December 31, 2007

Changing needs forcing closure of National Forest recreation sites

Photo by William Wilson Lewis III / The Press-Enterprise

The Press-Enterprise

When Forest Service recreation officer Jonathan Cook-Fisher looks out over the campground tucked deep into the San Bernardino Mountains, his gaze sweeps over the ponderosa pines and chirping squirrels and lands on a lopsided picnic table.

The table's chipped paint and splintered bench -- probably hacked off for kindling -- jump out at him like flames in a forest.

The dilapidated table is one of many signs of neglect at Tent Peg Group Campground, Cook-Fisher said. Broken wooden parking lot barriers, inaccessible fire rings and sediment runoff threatening endangered species downstream also plague the camp five miles down a rutted dirt road from Green Valley Lake.

Tent Peg's lagging maintenance, difficult access and a lack of visitors will likely spell the end of this '60s-era campground, one of four San Bernardino National Forest campgrounds and picnic sites targeted for closure over the next five years.

Under the gun to save money, ranger districts across the country have performed sweeping recreation assessments to reshape facilities to fit shifting interests among visitors and get rid of what doesn't work anymore.

In the San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests, officials want to boost overnight fees to pay for improvements and maintenance at recreation areas that remain open. They also propose seasonal closures in some spots; a greater reliance on volunteers; and renovation of some camp areas to cater to prime users, such as off-highway vehicle enthusiasts.

Other sites targeted for closure are Crest Park Picnic Area off Highway 18 near Rimforest, Big Pine Equestrian Group Campground northwest of Big Bear Lake and Fuller Mill Creek Picnic Area off Highway 243 near Idyllwild. The Cleveland National Forest, which has fewer visitors, does not plan any closures.

"We're under direction ... to cut costs because the budget is getting lean," said Kermit Johansson, project coordinator for the San Bernardino National Forest. "We're going back and reviewing every site, looking at whether it's worth keeping open; do people use it, is it something the public wants now?"

The driving force behind the five-year Recreation Facility Analysis is $346 million in postponed upkeep nationwide, ranging from crumbling parking lots to aging, malodorous vault toilets. Officials hope the changes will eliminate most of the backlog by 2020.

This is the first comprehensive review of the 155 national forests and grasslands across the country, said Jim Bedwell, director of recreation, heritage and volunteer resources for the Forest Service.

Many of the recreation areas date to the 1930s and don't reflect today's most popular activities, which have changed from tent camping and long stays to mountain bikes and day use, he said.

"It's eliminating those things that are very costly, that are impacting the environment or are not well-utilized so we can use those funds to meet the new demands," Bedwell said.

No 'Wiggle Room'

If Cook-Fisher had his way, all of Tent Peg's tables and other amenities would be replaced. But the reality is that funding is stagnant and the area's costly firefighting seasons have taken a bite out of recreation dollars.

People would be surprised at the cost of upkeep and improvements, he said.

A new picnic bench is about $800; 8-by-8-inch boundary posts that line the roadways and parking areas cost $50 each; pumping sewage from the toilets is at least $600 a year at Tent Peg. And a recreation technician who cleans and restocks the bathroom, empties trash, cleans the fire rings and restores any incidental damage to the landscape by campers costs about $750 per week.

Shady Cove Group Campground, off Highway 18 east of Running Springs, is an example of a well-maintained site that is worth saving, Cook-Fisher said. The tables, barbecues and bathrooms are new, the campground is accessible off a paved road, and it has at least three times more users than Tent Peg, despite an operating season four months shorter.

"We can be putting more manpower and funds into Site A if there's no longer Site B. We are really at that point," said Cook-Fisher, assistant recreation director for the Mountaintop Ranger District in Skyforest. "We don't have a lot of wiggle room."

Local forests were asked to craft their plans as if their recreation funding would remain the same over the next five years.

Angry Response

The proposal angers mountain resident Tim Cochran, who said the Forest Service should better promote campgrounds and other recreation sites to the many newcomers to the region who might not know they exist.

He contends the Forest Service doesn't give local ranger districts enough money to keep and maintain what they have, even with revenue from fees charged to visitors. Cochran was dismayed at first when the government expanded user fees for federal lands two years ago but has come to accept it as a way of getting things done.

Local forests keep 60 percent to 80 percent of the money generated by campground fees, special use permits, the Adventure Pass, which costs $5 per day or $30 per year, and the $80 annual pass that covers all federal recreation lands.

The money has helped keep up the standards at many sites, Cook-Fisher said. Without Adventure Pass revenue, the Forest Service wouldn't have many tables painted, restrooms cleaned as often and critter-proof trashcans installed, he said.

But Cochran doesn't think enough of it stays in the forest.

"It's morally wrong that people who just want to have a picnic with their family and stick their feet in a stream, either the facilities are not up to snuff or they're having to pay money for what their taxes are already going for," he said.

The Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, a national organization that opposes recreation fees on public lands, has called for a General Accountability Office audit of Forest Service recreation budgets. The group also wants congressional oversight hearings on recreation fees, and public review and comment of the Recreation Facility Analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act. The coalition is sponsoring legislation, Senate Bill 2438, to limit recreation fees.

Priorities Questioned

The no-fee group's president, Kitty Benzar, questions whether electrical hookups and other costly improvements are wise when the Forest Service can't afford to maintain the simple, rustic facilities that have served visitors for so many years.

"The mission of the Forest Service should be to make outdoor recreation available and affordable for everyone. That doesn't require a lot of amenities, just simple things like picnic tables and toilets, exactly the type of amenities that are being removed" under the Recreation Facilities Analysis, she said.

Benzar decried managing public lands on a business model, saying it gives the illusion that the land belongs to the agency rather than the public.

"They're supposed to work for us," she said.

But Bedwell, the agency's director of recreation, said the Forest Service has long had to be resourceful in providing recreation opportunities, contracting with outfitter guides, private ski area operators and campground concessionaires. Fees are no different, he said.

"We have to be able to utilize all those means in order to provide what people are looking for," Bedwell said.

Looking for Volunteers

With declining budgets, the Forest Service is looking to volunteers to perform work it once paid for.
In the San Bernardino forest, 1,684 volunteers contributed 155,974 hours, worth $2.7 million, in 2007 -- almost double the number of hours donated five years ago. Volunteers with at least 100 hours get a free annual Adventure Pass for the four Southern California forests, and 500 hours earns a nationwide pass. The time also counts toward work experience for Forest Service job applicants, and the agency is working on more innovative ways to draw volunteers, said Valeria Baca, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino National Forest.

In the Cleveland National Forest, the Trabuco Ranger District had 437 volunteers and Eagle Scouts working 7,000 hours last year. The district also works with the Los Pinos Conservation Camp, an Orange County facility for troubled youths, which contributed 17,000 hours cleaning up campgrounds. A hang-gliding club near Lake Elsinore exchanges use of a mountaintop for cleanup of the site, including the toilet.

The forest would suffer without volunteers, said Debra Clarke, wilderness and trails manager and volunteer coordinator for the Trabuco district.

"I'm responsible for 40,000 acres of wilderness and 140 miles of trails and I have no staff. So without volunteers, I can't do my job," said Clarke, who recently recruited a fellow customer at a wireless phone store.

Groups Help Save Sites

Three sites in the Santa Rosa San Jacinto Mountains National Monument -- Santa Rosa Springs and Pinyon Flat campgrounds and Ribbonwood Equestrian Group Campground -- were deleted from the closure list after members of special-interest groups volunteered to help with maintenance and improvements.

Work will include taking water-quality samples to save a ranger from commuting to the remote site in the mountains south of Palm Springs, said Buford Crites, a member of the national monument steering committee. Another group, Friends of the Desert Mountains, plans to raise at least $27,000 for a new restroom and parking lot improvements at Santa Rosa Springs, where total improvements are estimated at $70,000.

The 275,000-acre monument is one of the few spots in Southern California where total isolation can be found, Crites said. He called the Forest Service formula used to determine closures flawed because it favors heavily used, urban sites.

"It gave very heavy weight to numbers of users, which meant that anything that was a backcountry experience or a dirt road experience automatically ranked low, and any campground or facility that was next to a major highway did well," Crites said.

Closure decisions, made at the local level, are based on a computer formula that considers, among other things, use, maintenance costs, condition of the facilities, environmental importance, value to the local community and how a site fits with a forest's niche, such as winter sports and snow play in the San Bernardino and horseback riding in the Cleveland, Forest Service officials said.

Public Input

Nationwide, the Recreation Facility Analysis could bring closure of hundreds of sites in the 193 million acres managed by the Forest Service. Plans for the San Bernardino and Cleveland forests are complete, but districts have until the end of 2008 to finish their analyses.

The deadline was extended to allow for hearings after accusations elsewhere that the Forest Service failed to gather comments from the public. Forest service officials denied secrecy and said they had to inventory their sites and make a list before taking it to the public.

The plan has been years in the making, said Johansson, the San Bernardino project coordinator.

