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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.


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 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 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." 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 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 TOLERANT of others' feelings.

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