The ongoing fight over which dirt roads in the Eastern Sierra should be open to vehicles and which ones should be closed took a turn recently. The road or vehicle track up Furnace Creek, on the eastside of the White Mountains, has often been the most hotly contested road in all these battles. Now, after protests by those who dont want to see vehicles drive through this often marshy desert canyon, the Bureau of Land Management has withdraw the environmental assessment papers needed to re-construct sections of the road.
In Furnace Creek, some see a fragile desert canyon that wildlife depends on for survival, and others see the road up the creek as a fun place to take their dirt bikes and jeeps.
For the past four years, a gate across the road keeps most people from driving up the Furnace Creek Canyon. That gate looks like it will remain for the time being. Hector Villalobos with the BLM reports that the agency has not made a decision on whether or not to open the road, but that after 180 letters of protest on the Environmental Assessment, the national office decided to withdraw this version of the environmental work. The road will remain closed, but Villalobos says that BLM may re-visit the EA, make some revisions and then possibly try again.
The Forest Service has recently been working to create a vehicle travel management plan which could result in closing 900 out of 3000 miles of roads on the Inyo National Forest. That controversial process continues. Wiith tensions high on this one road, Furnace Creek is being dealt with separately from the Forest Service off-highway vehicle plan.
Paul McFarland with the local conservation group, the Friends of the Inyo, says a desert creek is no place to drive motorized vehicles.
Dick Noles, with the group the Advocates for Access to Public Lands, says that his group is going to keep up efforts to open Furnace Creek to vehicles.
With the BLM headed back to the drawing board, this fight may be far from over.