But "nothing closes until we talk to a lot more users and groups," said Baca, the forest's spokeswoman. "We will consider options ... on how it can be used differently and suit needs without being such an expenditure."

To solicit public comment, San Bernardino forest officials held four open houses in September. Only a handful of people turned up, Johansson said. It was the same story in the Cleveland National Forest.

Many mountain residents don't know about the plan, including Thomas Garcia, 19, of Crestline, who visits Crest Park Picnic Area a couple of times a week to meet a friend from Lake Arrowhead.

"They're thinking of closing it?" asked Garcia, sitting on a rock and bundled up against a crisp fall breeze. "I don't know why they should, it's a nice little spot."

Crest Park, with its cedars, oaks and pines and sweeping views of San Bernardino Valley, duplicates two nearby picnic areas -- Baylis and Switzer, Johansson said.

Crest Park is scheduled for closure next year. An environmental impact report would be done and public comment sought before any of the improvements are removed, Johansson said.

Changing Times

Many local recreation sites were built in the heyday of canvas tents and station wagons. Camping today is about mammoth RVs with satellite TV, and forest visitors are as likely to kayak and rappel as they are to fish.

"What we're trying to do is to gear our forests toward our users, and our users are urban people. They come for a day, they don't plan it out ... They come when the weather is nice, when we have snow, when their calendar allows it to happen. Most people are within two hours driving," said Anne Carey, recreation planner for Cleveland.

Many of today's users are looking for more amenities, such as electrical and water hookups, and easy highway access.

Technology, access and a young generation that pursues active outdoor sports has influenced what people want from their forests, said Gary Green, an assistant professor at the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia and a Forest Service researcher.

The advent of global positioning systems can put users almost anywhere they want to be, he said. And developments such as lightweight kayaks that can be carried by one person make access to activities easier.

Forest Service planners kept that in mind, and they'll spend what money they do have improving facilities that appeal to 21st-century visitors.

The plan includes catering some campgrounds to off-highway vehicle users, who account for about 12 million visitors nationwide each year. The agency has said it will designate specific areas for such vehicles to minimize erosion and habitat degradation from unplanned roads.

Crab Flats Campground, near Tent Peg, will be converted to an off-highway vehicle campground because that is mainly what it's used for now. Spurs will have to be lengthened to accommodate longer trailers, and barriers will have to be replaced.

In the Cleveland, money is being spent on improvements that will last longer, such as metal picnic tables and sweeter-smelling, easier-to-clean vault toilets.

"We need to change it or get rid of it, but not continue to just stumble ahead," Johansson said. "It's well overdue."

Recreation fees source of contention

PARKS: The U.S. Forest Service disputes criticism that the charges amount to double taxation.

The Press-Enterprise

Recreation fees charged to national forest users bring in millions of dollars every year to pay for maintenance and visitors services, among other things.

Critics contend the fees amount to double taxation and keep people on fixed incomes from visiting forests and parks.

The debate over fees continues as local U.S. Forest Service districts finalize plans for changes over the next five years that include campground closures and higher overnight fees.

The Forest Service says the fees shift some of the cost of benefits and services to those who directly use them, and are less than what most people would pay for a day's or evening's entertainment elsewhere.

In 2005, national recreation fee revenues totaled $228 million. Of that, the Forest Service took in $50.2 million. The National Park Service brought in the biggest share. The Bureau of Land Management, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of the Interior also collect fees.

Inland-area Forest Service rangers said revenue from the $5-a-day Adventure Pass has helped them with projects the agency wouldn't otherwise be able to afford. The San Bernardino National Forest collected $624,522 in 2006; the Cleveland National Forest, $220,167. The forests keep 60 percent to 80 percent of that money; the rest is distributed by headquarters based on each region's fee receipts, visitation and maintenance needs.

Projects funded by the fees must be "connected to the visitor experience," including habitat restoration, forest law enforcement and the cost of collecting the fees.

In 2006, the fees paid for graffiti removal, maintenance on more than 200 miles of trails, purchase of 15 new fire grills for campsites, and repair of water systems at Lake Hemet Picnic Area and Boulder Basin, off Highway 243 north of Idyllwild.

But opponents object to the pay-to-play philosophy.

Kitty Benzar, of the Western Slope No-Fee Coalition, a national anti-fee group based in Durango, Colo., worries that Congress will appropriate less money to local agencies that do well at generating fees.

Earlier this month, Sens. Max Baucus, D-Montana, and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, introduced Senate Bill 2438 to limit such fees.

The legislation would repeal the Federal Lands Recreational Enhancement Act, which gave agencies the authority to charge and collect fees at federal recreation sites through 2014. The bill calls for reinstating the Land and Water Conservation Act of 1965, which limited the use of fees on public lands. It would also cap the entrance fees at national parks.

Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, sponsored similar legislation in 2001 and 1998, said her spokeswoman, Jennifer May.

"Recognizing the funding needs of land management agencies, particularly after recent wildfires, Congresswoman Bono will continue to fight to ensure that such agencies as the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have the resources they need, but these funds should not be secured by placing an unfair burden on families seeking to enjoy the outdoors," May said.

December 27, 2007

Thirty years of outdoor writing


Outdoor News Service

To the best of my recollection, I’ve been doing this column since the latter 1970s, thirty-something years. I know there are some of you who’ve been reading nearly the whole time because when we bump into each other somewhere, you remind me of a column from years ago.

I know you’ve been reading a long time because you talk to me like we are old friends (or old enemies). How you can recognize me from the little photos that have run with the column for decades, I don’t have a clue, but you don’t have to tell me I look older than in those photos. I am older, but so are you.

You usually mention a column about my family or dogs, the personal ones. I think they hit close to home for you and resonate. Talking about the importance of family and marriage, and hunting and fishing, is increasingly the antithesis of everything that is politically correct.

But we know that the fundamental breakdown in American society today relates to the breakdown of the traditional family, about the inability of anyone to take responsibility, and the distance we’ve moved away from the land. It’s not complex at all, but there are whole agencies whose sole purpose is to cloud issues.

We desperately hope our children don’t make up the last generation that understands personal responsibility and the thrill of catching wild trout from a beaver pond on a fly rod. The two go hand-in-hand because there comes a point when you have to decide if you’re going to eat the trout or let it go. It’s like so many choices in life: simple but wrought with consequences on so many fronts. Frankly, I don’t know how I’ve gotten away with writing about it so long.

When this column first began, Southern California newspapers often had two or three pages devoted to traditional outdoor sports -- fishing and hunting. Some of the smaller daily newspapers are lucky to have that much space for an entire sports section today, thanks to newsprint and ink costs and corporate ownership that would rather squeeze more blood from the publishing turnip than actually serve, inform, and entertain readers. We are among the last generation of newspaper readers anyway. The demographics of those who read print versions are gray.

When I was a kid, Sunday morning meant an early trip to church, and then crepe-thin pancakes made by my dad, stacked up five or six deep, and slathered with peanut butter and syrup. It meant all of us sprawled all over the living room reading different sections of the Sunday newspaper, passing them around, and a day together.

Our house transformed from the bustling train station that it seemed every other day of the week into a lounging, luxury resort of reading, discussion, ideas, and games. The television was only allowed on for three things on Sunday, Dodgers’ baseball, that wonderful old American Sportsman show with Curt Gowdy, and The World of Disney. Sunday was what I imaged every day of a cruise would be like. The newspaper was the centerpiece.

Some things have changed a lot over the past 30 years. There are more political threats to hunting and fishing than ever before, and there is a growing contingent of politicians who believe guns are intrinsically evil and want to do away with them, but most of the outdoor things I like have not changed much.

Depending on the weather, more than anything else, I still get to miss my share of doves and upland birds every year. Public land hunting in California still ranks up there as some of the best in the nation when we have wet winters. Unless we put wind turbines on all our public lands, I don’t imagine this hunting will get much worse, either. Here’s the asterisk to that comment: The former superintendent of the Mojave Preserve, Mary Martin, probably did more in one year to reduce quail populations in our deserts by removing cattle water than all of the development in the desert has over the past 30 years. And her move was more damaging to those of us who hunt and watch wildlife because it was all on public land, where we all have access. We have to remain vigilant for these kinds of threats.

Deer populations are at the bottom of the barrel throughout Southern California because biologists still believe deer are at carrying capacity of the land. Maybe. But we can increase K, as they call it. But no one has any interest in management, so fire is the only positive influence we have on the herds. Things can only get better for deer, and they are right now -- but that has come at a huge cost in homes and human lives lost or disrupted. I blame the Forest Service and environmental groups that sue over every tree cut down in the woods. Both of them can’t tell good management from bad management, the forest from the trees, any longer. This long slippery road to the bottom was well underway when I first started writing about deer in the 1970s, and it doesn’t look like it will get better anytime soon. The “managers” are to the point they don’t even try to improve things. It’s a shame I find myself pulling for fires to burn up canyons where I know it will help the deer. That hasn’t changed.

