Monday, May 4, 2009

Sand Mountain - Effort Underway to Erase Trails

Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly - Euphilotes pallescens arenamontana (sensitive species)
Sand Mountain, NVSand Mountain blue timeline:
May 2009:
Volunteers are busy erasing some established off-highway vehicle trails at Sand Mountain, Nevada as part of a conservation plan that is aimed at keeping some of the recreation site open to off-highway vehicle use.
January 2008:
Trail are marked and riders can be ticketed for riding in closed areas.
May 2007:
August 2006:
January 2006:
July 2005:
February 2004:
BLM prompts Resource Advisory Council to close 1000 acres at Sand Mountain to protect buttery.
May 3, 2009 article:
By Jeff
Volunteers with AmeriCorps are erasing some established off-highway vehicle trails at Sand Mountain, one of the West’s largest and most popular sand dune formations.
It’s part of an ongoing effort to protect a rare butterfly, the vegetation it depends upon and preserve the ability of off-roaders to continue to enjoy their sport at one of their favorite places.“I like to think that I’m helping,” said Cordasco of Cherry Hill, N.J. “It’s definitely hard work climbing up and down every daym but I really hope it’s going to help.”Work is being headed up by the nonprofit Great Basin Institute, which has taken over implementation of a near $1 million grant to manage activities at Sand Mountain and in doing so, protect the Sand Mountain blue butterfly.

The butterfly, which exists only in the Sand Mountain area, was targeted for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act by conservationists in 2004. In the spring of 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined that sufficient numbers of the butterfly existed.But the situation remains somewhat precarious. That’s because the dirt bikes, dune buggies and all-terrain vehicles that zoom around Sand Mountain can tear up a special plant, the Kearney buckwheat, that serves as host vegetation for the butterfly.

A conservation plan put together jointly by the Fish and Wildlife Service, federal Bureau of Land Management, Churchill County and off-highway groups is designed to meet conservation goals for the butterfly while preserving off-highway activity. While the towering sand dunes east of Fallon remain open to vehicles, many of the backcountry trails that zigzag across surrounding terrain are being closed to protect the butterfly and the plant it needs.From mid-April to mid-May, volunteer workers have put up signs directing where off-highway vehicles can go and where they cannot and continued to remove many established trails.“What we’re trying to do is get rid of all these established hill climbs. There’s a lot of them,” Dave Mensing, project manager for the Great Basin Institute, said last week as workers labored across hills of sand and brush nearby.

That same day on the opposite side of Sand Mountain, Fallon resident Mark Montgomery wasn’t so sure he wanted the help.
Preparing to go ATV riding with a friend, Montgomery was disappointed some of the trails he planned to visit on the back side of the dune area might be closed to access.“They really are taking them down? Dang,” said the 57-year-old Fallon resident.“This is my backyard, where I play. I’ve ridden here for 20 years,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said he isn’t interested in riding only on the face of the biggest sand dunes and that the backcountry trails appeal to him.Fewer and fewer trails are available these days, Montgomery said, adding that’s he skeptical the butterfly is really in danger.

“I think it’s overkill,” he said of the management strategy being implemented at Sand Mountain.Camped nearby, Calvin Yeager of South Lake Tahoe said he really doesn’t care if trails are closed.“I’m here for the sand,” the 37-year-old dirt biker said. “I come out here to go sand riding. If I wanted to go trail riding there are better places anyway.”Yeager’s buddy, 34-year-old Scott Bottger of South Lake Tahoe, at first described closing trails over a butterfly as a “lame” move by the government.

“But if this really is the only place it exists, I guess I could agree,” Bottger said. “You don’t ever want to make any species extinct.”
It’s clear managing travel at Sand Mountain will prove challenging. Fran Hull, an outdoor recreation manager for the BLM, said that about 80 percent of riders are obeying the rules at Sand Mountain.Last week, Mensing and his AmeriCorps volunteers returned to find an area where they had removed trails and planted re-located brush to have been damaged over the weekend by an ATV rider. Plastic fencing was ripped up, the restored hillside shredded by spinning tires.

“It’s going to be tough. There will always be people that are going to be willing to destroy what we’re doing out here,” Mensing said.

Those who do so aren’t working in their own best interest, Mensing said. If the conservation plan doesn’t sufficiently protect butterfly habitat, the BLM could potentially shut down to vehicle use Sand Mountain.“If we’re unsuccessful, their options become very limited, that’s for sure,” Mensing said.

Sand Mountain Dune Guide