March 5, 2017

BLM stops efforts to restore desert water sources

Jim Matthews
By Jim Matthews
Hesperia Star
www.OutdoorNewsService.com


Water for Wildlife, a desert conservation organization that restores water sources in the Mojave Desert for wildlife, has been stopped from doing its work for the second time two years. This past week, the Needles office of the Bureau of Land Management refused to allow the group to conduct its March and April projects on guzzlers in the Clark and Kingston mountains region northeast of Baker.

The group was also stopped from restoring guzzlers on the Mojave National Preserve late in 2015, pending a determination from the National Park Service that work could continue. There has been no determination, yet, from the NPS and no word on the progress of the analysis.

The most recent stoppage of this work came Wednesday this past week in a letter from Daniel Vaught, assistant field manager in Needles for the BLM. Vaught wrote that "our archaeologist has recently expressed concerns regarding the cultural and historical resources and impacts involved in the small-game guzzler restoration."

Cliff McDonald, Water for Wildlife coordinator, said he asked for the letter after a meeting recently when he was told the group's work would need to cease until these concerns could be addressed.

In this meeting, McDonald said he asked why these concerns weren't made last year or the year before. The group has been restoring wildlife water sources for 11 years in the region. McDonald said Vaught had no answers, except to say that the current archaeologist, Chris Dalu, has been on the job for five years in Needles and was suddenly now concerned.

McDonald cancelled the March 16-19 project, and the April 6-9 project was tentatively cancelled, pending a another meeting with BLM this coming week.

McDonald said the BLM has not identified any "cultural and historical resources" on any of the sites where they have worked in the past, and that their efforts have all been done on locations that were developed in the 1950 and 60s in joint efforts between the BLM and Department of Fish and Wildlife. These "administrative sites" were disturbed historically, and the restoration efforts do not enlarge the footprint of the site. McDonald doesn't know why they are doing this now.

Safari Club International, already in the midst of a battle with the National Park Service over its refusal to allow guzzler and windmill restorations to continue on the Mojave National Preserve, immediately jumped in to assist in "this important work for wildlife."

In a letter to all members in the Orange County Chapter, Jim Dahl asked its member to write or call Vaught to remind him that for 11 years "Water for Wildlife has restored water drinkers... (and) have made significant investments and have a long history of restoring guzzlers."

Craig Stowers, the deer program coordinator with the state DFW, wrote to McDonald in an unofficial capacity to say, "it's not OK with DFW that this is going on. We have a significant investment there, too, and (have) a long history of working in this field.... It is a disturbing direction for them to go, and I'm at a loss to explain why this is suddenly an issue for them now."

Clark Blanchard, an assistant deputy director with the DFW in Sacramento, said the issue just popped up on the radar, but said — in an official capacity — that "the department is aware of the issue and is diligently working to find solutions in order to allow this work to continue."

Neither the BLM's Vaught nor Dalu were available for comment Friday.

Those are the facts as we know them now.

What we have is two federal land management agencies, adjacent to each other, fighting to stop volunteer wildlife water restoration efforts.

It is ironic for the Needles office of BLM to jump in bed with the National Park Service on this issue. After years of battling with the state DFW, the BLM has a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the DFW to even allow guzzler restoration in BLM wilderness areas, including the building of new water sources. Restoring existing sites is not even an issue any longer. Or it wasn't. But now we have some low-level bureaucrat suggesting restoring existing desert water sites is going to harm archeological resources? And he's saying this without a shred of data to support his claim.

The National Park's argument for stopping guzzler restoration was equally as specious and completely lacking in data (or even common sense):

In a nutshell, Todd Suess, the new superintendent of the Preserve, listed two reasons why guzzler water restoration was stopped. First, he wrote that guzzlers might be historical sites and we can't restore them until we determine if they are historical sites and then we can decide if they need to be restored or not. (It was that convoluted.) The caveat was that they didn't have anyone who could tell if they were historical sites or not, so we can't do anything. Second, he wrote that all guzzler water restoration had to stop until the Preserve-wide water management plan could be completed and implemented. That is like saying, you can't replace a sign or repair a campground restroom until the Preserve's entire facilities development plan is done. And of course, the water management plan is at least three or four years away from completion.

The "reasons" are both smokescreens to stop work that had been ongoing for nine years in the Preserve and 11 years on BLM land. Where was the concern before the work stoppage? Why are these specious administrative arguments, using obscure rules and regulations, being used now to stop important wildlife field work?

That's the question that needs to be asked.

Here's the answer: It's about hunting. I'm not the first person to point out that it all started when Todd Suess was named the new superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve. I'm sure Suess is a good guy, but it's pretty clear that he doesn't particularly like hunting and hunters. Maybe he's even neutral on hunting. But his friends and staff who don't like hunters know this guzzler and water restoration work is primarily being done by hunter conservationists. And they have his ear. If it's not him, then it's his staff and associates who are persuading this man to issue bad rules based on bad information that is anti-hunting, pure and simple. The decision are certainly not pro-wildlife, sound administration, or correct use of the regulations. It can only be a bias against hunting.

March 2, 2017

Federal officials OK desert tortoise transfer

Marines wait for a desert tortoise - endangered and protected from harm or harassment by federal law - to move off the road during an operation at Marine Corps' Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., on April 4, 2008. Federal authorities have approved a plan to move nearly 1,500 desert tortoises from the base. (REED SAXON/AP)

By David Danelski
The Press-Enterprise
San Bernardino Sun


Federal land management and defense officials have signed off on plans by the U.S Marine Corps to move as many as 1,500 desert tortoises from a Twentynine Palms military base in the coming weeks.

With the approvals, the largest tortoise relocation effort ever the Mojave Desert is on track to occur toward the end of this month or in April after the slumbering reptiles emerge from their underground burrows, where they spend the winter months.

The move, however, cannot occur before March 21, which is the deadline for anyone to appeal the approvals from the Navy and Bureau of Land Management, said Chris Otahal, a wildlife biologist for the BLM’s Barstow field office.

The move would clear about 88,000 acres of land in the Johnson Valley for expanded live ammunition training. Congress voted in 2013 to add this land to the west side of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.

The tortoises will be flown by helicopter to BLM lands mostly west and north of the Marine base.

The timing depends on the weather, but tortoises in the Mojave Desert usually leave their burrows by late March or early April so they can feast on wildflowers and other annual plants that are abundant after the winter rains.

Since the desert tortoises are listed as threatened with extinction, the Marines had to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which found earlier this year that the move would not jeopardize the survival of the species.

This winter’s wet weather makes conditions more favorable for the move, increasing the tortoises’ chances of survival, Otahal said.

There will be more plant life for the displaced tortoises to eat, reducing competition for food with the tortoises already living on the BLM land. Also there will be more rabbits and other animals for coyotes to eat, which will make those predators less interested in tortoises.

“It’s much better for the tortoises when we have more food resources,” Otahal said.

The Marines had planned to move the animals last spring, but the operation was delayed a year after the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity filed a legal notice that argued that required environment analysis was lacking. The government then did more study, including assessing the impacts on wildlife on the BLM lands that will receive the displaced tortoises.

Ileene Anderson, a Los Angeles-based biologist for the center, said the move will be devastating to the species. The tortoises would lose some 136 square miles of quality habitat. What’s more, the displaced animals will move to BLM lands where species is in decline, she said.

“This is the largest translocation of tortoises in the Mojave Desert, and they’re moving them to areas where tortoises are dying off and we don’t know why,” Anderson said.

Super bloom looms in county desert

Desert Sunflowers are at the beginning to bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune)

J. Harry Jones
San Diego Union-Tribune


Signs that a “super bloom” of wildflowers is about to hit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are popping up across the desert floor about two hours east of San Diego.

Botanists, business leaders and visitors are already buzzing around the tiny town of Borrego Springs, where big changes are overtaking the typically stark landscape.

“It’s incredibly green,” said Kathy Dice, superintendent of the 900-square-mile park, which stretches from the Riverside County line to the Mexican border in eastern San Diego County. “That’s the thing all of us have noticed. I’ve never seen it so green.”

Campgrounds in the park are packed and hotels are encouraging people to book rooms now before they are all gone. At La Casa del Zorro Resort & Spa, even weekday reservations are between 80 and 90 percent full for the next three weeks, said Lynn Bowen in the resorts sales department.

Early blooming flowers include purple desert sand verbena, yellow desert sunflowers and white desert lilies, along with dozens, even hundreds of other species.

More than 5.5 inches of rain has fallen in the desert since mid December, almost as much as falls in the average year.

Botanist Jim Dice, the park superintendent’s husband, said such an explosion of color hasn’t been seen in the area in many years — and its beauty is likely to bring hordes of visitors.

