August 18, 2007
A federal court denied an attempt by off-road vehicle enthusiasts to reopen a rare, fragile desert stream in Death Valley National Park to extreme vehicle use, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The off-road group sued the federal government claiming it had a right to use the streambed under a repealed Civil War-era law known as R.S. 2477.
District Court Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill dismissed the suit for lack of jurisdiction, said CBD.
Extreme off-road vehicle use, CBD argued, would have damaged the canyon’s unique character, including waterfalls, towering trees that provide habitat for desert bighorn sheep, endangered birds and rare species found only in Surprise Canyon and nearby areas.
Intervention in the suit on behalf of the federal government was sought by groups represented by Earthjustice, including California Wilderness Coalition, CBD, National Parks Conservation Association, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Sierra Club and Wilderness Society.
Surprise Canyon “… is a miracle — a gushing stream running through the desert,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney for Earthjustice. “We’re pleased the court denied an attempt to turn this marble canyon’s waterfalls into a highway.”
“Today the court took an important step toward protecting Surprise Canyon and the web of life it supports,” said Chris Kassar, wildlife biologist with CBD. “The special character of this desert oasis strikes you as soon as you step in — cool water fills your shoes, flycatchers flit from branch to branch, and thick stands of willows and cottonwoods sway in the breeze against a backdrop of steep, multicolored cliff walls.”
The suit, according to CBD, is one of a number of claims by local governments and private groups in the West that are hoping to prove obscure trails and tracks are theirs to use under the R.S. 2477 law, which grandfathered in existing rights-of-way up to the time of its repeal in 1976.
“The dismissal of this suit means that Surprise Canyon Creek in Death Valley National Park, and the habitat and wildlife that it supports, will be preserved for future generations to enjoy,” said Deborah DeMeo, program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.
Source: Center for Biological Diversity.