July 20, 2005


Needles Desert Star, Needles, CA

MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE - Fire professionals and scientists with the National Park Service are still sorting out the aftermath of the Hackberry Complex Fires, a lightning-ignited conflagration that consumed 70,736 acres of the Mojave National Preserve just west of Needles, Calif. in late June.

Raging through pinyon and juniper country at approximately four to six-thousand feet elevation the fires, traced to seven separate starting points, fed on high fuel loads grown from the past winter's generous rains then dried to tinder under a brutal summer sun.

Most of the popular Mid Hills Campground was wiped out. Hole-in-the-Wall Campground and Mitchell Caverns, a state-owned attraction surrounded by the federally-run preserve, were spared and remain open.

The Park Service will hold an open house at Hole-in-the-Wall on Saturday, July 23, from 2 to 4 p.m. The fire and its aftermath will be discussed. The public is encouraged to attend, ask questions and visit with service personnel. From Needles take Interstate 40 west to the Essex Road exit, travel 20 miles north to the Hole-in-the-Wall fire center. Linda Slater, public information officer with the service, stressed the importance of maintaining what emergency responders call "defensible space:" a clear area around homes and outbuildings that would discourage the spread of flames and give firefighters space in which to work.

"The biggest thing would be for people to clear around cabins," Slater said in a July 15 telephone interview. "That's a critical item. We clear around park buildings for that very reason. There's no fire department to protect homes; people need to take the initiative."

"It's a shame to see all the beautiful vegetation lost," Slater allowed, "but another big factor is the private homes and cabins. That's a greater loss for a lot of people."

Advice, including printed resource materials, will be dispensed at the open house. Slater also recommended a Web site: www.firewise.com

"I think it's pretty important to note that we're at the beginning of the fire season, not at the end of it," Slater pointed out. "We have a lot of hot weather ahead, a lot of lightning strikes."

While debate continues about cause and effects, so far service officials seem to feel not much can be done in the way of prevention.

Jim Andre, director of the Granite Mountains Research Center, was quoted in a NPS mailing on the fire as saying: "Fire is very likely a part of the east Mojave. In the pinyon zone, looking at about 30 fires over the last 100 years indicates that it's somewhat frequent. This was a natural ignition, it was a heavy fuel year ... regardless of weeds, regardless of fire suppression history, regardless of grazing, there would have been fuel to burn and we would have had a fire."

Grazing is the point of a lot of controversy since the preserve's creation. Post fire, proponents are pointing out that cows do a pretty fair job of creating defensible space by cropping potential fuel.

Park officials are quick to point out that some of the ignition locations of the Hackberry Complex Fires are within areas where grazing occurs.

Rob and Kate Blair of the 7IL Ranch were among the first to battle the blaze. Between them, the Blairs and park service fire fighters built a half-mile of fire line to keep the fire north of the ranch. They're reported to have stayed up all night putting out flare-ups, and hosted eight "hotshot" crews for several days.

Said Slater: "Several fires did start on areas being grazed. Those areas burned. The idea that grazing over the whole preserve could have prevented the fire is not true."

"There were seven different starts," she continued. "The rangers were out there immediately. There are not many folks in the area. It took awhile to ramp up and get all the resources needed out there to get a handle on it."

Those resources: a reported 1,133 firefighters, five helicopters, 15 engine crews, four air-tankers and two small planes, came with a price tag of $4.5 million and rising.

A bright spot: there was only one lost-time injury. Another: the desert critters seem to have done a good job of surviving the fire; even those too slow to get out of the way.

Slater reported a biologist's evaluation was begun shortly after the fire, mostly because of the threatened desert tortoise.

"Most of the fire burned at higher elevation," Slater said, "but it did kind of finger down into (tortoise) habitat."

"They found live tortoises that came out of their burrows after the fire."

"Another critter is deer, and some bighorn (sheep). We flew over the area after the fire and didn't see any deer carcasses. There was not direct mortality that we're aware of."

It's too soon, she continued, to determine how post-fire regrowth might affect the ungulate population.

It's also too soon to make predictions about erosion, always a concern following a fire. "Right after the fire ended a team came out, looked it over and created a plan," Slater said.

That plan is an inch thick and will continue to develop over the course of the next couple of years. The team did undertake immediate stabilization efforts for things like fire lines, which create pathways for erosion.

Count on controversy, whatever the course chosen in the East Mojave. As Slater put it, "It's amazing how quickly an act of nature, an act of God, becomes a tool for people to use in political battles."

July 6, 2005


This "anthem" was found on a faded piece of paper blowing around the East Mojave.

Composed for the NPS by we the members of the California Chapter of People for a Perfect World in Grateful Recognition of Services Rendered.


