Development and off-road use in the Mojave and Algodones Dunes would increase. Critics threaten to sue.
By Janet Wilson and Julie Cart, Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times
Federal officials on Thursday released a pair of desert management plans to accommodate recreation, development and wildlife in the booming western Mojave and in the Algodones Dunes, a popular destination for off-road vehicles in far southeastern California.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management said its design for 9.3 million acres of the western Mojave Desert is the largest habitat conservation plan in the United States, encompassing parts of four counties and numerous towns.
The plan, one of nearly 500 around the country, is aimed at expediting development in western San Bernardino, Kern, Los Angeles and Inyo counties while seeking to preserve more than 100 rare plant and animal species, including the threatened desert tortoise and Mohave ground squirrel.
Such plans allow home builders, miners, water and sewage companies, and others to destroy endangered and threatened species in exchange for setting aside or paying to preserve wildlife habitat elsewhere.
"Everybody out there in this tremendously large, 9-million-acre area will know which areas are targeted for conservation and which areas would be allowed for development," said Jan Bedrosian, spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management's California office, which began developing the plan a decade ago.
Larry Lapre, the BLM staffer overseeing final development of the plan, said the fast-growing area covered under the plan stretches from the San Gabriel Mountains east to Baker, and from Olancha in the Owens Valley south to Joshua Tree National Park. It takes in Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Apple Valley, Lancaster, Palmdale and Ridgecrest.
"It's an hour away from 15 million people," he said.
"Lancaster and Palmdale in particular are experiencing very rapid growth, and Victorville is too…. It's suburban sprawl."
"Every time you do a subdivision in Victorville, you have to do a tortoise survey and a ground squirrel survey and a burrowing owl survey, and usually you find one of each," Lapre said. "Then you have to go get permits, and there's hundreds of those pending. Hundreds of housing projects are being delayed."
Under the new plan, developers could pay fees or set aside land, then acquire one "take" permit covering all the species.
Lapre, a biologist who has worked on such plans for years, said the large swaths of land that would be set aside for the tortoise and other wildlife would help preserve them.
But environmental groups disagreed sharply. Daniel Patterson said the Center for Biological Diversity would sue if necessary to block the plan, which, he said, would ignore an existing recovery plan for the tortoise.
The BLM plan for the Algodones Dunes, long a mecca for off-road vehicle enthusiasts, calls for opening all of the areas that were placed off-limits as a result of a temporary court settlement five years ago.
However, Bedrosian of the BLM said the closures on slightly less than one-third of the area — 49,300 acres — would remain in place until at least Oct. 15 while a federal judge considers competing lawsuits from off-roaders and environmentalists.
Most of the currently restricted area — about 33,000 acres — will be opened to limited motorized use. The BLM said it would issue up to 525 permits per day for that part of the dunes, prohibit overnight camping, and close the area from April to mid-October.
For the time being, the BLM proposes instituting a zoning system that divides the entire 160,000-acre dune system into eight management areas. The 26,000-acre North Algodones Dunes Wilderness area would be closed to any motorized travel, for example, and the 21,000-acre Gecko area would be open to unlimited off-road use.
Altogether, more than 85% of the dunes would be open to off-road vehicles.
Daniel Patterson, a desert ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, assailed the plan as a reversal of the 2000 court agreement and said it fails to provide protection for a threatened plant.
"The worst part is that the plan fails to deal with the crowds," Patterson said. "They totally failed to consider the carrying capacity of the dunes. The caps are only for a small area. It's a paper plan that will have no on-the-ground enforceability."
On holiday weekends, as many as 250,000 people roar over the dunes in sand rails, trucks and dune buggies. Four years ago, three people were killed and dozens injured, including a park ranger who was run over during the Thanksgiving weekend.
Bedrosian said the agency considers the 33,000 acres of limited use a "laboratory," adding that vehicle limits could be adjusted if necessary.
March 25, 2005
Development and off-road use in the Mojave and Algodones Dunes would increase. Critics threaten to sue.
