Fed Judge Overturns Bush's Plan for the West Mojave Desert
Bush-era Plan Authorizing Off-road Vehicles on Federal Lands in Mojave Desert Found Illegal by Court
9/29/2009--SAN FRANCISCO— Late Monday a federal judge rejected a Bureau of Land Management plan for managing millions of acres of public land in the California desert. In response to a challenge brought by a coalition of conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Desert Survivors, the court ruled that the Bush-era West Mojave Plan violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act by favoring off-road vehicle use over protection of sensitive desert resources such as endangered species and archeological sites.
“This is a huge win for the California desert,” said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The court’s decision takes the Bureau of Land Management to task for designating thousands of miles of off-road vehicle routes while ignoring the significant damage these vehicles cause to our public lands and the wildlife that depend on these lands for their survival.”
The court rejected the Bureau’s use of a route designation “decision tree” that the agency used to designate areas for off-road vehicles – a decision tree that failed to take into account such legal requirements as the minimization of routes to limit damage to public lands and disruption of wildlife and habitats. The court found that the Bureau failed to provide adequate explanation for many of the route changes and actually added routes beyond the limit expressly set in the agency’s own planning documents.
It also found that the Bureau violated the law by failing to analyze alternatives that would reduce the number or miles of off-road vehicle routes so as to reduce impacts to resources; that the agency’s analysis of impacts of off-road vehicles on air-quality cultural resources, riparian resources, unusual plant assemblages, and sensitive species such as the Mojave fringe-toed lizard was inadequate; and that the Bureau failed to look at the impacts of cattle grazing on sensitive desert soils.
to read the judge's ruling:
"For the foregoing reasons, ...The Court GRANTS summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs on the FLPMA claims, GRANTS summary judgment on some of the NEPA claims in favor of plaintiffs, and GRANTS summary judgment on some of the NEPA claims in favor of defendants, and GRANTS summary judgment in favor of defendants on the ESA claims."