The judge issued his final order in favor of the plaintiffs and approved the remaining two stipulations, one covering protections for Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep, and another broad agreement to protect 24 species and their habitat desert wide. The Bush Interior Department as well as off-road vehicle & multiple use group interveners had earlier signed stipulations to protect the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA). The case was filed March 16, 2000 in the Northern District of California.
The Virginia-sized CDCA harbors 24 endangered species and over 100 species of concern. It includes 11M acres of BLM land representing the Sonoran, Mojave and Great Basin ecosystems in some of the California desert's most scenic areas in San Diego, Los Angeles, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo and Mono counties.
"The judge agreed BLM was in violation of the law and that our settlement is clearly in the public interest and is reasonable," said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist with CBD who formerly worked with BLM in the Mojave desert. He adds, "Now it is up to the BLM to comply with the court order by fully and swiftly implementing the deal through on-the-ground action."
BLM already has missed its March 1 deadline to remove cattle from 542,258 acres of desert tortoise habitat as they agreed to do in the grazing stipulation approved by the court January 29.
"The Judge's signature on the settlement transforms the settlement from a statement of what the Bureau of Land Management should be doing to protect endangered species to a statement of what it must be doing." said Elden Hughes, a longtime California desert champion and Chair of the Sierra Club Desert Committee.
"The damage to this area has been astounding," said Eric Wingerter, National Field Director for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility in Washington DC. "This decision gives BLM Rangers the tools they need to enforce the law."
"The judge made the correct decision," said plaintiff's attorney Jay Tutchton of Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. "The agreement will be good for wildlife and still provide for sustainable uses."
The judge's approving order and all full settlement details and documents are available on-line.