March 17, 2005
It began with a fanfare that fast became a public-relations nightmare; it has been stalled for nearly a year awaiting impact reports. And just when it seemed poised to go forward in advance of a mayoral election that could be decided by a handful of environmentalist votes, the Pine Tree Wind Farm has hit yet another obstacle: the defenders of the hundreds of songbirds that some ornithologists believe fly through the proposed 22,000-acre site in the Mojave Desert every year.
“It’s a prime location on the north-south migration pattern every fall and spring,” says Garry George, first vice president and conservation chair of the Los Angeles Chapter of the Audubon Society. “Flycatchers, warblers, vireos, those kinds of birds.” An environmental impact report (EIR) published in July 2004 acknowledged potential harm to red-tailed hawks, but estimated that Pine Tree’s 80 turbines would kill only four raptors per year (the average among all North American wind farms is 2.19 deaths per year) — not much impact to a healthy population. But there’s no evidence in the EIR that anyone even observed a single songbird. “They visited only one time and only for an hour during the birds’ peak migration period, which is April 15th to May 30th,” George says. “How could they conclude it wasn’t harmful to songbirds if they weren’t there when most birds come through?”
A proposed $162 million project that would supply clean energy to 120,000 Los Angeles homes, the Pine Tree Wind Farm could help the DWP meet a goal of 20 percent renewable energy by 2017, as set by the Los Angeles City Council last year. The DWP’s own Web site boasts that the project will reduce the utility’s carbon-dioxide emissions “by more than 210,000 tons each year.”
That obviously thrills clean-energy advocates, who say the DWP has been notoriously sluggish on clean power. “The DWP’s mantra is to build dirty coal plants out of state,” says Rhonda Mills, director of special projects for the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies (CEERT). “They prefer to diminish visibility in national parks in Utah than put any effort into wind or solar. For us this wind farm is a very promising project compared to what we’ve built in the last 30 years.
“But that doesn’t mean you do it at the expense of everything,” Mills cautions. “It means that you do it right, with all the reports in place.”
George agrees. “We don’t object to wind power in general; we just want them to do all the studies.”
Bird enthusiasts have found little comfort in the histories of other California wind farms, such as the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area in eastern Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. In addition to killing anywhere from 800 to 1,200 birds of prey a year, including the protected golden eagle, Altamont’s mills also chew up some 3,000 meadowlarks and nearly 400 burrowing owls. The Center for Biological Diversity has filed suit against several companies managing the wind farm alleging unfair business practices (Wind Turbine Prometheus, which will develop Pine Tree with General Electric turbines, is not among them). Even the California Energy Company has recommended retiring the facility’s most lethal turbines.
“Wind turbine owners are not doing enough to mitigate bird and bat mortality,” says K. Shawn Smallwood, an independent ecologist specializing in minimizing bird kills on wind farms who worked on the Pine Tree draft EIR. “What the wind industry is doing right now is denying there’s a problem,” he says. “That’s too bad, because there’s a way to make wind power truly green. They just won’t do it.”
March 6, 2005
Gun incident highlights residents' animosity toward the National Park Service
By KELLY DONOVAN & IAN MORRISON / Staff Writers
Victorville Daily Press
Last month, a local resident was arrested on suspicion of pointing a rifle at two National Park Service rangers in the Mojave National Preserve.
The incident underscores some of the tensions in the preserve, a place where residents steeped in the traditions of the Old West are grappling with the transition to a culture more similar to that of a national park.
According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, Leo H. Spatziani and another man were approached by the rangers as the men allegedly operated a dredging machine on public land near an area rich in sensitive archeological and cultural resources.
Bobby Parker, the other man with Spatziani, said this week that he and Spatziani were on Parker's 160-acre homestead, working to install a water line, when the rangers came up and asked them to stop.
Parker said he isn't sure why Spatziani reacted the way he did, but he guessed that Spatziani is among the preserve residents who are fed up with the National Park Service after more than 10 years of the agency's presence there.
The Mojave National Preserve's chief ranger, Denny Ziemann, said he thinks residents like Parker — who contends that the Park Service has a vendetta against him — are the vocal minority. Most of the people in the preserve are able to co-exist with the park service peacefully, Ziemann said.
While some residents report having good relations with the park service, there are also some who have complaints.
The birth of a preserve
The Mojave National Preserve, which is east of Barstow, sandwiched between interstates 15 and 40, was born after President Bill Clinton signed the California Desert Protection Act in 1994.
