Jan. 22, 2007 – A coalition of environmental groups is attempting to thwart a plan to open and widen roads through designated wilderness areas in Death Valley National Park.
Death Valley is the largest national park in the contiguous United States,the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere and one of the hottest places in the world. The National Park Service calls it a "vast geologic museum" and says over 1,000 plant types can be found in the park, along with a diversity of wildlife.
Inyo County, California filed suit against the US Department of Interior in October seeking control over four roads in the park, as well as the right to expand the roads into two-lane highways. The routes proposed in the lawsuit run through designated-wilderness areas that the Interior Department has protected from public vehicle use since 1994.
In its lawsuit filing, the County refers to the roads as "highways" and insists that they saw vehicle use in the past. TNS could not verify that claim or determine the past or current conditions of these routes. Of one road, the groups opposing Inyo Countyâ€™s case say "there is little or no physical evidence that motor vehicles used much of the alleged â€˜highwayâ€™ through this remote area."
Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law firm representing the coalition, filed intervention papers last week in US District Court to oppose Inyo Countyâ€™s reclamation of three of the roads. The coalition includes Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Wilderness Society and the National Parks Conservation Association, among others.
In the intervention papers, the coalition argues that the roads will "degrade habitat, destroy wilderness character, and undermine the natural, cultural and wildlife values and solitude within the National Park."