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Old 07-05-2004, 09:53 AM
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Default Federal officials open up 1,500 miles of desert to off-roade

The Bureau of Land Management substantially increased the amount of public land open to off-road vehicles in Riverside and San Bernardino counties by approving 1,500 miles of roads in the Mojave Desert.
The decision made Friday affects 1.3 million acres in the Mojave Desert and covers a large portion of critical habitat for the endangered desert tortoise. But officials said they made efforts to avoid sensitive areas.

"We don't have to close every road in critical habitat, but we do determine how sensitive the area is and what the impacts are," said Jan Bedrosian, a spokeswoman for the bureau.

Conservationists said the ruling recognized illicit roads that only exist because recreational vehicle users went off-road illegally, and predicted it would hurt the delicate desert environment.

"Everything that was out there on the ground was designated as open, and a lot of it was created by illegal roads," said Daniel Patterson with the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz.

Environmentalists and off-road enthusiasts have long butted heads over whether more desert land should be opened to recreational vehicles.

Owners of all-terrain cycles and other vehicles complain sensitive desert land is all too often off-limits to them, while environmentalists argue the BLM caters to off-road vehicle users at the expense of protecting habitat.
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