Unlike most national parks, a national preserve allows uses like hunting, grazing and mining within its territory.
And within the Mojave National Preserve, private land holdings are interspersed with federal property. The preserve is sparsely populated with an estimated 200 or less residents who've gotten used to life in the wilderness — many of whom lived in the area for years before the preserve was created.
Some of those people opposed the creation of the preserve.
"It was unwelcome," said Gerald Freeman, who operates a hotel, RV park, store and restaurant in Nipton, on the northern boundary of the preserve. "For the most part the locals were hostile. But a lot of them were squatters on government land ... they were just sort of anti-establishment, like the militias in some of the other states."
Ranching and land ownership
Critics like Parker and Dennis Casebler, a historian who runs the Goffs Schoolhouse, use the harshest possible language to describe how the park service has dealt with the people who live in the 1.6-million-acre preserve. Casebler goes as far as likening the park service to the Gestapo.
Casebler started to take action and wrote a letter Feb. 24 to U.S. Rep. Jerry Lewis,R-Redlands, that contains a litany of complaints about the park service.
Among other things, Casebler and Parker accuse the Mojave National Preserve of trying to eradicate the ranching and mining industries there — a charge the agency denies.
Ziemann said he doesn't think the park service has ever rejected a mining application in the preserve. He also said the Park Service doesn't pressure ranchers to leave, although the retirement of all the grazing allotments in the preserve is part of its General Management Plan, a blueprint for its future.
"We're not going to force these ranchers out," he said. "Nobody will ever be forced to sell their land."
Three major ranching families sold their properties to the National Park Foundation in recent years and moved out of the area, retiring their grazing allotments. Because the government cannot directly acquire land, the foundation buys it and then donates it to the park service.
Rob Blair, who is a fourth-generation member of the last remaining large ranch in the preserve, said he knows the park service wants the Blair Ranch grazing allotments to be retired. However, he said the park service and the National Park Foundation haven't tried to force him, because any sales need to be with willing sellers.
However, Blair said he knows some people feel intimidated.
"People say, 'They're going to take our land if we don't sell to them,' " Blair said. "People are scared for their homes, some of them."
One longtime resident of the area, Mike Daughtery of Baker, blames the park service for driving out the ranchers with grazing regulations.
However, he also said the ranchers might not have had other opportunities to sell their holdings for cash had the National Park Service and National Park Foundation not been interested in the land.
"There's no simple answers to this stuff," Daughtery said.
The federal government can forcibly acquire land through eminent domain proceedings, arguing that it is in the public's best interest, but Ziemann said the Mojave National Preserve would not do that.
"The claim that we're harassing these people or running them out is not true," Ziemann said.
One recent land dispute that has sparked public interest and continues to infuriate Parker and Casebler is a dispute involving longtime preserve resident Connie Connelly, who Casebler calls "a genuine desert character."
Parker and Casebler said they are upset that the park service has forced Connelly to leave the simple home she's lived in for years in a remote part of the preserve.
Ziemann said that Connelly was living on park service property without a valid lease — essentially squatting. Also, he said the park service had to spend about $60,000 several years ago to clean up waste generated at the site.
To help Connelly, Ziemann said the park service offered to buy her a new home anywhere she wanted. In the end, she agreed to move to Wyoming, and is scheduled to move this month, he said.
March 4, 2005
Letters to the Los Angeles Times editor
For the Record editor
Julie Cart's story, "Water Fight in the Mojave," in Friday's California section is a classic example of how The Times only gets half the story and only half right. It is filled with incorrect and mis-information reported without a lick of attribution.
The first mistake is the assumption that the "needs of game animals" are somehow at odds with the needs of "federally protected wildlife," and that hunters' interests are somehow different than other conservationists. It seems to me that hunters are interested in diverse healthy wildlife populations and show that by funding massive programs around the world that benefit all wildlife, not just hunted species. Good management of resources and wild systems benefits all wildlife in that system.
