August 26, 2005


By Supervisor Bill Postmus

From "Postmus Notes", a periodic electronic newsletter from the office of Bill Postmus, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors for the County of San Bernardino

The Mojave National Preserve fires have been put out. But concerns associated with the National Park Service’s management of the region are just heating up.

San Bernardino County’s concerns with the management of the Preserve go beyond the fire and the perceived lack of aggressiveness in preventing or suppressing it, including, but not limited to:

  • The removal and obliteration of the ranching community within the Preserve;

  • The removal and obliteration of the water infrastructure that served both livestock and wildlife;

  • The regulatory control exerted by NPS over the use of County owned and maintained roads within the Preserve;

  • Strong-armed law-enforcement tactics exerted by NPS on neighboring private lands within the Preserve;

  • The dogged pursuit of reclaiming property with alleged non-conforming uses.
The Mojave National Preserve was created in 1994 by the California Desert Protection Act (CDPA). That law also created vast areas of congressionally designated wilderness, which previously had roads and had allowed access, but for which the Congress and environmental activists wanted "protection".

San Bernardino County actively opposed the creation of the Mojave Preserve. In one effort to quiet opponents, the Park Service created an Advisory Commission to include local government representation. My predecessor sat on the commission, provided input, and was ignored. The Commission had a 10-year life, which expired in 2004, but it never met during my tenure as a County Supervisor, which began in late 2000.

From early on, the Park Service had marching orders to manage the Preserve as a National Park, and to manage it according to Clinton-era Washington-directed criteria. One of the County's specific inputs was to retain the ranching infrastructure, and to keep committed stewardship on the ground. Instead, NPS set about buying out and getting people off the land almost immediately.

With respect to the fire, I suspect that if the ranching families were still in the region, much quicker action could and would have been taken when the fire first broke out. Part of the obliteration of the ranching culture has also involved the dismantling of all of the range improvement and development projects, including a vast system of wells. Their water could have helped fight the fire. There is a new fight brewing over whether the wells can even continue to be used to siphon a trickle of water for the remaining wildlife.

Prior to the Desert Protection Act there was a plan for desert management that contained a degree of wilderness designation on truly roadless areas. That plan was ignored. This resulted in many necessary back country roads being closed (even limiting access by fire trucks).

Going beyond the fire issues, when the Preserve was created, the Park Service immediately installed regulatory road signs (“No Commercial Vehicles”, etc.) on our roads in the region. The Service did not consult with the County.

Now, after ten years, we are embarking upon negotiations with the Park Service on the management and cost-effective maintenance of this system. I assure residents and property owners of my commitment to maintain this link to San Bernardino County government within the Preserve.

We have been forced to accept a management and culture that is foreign to our way of life that includes private stewardship. This culture prefers to manage resources in the name of "protection" and "preservation."

We can't restore the livestock industry in the region, but we can, perhaps with some creative management, keep a group of committed private residents and landowners in the area to provide stewardship of the land. These kinds of interests should be welcomed by the Park Service, not viewed as "inholders" to be dealt with.

Nothing can undo the damage that has been done by the recent fire to the landscape or to the private homes and property in the area. But there are repairs that can be accomplished.

The anticipated appointment of a new Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve is a great opportunity to demonstrate leadership and to restore order from the top in an Administration that is less agenda-driven than the previous Administration.

This recent devastating fire doesn't have to be just another sad chapter in the history of the Mojave Preserve. It could serve as an example of the need for a partnership between the federal, state and local governments for the good of not only the natural resources, but also for the people of the area.