This summer, no one is enjoying the dusty trails of
central California’s Clear Creek Management Area: The Bureau
of Land Management has temporarily closed 30,000 of the
area’s 75,000 acres.
George Hill, the BLM’s Hollister assistant field manager, says the agency shut the area down to protect people from naturally occurring asbestos dust. But environmentalists and off-roaders say the closure — from June 4 through Oct. 15 — is just the latest stalling tactic from a BLM office that can’t seem to implement a decade-old plan to protect an endangered flower.
In 1995, off-road users, environmentalists and the BLM hammered out a plan to designate official trails and protect the San Benito evening primrose, but little action has resulted. Hill says mapping and assessing as many as 900 miles of trails has proven daunting.
Frustrated with the lack of action and the recent closure, various groups are now suing the agency in federal court. The California Native Plant Society suit claims the BLM failed to implement the 1995 plan and protect the primrose. The BlueRibbon Coalition and other off-road groups are filing a separate suit to force the agency to reopen the closed area and return to implementing the plan. "We’re calling it ‘gentle nudging,’ " jokes BlueRibbon Western representative Don Amador.
But Hill says the lawsuits are really just bogging his office down. "I would think the public would be happy to see the planning process come to an end," he says. A final environmental impact statement, putting the 1995 plan in motion, is due out this fall.