Then we come to the first error of fact: "...man-made water holes draw predators that prey on the threatened California desert tortoise." There has never been a single definitive study that shows this is true, and obviously no one who wanted to be quoted saying this was the case. There has been speculation by some biologists this happens, but that speculation is without any correlative science, and certainly without definitive work. In fact, most of the science would tend to suggest that additional water sources would tend to distribute predators at more places, lessening the likelihood that a tortoise would be potential prey.
Then the next paragraph has the next glaring error of fact: "...reverse a long-standing water policy in the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve." There is no policy. It is not stated in the Mojave's management plan. It is not in NEPA or even CEQA. In fact, by agreeing to the permanent capping of wells with the National Park Service Foundation, and moving ahead with those plans, the National Park Service violated its own management plan for the Preserve and NEPA. Both the plan and NEPA require that the NPS evaluate the impacts the removal of water -- in this case over 125 cattle watering sources -- would have on the preserve's wildlife BEFORE the water was removed. The NPS did NOT do that. It did no baseline surveys on wildlife populations around this man-made water and completed no study on impacts water removal would have, good or bad. There was only speculation that it would be a good thing. The NPS was in violation of the law and its own policy when it encouraged the removal of the cattle watering sources in the first place. This has probably led to a dramatic decline in dozens and dozens of different wildlife species, not just hunted species, on the preserve. But it was only the hunter-conservation groups like Safari Club who were concerned about this and immediately filed a protest. If the Times had bothered to ask Center for Biological Diversity lawyers about this, they would have told the papers' reporters that the NPS was in violation for allowing the removal of the wells, pipelines, and stock tanks in the first place before meeting the requirements of NEPA and its own management plan. Safari Club was trying to get the preserve staff to restore only 12 wells out of 125 water sources removed, and trying to do this quickly without a lawsuit to cut wildlife losses.
The next error in fact is about the claim by the 57 scientists who contend that because of groundwater pumping 90 percent of the preserves springs and seeps had been diminished on the preserve. There is no scientific documentation this is true. Only speculation by these 57 scientists. It is just as likely, if we can speculate, that groundwater pumping for human developments in Needles and Newberry Springs, drought, or global warming was the cause for any historic change, and not the modest pumping that supplied cattle (and wildlife) with water. In fact, it is speculative there has been a 90 percent change at all. This is NOT documented by science, it is their seat-of-the-pants belief. Show me the science.
These same scientists bemoan the added water as a huge detriment to wildlife. There are thousands of scientists in all of the Western states who will tell you the opposite, that water added in deserts is a huge boon to all wildlife. They have good science and examples to back up their beliefs, however, not speculation. One of the best examples of how added water has benefited wildlife is -- ironically -- on the Mojave National Preserve. The work was done before it was preserve, of course. The Old Dad Peak/Kelso Mountains complex on the far Western edge of the preserve historically held only a few wandering bighorn sheep. Never more than a dozen according to surveys done through the middle part of the last century. The Department of Fish and Game, working with the Bureau of Land Management, and one of those onerous hunter-conservation groups, the Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep, put in several man-made water sources. They did this, by the way, before hunting of bighorn sheep was allowed in the state. Today, it is the largest herd of desert bighorns in the state, numbering over 200 animals. This once threatened species (just like the desert tortoise) was brought back by the addition of water. By hunters before there was hunting for sheep. Amazing, huh?.
Now come the big factual errors in the story:
1) There is no direct evidence that capping any wells has rejuvenated the preserves natural water sites. This is speculation. And the statement is made without attribution in the story. We could speculate that the wetter seasons this year and last year are responsible for any increase in spring flow over the short term, too. And in fact, that has far more credibility.
2) There is no evidence of a deer herd increase. The NPS did no population surveys before the water was removed and none after the water was removed. They were supposed to do this before removing the 125 water sources, but they didn't. The "increase" is interpolated from the Department of Fish and Game's deer harvest figures over the past several hunting seasons. Survey hunters and they will all tell you they are seeing fewer deer in fewer places, but that they have become more successful because the deer have fewer places to water. Like any smart predator, hunters are focusing their efforts around those remaining water sources and killing more deer.