“I think we’re probably a week or two away from the prime annual wildflower bloom,” Jim Dice said. “With plenty of sun this week and 80 degree temperatures, by Friday, Saturday and Sunday we could see a pretty massive bloom. We’re just seeing the very beginning of it right now.”

Early Tuesday morning Chris Baxter got out of her car at the Visitor’s Center, camera phone in hand. “Oh look, Annie! They’re getting ready to pop! They’re getting ready to bloom!”

Baxter and Annie Dennis are visiting from a far different climate.

“For us this feels so good,” Dennis said. “We’ve been stuck in frozen Detroit so this is perfect.”

An hour later, miles away at the mouth of Coyote Canyon, Lynda and John Friar of Pacific Palisades were busy taking photographs of a lone white desert lily that had bloomed amid many other budding plants .

“It’s beautiful this year,” Lynda Friar said. “We’ve never seen it like this.”

At the visitor center in Borrego Springs, a line was already forming by 8:30 a.m. Tuesday and the crush continued throughout the day.

“We’re already having a banner year,” said the town’s chamber of commerce Executive Director Linda Haddock. “You can’t get onto Palm Canyon (Road). It’s jammed with people. The restaurants have people out the doors.”

“It’s going to be a bloom that I’ve never seen before,” she added. “I keep hearing stories from years ago about carpets of purple and yellow flowers. I’m going to be like a big kid, too.”

Though difficult to gauge, Kathy Dice said roughly a half million people visit the park every year. She expects an additional quarter million could come in March alone.

The best places to see the vibrant foliage are constantly changing, so the park has a Wildflower Hotline — 760/767-4684 — to guide people to the best spots.

“The phones are ringing off the hook,” Kathy Dice said.

On Tuesday, the latest update said recent rain was “likely to extend the blooming period for many annuals, including the sunflowers along Henderson Canyon Road which are just beginning to bloom.

“Desert lilies are blooming in profusion in the Badlands including Arroyo Salado primitive camp on Highway S-22. Annuals and shrubs are beginning to bloom at the Visitor’s Center and should continue for a few weeks at least. Wildflowers are blooming at the north end of Di Giorgio Road, drivers of two-wheel drive vehicles should park at the end of the pavement and walk up the road or out onto the flats.”

Potential visitors are also encouraged to visit the Anza-Borrego Foundations website at www.theabf.org.

Jim Dice, the reserve manager of the Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center run by the University of California, Irvine, said it’s been about nine years since a really good desert bloom and perhaps 20 years since a spectacular one.

“Just walking around the research center property the other day there are all sort of things I haven’t seen in the six years I’ve been there: Bigelow’s Monkey flower, Blazing Stars — all these annuals that haven’t been around or have been very, very rare recently.”

February 28, 2017

Bridge work to force extended road closure on Route 66 in Amboy

The East Mojave desert area is subject to extreme weather conditions including summer monsoonal moisture. Flash flooding can damage bridges causing periodic road closures. In August 2014 over 40 bridges along historic Route 66 in the desert region of San Bernardino County were damaged by flash flooding. (Department of Public Works)

Desert Dispatch

San Bernardino County Public Works will be constructing two new bridges and road improvements on National Trails Highway (Route 66) at Dola Ditch (2.08 miles east of Kelbaker Road) and Lanzit Ditch (2.77 miles east of Kelbaker Road), east of the community of Amboy. The construction will include removing the existing timber bridges and constructing new timber bridges.

A portion of National Trails Highway will be closed at all times to through traffic, including emergency vehicles. Traffic will be routed around the construction on public streets and highways. The detour plan includes using Interstate 40 and Kelbaker Road.

Local residents and businesses will have access from Essex Road west to the construction site, but there will be no traffic through the construction site. Construction of the project is tentatively scheduled to start on Monday and run through mid-September. This construction project was awarded to Cushman Construction Corporation of Goleta. The funding for this project is from the Federal Highway Bridge Program and locally funded gas tax.

This project is part of a master plan to replace several of the 127 bridges along the National Trails Highway corridor over the next several years. Engineering standards have changed since the bridges were originally constructed in the late 1920s, and with the modern traffic loading on these bridges, they have become structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.

Route 66, or National Trails Highway, is significant in American history as one of the earliest and most important highways linking the Midwest and California and was once characterized as "the road of opportunity."

The designation of Route 66 in 1926 signified the nation's growing commitment to improved transportation arteries and increased influence of the automobile on American lifestyles. Route 66 had a transformative effect on the American landscape through which it passed. This landscape continues to provide a visual narrative history of America's automobile culture of the 20th century and its legacy of related commerce and architecture.

At well in excess of 250 miles, San Bernardino County has the longest stretch of Historic Route 66 than any other county in the United States.

"Replacement of these two bridges is a giant step in the continued effort to preserve the historical bridges of Route 66 in San Bernardino County," said 1st District Supervisor Robert A. Lovingood, chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

The Public Works website contains up-to-date information on National Trails Highway at http://cms.sbcounty.gov/dpw/Operations/Route66.aspx

February 27, 2017

Joshua trees meet very different fates in California, Arizona

The sun goes down on Joshua trees at Castle Mountains National Monument in eastern California on Feb. 1, 2016. Private land across not far from here was recently transfered to Mojave National Preserve in part to protect these iconic desert plants. (David Becker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

By HENRY BREAN
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL


It’s been an up-and-down month for Joshua trees in the region.

At Mojave National Preserve in California, thousands of the iconic desert plants recently won permanent federal protection, thanks to a land transfer that added 3,100 acres to the park 90 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, in Mohave County, Arizona, a Las Vegas businessman is defending himself from allegations of a “Joshua tree massacre” on about 100 acres of private property he’s clearing for agricultural development.

Al Barbarich, who owns the land about 95 miles southeast of Las Vegas and hopes to establish a nut and fruit orchard there, said his permit to clear the land did not require him to save any of the Joshua trees. But he said he arranged to have about 100 of them dug up and replanted at homes, a school and other locations in the area — all at no cost to those who received the plants.

“We tried to do something nice for the neighbors and the community,” he said.

Some area residents didn’t see it that way. In online posts and a Feb. 12 story in the Kingman Daily Miner newspaper, the developer was accused of wholesale Joshua tree murder.

Barbarich acknowledged that some plants were destroyed as the land was cleared, though he couldn’t say how many. He said a lot of the Joshua trees shown piled up in the photos posted by his critics were older plants with little hope of being successfully transplanted.

The negative publicity is “unfortunate,” Barbarich said, because he felt like he was trying, at his own expense, to do the responsible thing. “We wanted to preserve the trees to the extent that people wanted them,” he said.

FROM PRIVATE TO PROTECTED

The additional Joshua trees now under the protection of Mojave National Preserve in California were also once subject to the whims of private development.

The plants are growing on what used to be scattered pockets of private land within the boundaries of the 1.6 million acre desert preserve. Over the past decade, the nonprofit Mojave Desert Land Trust has been buying up such “private in-holdings” and selling or donating them to the National Park Service.

The latest land transfer, completed earlier this month, involved 110 scattered parcels ranging in size from 5 to 320 acres.

Frazier Haney, conservation director for the trust, said most of the land is located in Lanfair Valley near the eastern edge of the preserve, an area “really rich in Joshua trees and Mojave yucca.”


Haney said the trust purchased the property from “a variety of willing sellers” over the past nine years. The group paid a total of $1.5 million for the land and received $1.4 million from the park service in return.

That money will be used to buy other private property within the preserve and other desert parks in California, Haney said.

“Scenic views, sensitive habitat and historic resources that might otherwise be lost are now protected in perpetuity for all to appreciate and enjoy,” Greg Gress, regional realty chief for the park service, said in a written statement.

Haney said private in-holdings are not governed by the same rules and protections as the surrounding park land. Gradually eliminating the patchwork of in-holdings simplifies management of the entire preserve, he said.

‘STRICTLY WILLING SELLERS’

But Haney stressed that the trust isn’t trying to force private landowners off their property, some of which dates to the days of homesteading in the area roughly 100 years ago. “It’s strictly willing sellers,” he said.

Since it was founded in Joshua Tree, California, in 2007, the conservation group has donated more parcels of land to the park service than any other trust in the country, Haney said.

Mojave National Preserve has gained more than 30,000 acres — and countless Joshua trees — through the trust’s efforts.

Haney said more than 1,300 private parcels remain within the boundaries of the preserve, though, “so we’ve still got a ways to go.”

