorado Desert
    fringe-toed lizard, Algodones Dunes sunflower and
    Peirson's milkvetch.

    A lawsuit over the threatened Peirson's milkvetch
    required BLM to close part of the Algodones Dunes to
    ORVs about two years ago until the agency finished its
    management plan for the Imperial dunes area and
    determined there was no correlation between motorized
    vehicles and the plant's survival. BLM currenly is in
    the process of reopening the areas to ORVs.

    A final resource management plan for the Imperial
    dunes is coming in mid-to-late January, according to
    Robert Bower, resource information specialist with
    BLM's El Centro, Calif., office. The plan BLM backs --
    as outlined in the draft version -- would open
    non-wilderness parts of the Algodones Dunes to ORV
    use, but limit vehicles through a permitting process
    in 33,000 acres, said Bower. About 26,000 acres are
    designated wilderness and are off-limits to ORVs, he

    Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist for CBD, said the
    prospect of allowing ORVs back into the area gave
    environmentalists "no choice but to move for legal
    protection" for the beetle. "That plan is a one-sided
    disaster that maximizes off-roading at the expense of
    conservation," he said. CBD petitioned the Fish and
    Wildlife Service on Dec. 12 to list the species as
    threatened or endangered under the ESA; FWS has 90
    days to respond.

    According to CBD's petition, FWS proposed listing the
    beetle under ESA in 1978, and during that process, the
    agency wrote that "the continued disruption of dune
    troughs by off-road vehicles prevents the accumulation
    of dead organic matter upon which the immature stages
    of this beetle feed." FWS eventually withdrew the
    listing proposal once it passed the rulemaking's
    two-year deadline. The petition also cited studies
    that said about 80 percent of desert animals exist
    underground during the day and can be crushed by ORVs.

    Bill Dart, public lands director for the BlueRibbon
    Coalition, a motorized recreation advocacy group, said
    biologists will likely discover that ORVs will not
    significantly impact the beetle population as a whole
    because other large tracts in the area do not allow
    any vehicular use.

    Dart also noted that when the milkvetch studies failed
    to yield results environmentalists were seeking, they
    turned to the beetle. And in the case of the beetles,
    it will take federal agencies more time to review
    their numbers since they are not as easy to see as a
    stationary plant that lives above ground, he said.

    "It's not about protecting the species, it's about
    using the Endangered Species Act as a tool to
    eliminate or control uses [environmentalists] don't
    agree with," Dart said. Under the ESA, "FWS has to
    assume the worst before proving otherwise." Instead,
    there should be an indicator that a species has a
    problem before steps are taken to list it, he said.

    ESA should not be used to "shut down public use or
    uses people don't agree with," added FWS spokesman
    Chris Tollefson. "The act should be used for its
    intended purpose -- to protect species and recover
    listed species, rather than a means for manipulating
    land-use activities. ... It undermines the public's
    support for the act when it's manipulated to do those
    types of activities, rather than focusing on the
    species themselves."

    But Don Barry, executive vice president of the
    Wilderness Society, who helped develop the endangered
    species law when he worked for FWS, said the blame
    lies with the federal agencies for failing to manage
    lands in a stewardship-oriented way.

    If species were listed that didn't need it, Barry said
    he'd be more inclined to give weight to the argument
    that groups are using the law to stop certain public
    land uses, but when species are finally listed,
    "they're the walking dead."

    Tollefson said FWS will act on the beetle petition as
    soon as it can, but the listing program is
    overwhelmed, and limited staff and funding make it
    difficult for the agency to respond to listing
    petitions by statutory deadlines. "Virtually all of
    our listing budget for the coming year is already
    accounted for," he said.

    Last month, FWS said it could not list the Yosemite
    toad under ESA despite its declining population due to
    a lack of funding (Land Letter, Dec. 19).

    Patterson said Congress, when authorizing the ESA,
    intended for citizens to be able to petition for a
    species' listing. "The only way species have been
    listed is through petitions and follow-up lawsuits,"
    he said.

    According to Bower, BLM starts informal consultations
    with FWS after a species is proposed for listing and
    begins adjusting its management strategy to try to
    keep the species off the list. For example, the
    Algodones Dunes' flat-tailed horned lizard, which is
    the subject of litigation, has been proposed for
    listing. In response, said Bower, BLM has restricted
    ORVs in some areas in certain seasons. And the agency
    will do the same informal consultation if the Andrew's
    dunes scarab beetle makes it that far in the listing
    process, he said.

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