October 30, 2006

County Update on Mojave Preserve Fire and Access

Letter from Bill Postmus, Chairman Board of Supervisors
San Bernardino County First District

October 30, 2006

I am writing this letter to my constituents in the Mojave National Preserve to provide an update on two issues of importance to Preserve residents.

First, I want to update you on our efforts to obtain an independent investigation into the National Park Service’s response to the Hackberry Complex fires of 2005. Second, I wanted to update you on the County of San Bernardino’s legal efforts to ensure public access and the County’s right to control and maintain the primary road system within the Preserve.

Regarding last year’s fire, I am very saddened and upset by the private property losses that resulted from the Hackberry fires. I brought this concern to the attention of Congressman Jerry Lewis, who on March 22nd formally requested an internal investigation by the National Park Service regarding its actions pertaining to the fires. I believe the results of that investigation as related back to Mr. Lewis in a May 16 letter lacked sufficient review of some issues and concerns.

On September 5th, I wrote a letter to Congressman Lewis asking him to request an external review of the suppression actions taken during the fire, particularly during its early phase, and with regard to direction that the Incident Commander was given by the Superintendent at that time. I suggested that the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General (IG) would be [the] most appropriate agency to conduct such a review.

I have been concerned about the level of cooperation and consultation between the Service and our own fire management operations regarding protection of private property within the Preserve. My office and the County Fire Department have had discussions with the Superintendent with our purpose being to ensure that incidents like last year’s fire do not happen again.

Regarding our efforts to preserve the public rights of way in the Preserve, the County at my direction filed suit earlier this week in Federal District Court against the National Park Service for quiet title claim to the primary county maintained road system in the Mojave National Preserve.

Under the auspices of the Desert Protection Act of 1994, which established the Preserve, BLM, the National Park Service (NPS) and other federal agencies under the Department of the Interior have closed roads that are part of the County’s Highway System across federal lands and have otherwise interfered with the actions of the County in conjunction with the regulation, operation and management of these highways.

Various actions on behalf of the County with various federal officials and agencies have failed to resolve this dispute. Our suit seeks to ensure the county’s right to conduct maintenance activities within our rights-of-way, including making improvements and accommodating drainage ditches, shoulders, culverts and road signs.

The Park Service has suggested that the County turn over its maintained road system in the Preserve to the Park Service and divest ourselves of ownership and responsibility for these roads. Even though this suggestion was made with the idea that federal money would be available to give the Service an ability to maintain the roads, I felt it was more important to preserve the public’s right to use these roads by insisting that the County own the roads. The County is accountable to the residents of the Preserve and is in a better position to be responsive to their concerns, including concerns over the possibility of arbitrary road closures.

My commitment to you is that the County will continue to fight to ensure the public’s rights to access throughout the Preserve by maintaining and defending our rights of ownership over the public’s roads.

Should you have any questions regarding these or other County matters, please don’t hesitate to contact my office at (800) 472-8597. Or you may contact my office through my website at www.sbcounty.gov/postmus.


Chairman, Board of Supervisors
County of San Bernardino