This land was your land but now it's our land
Controlled with a heavy hand, give in to our demand
Or please just stay away and we'll collect our pay
Like we would anyway while doing things our way

From the 15 freeway down to the 40
This is our property for all prosperity
We don't like cars and trucks, we don't like people much
Cause this is our own land and we have our own plan

We are the NPS and sure that we know best
You're warned not to transgress or you will face arrest

Like a band of jackals we removed the cattle
What does it matter? We won the battle
The burros are now gone and some think we did wrong
This land to us belongs just kindly move along

We turned the water off and let the land go dry
It's just too damn bad the wildlife had to die
There are a few who think us cruel
But this land was made for us to rule

We are the NPS and sure that we know best
You're warned to not transgress or you will face arrest

Let's make it very clear there are no crosses here
We made one disappear because we have no fear
We have a higher law and we expect your awe
We are the NPS and God can find no flaw

This land was your land but now it's our land
With an overactive gland Dianne had it planned
Unlike Disneyland, all fun here is banned
If you don't like it here why don't you go pound sand!

We are the NPS and sure that we know best
You're warned to not transgress or you will face arrest

July 1, 2005

Property Ruling Strikes Nerve in House

Reacting to high court decision, lawmakers pass amendment that would ban use of federal funds for some seizures of private land.

By Maura Reynolds and David G. Savage, Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — Angry over a recent Supreme Court decision, the House on Thursday began a legislative drive to roll back the power of local governments to seize homes and other private property for economic development projects.

By a vote of 231 to 189, the House approved an amendment forbidding the administration from spending money on local projects that seize private property for business development.

"What all of us who wish to see this legislation enacted into law want to make sure happens is that the federal government's money isn't used to finance taking someone's property from them to build a strip mall," said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.).

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California was among those who voted against the amendment, saying she opposed withholding federal dollars "for the enforcement of any decision of the Supreme Court, no matter how opposed I am to that decision."

The vote was loosely along party lines: 192 Republicans and 39 Democrats voted to approve; 157 Democrats, 31 Republicans and one Independent were opposed.

In a ruling that has touched a public nerve, the high court in a 5-4 decision last week upheld the power of cities to condemn private property for redevelopment projects. The ruling was a victory for the city of New London, Conn., which had condemned a number of homes in its old waterfront district to clear the way for offices and a hotel.

The city said it wanted to create new jobs and raise more tax revenue. The homeowners who fought the seizure said the city should not be allowed to take their property to give it to private developers.

The ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London sparked outrage, and a number of lawmakers said they wanted to repudiate the high court.

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) said the court had failed to "defend the liberties and freedoms our forefathers so desperately envisioned when they established our great nation."

Although the federal government does not initiate such projects, its money may play a crucial role in some of them, he said. "The practical effect this amendment will have is that it will prohibit federal funds from improving or constructing infrastructure support on lands acquired involuntarily, through the use of eminent domain, for private development," said Garrett, the amendment's chief sponsor.

The vote on the amendment came as separate bills were introduced in the House and Senate that would deprive state and local governments of federal funds for any development project that relied on eminent domain to seize private property.

The Garrett amendment, added to the annual spending bill that funds the departments of Housing and Urban Development, and Transportation, would be in effect just for the coming fiscal year, which starts Oct 1 and lasts to Sept. 30, 2006. By contrast, if either of the two standalone bills were to pass, they would be more sweeping and permanent.

"The Supreme Court voted last week to undo private property rights and to empower governments to kick people out of their homes and give them to someone else because they feel like it," said House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

DeLay and other conservatives in Congress accused the Supreme Court of "judicial overreach" and expanding the rights of government at the expense of private property.

"The only silver lining to the cloud of this decision is the possibility that this time the court has finally gone too far and that the American people are ready to reassert their constitutional authority," DeLay said.

The House bill introduced Thursday was sponsored by Sensenbrenner and Democrat John Conyers Jr. of Michigan. The Senate bill was introduced Monday by Republican John Cornyn of Texas.

"This [court] decision, in my opinion, has the potential of becoming the Dred Scott decision of the 21st century," Sensenbrenner said, referring to the 1857 court ruling that upheld slavery.

"We had a civil war as a result of the mistake that the Supreme Court made in the 1850s."

Usually, conservatives criticize the court for "judicial activism." In this instance, they criticized the court for failing to act to block the initiatives of a city council.

In their opinion, the justices noted that state legislatures are free to pass laws that bar officials from condemning property for private development. California and at least eight other states have laws on the books that forbid the use of the eminent domain power to condemn private property for economic development, except in "blighted" areas.

In the House on Thursday, Democrats in the California delegation voting for the Garrett amendment were Loretta Sanchez of Anaheim, Ellen O. Tauscher of Walnut Creek, Maxine Waters of Los Angeles and Lynn C. Woolsey of Petaluma; Republicans voting against were Jerry Lewis of Redlands and Bill Thomas of Bakersfield.