The RS2477 Threat

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Threats to
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Surprise Canyon At Risk

A battle is underway over a canyon that runs across BLM and National Park Service lands to Panamint City, a long abandoned mining camp within Death Valley National Park through a rare desert stream:  Surprise Canyon.  Read an account from the Pahrump Valley Times.

 See photos of the beautiful canyon and the rare wildlife found there. 

Some folks look at Surprise Canyon, and instead of seeing a miraculous desert stream see a place to scrape and winch through.  See photos of extreme jeeping in the canyon (before it was shut down as damaging the health of the stream and ecosystem). 

In 1993, before BLM closed Surprise Canyon, Auto Week published an eye-opening article on what it took (winches, boards, rocks, etc.) to "drive" a car along this alleged "highway." Read about the extremes to which one must go to move a vehicle through what is now a desert oasis. Read Auto Week.

For background, read BLM’s 2001 and 2003 environmental analyses and their 2003 decision closing the Canyon to motor vehicles because of the damage it would cause to this unique place.  Conservation groups supported a closure in a 2002 letter to BLM.

California’s U.S. Senators chime in, urging BLM to permanently close the stream to vehicles in a December 2005 letter.

Notwithstanding the area’s fragile nature, “property owners” in 2006 sue to use the stream to access their property in the ghost town.  Read their complaint.  And who are these property owners?  Off-road vehicle enthusiasts using their newly-acquired property as a legal lever to drive in the canyon.  See their website.

Conservationists respond by seeking to be allowed into the suit to defend Surprise Canyon.  See their Nov. 30, 2006, press release. And read a November 28, 2006 article from the LA Times. Also read a November 2006 article. And a December 18, 2006 story in USA Today. Also, check out a December 25, 2006 Riverside Press Enterprise editorial.

2007: Two attempts by ORV groups to gain access to Canyon fail

Off-road vehicle interest groups claimed a right-of-way through the fragile Surprise Canyon and lost in federal district court. Read a July 28, 2007 Inyo Register article about Judge O'Neill's Decision.  The groups tried again. And they were denied again, this time by Judge Alsup, in an important move toward protecting the desert ecosystem and its endangered wildlife. Read a September 18, 2007 article to learn more. Also, read a July 27, 2007 article in the San Jose Mercury.

The rugged Surprise Canyon. Photo by Daniel R. Patterson 

ORV use threatens the fragile ecosystem. Photo:


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