Off-road vehicles swarming in a state park on lands sacred to natives and filled with threatened species? That’s part of a new general management plan for a California state park. A lawsuit might stop that plan.
The environmental group, the Center for Biological Diversity, sued the California State Department of Parks and Recreation and the Park and Recreation Commission over its Red Rock Canyon State Park plan revision. The new plan allows off-road vehicles on two park roads and the Ricardo Campground.
The Center filed the lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court on April 3. The lawsuit claims that the provision for off-road vehicles under the new general management plan violates the California Environmental Quality Act because the department didn’t account for the effects of off-roading. The lawsuit also claims that the off-roading policy violates California’s vehicle codes for off-road vehicles. State law mandates that California’s natural resources be preserved for the public. The Bureau of Land Management holds lands surrounding Red Rock Canyon Park that allow off-roading. The state government set aside the park for preservation.
“It’s appalling that the state is willing to sacrifice such a biologically diverse gem when there are plenty of off-road vehicle areas surrounding the park,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist at the Center, in a statement. “Red Rock Canyon State Park is the crown jewel of conserved areas in the western Mojave Desert. How much desert land needs to be ruined for this type of recreation?”
The Damage of Off-Roading
Red Rock Canyon is the largest state park in the western Mojave Desert. Rare and threatened plants, animals, scenic cliffs, buttes, and rock formations populate the park. Two of the threatened animals include the desert tortoise and Mojave ground squirrel. There are 12 rare plants. Five of those plants are next to two main roads, making them vulnerable to off-road vehicles.
The Kawaiisu once populated the area, leaving petroglyphs in the El Paso mountains. A gash located at the western edge of the El Paso mountains was a trade route for natives for thousands of years. There are paleontology sites and remains of mining dating back to the 1890s. During times of significant rainfall, the flora in the park is spectacular.
“It makes no sense to invite more off-road vehicles into this sensitive area without a commitment to monitor and limit these environmental harms,” said Anderson. “We should prioritize conservation of California’s irreplaceable landscapes, not plan for their destruction.”
A 2006 study by the department found that off-road vehicles impact 36 archaeological sites, geological features, and plant and animal species. Researchers found that the damage done by off-roading includes scars on the land, loss of soils and vegetation, and displacement and damage done to artifacts and geologic features. In certain areas, soil deflation along roads and soil loss were significant.
Does the state prioritize culturally significant areas where threatened wildlife and plants reside alongside geologic formations? In the case of Red Rock Canyon, it seems not. Allowing off-roading vehicles on two park roads and the Ricardo Campgrounds proves that profit counts for more with the state than people, indigenous culture, and the environment.