February 15, 2017

Nonprofit land trust turns over 3,000 acres to Mojave National Preserve

An entrance to Mojave National Preserve on Zzyzx Road near Baker, Calif. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Associated Press
Los Angeles Times


A nonprofit group has donated more than 3,000 acres of desert land to the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert Land Trust announced Wednesday that it had handed over ecologically and historically significant land to the park. The 110 parcels already are surrounded by the national preserve. They include juniper and yucca stands and a century-old homestead site.

The trust has an ongoing program to buy up private land that survived within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

“Development of this private land can degrade neighboring park resources, impact public access and cause management problems for park staff,” a trust statement said.

Over the past decade, the trust has conveyed about 23,000 acres of land to the National Park Service.

“Our great desert parks are immeasurably enhanced” by the work, Greg Gress, regional realty chief for the National Park Service, said in a statement. “Scenic views, sensitive habit and historic resources that might otherwise be lost are now protected in perpetuity for all to appreciate and enjoy.”

February 3, 2017

Utah Legislature votes to shed Bears Ears monument designation

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Deseret News


SALT LAKE CITY — An indignant Utah Senate voted 22-6 Friday to urge the unraveling of the Bears Ears National Monument designation in San Juan County, bristling at the process used under the Antiquities Act and what they say was indifference to a majority of statewide sentiment.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, the Senate sponsor of HCR11, said if a monument designation had been made for the Bears Ears region via congressional legislation subsequently signed by the U.S. president, he wouldn't be arguing against the new monument.

"It's absolutely wrong," the Senate president said, asserting the legislative process was circumvented with one person's pen via presidential proclamation.

The 1.35 million-acre monument was created in late December by former President Barack Obama in the waning days of his administration and was largely seen as a poke in Utah's eye.

Obama was vacationing in Hawaii with his family over the holidays when the White House made the announcement on Dec. 28.

"I find it insulting that President Obama couldn't even interrupt his golfing in Hawaii" for the monument designation, said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

Democratic opponents to the resolution, which had already passed in the House and was signed Friday night by Gov. Gary Herbert, pointed to the failure of the Public Lands Initiative to gain any traction as the impetus for the monument's creation.

The massive public lands bill carried by Republican Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz proposed land uses covering 18 million acres in eastern Utah, including the Bears Ears region.

Instead of a monument designation, however, the bill called for two national conservation areas in the Bears Ears area that would have still allowed for multiple uses in a less restrictive land management strategy.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the proposal turned into a game of politics and was never a sincere attempt by Bishop or others in Utah's congressional delegation to answer Native Americans' concerns in the region.

"The process fell apart and got all political," Dabakis said, earlier emphasizing the anti-Bears Ears resolution as a "dumb bill."

Niederhauser, joined by other colleagues, defended the initiative and said the legislation, while a messy exercise in compromise, is the right way to protect land.

"You say the process broke down and it did not get through Congress. That is not an argument," Niederhauser said. "It is not supposed to be easy."

"Two wrongs don't make a right," emphasized Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

But Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said the majority of people in her district — the hunters, the campers and the anglers — support the Bears Ears monument.

Mayne added that the only "stream" in her district is a canal, and outdoor spaces are valued.

"We have no place to go," she said. "It's hard for us."

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, the only Republican member of the Senate to vote against the resolution, said he had hoped for a compromise solution that stopped short of upending the entire designation.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, stressed that he supports monuments but said the rescission of the designation would allow parties to "reset the clock" and start a better process.

Friday's vote came after the Senate voted to suspend the rules and move the resolution to the front of the line. Its passage followed twin hearings before Senate committees on Thursday and passage in the House earlier this week in a fast-tracked process designed to deliver a strong message to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the White House.

Both HCR11 and a resolution to shrink the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were requested for consideration before the Legislature by Utah's congressional delegation, who will wave the document as a flag in the war on federal "overreach."

Pro-monument group Utah Dine Bikeyah board members are marching out their own paperwork with a letter to Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke, imploring him to accompany them on a field trip to Bears Ears and attend a community meeting before making any decision.

"Grass-roots people who depend on this landscape every day would like the opportunity to explain why we have worked so hard and so long to create this first-ever Native American national monument that honors our history and points toward our future," the letter reads.

The organization invited Zinke to attend a Monument Valley community meeting and meet with tribal leaders to discuss the designation.

"We do not want any action that will change the boundary, deny the role of traditional knowledge, develop these lands, undermine local voices or disgrace our ancestors who still reside there. To truly appreciate what is at stake, you must see the landscape and you must hear the wisdom of elders for yourself," the letter states.

Utah Dine Bikeyah says it developed the monument proposal seven years ago at the request of local elders, and their input in the Public Lands Initiative process and other land management planning was either ignored or shut out.

Critics of the Native American tribal "movement" behind the Bears Ears campaign say that support was co-opted by environmental and conservation organizations that reasoned there was a better chance for a monument if it came gift wrapped with a distinct cultural bow.

Both sides in the monument debate claim support from local tribal members or grass-roots people.

January 19, 2017

Trump can scale back monument designations, experts say

Legal experts say the Trump administration has the authority to scale back national monuments designated by other presidents, but that such action would be challenged in court.

The Owyhee River canyon in Oregon, part of an area proposed to become a national monument. Legal experts say the Trump administration has the authority to reduce the scale of any national monument established by previous presidents. They warn, however, that such a move would certainly be challenged in court. (COURTESY BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT)

Mateusz Perkowski
Capital Press


The Trump administration could sharply revise controversial national monument designations made by its predecessor, though it’s unclear such changes would be a high priority, experts say.

Pro-monument environmental groups would also likely seek to counteract such moves, testing largely uncharted legal waters.

While the Trump administration could not entirely revoke earlier national monument designations, their size and land use restrictions within their boundaries could be modified, said Karen Budd-Falen, an attorney who represents ranchers in public land disputes.

“All that stuff is fair game for the Trump administration,” she said. “It’s pretty clear they have maneuvering room.”

Theoretically, Trump could go beyond recent designations — such as the expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon — and amend monuments created by presidents before Obama, Budd-Falen said.

“There’s not a statute of limitations or a time frame on these things,” she said.

Ranchers fear that grazing will be increasingly restricted within the 49,000 acres recently added to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Under an opinion issued in 1938, the U.S. Attorney General said Congress delegated its authority to create national monuments to the president in the Antiquities Act.

However, the power to revoke such designations belongs solely to Congress, not to succeeding presidential administrations, according to the opinion.

Even so, the Trump administration could greatly reduce the scale of a national monument by shrinking it to a quarter-acre, for example, Budd-Falen said.

The Republican-controlled Congress could also outright overturn a national monument designation or simply excise tracts that are most problematic for ranchers and other natural resource users, said Scott Horngren, an attorney with the Western Resources Legal Center, which litigates on behalf of agriculture and timber interests.

“They could use a scalpel,” said Horngren.

With the multitude of contentious issues facing the Trump administration and Congress, though, it’s open to question whether they’ll want to tackle disputes over national monuments, he said. “We just don’t know that.”

If the Trump administration did drastically roll back the size of a national monument, environmental groups could argue in federal court that the reduction was made arbitrarily in violation of the Antiquities Act, Horngren said.

Under that statute, national monuments should be as small as possible to protect resources within the monument, so the Trump administration could argue that his predecessor’s boundaries were too expansive, he said.

Though opponents of national monument designations tend to cast them as “midnight regulations” by outgoing presidents, in reality, new monuments and expansions must be justified in “rationales,” said Michael Blumm, an environmental law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School.

If the Trump administration decided to significantly shrink a national monument, it would have to provide a similarly well-reasoned justification, he said.

“The courts have taken seriously those rationales,” Blumm said. “There can’t be any arbitrary decision-making.”

Presidents do have a “fair amount” of flexibility in deciding what uses are permitted within national monuments, as long as they don’t undermine the monument’s fundamental values, he said.

A major reduction in a national monument’s boundaries would be unprecedented, partly because past presidents have been reluctant to scale back earlier designations, Blumm said.

The Bush administration, for example, defended national monuments created by the Clinton administration, he said.

The issue goes beyond partisan politics and resonates with concerns about the institution of the presidency, Blumm said. “Presidents like the monument authority, especially on their way out, because it provides them with a legacy.”

January 17, 2017

Congressman: Obama says no to Grand Canyon Monument

The proposed Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument would encompass 1.7 million acres in northern Arizona.

By Loretta Yerian
Williams News


WILLIAMS, Ariz. — According to Arizona Representative Raúl Grijalva (D), the Obama administration has decided not to designate the 1.7 million acre Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument before Obama leaves office this week.

In the Jan. 6 press release, Grijalva expressed his disappointment in the decision not to establish the monument, which would have encompassed all of the north Kaibab and Tusayan ranger districts of the Kaibab National Forest as well as lands on the Arizona Strip north of the Colorado River. All lands are currently managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, Arizona Game and Fish Department, Arizona State Trust Lands, along with approximately 28,000 acres under private ownership.

