The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice today of its intent to sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to protect critical habitat for Amargosa voles. The small, endangered mammals live only in marshes near increasingly popular desert hot springs in the Mojave Desert near Tecopa, Calif.
“These desert hot springs are this little vole’s only home in the world, but the federal government is ignoring the fact that tourists are running amok here,” said Ileene Anderson, deserts director and a senior scientist at the Center. “We’re in the midst of a wildlife extinction crisis, and the Amargosa vole is one of the most endangered small mammals on the continent. The voles need more protection or they’ll be driven extinct.”
In the notice, the Center alleges that decades of habitat loss from groundwater pumping have caused the voles’ numbers to plummet to less than 100 individuals at times. According to the Center, the animals rely on water from natural hot springs to survive. Over the past decade, the springs have become an increasingly popular tourist destination, and the Center says federal agencies have failed to ensure that the voles and their habitat are protected.
Specifically, the Center intends to file a lawsuit challenging BLM’s “failure to insure that the activities authorized under the existing management plan are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the Amargosa vole; (2) failure to timely reinitiate and complete consultation with FWS regarding the impacts of authorized or “casual use” activities at Borehole Spring on the Amargosa vole; and (3) continued authorization and approval of activities at Borehole Spring that may irreversibly and irretrievably commit resources and may foreclose the formulation or implementation of reasonable and prudent alternatives, prior to completing the reinitiated consultation regarding the impacts of authorized activities on the Amargosa vole. In addition, the Center intends to file a lawsuit challenging FWS’s failure to timely reinitiate and complete consultation concerning BLM’s ongoing management of public lands at Borehole Springs and its impacts on the Amargosa Vole.”
The vole was listed as endangered under California law in 1980. In 1984 the Fish and Wildlife Service designated critical habitat for the vole after giving it protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The notice contains extensive documentation of recreational disturbances in the voles’ habitat, including unattended campfires, dogs roaming the area off leash, unauthorized use of off-highway vehicles, and people collecting mud and spring water to sell.
According to the Center, concerned citizens have been monitoring the area for seven years. They’ve documented around-the-clock use of the hot springs, including by groups of more than 30 people. Tour buses, including the famous Green Tortoise, have been seen unloading tourists at the site. Dozens of websites provide detailed directions and instructions on how to access the springs.
“The federal government has invested millions of dollars in the conservation of this incredibly rare animal,” said Anderson. “It’s absurd that people are allowed to run roughshod over this delicate, imperiled habitat that has only recently been restored. The Amargosa vole has been saved from extinction through heroic efforts. We need to ensure that recreational use isn’t destroying all that hard work while the agencies twiddle their thumbs and look the other way.”