Selling public lands will let Western cities sprawl into new territory
Zachary Smith WESTERN ROUNDUP
High Country News
In a couple of years, BLM lands around fast-growing cities like St. George, Utah, could hamper growth.
More than 20 years ago, President Ronald Reagan and his advisors looked across the West’s public lands and saw dollar signs. Money was something they desperately needed in 1982, as the national deficit hit $128 billion.
So James Watt, then U.S. secretary of the Interior, and John R. Block, the secretary of Agriculture, earmarked 35 million acres, or 5 percent of the nation’s public lands (excluding Alaska), for the auction block.
The plan to privatize public lands was met with outrage and skepticism, not only from Western liberals such as Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, but also from conservatives like Sen. James McClure, R-Idaho, who objected because the states were cut out of the deal.
Watt eventually withdrew Interior lands from the sale; shortly thereafter, the Forest Service’s sale lost steam, too.
However unpopular the proposed sales were, they weren’t illegal. And the idea didn’t go away. The framework for selling public lands has inched forward since the Clinton administration, and now the Interior Department wants to give it a higher priority.
The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) required the Bureau of Land Management to identify lands that were "uneconomical to manage," or that stood in the way of a community’s development.
But the BLM lacked a strong incentive to identify such sellable lands: Under FLPMA, any money received from their sale would go directly into the U.S. Treasury, rather than into the agency’s own coffers.
Then, in 2000, Congress and the Clinton administration passed the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act (FLTFA), which changed how profits from BLM land sales were distributed.
Twenty percent of any land-sale revenue would go toward the BLM’s administration costs, while the other 80 percent had to be used to buy private inholdings within BLM lands that contained "exceptional resources."
The act was based on a land disposal and acquisition mechanism in the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act of 1998, which was crafted to accommodate Las Vegas’ rapid expansion onto neighboring public lands.
But FLTFA’s profit scheme applied only to sellable lands identified before July 25, 2000. At that time, the BLM estimated it had 3.3 million acres of sellable land, but thanks to better inventories, its estimate has since shrunk to as low as 330,000 acres.
From 2001 to 2003, the BLM sold almost 11,000 acres under FLTFA.
Today, cities like Phoenix, Ariz., and St. George, Utah, are butting up against public lands, and the BLM is facing a $320 million budget reduction from last year.
At the same time, the agency is chipping away at a backlog of dated land-use plans, which gives it the opportunity to identify more disposable lands. Now, politically appointed staffers at the Interior Department want to give the BLM even greater incentive to do so.
In August, Assistant Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett, who oversees the BLM, wrote to Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., asking for legislative amendments to FLTFA that would encourage the BLM to sell off more land. She has asked Congress to make the identification and selling of disposable land an ongoing process, rather than one limited to land identified before the July 2000 cutoff date.
Twenty percent of any revenue would still go to the BLM’s administrative costs, but under Scarlett’s proposal, only 60 percent of the money would go toward land acquisition. The other 20 percent would go toward "conservation enhancement projects," to fund local projects such as riparian improvement or removing invasive weeds.
Abolishing the July 2000 deadline gives the BLM "the incentive to decide to designate (new) lands as disposable," says Johanna Wald, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Wald thinks this change could open the door for much more land to be added to the "for sale" list.
August 30, 2004
August 25, 2004
New York Times
Al Dvorin, the concert announcer who made the phrase "Elvis has left the building" famous, was killed in an auto accident in California on Sunday. He was 81.
Mr. Dvorin was thrown from the car he was riding in after it swerved off a desert road near Ivanpah, the California Highway Patrol said.
The night before, Mr. Dvorin performed his signature closing line at a Presley impersonator concert in California.
A former bandleader and talent agent in Chicago, Mr. Dvorin was with Presley from his early days as a performer and was on his last tour in 1977, the year he died.
The phrase that Mr. Dvorin made his signature was first uttered by other announcers early in Presley's career. It was intended to disperse audiences who lingered in hopes of an Elvis encore.
"Al made it his own with his particular style," said Todd Morgan, a spokesman with the Presley estate in Memphis. "He's the man when it comes to that saying."
His version was captured on many recordings of Presley's performances and has become a pop-culture catchphrase and punch line.
Posted 12:00 AM
August 20, 2004
By MICHAEL FISHER / The Press-Enterprise
Connie Connelly, who faces eviction from her home of 30 years in the Mojave National Preserve, appeared in a Barstow courtroom Friday where she pleaded not guilty to a charge of trespassing on federal land.