I’ve watched bighorn sheep populations yo-yo up and down, but the long term trend has been upward thanks -- mostly -- to volunteers who keep fighting their way through the red tape to build new water sources in desert mountain ranges. Every new water source is like turning on a fountain the pours more sheep back into our deserts where they were extirpated by livestock diseases, drying up of springs through groundwater pumping, and development. But there are still some who want to shut off the sheep restoration by shutting down the water developments. I have less and less patience for those people.

We’re stupidly moving into a management program for ocean fisheries -- the marine reserve program that locks sport anglers out of vast areas of ocean -- that has proven a failure on land for birds and mammals. We still have vast “game reserves” all over the state under the guise of acting as pools of wildlife that will spill over and keep areas outside the reserve restocked with fish and game. They never have and never will work as envisioned. But no one has the political courage to say the experiment has failed and do away with them. You’d think this lesson should be applied to the marine reserves, which should only ban commercial exploitation of fisheries and allow recreational users. We can fish in national parks. Why shouldn’t we be able to fish in marine preserves? We can hunt on state and federal wildlife areas. Why not marine preserves? It’s the “lock out humans” mentality that is so pervasive today in management of public lands and resources. They forget: We belong here, too. We belong as much as the cougar or kangaroo rat or the vermillion rockfish or yellow-legged frog. We belong here more.

Today, I feel like a lone voice pointing out that simple fact. When I started doing this, there were a lot of us. Laughing and talking with an old editor friend of mine this week, he said we were dinosaurs. I corrected him: Dinosaurs are extinct. I told him I thought we were more like fire-belching dragons. My fear is that new fire-breathers won’t come along, that no one will believe in us much longer, and then we will simply disappear. Like dinosaurs.

Not So Hot

Another Perspective

By Patrick J. Michaels
The American Spectator

If a scientific paper appeared in a major journal saying that the planet has warmed twice as much as previously thought, that would be front-page news in every major paper around the planet. But what would happen if a paper was published demonstrating that the planet may have warmed up only half as much as previously thought?

Nothing. Earlier this month, Ross McKitrick from Canada's University of Guelph and I published a manuscript in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres saying precisely that.

Scientists have known for years that temperature records can be contaminated by so-called "urban warming," which results from the fact that long-term temperature histories tend to have originated at points of commerce. The bricks, buildings, and pavement of cities retain the heat of the day and impede the flow of ventilating winds.

For example, downtown Washington is warmer than nearby (and more rural) Dulles Airport. As government and services expand down the Dulles Access road, it, too, is beginning to warm compared to more rural sites to the west.

Adjusting data for this effect, or using only rural stations, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states with confidence that less than 10% of the observed warming in long-term climate histories is due to urbanization.

That's a wonderful hypothesis, and Ross and I decided to test it.

We noted that other types of bias must still be affecting historical climate records. What about the quality of a national network and the competence of the observers? Other factors include movement or closing of weather stations and modification of local land surfaces, such as replacing a forest with a cornfield.

Many of these are socioeconomic, so we built a computer model that included both regional climatic factors, such as latitude, as well as socioeconomic indicators like GDP and applied it to the IPCC's temperature history.

Weather equipment is very high-maintenance. The standard temperature shelter is painted white. If the paint wears or discolors, the shelter absorbs more of the sun's heat and the thermometer inside will read artificially high. But keeping temperature stations well painted probably isn't the highest priority in a poor country.

IPCC divides the world into latitude-longitude boxes, and for each of these we supplied information on GDP, literacy, amount of missing data (a measure of quality), population change, economic growth and change in coal consumption (the more there is, the cooler the area).

Guess what. Almost all the socioeconomic variables were important. We found the data were of highest quality in North America and that they were very contaminated in Africa and South America. Overall, we found that the socioeconomic biases "likely add up to a net warming bias at the global level that may explain as much as half the observed land-based warming trend."

We then modified IPCC's temperature data for these biases and compared the statistical distribution of the warming to the original IPCC data and to satellite measures of lower atmospheric temperature that have been available since 1979. Since these are from a single source (the U.S. government), and they don't have any urban contamination, they are likely to be affected very little by economic factors.

Indeed. The adjusted IPCC data now looks a lot like the satellite data. The biggest change was that the high (very warm) end of the distribution in the IPCC data was knocked off by the unbiasing process.

Where was the press? A Google search reveals that with the exception of a few blog citations, the only major story ran in Canada's Financial Post.

There are several reasons why the press provides so little coverage to science indicating that global warming isn't the end of the world. One has to do with bias in the scientific literature itself. Theoretically, assuming unbiased climate research, every new finding should have an equal probability of indicating that things are going to be more or less warm, or worse-than-we-thought vs. not-so-bad.

But, when someone finds that there's only half as much warming as we thought, and the story is completely ignored, what does this say about the nature of the coverage itself? Somehow, you'd think that would have been newsworthy.

Patrick J. Michaels is senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute and a member of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

December 24, 2007

A local's ornament adorns White House Christmas tree

Victorville Daily Press

A close-up of the ornament painted by Steve Brodeur, a wildland fire engine captain in the Mojave National Preserve.

Visitors to the White House this Christmas may notice a small piece of the High Desert among the holiday decorations.

A hand-painted ornament showing scenes inspired by the Mojave National Preserve hangs on the White House Christmas tree along with 346 other ornaments featuring National Parks from across the country.

The Mojave National Preserve ornament, painted on a silver bulb eight-inches in diameter, shows a Joshua tree, cacti and the Providence Mountain range, familiar scenes from the 1.6 million acre park.

Steve Brodeur, a wildland fire captain at the preserve, said he spent more than 20 hours painting the ornament, one dot at a time. He made stencils from tape and practiced on six other bulbs before working on the final piece.

“I’m always sitting around doodling, so it’s nice being able to do a project like this that has to be planned out,” he said.

Brodeur, who never had formal art training, said he was honored to be asked to participate in the project, particularly because some other parks had their ornaments produced by professional artists. He said that he was a little nervous to paint on such a fragile medium, especially because each park was only issued one fiberglass ornament.

“I thought they were made of glass until I dropped mine on the cement and it bounced,” he said.

Brodeur and other artists attended a Nov. 28 reception at the White House to present the ornament with government officials and first lady Laura Bush.

The Mojave ornament was placed on a center branch halfway up the 18-foot high Fraser Fir tree in the Blue Room of the White House.

Cathy Kupper, spokeswoman for the National Park Service in Washington, said that the ornament will become part of the presidential collection and maintained for years to come. She said the first lady chose the “Holiday in the National Parks” theme for this year’s Christmas decorations because she spent considerable time in the parks as a child.

The theme permeates through the East Wing and State Floor of the building. In addition to the ornaments, garlands of painted pine cones and seashells, models of national monuments and paintings of the parks are on display. A 40-inch architecturally accurate white chocolate and gingerbread replica of the White House is displayed in the State Dining Room.

The 300 pound model includes miniature versions of the first family’s pet Scottish Terriers, Barney and Miss Beasley, as well as animals found in the national parks.

“It’s the White House; they really go all out for the holidays,” Kupper said.

December 21, 2007

150 years ago, camels appeared on Southwestern desert trails

Winter Visitor Guide 2008
Colorado River Communities & Imperial Valley

Doug Baum of the Texas Camel Corps in a typical summer uniform worn by Lt. Edward F. Beale’s soldiers, if they wore a uniform at all.

If the first sailing ships, the first horses and the appearance of the first Caucasians – Spanish, French, English and Portuguese – flummoxed the natives in the Caribbean and in the Americas – imagine what the sight of a camel 150 years ago must have been like.

Writing in a report to Congress in 1858 of the expedition of camels that he led from Texas to California, across New Mexico and Arizona, Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale observed on Oct. 17, 1857 as his group of men and 25 camels neared the Colorado River:

“Here the Indians began to pour in upon us from the Mohave villages. First, two or three, and then by dozens. They were a fine looking, comfortable, fat and merry set; naked excepting a very small piece of cotton cloth around the waist, and, though barefooted, ran over the sharp rock and pebbles as easily as if shod with iron.

“We were soon surrounded on all sides by them. Some had learned a few words of English from trafficking with the military posts two hundred and fifty miles off, and one of them saluted me with: “God damn my soul eyes. How de do! How de do!”

The concept of using camels as pack animals was promoted by Sen. Jefferson Davis when he became Secretary of War in 1853, the idea implanted in his imagination five years earlier by a Major Henry C. Wayne.

Davis, who later assumed the presidency of the Confederate states, was forward-looking on behalf of the South – he was interested for economic and political reasons in seeing the South connected to the newly-acquired State of California. He favored the Gasdsen Purchase, for example, to expand lands of the Arizona territory for a southern railroad route to California.

That led to a $30,000 congressional appropriation in 1855 to conduct the experiment. Writes Lewis Burt Leslie in “Uncle Sam’s Camels,” about Beale’s introduction to using camels as transport animals:

“While with Kit Carson in an exploration of Death Valley, California, Beale had conceived the ideas thatthe camel, would solve the problem of conquest of waterless wastes in the desert.

