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California Desert District

Center for Biological Diversity Lawsuit Frequently Asked Questions

1. Q - Who filed the lawsuit?

A - The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

2. Q - When was the lawsuit filed?

A - The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco for the Northern District in California in March 2000.

3. Q - Why did the plaintiffs file the lawsuit?

A - The suit alleged BLM violated the federal Endangered Species Act by not initiating Section 7 consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on the effects of the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) Plan on a number of threatened and endangered species?

4. Q - What is the basis of the lawsuit?

 A - The lawsuit is based on the Ninth Circuit Court 1994 decision on Pacific Rivers v. Thomas, (30 F.3d 1050) which ruled:

-  Land and resource management plans constitute continuing agency action requiring consultation under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.

-   Activities that "may affect" species must be enjoined if plan level consultation is not initiated.

5. Q - Did BLM fail to consult with FWS on the CDCA Plan?

ABLM acknowledges it did not consult on the CDCA Plan in accordance with existing policy prior to the 1994 decision.  However, BLM was in the process of updating the CDCA Plan to address threatened and endangered species and intended to consult with FWS on the updated plan.

6. Q - Who participated in the settlement negotiations?

 A - The plaintiffs, BLM, the interveners, and a U.S. Magistrate who was appointed by the Court to act as a facilitator during settlement negotiations.

7.Q - Who or what is an intervenor?

A - The court granted intervenor status to some groups/affected interests, and allowed them to participate in settlement negotiations on issues relevant to their interests.

The Court granted intervenor status to a coalition of recreation users, including:

- High Desert Multiple Use Coalition

- Desert Vipers Motorcycle Club

- San Diego Off-Road Coalition

- California Association of 4-Wheel Drive Clubs

- Blue Ribbon Coalition

However,  the Court denied intervener status to the California Mining Association, a BLM grazing permittee, and a group of recreation interests including the California Off Road Vehicle Association (CORVA) and District 37, American Motorcyclists Association.

8. Q - How does someone become an intervenor?

 AInterested parties may petition the Court, who may/may not grant intervener status.

9. Q - Why wasn't the public involved/informed in the settlement negotiations?

 AIn accordance with normal settlement practices, all parties maintained confidentiality of the negotiations until a final agreement was reached.  The settlement Magistrate who supervised the negotiations instructed the parties to maintain this confidentiality while negotiations were ongoing.

10. Q - Why did BLM agree to the settlement?

 A - BLM agreed to the interim actions in the settlement agreements to avoid an injunction on the CDCA Plan, which would have resulted in a complete closure of all activities on BLM-managed public lands within the CDCA.

11. Q - What is the CDCA?

A - The California Desert Conservation Area - CDCA- was established by Congress with the passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act in 1976, in recognition of the unique recreation, historical, recreation, economic, wildlife, and scenic values.

The CDCA encompasses approximately 25 million acres within southern California, of which 10.5 million acres are public lands managed by the BLM.

12. Q - What is the CDCA Plan?

A - Working with thousands of constituents throughout southern California from 1976 to 1980, BLM prepared the CDCA Plan as required by Congress, which serves as a blueprint on how the public lands would be managed within the CDCA.

13. Q - Has BLM ever updated the CDCA Plan?

ASince 1980, BLM has amended the CDCA Plan 147 times to address changing demands and resource values.

14. Q - Has BLM ever consulted with FWS regarding activities within the CDCA?

A - Yes, since 1980 BLM has consulted with and received more than 150 biological opinions from FWS on specific actions and programs, including programmatic consultations for sheep and cattle grazing, dual sport motorcycle events, small mining projects, OHV open areas, and filming.

15. -  QWhat is a biological opinion?

A - For every proposed project or activity that occurs on BLM-managed public lands, BLM prepares a biological evaluation of a proposed project or activity.  The biological evaluation analyzes potential impacts and mitigation measures. 

FWS reviews the biological evaluation and issues a biological opinion, which may include specific terms and conditions on how that activity may be authorized to ensure minimal impacts to threatened/endangered species and their habitat.

16.Q - Is BLM updating the CDCA Plan to comply with that 1994 ruling.

