Conservationists Halt Road Project in Arizona Wilderness

Environmental News Service


TUCSON, Arizona, February 10, 2003 (ENS) - An appeal by conservation groups has succeeded in halting road construction and development within the Congressionally designated Mount Tipton Wilderness area in Arizona.
A coalition of environmental organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Wilderness Watch and Maricopa Audubon Society petitioned the Department of Interior's Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) over approval of a new road within the wilderness area.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had approved the road construction, which was requested by two California residents wishing to develop a 60 acre inholding - private land surrounded by federal or other non-private land - within the wilderness into an upscale, private horse ranch. The IBLA's decision to issue a stay order means that no construction will occur on the proposed road until the appeal is resolved on the merits.

"With only five percent of the land in Arizona designated as wilderness, it is imperative that all of these areas be afforded the highest degree of protection," said Brian Segee, southwest public lands director with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The BLM's decision to permit road construction and private development within the Mount Tipton Wilderness would fragment important wildlife habitat and eliminate opportunities for quiet and solitude, essentially destroying the area's natural and wild character."

Designated under the Arizona Desert Wilderness Act of 1990, the 31,000 acre Mount Tipton Wilderness lies in the Cerbat Mountains in remote western Arizona, north of Kingman. A diverse range of habitats within the wilderness - ranging from Mohave desert scrub and chaparral communities at lower elevations to a remnant stand of old-growth ponderosa pine near the summit of 7,148 foot Mount Tipton - provide habitat for a wide diversity of wildlife species including bobcat, kit fox, several species of raptors, mule deer and Gambel's quail.

The proposed road construction and associated development of a private residence, barns, riding areas, and installation of a well and septic system, would "permanently and irreversibly degrade the natural character and ecological value of this important wilderness area," the environmental coalition argued.

According to the BLM, more than 1,100 vehicles would use the new road each year, and the lights and noise associated with the proposed horse ranch would impact thousands of acres within the wilderness boundary.

"The BLM could, and should say 'no' to this proposal," said Don Hoffman, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. "The agency's job is to protect the wilderness qualities of Mount Tipton, not to facilitate the development of private land."


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