February 18, 2007

S.B. County may lose $329K on budget cut

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin [Ontario, CA]
By Jeff Horwitz, Staff Writer

San Bernardino County officials have complained for years that the federal government doesn't pay enough for its untaxed parks and land holdings.

This year, Uncle Sam may be feeling even less generous.

Under a Bush administration proposed budget cut, rural counties would lose a total of $42 million in compensation from the Department of the Interior's Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.

"This isn't the first time in recent years that it's been proposed to be cut," said 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, whose district encompasses most of the federal land.

The money goes toward county fire service, he said.

Assuming the hit were shared equally, San Bernardino County would see its 2006 share of $1.8 million decline by $329,000.

Many of the proposed cuts are likely to be removed by Congress, Jim Lindley, the county's legislative affairs director, said.

"It's an issue Congress never wants to deal with," he said.

Even if the proposed cuts don't occur, Lindley said, the county will still be lobbying for a simplification of the program's funding formulas that might benefit the county.

"We have some very receptive members of Congress, but it takes more than a handful," Lindley said.

More than 8.3 million acres of San Bernardino County land is owned by the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks and other branches of the federal government. That's an area equivalent to 12,988 square miles, slightly larger than the state of Maryland.

February 13, 2007

Mojave National Preserve ponders entrance fees

Desert Dispatch [Barstow, CA]

KELSO - Visitors to the Mojave National Preserve could begin paying an entrance fee as soon as next year, a park ranger at the Mojave National Preserve said.

The proposed fees are $10 per vehicle for seven days and $20 for a year pass, although the fee is still under study and the National Park Service is accepting public comments, park ranger Linda Slater said. These fees could take effect on Jan. 1, 2008.

The fees were discussed at a community meeting at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center in the preserve on Saturday along with a nearly complete project to legally define wilderness areas and the cleanup of Morningstar Mine, where cyanide used to leach out gold spilled from a pond.
Entrance fees at Joshua Tree National Park are $15 per vehicle, and at Death Valley National Park, they are $20 per vehicle, Slater said.

Meanwhile, the Park Service is wrapping up wilderness mapping in which a group of people is "ground truthing" the boundaries that Congress drew up a map when it established the preserve under the 1994 Desert Protection Act, Slater said.

"Some local landowners feel like areas they could drive to in the past, they can't drive to anymore," she said, although wilderness boundaries are not being altered. "What people are seeing on the ground is that more and more wilderness is being marked."

Cleanup of Morningstar Mine, where heavy rain caused cyanide contaminated water to overflow and leak from a pond, could begin as early as May or June, said Larry Whalon, chief of natural and cultural resources for Mojave National Preserve. The mine was active periodically throughout the 20th century and stopped operation in 1990.

The Park Service will be able to minimize the cost of cleaning up the mine by getting a private contractor involved, Whalon said. The contractor will clean up the contamination and remove heaps of rock, which will be used as an additive to cement, perhaps for freeways, he said.

"It will take a year to clean the site up, then probably five years to remove the heaps."

The National Park Service is in the process of setting up a public comment section on its Web site, www.nps.gov/moja. Comments can also be mailed to Mojave National Preserve, Superintendent, 2701 Barstow Road, Barstow, CA, 92311.

February 6, 2007

Desert parks could benefit from budget

Andrew Silva, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

California's desert national parks could be big winners under President Bush's proposal for the largest budget increase in the history of the National Park Service.

The proposed $2.4 billion budget for national parks includes a $258 million increase for operations, which would go toward hiring 3,000 new employees including rangers and maintenance workers.

"The numbers look great. We haven't seen this type of increase in years," said Joe Zarki, spokesman for Joshua Tree National Park.

The three desert parks that touch San Bernardino County - Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve - are in line for some of the biggest percentage increases.

"This budget proposal is a victory for all Americans who love national parks," said Thomas C. Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit group that has been calling for increased park funding for years.

In October, more than 100 members of Congress asked the president to increase park funding after years of stagnant or declining budgets.

The money means more programs with rangers, improved facilities, and better protection for important sites and attractions at the parks.

Zarki said Joshua Tree has seen about a 35 percent drop in the number of employees who provide interpretive programs to the public between 2001 and 2005. In 2001 there was the equivalent of 14.4 full-time employees, which dropped to 9.25 in 2005.

That translated to a 50 percent drop in the number of programs for park visitors.

"If people feel they come into the park and are not seeing any staff, there's something to that," he said.

One of the biggest percentage increases could be in Mojave National Preserve, the park that stretches across 1.6 million acres east of Barstow between interstates 15 and 40.

Its 2006 budget was $4.1 million and the president's 2008 request is $5.2 million, a 27 percent increase.

Created in 1994, it has never reached its full staffing level, preserve Superintendent Dennis Schramm said.

"This'll really help us get back in the community and doing things people like to do - ranger walks, campfire programs and talks," he said.

The park service budget also calls for the creation of a $100 million fund to match donations by corporations or philanthropists to help the service get ready for its 100th anniversary in 2016.

Proposed for parks

California's desert national parks could see a budget boost if the president's proposal is approved. It would be the biggest budget hike in National Park Service history.

  • Death Valley National Park: 2006 budget $7.1 million; 2008 proposed increase $1.75 million, or 25 percent.
  • Joshua Tree National Park: 2006 budget $4.3 million; 2008 proposed increase $882,000, or 20 percent.
  • Mojave National Preserve: 2006 budget $4.1 million; 2008 proposed increase $1.1 million, or 27 percent.