Another Victory for Desert Public Lands
August 1, 2012
In another victory for desert public lands, a case filed by Inyo County, which attempted to take control of four alleged “highways” inside designated wilderness at Death Valley National Park, is now officially closed. The County sought to open the four routes to motor vehicle use, would have been incompatible with and degraded the wilderness character of this portion of the park. The final resolution of the case means the claimed roads are now in no danger of being opened to vehicles by the County.
As background, in the mid-1980s, California desert lovers began a long campaign to gain enhanced protection for the lands in and around Death Valley. As a result of their efforts, Congress passed the California Desert Protection Act (CDPA) in 1994, adding 1.2 million acres to Death Valley National Monument, upgrading the Monument to a National Park, and designating more than 3.1 million acres of wilderness within the Park. Inyo County’s lawsuit would have introduced motor vehicles in these wilderness areas, eroding hard-won protections.
Several years ago, a federal district court wo months ago, issued a ruling dismissing three of Inyo County’s four claims. Two months ago, the court dismissed the final claim as well, based on motions to dismiss filed by the Park Service and by Earthjustice on behalf of the Club and its allies.Inyo County could have appealed some or all of the issues in the case to a federal appeals court, but chose not to. This means that the case is over, and the four routes will remain closed and wild. Bottom line: it’s a good day for Death Valley National Park.
June 7, 2012
On June 7, five years of settlement negotiations culminated in an agreement settling San Bernardino’s claims to rights-of-way in California’s Mojave National Preserve under a 150-year-old statute, R.S. 2477. In its lawsuit, the county sought title to various roads traversing the federally managed Preserve. The settlement agreement protects species and fragile desert lands while recognizing the county’s claims to some roads that have long been used to cross the Mojave Desert.
The Mojave National Preserve, located in California’s Mojave Desert, covers 1.6 million acres of fragile desert. It was established in 1994 with passage of the California Desert Protection Act and is home to more than 2,500 native species, of which approximately 100 are considered at risk.
The settlement, signed by the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, San Bernardino County, Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Sierra Club, balances the county’s interest in public access while protecting sensitive desert lands.
The settlement grants the county title to two widely used paved roads and recognizes the county’s rights to ten lesser-used roads while requiring the county to turn these ten roads over to the National Park Service. The agreement also requires the county to formally relinquish any interest it may have in all other roads and routes within the Mojave National Preserve, guaranteeing future federal management of these roads and routes. Attorney Lisa Belenky of the Center for Biological Diversity negotiated the settlement on behalf of the Club and its allies.
Details and Documents:
Legal Settlement Between Feds, County, Conservationists Will Curb Road Threat to Mojave National Preserve
June 7, 2012, Sierra Club et al. Press Release
Memorandum Opinion and Order on Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment
June 5, 2012, Chief United States District Judge Ishii
Courts Keep Desert National Parks Free of New Roads
June 19, 2012 by Chris Clarke, KCET
See other "Promoting Resilient Habitats" cases.