Arizona – Pursuant to a lawsuit settlement, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) now has until September 15, 2012, to complete its Resource Management Plan for the Sonoran Desert National Monument. Litigants Western Watersheds Project and the BLM had originally agreed in 2010 on a December 15, 2011 deadline.
President Clinton designated the 486,400 acre Arizona monument in 2001. Since then, the federal agency has worked to update land use planning documents through a complex public participation and environmental impacts analysis process.” A draft document was released in August, with the public comment period closing last week. The BLM received nearly 5,000 comments that are currently being categorized and analyzed and will be addressed in the Proposed Resource Management Plan. The BLM expects to publish this document in May 2012. Rather than go back to court, the parties agreed to extend the deadline.
“We want BLM to provide the best, most well-considered, and thoughtful plan for the monument,” says Greta Anderson, Deputy Director of Western Watersheds Project. “If they need nine more months to review public comments, consider all the available data, and revise their proposed actions, we’re willing to give it to them. But we’re not going to wait forever.”
“After the August release of the Draft Resource Management Plan, we conducted meetings with the public and agencies representing many constituencies. We believe this extension of time to complete our planning process will enable us to adequately consider and address comments and craft the best plan for guiding management of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, as well as the other 930,200 acres of public lands within the Lower Sonoran Field Office for many years to come,” explains Emily Garber, the BLM field manager.
Anderson noted that conservation groups took issue with many parts of the draft plan, including issues relating to livestock grazing throughout the monument.
Until the management plan is completed, the settlement also mandates that sections of the monument currently closed to motorized traffic and off-highway vehicle use shall remain closed. In 2008, the BLM closed 88 miles of roads to restore damaged resources and protect the monument. All other stipulated agreements in the 2010 lawsuit settlement remain in effect.