“I can only express my profound disappointment,” Grijalva said. “The Grand Canyon is one of the world’s most iconic and popular natural places, not just for its beauty but for its importance to tribal culture and history. Instead of building on former Secretary Salazar’s work, the interior and agriculture departments are apparently willing to leave the future of the Grand Canyon and the health of Arizona tribes up to Donald Trump. I am not.”

In 2016, Williams was among a number of cities and towns to pass resolutions opposing the establishment of the monument.

In April, Williams councilman Frank McNelly, representing Williams City Council and as a private rancher, joined small business owners, sportsmen, farmers, ranchers, elected officials and other stakeholders for a public session in Kingman that roundly criticized the proposed monument.

At the time, McNelly said he and other council members were frustrated that state leaders had not consulted with local northern Arizona community members about the monument. He said the land was appropriately managed now and the council saw no reason for the designation of a monument.

“There is very little private land in this state and I think it is very important the people of this state manage the land and not be dictated from some government agency,” McNelly said.

McNelly said he was glad of the outcome and said it was the right decision for the people who live and work the area that would have been in or near the designation.

“I think it is a really positive thing for the state and I would really praise Paul Gosar for his efforts and his vision on giving a voice to this and doing what he could to stop it,” he said. “It is better for the people who live here to decide and make the regulations and rules that govern the land where we live and work.”

Supporters of the designation, which included local and national environmental groups, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi and Havasupai tribes were disappointed in the decision and have vowed to continue to fight for preservation efforts.

“While the lands beyond the rim of the Grand Canyon are no less spectacular, culturally important, or economically vital than before, they do now face an even greater risk,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We remain dedicated to working with area tribes and communities to ensure these lands are protected for future generations.”

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye expressed his gratitude in the recent designation of Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, but said he was disappointed in the decision for the Grand Canyon monument.

“We are disappointed that the Grand Canyon was not included in the designation by President Barack Obama under the Antiquities Act,” Begaye said. “We were hopeful to have both designations, but we are thankful for the Bears Ears designation. The Grand Canyon is an international monument that is visited by millions of people each year. The next administration should seriously consider designating the Grand Canyon under the Antiquities Act as a national monument to protect the canyon from mining and abuse in the name of economic development. This landscape should not be destroyed but saved for future generations to admire the beauty of the Southwest. We need to make sure that it is protected as a national monument.”

Supporters of the monument said designation of the monument would have protected wildland species and rare plants, protect cultural and archaeological sites, manage wildlife migration routes, reduce road density, provide retirement of grazing rights and helped prevent new uranium mines.

Polls showed that Arizonans varied in their support for the monument. Arizona representative Grijalva and former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick supported the designation while U.S. Sen. John McCain (R), U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R) and Gov. Doug Ducey opposed the designation.

On Jan. 6, Grijalva reintroduced the Greater Grand Canyon Heritage National Monument Act and started mobilizing monument supporters for a strong push in the 115th Congress. The bill, which closely mirrors the previous version, would confer national monument status on two parcels of federal land, one north and one south of Grand Canyon National Park.

“The need to protect the Grand Canyon is bigger than who’s president or who sits in Congress,” Grijalva said. “The American people demand that this important place be preserved. People from all walks of life have been fighting this fight for a long time, and we’re going to keep working until we get it done.”

McNelly said he will be more confident in the decision not to designate the monument after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration Jan. 20 and said he thought it was a good effort by Arizonans who opposed the designation, which he doesn’t see changing anytime soon.

“Right now Grijalva is in the minority, being a democrat. We have the majority and our champion, Paul Gosar who I’m sure will be on top of all those things,” he said. “I think Grijalva needs to get over it and go back to worrying about Tucson and not worrying about Williams and the North Rim.”

January 16, 2017

Rule easing public lands transfer concerns hunters, others

FILE - In this July 23, 2003 file photo, a pronghorn antelope doe keeps watch as two fawns peer out from tall grass in the heart of southeastern Oregon's Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge near Adel, Ore. A change in U.S. House rules making it easier to transfer millions of acres of federal public lands to states is worrying hunters and outdoor enthusiasts who fear losing access. Lawmakers earlier this month passed a rule eliminating a significant budget hurdle and written so broadly it includes national parks. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

KEITH RIDLER
Associated Press


BOISE, Idaho (AP) - A change in U.S. House rules making it easier to transfer millions of acres of federal public lands to states is worrying hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts across the West who fear losing access.

Lawmakers earlier this month passed a rule eliminating a significant budget hurdle and written so broadly that it includes national parks.

President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Interior secretary, Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke, voted for the rule change as did many other Republicans. The Senate would have to weigh in on public land transfers as well.

"Anybody who uses them for any kind of outdoor activity â snowmobiling, mountain biking, hunters, all that â they're very alarmed by all this," said Boise State University professor and public lands policy expert John Freemuth. "The loss of access that this could lead to."

The rule passed by the House defines federal land that could be given to states as "any land owned by the United States, including the surface estate, the subsurface estate, or any improvements thereon."

About a million square miles of public land is managed by the federal government, mostly in 12 Western states, according to the Congressional Research Service. Some state lawmakers in recent years have made failed efforts to wrest control of those lands, mainly to reduce obstacles to accessing resources such as timber, natural gas and oil, Freemuth noted.

U.S. lawmakers have the authority to transfer those lands to states. Outdoor recreationists fear states would then sell the land to private entities that would end public access.

Zinke, whose confirmation hearing to become Interior secretary is Tuesday, has a track record of opposing public land transfers. Last summer, he resigned as a delegate to the Republican National Convention, which favors such transfers.

"The congressman has never voted to sell or transfer federal lands and he maintains his position against the sale or transfer of federal lands," Heather Swift, a Zinke spokeswoman, said in an email.

Whit Fosburgh, CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which works to guarantee places to hunt and fish, said he's inclined to excuse Zinke on his House vote favoring transfers because of his record being "very solid on these public lands issues."

Still, Fosburgh was irked that the House approved a rule that he said essentially allows federal public land to be given away as if it had no value.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, also voted for the rule easing transfers. But Simpson was also the driver of a 2015 bill that created three wilderness areas in Idaho after he got ranchers, recreationists and environmental groups to back the plan after a 15-year effort.

The possibility that President Barack Obama would designate a much larger area as a national monument is widely believed to have led to the bill passed by the House and Senate.

"There is no disputing Congressman Simpson is a supporter of public lands," Nikki Wallace, a spokeswoman for Simpson, said in an email.

Freemuth noted that even with a rule change, land transfers would face significant challenges.

"Whatever Zinke says early will affect those attempts," Freemuth said.

He and Fosburgh fear that federal land turned over to states would be too expensive to manage, particularly when it comes to fighting wildfires.

Freemuth believes states would sell land to private entities. Fosburgh was equally dismissive, saying transfers would eventually lead to private owners and no public access.

"You get rid of public lands, you end hunting and fishing in this country as we know it today," Fosburgh said.

January 1, 2017

Obama’s public lands policy leaves legacy of conflict

Push to control state lands at odds with locals

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell looks from Dead Horse Point, near Moab, Utah, where President Obama designated one of two national monuments Wednesday, that have become key flash points over use of public land in the U.S. West. (Associated Press)

By Valerie Richardson
The Washington Times


With two new massive set-asides in his final weeks in office, President Obama has moved aggressively to solidify a legacy on public lands that’s often put the White House at odds with state officials who want to see more local control over land use.

Mr. Obama already held the record for creating or expanding national monuments when he used the Antiquities Act last week to set aside a combined 1.65 million acres for Bears Ears in Utah and Golden Butte in Nevada.

In doing so, however, Mr. Obama also solidified his reputation for using public lands to reward his friends and enrage his enemies.

Environmentalists cheered his commitment to conservation, but Republican lawmakers, state officials and locals accused him of ignoring their input in order to score political points, lock up productive lands and expand federal control.

Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said the hotly disputed designations represent business as usual for Mr. Obama.

“Much of the agenda, like the monuments, was done behind closed doors, in the shadows, in secret, and would otherwise be rejected under established democratic processes,” said Mr. Bishop. “They systematically abused executive powers through unilateral rules, orders and memorandums designed to make energy and resource development uneconomical.”

In the name of environmental protection, the Obama administration has tightened its hold on federal lands, adding layers of regulation on energy development, halting new coal leases, using the Endangered Species Act to restrict grazing, and taking a hard line on violations.

“Keep it in the ground, lock it up and let it burn. That’s been the policy for the last eight years,” said Montana state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, who heads the American Lands Council.

