Environmental organizations have petitioned the Bush administration to increase protection for wildlife in its proposed management plan for California’s Sonoran Desert, saying the plan favors commerce and recreation at the expense of conservation. The enviros say the proposal violates a host of federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the Wilderness Act, by cutting protection for the habitat of the imperiled desert tortoise and allowing motor vehicles into fragile areas, among other offenses. If U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton and President Bush reject the petition, the groups say they will sue in federal court. The 5.5 million-acre Sonoran Desert has seen rapid species declines in recent years, largely because highways, development, and agricultural and recreational uses have destroyed important habitat. Daniel Patterson, a desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has spent years nudging the Interior Department to better protect the desert, called the proposed plan “worse than the status quo.”

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