Daniel R. Patterson photo
Special report details dangers of ATVs.
BISHOP CA -- Today the Bush/Cheney Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will allow the construction of a road through Furnace Creek, a rare perennial desert stream that winds its way through the White Mountains Wilderness Study Area in the Great Basin desert near the California-Nevada border.
Soaring to over 14,000 feet, the White Mountains are the highest desert mountain range in North America.
Despite receiving more than 7,000 comments from the public in opposition to new construction, as well as one from the California Department of Fish and Game, the Bureau has taken the first step toward ensuring destruction of this unique desert canyon by claiming a finding of "no significant impact" to natural resources.
The next step will come in a joint Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management proposal to build a road through this desert oasis with 14 stream crossings along only 4.5 miles of the creek.
"The BLM is bending over backwards to make a bad decision. They have completely ignored the well-known environmental consequences of this decision and made a choice based on politics, not science," said Paul McFarland, executive director of Bishop-based Friends of the Inyo. "Even their own Environmental Assessment issued in November stated that the preferred alternative would be to keep the area protected from off-road vehicle damage."
Due to the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service's own concern and environmental analysis, Furnace Creek's wetlands have been protected from needless off-road vehicle abuse since 2003.
Furnace Creek provides streamside habitat used by the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher during migration, along with breeding habitat for Costa's hummingbird and eight other bird species of conservation concern. The protection has also helped curtail illegal road proliferation into the heart of the White Mountains on the Inyo National Forest, home to the sage grouse and the world's oldest trees, bristlecone pines.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Friends of the Inyo, Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club will respond by filling a formal protest.
"This is far from over," said Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with Tucson-based CBD. "Furnace Creek is too important for us to just walk away. We will continue to fight to keep the closure in place and to protect this delicate creek ecosystem and the life it supports."
Photos and background information
- adapted from CBD
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