The result has been a backlash by groups such as the council, which formed in 2012 to counter the Obama administration’s expansion of federal authority by calling for transferring control of federal lands to the states.

Environmentalists have responded by doubling down with a push to stop energy development on public lands altogether with the “keep it in the ground” movement.

Mr. Obama’s final year in office has also seen a surge in unrest from protesters on public lands. In January, anger on the ground turned deadly when Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot and killed at an FBI roadblock during an armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon.

The protest centered two ranchers sentenced to five-year prison terms after fires they set to control weeds spread to federal land.

On the other end of the political spectrum, thousands of protesters converged on federal land near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, to object to the administration’s approval of the Dakota Access pipeline easement near the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

Hundreds have been arrested by local authorities since Aug. 10, but the Obama administration has taken a hands-off approach to the occupation. The protesters scored a win Dec. 5 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to withdraw the easement in order to conduct another environmental review.

In the administration’s corner are those who argue that Mr. Obama has provided balance to a public-lands policy that has in the past favored industries, including energy and agriculture, at the expense of conservation.

Matt Lee-Ashley, senior fellow and director of public lands for the liberal Center for American Progress, said part of the tension has come from the changing balance of power.

“I think if you look back for decades, extractive industries have had greater power in Washington and have had a big say in the decisions about the management of public lands, and we’re seeing greater balance now from the outdoor recreation industry, for example,” said Mr. Lee-Ashley. “A lot of states are weighing in on behalf of conservation and recreation. There are more people sitting at the table making these decisions, including conservationists, recreationists and Native American leaders.”

He said he saw Mr. Obama’s approach to environmental protection on public lands changed after his 2012 reelection victory.

“We saw the pace of conservation work pick up dramatically in the second term,” Mr. Lee-Ashley said. “There was a much greater balance between development and conservation on public lands in the last two or three years of his presidency.”

Mr. Obama has countered naysayers by pointing out that oil and gas development on public lands has increased during his administration, but his critics have argued that the increase has been far greater on private land.

The average leased for energy extraction on public lands has decreased steadily since Mr. Obama took office, according to figures from the House Natural Resources Committee.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, blamed in part what she described as the Obama administration’s “bureaucratic stifling.”

“There’s just so many ways that they have blocked productive uses of federal land,” said Ms. Sgamma. “Making it more difficult at every step of the process, whether you’re trying to graze on an allotment that’s been in your family for over 100 years, or trying to move forward with your leases and get through the environmental analysis that the government simply won’t complete.”

Whether Mr. Obama’s latest monuments will survive is also in question. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes has vowed to file a lawsuit, while Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican, and others have called for the designations to be repealed.

“We look forward to working with President-elect Trump to follow through on his commitment to repeal midnight regulations,” Mr. Chaffetz said in a statement. “We will work to repeal this top-down decision and replace it with one that garners local support and creates a balanced, win-win solution.”

December 31, 2016

Utahns aim to ‘Trump’ Bears Ears monument designation

Protesters demonstrate against the new Bears Ear National Monument in San Juan County. President Barack Obama expanded his environmental legacy in the final days of his presidency with national monument designations on lands in Utah and Nevada that have become flashpoints over use of public land in the U.S. West, Montecello, Utah, Dec. 29, 2016 | Photo by Rick Egan/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, St. George News

Written by Mori Kessler
St. George News


ST. GEORGE – In the wake of President Barrack Obama’s designating the Bears Ears National Monument Wednesday, Utah officials have vowed to use every means open to them to see the new monument undone. They are also looking to the next resident of the White House as a hopeful ally in this endeavor.

During a gathering held Thursday in San Juan County protesting the new monument, many signs with the phrase “Trump this Monument” were displayed and held high. Speakers at the event also repeated the phrase as they appealed to President-elect Donald Trump to aid in dismantling the unwanted monument.

Views differ on whether or not Trump can actually undo the creation of the monument once in office.

Christy Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the Antiquities Act that allows a president to create monuments does not give a president authority to undo a designation, a rule the courts have upheld. She acknowledged, though, that Congress could take action.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president “to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments.”

The Act was approved by Congress and used by then President Theodore Roosevelt to create the Devil’s Tower National Monument in Wyoming in 1906.

In Obama’s statement regarding the creation of the 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument, the president said it is “to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archaeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.”

Read more: Utah Republicans bristle at Bears Ears National Monument designation

As reported by the Deseret News, Goldfuss told reporters the Obama administration isn’t worried about the backlash out of Utah and believes attempts to undo the new monument will be unsuccessful.

However, Conn Carroll, communications director for Sen. Mike Lee, told St. George News Thursday: “What has been done by executive power can be undone by executive power.”

While the Act may not expressly allow a president to simply undo a monument designation, it does empower the president the ability to make “modifications,” Carroll said.

“There’s nothing in the act that mandates or controls how much (a monument) can be changed,” he said.

If Trump wanted to, Carroll said, he could change the size of the Bear Ears Monument and shrink it considerably. Once done, Congress could come in and pass Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative which would protect part of Bears Ears as a national conservation area while opening other parts to local and economic development.

“That would functionally undo 99.9 percent of what Obama did,” Carroll said.

Taking this route is a potential way Lee and other Utah delegates hope to work with the incoming administration to undo the national monument.

“We’re optimistic that the Trump administration will do the right thing and honor the wishes of the people of Utah,” Carroll said. “This monument is on sand. It’s very precarious and we should be optimistic it can be functionally undone.”

Other avenues Utah’s leaders and congressional delegation are likely to pursue moving forward include possible legislation and litigation.

Stewart has stated that he will use his position on the House Appropriations Committee to block funding to the new monument.

Sen. Orrin Hatch said Wednesday that he will meet with Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Montana, Trump’s nominee for interior secretary, and discuss what may be done about reversing the monument designation.

“His responses will largely determine my support for his confirmation,” Hatch said.

In addition, Hatch and Lee will reintroduce legislation to make Utah exempt from future presidents’ use of the Antiquities Act to designate monuments. It would be similar to legislation passed in 1950 exempting Wyoming from the Antiquities Act and place the creation of any new monument in the hands of Congress.

There has also been talk among the congressional delegation of either seeking to repeal the Antiques Act or greatly restricting its use in the future.

On Thursday, Chaffetz, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent subpoenas to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Goldfuss demanding a document dump related to the Bears Ear National Monument designation going back to 2013.

In the letters, Chaffetz states concerns that the Obama administration stepped over federal procedures involving local stakeholders and proper environmental assessment.

“(Obama’s) sweeping application of the Antiquities Act raises questions about the administration’s commitment to transparency and consultation with local stakeholders with respect to designating national monuments,” Chaffetz wrote.

He continued: “… The (National Environmental Policy Act) and (Federal Land Policy Management Act) processes provide for a more thoughtful determination, whereas the Antiquities Act was meant to be reserved for emergency scenarios.”

Previous attempts by the Oversight Committee to obtain information regarding the Obama administration’s process for using the Antiquities Act have thus far met with a limited response, Chaffetz wrote.

Jewell and Goldfuss have till Jan. 13, 2017, to produce the requested documents. Failure to do so will result in the committee’s “obtaining them through compulsory measures,” the letters state.

On the state level, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said his office has been working with members of the congressional delegation as well as county and state officials on a pending lawsuit in case the monument designation happened.

“The Antiquities Act was passed to protect archaeological sites from pillage by treasure hunters with narrow, focused designations of thousands of acres or only what was absolutely necessary,” Reyes said in a statement released Wednesday. “It has turned into a tool for the Executive Branch to bypass proper Congressional authority, to designate millions of acres at a time and far beyond what is necessary to preserve sacred sites.

“Rather than shut out local residents, the Administration should look for ways to strengthen schools, pave roads, and build the local economy. Instead, it rides roughshod over repeatedly expressed local concerns and exceeds the law’s scope as intended by Congress when it passed the Antiquities Act over a century ago.”

It remains to be seen what course the brewing war over Utah’s newest national monument may take once the president-elect takes office next month.

December 28, 2016

President Obama declares Gold Butte a national monument


By GARY MARTIN
and HENRY BREAN
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama stepped into a swirling land-use controversy in Nevada on Wednesday and declared a swath of desert known as Gold Butte a national monument.

The declaration places 300,000 acres of land under the protection of the Bureau of Land Management. Obama used the Antiquities Act to shelter land between Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon.

In addition, Obama declared the Bears Ears region of Utah a national monument under the same law.

“I am designating two new national monuments in the desert landscapes of southeastern Utah and southern Nevada to protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House.

The president said his “actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes.”

