Save the tortoise!






Army Holds Public "Scoping" Meetings on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement in Barstow, Riverside and Pasadena

The army's "Proposed Fort Irwin Land Expansion Scoping Meeting" of January 19, 2002 in Pasadena was the fifth in a series of scoping meetings held to allow members of the public to raise issues that they feel need to be addressed during the environmental review and analysis. The Pasadena hearing and meetings held in Riverside 2 days earlier were added following complaints that a single day of scoping held in Barstow at the end of November was inadequate to allow public input on what is a nationally significant action.

The Army is proposing to expand the Fort Irwin National Training Center onto 100,000 acres of habitat designated as critical to the survival and recovery of the desert tortoise in the Superior Valley and to expand maneuvers into the UTM 90 lands at the south end of the base which is has been off to tanks since the early 1990s to protect its large population of desert tortoises.

Speakers focused on the need to protect the desert tortoise, its habitat and the other rare and endangered species in the area, and the need for the Environmental Impact Statement to fully address all impacts.

Key points raised included:

  • New data shows that the current status of the desert tortoise in the west Mojave is worse than the United States Fish and Wildlife Service believed when Senator Feinstein and Congressman Lewis set the current proposal in motion by adding a legislative rider to the appropriations bill in December 2000. The US Fish & Wildlife Service's spring 2001 distance sampling survey found far fewer tortoises than they expected and will have to be redone this spring. Consequently, More protection is needed for the remaining tortoises and their habitat, not less.
  • The Department of Defense already controls more than 30% of the west Mojave Desert. Much of the rest of the desert is being overrun by development, off-road vehicle use, cattle grazing and mining. The tortoise and other animals and plants are being squeezed out.
  • The Army needs to better explain how the proposed alternatives fit their current training needs. In the past attempts to expand they asked for 300,000 acres to the east and said that was essential. Why is this next round any different?
  • The Army needs to avoid training on designated critical habitat for the desert tortoise in the Superior Valley expansion area, the UTM 90 lands where so many healthy tortoises remain, and lands that will likely be designated critical habitat for the rare Lane Mountain milkvetch which is only found in this area.
  • The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must analyze alternative ways of making sure that our soldiers get the best training available without destroying the wild desert such as: increased use of combat simulators, cleaning up the Leach Lake area to increase training acres within the existing base by 90,000 acres, and joint use of 29 Palms US Marine Corps base.

NOTE: Written comments must be submitted by 19 February 2002. Send to: National Training Center AFZJ-Strategic Plans Division P.O. Box 10309 Fort Irwin, CA 92310

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