U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIORBUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT
California

News.bytes News.bytes Extra, issue 216

ISSUE UPDATE: Fort Irwin expansion

PURPOSE: To provide a status update on the Fort Irwin expansion, including BLM's role

INTRODUCTION: The Fort Irwin expansion withdrawal/transfer involves BLM through the West Mojave Plan and the the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the consultations required under the ESA.

SUMMARY:

The Department of Defense/Army began discussing the need to expand Fort Irwin in 1985. Subsequent studies and proposals proposed various configurations. The proposed expansion was also an issue in the California Desert Protection Act, resulting in deferral of decisions regarding proposed wilderness areas on the east side in 1994. After several more years of controversy, the Department of the Army and Interior announced an agreement in 2000 to provide 132,000 acres of new maneuver area, including 110,000 acres outside the fort to the west (Superior Valley, 63,673 acres) and east (Eastgate, about 46,438 acres) and 22,000 acres (UTM 90 Gridline Area, which has been modified from the 21,000 acres announced earlier) on the southern end of the fort that previously had not been available to maneuvers due to an earlier agreement on habitat conservation. The agreement, which required legislation, avoided most sensitive habitat for the threatened desert tortoise and included conservation measures to offset adverse impacts on the tortoise and other listed species.

The agreement, endorsed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Jerry Lewis as a "win-win agreement," specified that no additional lands could be used by the Army for training purposes until all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act were met. The resulting legislation, enacted 12/21/00 as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2001 (PL 106-554), authorized $75 million for conservation measures (including land acquisition), appropriated $2.5 million to BLM and $2.5 million to Army to begin the necessary work and required a plan and subsequent withdrawal legislation to be developed.

On 12/28/01, the Fort Irwin Military Withdrawal Act was enacted as part of the Defense Appropriations Act (PL 107-107). The law stated that 110,000 acres were withdrawn for military purposes, and jurisdiction over those lands transferred to the Secretary of the Army. The law specified that while the withdrawal/transfer precedes NEPA/ESA and other environmental law compliance, no ground-disturbing military use of the land could occur until both Secretaries (Interior and Army) certify full compliance with all applicable laws. The law also stated that the Secretary of the Interior shall ensure that the West Mojave Plan (being led by BLM in cooperation with numerous government entities in the West Mojave region) considers the "availability or nonavailability of the lands withdrawn...on the plan as a whole." After years of public involvement and work with local governments, the Final EIS/EIR and Proposed WEMO Plan/Habitat Conservation Plan was published in March 2005 and following resolution of protests, a decision is expected in spring 2006.

The Army has also been working on the required NEPA/ESA compliance for the expansion. The long-awaited Biological Opinion (BO) from FWS, published 3/15/04. says use of the expansion lands for military training is not likely to jeopardize the existence of the desert tortoise and Lane Mountain milkvetch (an endangered plant species), nor destroy or adversely modify tortoise critical habitat. The BO notes Army's commitment to mitigation measures, including establishing conservation areas, acquiring private land and cattle allotments, and acquiring land within the Coolgardie Mesa for the Lane Mountain milkvetch.

The Army Corps of Engineers has purchased 100,158 acres of land, including 98,069 acres from Catellus, 1,920 acres from the State of California and 169 acres from two private ranchers. BLM is working cooperatively with the Army on a transfer for land management purposes. In addition, the Army, in cooperation with BLM and other agencies, has completed a number of conservation measures, including the Desert Tortoise Translocation Plan, research/studies, a fencing plan, environmental baseline studies and environmental site assessments, desert tortoise management team funding, proposed route closures (when WEMO approved), BLM law enforcement patrolling of Desert Wildlife Management Areas (DWMAs, also part of WEMO), an adaptive management plan, and plans to help control tortoise disease, raven control, and poaching.

CURRENT STATUS: A Notice of Availability for the Supplemental Final EIS on the Fort Irwin Expansion was published in the Federal Register January 19, 2006. A Record of Decision is expected to be signed after a 30 day waiting period and published in the Federal Register.

1/31/06

News.bytes, issue 216