Land agency didn't study impacts of off-roading, judge says
James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 09/30/2009 03:27:41 PM PDT
A federal judge has said the process that created miles and miles of off-road vehicle trails in the Mojave Desert over the past decade was flawed, though it is not clear what that will mean for the trails.
Ruling in a case brought by several environmental groups, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston said the federal Bureau of Land Management did not property follow rules in an 1976 law when it created a network of off-road trails in the western Mojave.
"Some of the routes weren't properly designated," said Lisa Belenky, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "They didn't know what was out there. ... The court, quite clearly, said they really did not look at the impacts of these routes."
Various federal laws demand that agencies study the possible environmental impacts of allowing, among other things, off-road trails on federal lands. Belenky said Illsont's ruling shows that BLM did not properly look at how the off-road trails would affect the desert environment and the habitats of desert animals, including the desert tortoise.
"You're supposed to figure out what you're trying to protect and what you're tring to access and then figure out a route that does that," said Eldon Hughes of the Sierra Club. "The ones in charge (of BLM) didn't want to do it right. They felt their constituency to the off-road community, the mining communityi and all that was more important than the wildlife."
He said BLM will have to go back and take a second look at the off-road trails it approved, checking to see if they should have been approved in the first place.
But that's not clear from Illson's ruling and the ruling does not immediately impact off-road trails.
Illson has scheduled a meeting on Oct. 30, when BLM and the plaitiffs will discuss the "remedial phase" of the lawsuit.
John Dearing, a spokesman for the BLM's California headquarters, said the bureau is still reviewing Illston's 92-page ruling. He said BLM will have to do something about the off-road trails, but it isn't clear what that something will be.
"They've pretty much thrown out the off-road vehicle stuff," Dearing said. "Obviusly we're going to have to do something in that regard. ... We'll see what the court will ask us to do."