“Particularly was Beale influenced by the reading of Abbe Huc’s ‘Travels in China and Tartary,’ which dwelt at some length upon the values of the camel for commerce and travel. Soon we find Lieutenant Beale in Washington, where he met Davis, and together these two enthusiasts looked forward to the arrival in the United States of the first camels.”

In fact 79 camels were purchased from the Middle East and shipped to Indianola, Texas, halfway between Galveston and Corpus Christi, then on to Camp Verde, Texas, near San Antonio.

A word or two about Lt. Beale, who by the time he was 28 years old, had traveled across the country 10 times. Born in 1822 in Washington, D.C., Beale was the their way though hostile lines to San Diego for reinforcements, in time to save Kearney’s troops.

Lt. Edward Fitzgerald Beale 1822-1893

Beale made six more trips across the country in the next two years, including a trip in 1848 where he carried proof of the discovery of gold in California and was instrumental in starting the Gold Rush of 1849 to the Golden State.

In 1853, Beale was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for California and Nevada, and that year, he made another of his cross country journeys, evaluating a railroad route through southern Colorado and southern Utah. He made his home at Fort Tejon in California, near Bakersfield.

It was in 1857, then, that Beale was simultaneously appointed to survey a wagon route between Fort Defiance, N.M. and the Colorado River, along the 35th parallel, as well as to take command of the first – and last – U.S. Army Camel Corps.

The expedition embarked from Camp Verde at on June 25 of that year, a party of 44 men; 12 wagons; 95 mules, horses and dogs; and 25 of the 70 camels that had been imported.

At first the camels were outperformed by the mules. Wrote Beale at the end of the day:

“Left San Antonio at 1 p.m., and encamped at the beautiful spring at San Lucas, having made sixteen miles, the camels carrying, each, including pack saddles, nearly five hundred and seventy six pounds.

“This being the first day, and the animals not having performed any service for a long time, they seemed tired on their arrival at camp; but I hope, as we proceed, and they harden in the flesh, to find them carrying their burdens more easily.”

The Camel Corps proceeded through the Big Bend Country of Texas, stopping at Fort Stockton, the on to Albuquerque, then to Fort Defiance. Though his contract called for him to begin the survey at Fort Defiance, it actually was the Zuni Pueblo in Zuni, N.M. just across the northeast border of Arizona, that Beale began his assessment. Traveling west across Northern Arizona, much of which would later be Route 66, the expedition used the San Francisco Peaks north of present-day Flagstaff as a guidepost as they headed west.

And the camels began to outperform the mules (see related story), once they became accustomed to the daily grind of the trail, and carrying as much as a half a ton of supplies was a standard load for the good-natured beasts.

The expedition’s journey ended on Oct. 18, at Beale’s Fort Tejon home. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, interest in camels as a mode of transportation was put on hold until after the war. While Beale as convinced of the animals’ utility, soldiers and cavalrymen were not, for they considered the animals malodorous and difficult to handle – the latter assessment contrasting to the experiences of the 1857 expedition – compared to the behavior of mules.

President Abraham Lincoln pushed for the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, and rail became the preferred method of handling freight and the mails. The camels at Fort Tejon were taken to Los Angeles, where they hauled freight to and from the harbor’s docks. Those back at Camp Verde went to auction and ultimately carried freight or traveled with circuses.

Some camels were used in Western Arizona to carry goods across the desert. There were camels introduced from the Orient that ended up on Northern Nevada. Many camels were simply turned loose, leading to reports that remained unverified as late as 40 years ago that descendants had been spotted in remote areas.

And what of the wagon road survey that Beale conducted, between Zuni and the Colorado River?

Beale wrote to Congress that “… one may travel the road in witner an summer withough suffering the extremes of heat or cold,” providing charts of the summer and winter temperatures along the way, as well as faithful odometer readings.

Where there were canyons, washes for rivers, he suggested either bridges of diversion dams, depending on the situation, to straighten elbows that the party was forced to take from time to time. His estimate of cost: $100,000.

He stated: “As this will inevitably become the great emigrant road to California, as well as that by which all New Mexico will reach this place, it is proper that the government should put in it such a conditjion as to relieve the emigrant and stock drivers of as many hardships incident to their business as possible.

“For this purpose, I would recommend that water dams be constructed at short intervals over the entire road. With these and a few bridges and military posts I do not doubt that the whole emigration to the Pacific coast would pursue this one line, instead of being divided and scattered over half a dozen different routes…”

“I presume that there can be no further question of the practicability of the country near the thirty-fifth parallel for a wagon road,” he stated.

It wouldn’t be until much later that this became U.S. Route 66, and emigrants found many ways to get to the West Coast – by vessel around Cape Horn; the Butterfield Stage and rail through Southern Arizona and over Yuma Crossing and the Ocean to Ocean Bridge; and the Oregon Trail, to name a few.

December 18, 2007

Searles Valley Minerals fighting to protect business, waterfowl

BY RUTH JUSTIS Staff Reporter
Ridgecrest Daily Independent

This one-acre pond features islands, shade structures and anti-slip safety mats for visiting birds. It was built to satisfy Fish and Game regulations. Photo by Nathan Ahle.

From the air, the 52-square-mile Searles Lake looks like a wonderful place for waterfowl to rest and relax, but doing so can be hazardous to their health. Any bird spending any length of time on Searles Lake soon becomes “salted” and will perish if not rescued. The brine removes the natural waterproofing from their feathers, they become dehydrated and the extra weight from the salt crystals makes it difficult to get into the air.

Looking after the welfare of the bird population has cost the company $20 million in the last eight years. Just over half a million went to provide a bird sanctuary at Owens Lake.

“Even with all of our efforts, we still lose about 180 birds a year,” said Searles Valley Minerals’ Executive Director Arzell Hale.

Two boat crews set out daily at 6:30 a.m., patrolling the 1,100 acres of saltwater in small boats to rescue birds in trouble. The crews go out four times a day in all kinds of weather. In between, they monitor the propane cannons, which fire “air blasts” intermittently 24-hours a day in an effort to discourage birds from landing on the water.

The company maintains about 350 miles of roadway on the lake, giving access to its 350 wells, the percolation ponds, the propane cannons, and the bird hospital.

Bambi Benavidez, owner of Flys Free Wildlife Rescue, has been the bird rescue project manager for Searles Valley Minerals for five years. Working with Fish and Game and the Bureau of Land Management, Benavidez does her best to rehabilitate “salted” birds and release them back into the wild.

“When the boat crew rescues a bird, they bring it to me in the bird hospital, where I weigh it with the salt still on it, then wash it and re-weigh it. I’ve taken as much as two pounds of salt off of a single bird. I take a blood sample to check for dehydration and respiratory problems, administer fluids and put the bird into one of our small recovery ponds, where it stays two to four days, or until ready for release,” Benavidez said.

Prior to installing the recovery ponds, the birds had to be transported to San Pedro for rehabilitation.

“It cost us $383 per bird to take them to San Pedro, and we lost quite a few in transport. The stress of the trip killed some of them and the summer heat got others,” Benavidez said.

Once the birds are healthy, they are usually released at Little Lake, Lake Isabella or the sanctuary at Owens Lake. Hopefully, they will not return to Searles Valley.

Benavidez keeps logs and maps of every bird rescued on the lake. She often sees loons, ducks, widgeons, mallards, teals, snowy plovers, sandpipers, egrets, herons, pelicans, grebes, buffleheads, and many more varieties. Pelicans usually come in flocks of 50 to 400 birds, Benavidez said.

“It’s quite a sight to watch the pelicans. The first ones take off and hover in a circle until the whole flock is airborne. It looks like a bird tornado,” Benavides said.

Not only do workers watch the water for birds, even the roadways are inspected regularly.

“The snowy plover nesting season begins in March, and we have to check the roadways every morning for nests. If we find a nest, we close off that section of road until the chicks hatch and are ready to fly,” Hale said.

The plovers are counted each year and the survey reported to the BLM, which monitors the program.

“Fish and Game is very happy with our rescue program. Lt. Ernie Acosta is in charge of this area and is very pleased with the way we run the operation,” Benavidez said.

Fish and Game also mandated that SVM build a one-acre pond with islands, anti-slip safety mats and shade structures for migrating birds.

“The company will have to maintain this pond as long as the plant exists,” Hale said. “Altogether, the project costs us about a million a year.”

U.S. senators attempt to soften park gun rules

FEDERAL LAND: Stevens, Murkowski and 45 others want loaded weapons legal in more parks and refuges.

Anchorage Daily News

WASHINGTON -- Both of Alaska's U.S. senators have signed a letter asking the Interior Department to repeal federal gun rules for national parks and wildlife refuges, saying that the existing guidelines are "confusing, burdensome and unnecessary."

If federal officials agree, the result could be people being able to legally carry loaded guns onto federal lands in Alaska where they're now banned, including much of Denali National Park.