Part-time federal magistrate Stephen Miller scheduled a hearing in the case for October, after which a trial date could be set, Connelly said. If convicted, the 44-year-old woman could face up to six months in jail and a fine.
"Even though I've lived there all my life, I'm a trespasser," said Connelly, whose family moved to the rustic six-room home in 1966. The house, a converted general store, sits on five brushy acres near the northeastern edge of the preserve, about 23 miles from Primm, Nev.
Connelly, who cannot afford an attorney, was assigned a deputy federal public defender during Friday's hearing, held in a courtroom at a Barstow-area Marine Corps base.
Officials with the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment Friday.
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office said earlier this week that Connelly is living on the property illegally. Parks officials and prosecutors contend that Connelly's parents leased the land, now within the 1.6 million-acre preserve, but the lease expired when her mother died last year. Connelly's name is not on the lease.
Connelly and her supporters argue that her father, Don, bought the former Aztec Mining Company store in 1966, which he reopened as the Ivanpah General Store.
In 1976, the family moved about 100 miles to Newberry Springs when Connelly's mother became ill, but they returned about eight years later.
Although parks officials say Connelly does not own the property, they have offered to swap her home and its surrounding five acres for more than seven acres of desert land in Cadiz, about 75 miles south, she said.
But Connelly does not want to move from her home, which she shares with 11 dogs, a cat and a horse. She questions the quality of the well at the Cadiz site and says summers are milder at her current home, which sits at a higher elevation than the land being offered to her.
After 30 years in the desert, she's fighting to stay
By MICHAEL FISHER / The Press-Enterprise
IVANPAH - Connie Connelly balanced on her haunches, drawing deeply from a cigarette as swollen thunderclouds tinged red by the setting sun swept over her remote home in the Mojave National Preserve.
A tumble of scrap lumber, rotting travel trailers and battered furniture surround her green-and-white house. As a freight train rumbled by on tracks just a few feet away, the locomotive's piercing whistle drew howls from some of Connelly's 11 dogs as they prowled her dusty corral.
For 30 years, Connelly has lived in a rustic six-room home, a converted general store on 5 brushy acres about 23 miles from the shimmering casinos of Primm, Nev.
"When you've been in a place this long, you grow roots," the 44-year-old woman said. "This isn't for every Joe out here. You either make it here or you don't. ... I believe in preserving the simple life."
But Connelly's lifestyle is careening toward a showdown with National Park Service officials who are seeking to evict her and end a land squabble that started nearly four decades ago when her family first moved to the desert.
Connelly is to appear today before a U.S. District Court magistrate in Barstow to answer a charge of trespassing on federal land. The brief hearing will mark the first salvo in a courtroom battle to determine if Connelly will be forced from the land she asserts her father, Don, purchased in 1966.
Connelly said parks officials contend her father leased but never bought the property.
Mary Martin, preserve superintendent, declined comment, directing inquires to federal prosecutors.
"She is there illegally," Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, said of Connelly. "She does not have permission to reside at that location."
Mrozek said Connelly's parents and their neighbors in the sparsely populated area were allowed to continue living on the federal land when the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve was created in 1994.
Connelly's father died in 1990. And when her mother, Pauline, died last year, so did the family's right to live within the preserve, Mrozek said. Connelly's name is not on the lease.
Connelly, who says she cannot afford an attorney, faces up to six months in jail and a fine if convicted.
"We're not seeking to incarcerate her but that is a possibility," Mrozek said.
Just 8 when her family moved from Hemet to the desert, Connelly is fighting eviction with the help of newfound friend Jennifer Foster of Hesperia, co-founder of Public Lands for Public Use, a recreationalist organization aimed at keeping government lands open to equestrians, hunters and other outdoors enthusiasts.
They say the Connelly family's purchase of the former Aztec Mining Company store in 1966 immediately sparked a dispute with the federal Bureau of Land Management, who challenged his ownership of the property. To prove his case, Connelly's father gave his paperwork, including a deed, to the BLM, which lost the file, Foster said.
The deed apparently was never recorded, and Connelly's father signed a lease agreement with BLM in 1968, Foster said.
"People are going to wonder why she would want to stay out there. A woman. Alone. The nearest neighbor a quarter-mile away," Foster said, her voice choked with emotion. "You have to remember, it's all she's known."
