The excellent editorial, "The Desert: A Better Defense," (June 25) can stand correction on several points, and discussion on many, before a mind-set is reached on laws regulating desert use and access.
The desert habitat is not "deteriorating and being destroyed at a rapid rate," as you quote a federal employee. The habitat, a home for plants and animals in our 25 million acre desert, is neutralized by urban expansion at a rate of less than 0.04% annually. Homes for people, our habitat, will be constructed either outward from our urban periphery, or upward from our urban foundations, as the next and following millions arrive.
The desert habitat is impacted, not destroyed, by visitors. Some desert visitors can and do destroy plants, landscape integrity, solitude and wilderness quality, but the destruction is not forever, nor is it the widespread plague testified to by many. The desert will never be perfect again, and has not been since the first trek across it in 1850.
You dwell at length upon the difficulty within several Interior agencies to choose a defensible position between Sen. Alan Cranston's bill, S7, the Desert Protection Act, and the Bureau of Land Management mandate spawned by the California Desert Conservation Area Act of 1976. The bureau has attempted to administer the CDCA act with thousands of restrictive signs stuck in the desert sand, and a management cadre with the appearance of a three-tooth comb.
The job, at a cost of tens of millions, has been too much for the BLM, primarily because their task encircled too large an area.
You state that the National Park Service has a "more protective banner." But the NPS is no better equipped to protect the California desert than the BLM. The NPS is basically a "people herder" into, around, and out of scenic wonders, large and small. The last NPS takeover in the California desert, 10 years ago, was followed up by a GAO investigation of the NPS for conflict of interest.
"Protection of the best natural areas" is perhaps the key phrase in your discussion of the "massive federal turf war." Cranston is making the same mistake in his legislation as the BLM did in 1976; the bite is too big.
Now comes Sen. Cranston with more of the same, to venerate all of the sand and bush, to expand a Death Valley National Monument already sprawled across every surrounding mountain range, to close the desert to industry, to place an immediate multibillion-dollar loss and cost upon us, to border the everlasting grandeur of the desert with more keep-out signs, to choke our desert border cities and towns into more dense horrors, and to exploit, unseeingly, those millions with no lobby, no defense against the depredations of complaining purists who would dwarf the free enterprise potential of our desert.
RALPH E. PRAY