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Chuckwalla Bench area in the California desert
Photo credit: Sam Roberts

LOS ANGELES, CA, March 19, 2018 – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released its third attempt to develop a plan for managing off-road vehicle use in the West Mojave portion of the California Desert.

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Unfortunately, BLM’s latest draft closely mirrors prior attempts that a federal court found illegal. The draft plan once again inadequately protects areas with high conservation and cultural values and prioritizes off-road vehicles over other uses. It appears the agency has struck out when it comes to honoring its legal obligation to protect irreplaceable resources in the desert.

The new draft plan would designate a spaghetti network of 6,300 miles of OHV routes crisscrossing the West Mojave (WEMO) portion of the BLM’s California Desert Conservation Area. That is over eight times the length of Interstate 5 from San Diego to the Oregon border. Though an improvement over the 2015 draft plan that proposed over 10,000 miles of routes, this plan does nothing to end decades of poorly managed off-road vehicle use by designating thousands of miles of routes that were created by illegal, haphazard off-roading. In 2009, a federal court found that BLM’s 2006 plan, which designated a 5,000-mile route network, harmed fragile desert resources, improperly elevated off-road vehicle use over other forms of recreation, and violated numerous environmental laws. Today’s draft plan explicitly states it was designed to include the “least amount of changes” from the illegal 2006 plan.

“Unfortunately, the draft plan continues to disregard court direction to tamp down on out-of-control off-road vehicle use and minimize impacts to sensitive desert resources,” said Alison Flint, Senior Policy Analyst for The Wilderness Society. “Each year the network of illegal, user-created routes scarring the landscape continues to grow. BLM cannot continue to reward that behavior by officially designating those routes as open to OHV use.”

The draft WEMO plan would also designate over 400 miles of off-road vehicle routes in Sand to Snow and Mojave Trails National Monuments, as well as hundreds of routes in other conservation areas designated to protect irreplaceable cultural, scenic, and ecological values. By designating only 179 miles of non-motorized trails, the plan will require hikers and equestrians to navigate open terrain or share trails with loud and dangerous motorized vehicles.

“Everyone should have safe and enjoyable access to our public lands, especially in national monuments and other areas specifically recognized for their wildness or conservation values,” said Dan Smuts, Pacific Region Senior Director for The Wilderness Society. “It’s inexcusable for the BLM to prioritize off-road vehicle use over protecting sensitive habitat for bighorn sheep and desert tortoise, as well as priceless Native American cultural and archaeological resources. We must maintain quality opportunities for hiking, horseback riding and other quiet forms of recreation in the desert,” Smuts added.

“We are still reviewing the lengthy draft planning documents and assessing whether any of BLM’s management alternatives would adequately protect the extraordinary ecological, cultural, and scenic values of the California Desert,” said Flint. “Based on our initial review, we are not hopeful.”