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., had urged the president to designate the Gold Butte land in Nevada as a national monument, which provides greater protection and restrictions on land use. The area is known for rock formations and Native American artifacts.

Reid said Gold Butte “is quintessential Nevada.”

He thanked Obama and said the designation is a critical link to the state’s culture and history. “Gold Butte is a glimpse of what Nevada once was.”

Titus attended a news conference in Las Vegas following the president’s announcement. She said the beauty and history behind Gold Butte necessitated the designation as a national monument.

“Those are things you just can’t copy. You have to save,” Titus said. “And those are the things that are so precious to Nevada, to the planet and to future generations.”

OBJECTIONS VOICED

Gold Butte is near the ranch of Cliven Bundy, who along with local farmers and ranchers has sought to keep the property available for agricultural use.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., urged Obama not to designate the land as a national monument because of concerns by local constituents.

Heller said he was disappointed by the president’s action.

The senator said he has urged “all new land designations, especially ones in Nevada, to be considered in an open and public Congressional process.”

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said he objected to the use of the Antiquities Act in designating Gold Butte as a national monument because it bypassed Congress and the public.

“We all share a common goal of enacting smart conservation measures which help preserve our lands for the use and enjoyment of all Nevadans,” Sandoval said. “My strong preference is for a more collaborative process when making such an important designation. I firmly believe our ranchers, environmentalists, and community stakeholders are the best experts in ensuring Nevada’s lands are preserved, protected and accessible.”

Conservatives have voiced concern about the lack of input in designations.

Those concerns resulted in an armed standoff with Bundy, his sons and their supporters, including militia and patriot groups that had gathered on the family’s Bunkerville ranch in April 2014.

Bureau of Land Management officials left the property following the standoff and did not return until 2016. A White House official downplayed any safety concerns and said there is no elevated enforcement status at Gold Butte.

Bundy faces criminal charges in federal court over the confrontation. He has claimed ancestral rights to the Gold Butte property.

The Bundy family, in a statement, said to Obama that “we are saddened, but not surprised, by your decision to make our ranch and home a national monument.”

Saying they have no problem with threatened wildlife or fees, the Bundy family said their fight “has always been about the constitutional limits on the federal government’s authority.”

EARLIER NATIONAL MONUMENT

This marks the second time Obama has used his authority to designate a monument in Nevada over the objections of rural officials and Nevada Republicans in Congress.

In July 2015, also with strong encouragement from Reid, the president established Basin and Range National Monument on 704,000 acres in remote Lincoln and Nye counties.

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld previous actions by presidents, despite controversy over the use of the Antiquities Act to set aside public lands for conservation and to save artifacts.

No national monument declaration has been overturned by another president. Any repeal would take congressional action.

Conservationists and Native American tribes have long sought the protection of the Gold Butte area.

Gold Butte is filled with ancient rock art, sweeping desert vistas and twisted pastel-colored sandstone formations.

The area has suffered a great deal of damage from vandals and off-road vehicles since 2014, according to the Friends of Gold Butte, a local nonprofit group whose members monitor the area and advocate on its behalf.

“It’s a great day,” said Jaina Moan, executive director of Friends of Gold Butte. “We’re thrilled about the proclamation.”

The designation will help the Paiute tribes better protect the lands by allowing them to work hand-in-hand with the federal government, according to William Anderson, former chairman for the Moapa Band of Paiutes.

Anderson said the tribe members can provide expertise on what is culturally sensitive in the area while the federal government brings better protection and upkeep to the historic area.

“It allows so much potential for us to go ahead and closely monitor and closely protect the land that was originally ours,” he said.

Las Vegas conservationist Alan O’Neill has some experience with both Gold Butte and the Antiquities Act.

During his 13-year stint as superintendent for Lake Mead National Recreation Area, he dealt with Bundy’s rogue cattle at the northern end of the lake and helped set up Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument just across the Arizona border from Gold Butte after President Bill Clinton designated the area in 2000.

FILLING THE VOID

O’Neill said Obama’s action Wednesday fills in the “void” between Lake Mead and the Grand Canyon, granting well-deserved protection for what he called “one of the greatest landscapes we have in the West.”

The monument will serve as a connection between Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, protecting a wildlife corridor for desert bighorn sheep, mountain lions and the threatened Mojave Desert tortoise, said Christy Goldfuss, managing director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

According to the White House, the designation also will protect early 20th century ranching heritage and sites associated with Spanish explorers from the late 18th century.

In addition to Gold Butte, Obama designated 1.35 million acres in Utah as Bears Ears National Monument. The region includes cliff dwellings and land considered sacred to Native Americans. The designation also sets up a commission to ensure tribal expertise in management decisions.

Utah’s attorney general vowed to sue.

Since the Antiquities Act was passed, 16 presidents have designated 152 national monuments using the legislative authority, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

The conservative Heritage Foundation has urged Congress to repeal the law, citing Obama’s use to set aside land in Colorado, Hawaii and Illinois as abuse of legislation originally passed to protect against the looting of archeological sites.

The Heritage Foundation said recent declarations have thwarted economic opportunity and removed states and private citizens from decisions made on land use.

Backers of state control of US land gear up for new push


Associated Press

RENO, Nev. — Backers of a plan to force the federal government to turn over control of millions of acres of land to Nevada are gearing up for new efforts in Congress and hoped-for support from President-elect Donald Trump.

They're starting with plans to convince a skeptical public that state control of nearly 7.3 million acres currently under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management wouldn't disrupt hunting, wildlife and off-highway riding — or stick taxpayers with big bills for fighting wildfires.

"If they put this on the ballot today it would fail," said Nevada state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, who supports the effort.

"We are just looking for the opportunity to showcase the state can manage these lands better," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The most detailed plan is a former bill sponsored in Congress by U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., called the Honor the Nevada Enabling Act of 1864.

The bill, which expired with the end of the session, included two phases of land takeovers.

The first would cover nearly 7.3 million acres, including about half within a checkerboard pattern traversing the state from Sparks to Wendover. Property the government has already "designated for disposal" was also included.

The second phase would transfer millions more acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation "upon request by the state or local governments."

Designated wilderness, conservation areas, national monuments, wildlife refuges, land managed by the defense and energy departments and American Indian reservation land would be exempt.

All told, Amodei's bill could have reduced the percentage of land in Nevada owned by the federal government from about 87 percent to 75 percent.

Critics called it overreach, compared with consensus land bills that tend to focus on smaller transfers and specific properties.

"It is nothing like the lands bills the state has done in the past," said Kyle Davis, a consultant for the Nevada Conservation League and opponent of the concept.

Bids for state control have roots in states' rights flare-ups such as the Sagebrush Rebellion and, more recently, armed standoffs outside Bunkerville, Nevada, and in Oregon involving protesters and members of cattleman Cliven Bundy's family.

Mike Baughman who created a 2014 report to the Nevada Legislature detailing how a takeover of public lands could work, said he heard concerns about wholesale land sales.

The report said Nevada could generate $56 million to $206 million annually in revenue from the land, with money going to schools and other uses.

During a recent meeting with proponents of the Nevada bill, Idaho lawmaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, called it important to emphasize revenue prospects to attract public support.

"The beneficiaries are the school kids, that allays a lot of concerns," he said.

Others, including Goicoechea, have said revenues might be over-estimated. They express concerns about costs, particularly firefighting.

In recent decades, more than 6 million acres of Nevada rangeland has burned, with the cost of firefighting and landscape rehabilitation largely borne by the federal government.

A recent example is the Hot Pot fire, which burned more than 122,000 acres of mostly federal land near Midas last July.

In addition to the cost of fighting the fire, the federal government is footing a $5.1 million bill to rehabilitate the burned land.

"I haven't heard one person give me a straight answer on where that money is going to come from," said Brad Brooks, a Wilderness Society regional director in Idaho who has studied land transfer proposals across the West.

"The idea you are just switching managers totally ignores economic reality that the state would have to bear the burden of managing firefighting cost," he said.

Goicoechea said he was confident the state could do a better job managing fires.

During a meeting with proponents, Amodei acknowledged the difficulty of getting a bill through Congress but said he would try again.

Supporters won't be the only ones who weigh in, he said.

Obama creates national monuments in Utah, Nevada

Proposed Bears Ears National Monument. (Grand Canyon Trust)

BY TIMOTHY CAMA
The Hill


President Obama protected two massive areas in the American West on Wednesday, including a swath of southern Utah that has been at the center of a contentious battle over land protections for years.

The areas newly protected from development and various activities are the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and the Gold Butte National Monument in Nevada. Both areas are owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The actions further cement the aggressive conservation legacy of Obama, who has protected more land and water than any other president under the Antiquities Act.

