SAN FRANCISCO, CA - Recreational visitors observing a fine flaky substance this morning at the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (ISDRA) will be pleased to hear it is not snow but judicial manna. Barely a month following argument, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston of the U.S. Northern District Court of California yesterday issued a long-awaited decision on the 2013 ISDRA management plan, ruling almost entirely on the side of the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and sand-rider organizations, and against the latest challenge led by the Center for Biological Diversity. The ruling sets the stage for implementation of the 2013 plan, which would allow resumption of access to areas placed off-limits to riders through “interim” closures imposed over a decade ago.
The litigation over riding at the ISDRA began in 2000, and has resulted in multiple trips to Judge Illston’s courtroom where BLM, USFWS, and recreation enthusiasts have suffered multiple setbacks. The 2013 plan followed lengthy public input and was designed in response to the Court’s 2006 ruling and new critical habitat designation by the USFWS for the Peirson’s milk-vetch (PMV), the plant species of primary concern at the Dunes. Preservationist plaintiffs raised an array of challenges under the Endangered Species Act and other laws to the new plan, but yesterday’s decision rejected those claims and upheld BLM’s plan, with the limited exception of finding that a recovery plan for the PMV is overdue and must be issued by 2019 unless the USFWS makes a specific finding that a recovery plan will not promote conservation of the species.
“I have shed tears upon nearly every announcement of the Court, but this time they are tears of joy,” said Jim Bramham, who holds leadership positions with several of the recreationist organizations, including the American Sand Association and California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs. “Our work will never be finished, but this vindicates our long-running, expensive and sometimes controversial team effort to restore balance to ISDRA management,” Bramham added.
The ISDRA, popularly known by many as “Glamis” for the small town within its boundaries, is located near the southern U.S. border in Imperial County, California, and spans roughly 167,000 acres. There is a broad range of management prescriptions covering the area, and over 26,000 acres have been formally designated as Wilderness, where no vehicle access is allowed. The 2013 plan would continue vehicle closures in PMV critical habitat, and allow some form of riding on about 127,000 acres. The Dunes are a prized destination for sand-riding enthusiasts throughout the country, and over 1,000,000 of them visit the area in a typical year.
The rider groups intervening in the case to assist in defense of the BLM plan included the American Sand Association, San Diego Off-Road Coalition, Off-Road Business Association, American Motorcyclist Association District 37, California Association of 4 Wheel Drive Clubs, BlueRibbon Coalition, Desert Vipers, California Off-Road Vehicle Association, and High Desert Multiple Use Coalition, with funding and strategic support from EcoLogic Partners. The intervener groups were represented by David Hubbard of Carlsbad, Paul Turcke of Boise, Idaho, and Dennis Porter of Sacramento.