The letter was drafted by U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to change rules that prohibit visitors to most national parks and wildlife refuges from carrying operable, loaded guns.

Such changes would "respect the second amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners, while providing a consistent application of state weapons laws across all land ownership boundaries" Crapo said in his letter.

The letter was signed by 47 senators, including Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both Republicans.

Stevens' signature is "consistent with his long-standing support for Second Amendment rights, as well as state's rights," said his spokesman, Aaron Saunders.

"In Alaska, legally possessing a gun is as much a necessity as it is a right," Saunders said. "Senator Stevens strongly supports streamlining federal regulations regarding law-abiding citizens carrying firearms on public lands."

Murkowski had similar reasons for her support, said spokesman Kevin Sweeney.

"She's signing on as someone who's an advocate for Second Amendment rights," he said.

If the changes were adopted, it could mean that people would be allowed to carry loaded guns in most public areas of Alaska's national parks, including the main road into Denali National Park.

However, there currently is no process under way to change the existing gun guidelines on federal lands, said Interior Department spokesman Chris Paolino.

"We've received the letter and will review it and take the senators' views into consideration," he said.


Current gun regulations on federal lands vary, depending on the agency and the purpose of the land.

Active, operable guns are allowed on federal land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, for example, as long as the applicable state and local firearms laws are followed.

Nationwide, guns are generally allowed on national wildlife refuges and in national parks -- but only if the owner has broken down the firearm and has it in a carrying case, rendering it inoperable.

However, there are some exceptions, particularly in Alaska. Some national wildlife refuges allow hunting, and guns are acceptable during hunting season. There also are 59 National Park units nationwide where people can hunt and carry weapons, Paolino said, but again, only during hunting season.

If park visitors are uncertain about the regulations, "there's no harm in calling where you're headed and just asking the question, and getting it clarified," Paolino said.

In Alaska, however, there are separate regulations for guns at national parks within the state, said John Quinley, a spokesman for the national parks in Alaska.

Operable firearms aren't allowed at all in Klondike Gold Rush or Sitka national parks. They're also not allowed in the older parts of Denali, Katmai and Glacier Bay national parks, where they must be broken down and inoperable if visitors have them. In Denali, that prohibition includes the area of the park seen by most visitors: the park road, between the Parks Highway and Wonder Lake. In Katmai, operable guns are off-limits at the popular Brooks Camp.

However, it's acceptable to have a loaded, operable gun in much of the national parkland added to Alaska after 1980, including vast swaths of Denali, Katmai and Glacier Bay.

That's largely for protection against bears in backcountry locations, Quinley said, although the park service points out that visitors are also allowed to use pepper spray if they feel threatened by a bear.


The changes to federal gun rules have long been sought by the National Rifle Association, which has been trying to modify the regulations for about five years, said spokeswoman Ashley Varner.

"When you have law-abiding citizens who are not allowed to carry firearms for personal protection when they are out hiking, when they are out camping deep in the national forests ... that really leaves the law-abiding citizens defenseless," Varner said.

They're merely asking for consistency from federal agencies, said Crapo's spokeswoman, Susan Wheeler. Often, people aren't aware whether they are on federal or state land, and don't know which regulations they should be following, Wheeler said.

Sometimes, people have to stop and break down a gun and stow it in a carrying case when they cross from state lands to federal lands, Wheeler said.

"We've got a couple of agencies that go by state law and some that don't," she said. "If they all went by the same rules, that would be a lot easier."

Crapo decided to press for the changes now, so that they would be considered before the end of the Bush administration, when a new Interior secretary will be in place, Wheeler said.

The Idaho Republican has spoken to Kempthorne about his proposal, Wheeler said. She wouldn't elaborate on whether the Interior secretary, a former senator and Idaho governor, was interested in the changes.

"We would hope that he would be amenable to it, being a fellow Westerner and understanding the lifestyle," she said.

December 14, 2007

Colorado River water deal is reached

Interior secretary: Agreement to share adversity. Shortage could be declared by 2010.

Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times
‘NO SIGN OF ENDING’: The Western drought has left Lake Powell, above, and Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s two mammoth reservoirs, half-empty. One study this year warned that global warming could thrust the Southwest into a permanent drought by 2050.

By Bettina Boxall and Ashley Powers, Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — The federal government Thursday ushered in a new era of shortage on the Colorado River, adopting a blueprint for how it will tighten the spigot on the West's most important water source.

The guidelines, more than two years in the making, come in the eighth year of the worst drought in the century-long historic record of the Colorado River, which supplies water to 25 million people and 1 million acres of farmland.

Federal water managers say a shortage could be declared as early as 2010, allowing the Department of the Interior to reduce water deliveries to Arizona and Nevada, two of the seven states that have sparred over the waterway for decades. California, which has the biggest water allocation and senior rights in the lower basin, would not be affected.

The drought has left Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the river's two mammoth reservoirs, half-empty, their receding shorelines marked by a wide band of bleached rocks that a decade ago were under water. Without some wet years, Lake Mead may never refill, federal hydrologists say.

"We have had good news and bad news," Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said in a speech before signing the document at the Colorado River Water Users Assn. meeting at Caesars Palace. The bad news, he said, is that the drought shows "no sign of ending."

Scientists also predict that climate change will worsen Western drought patterns and reduce Colorado River flows by increasing evaporation and decreasing snowfall. One study released this year warned that global warming could thrust the Southwest into a state of permanent drought by 2050.

"Runoff in five of the seven Colorado River basin states is projected to decline by more than 15% during the 21st century," Kempthorne said.

Against that backdrop, the basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and California began negotiations in 2005 on a blueprint for water shortages.

Their plans formed the basis of the document signed by Kempthorne, who called it "an agreement to share adversity" and a landmark in the tangled history of Colorado River management.

The agreement avoided a nasty and prolonged legal battle among the seven states by tinkering with river law without changing the fundamentals of the 1922 compact that divided the Colorado's flow among them.

Although California's senior rights put it in the best position of the lower basin states, the agreement benefited the state by preventing "bloody legal fights in Congress or the courts," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The guidelines, which will be in effect for the next 19 years, contain three major elements:

* They set particular water-level elevations of Lake Mead as triggers for water cutbacks. The reductions will total less than 10% of the lower basin's allocation. Arizona agriculture will bear the brunt of the shortfall and Nevada a small portion of it.

"California is secure. Its entitlement is not impacted," said Bill Swan, a water rights lawyer for the Imperial Irrigation District, which gets three-fourths of the state's Colorado River allotment.

* Lake Powell, which holds water from the upper-basin states, and Lake Mead, which receives water from Powell, will be operated as one reservoir system. That is expected to make it easier to control Lake Mead's level, and thus the shortage triggers.

* States will be allowed to hold "conserved" water in Lake Mead from year to year, changing existing requirements that make them use or lose their annual allocations.

Water agencies could then pay irrigation districts to fallow farmland, keep the unused irrigation water stored in Lake Mead and draw on it later.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California will be able to store as much as 1.5 million acre-feet in Lake Mead, nearly double the capacity of its Diamond Valley Lake Reservoir in Riverside County. That is enough water to meet annual needs for about 3 million average households.

Nevada, which has the smallest water allotment in the lower basin, plans to hold water in Lake Mead from fallow farmland along the Virgin and Muddy rivers. The Southern Nevada Water Authority also will build a small reservoir, called Drop Two, near the Mexican border to capture flows ordered by American farmers who don't use the water when it rains. That measure would decrease flows to the Colorado River's ecologically important delta, potentially sparking an outcry from Mexico.

In return for financing the reservoir, Southern Nevada will get some of the captured water. The Metropolitan Water District and Arizona may also take part in the arrangement.

Las Vegas' exploding population and growing water needs have been a driving force behind the talks. Pat Mulroy, the powerful head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, had threatened to go to court to get more water.

Michael Cohen, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, called the agreement a massive step forward.

But he wasn't prepared to say the states that relied on the Colorado River have fully acknowledged a drier future.

"None of the municipal agencies are saying, 'We need to reevaluate our urban plans, our growth plans, because there's only so much water,' " he said. "It's not clear that the states are saying, 'OK, we're going to now live in this era of limits.' "

December 13, 2007

Land of the fee for photos?

Scripps Newspaper Group — Online

The Bush administration is trying to hide its mismanagement of federal lands by using new permit requirements and fees to limit filming and photography in national parks, forests and wildlife refuges, a congressional leader charges.

"Maintenance in our national parks, listing of endangered species, fire preparedness and responsible energy development are just a few examples of serious policy failures by the Bush administration," said Rep. Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. "Any hint that this new permit and fee structure could limit the free flow of public information regarding the very real consequences of these failures is simply unacceptable."

Administration officials said there was no effort to limit news coverage.

"There is no intention in these proposed regulations for censorship by the agencies based on content," said Mitchell Butler, deputy assistant secretary of the interior for fish, wildlife and parks. "In fact, we believe that telling the story of our resources benefits not only our public lands but the visiting public as well."

