February 22, 2005

Guzzlers for Mule Deer in Mojave National Preserve

By Keith Lair, Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune - West Covina, CA

Safari Club International received permission from the Department of Fish and Game, Mojave National Preserve and the U.S. Department of Interior to convert four ranching well developments into wildlife guzzlers for mule deer on preserve land.
It is one of the few times the preserve has allowed an organization to improve guzzlers.

The four wells in question are the Eagle, Watson, Caruthers and Lecyr. According to the preserve, the wells must be converted in this order and work must be completed by the end of 2005.

The decision stems from a ground-breaking meeting orchestrated by SCI that was held in Ontario. At that meeting, members of the Mojave National Preserve, the DFG, the DOI and SCI discussed the issues in question and reached a consensus on how to restore necessary water sources to preserve wildlife.

"This extraordinary accomplishment would not have been possible without the support of SCI chapters and members in California, and the SCI Governmental Affairs and Wildlife Conservation staff in Washington, D.C.,' Executive Director Tom Riley said. "This effort proves that SCI, when called upon, will lead the way to help promote conservation worldwide.'

For volunteer information, contact Andy Pauli at (760) 240-1372 or project coordinator Cliff McDonald at (760) 326-2935.

Donation checks for the project should be made payable to Safari Club International Foundation and mailed to Safari Club International Foundation, c/o California Mojave Desert Wells Restoration Project, 4800 W. Gates Pass Road, Tucson, AZ., 85745.

February 21, 2005

Rancher wins big in libel suit against enviros

by Mitch Tobin
High Country News

Calling itself "nature’s legal eagles," the Center for Biological Diversity has earned a national reputation by suing the federal government. Largely through its lawsuits, the center has forced the listing of fully one-quarter of the 1,264 plants and animals now protected under the Endangered Species Act.

So it was no surprise to find the Tucson-based group back in a courtroom in January, arguing about grazing on public lands. Only this time the center was the defendant — and on the losing end of a $600,000 libel case.

In July 2002, the group unsuccessfully appealed the renewal of a grazing permit awarded to Arivaca investment banker and fifth-generation rancher Jim Chilton. It posted a two-page "news advisory" about the appeal on its Web site, along with 21 photos it cited as proof that Chilton had allowed overgrazing to damage habitat on his 21,500-acre allotment on Arizona’s Coronado National Forest.

Chilton responded by suing the center. In court, his attorney, Kraig Marton, showed jurors wide-angle photos — taken at the same locations as the ones on the Web site — that revealed oaks and mesquites dotting lush, rolling grasslands. Barren moonscapes blamed on cows were identified as a campsite for hunters and a parking lot for an annual festival. Marton told jurors that four of the photos weren’t even taken on Chilton’s allotment, though the center says they show a private inholding and a Forest Service exclosure on the allotment.

"They were out to do harm, out to stop grazing and out to do whatever they can to prevent the Chiltons and others like them from letting cows on public land," Marton said.

Members of Chilton’s family testified that the center’s news release caused him to become withdrawn and suffer from sleeplessness and stomach pains. A rancher and real estate broker who was a paid witness for Chilton said the center’s actions cut $200,000 from the value of the allotment, purchased for $797,000 in 1991.

The environmental group countered that its material was not defamatory because it was honest opinion and none of the photos were doctored. And because the photos were part of its appeal of Chilton’s grazing permit, the group argued that they were public records and therefore shielded from libel claims. "We must enforce the people’s right to express their opinion and have public debate over issues," Robert Royal, the center’s attorney, told jurors.

At the end of January, after a two-week trial, jurors gave Chilton a resounding victory, awarding him $100,000 for harm done to his reputation and cattle company, plus $500,000 in punitive damages, intended to punish the center and deter others from similar libel. "We really feel victimized by a wealthy banker who can afford to hire a large legal team to nit-pick you to death," says policy director Kierán Suckling. "If there were some mistakes, they were honest mistakes."

The jury’s award amounts to one-quarter of the nonprofit’s net assets at the end of 2003. But Suckling says the group, which he helped start in 1989, will not back down on its aggressive litigation. He fears, however, that the case may have a "chilling effect" on other activists.

The group is likely to appeal, and its insurance should pay for at least some of the damages, if they’re upheld.

The author covers environmental issues for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

February 12, 2005

In the footprints of dinosaurs

[San Diego] North County Times

In a remote northeastern corner of the Mojave Desert lie slabs of sandstone embedded with the footprints of dinosaurs that walked there some 200 million years ago. Dating from the Jurassic period, they are the only known dinosaur tracks in California.

Alan Trujillo, associate professor and chairman of the Earth Sciences department at Palomar College in San Marcos, has traveled to the Mojave Desert many times to photograph, trace and measure the footprints since he and his students first discovered them in 1992.

"We saw that it said 'dinosaur tracks' on the very detailed Bureau of Land Management map, but when we asked Steven Spear (also an Earth Science professor at Palomar College) about them, he said that he had never seen them. So we thought maybe it was just legend."

