Groups Fighting Road Building In Death Valley

One might say Death Valley National Park has been under siege of late from incursions on its landscape.
Devars2477_copy_1 Back in November a coalition of groups went to court to try to block off-roaders from winching their rigs up Surprise Canyon on the western edge of the park below Panamint City. Now another coalition is working to stop Inyo County, California, from bulldozing roads into designated wilderness on the eastern side of the park.
On Thursday lawyers from Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, filed intervention papers in U.S. District Court in Fresno, California, with hopes of stopping the roads.
Inyo County last October had filed its own lawsuit, claiming it was within its rights to maintain the rights-of-way for the two stretches of highway that the county contends have been recognized as county highways for decades. Under the county's plan the roads would run through Greenwater Canyon, Greenwater Valley, and Last Chance Canyon. Those areas were designated as wilderness when Death Valley was given national park status in 1994, according to Earthjustice. Today the areas are home to desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep and other park wildlife. There are also rock art sites in the areas.
“It’s in the public interest to ensure that the natural and archaeological treasures in Death Valley National Park are protected. This is our legacy for future generations,” says Deborah DeMeo, program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. “This suit threatens to destroy one of the park's main attractions - its stark, pristine desert beauty.”

But Inyo County officials claim they have a legal right to build and maintain the roads.
"Petro Road, Lost Section Road and Last Chance Road are county highways of local historical and cultural significance. These roads were part of a network of roads that enabled prospectors and settlers to explore and establish communities in the eastern section of the county at the beginning of the 20th century," the county claimed in its lawsuit against the Interior Department.
"These roads have existed for generations as a cultural and recreational heritage for the citizens of Inyo County and of the region. The county has a unique and independent responsibility to preserve this heritage into the future."

Working with NPCA to stop the county are the Sierra Club, Friends of the Inyo, California Wilderness Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, and The Wilderness Society.
“It’s a shame that the Board of Supervisors has chosen to spend scarce local and national taxpayer money attacking one of America’s most popular natural icons, especially when there is so much real need all across our national parks system and on public lands," says Paul McFarland, director of the Friends of Inyo. "Visitors and locals alike need open campgrounds and maintained trails, not divisive lawsuits.”
Inyo County’s action is the latest attempt by off-road organizations, counties and states throughout the West to take over little-used tracks on federal lands on the basis of a Civil War-era law called R.S. 2477 that was repealed 30 years ago, according to Ted Zukoski, attorney for Earthjustice.
“Use of this ancient, repealed law threatens to degrade some of America’s most spectacular lands, from the Arctic Refuge in Alaska, and Canyonlands National Park and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, to Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado. And now Death Valley’s natural wonders are under attack,’’ Zukoski says.

