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Explore, Enjoy and Protect

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algodones dunes
Updated 5/31/11 byDave Grubb

Algodones Dunes


The Algodones Dunes are a strikingly beautiful sand dune system in the eastern Imperial Valley. At 40 miles long, over 5 miles wide, and up to 300 feet high, they are the largest sand dunes in the southwest. Several rare plants and animals live only here, including the Peirsonís milkvetch, Algodones Dunes sunflower, Colorado Desert fringe-toed lizard, and Andrews dune scarab beetle. To read more about the special appeal of the Algodones for hikers, herpetologists, and botanists, go to

The Algodones (also known as Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area) have long been managed solely for off-road vehicle use, with the only nod to conservation being the 30,000-acre North Algodones Dunes Wilderness. The recent vehicle closures of 49,000 additional acres are important to protect not only the threatened milkvetch but the entire sand dune community of life. For more on this settlement agreement, visit

This compromise plan is working on the ground right now. It is both reasonable and balanced, leaving roughly half of the dunes open for Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) recreation, while preserving habitat and welcoming low impact recreational uses on the other half.

Despite the effectiveness of the current interim management, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) new proposal would almost completely remove these protections, re-opening all 49,000 acres to off-roading in one form or another. The only attempt at conservation is a cumbersome plan for a 34,000-acre "adaptive management area" that would allow 525 riders per day, itself a significant impact to dunes habitat.

We don't believe this system will work on the ground, and it will be tougher to enforce than a simple vehicle closure. The approach of re-opening the area to vehicles and then testing the effect on endangered plants certainly doesn't follow the precautionary approach to conservation. To read the plan and the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, go to


Hundreds of concerned citizens have already told the BLM that it needs to do more to protect the dunes. Over a hundred attendees at San Diego's Earth Fair sent comment cards to the BLM. Twenty-seven brave speakers gave pro-conservation comments (out of a total of about 70 speakers) before a hostile crowd of hundreds of off-roaders at the BLM's dunes hearing in San Diego. These speakers represented Sierra Club, Desert Protective Council, Native Plant Society, Audubon, and other groups.

Important points:

  • BLM should draft a new plan and Environmental Impact Statement that offers the current balanced management as the preferred alternative.
  • The Dunes are a priceless natural area that should be protected for future generations.
  • There is no scientific basis for the BLMís assertion that off-roading causes little harm to the milkvetch and other species of concern. A simple comparison between the thriving wilderness area to the north of Highway 78 and the barren vehicle play area to the south reveals how devastating vehicle use can be. Proper scientific research has not been carried out, as the BLMís own documents reveal.
  • 525 vehicles a day in the "adaptive management area" is a major impact.
  • Protection in the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness is not enough to protect the diverse habitat types and landforms represented dunes-wide. To protect the over 80 animal and 60 plant species found in the dunes, BLM must also protect large representative areas in the central dunes and the southern dunes south of Interstate 8.
  • The new plan does not meet the requirements of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act for the BLM to provide a "combination of balanced and diverse resource uses." BLM has never promoted low-impact, low-cost visitation at the dunes, despite a mandate to do so.
  • Conservation will diversify dunes visitation and help Imperial and Yuma county economies. Hiking in the Algodones Dunes is the best kept secret in the desert, providing experiences unlike any other in Southern California. The BLMís failure to promote this and other types of low-impact dunes visitation represents an economic impact to communities such as Brawley, El Centro and Yuma.
  • Under the proposed plan, the roughly 60% of the public who say they enjoy hiking and nature study will effectively be confined to only 20% of the dunes (the existing wilderness area). Meanwhile, the 10% of the public that prefers OHV activities will have access to 80% of the dunes. This plan is neither fair nor balanced in its treatment of the diverse groups of recreationists who have an interest in the dunes.
  • The BLM should stop pulling rangers from surrounding areas to patrol the dunes on busy weekends, leaving wilderness areas, limited use areas, and other sensitive lands unprotected.
  • Contacts
    Refer to the Desert Committee page and Conservation Committee membership list for contact information.

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