But the designations are among the most controversial under Obama, with strong opposition among local and state leaders.

Obama said in a statement that the designations “protect some of our country’s most important cultural treasures, including abundant rock art, archeological sites, and lands considered sacred by Native American tribes.”

“Today’s actions will help protect this cultural legacy and will ensure that future generations are able to enjoy and appreciate these scenic and historic landscapes,” he continued.

Obama created the designations using his unilateral authority under the Antiquities Act, acting with just about three weeks left before President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

It’s unclear if Trump could unilaterally undo Obama’s designations, because it has never been tried before. Some Republicans, including House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), say it is within Trump’s power, though the Obama administration says the Antiquities Act does not allow monument designations to be undone.
But the controversy surrounding Wednesday's actions, combined with Obama’s aggressive use of his Antiquities Act power, could lead Congress to roll back the protections or limit future presidents’ powers.

The 1.35 million-acre Bears Ears area could be the most controversial of Obama's dozens of national monuments, in part because it shuts down any new leases for mining or oil and natural gas, exploration, along with other development and potential harms.

Utah’s political leaders and its all-GOP congressional delegation oppose the national monument, and pledged before Wednesday’s announcement to seek action through Congress or Trump’s administration to undo the protections.

The monument protects numerous sites that are significant to nearby American Indian tribes for cultural, religious and historic reasons.

The tribes have long called for land protections in the area. The Utah congressional delegation has recently pushed a legislative package it calls the Public Lands Initiative to protect some areas and avoid a monument designation, although it never passed.

Christie Goldfuss, managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, cited that proposal and others in recent decades as Obama’s guiding principles for the designation.

“The new monument responds to both of these recent proposals to include the areas where there is the strongest agreement about the need for protection, and to ensure that traditional uses and historical activities, including tribal acts, grazing and outdoor recreation can continue,” she told reporters.

Russell Begaye, president of the Navajo Nation, welcomed the Bears Ears designation, even though it is smaller than his tribe and others hoped for.

“This is an exciting day for the Navajo Nation, for our traditional leaders, for elected leaders across the Navajo Nation, and also the tribes that live in area who have always looked to Bears Ears as a place of refuge, as a place where we can gather herbs and medicinal plants and a place of prayer and sacredness,” he said.

But Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) slammed Obama’s decision.

“This arrogant act by a lame duck president will not stand,” Lee tweeted Wednesday.

“I will work tirelessly with Congress & incoming Trump administration to honor the will of Utahns and undo this monument designation,” he added.

Goldfuss said if that happens, it wouldn’t be through Trump’s executive authority.

“In terms of whether it can be overturned, no,” she told reporters. “The Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to create monuments, but does not provide explicit authority to undo them.”

The Nevada monument is also controversial, for different reasons.

The Gold Butte area is next to the ranch of Cliven Bundy and the site of an armed standoff between federal authorities and self-styled militia members in 2014.

The monument, pushed by outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) among others, protects numerous tribal sites, important landscapes, rare fossils and more.

“Today’s designation will better protect these cultural and archeological treasures, as well as the areas that are currently used by tribes for traditional purposes,” Goldfuss said.

December 27, 2016

BLM bans new mining claims in protected desert land areas


By Jim Steinberg
San Bernardino Sun


The federal Bureau of Land Management wants to halt new mining claims from sprouting up on more than 1 million acres of land in the California desert.

On Wednesday the bureau will propose the temporary withdrawal of more than 1.3 million acres of the state’s National Conservation Lands from the “adverse impacts of mining.” The stoppage will take effect immediately until a thorough evaluation is completed in two years. The evaluation will decide if the ban will become permanent.

The proposal would not prohibit ongoing or future mining on valid existing claims, only new claims, according to bureau spokeswoman Martha Maciel.

The step is the first in a series to “more fully protect important areas within the California Desert Conservation Area,” Beth Ransel, the bureau’s California desert district manager, said in a statement.

The proposal targets four priority areas including 418,000 acres in the Amargosa Valley of Inyo and San Bernardino counties, the 95,000-acre Big Morongo area of San Bernardino County, the 590,000-acre Chuckwalla Bench/Dos Palmas area of Riverside County and 236,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra, Maciel said.

The proposal is to be published Wednesday in the Federal Register and initiates the temporary ban on new claims.

“This is something that is going to be welcomed by the conservation and scientific community, hunters and those areas where (desert land) tourism is important to their local economy,” said Frazier Haney, conservation manager for the Mojave Desert Land Trust in Joshua Tree.

Officials with the National Mining Association, the American Exploration and Mining Association and the Gold Prospectors Association of America could not be reached for comment.

This is the last step in the process of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, Haney said, which identified these lands as being vital to biological and cultural resources.

The plan took effect Sept. 14 and is intended to direct large-scale alternative energy projects away from sensitive lands.

Before making a final decision, the bureau will conduct studies to weigh considerations of the environment versus the impacts of taking these areas out of new mining development.

There also will be a series of meetings to consider information from the public and others on the mineral potential of the affected areas, according to the bureau.

December 24, 2016

Lake Powell ‘savings account’ has the potential to run dry

Completed in 1966, the massive concrete structure of Glen Canyon Dam holds back Lake Powell, one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the world. (NPS Photo by S. Rohde)

By Dave Buchanan
Grand Junction Daily Sentinel


Lake Powell, which helps moderate water levels in Lake Mead, acts as a “savings account” for the states in the Upper Basin of the Colorado River.

In the years when the Upper Basin can’t meet its water-sharing obligations as required in the 1922 Colorado River Compact, water is released from the Lake Powell “account” for Lower Basin use.

But what happens when that Lake Powell account is over-drawn?

One is the potential impacts of a declining Lake Powell is the potential impact on power generation.

If Lake Powell drops below 3,490 feet above sea level (on Oct. 28 the level was 3,611 feet or 58 percent full), there no longer is enough water in the reservoir to push through the eight giant turbines.

This potential shortage of power in the western grid would have to be covered by changes in power generation at Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge and Navajo dams.

“The likely first trigger we run into, the first cataclysm, is Lake Powell reaching a level where” power is not being produced, said Chris Treece of the Colorado River District. “That has impacts to all the power customers and not getting that revenue from the power impacts us in Colorado and in Grand Junction in particular.”

According to the Bureau of Reclamation, Lake Powell each year averages $150 million in power revenue and makes enough electricity to power more than 320,000 homes. The federal endangered fish recovery program is funded by power revenues, as is the salinity control program in the Paradox Valley and the adaptive management program for the Grand Canyon.

According to the Department of the Interior, the Grand Canyon plan provides even monthly volume releases and allows experimental releases to restore sand features and key fish and wildlife habitat, increase beaches and enhance wilderness values along the Colorado River.

Plus, low levels mean not enough push to get the water through the tubes and into the lower river.

“And if we are not sending water through the turbines, just the bypass tubes, we are on a mathematical certainty that we will not be able to provide 8.23 (million acre feet) over the long haul, and won’t have enough pressure and size to push that quantity of water through the dam,” Treece said.

During her presentation earlier this month, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said there is a “50/50 chance” the upper basin will see water shortage.

“Ten years ago most people were dismissing any chance of the Upper Basin having a water shortage or being out of compliance with the compact obligations,” Treece said. “Now, it’s pretty much widely accepted that it’s a probability greater than zero. And that’s a real significant change in the dialogue.”

The underlying key is to plan ahead, not simply hope for more snow this winter.

“Lake Powell is the savings account for all of the Upper Basin,” Treece said. “If we draw down the account, there is that much less we have in the bank unless we get nice bonus check in next spring’s runoff.

“You can plan for a good snowpack but that’s not enough planning,” he cautioned. “It’s all about planning.”

December 16, 2016

Delayed Colorado River deal will likely fall to Trump administration to finish

The Colorado River flows near Arches National Park in Utah in February 2016. (Photo: Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)

Ian James
The Desert Sun


Several months ago, managers of water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada were expressing optimism they could finalize a deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River before the end of the Obama administration.

Now that Jan. 20 deadline no longer seems achievable and parties to the talks acknowledge they likely won’t be able to finish an agreement until at least several months into President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

With Lake Mead’s water level hovering near record low levels, representatives of the three states, water agencies and the federal government say they’ve made progress in negotiating the so-called Drought Contingency Plan, which would involve temporarily drawing less water from the reservoir near Las Vegas to avert a more severe shortage. The deal is being held up by complications, though, and one of the major sticking points is the Salton Sea.

Managers of the Imperial Valley’s water district, which is the largest single user of Colorado River water, are demanding California officials first present a detailed plan for addressing the Salton Sea’s accelerating decline. They say they want to see a credible “road map” for dealing with the thousands of acres of lakebed that will be left exposed in the coming years and that could turn their valley into a dust bowl, posing a serious public health hazard.