Comments

Figures...NPCA and Earth(non)justice losing even more credibility by fighting a battle they ought not fight....
Starr, what are you talking about? These proposed roads are in a federally designated wilderness area. This is something everyone should fight.
Ranger X is correct. Give a motorhead an inch, and he'll take a mile. I just wrote a newspaper column about this (see http://lowbagger.org/lockout.html). Yes, this is something everyone should fight. The National Park Service's mission doesn't include making things easier for ORVers. Also see Ted Williams's recent column about ORVers on Cape Hatteras National Seashore at http://www.flyrodreel.com/index.php/page/blog/?p=2608#comments Note, especially, the now-long string of comments.
WRONG...the parks belong to all Americans... jus watch...the handicapped will be granted permission to use motorized devices this year as per ADA which will supercede Wild Act...then bikes are gonna be allowed too....ya!!
Some education is needed... These are street legal roads, requiring street licensed vehicles (the same vehicles many people drive to work). The vehicles are required to have working emissions controls and safety features, the same as any other street legal vehicle. The potential for habitat damage on these roads is no greater than the damage you might cause driving a dirt road to work (with less permanent habitat impact than a paved road). These roads are not in Designated Wilderness. They are in motorized corridors and motor-legal cherry-stems established to acknowledge the historic existence and public access value of these roads prior to Congress designating the area on either side of these roads as Wilderness or as a National Park. These are not "proposed" roads; these are established roads that predate the formation of the National Monument and National Park. Public use of these roads existed prior to the land on either side of these roads being reserved for public use as a Park or Wilderness. Continued public use of these roads will create no new habitat disruption, no more than what has occurred over the past one hundred (or more) years. Continued public motorized use of these roads will assure that a larger sample of concerned visitors will provide the needed oversight to protect the historical and habitat value of these areas for future generations (the same public access that has succeeded to guard these areas value over the last one hundred years, only better with conservation educated drivers and visitors).
"Old four-wheel-drive tracks crawl through Jail, Hall, and Surprise Canyons and into the park; these non-Wilderness corridors carve the area into four sections." http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=NWPS&sec=wildView&wname=Surprise%20Canyon These roads are not in Designated Wilderness. They are in motorized corridors ... prior to Congress designating the area on either side of these roads as Wilderness or as a National Park. Semantics. "Non-wilderness corridors"? Meaningless mumbo jumbo. The official policy of the NPS is to keep cars out of this area to preserve its wilderness characteristics. The issue isn't just "damage" caused by roads, but the true quality of wilderness, which the 1964 Act required that areas provide for solitude. Motorized vehicles destroy solitiude and peace and are incompatible with true wilderness.
RIGHT ON BGreen!! Thanks for setting the record straight! We need more reasoned, intelligent minds like yourself on this blog!! Keep posting!
Hey Ranger X: I LIKE the sound of motor vehicles...it adds to MY solitude, because when I can no longer hear it, I can compare the contrast between the two.... I REALLY love to hear jets...especially military jets...the sound of freedom...and I really love it when the come in just over the deck!! When I am WAY BACK in wilderness alone, jet noise gives me comfort that civilization isn't far away. So speak for yourself...be TOLERANT of others' feelings.
Hey Mustang Sally: You must shake your booties when you see trees. If you love plastic trees and concrete jungles stay at home in your smog filled backyard.
Ranger X, Semantics and the Laws of this great land we choose to protect from exploitation are not "Meaningless mumbo jumbo." "The official policy of the NPS is to keep cars out of this area to preserve its wilderness characteristics." Ranger X, do you speak for the National Park Service? If this is true, this policy is contrary to the management prescription expressed by Congress during the passage of the Desert Protection Act of 1994 where respect for historic motorized public access is preserved (in general and specific wording, including where roads are named). This policy is also contrary to the Laws of this great land, law that protects existing public access from development or closure by opportunists (corporate, government, or non-government organization opportunists). You might try the following link to educate yourself on the roads that define the Surprise Canyon Wilderness (many that define boundaries, including those identified in the designation process that are closed, and those that are to be managed as open by the Act of Congress). http://www.blm.gov/ca/pa/wilderness/wilderness_pdfs/legal_descriptions/surprisecanyon.pdf I understand only one road of concern borders the Surprise Canyon Wilderness (a motor legal cherry-stem road mandated by Congress when the area was designated as Wilderness), the other roads of concern in the Inyo County litigation are all within the National Park. With regard to all of these roads, responsible motorized access and the primitive character of these roads has afforded these areas significant protection and public oversight for decades, to restore and maintain the wild values we all hold dear to our hearts. This is the proven successful conservation strategy and action plan, and it can only improve with the awareness and education that dispersed motorized recreation advocates practice today. There has never been a valid conservation reason to restrict public access to these roads, as no new impact danger exists to the land on either side of these existing roads, and there is no valid legal reason for the current restrictions. There are good reasons to keep these roads open to licensed motor vehicle travel; beginning with the need for public oversight to assure the government properly manages the lands on either side of these roads for future generations. It should be difficult to complain about this conservation success story, as these areas are great resources that can be managed with responsible motorized access for the recreation benefit of the public and conservation benefit this public oversight provides.
