The US Department of Interior is reassigning a key Southern California Bureau of Land Management land manager because he angered ranchers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts when he settled a lawsuit with environmental groups to protect endangered species including the desert tortoise and peninsular bighorn sheep. That settlement curbs grazing, off-road vehicle use, and mining on BLM desert lands.
Tim Salt, Desert District manager for the Bureau of Land Management oversaw the 11 million acres California Desert Conservation Area, which includes California desert’s most environmentally sensitive areas in San Diego, Los Angeles, Imperial, Riverside, San Bernardino, Kern, Inyo, and Mono counties.
Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) strongly condemn the retaliatory move against Mr. Salt. They believe the reassignment is part of an emerging trend by the Bush administration to get rid of public lands officials who bring balance to land management decisions.
In December, Kate Cannon, manager of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, was reassigned after ranchers and a Republican congressman complained about lack of grazing access for cattle in the monument. In California, the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region head, Brad Powell, was reassigned after approving a management plan for Sierra Nevada national forests 10 years in the making that didn’t satisfy logging interests. His replacement has taken steps to reopen the management plan to allow more logging.
“The Interior Department’s action against Salt followed a months-long campaign for his dismissal by so-called ‘wise use’ groups,” said PEER California Coordinator Karen Schambach. “Ranchers and off-roaders have become accustomed to BLM going to the mat in their defense. Tim Salt knew they could not win a case against species protections and negotiated the best deal he and BLM attorneys could for these folks.”
The environmental organizations are concerned that other field managers who anger wise-users will share Salt’s fate. The same groups who sought Salt’s dismissal are taking aim at BLM’s Arcata Field Manager, Lynda Roush. They are angry at the closure of Black Sands Beach to off-road vehicles.
The lawsuit Salt helped settle was filed in 2000 by Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton and co-counsel Brendan Cummings representing the Sierra Club, PEER, and the Center for Biological Diversity. It sought stronger protections for plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act including the desert tortoise and peninsular bighorn sheep. The negotiations produced restrictions on grazing in the Mojave Desert, closures of off-roading areas, and limits on new mining projects.
“Tim Salt urged BLM to settle because it was going to lose the case, the settlement was reasonable and approved by the court, but it angered off-roaders and ranchers,” said Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton. “They called for Salt’s head and got it. Interior Secretary Gale Norton’s message to her staff seems to be, ‘comply with the law at your peril.’ We had our differences with Salt, but at least he was trying to follow the law,” said Tutchton.
“Salt reached a reasonable compromise with the environmental groups and was trying to move BLM into compliance with the law. Ms. Norton’s removal of Salt signals a disturbing return to the day when the Agency ignored its legal obligations to protect the public lands,” said Daniel Patterson of the Center for Biological Diversity.