Plan opens up acres of Calif. dunes to off-roaders

EL CENTRO, Calif. - About 85 percent of an extensive dune system near the U.S.-Mexico border would be open to off-road vehicles under a new federal management plan opposed by environmentalists.

The Bureau of Land Management released the plan Monday.  Nearly 180,000 acres of the 210,000-acre Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area and surrounding public lands would be available to ATVs, dune buggies and other off-highway vehicles.

Federal officials say about 11,700 acres in the recreation area would be off-limits to protect a threatened plant. The remaining acres would be open to non-motorized recreation.

Since 2000, the BLM set aside 50,000 acres for the plant - called Peirson's milk vetch - pending approval of a final plan.

Environmentalists say it amounts to a conversation rollback and fear plant and animal species would suffer habitat loss.

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