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Coalition Groups Oppose Fort Irwin Expansion Plan





July 16, 2001 


Legislation to expand Fort Irwin Army base presented to Congress

Conservation organizations blast Army's plan to expand tank warfare training in fragile desert

Contact: Daniel Patterson, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 623-5252x306
Michael Connor, Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee, (951) 683-3872
Carrie Sandstedt, California Wilderness Coalition, (530) 758-0380

California's desert wildlife and wilderness are subject to attack by a U.S. Army proposal to expand the Fort Irwin National Training Center in the western Mojave Desert. The expansion would destroy pristine public lands, plants and animals in the increasingly beleaguered California desert.

A growing coalition of public interest organizations decried the Army's proposal, responding to draft legislation released last Friday which would add over 100,000 acres of what are now lands currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management-including critical desert tortoise habitat and undesignated wilderness-to the sprawling Fort Irwin base.

The groups charge that the Army and the Department of Interior are rushing the expansion. They allege that this is a premature land grab and the Army should comply with the law before they take an area that they admit is an essential sanctuary for the desert tortoise. Since the animal was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1989, desert tortoise numbers have plummeted in the western Mojave, partly due to the loss of its habitat to development, mining, grazing, off-roading and military training.

"If the Army expands its tank training into the Superior Valley, we will be faced with a major battle to protect the desert tortoise and the flowering Lane Mountain milkvetch from extinction in the West Mojave that will impact all desert users," stated Dr. Michael Connor, Executive Director of the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee.

The organizations say the eastern expansion will also destroy the wilderness values of two longstanding candidates for protection as federal Wilderness: the Avawatz Mountains and South Avawatz Mountains Wilderness Study Areas. "These pristine lands contain many special values and deserve to be protected as wilderness. The areas are simply too beautiful and wild to be run over by tanks." said Paul Spitler, Executive Director of the California Wilderness Coalition.

The groups also argue that the Army needs to better justify its need for these lands at a time when military needs and the Army's role is changing. "They last analyzed their land needs eight years ago. Since that time, there have been significant changes in technology and the global political landscape. The legislation for this expansion should not proceed until the Army has done a current analysis of their land use requirements," asserts Spitler.

The coalition of organizations vows to fight the current legislation. " Desert wildlife cannot afford to loose any critical habitat. The transfer of these lands should not even be considered until the public's loss and the impacts of tank training are evaluated under the National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act," states Daniel Patterson, of the Center for Biological Diversity. "Passing this legislation to give the Army these lands now doesn't make any sense and short-circuits the public process."

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