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BLM issues final plan for Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area

Great news for riders that flock to extreme Southern California’s Imperial Sand Dunes Recreational Area, as the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is opening up 50,000 more acres to off-road use within the grounds.

The BLM has released its final decision for managing about 215,000 acres of BLM-administered public lands in the Imperial Sand Dunes and surrounding public lands in southeastern Imperial County, Calif. The Approved Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area Management Plan, which is accompanied by a Record of Decision, also includes amendments to the California Desert Conservation Area Plan.

The plan and associated amendments address potential impacts of the recreation area’s high level of visitation on biological resources, wilderness, areas of critical environmental concern, cultural resources, renewable energy and public health and safety. The plan includes measures to provide recreation opportunities for thousands of visitors by making nearly 180,000 acres (about 84% of the planning area) available for off-highway vehicle (OHV) use, while protecting critical habitat for the threatened Peirson’s Milkvetch by closing the plant’s habitat in the recreation area (about 11,670 acres) to off-highway vehicle use.

“More than a million people flock to this unique desert landscape each year to enjoy responsible, family-based off-highway vehicle recreation, stunning scenery and wilderness solitude,” said Jim Kenna, BLM California State Director. “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.”

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The final plan is based on new species and habitat inventories, other scientific data, and a new determination by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding Peirson’s Milkvetch critical habitat. Under a U.S. District Court settlement agreement in October 2000, the BLM closed about 49,300 acres to motorized vehicle use in five selected areas of the recreation area to protect the Peirson’s Milkvetch until a new plan was approved and filed with the court.

Per the court order, all injunctive relief, including the closures, will remain in effect for 90 days after the date the BLM signs and issues the Record of Decision. During this time, the BLM will continue to enforce the closures, distribute brochures and maps to the public, and post closure maps and notices at kiosks as necessary, among other actions. Once the injunction is removed, the BLM will manage the area pursuant to the approved Recreation Area Management Plan.

The BLM released a draft plan and draft environmental impact statement in March 2010, and held three public-comment meetings in April 2010 in California and Arizona. More than 4,000 comments were received during this process. The proposed plan included eight alternatives, which were developed to address public, agency and Native American tribal comments, and are analyzed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

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An electronic copy of the approved ROD is readily available via the Internet at Printed copies and CD-ROMs are not available at this time. Due to budget reductions, the BLM will print limited copies and CDs of the ROD, which will be available on a first come, first serve basis at the El Centro Field Office, 1661 S. 4th Street, El Centro, CA 92243; the California Desert District Office, 22835 Calle San Juan de Los Lagos, Moreno Valley, CA 92553; and the California State Office, 2800 Cottage Way, Sacramento, CA 95825. The BLM anticipates printed copies will be available in approximately four/five weeks. For additional information contact the BLM El Centro Field Office at (760) 337-4400.

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