So far, they say they’re still far from satisfied.

“There has got to be a going-forward plan we can believe in at the Salton Sea,” said Kevin Kelley, general manager of the Imperial Irrigation District. “We remain willing, but we’ve got to be able to answer this open question at the Salton Sea.”

Kelley has been voicing that stance for months, and he reiterated his concerns on Thursday in Las Vegas, where he and other managers of water districts from across the West were attending the annual conference of the Colorado River Water Users Association.

“We’ve had more progress at the Salton Sea in the last 14 months than we’ve had in the last 14 years,” Kelley said in a telephone interview. “So we’re closer than we’ve ever been to a breakthrough that the region could believe in. But that isn’t going to be enough. We need to cross the finish line together. And it may be that time’s run out with the current administration and that it extends into the next one.”

After substantial progress in negotiations on the proposed Colorado River drought plan, “the outline of a deal is there,” Kelley said, and IID would like to participate by temporarily storing some of its water in Lake Mead. “But we have this problem at the Salton Sea, that we’ve got to have a clear path forward on in order to participate.”

His district’s unresolved concerns reflect the complexity of the negotiations on the over-allocated and drought-stricken Colorado River. Recalibrating water flows to keep more water in Lake Mead and boost its levels will inevitably lead to less farm runoff flowing into the Salton Sea, which will further accelerate its decline at a time when the Imperial Valley is already transferring increasing quantities of water to cities in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.

Last month, Kelley laid down a deadline and called for the state to present a plan for the Salton Sea by Dec. 31.

A week ago, the Imperial Irrigation District received an internal draft of the state’s 10-year plan. Kelley said it’s too soon to pass judgment on the unfinished document, but based on his initial review, “it still lacks the specificity that we called for.”

The document, which was obtained by The Desert Sun, summarizes the state’s proposals for a “smaller but sustainable lake” and lays out broad goals for building new wetlands along the lake’s receding shores to cover up stretches of exposed lake bottom and provide habitat for birds.

The document says an estimated 50,000 acres of “playa” will be left dry and exposed around the lake by 2028. The construction of “water backbone infrastructure” is to begin with ponds where water from the lake’s tributaries will be routed to create new wetlands. According to the 24-page document, which describes the Salton Sea Management Program, initial construction will start on exposed lakebed west of the mouth of the New River “to take advantage of existing permits.”

The draft says that in addition to building wetlands, the state also will use “waterless dust suppression” techniques in some areas. Those approaches can include using tractors to plow stretches of lakebed to create dust-catching furrows, or even laying down bales of hay on the exposed lake bottom as barriers to block windblown dust.

Kelley said the document lacks key details on funding and timing. He pointed out that it also doesn’t mention the proposed Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP.

“The milestones are, I think, still ambiguous and certainly not enforceable,” Kelley said. “As it stands today, based on what we’ve seen in this response from the state, we cannot participate in a DCP.”

Bruce Wilcox, who was appointed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown to lead the state’s efforts at the Salton Sea, said he expects more details will be added to the plan before it’s publicly released later this month. He pointed out that the plan does include a schedule for the construction of projects, with the aim of keeping up with the rate at which the lakeshore recedes.

“I’m sure IID wants more. It’s difficult to give them more,” Wilcox said. “The next level of detail is where you actually start construction drawings.”

After years of delays, state officials budgeted more than $80 million this year to start building canals and wetlands at the Salton Sea. The federal government announced $30 million this year to support projects at the sea, and newly passed federal water legislation includes an additional $30 million. The state’s 10-year plan will likely cost much more, and it’s not clear where the money will come from.

Wilcox said state officials will prepare an analysis of the costs and funding in the next several weeks.

The Salton Sea was accidentally created between 1905 and 1907, when Colorado River water broke through irrigation canals in the Imperial Valley and flooded into the basin. Since then, the lake has been sustained largely by runoff from the Imperial Valley’s farms, which produce hay, wheat and vegetables like carrots and Brussels sprouts.

A 2003 water transfer deal is sending increasing amounts of water out of the Imperial Valley, and flows of “mitigation water” to the sea will also be cut off after 2017, accelerating the lake’s decline.

Kelley said the state’s plan, as it stands now, seems too ambiguous at a time when the lake is about to shrink so dramatically. The Imperial Valley is already struggling with high asthma rates, and the sea’s decline threatens to release more dust laden with salt, heavy metals and pesticides.

“This is about an existential threat to the public health of the region that we all live in,” Kelley said. “It is unsustainable, untenable that we continue to transfer these large volumes of water outside the region at the same time that we lack any coherent plan – or have any confidence in the clear obligation that we see the state having at the Salton Sea.”

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell also attended the conference, where she met with representatives of states across the Colorado River basin. She expressed optimism that the states will keep making progress toward a deal, and that the U.S. and Mexico are close to finalizing an agreement to replace a Colorado River water accord that expires in 2017.

“We have an agreement that is pending with Mexico that we need to get across the finish line in order to address our water needs between the two countries and a balancing of that, and that has to take first priority,” Jewell told reporters. As for the negotiations between the states, she said, “we want to get as far as we possibly can, and that’s what we’re going to be urging everybody to do.”

Jewell signed a new 20-year framework for managing Glen Canyon Dam and touted government programs that have produced significant water-savings across the Colorado River basin in recent years.

The federal officials at the meeting emphasized that the water challenges along the Colorado River remain daunting. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are holding less than half their full capacity. Lake Mead reached its lowest point on record this year and has recently been at 37 percent full.

The river basin is in a 17-year drought, the most severe in more than a century of record-keeping. Scientists say climate change is increasing the strains on the river, and federal water officials estimate the odds of the reservoir slipping into shortage conditions in 2018 at nearly 50-50.

“The challenges are outpacing the accomplishments at this point in time and that’s the reality, so we need to keep momentum going,” Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor said. He said officials from California, Arizona and Nevada are continuing to work on the drought plan, calling it a “complex set of agreements.”

“I think we’re making very good progress. Whether or not we can get that done within this administration is questionable, but we’re still giving it a try,” Connor said. “I’m optimistic that one way or the other, if it’s not by January 20, hopefully it’s within the first few months of 2017.”

Officials with several agencies said they had hoped to finalize a deal before the end of the Obama administration in part because otherwise it takes time for appointees in the new administration to get up to speed on the complex issues of the Colorado River.

Jewell said the negotiations have been productive in moving the parties toward solutions and have prevented political disputes.

“We do not want politics to enter this,” she said.

Both Jewell and Connor stressed that managing the flows of the Colorado River isn’t a partisan issue.

“I think we’ve laid a strong foundation that’s nonpartisan, that’s viewed as good public policy, good strategies to deal with these challenges,” Connor said. “And so I would expect that in some way, shape or form, they will continue into the next administration.”

Rep. Ryan Zinke, Trump’s pick for Interior secretary, has been criticized by environmentalists for his stances in Congress on energy and climate-related measures, as well as his votes relating to clean water protections, wildlife and public lands issues. But it’s not clear how, if at all, he might change the federal government’s current approach to shepherding the Colorado River discussions.

Under the proposals that have been discussed, Arizona and Nevada would forgo larger amounts of water than they have previously agreed to under a first-level shortage at Lake Mead, while water users in California would also pitch in before they would otherwise be legally required to.

Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, pointed out that the drought plan wouldn’t take effect until 2018.

“So as a practical matter, there isn’t a need to get it done by Jan. 20, provided that the new administration is willing to pick up the ball and continue to run with it. And that’s our hope and expectation,” Hasencamp said. “Everyone is still engaged, still working. But the schedule slips sometimes.”

He said the Salton Sea isn’t the only issue that will require more time to clarify. The Metropolitan Water District has made clear it wants to have a better idea of future reliability of water supplies from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta before it participates in the Colorado River agreement. Hasencamp said the district first wants to see a federal environmental review and pending biological opinions relating to the Delta. Those opinions, when released in March or April, should provide the district with clearer projections of how much water it can count on from the Delta in the future.

Even if the states aren’t ready to announce a deal, the adoption of a plan looks inevitable sooner or later because demands for water are outstripping the available supplies.

“Even if it can’t be signed in the final days of the current federal administration, it'll quite likely be signed sometime in the next year because the cost of inaction is simply too high to the water users in the lower basin,” said Jennifer Pitt, who leads the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River Project.

The decline of Lake Mead threatens not only the water supplies of farms and cities but also the electricity generated by Hoover Dam.

“There is an inevitability because notwithstanding the winds of political change, the fact is that the reservoirs continue to decline,” she said, and it’s an issue that will have to be dealt with.