Although parks officials contend Connelly's family never owned the land, they have offered to swap her home and its surrounding 5 acres for more than 7 acres of desert land in Cadiz, about 75 miles south.
But Connelly and Foster question the quality of the well at the Cadiz site, where they say summers are significantly hotter because that property sits at a lower elevation than Connelly's house.
"It's about 10 miles from Hell," Foster said.
A Simple Life
Connelly, Ivanpah's sole resident, supports herself as an artist fashioning decorative wood, furniture, beadwork and other crafts. She says she is content with her simple life in the sparsely furnished desert home she shares with her dogs, one cat and a horse.
With her well broken, she drives 17 miles to Nipton every other day to fill a pair of blue plastic 55-gallon drums with water for her and her animals. Her old Ford pickup carries her 33 miles to Searchlight, Nev., for feed and supplies.
Oil lamps light her house at night. Connelly occasionally switches on a portable generator if she wants to watch a movie. Her phone is attached to a telephone pole outside. Until recently, she had to shimmy up the pole to use the phone.
Her furniture, she joked, bears dents and divots from errant shovel strikes intended for rattlesnakes that slithered into her house.
Connelly's house in years past was considered part of Leestock, a town of about 100 residents that sprung up at a railroad stop where ranchers loaded cattle onto trains.
"It was like the Old West out here. Time pretty much stood at a standstill," recalled Connelly, whose weathered eyes convey a distant expression. But, at a friendly jibe, she breaks into laughter, revealing a warm smile.
Her father, a former San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy turned part-time prospector, kept the general store open, selling food, beer and sundries. From the front porch, the family could see the trailers that made up the famed Chicken Ranch brothel about six miles down a nearby dirt road.
"Every night, we had the miners down playing cards and talking," she said. Train engineers would stop to chat as they waited for another locomotive to pass.
Bats, owls, nighthawks and coyotes are now Connelly's neighbors. Age and weather have reduced the other buildings of Leestock to rubble. Connelly's not sure why her dad moved his family to the remote desert.
"When I was small, I asked him once when he went prospecting, how did he pick a spot. And he said you just kind of get a feeling about a place," Connelly said. In the nearby corral, the breeze stirred a set of wind chimes created from long lengths of old pipe.
In 1976, the family moved about 100 miles to Newberry Springs when Connelly's mother began suffering dementia. They returned eight years later and had to chase squatters off the land.
Last year, parks rangers began stopping by, telling her and her mother that they had to leave, Connelly said.
Foster met Connelly when the Ivanpah woman called her in January, seeking help. In just seven months, the two women have become close friends.
"Connie came into my life for a reason," Foster said. "She's a special person. ... Within her still lies that pioneer spirit."
Foster and her husband, Ken, have sought help for Connelly from San Bernardino County Supervisor Bill Postmus' office and are trying to find her a lawyer.
If evicted, Connelly figures she will move to Wyoming. She holds little hope for her future.
"They'll undoubtedly get me out of here, one way or the other. It saddens the heart."
August 17, 2004
Tucson, Ariz., Aug. 17, 2004 - Safari Club International (SCI) organized a collaborative meeting between the National Park Service (NPS) and the California Department of Fish & Game (DFG) to discuss the important issue of maintaining water sources that are of critical importance for several species of wildlife in the Mojave National Preserve (Preserve).
“After several years of efforts by SCI on behalf of concerned California sportsmen, SCI was pleased to organize a meeting of this magnitude and be able to put the issue of water for Mojave wildlife closer to reality,” said John R. Monson, SCI president. “Bringing the policy makers together and making decisions to facilitate the reinstatement of traditional water sources to the Mojave by organizations like SCI is a win-win for wildlife. We feel the meeting was very productive and we are looking forward to solid results. SCI has taken the lead on this mission through the work of Dennis Anderson, SCI vice president and California legislative coordinator, and we hope to see a completed MOU between the parties no later September 15, 2004.”
"The Department of the Interior and the National Park Service have recently demonstrated the desire to work cooperatively with the California Department of Fish and Game on wildlife management on the Mojave National Preserve,” said Paul Hoffman deputy assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. “Working together to maintain water for wildlife in a desert environment is consistent with Secretary Norton's 4Cs -- cooperation, consultation and communication, all in the service of conservation. Moreover, the California Desert Protection Act clearly gives DFG jurisdiction over wildlife management on the Preserve. We will all work together to ensure that wildlife benefits and park resources are not impaired as a result of any of these activities."
