December 19, 2005

Mojave National Preserve gets new boss

ENVIRONMENT: A decision about wildlife watering holes awaits the superintendent.

The Press-Enterprise

Dennis Schramm, a 28-year veteran of the National Park Service, will return to his old stomping grounds at the Mojave National Preserve as its superintendent.

Schramm, 53, returns in February to the 1.6 million-acre park in eastern San Bernardino County -- known for its sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones and lava flows, Joshua trees and towering mountains. He worked there for seven years as an assistant manager until 2002.

In announcing the selection last week, Jonathan Jarvis, the park service's regional director, said Schramm has extensive experience as a biologist and manager in the Mojave Desert and that his leadership in the 1990s in crafting the preserve's management plan demonstrated strong leadership skills.

Schramm replaces Mary Martin, who transferred to Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California.

Among Schramm's first decisions will be whether to approve a controversial plan to turn 12 groundwater wells left over from a cattle grazing operation into wildlife guzzlers to help mule deer flourish for hunting.

The proposal is available for public comment until Jan. 31.

The three options are to abandon the project, allow it to go forward or conduct further studies to assess whether the guzzlers, artificial water sources, are needed.

"It's really a matter of taking that information (from the public) and seeing whether or not it makes sense to allow something to happen," Schramm said about the proposal in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he works at the park service's national planning office.

The California Department of Fish and Game and hunters with Safari Club International are pushing for the artificial water sources. Environmentalist says they're a bad crutch for plants and animals that already have adapted to an arid landscape.

In addition, the guzzlers will promote mule deer, a non-native species, said Daniel Patterson, desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group in Joshua Tree.

"You're just messing with the whole web of life out there," he said.

A lawsuit from Patterson's group filed this year prompted the National Park Service to back off from approving the guzzlers until an environmental assessment was completed. The lawsuit alleged that the federal agency, under orders from a Bush administration official -- Paul Hoffman, deputy assistant secretary of Interior for fish, wildlife and parks -- violated environmental laws by approving the man-made watering holes.

During his tenure, Schramm said, he would like to draw more attention to the preserve, sandwiched between the better-known Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks, and to expose more young children to the desert environment.

"They're involved with too many video games," he said. But children "are important for the future of the parks, so it helps if they know they have a connection to the land."

The park's new visitors' center at the Kelso Depot, a railroad station built more than 80 years ago and refurbished, will help in promoting the park, Schramm said.

But the preserve also has threats, he said, including a proposed airport for cargo and charter flights six miles from the preserve's border in Nevada.

In addition, the preserve is dotted with hundreds of old mines, mostly gold mines, where the precious metal was leached from the ore with cyanide in large, open pits.

"We have no active mines," he said, "but we have a lot of cleanup issues."

Wildlife Guzzlers

The Mojave National Preserve is seeking public comment on a proposal to convert ranching wells into wildlife guzzlers:

Deadline: Jan. 31

By e-Mail:

By letter: Superintendent, Mojave National Preserve, 2701 Barstow Road, Barstow, CA 92311

To get the report: