A great victory for the desert! BLM’s WEMO Routes Overturned by the Federal Court


Judgement Overturns U.S. Bureau of Land Management Designation of More Than
5,000 Miles of Off-Highway Vehicle Routes in the California Desert

Eleven environmental organizations scored a huge victory in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages 25 million acres of public land in southern California known as the California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA), which is home to numerous critical environmental, recreational and cultural resources, including many protected animal and plant species. The ruling, by the Hon. Susan Illston of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California impacts off-highway vehicle (OHV) routes established within the last 30 years, as well as the designation of future routes.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs, including Community ORV Watch, The Alliance for Responsible Recreation, California Wilderness Coalition, The Wilderness Society, Friends of Juniper Flats, Western San Bernardino Landowners Association, California Native Plant Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and Desert Survivors argued that BLM’s designation of OHV routes in the Western Mojave (WEMO) region of CDCA violates the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). These Acts assure that environmental considerations, such as impacts to wildlife, soils, watersheds, vegetation and cultural resources, must be carefully analyzed and minimized prior to BLM’s designation of OHV routes. The groups were represented by Robert Wiygul, Skye Stanfield and the Center for Biological Diversity.

In its wide-reaching ruling, the Court held that BLM did not adhere to its own regulations in analyzing and minimizing environmental impacts during its designation of 5,098 miles of OHV routes in the Western Mojave in 2006. The Court also held that OHV route designations developed since 1980 are in violation of the CDCA Plan, which limits route designations to those in existence in 1980. The BLM has not adhered to that restriction, allowing development of hundreds of illegal OHV routes during the last three decades.

COW conducted ground-truthing surveys for the lawsuit that revealed that the routes actually encouraged trespass into private property and protected public lands. The court held that the BLM’s environmental review failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives and was insufficient in its consideration of impacts to soil, cultural resources, certain plant and riparian resources, sensitive animal species, and air quality. This ruling means that the BLM must reconsider the destructive environmental impacts of OHVs on public lands in the Western Mojave region.