Algodones Dunes Lose Protection

The Bureau of Land Management finalized its Recreation Area Management Plan for the Imperial Sand Dunes  (a.k.a. Algodones Dunes) last month, stripping nearly 40 square miles of fragile dune ecosystem of its area of critical environmental concern status and prioritizing motorized recreation over ecosystem sustainability. The decision is expected to imperil vast swaths of microphyll woodland and psammophytic scrub habitat, which host many rare plant and insect species, including many that are only found in the Algodones Dunes.

Before BLM modified its management of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders had unrestricted access to 137 square miles of the dunes, and limited access to 81 square miles, for a total recreation area almost 7 times larger than Manhattan.  The new plan will expand the unrestricted OHV area to 199 square miles, and cut the protected habitat from 117 square miles to 54.

The decision comes as land managers are still working to determine how to protect desert ecosystems throughout California as industrial, military and recreational burdens surge.  The BLM late least year authorized the nearby Ocotillo Express Wind project on nearly 16 square miles of habitat, and  the State and Federal authorities are considering permitting BrightSource Energy's Rio Mesa Solar project, the McCoy Solar project, and a redesign for the Blythe Solar project.

This photo from the biological report submitted by BrightSource to the CEC shows the palo verde and ironwood (microphyll) woodland habitat found on the Rio Mesa site.
Of significance, the revised dune management plan and each of the three major solar projects proposed for nearby desert wildlands will destroy significant amounts of rare microphyll woodland woodland habitat - which typically contains a mix of ironwood and palo verde trees.  According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, microphyll woodland habitat only constitutes about 0.5% of the desert land base, and yet it is estimate to host 85% of bird nests in the Colorado/Sonoran Desert.  Bird surveys conducted for the dune management plan found that bird species diversity and abundance is significantly higher in the areas of the Algodones Dunes that are closed to OHV users.  Birds likely to be negatively affected by the plan include the northern harrier, Gila woodpecker, and Costa's hummingbird.

A small portion of the previously protected area (9,046 acres) will remain closed to OHV traffic in order to protect natural communities available to visitors for wildlife viewing and other non-motorized recreation. The BLM probably will have difficulty protecting this area from errant OHV riders.

A time elapsed photo shows the head and tail lights of dozens of OHVs at the Imperial Sand Dunes in California.  The intense use of the dunes by OHV riders easily disrupts and destroys fragile habitat. Photo from BLM presentation to the Desert Advisory Council.


  1. Errant OHV Riders tanked up on booze are going to be concerned with borders or boundaries.


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