A - BLM already had begun preparing bioregional plans prior to the 1994 ruling, which will amend and update the 1980 CDCA Plan and address threatened and endangered species issues.  BLM was planning to consult on the CDCA Plan as amended by these plans as they are completed.   The four bioregional planning efforts include the

- West Mojave Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)

- Northern and Eastern Mojave Plan

- Northern and Eastern Colorado Desert Coordinated Management Plan

- Coachella Valley HCP

17.Q - What does the lawsuit settlement require BLM to do?

A - BLM will be implementing interim measures to further protect threatened and endangered plant and animal species throughout the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) as agreed to in the  negotiated settlement.

18.Q - What does the lawsuit settlement entail?

A - The lawsuit settlement includes five settlement agreements agreed to by BLM and the plaintiffs.

1. The schedule that BLM will initiate Endangered Species Act consultation with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) on the 1980 California Desert Conservation Area Plan;

2. Restrictions on vehicle use in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, which have been in place since November 2000;

3.  Restrictions on sheep and cattle grazing in critical and additional desert tortoise habitat;

4.  Restrictions on use of hiking trails within the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains and mining activities to protect Peninsular bighorn sheep and its habitat;

5.  Interim restrictions on a wide range of activities affecting approximately 20 other threatened and endangered species within the CDCA.

19.Q - Has the Court approved and signed all five stipulation agreements?

A - No.  The Court approved the first agreement in August 2000 that BLM would  initiate consultation with FWS on the CDCA Plan by January 31, 2001.   The Court accepted the second agreement in November regarding the four interim closures on off-highway vehicle use in the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area.

The third settlement agreement regarding livestock grazing is expected to be signed soon; the fourth concerning uses affecting Peninsular ranges bighorn sheep habitat, and the fifth regarding a wide range of activities affecting threatened and endanger species throughout the Desert, are pending before the court.

20.Q - Has BLM initiated formal consultation with the FWS under Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act on the CDCA Plan?

A - The consultations will be initiated by January 31, 2001, on the CDCA Plan as implemented and the preferred alternative for the Northern and Eastern Colorado Desert and Northern and Eastern Mojave Plans, which are scheduled for release in February 2001.

21.Q - Has BLM implemented the interim measures outlined in the second stipulation?

A - Yes, BLM implemented the second stipulation with the interim closures at the 160,000-acre Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area beginning in October 2000.  The four closure areas encompass approximately 49,300 acres and protect essential habitat of the Peirson's milk-vetch while allowing off-highway vehicle recreation to continue in the more heavily used areas of the Dunes.  The Peirson's milk-vetch was listed as a threatened species by the FWS in 1998. 

Representatives of the interveners and numerous organizations of the OHV community have been extremely helpful in helping BLM sign and enforce the interim closures.  These interim closures will be in effect until completion of the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area Resource Area Management Plan.

22.Q - If BLM has had biological opinions addressing livestock grazing since 1991, why is it necessary to impose additional restrictions?

A - BLM has consulted on and received biological opinions on the effects of grazing in the CDCA in desert tortoise habitat.  However, this program specific consultation does not supplant the Endangered Species Act required to consult on the effects of all CDCA activities on the desert tortoise and critical desert tortoise habitat.

23.Q - How will the third stipulation impact livestock grazing?

A - The third stipulation addresses livestock grazing in desert tortoise habitat.  Legal challenges to the grazing stipulation were heard by the court on January 26, 2001.  If the stipulation is approved by the court, cattle grazing will not be authorized on approximately 224,509 acres of critical desert tortoise habitat and 73,023 acres of additional desert tortoise habitat.  BLM also will restrict cattle grazing on 285,381 acres of critical tortoise habitat from March 1 through June 15 and from September 7 through November 7.

Restrictions on sheep grazing have been in place since 1991, and BLM will continue not to authorize sheep grazing on 811,048 acres in desert tortoise habitat and 5,658 acres in non-critical tortoise habitat.  BLM will continue to implement the terms and conditions of the biological opinion.

24.Q - Explain the measures outlined in the fourth stipulation.

A - The fourth stipulation of the settlement addresses restrictions on motorized access and the use of hiking trails within the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains to protect Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep and its habitat.  Current and additional BLM staff will be utilized to ensure voluntary public compliance to the interim restrictions.  BLM will not approve any new lands or minerals authorizations or modify existing authorizations within Peninsular ranges bighorn sheep habitat pending the completion of consultation on the CDCA Plan.