The group decided to spread out to best search the high desert terrain that "was definitely a four-wheel drive kind of place," Trujillo said. "I told the students to look for tracks about the size of a dog; I was just guessing.

And before too long, one of the students found trackways ---- the term for a sequence of footprints ---- in the Aztec sandstone. They turned out to belong to about eight species of dinosaurs that roamed the region when it was coastal sand dunes.

The time period of the tracks is determined by the age of the surrounding sedimentary rock.
"Sand buried into the depressions left by their feet; they were covered and hardened into the rock," Trujillo explained."

After that, they were uplifted by thrust faults and only recently exposed. It is (a) mineral-rich area." Flagstone quarries and extensive mining operations are located nearby.

The footprints are believed to be those of three bipedal (two-legged) coelurosaurs and about six quadrupeds (four-legged animals).

"The quadrupeds are probably mammal-like reptiles ---- not dinosaurs," said Robert E. Reynolds, a paleontologist at LSA Associates in Riverside, who has studied the trackways. "One resembles the tracks of a desert lizard."

Also found in the area are trails and tracks of invertebrates ---- probably worms and tarantulas ---- from the same period.

In some ways, the footprints pose more questions than offer answers.

"Every time we go there, we find new questions," Reynolds said. "What is different from finding fossil bones is that these trackways show what the animal was actually doing at the time. And since no fossil skeletons have been found in the Mojave, much of the information we have about them must be surmised from only the footprints, and there is much educated guessing involved.

"A number of dinosaur skeletons have been found in Orange and San Diego counties, but they are primarily from the Cretaceous period," Reynolds said. "These are one of the few (trace) fossils from the earlier Jurassic period.

"Researchers use the length and width of fossil footprints to estimate the dinosaur's size, including leg length, posture, gate, foot structure and in some cases, even social behavior. The spacing of the prints also reveals whether the animal was walking along or running and at what speed they may have traveled.

Indeed, the top speed for the most famous bipedal dinosaur of all, the tyrannosaurus rex, has been the subject of discussion in paleological circles. Scientists from UC Berkeley reported a couple of years ago that rather than traveling at the speed of a car, as they did in the movie "Jurassic Park," T Rex's maximum speed based on trackways was probably closer to 27 mph.

"That's still faster than Olympic sprint champions," Trujillo said, "and like a sprinter, they probably didn't sustain that speed for long, either.

"Of course, how energetic dinosaurs were also is a matter of debate. "If they were warm-blooded, like birds, then they may have been more active," he said.

Of the 116 tracks found in the Mojave, the two-legged tracks are thought to be made by coelurosaurs. And since those are distinguished by only their footprints, two have been assigned the ichnogenera "anchisauripus" and "arallator." The third remains unnamed. "When the animal did not die in its tracks," Reynolds said, "we give them the ichnogenera, which means 'footprint group.'

"Researchers have compared the dimensions of the feet to coelurosaur skeletons found in other Western states. Coelurosaurs had three toes and claws and probably ate a variety of things, including vegetation and meat. "Their teeth are for catching animals," said Reynolds, who added that their footprints are 4 to 6 inches in length and the stride is about 3 feet. "We think they were ostrich size and may have run quite rapidly," he said.

The grallator's footprint is notably asymmetrical. Trujillo has estimated its leg length at 3 feet ---- about the size of a human ---- and its speed (based on left and right stride of the prints) to be about 3.6 mph. "That's about half our walking speed, because walking 3 miles an hour is a good clip for most people," he said.

Though the trackways in the Mojave have not been preserved per se, the Bureau of Land Management regularly patrols the area containing where they have been found. They have also been inventoried and studied, and replicas have been made of the prints by Reynolds and Ted Weasma, a geologist with the Mojave National Preserve in Barstow.

For Trujillo, though, learning more about the dinosaurs and their trackways is just a hobby. His real work, he says, is writing oceanography textbooks and teaching at Palomar full time, but he certainly understands the mystique dinosaurs hold for modern man.

"Finding the dinosaur trackways was really exciting," he said, smiling with enthusiasm. "Walking in the same footprints of a dinosaur? It is very cool."

What are trace fossils?

Fossils can be divided into two general groups ---- body fossils and trace fossils.

Body fossils are the preserved anatomical parts of the plant or animal and provide direct evidence, while trace fossils are produced by the animal's activities. A trace fossil, therefore, is indirect evidence of ancient life and provides information on the behavior of the organism.

There are many different types of trace fossils. Dinosaur tracks and trackways are perhaps the best known. Often, animals' burrows become filled with sediments and are preserved. Nest structures are another type of trace fossil.

Evidence of feeding can be preserved as trace fossils, such as insects chewing on leaves. Tooth marks on bones may be left by a predator while feeding on its prey or by rodents chewing on bones for the minerals. Eggs, gizzard stones and dung are also considered trace fossils. The study of trace fossils is called ichnology.

----Park Paleontology, published by the Geologic Resources Division of the National Park Service, summer 2002