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Imperial Dunes Plan

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For Immediate Release: March 24, 2005 CA-CDD-05-35
Contact: Doran Sanchez (951) 697-5220 or Jan Bedrosian (916) 978-4616

Imperial Dunes Plan Approved

The Imperial Sand Dunes, one of the most popular recreation sites in the
country with more than 1.2 million visitors annually, has a new land use
plan balancing off-highway vehicle (OHV) use with protection of wilderness
and threatened plant and wildlife species, and emphasizing a family-oriented
safety and law enforcement program.

Bureau of Land Management (BLM) State Director Mike Pool said he today
signed a record of decision (ROD) approving a new Recreation Area Management
Plan (RAMP) that will guide management of the 160,000-acre Dunes for the
next 15 years. "I am very pleased to be able to finalize this five-year
cooperative planning effort and move management of the Dunes forward into a
new, progressive era." The ROD is available online at

Pool said the key feature of the RAMP is "zoning" the entire Dunes into
eight distinct management areas, each designed to emphasize varying levels
of OHV use or environmental protection. These areas range from no vehicle
use in the 26,202-acre North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area to intensive
OHV use in the 21,225-acre Gecko Management Area.

In the middle is the 33,329-acre Adaptive Management Area (AMA), which will
mostly replace temporary closures covering 49,300 acres put in place at the
Dunes in 2000 due to a court-approved settlement. OHV use will be allowed in
the AMA, but restricted to permit holders only (after completing a short
environmental education course onsite), limited to no more than 525 vehicles
a day, not open to overnight camping (dawn to dusk use only), and only open
during certain parts of the year (October 15 to March 31).

Pool said due to a recent court order, as well seasonal factors, regulatory
requirements, and necessary on-the-ground work as specified in the ROD, BLM
must leave the temporary closures in effect until at least October 15, 2005,
the opening of the new use season. This timing will allow for pending legal
challenges from both environmental and OHV groups to be heard by a Federal
Court in San Francisco and a ruling issued. Unless the Court rules
otherwise, BLM's approved ROD states that the existing temporary closures in
four separate areas, including the area covered by the AMA, will be lifted
and replaced by the management direction in the plan. BLM will keep the
public informed on the litigation status and how it may affect the area's
availability for OHV use.

The AMA will be scientifically monitored to determine impacts of OHV use on
the Peirson's milk-vetch, listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS). To gather baseline data, BLM initiated an intensive
monitoring effort in spring 2004 and Pool said the second year field work is
already underway. Pool noted the RAMP is in full compliance with the
Endangered Species Act. The FWS determined the RAMP posed "no jeopardy" to
the listed milk-vetch or desert tortoise, nor "adversely modified" critical
habitat in a January 2005 Biological Opinion. The opinion included numerous
terms and conditions that are clearly reflected in the RAMP.

The RAMP and its dozens of individual planned actions, including
improvements to visitor facilities, construction of an interpretive area,
development of education programs, and law enforcement, monitoring, and
maintenance activities, will be implemented gradually, with some actions
completed immediately and some adjusted over time, based on visitation,
available funding, monitoring data, visitor compliance, and other factors.

"Many of these visitor services and improvements will be directly supported
by the recreation fees paid for by visitors who enjoy the Dunes," Pool said.
"The only exception is the environmental monitoring that is paid for
directly from Congressionally appropriated funds by law. As in past years,
we will consult and coordinate with the Dunes' Technical Review Team (TRT),
made up of volunteers, on how best to spend the recreation fee funds."

"We have all come a long way in the last five years to restore civility,
ensure a high quality recreation experience, and protect sensitive resources
at the Dunes," Pool said. "The TRT has contributed greatly to this positive
effort, and we have appreciated the excellent cooperation and support from
Imperial County, our other law enforcement partners, and user groups such as
the American Sand Association, the Off-Road Business Assn., the California
Off-Highway Vehicle Assn., California Four-Wheel Drive, and others.

"We are also very encouraged with the new, recently formed, United Desert
Gateway Partnership with the Chambers of Commerce for El Centro, Brawley,
and Yuma," he stated. "These communities have embraced the Imperial Sand
Dunes as a high quality tourist destination designed to promote family-based
recreation opportunities."

The Dunes RAMP was initiated in 2001 with public scoping of issues, followed
by publication of a draft RAMP and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in
March 2002. More than 7,339 individuals, organizations, and government
entities provided written and oral comments. A proposed RAMP and final EIS
were published in May 2003 and the public was given an opportunity to
protest to BLM's Director. Receipt of the FWS Biological Opinion, a recent
court ruling, and resolution of those protests allowed for issuance of the

"We thank the thousands of people who gave us comments and advice on the
Dunes RAMP. While we couldn't satisfy every point of view, the wide range of
opinions helped us achieve a fair balance in management prescriptions
evident in this dynamic and innovative plan," he stated.

For more information contact the BLM's El Centro Field Office at (760)
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