PICKERINGTON, Ohio — The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) has expressed its opposition to a federal court ruling this week that has the potential to shut down an additional 4.1 million acres of the California desert to all off-highway vehicles.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston issued a ruling that could end all off-highway motorcycling and ATV riding in areas of the desert that are designated critical habitat for the desert tortoise, which is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Illston’s ruling reverses an opinion by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that had allowed activities including cattle grazing and motorized recreation on some tortoise habitat controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management within the 25-million acre desert.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed by opposing forces in the debate over access to the desert: AMA District 37 and the Center for Biological Diversity. The AMA district organization argued that the Bureau of Land Management should look into other factors leading to a decline in the tortoise population, most notably, diseases affecting the tortoises’ upper-respiratory systems and their shells. The district asked that the BLM be ordered to consider some 900 pages of research pointing to the diseases as primary causes of tortoise deaths when developing its plan for recovery of the species.

Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity argued that restrictions on motorized recreation and cattle grazing imposed by the BLM did not provide sufficient protection for the tortoise.

In ruling against District 37 and in favor of the Center for Biological Diversity, Illston essentially decided that no matter how minor a role off-highway motorcyclists and grazing cattle play in the decline of the tortoise, the BLM is obligated under federal law to eliminate those activities throughout the tortoise’s critical habitat.

‘This ruling completely ignores the fact that off-highway motorcycling and ATV riding have played little, if any, part in reducing the tortoise population,’ noted Nick Haris, AMA Western States Representative. ‘Motorized recreation is already extremely restricted on most of the tortoise habitat land. In fact, motorized vehicles are either banned entirely or restricted to using existing routes and ways in nearly every part of the desert.’

‘The amount of public land available for recreation has shrunk dramatically over the years, until today, the areas available for open riding amount to a mere 2 percent of the overall desert,’ Haris added. ‘Closing an additional 4.1 million acres to all off-highway vehicles would be another giant step toward eliminating this legitimate form of recreation from the desert.’

AMA District 37 will appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to get Illston’s ruling reversed.


Comments are closed.