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The two areas on the map have been designated as critical habitat for the Lane Mountain milk-vetch plant. The 14,069 acres of land will be closed off and any federal agency that wants to make changes to the protected habitat will have to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services first.

Critical habitat designated for threatened plant

NEAR FORT IRWIN • A total of 14,069 acres of land near Fort Irwin will be closed off to prevent off-roading and mining in two areas of critical habitat for an endangered plant, officials have announced.

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch is a perennial plant in the pea family that grows only in the Mojave Desert north of Barstow near Fort Irwin. The plant was listed as threatened in 2008 because of threats from surface mining, off-highway vehicle recreation, and military training activities, according to a 2008 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services study.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has designated two separate areas called the Coolgardie unit and the Paradise unit for the protection of the milk-vetch plant. Any federal activity which may endanger the plant will have to be approved by Fish and Wildlife Services first.

A biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity — which had sued to make sure that there was critical habitat set aside for the plant — said Thursday that the land designation was a “step in the right direction.” Ileene Anderson said that the critical land designation was important because the milk-vetch has been steadily declining.

“There hasn’t been any documentation of new plants establishing and old plants are dying out,” said Anderson. “All of the data indicates that they are in a downturn.”

Anderson said two other populations on Fort Irwin land which did not receive the critical habitat designation could still be in danger — although the lands surrounding the populations are off-limits to tanks and other ground disturbances.

The Bureau of Land Management — which owns most of the lands that fall under the new critical habitat designation — has already completed fencing areas where off-highway vehicles could access and degrade the milk-vetch habitat, said Mickey Quillman, resource supervisor for the Barstow BLM field office.

Quillman said that the main goal of the habitat designation was to make sure that the milk-vetch plant population stays stable.

For a local off-roader, the critical habitat designation of public lands for the milk-vetch is an “overreaction” and the areas should remain open.

“It’s unnecessary,” said Mike McCain — who put in a complaint about the critical habitat designation last year. “Plants come and go. They’ll grow back.”

The critical habitat designation will take effect June 20. For more information, visit http://www.fws.gov/ventura/newsroom/release.cfm?id=67

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4122 or kjonas@desertdispatch.com


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