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From the San Diego Union Tribune

By Terry Rodgers
STAFF WRITER

January 6, 2005

A federal judge has banned off-road vehicles from 571,000 acres of desert in Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties until biologists determine whether the areas are crucial to the survival of the threatened desert tortoise.

Off-roaders were infuriated by the ruling.

"The impact of this will be devastating to our sport or anyone else who wants to go sightseeing in the desert," said Harold Soens, president of the San Diego Off-Road Coalition.

Those who get their thrills riding on the dirt are vocal and well-organized. About 300,000 off-road vehicles are registered to residents of San Diego and Riverside counties, Soens said.

The restrictions are the result of a lawsuit by environmentalists who challenged the Bush administration's management of the tortoises' habitat.

The dispute focused on a U.S. Bureau of Land Management policy implemented two years ago allowing off-roaders unfettered access to desert drainages or washes.

"We'd warned the government that their policy allowing off-roading in virtually all desert washes was going to be challenged in court," said Daniel R. Patterson of the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "They just ignored us."

Environmentalists said the restrictions are a reasonable and necessary measure to ensure that off-road activity isn't accelerating the decline of the desert tortoise.

"This decision is not about limiting off-roading," Patterson said. "It's about making sure that critical habitat for the desert tortoise is protected so the species can recover. That's in everyone's best interests, even the off-roaders."

Off-road access still is allowed along more than 1,700 miles of designated trails within the two desert management districts affected by the ruling.

In addition, more than a half-million acres within Southern California's 10 million acres of publicly owned desert is open to unlimited cross-country off-roading.

Stephen Razo, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management's Riverside County office, said the restrictions could be lifted or reduced in March when U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologists are expected to finish their analysis of the tortoises' habitat.

The new areas now off-limits are remote and not as popular with off-roaders as the 188,000-acre Johnson Valley or 25,000-acre El Mirage area west of Barstow, Razo said.

The Dec. 30 injunction, which was made public this week, was issued by U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco. It follows her ruling in August striking down opinions by federal biologists that allowed off-road vehicles in the tortoises' habitat.

Leaders of off-roading groups say environmentalists have unfairly blamed them for the tortoises' decline. They cite government studies that attribute the declining number to drought, disease and increased predation by an over-population of ravens attracted to the backcountry by open trash bins.

"The environmentalists have an agenda," Soens said. "They don't want a footprint or a tire track anywhere in the desert. They want it all closed, basically."

The desert is vast enough to accommodate off-roaders, but sites needed by endangered or threatened species should be given priority, Patterson said.

"The issue here isn't access, it's excess," he said. "Far too many off-roaders believe they have a right to drive anywhere on public land, and that's not right."

Patterson said off-roaders are in denial about the impact their activity has on the delicate desert ecology.

In addition to tortoises that are inadvertently crushed by off-roaders, the vehicles devastate the desert's sparse vegetation, which the tortoises use for food and as cover to hide from predators.

While the population of tortoises is not certain, studies have estimated their number has declined by 90 percent in the past 24 years.

State and federal agencies have spent $100 million on recovery efforts in the past 13 years.

Ardent off-roading advocates such as Soens say the rulings have less to do with ecology than political philosophy.

"You can't win anything in court with the judges that are there today," he said. "We will never give up."
 

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Sorry to see you guys loose that area. Hope it works out. I would think they could close a section that the tortoise uses and let the rest open...
 

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Doc_Sausage said:
Sorry to see you guys loose that area. Hope it works out. I would think they could close a section that the tortoise uses and let the rest open...
That's actually the point. The tortoises are protected and have been for decades. Off roaders in the desert have been educated about this issue for decades. Off roaders have worked hard not to kill the tortoises and TONS of the land has already been set aside for their protection.

This just proves that there is no middle ground. The enviro-nazis will stop at nothing to destroy our recreational heritage. If you give an inch, they take a mile, or so to speak.
 

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I saw that article yesterday in the Press Enterprise newspaper and it really ticked me off. I am really getting tired of losing land to four wheel on around here in So Cal. It's amazing the power that one judge has in matters such as this. You put one tree hugging, "eco-wacko" judge in a position such as this and land gets taken away from all of us. Don't get me wrong, I am all for protecting the environment but I think in many cases these judges go way too far.

This is a little off topic but a judge in Rancho Cucamonga just ruled to allow a lawsuit against a ballot measure to fund road improvements to proceed.

"VICTORVILLE — San Bernardino Associated Governments announced Thursday it would appeal a judge's decision that allowed a lawsuit to proceed that would void the voter-approved transportation initiative Measure I.

The Sierra Club's lawsuit against the initiative, if successful, would delay for many years all Measure I projects that would ease congestion on Victor Valley roads, SANBAG said.

Measure I — which 80 percent of voters approved Nov. 2 — entails a half-cent sales tax charged in the county to fund numerous transportation improvements."

The entire article is here:
http://www.vvdailypress.com/2005/110510824356305.html

So... all this is doing is delaying road improvements that are REALLY needed on our already overused streets. Once again... one judge's decision has overturned the wishes of the majority of the public.
 
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