Rahall's committee heard testimony Wednesday on the proposed regulations covering the national parks, U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service refuges.

The regulations would require a permit and payment of a fee by those engaging in commercial filming or photography on federal lands. The only exception would be for journalists covering "breaking news." When the licenses would be required and fees imposed would be up to local land managers.

Critics, including the Society of Environmental Journalists, the National Press Photographers Association and the Radio-Television News Directors Association, said the proposals are unworkable. They said the definition of news is "excessively broad" and the discretion given local officials is excessive.

In addition, critics said the original 2000 law was simply aimed at large Hollywood production companies that were using federal lands. It was never intended to cover journalists working on longer-range projects, documentary filmmakers or freelancers, among others, they said.

The Interior Department is in the midst of finalizing the rules.

"The proposal, as drafted, would give Department of Interior employees excessively broad discretion to define what is and is not news," said Tony Overman, a photographer with The Olympian and president of the National Press Photographers Association. "The result, of course, would be entirely inconsistent with the government's constitutional obligation to avoid defining or regulating the collection and reporting of the news and with our government's tradition of openness and fairness to the press."

Administration officials defended the proposed regulations and said they simply tracked the original law.

Rahall said the proposed regulations are another example of the "hostility" the administration has shown toward open government.

"Of course there is reason to view the proposed regulations with some skepticism," he said. "The Bush administration will go down in history as one of the most secretive and least transparent in American history."

Others testified that there have been ongoing problems, saying the proposed regulations won't help.

A freelance radio reporter was told by officials at Yellowstone National Park that she would need to secure a permit, pay a fee and have $1 million in liability insurance before she would be permitted into the park to interview an expert on wolves, said Timothy Wheeler, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists. Wheeler said park officials admitted they had made an error, but he argued the latest proposals could cause even more confusion.

The policies at Yosemite National Park might be the most "blatant intrusion" on journalists' First Amendment rights, said Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association. Yosemite's policies permit its managers to condition the granting of a permit for photography on their own determinations that the park "would benefit" from the increased public awareness, Cochran said.

"Under this standard, how could a journalist ever gather footage for an investigative piece that exposes a scandal or criticizes the park's administration?" Cochran said.

Alaska Rep. Don Young, top Republican on the panel, tangled with Overman after saying that maybe journalists and photographers should pay a flat fee to use the parks just like hunters and fishermen.

"I pay $15 when I go into Mount Rainier (National Park) just like any other member of the public," said Overman. "Requiring a license amounts to prior restraint on journalists."

December 12, 2007

Off-road riders raising funds to fight BLM's wilderness study area use policies

OHVs in southern Utah

By Mark Havnes
The Salt Lake Tribune

KANAB - Off-highway-vehicle riders have raised $25,000 to help one of their own fight a $300 fine.

Back on May 28, 2006, a federal ranger cited Dan M. Jessop for leading a group of nine OHVs on a road closed by the Bureau of Land Management in a wilderness study area.

Jessop refuses to pay the fine. The 54-year-old Apple Valley resident doesn't deny driving an OHV on Canaan Mountain's Sawmill Road near the boundary between Kane and Washington counties. But he and his off-roading pals do dispute the BLM's ownership of the route, its authority to close it and its ability to create "de facto" wilderness areas.

And they plan to make those arguments in federal court. A hearing is set for today before U.S. Magistrate Robert T. Braithwaite in St. George. If the OHV groups prevail - and the judge tosses Jessop's criminal misdemeanor charge - they figure they will have ammunition against other off-roading tickets and what they see as an escalating crackdown against all-terrain vehicles on federal lands.

In short, the ATV crowd is drawing a line in the dirt with Jessop's case, hoping to gain the upper hand in the continuing road war between government officials and backcountry enthusiasts.

Jessop argues Sawmill Road is a Washington County route and that the BLM had no right to close it.

"I've been driving on that road for 35 years and [no one] is going to tell me not to drive there," Jessop said. "I'm fighting it on the principle of the thing."

But that principle will require some principal. That's why OHV groups have kicked in $25,000 to aid Jessop's defense.

"It can take significant money to take a position," said Jessop's St. George attorney, Michael Shaw. "Like the big civil cases, we're fighting the same fight, which is why it is so expensive."

Most cited OHV riders face civil fines and would rather cough the cash than fight the ticket in court.

One of Shaw's arguments in Jessop's case is that only Congress can create a wilderness area. So when the BLM starts treating places as wilderness in study areas, he said, the agency has overstepped its authority and created a "de facto wilderness area."

Shaw also insists Sawmill Road should remain open because it was in use well before 1976, when Congress repealed Revised Statute 2477.

That old mining law granted rights of way across public lands. Lawmakers grandfathered in existing routes, leading to numerous road ownership disputes in Utah.

Shaw said he has affidavits from at least 10 people testifying to the historical use of Sawmill Road that he plans to introduce in court.

"We are saying the BLM has no authority to close it," he said. "There is good case law to back us up."

But the government points to a precedent backing its case.

Jim Crisp, manager of the BLM field office in St. George, said Braithwaite ruled several years ago against a group of riders cited on Sawmill Road, closed since 1980. He said the judge found the agency acted within its authority.

"It is clear the road had been closed," said Crisp, who disputes even defining the road as such. "It was an old pack trail not authorized for vehicles."

Crisp said OHV users have driven all over the mountaintop, scarring the landscape. People also have ripped out barricades and knocked down signs.

Still, Don Black, president of the Canyon Country 4x4 Club of Kanab, is eager for a showdown in court. His group has been looking for a case to challenge similar citations.

"If we win," he said, "it will affirm our rights to use [county] roads."

But Liz Thomas, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, counters that federal land mangers have the authority to create wilderness study areas, including road closures.

"Until congressional action [on wilderness], the BLM is responsible and has the authority to manage public lands," Thomas said. "The BLM does all it can to make clear an area is not open for use."

She said Kane and Washington counties are laced with legal roads and that to intentionally go on closed paths is "criminal."

While Thomas had not heard of Jessop's case, she found it similar to one SUWA is fighting in federal court with Kane County.

For OHV groups, she said, the issue has become "ground zero for fighting the federal government."

December 9, 2007

High Desert Corridor project seeks engineering bids

Daily Press

Planners for the High Desert Corridor, which one day will link the Victor Valley and Palmdale, are now seeking bids from engineering firms to outline how the project can be financed and built.

The expressway would improve travel safety, spur economic growth across the High Desert and divert truck traffic from Southern California freeways and High Desert highways, proponents say.

“The High Desert Corridor is a giant step closer to becoming a reality,” said 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt. “It is my goal to have this highway built within 10 years, but it can’t happen soon enough.”

The corridor, also known as the E220, will be a crucial element for creating an “inland port” complex.

It will connect to a separate project currently spearheaded by the city of Victorville that will link Interstate 15 to Highway 395, including a connection with Southern California Logistics Airport and, in a later extension, to Highway 18 through Apple Valley.

BNSF Railway Company is developing a large railroad yard complex at Southern California Logistics Airport, the former George Air Force Base.

Multi-modal freight distribution centers such as SCLA are vital to lessening dependency on the Los Angeles basin for goods movement and keeping pace with the global economy.

December 8, 2007

Direct Reduction

from Preserve the Herds

It was the brutally cruel and inhumane treatment of wild horses through a host of barbaric “solutions” such as mustanging, poisoning water holes, driving them off cliffs, and the bloody road to slaughter that sparked public protest to end this ugly historical chapter of the American West.

The Wild Free-Roaming Horse & Burro Act was suppose to close the door on these kinds of “on the range” kills and finally allow our animal brethren the freedom to live in peace after millenniums of domestication and service.

While supporters of the Act have often rallied against the hidden illegal slaughter and treatment of our now supposedly protected equines, the killing of America’s wild burros through “direct reductions programs” have often continued unabated through government agencies armed with the exclusively reserved right to put a bullet in our burros were they stood.

Congress charged the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture with the protection and preservation of our countries wild horses and burros as a response to the public's overwhelming love and desire to end their plight.

Despite this charge, the Secretaries have served at the pleasure of those who exploit our resources, not our laws or their intent, diligently working on ways to circumvent the political process and instead, exercising their authority to “legitimize” the corruption and corrosion of these mandates.

One of the many ways this was accomplished was through the institution of separate agency “missions” place under their jurisdiction that allowed national laws to be divided, segregated and ultimately usurped.

Enter National Park Service (NPS), established through the 1916 Organic Act under the mandate “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations" - that use to cover wild horses and burros as evidenced by the honor they bestowed on the wild burros of the Grand Canyon and elsewhere across the Nation.

Yet new policies - not laws - aimed at promoting “other agendas” began to be instituted, until finally, the Secretary of the Interior successfully shirked their charge of protecting wild horses and burros and their habitat through a total reversal that allowed National Park Service and other agencies to literally shoot them by the thousands if they had the unfortunate luck to reside on the wrong side of the jurisdictional tracks.