3) Of the 133 small game guzzlers and six big game guzzlers, over 3/4s are out of desert tortoise habitat. Of the 1/4 that are in desert tortoise habitat, tortoise remains have been found in 1/3 of those. That is a far smaller number than quoted in the LA Times story, which makes them all sound like death traps. Also, the implication that because remains are found in a guzzler that the guzzler is somehow the reason for the tortoises death is, at best, speculative. Correlation is not causation. Department of Fish and Game research, actual science, suggests very few of the tortoises in guzzlers died as a result of the guzzler. Just as DFG research suggests that tortoise shells found with bullet holes were almost never killed by those bullets. The shells were shot postmortem, long after the tortoises were dead. But there are "scientists" that continue to insist that shooting is a major cause of tortoise deaths. This is a lie.
4) There is no scientific evidence that water sources attract more ravens, increasing desert tortoise deaths. None. In fact, other scientists speculate that the more water sources you have, the less impacts predators have on wildlife. The problem is that there are about 100 times more ravens now than there were just 25 years ago. That is attributed to desert communities that provide food (garbage) in great quantities. Ravens also eat baby tortoises, and 100 times more eat 100 times more babies. You do the math. A lot of scientists believe ravens are the crux of the tortoise decline. Bulldozing all desert communities from Barstow to Yucca Valley to Lancaster would probably alleviate the raven increase.
Most of the 21-page complaint talks about the supposed impacts of man-made water on desert tortoises. The reality is that all 12 of the wells proposed for retrofitting are above the elevations inhabited by tortoises on the preserve. Isn't this whole argument is moot? Why didn't the Times reporter, ask this question?
The NPS staff could indeed suggest that it needs to remove all of the cattle water and the guzzlers on the preserve because this is "unnatural manipulation" of the habitat -- and that is not their charge. But the staff IS required by law and their own preserve policy to document the impacts water removal would have on the preserve's existing wildlife resources. They did not do that -- and that was ILLEGAL.
Conversely, the NPS is ALSO required to protect and enhance the cultural heritage on the preserve. Cattle ranching and guzzlers have been a huge part of the preserve for 100 years or more, and the historic windmills and cattle troughs are wonderful symbols of that history. The fact that they also help wildlife is a bonus. Yet, the NPS wants to rip them all out. Couldn't the NPS recognize the wildlife benefits and direct visitors to these cultural heritage sites to see desert wildlife? The small game guzzlers are ideal places to watch wildlife in the spring and summer, when there is no hunting on the preserve, and many of us believe the guzzlers should be preserved for their historic AND wildlife values. The NPS staff has never considered that a valid argument.
The impact removing 125-plus water sources has had on preserve wildlife is profound. The cultural loss is significant. It is more than quail and deer and hunters that have suffered.
Instead of portraying Paul Hoffman as another of the Bush-administration bad guy who's trying to destroy American's wildlife heritage, the reality the LA Times couldn't or refused to see is that Hoffman is trying to compensate for a NPS staff that hates the fact that hunting is allowed in the Mojave Preserve and was willing to violate the law and destroy wildlife to try to make the preserve less appealing to hunters. Hoffman was trying to avert a Safari Club lawsuit and protect desert wildlife. And he's the villain?
I realize this is far too long for you to run as a letter, but I hope you will at least research and correct the factual errors.
San Bernardino, Calif.
U.S. Sides With Hunters, Who Clash With Naturalists on Well Issue
By Julie Cart, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
A quarrel over waterholes in the Mojave is pitting hunters against naturalists, the needs of game animals against those of federally protected wildlife, and is resurrecting decade-old differences over the purpose of a national preserve.
Until recently, the dispute has been limited to mule deer and bighorn sheep hunters who favor the creation of more desert water sources and conservationists who argue that man-made waterholes draw predators that prey on the threatened California desert tortoise.
Now, a high-ranking official in the U.S. Department of the Interior has intervened on behalf of hunters and demanded the uncapping of 12 plugged wells, an action that would reverse a long-standing water policy in the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve. That, in turn, prompted a lawsuit this week by two environmental groups that say the order is illegal.
Ever since the preserve was created 11 years ago, the National Park Service, which manages it, has been working to buy out a handful of cattle ranches scattered through the preserve and cap wells that supplied water to livestock. Some of the buyout agreements, which were financed by the nonprofit National Park Foundation, called for the permanent capping of all ranch wells.