For those who desire to know more about Ranger X, and his personal exposure, education, and expertise regarding Death Valley biology and habitat... http://wolverines.wordpress.com/about/ "Alan Gregory is a writer, specializing in natural resource and conservation policies, players and issues with occasional sorties into the realm of politics. He’s also a naturalist, but is not a biologist, having flunked his first college biology course before switching his major to journalism."
Hey, BGreen, swing and a miss. I can assure you that Ranger X and Alan are two different folks.
BGreen, I don't currently speak for the NPS, but I spoke with Ranger Charlie Callagan at Death Valley National Park who discussed the National Park Service's official position. "Three of the roads being claimed by Inyo County are in official wilderness," Callagan told me. He explained that the park's official position is to follow "the orders of Congress and the President" by enforcing the California Wilderness Protection Act of 1994, which established DEVA as a national park and mandated that Death Valley's wilderness "receive maximum statutory protection by designation pursuant to the Wilderness Act." That's the park, and it appears I confused BLM and NPS areas. Listen. My main point is this: There are already 785 miles of developed roads in Death Valley. How much is enough? Or as Edward Abbey put it: Machines are domineering, exclusive, destructive and costly; it is they and their operators who would deny the enjoyment of the back country to the rest of us. About 98% of the land surface of the contiguous USA already belongs to heavy metal and heavy equipment. Let us save the 2% - that saving remnant.
...and Edward Abbey was known to always be under the influence of some heavy drugs...not to mention the fact that he was jealous of those who succeeded in life...but aren't most liberals on drugs?? LOL!!
"Listen (by Ranger X). My main point is this: There are already 785 miles of developed roads in Death Valley. How much is enough?" The answer is enough roads to provide responsible public access to allow for public oversight and exposure to the historic and cultural values within the Death Valley National Park and surrounding BLM managed Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The answer is more than 785 miles of roads. Considering the total area of the DVNP, 785 miles of open public roads are not adequate to properly manage the protection of the land. Without these few existing county roads of contention and without the cooperation and oversight of the motorized public the Park Services ability to protect the National Park is abysmal. DVNP is the largest NP in the lower 48 states, nearly 3,396,192 acres, with nearly 95% on either side of these existing roads managed as Wilderness (over three million acres closed to public oversight and active cooperative management by the public). Less than 2% of public visits enter Wilderness in California, with the majority of this small percent of visits concentrated near Yosemite National Park (where the resulting density-impact damage is severe). We do not need to repeat this failed management policy that leads to density-impact damage within DVNP (what is already occurring around Furnace Creek). There will be more than enough solitude within DVNP, even after restoration of public access on these few existing historic roads, to satisfy all but the most selfish and unreasonable conservationist. I'll ask you, There are already 46,632,000 acres of State and Federal designated Wilderness in California (more than any other state outside of Alaska). How much untouchable and unmanageable Wilderness is enough?
BGreen, First, "public oversight and exposure" can be done on foot. Second, if you're going to invent numbers, I'm not going to continue this conversation. 46,632,000 acres of wilderness in California? You'd have me believe that HALF the state is wilderness? Start giving me some sources or put down the crack pipe. Here are some facts/sources for you: Federal wilderness in California: 14,335,873 acres http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=NWPS&sec=stateView&state=ca_s State Wilderness: There are 467,925 acres of designated State Wilderness within the State Park System, making up 99.7% of the entire California Wilderness System. http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/23509/files/Natural%20Resources%20of%20California%20State%20Parks.pdf That adds up to almost 15 million, or about 14% of the state. That's NO WHERE NEAR your number. How much is enough? A recent study identified 7.4 million acres of unprotected wilderness on California's federal lands that qualify under the 1964 Wilderness Act. http://www.calwild.org/resources/pubs/CWI_report.pdf That plus what we've got will have to do. You can drive your death traps all over the remaining 80% of the state. Hope that's enough for you.

Members of the "kick the bucket club" would like to see some of the beauity and wilderness you seek to protect from all but those able to hike 10-20 miles with full pack.
Ive driven these roads many years and resent that suddenely its time for change. Solitiude and peace are what is saught by visitors to these areas,that means access!!!!!!!!!!!!
You seem to want to put it in a "box". For what?