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Bureau of Land Management


Closure Order for Motorized Vehicle Use, Surprise Canyon Area of
Critical Environmental Concern BLM Route P71, Panamint Mountains, Inyo
County, CA

AGENCY: Bureau of Land Management, United States Department of the

ACTION: Notice of vehicle closure on BLM Route P71 in the Surprise
canyon area of critical environmental concern, Panamint Mountains in
Inyo County, California.


SUMMARY: Notice is hereby given that BLM Route P71 is closed to
motorized vehicle use within the Surprise Canyon Area of Critical
Environmental Concern (ACEC).
Order: The public lands from a point located in the vicinity of
Chris Wicht Camp approximately four miles east of the intersection of
BLM Route P71 and the Indian Ranch/Wingate Road to the boundary of
Death Valley National Park within the Surprise Canyon ACEC is hereby
closed to all motorized vehicle use. No person may use, drive,
transport, park, let stand, or have charge or control over any
motorized vehicle in the area located east of the closure signs and the
BLM locked gate. Exemptions to this order may be granted to law
enforcement and other emergency vehicles in the course of official
duties. Exemptions to this order may be granted to the holders of
private property in the vicinity of Panamint City in Death Valley
National Park for reasonable access after receiving a written agreement
and a key from the Ridgecrest Field Office Manager.

EFFECTIVE DATE: This closure is effective upon publication in the
Federal Register and will remain in effect until rescinded by the
authorizing official which will occur when a final decision on the
disposition of the road will be made after the National Environmental
Policy Act and California Desert Conservation Area Plan amendment
processes are completed. BLM will implement the proposed action
effective the date of publication in the Federal Register, without
prior notice and opportunity for public comment, because of the
imminent need for regulatory authority to prevent illegal/unauthorized
vehicle intrusion into the Surprise Canyon Wilderness and potential
risk to aquatic/riparian resources.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Field Office Manager, Bureau of Land
Management, Ridgecrest Field Office, 300 South Richmond Road,
Ridgecrest CA 93555, (760) 384-5405.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: In March 16, 2000, the Center for Biological
Diversity, et al. (Center) filed for injunctive relief in U.S. District
Court, Northern District of California (Court) against the Bureau of
Land Management (BLM) to immediately prohibit all grazing activities
that may affect listed species. The Center alleges the BLM was in
violation of section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by failing
to enter into formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service (FWS) on the effects of adoption of the California Desert
Conservation Area Plan (CDCA Plan), as amended, upon threatened and
endangered species. On August 25, 2000, the BLM acknowledged through a
court stipulation that activities authorized, permitted, or allowed
under the CDCA Plan may adversely affect threatened and endangered
species, and that the BLM is required to consult with the FWS to insure
that adoption and implementation of the CDCA Plan is not likely to
jeopardize the continued existence of threatened and endangered species
or to result in the destruction or adverse modification of critical
habitat of listed species.
Although BLM has received biological opinions on selected
activities, consultation on the overall CDCA Plan is necessary to
address the cumulative effects of all the activities authorized by the
CDCA Plan. Consultation on an overall plan is complex and the
completion date uncertain. Absent consultation on the entire plan, the
impacts of individual activities, when added together with the impacts
of other activities in the desert, are not known. The BLM entered into
negotiations with plaintiffs regarding interim actions to be taken to
provide protection for endangered and threatened species pending
completion of consultation on the plan. Agreement on these interim
actions avoided litigation of plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief
and the threat of an injunction prohibiting all activities authorized
under the plan. These interim agreements allowed BLM to continue
appropriate levels of activity throughout the planning area during the
lengthy consultation process while providing protection to the desert
tortoise and other listed species in the short term. By taking interim
actions as allowed under 43 CFR 8364.1, BLM contributes to the
conservation of the endangered and threatened species in accordance
with 7 (a)(1) of the ESA. BLM also avoids making any irreversible or
irretrievable commitment of resources which would foreclose any
reasonable and prudent alternatives which might be required as a result
of the consultation on the CDCA Plan in accordance with 7(d) for the
ESA. In January 2001, the parties signed the Stipulation and Proposed
Order concerning All Further Injunctive Relief.
This closure order is issued to provide interim protection of
riparian habitat, water quality, sensitive wildlife resources, and
wilderness values within the Surprise Canyon ACEC until such a time
when the BLM completes a thorough review and analysis of various
methods of access in Surprise Canyon and complies with the processes
required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the California
Desert Conservation Area Plan. This interim closure will allow BLM to
properly evaluate and arrive at a final decision on environmentally
acceptable methods of access in Surprise Canyon while protecting the
canyon from further impact caused by the operation of off-

[[Page 29164]]

highway vehicles. Concerns over the effects of off-highway vehicle use
in Surprise Canyon on environmental quality and natural resources have
been raised in a lawsuit filed against the BLM, and these concerns need
to be addressed through the processes required by the National
Environmental Policy Act and the California Desert Conservation Area
The canyon riparian zone currently does not meet the BLM's minimum
standards for a properly functioning riparian system due to soil
erosion and streambed alterations caused by off-highway vehicle use.
The Surprise Canyon ACEC supports several California BLM and California
State sensitive plant and animal species that are dependant on a
properly functioning riparian system.
The canyon will remain open for human use that does not entail the
use of a motorized vehicle within the area closed by this order. Maps
showing the affected area are available by contacting the Ridgecrest
Field Office, California Desert Conservation Area, Ridgecrest, CA. A
gate will be erected at the closure points and the affected area will
be posted with public notices and standard motorized vehicle closure
signs. The BLM will issue a final decision on allowable methods of
public access in Surprise Canyon following completion of public
scoping, and a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance
document. The NEPA compliance document will evaluate a full range of
options for management of human access to Surprise Canyon within the
area affected by the interim closure.
Authority for this closure is found in 43 CFR 8364.1. Violations of
this order may be subject to the penalties provided according to 43 CFR

Dated: May 23, 2001.
Gail Acheson,
Acting Deputy State Director for Resources.
[FR Doc. 01-13538 Filed 5-25-01; 8:45 am]

ORC Land Use Section Editor
Vice-Pres. Rock Garden 4 Wheelers, Farmington, NM
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