Earlier this year, Deputy Assistant Interior Secretary Paul Hoffman, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, ordered the Park Service to allow the California Department of Fish and Game to reopen ranch wells and convert them to wildlife watering sites, known as guzzlers.
Hoffman issued the order over the written objections of Mojave Preserve Supt. Mary Martin.
The issue of man-made water supplies is especially important to hunters of mule deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits and quail. When the preserve was created in 1994, Congress directed that hunting be allowed.
However, in 2002 a group of 57 biologists, hydrologists and archeologists from around the country sent a letter to Hoffman asking for the removal of all guzzlers in the preserve.
The group said removal of artificial water sources was consistent with the principles of "conservation biology and park policy and law," and with Park Service management policies that prohibit "artificial manipulation of habitat to increase numbers of a harvested species above its natural range in population levels."
In addition, the scientists wrote that because of decades of groundwater pumping, 90% of the preserve's natural springs and seeps had been adversely affected.
This week, the Center for Biological Diversity and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued to prevent the first four wells from being uncapped and converted to water sites for wildlife. The lawsuit alleges that new guzzlers would be illegal, that well retrofitting requires environmental analysis, and that the watering devices have been shown to be harmful to other wildlife.
Hugh Vickery, an Interior Department spokesman, would not comment on ongoing litigation. Martin would not comment either.
Park Service hydrologists contend that the 30 or so ranch wells, some of which had been in operation for 100 years, siphoned water from a desert aquifer and compromised natural springs and seeps elsewhere in the Mojave.
Capping the wells, they say, has rejuvenated the preserve's natural water sites, and removing cattle from the desert has promoted regrowth of native plants. Park Service officials say both outcomes have helped sustain wildlife, including deer and sheep.
Park Service biologists say there is no need for more water sources, pointing out that one population of mule deer has increased slightly every year since the ranch wells were shut down.
Separate from the ranch wells, the Mojave Preserve maintains about 133 guzzler water stations for small game and six for large game. Some are designed to trap rainfall and surface water into cisterns, and others pump groundwater into concrete-lined depressions.
Conservationists and biologists say guzzlers attract ravens that prey on the desert tortoise. Preserve officials say tortoise remains have been found in nearly one-third of the preserve's guzzlers. Scientists surmise that tortoises either fall in and drown or are left in the water by predators.
Safari Club International, a hunting organization, and other groups have been pushing to reopen several wells. They met with Hoffman, Martin and representatives of the state Department of Fish and Game last August in Ontario.
Soon after the meeting, Fish and Game presented a plan to reopen 12 wells over three years. Martin balked, and a few months later Hoffman ordered her to allow Fish and Game to proceed with its plan.
State Fish and Game managers argue that wildlife in the preserve has become accustomed to the man-made water sources and that taking any water away would harm animals and ultimately reduce herd size.
"Our wildlife biologists who work out in the desert believe the water enhancement projects are necessary," said Mike Haynie, a deputy regional manager for the department.
The project will cost about $40,000, according to the state agency. Its proposal says volunteers will build and maintain the pumps, pipelines and submerged tanks that support the guzzlers.
"It's common sense," said Pat Murch, a resident of Needles who said he has hunted in the Mojave all his life. "Our concern is that all of a sudden you go turn [wells] off and that's going to affect the wildlife. We are simply asking the Park Service to use common sense.
"Under an agreement with the Department of Fish and Game, local hunting groups provide volunteers to maintain the water devices. However, a survey conducted by preserve staff last year found more than half of the guzzlers in a state of disrepair and 15% no longer functioning.
Ken Schwartz, a spokesman for Safari Club International, said that because roads are prohibited in much of the preserve, volunteers have difficulty getting to some guzzlers. But, according to the preserve's survey, 93% of the guzzlers are within one mile of a road.
Posted 12:00 AM
Subject Headings: California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), cattle grazing, Center for Biological Diversity, desert tortoise, guzzler, hunting, Mojave National Preserve, National Park Foundation, National Park Service, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), Safari Club
March 2, 2005
by Jim Matthews
San Bernardino Sun
This is utterly baffling. Two highly respected environmental groups apparently have been duped into filing a lawsuit to stop the restoration and conversion of four water wells in the Mojave National Preserve to wildlife drinkers.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) announced the lawsuit Tuesday. The 21-page complaint and the press release, however, are riddled with factual errors.