The groundbreaking meeting was held August 10, 2004, when SCI invited key officials from the two agencies together at the DFG offices in Ontario, California and then moderated the meeting to enable NPS and DFG to discuss and overcome the obstacles they had encountered in the effort to maintain wildlife water development systems throughout the Preserve. In this meeting, the following innovative points were agreed upon:
1) DFG and NPS will work together on creating a water guzzler management procedural manual. This list will contain the locations of all guzzlers and will identify those that exist in wilderness and non-wilderness areas of the Preserve. In addition, the manual will designate those guzzlers that lie inside and outside of designated desert tortoise habitat. For each category of guzzler, the manual will establish guidelines for access to and ongoing maintenance and restoration of the water sources. The manual will help officials and private groups save valuable time and resources that they intend to devote to insuring continued availability of necessary water sources for the wildlife of the Preserve.
2) DFG will immediately submit a proposal to the NPS to restore at least 12 big game guzzlers or wells in the eastern part of the Preserve, near the Lanfair Valley area. These wells were removed by ranchers who sold their ranches and grazing allotments to the Preserve, leaving the area devoid of much of the water that wildlife has relied upon for decades to survive. The NPS agreed to review the proposal without delay.
3) This collaboration to prepare guidelines will not prevent work from continuing in the interim period nor will it prohibit the volunteer efforts of organizations like SCI.
At this time, SCI welcomes input from other organizations and individuals throughout the region who, like SCI, seek to assist in the effort to maintain water for wildlife within the Mojave National Preserve. If there are any questions, please contact Ken Schwartz in SCI’s Washington, D.C. office at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Safari Club International is the leader in protecting the freedom to hunt and in promoting wildlife conservation worldwide. This chapter driven, nonprofit association is a tireless advocate for the world’s 45 million sportsmen and sportswomen, who, through legal hunting, annually drive more than $1.7 billion in funding to conserve all wild species. For more information, call 520-620-1220 or visit www.scifirstforhunters.org.
August 7, 2004
Los Angeles Times
Motorized off-road vehicles, from inexpensive dirt bikes to $100,000 Hummers, provide a sort of unfettered outdoor thrill ride, often in competitive mode. Groups representing off-roaders say their numbers now top 2 million. Families head out to the deserts or mountains for an activity that keeps even the teenagers in the family. For others it's a guy thing, with big toys and great scenery.
The knobby-tired vehicles also rip into wild areas, tearing up native plants and sometimes stripping soil to bedrock. Their engines shred the peace of hikers and campers and frighten animals into remote corners. The question is whether it's still possible to balance motorized fun and environmental preservation.
Many off-roaders spurn the park roads — after all, the name of the pursuit is off-road — to carve an estimated 60,000 miles of renegade trails in national forests. Last month, rangers in Northern California closed 300 acres of the Eldorado National Forest because human feces deposited by off-roaders were a public health hazard.
Off-roaders' visits to national forests have increased sevenfold in less than 30 years, and public land managers haven't kept up. Last month, the U.S. Forest Service finally gave official recognition to the damage caused by off-roading and proposed a rule to keep the vehicles on designated trails.
It was a start, but a weak one. Simple as the task sounds, the Forest Service first must inventory and map existing roads — both official ones and those blazed by off-roaders — then decide which to leave open. Many off-roaders applaud this as well; those who want to do the right thing have little way of knowing which trails are sanctioned or environmentally wise. But the Forest Service has no money for the task and has set itself no deadline. By contrast, California last year funded a five-year effort, joined by conservationists and responsible off-roaders, to help the Forest Service map routes in the state's national forests. But preserving national forest land shouldn't be the states' burden.
The attitude of many off-roaders is that, as their numbers grow, they deserve more trails and access within the finite acreage of state and federal lands. The Bureau of Land Management wrongly complied last month, giving more than 1.3 million acres and 90% of the trails in the northern and eastern Mojave Desert, home to the endangered California desert tortoise. Off-roaders say they'll police themselves. Such self-regulation was a failure in the the Eldorado forest.
Given the toll of off-roading on public resources, this pastime is ripe for serious regulation, including lids on unmuffled noise, along with fees that reflect what off-roading costs the public. Right now, an off-roader pays the same $5 per day as a hiker to use a national forest in Southern California. A rule limiting riders to designated routes will mean nothing if the financially emaciated Forest Service lacks the staff to enforce it.