After more than 10 years of studies and legal maneuvering the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has adopted Alternative #8 as described in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area (ISDRA) Recreation Area Management Plan (RAMP) Record of Decision (ROD) published on June 17, 2013. The BLM decision is based on 13 years of analysis and studies from both sides of the issues. In so doing, they are removing most of the “Interim Closures” put in place in August 2000, keeping only the 9,046 acres closed where scientific studies show the plants need protection, Critical Habitat designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Alternative #8 reopens the majority of the area between Interstate 8 and Highway 78. Approximately 7,500 acres east of the sand highway from Roadrunner to Gordons Well will remain closed to Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) activity. The closure in the Buttercup area will be relocated adjacent to the border of Mexico.
The new plan provides for continuous monitoring in the future and allows for adjustments to be made. A revaluation by the USFWS could potentially delist the Peirson’s milk vetch. The plan is 328 pages long and is the result of many thousands of public comments, court decisions, and environmental studies. The RAMP ROD may be viewed here.
The BLM California State Director Jim Kenna in his statement said, “This final plan benefited from thorough scientific review and important public feedback, and it will ensure the great family tradition of OHV recreation will continue at Imperial Sand Dunes as we protect key desert habitat.”
So when could we see the preferred Alternative #8 implemented?
The ROD confirms that the interim closures imposed by court order in 2000 will be lifted following the 90-day court-review period, unless one of the original parties, such as the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), files an objection within the next 90 days. In which case, the Court will have to decide whether the deficiencies identified in its 2006 decision invalidating the prior RAMP have been sufficiently corrected. CBD may try to raise issues not addressed in the 2006 court decision but we and BLM will oppose such an effort as being beyond the scope of the Court’s review.
In any event, the Court will likely want the parties to brief the issues presented in CBD’s objection document. This will require, among other things, that BLM prepare the administrative record for the ROD. This takes a fair amount of time to complete. When that’s done, the parties will write and file their briefs – a process that takes about six months. Then we will get a new hearing date with the Court and have oral arguments before the judge. Typically, the judge will take three to six months to issue a final ruling. As you can see, we still have a long road ahead of us. Until then, all closures will remain in effect.