John Buse, the lead attorney on the lawsuit in CDBs Chicago office, said "the desert tortoise is certainly the largest concern we had' in filing the lawsuit. The complaint argues that restoring the four wells would endanger desert tortoises and violates both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the preserve's own management plan.
The problem is simply this: First, the four wells are situated at elevations well above desert tortoise habitat. Tortoises never have been documented in the area around the four wells. That is why these locations were chosen by the hunter-conservation groups that fought to have them restored.
Second, the National Park Service, specifically park superintendent Mary Martin, violated NEPA and the preserve's management guidelines by directing the private land owners who were forced off the preserve to remove the wells. The preserve's management plan said that the staff was required to document any impacts on the area's wildlife before the wells could be removed. Martin illegally avoided this requirement by saying that the private owners wanted to remove their private windmills and stock tanks.
Buse and local CDB attorney Brendan Cummings admitted that the National Park Service violated NEPA and its own management plan when it allowed the wells to be removed, and CDB is contending it is now violating the same rules again by trying to restore them.
Why didn't CDB file a lawsuit when the NPS removed over 125 cattle water sources the first time around? My call is they were duped. Or it is about anti-hunting bias.
The PEER press release riles against Paul Hoffman as a Bush Administration bad guy who went over the preserve staff's head to allow the well restoration, saying it was Hoffman who was forcing the park service to violate the law.
Interestingly, the PEER mouthpiece on this issue is Paul Buono, a former deputy superintendent at the preserve, who is part of a small clique of park service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees who are resentful the Mojave was not made into a national park, where hunting is banned, instead of a national preserve, where hunting is allowed.
The anti-hunting bias is pervasive within this small group, and they also form the core of a tiny minority of scientists who believe that wildlife drinkers are detrimental to wildlife, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
One of the most dramatic examples of how the addition of water into a desert ecosystem can benefit wildlife is on the Mojave National Preserve.
Before the area was a preserve, the Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Bureau of Land Management, and Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep did surveys on Old Dad Peak. At most it had a dozen sheep. The problem? There were no permanent water sources. The DFG added big-game drinkers, and now that herd numbers more than 200 animals.
Hoffman is no villain. He's the hero in this episode; a hero who was trying to avert a lawsuit from the hunter-conservation community over the illegal NPS' removal of 125 cattle water sources.
It's pathetic that CBD and PEER were conned into filing this lawsuit, a lawsuit that is about anti-hunting bias and not science or environmental law.
Jim Matthews is a freelance writer.
Posted 7:23 PM
Subject Headings: BLM, California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Center for Biological Diversity, desert tortoise, environmental litigation, hunting, Mojave National Preserve, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), National Park Service, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Environmentalist groups upset about artificial water sources in Mojave National Preserve
By KELLY DONOVAN/Staff Writer
Victorville Daily Press
BARSTOW — Two environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the National Park Service, aiming to stop the expansion of artificial water sources in the Mojave National Preserve east of Barstow.
In the lawsuit, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility ask that the National Park Service stop working on plans to convert four former ranchers' well systems into guzzlers — man-made watering holes for wildlife.
The lawsuit contends that the conversion plans should be subject to review under the National Environmental Quality Act.
PEER and the center argue that guzzlers are problematic for desert tortoises, which are listed as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. For example, guzzlers can attract tortoise predators such as ravens, according to the suit.
The question of whether to convert the wells in the preserve surfaced in recent years as the National Park Foundation bought the grazing allotments of ranchers there. The ranchers moved out of the area — leaving behind their well systems.
Documents show that the Mojave National Preserve staff had concerns about artificial watering sources in the preserve, but nevertheless authorized the conversion of the former ranch wells into guzzlers for mule deer.
Preserve Superintendent Mary Martin wrote about artificial water sources in a June 17, 2002, memo to Paul Hoffman, the Interior Department's deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks.
Among her remarks in the six-page memo, which the groups provided to the media, was that the preserve staff had "identified the need to return human-disturbed areas to their former natural conditions," which "might entail ... the removal of existing small and large wildlife guzzlers."
