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January 13, 2003 12:17PM
Monday, January 13, 2003

Mojave Plan draws criticism

Bureau of Land Management still hasn't released new policy for area made up of 9 million acres

By NIKKI COBB/Staff Writer

VICTORVILLE - It hasn't even been released yet. But the Bureau of Land
Management's West Mojave Plan, which will outline policy affecting 9 million acres,
including the High Desert, has drawn criticism from all directions.

Intended to protect endangered species and their habitats and to streamline the process of obtaining development permits, the plan will incorporate
elements of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service's 1994 tortoise recovery plan.

Environmentalists, county officials, recreational motorists, miners, and ranchers all have a stake in the outcome of the Bureau's formulations. And pleasing everyone -or anyone, for that matter- seems unlikely.

"We're looking at measures like tortoise-proof fences by roads, breeding programs, disease research, and public education," said Bill Haigh, the lead researcher for the BLM on the plan. "There also will be route closures, shutting down vehicle access to sensitive areas like washes."

"We really would like to be able to support a strong plan, but given BLM's record we're skeptical," said Daniel Patterson, a former Bureau researcher now with the Center for Biological Diversity.

"The tortoise recovery plan needs to be there, grazing on sensitive public land needs to stop, and appropriate route closures implemented," he said.

Recreational motorists, on the other hand, worry that the measures will be too stringent. Moreover, they contend, the real danger to the tortoise isn't cars but
disease and raven predation.

"The extreme environmentalists want to lock the public out of public land, and the hunters, rockhounds and off-roaders are all going to lose," said Ed Waldheim,
president of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association.

"The BLM is only going through the motions, pretending to consider public input. They'll cave in to the environmental groups," he continued.

That's an opinion shared by First District Supervisor Bill Postmus. He warned that if county concerns aren't met the county won't sign off on the plan, required for the measures to apply to private land as well as to public property.

That would remove private property from the orders, but would also exclude it from the convenience of the streamlined permitting process.

"The message I'm sending the federal government is if they want us to sign on to the plan it should have measurable goals, reasonable requirements, and should not involve eroding the county tax base through federal land acquisition," Postmus said.

"They need to get out of the way of responsible development," he said, by lowering environmental mitigation fees and not restricting ranching and mining. Without county approval, Postmus predicted, the plan would "implode."

"If the BLM lets themselves be bullied by the political posturing by the likes of Bill Postmus this plan will be a failure," Patterson countered. "They need to chart a
course based on what's needed, not on politics."

Limestone mining on the north slope of the San Bernardino mountains is another point of contention. The carbonate substrate is the perfect habitat for several
endangered plants, such as the cushenbury buckwheat and the oxytheca, said
Ileene Anderson, southern California regional botanist for the California Native Plant

"The conditions on those slopes is unique; the soil type and other factors are in a combination you won't find anywhere else in the world," she said. "The plan could affect 42 plant species, and I'm not sure now what their fate will be."

Haigh said weighing the competing issues isn't easy.

"We're listening to everyone, the cities, the counties, the desert use groups," he said. "We have to determine what will really work in the real world."

In any case, the plan's release won't be the end of the debate. Virtually every party involved vows to appeal.

Nikki Cobb can be reached at nikki_cobb@link.freedom.com or 951-6277.


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