The Bureau of Land Management says it will rely on voluntary restraint rather than mandatory closures to keep off-road vehicles out of parts of a popular Nevada recreation area where they might jeopardize a rare blue butterfly.
“This puts the onus on the users out there to follow the guidelines, to follow the rules,” said Elayn Briggs, associate manager for the BLM field office in Carson City.
“What we’re going to do is … mark routes in the vegetated areas through the dunes where we’d like people to ride,” Briggs said. “Then we’ll mark with red posts areas that we’re trying to rehabilitate and discourage people from going into those areas.
“We’re not changing the rules to forbid them from going in there,” she said.
“This is a short-term recommendation — something that can be implemented by Labor Day; something to see if it works,” Briggs said.
The decision brought swift criticism from conservationists, who sought a ban on vehicles on a portion of the Sand Mountain dunes.
“BLM must follow the law to conserve public land resources with balanced management, not just meekly ask off-roaders to please not trash the area,” said Daniel R. Patterson, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.
This spring, a BLM biologist recommended closing 1,000 acres, or one-quarter, of the popular recreation area to off-roaders to protect the habitat of the Sand Mountain blue butterfly.
Environmentalists argue that off-roaders damage vegetation on the dunes, including Kearney buckwheat — food for the insect that is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a sensitive species.
“The habitat is getting pretty beat up,” said Randi Thompson, a spokeswoman for the wildlife service in Reno.
Thompson said the blue butterfly population at Sand Mountain “is the only population that we know of.”
“That doesn’t mean there’s not more out there,” she said. “We just don’t know.”
Thompson said seeking voluntary restrictions is a good start.
“A lot of people that use the outdoors do appreciate the outdoors,” she said. “They don’t want to ruin a place they find enjoyable.”
Thompson said she wants to believe “people are going to do the right thing.”
The earlier recommendation to close part of the dunes was followed by protests from off-roaders and Fallon-area businesses, who feared lost revenues from the tens of thousands of off-roaders who visit the dunes each year. Over Memorial Day weekend, the BLM said about 5,000 people visited Sand Mountain.
A committee of various interest groups asked by the BLM to make recommendations failed to reach a consensus, but did advocate educating off-roaders on the need to “tread lightly.”