It began, at least as far as we know of, with the National Park Services plan to shoot the 577 wild burros then living within the Grand Canyon that the Fund for Animals halted through negotiating their amazing airlift rescues.

In 1984, the China Lake Naval Weapons Center in California began to initiate a “direct reduction program” of 5,900 wild burros in the area. In the beginning, 649 wild burros were shot on the base under this management plan until their deaths were discovered by animal welfare groups who successfully lobbied again for the humane “live removals” of 864 more.

Over the course of the next four years, an additional 4,387 wild burros were then removed by “live captures” until their numbers totaled less than 200 and now “allowed the Naval Weapons Center to reintroduce the native ungulate, the Desert Bighorn Sheep.” (1)

Since 1975, the Sierra Club has also endorses the reductions of wild burros and horses and has developed an extensive policy regarding their “management” that includes: eliminating them from all national parks and monuments, all areas protected by the Antiquities Act, all federal and state lands where rare, endangered, threatened, or endemic species of flora or fauna exist, national recreation areas as well as “eliminating them from key wildlife habitat, including desert bighorn habitat of the American Southwest, from designated natural areas” and supports the “carefully regulated numbers to minimize conflict with wildlife, livestock, and other range values.”

According to Deanne Stillman’s article, The Last Burros of the Mojave Desert, from 1987 to 1994, National Park Service shot 400 burros in Death Valley, CA with plans to accelerate these direct reductions in 1994 when a status change placed Death Valley under NPS sole jurisdiction.

Even today, wild burros remain targets for “direct reductions” as only a few days ago, a news story reported at least 18 burros have recently been shot at Big Bend State Park in Texas to make room for the “native species of bighorn sheep”, who brought in almost $800k in raffle sales by those eager for a chance to hunt the horned ones now being touted as “the future” of management goals for Park.

In a scenario that has played out time and again, a thirty-five year veteran and Big Bends Park manager, Luis Armendariz, began investigations into the burro killings, which resulted in his superiors retaliating against him forcing his resignation on November 30, 2007.

For a glaring expose on what and how “direct reductions” of wild burros are being secretly carried out, visit American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign, Death of a Mojave National Preserve Burro by J. & K. Foster.

December 7, 2007

Let land swap stand, former owners urge

Eagle Mountain Landfill

The Press-Enterprise

A land swap struck down by a federal judge two years ago should be overturned, allowing one of the nation's largest landfills to be built in a mine pit near Joshua Tree National Park, an attorney for Ontario-based Kaiser Ventures argued before a federal appellate panel Thursday.

Leonard Feldman said Kaiser's former iron-ore mining operation -- which carved four large pits in the mountainous desert area in Riverside County less than two miles from the park -- already damaged the land. To use another location for a landfill would unnecessarily scar more land, he said.

"Literally, it is an abyss. It's a very scarred and disturbed piece of land. ... It makes sense to put a landfill in there," he told the three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena.

At issue in the case is a 1999 land swap in which the U.S. Bureau of Land Management gave Kaiser 3,481 acres of public land around the former Kaiser Steel Co. mining pits to be used for the landfill operation. In return, Kaiser gave the BLM almost 2,500 acres along its 52-mile rail line that heads toward the Salton Sea. To compensate for the 1,000-acre difference, Kaiser paid the BLM $20,100, or essentially $20 an acre.

"It seems like the government got a bad deal," Circuit Judge Richard Paez said.

Environmental groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Glen-Avon based Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, and Donna and Larry Charpied, jojoba farmers who live near the mine site, have argued that the land swap was improper.

They won much of their case in 2005 when U.S. District Judge Robert Timlin, then based in Riverside, ruled that the BLM gave away the public land below market value and failed to fully consider all of the potential environmental consequences of the landfill.

Kaiser sold the landfill property in 2000 to the Sanitation Districts of Los Angeles County for $41 million, pending the outcome of legal matters. It would be designed to take as much as 20,000 tons of garbage each day, hauled by train.

Environmental groups argued that the BLM didn't consider that the landfill would be a profit-making business when it did the swap, thus selling the land too cheaply.

Tamara Rountree, a U.S. Justice Department appellate attorney, said the BLM "expressly and exhaustively considered the landfill as a use."

Noah Long, a Stanford law student representing the National Parks Conservation Association, argued that the lack of market demand for that land did not justify that it be used for a landfill, and suggested the BLM inflated the need for a landfill in granting the swap.

After the hearing, the environmental groups said they were hopeful because a 9th Circuit ruling in 2000 overturned an earlier lower-court ruling that had upheld a similar land swap between the BLM and another company for a landfill in Imperial County.

Attorneys for both sides expected a decision by this panel to take at least six months.

December 6, 2007

Shoshone Use Film, Courts to Fight Gold Mine on Sacred Land

By Lisa J. Wolf
Environment News Service

Mt. Tenabo, the sacred mountain. (Photo courtesy Western Shoshone Defense Project)

CRESCENT VALLEY, Nevada - The 32nd Annual American Indian Film Festival presented Western Shoshone grandmother Carrie Dann with the Eagle Spirit award for best overall contribution in American Indian cinema at an awards ceremony November 27. "Our Land, Our Life", the film that shows the Western Shoshones’ determined struggle to maintain their way of life, won the festival's Best Documentary award.

"Our Land, Our Life," a 74 minute documentary directed by George and Beth Gage, details Carrie and Mary Dann's 30 year struggle to protect their traditional ways and ancestral lands from mining degradation in a battle that went to the U.S. Supreme Court and beyond to the United Nations with no relief as yet from the U.S. government.

Having won these film awards, Dann and her allies, speaking on behalf of the Earth, their Mother, are preparing once again to enter the U.S. Appeals Court and U.S. District Court.

The Western Shoshone grandmother and other Western Shoshone, who call themselves the Newe people, are trying to stop the federal Bureau of Land Management, BLM, from permitting the world's largest gold-mining company, the Barrick Gold Corporation based in Toronto, from mining on or any nearer to Mt. Tenabo. The mountain is sacred to the Western Shoshone and fundamental to Newe Creation stories and worship.

In the film, Dann, of Crescent Valley, Nevada relates, "As far as the Western Shoshones being here in this valley, they've always been here from forever, I guess. Our stories don't tell us coming here from anyplace. It tells us that as the Creator went by He planted His children. We've heard that from the time we were little, 'It's Western Shoshone land. It's your Earth Mother: She provides for you.'"

The history of the official Western Shoshone relations with the United States began in 1863 when the U.S. government and the Western Shoshone Nation signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley, which recognized Western Shoshone land title. But in the following years the U.S. government began to treat these lands as belonging to the United States and not to the Western Shoshone.

In 1974, the United States sued Carrie Dann and her sister Mary Dann for trespass, basing their suit on a 1962 stipulation of the Federal Indian Claims Commission that the Western Shoshone had lost their land to the United States by gradual encroachment of U.S. settlers and were entitled to $26 million for the 24 million acres of their original territory.

Dann's father homesteaded Crescent Valley ranch land but grazing rights for horses and cattle on surrounding land are now administered by the BLM, which considers the Danns to owe $5 million in grazing fees on what is disputed as traditional Western Shoshone range.

When Mary and Carrie Dann made it to the U.S. Supreme Court and wanted to discuss how title had never been legally transferred from the Shoshone to the United States, the court ruled the Secretary of the Interior had accepted the monetary award on their behalf. The court ruled that the Western Shoshone have been paid and had no right to come before the court and argue for title.

As Chris Sewall of the Western Shoshone Defense Project said in "Our Land, Our Life," "You have the government taking money out of one pocket and putting it another and saying, 'Justice has been done and the Shoshone people have spoken.'"

The documentary shows the BLM with a cavalcade of armed agents confiscating over 500 head of the Danns' horses and over 200 head of cattle in roundups that began in 1992.

Footage is also shown of horses and foals removed by the BLM during a 2003 roundup dead of starvation, decomposing.

Julie Fishel of the Western Shoshone Defense Project questions whether the real impetus for the U.S. government's raids on the Danns is because the area from which the animals were removed "sits atop one of the largest gold finds in the history of the United States."

Fishel argues that grazing degradation cannot compare with mining degradation. During gold extraction, tons of earth are dug, and leached with toxic cyanide to separate gold from rock.

In addition, 20,000 to 70,000 gallons per minute of underground water would be removed from this arid region for the gold extraction process "every day for one mine alone, every day 365 days a year," Fishel said.

On December 27, 2002, the Inter-American Commission issued a final report, finding the United States in violation of the rights of Western Shoshone petitioners to equality before the law, due process, and property under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. The finding had no effect on the U.S. government.

Following the death of Mary Dann on Earth Day, April 22, 2005, the Western Shoshone took the cause to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. In March 2006 they received a ruling from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, CERD, a treaty body set up by the United Nations and ratified by the United States in 1993.