She also wrote that while "hunters had the impression that enhancing wildlife populations by artificial watering sources would be a simple change in philosophy," that would be "contrary to our mission, policies and legal foundation."
However, she authorized the conversion of the former ranchers' wells into guzzlers in a Jan. 31 letter to the California Department of Fish and Game.
PEER board member Frank Buono and Center for Biological Diversity Desert Ecologist Daniel Patterson said they believe Martin received orders — probably from Hoffman — to have the guzzlers installed. Buono retired in 1997 as the preserve's No. 2 official.
Patterson points to a July 30, 2002, e-mail from Hoffman to a hunting advocate in which he said that he was "still working ... to determine what we can or cannot do in the way of maintaining at least some of the water developments" in the preserve.
"I think the Mojave National Preserve staff there in Barstow had it right when they said we don't really need these additional guzzlers," Patterson said. "We don't need this kind of political meddling."
Guzzlers for game are widely viewed as a benefit for hunters, but Patterson said the center is not opposed to hunting in the preserve, and he is a hunter himself.
"I think hunting would be better if you maintain a natural ecosystem," he said.
Hugh Vickery, an Interior Department spokesman, and Ben Porritt, a Justice Department spokesman, both said Tuesday that they couldn't comment on the litigation.
The Mojave National Preserve encompasses more than 1.5 million acres east of Barstow, sandwiched between Interstate 40 and Interstate 15. The preserve staff's office is in Barstow.
Posted 12:00 AM
Subject Headings: California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Center for Biological Diversity, desert tortoise, Endangered Species Act (ESA), environmental litigation, guzzler, hunting, Mojave National Preserve, National Park Foundation, National Park Service, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)
March 1, 2005
Political Appointees at Interior Vetoed Park Objections; Lawsuit Filed
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility News Release (www.peer.org)
For Immediate Release: March 1, 2005
Contact: Carol Goldberg (202) 265-7337
Washington, DC — A top political appointee of the Bush Administration has overruled the National Park Service and ordered it to allow the installation of artificial water systems in California’s Mojave National Preserve. Contending that the artificial water sources are illegal and will harm the native wildlife, Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Biological Diversity today filed suit to stop the plan.
Paul Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, intervened to quash Park Service objections about adding more artificial water sources (called “guzzlers”). Hoffman, who has no biological training and spent the ten years prior to his appointment by President Bush at the Cody Wyoming Chamber of Commerce, contends guzzlers enhance “coyote and varmint hunting” on the Preserve, according to one of his emails.
The Mojave National Preserve covers more than 3 million acres of desert and is home to more than 2,500 native species of which approximately 100 are considered imperiled. For example, the desert tortoise, the flagship species of the Mojave Preserve, is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Wildlife experts contend expansion of artificial watering in the Preserve hurts native flora and fauna by –
- Drying up natural springs and wetlands upon which native plants and animals depend;
- Drawing concentrations of ravens and other animals that prey especially on young tortoises. One survey found dead or dying desert tortoises at 30% of the current guzzlers. Another study found a ten fold increase in ravens congregating around guzzlers; and
- Sustaining non-native species like burros. There is even a concern about the watering systems helping to spread Africanized honeybees.
On January 31, 2005, the Mojave superintendent under orders from Hoffman granted permission for the installation of four guzzlers with eight more still under consideration. The lawsuit from PEER and the Center contends that the artificial water systems violate laws and policies governing the Park Service. The guzzler approval also flouts advice from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, the water sources run counter to the management plan that the NPS adopted, after four years of public involvement and thousands of public comments, for the Preserve in 2002. In making the move in January, the Park Service made no effort to revise its plan or notify the public.
“There are already many natural waters and guzzlers on the Mojave National Preserve, which is a natural area, not a game farm," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hoffman's illegal political push for unneeded guzzlers would harm native desert wildlife, and violate an agreement Interior made to keep these wells capped.”
Read the June 17, 2002 memo from the Mojave National Preserve superintendent to Hoffman outlining objections to the guzzlers
View Paul Hoffman emails to Jim Matthews of Outdoor News Service, a leading guzzler proponent