Save the tortoise!

Coalition Groups Oppose Fort Irwin Expansion Plan




Indications from Washington DC are that draft legislation regarding the proposed Fort Irwin expansion will surface very soon.  The letter below outlining concern over the Army's proposed expansion into over 100 square miles of desert tortoise critical habitat in the Western Mojave desert will be sent to Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior, and Senator's Feinstein and Boxer shortly.

The tortoise is in serious trouble and this loss of critical habitat will push it closer to the brink and seriously impair future recovery of the species. Please consider adding your organization to the list of signers.  E-mail your name, title and organization to the Fort Irwin Campaign Coordinator.

Ms. Gale Norton
Department of Interior
1849 C St., NW
Washington, DC 20240

Dear Secretary of Interior Gale Norton:

We are writing to express our concerns about the Army's proposal to expand the Fort Irwin National Training Center, as it will destroy fragile natural resources within the California desert.

The proposal would transfer 110,000 acres of land, the bulk of which are public lands currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, to the U.S. Army for expanded tank training. Once transferred, the public would be shut out from these lands, and recreation opportunities for California's growing population will be lost. Additionally, over 20,000 acres of lands at the National Training Center that were originally fenced off to protect the desert tortoise and its habitat will be opened to tank training.

Tank training on these lands will likely devastate two imperiled species listed under the Endangered Species Act: the threatened desert tortoise and the endangered Lane Mountain milkvetch. The desert tortoise population in the West Mojave has plummeted over the past decade, and this expansion is likely to hasten its extinction. Additionally, the National Training Center is already one of the highest particulate pollution generators in the country. Regional air quality will only deteriorate with the expansion. Because of the severity of the environmental impacts that will result from this expansion, the legally required environmental mitigation is likely to cost hundreds of millions of dollars

Further, the expansion would destroy the wilderness values of thousands of acres of lands in the Avawatz Mountains that Congress identified as potentially worthy of protection as wilderness under the California Desert Protection Act of 1994. These lands merit this permanent protection for future generations and this expansion will forever eliminate that option.

We are also concerned that the need for the expansion proposal has not been fully justified. The Army's most recent Land Use Requirement Study, which it is using as a basis for this expansion, was completed in 1993. Since that time, the military and the geo-political landscape have changed enough to warrant an updated review. Further, recent military analyses forecast a reduced role for tank warfare. Finally, the Army has not fully assessed alternatives to this proposed expansion, such as ways in which it could more effectively use its current base or coordinate training with neighboring military lands.

In light of the above concerns, we urge you to reject the expansion of the Army's National Training Center at Fort Irwin unless and until the project's need is fully justified, other scenarios are fully analyzed, and an alternative is developed that does not sacrifice the fragile wildlife and wilderness of the California desert.

Thank you for your attention to this important issue. We look forward to your response.

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