25.Q - What does the fifth stipulation involve?

A - The final stipulation includes more than 45 separate measures and addresses a wide range of interim actions BLM will initiate/implement during the following months to further protect threatened and endangered species throughout the CDCA.  Measures include additional vehicle route designations to protect desert tortoise habitat, limits on expansion of mining activities in critical habitat, and protection of riparian areas in the habitat of listed bird species.  These interim actions will be in effect until BLM completes consultation with the FWS on the CDCA Plan.

26.Q - What actions will BLM be taking relative to OHV use in desert tortoise habitat?

  • A - Last year BLM released a proposed route network for 22 areas (polygons) within the West Mojave planning area. In this settlement agreement, BLM will complete an interim route designation in the five polygons where the more serious OHV conflicts are occurring within critical desert tortoise habitat:
  • Fremont
  • Karmer
  • Red Mountain
  • Newberry/Rodman
  • Superior.

27.Q - What is the time frame in which these emergency route networks will be designated?

A - BLM will propose an interim emergency closure route network for the five areas and prepare a rationale document explaining why each route is proposed to be open or closed.  Within 30 days of signing the stipulation, BLM will release the first polygon route network for a 90-day public review.  Within 30 days after the public comment period closes, BLM will modify the proposed route network based upon the comments received, and designate an interim emergency route network for that polygon. 

BLM will stagger the release of the remaining four rationale documents every 45 days to ensure the public has adequate time to review the proposed network and submit recommendations or modifications. The interim emergency designated route networks will be in effect until BLM receives the biological opinion on the West Mojave Plan, which will subsequently amend the CDCA Plan.

28.Q - So BLM is not closing 800,000 acres to OHVs?

A - No.  BLM will (a) be designating routes within the 800,000, (b) closing redundant routes, and (c) eliminating impacts occurring within critical desert tortoise habitat.

29.Q - Will BLM implement emergency route designations any where else?

A - Yes.  BLM will implement an emergency route designation at Edwards Bowls and in the Helendale/Silver Lakes area by March 1, 2001, to stop ongoing route proliferation and impacts on adjacent private property.

30.Q - Have the fourth and fifth stipulations been finalized?

A - The fourth and fifth stipulations were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Wednesday, January 17, 2001.  They have not been approved and entered as orders of the court.  The judge has set a February 14, 2001, hearing date for any objections that may be filed to these stipulations (see January 26, 2001 BLM news release).  We expect the court to make a decision to enter the stipulations as orders sometime after that date.

31.Q - Will these settlement agreements of this lawsuit have any impacts/effects on the proposed expansion of the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin?

A - No.

32.Q - The tasks outlined in the settlement agreements appear to be overwhelming.  How will BLM accomplish these tasks?

A - BLM already is implementing many of the interim measures identified in the settlement agreements and has/is incorporating them into the four bioregional plans currently underway. 

33.Q - Does BLM have the staff to accomplish the tasks within the established time frames?

A - It will be a challenge.  BLM will have to alter staff workload priorities to ensure the various elements of the settlement agreements are completed within established time.

34.Q - How long will these interim measures be in place?

A - The interim measures will be in place until BLM has the biological opinion on the effects of the CDCA Plan on currently listed species and the implementation of any applicable terms and conditions/reasonable and prudent alternatives.

35.Q - How long will it take BLM to meet all the requirements of the five settlement agreements?

A - Some measures have a very short time frame - within the next few weeks.  However, in some cases it will take approximately two and a half years to fully satisfy all the stipulations of all five settlement agreements.

36.Q - Can BLM enforce all these interim measures?

A - Public cooperation and support will be critical to ensure compliance throughout the implementation and completion of these interim measures to avoid any further litigation and possible additional restrictions.

37.Q - How will BLM educate the public about the settlement agreement?

A - BLM will be developing and distributing materials throughout southern California in an effort educate our publics about the terms and conditions of the agreement, and how BLM can work with the public to ensure public lands will continue to meet the growing needs of present and future generations of Americans.

38.Q - Where can the public get more information regarding the settlement agreements?

A - For more specific and detailed information about the five settlement agreements, the public can view/download the documents from BLM's website at www.ca.blm.gov.