Environmental groups expressed concern Monday about the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's plan to open up an additional 50,000 acres of Imperial County's Algodones Dunes – including habitats for several rare species – to unlimited off-road vehicle use.
"This plan is outrageous and we will challenge it," said Ileene Anderson, a spokesperson for the Center for Biological Diversity. "I'm shocked that the BLM decided to adopt such a destructive, damaging plan – right when it should be carefully protecting these wild creatures and places to make up for vast energy projects that are being developed nearby."
The sprawling recreation area has for years been the focal point of legal wrangling between off-roaders seeking to keep acreage open and environmentalists demanding protection of the dunes' sensitive plant and animal species, including Peirson's milk vetch and the desert
The BLM plan, to be formally announced Tuesday, effectively doubles the amount of land available for off-road vehicle use.
Also known as the Imperial Dunes, Algodones is the largest active sand dune formation in North America, covering about 200,000 acres in the southeastern corner of Imperial County.
The dunes draw 1.3 million visitors a year and are one of the most dangerous off-road recreation areas in the nation. Thanksgiving weekend gatherings draw more than 200,000 people and have led to homicides, traffic fatalities and mass arrests.
The Recreational Off-Highway Vehicle Assn. was unavailable for comment.
Greg Suba, conservation director of the California Native Plant Society, said: "The Algodones Dunes' rare and endemic plants are irreplaceable parts of nature. BLM's plan would sacrifice these national treasures to destruction from off-roaders who can't even follow the rules already in place."