September 23, 2005


First Ten Years of the
Mojave National Preserve

Desert Report Fall 2005

Reflecting on ten years as Superintendent of Mojave National Preserve has been a pleasure and an opportunity for an assessment of the bigger picture, which sometimes get lost in the daily crises or forgotten over time. I thank each of you, those who made the preservation of this special place possible, for giving me this chance to reflect.

Early in 1995, along with Marv Jensen as Superintendent, six longtime National Park Service (NPS) employees showed up to manage a new 1.6 million acre national park unit. The myriad of tasks ranged from finding a headquarters location; becoming familiar with the resources; meeting neighbors, friends, landowners; launching the general management planning process; to hiring additional staff. In the fall of that first year Congress passed an Appropriations Act which would essentially return management of this new park unit to the Bureau of Land Management. The “limited edition” Presidential line-item veto prevented that occurrence.

In the spring of 1996, enough money was allocated for minimal staffing at Mojave. The emotions of staff ran high and, in defining what “success” might look like five years hence, the bar was rather low — we wanted Mojave to remain a part of our nation’s National Park System. As it turned out, we accomplished that and much more.

Livestock grazing has been long identified as one of the impacts which negatively affect the threatened desert tortoise. At the time of Mojave’s designation, 1.4 million acres were grazed.

The California Desert Protection Act provided for grazing to continue into perpetuity, while recognizing the interest of ranchers to sell their permits and ranching operations. Through the generosity of people who care deeply about resource preservation and in partnership with the National Park Foundation and ranchers who had been interested in selling their operation, livestock grazing has been reduced to 200,000 acres. Non-historic fence lines, tanks, troughs, structures have been removed and numerous sites restored. Historic features are being preserved and a nomination to place the ranching district on the National Registry of Historic Places is being developed.

When Mojave was designated a national park unit, 192,000 acres of private lands were within its boundary. Hundreds of individuals were interested in selling their land, yet no federal funds for acquisition were available. An expanded partnership provided private monies for acquisition, allowing preservation of these valuable resources for future generations. In ten years the National Park Service acquired more than 111,000 acres and went from owning only a few water rights to owning more than 125 appropriated water rights/springs. This successful program has now been expanded to include Joshua Tree and Death Valley National Parks.

Restoration of desert resources is occurring throughout the park and in a variety of ways. Retiring grazing provided the opportunity to remove 8,000 head of cattle. The burro removal/adoption program eliminated almost 4,000 animals.

The benefit to springs was immediately noticeable. The elimination of water diversion for grazing, with reducing burro impacts, resulted in an immediate regeneration of springs, increasing surface water, vegetation and wildlife.

Mining claims, which numbered over 9000 in 1994, have been reduced to approximately 400. A number of mining areas have been cleaned up, restored, and mitigated. A public-private partnership has been developed to detoxify and restore the Morningstar mine site, while returning $1 million of public funds used for emergency mitigation. Several arrests and convictions have occurred of individuals who were illegally dumping hazardous materials, poaching barrel cactus, baiting wildlife, and illegally collecting reptiles.

The Kelso Depot restoration is nearing completion. The building is complete. Interpretative exhibits should be installed by the time you read this and the last two contracts (landscaping and parking) have begun. The building is amazing and provides a unique opportunity for educating the public about our mission, natural and cultural resource preservation and recreation opportunities. Efforts to find a concessionaire to run the Beanery are underway.

Mojave has developed a professional science and research program and hired a Science Advisor at the park level, something only a few other parks have done. The benefit to the resource with our increased knowledge is exponential. Research has focused on surface and groundwater, the endangered tui chub, the threatened desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, climatic change, exotic plants, fire ecology, prehistoric human habitation, changing desert landscapes, etc. Cooperative agreements have been developed with the California State University system and University of California, Riverside (UCR). Through UCR we have contracted for research which resulted in the documentation of several new species of plants.

None of this would have been possible without the dedicated, professional staff working at Mojave. I have, indeed, been fortunate to work with an exceptional group of individuals. These folks give me confidence that the momentum and accomplishments of the last decade will be carried into the next.