The Early Warning and Urgent Action Decision issued by CERD urged the United States to immediately freeze, desist and stop any further actions against the Western Shoshone people, including legislative efforts to privatize their land. CERD ordered the United States to stop immediately and initiate dialogue with the Western Shoshone. This has not happened.

In addition, Canada's Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, a committee of the Canadian House of Commons, condemned Canada's mining corporations acting abroad, including Barrick Gold, in a report dated June 26, 2005.

The Standing Committee recommended that Canada "reign in its corporate behavior abroad" and establish "clear legal norms in Canada to ensure that Canadian companies and residents are held accountable when there is evidence of environmental and/or human rights violations associated with the activities of Canadian mining companies."

James Anaya of the University of Arizona School of Law sees the Western Shoshone case as "very important for the indigenous movement world-wide" and said in the film, "They've won the moral battle."

"The United States has its legal maneuvering it can make within its own domestic system," he said, "but when it comes to judging those actions against fundamental human rights, the Danns and the Western Shoshone are the ones who are right."

In March, Dann and the Western Shoshone Defense Project requested that representatives of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Populations, the UN High Commission for Human Rights and other UN agencies attend as observers during a proposed global expert seminar to examine these issues next July.

The global expert seminar will be held on Newe Sogobe (Western Shoshone Territory) at the 14th Indigenous Environmental Network Protecting Mother Earth conference July 17-20, 2008, hosted by the Western Shoshone Defense Project.

They are asking that the commissioner make a site visit to Newe Sogobe prior to the July 2008 conference.

Besides petitioning international bodies and U.S. courts, the Western Shoshone, with the support of Oxfam America, took formal statements to Barrick Gold shareholders in May of 2007. They brought over 18,000 signatures of people who oppose mining on Mount Tenabo and in Horse Canyon, important spiritual areas in northern Nevada and the sites of Newe creation stories.

Protection of these sites is fueling legal action.

Of the creation stories and Mt. Tenabo, Western Shoshone Larson Bill told ENS, "They're not told except certain times of the year and also it's not really told to everybody. It's passed down and people that really listen to it believe it. It's a creation story. That's where we got the name for each season and also our instructions of how we're supposed to live here in the world."

The Western Shoshone are planning their next gathering in the area where Bill says, "There's roads into the area where they did the exploration" and "pretty soon it's going to say 'no trespassing.'"

Bill said, "If you were sitting in church and there was all this construction, you wouldn't like that. You wouldn't like people digging up the lawn of the church. You're trying to talk to the Creator and you've got all these distractions."

The current legal appeal was filed July 20 by attorney Roger Flynn, representing the Te-Moak Band of the Western Shoshone, the Western Shoshone Defense Project and Great Basin Mine Watch in their lawsuit against the Department of the Interior and Barrick Gold Corporation.

The appeal relates to a case originally brought by the Western Shoshone allies on May 9, 2005, which involves the BLM's approval of exploration by Barrick's Cortez mining operation of 30,000 acres around Mt. Tenabo and Horse Canyon.

Flynn explained to ENS, "Cortez would only disturb 250 acres but they never told us where."

Flynn said the BLM is "supposed to be consulting with Natives" and "not just say it's going to go out there somewhere and Cortez will tell us where later" in an area with "nationally-recognized cultural historic sites."

The U.S. District Court judge in Reno "ruled that he was not going to upset BLM's view of the law so we appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals." A ruling is expected sometime in 2008.

The Cortez gold mine is located 60 miles southwest of Elko, Nevada in Lander County. Barrick is the owner of a 60 percent joint venture interest and is the operator; the remaining 40 percent interest is held by Kennecott Explorations (Australia) Ltd.

Even if the Western Shoshone win the Tenabo/Horse Canyon exploration case, the lawsuit will not stop the newly proposed Cortez Hills Tenabo Project. This development includes a new open pit, underground mining, three new waste rock facilities, a new heap leach pad and related roads and facilities, requiring new surface disturbances of 6,792 acres and the permanent loss of 817 acres of pinon trees, which produce pine nuts, a traditional Western Shoshone food source.

The BLM's Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the mining proposal is open for public comment through December 21, 2007.

"BLM has signaled its intention to approve the project," said Flynn.

If the BLM approves the final environmental impact statement by the end of spring 2008 as Flynn expects, the Shoshone would have to bring a new court case to block the mine's construction. "We have to wait until they formally approve the project," said Flynn.

The Cortez Hills Tenabo Project is expected to extract eight million ounces of gold worth $6.4 billion at today's prices. The current Cortez mining in the valley is about 15 miles from Mt. Tenabo but the new mine would blast directly into the mountain.

Flynn said, "The Tenabo case is going to boil down to whether the BLM can approve mining by the company at the expense of protecting religious freedom on public lands." Flynn sees the issue as "a test case of religious freedom versus yet another gold mine."

Gerald Smith, field manager for the Battle Mountain BLM Field Office, told ENS that "after the final record of decision, we're continuing to conduct consultation with" the Western Shoshone.

"We're asking them for their comments. We've been working with them," said Smith. "We have a working group that we put together with the Elko Band."

Smith acknowledged that should there be an open pit and potential underground mining "there are going to be definite impacts, visual impacts" and "loss of pinon juniper in traditional areas should excavation of the pit get approved."

"If they start excavation and recover cultural artifacts" a programmatic agreement between BLM, the mining company, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Te-Moak Tribe will, Smith believes, adequately address mitigation of Native American artifacts and burial sites.

Flynn says BLM mitigation "looks good on paper but doesn't really happen."

"Protection isn't just writing a report on it and moving on," he said.

"It's not just the bones or artifacts" since "it's what many have called their church," Flynn said. "You wouldn't do mitigation for the Sistine Chapel. You wouldn't take a picture, blow it up and then say you've mitigated the damage."

Lou Schack, Barrick Gold's manager of communications and community affairs, told ENS, "As far as the current litigation, we've prevailed several times in regards to these charges and we expect to again."

Carrie Dann told ENS, "There are definitely burial sites within that area" and artifacts.

"That area has been used by the Western Shoshone people for fasting and all kinds of things," she said. "There's medicinal plants up there. Things people still use today. The area used to be hunting area for the men-folk and I absolutely think what they're doing is spiritual genocide against the Western Shoshone people" in "a spiritual area of great significance."

"Destroying that is destroying the way we believe. If you destroy land as indigenous people, that is destroying life," Dann said. "I don't mean just life now, but the life for the future" and "for a company to do this just surely for money, I think is wrong."

"Senators and also the Congress people from the state of Nevada" aren't looking at the destruction but "at net proceeds" which "as indigenous persons we can't look at" since "our duty is to protect the rights of the future generations to come," she said.

"They're not protecting the water, the land, out there with a hand-out saying 'put some money in here' either for political campaigns or whatever it is. I see money over the rights of indigenous people," Dann said.

"Barrick is the biggest gold company in the world," she said. "These gold mines have these so-called politicians in their pocket. Maybe people can eat gold later on in life."

In "Our Land, Our Life," Dann said, "They're pumping this virgin water so we as human beings can enjoy wearing gold. Ladies and gentleman, you are killing the Earth. The Earth is dying because of the way people act" and as U.S. consumers "desperately" pursue gold, "we as indigenous people are yelling, 'Stop that, you're killing our Mother!' Who's going to hear us? 'Stop that. You're killing the Mother of all life, for God's sake!"

"Can't you wake up and hear what we're saying to you? Treat the Earth with tender loving care because it is our only mother.'"

OxFam America has posted a short version of "Our Land, Our Life" on YouTube.

December 4, 2007

S.B. County officials balk at LA power line project

The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County officials are asking the city of Los Angeles to stay out of environmentally sensitive areas in the Morongo Basin as it puts together plans to build power transmission lines through desert communities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is planning to build a system of electrical towers and power lines from Desert Hot Springs to Hesperia to transmit energy from geothermal, solar and wind projects in the Imperial Valley.

Depending on the route chosen, the Green Path North project would traverse from 79 to 350 miles through areas such as Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley and Pioneertown.

Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, whose district includes some of the areas affected, proposed the resolution, saying the project would delve into relatively pristine desert areas and harm scenic vistas.

Hansberger said he didn't have a problem with the project as long as it follows already designated corridors along Interstate 10.

"My position is not taking a position against the project," he said. "It's this corridor we object to."

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials could not be reached to comment Tuesday. Los Angeles officials have said the project is in its early stages and they are considering several alternatives, including along I-10.

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said that the city's plans indicate that following the federally designated corridor could be expensive, requiring the purchase of up to 2,500 homes.

Mitzelfelt said that means it is important for the county to make its objections to a route through the Morongo basin clear from the outset.

"I think we have that much more cause to be concerned about this alternative," he said.

About a half-dozen members of the California Desert Coalition, a group formed in opposition to the proposed route, attended the board meeting. April Sall, co-chairwoman of the group, said members were pleased with the board resolution.

"The county recognizes the importance of these lands and that's an important step," she said.

Six other communities -- including the towns of Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms -- also have passed resolutions opposing the project, Sall said.