August 31, 2007

Government Patching Up Public Lands

By JOHN HEILPRIN, AP Writer
Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government is buying 9,000 acres in seven Western states, the first such purchases under a 2000 law intended to help land managers patch up fragmented national parks, forests, refuges and other public lands.

Among the 19 places being purchased for $18 million from private landowners are lands around the Coachella Valley in California, the North Platte River in Wyoming, the Santa Fe River in New Mexico and the Snake River in Idaho. Other states where the government is buying lands under this program are Arizona, Colorado and Oregon.

The lands will be added to those overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service, all part of the Interior Department, and by the Forest Service, part of the Agriculture Department.

Officials say the purchases also will help protect bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other species, along with recreation and cultural resources like hiking trails and prehistoric rock paintings.

"What we're increasingly trying to do is to create unfragmented landscapes, and this will help do that," Deputy Interior Secretary Lynn Scarlett said in an interview Friday.

Congress established the fund in 2000 to buy private "inholdings" from people willing to sell lands to the government that are surrounded by or next to public ranges, forests, parks or refuges managed by those four agencies.

It also authorized those agencies to sell fragmented or isolated parcels that are difficult to manage or other lands close to urban areas that might be better used and valuable for residential or commercial developments.

In 2000, BLM identified 3.3 million acres that could be sold off under the program. It manages almost 260 million acres in 12 Western states — about one-eighth of the land in the United States.

BLM figures show that it has raised nearly $95 million from such sales so far, about half of it in Nevada. Of that money, 80 percent by law must be used to buy other public lands; the other 20 percent can be used for BLM administrative costs.

But the Bush administration, eyeing the possibility of $350 million in BLM land sales, has proposed amending the law to let the government use most of the money for deficit reduction, according to The Wilderness Society, an advocacy group.

Scarlett urged Congress to reauthorize the 2000 Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, which is set to expire in 2010.

"It allows us to actually acquire lands for the purposes that the public land agencies exist," she said. "It just uncomplicates matters for them."

August 30, 2007

Eradication of Santa Cruz Island pigs deemed a success


Park Service and Nature Conservancy say endangered native species now have a chance to rebound.

Prohunt species eradication team on Santa Cruz Island.
By Gregory W. Griggs, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times


Efforts to restore the ecosystem on Santa Cruz Island to its native state reached a milestone this week as scientists said that a two-year program to eliminate feral pigs had been a success.

Although the last confirmed pig death was last year, the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy, which owns 75% of the island, have been monitoring the results of the $5-million eradication effort since then to gauge the program's effects.

They say the island's endangered species are rebounding.

A total of 5,036 feral pigs were killed on the island 18 miles off the Ventura County coast. They were considered a threat to the endangered island fox and nine rare plants.

"Santa Cruz Island had 150 years of nonnative animals and plants, so it's not something we can solve overnight, but at this point we think things are looking very favorable," said Kate Faulkner, the Park Service's chief of natural resources management. "This allows us to move our resources to look at other plants and animals on the island."

Faulkner said her agency, which owns a quarter of the 96-square-mile island, and the conservancy expect to spend $3 million over the next three years to study and improve conditions for native plants.

"We're trying to look ahead to anticipate what the problems might be for plants and animals that are unique to the island," Faulkner said. Removing the pigs, and tens of thousands of sheep before them, "will do a lot to move the ecosystem forward," she added.

With the last confirmed pig death on July 5, 2006, native plants, such as oak trees, could begin to rebound, biologists said.

Lotus Vermeer, director of the conservancy's Santa Cruz Island Preserve, said acorns -- a primary source of the pigs' diet -- can again be spotted, and oak seedlings have begun to sprout

"Because all the pigs are removed from the island, we think we have a fighting chance," she said. "It's a unique time for the foxes and for plant recovery."

The pigs were targeted for extermination to save the Santa Cruz Island fox, a cat-sized creature found only on the island. The fox was being preyed upon by golden eagles, which Park Service officials say came to the Channel Islands in the 1990s to feed on these nonnative pigs.

Sheep ranchers began using Santa Cruz in the 1850s and introduced pigs as farm animals. Before long, pigs escaped into the wild and over the decades disrupted native plants, spread seeds of nonnative plants and uncovered archaeological sites of Chumash Indian settlements.

In April 2005, the Park Service hired Prohunt Inc., a New Zealand-based company, to track down the pigs using helicopters with snipers, traps, dogs and electronic collars. Officials said the methods were "following euthanasia guidelines set forth by the American Medical Veterinary Assn."

"We deny that vehemently," said Richard M. Feldman, a Santa Barbara businessman who sued the park's owners, saying the killings were inhumane and that the Park Service violated its own rules and procedures when it approved the environmental data to support the eradication.

Feldman's suit was dismissed and is currently under submission to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Elliot M. Katz, a Northern California veterinarian who is founder and president of In Defense of Animals, joined in the lawsuit and a second one filed to stop the killing of more than 100 wild turkeys that proliferated once the pigs were gone.

"Obviously, we'd like to stop the government's killing machine, but it's a difficult thing to do. It's a shame," Katz said. "They tend to be very aggressive when it comes to killing other species. As compassion and concern grows in our country, we hope they'll be forced to become responsive."

August 28, 2007

Burning Man Set on Fire Early Due To Arson

Torched Burning Man sculpture.
by Scott Beale
Laughing Squid


Wow, this is a shocker. At around 3 am Tuesday morning at Burning Man 2007, during a rare lunar eclipse, the Burning Man sculpture was set on fire prematurely (it is normally burned on Saturday). The Black Rock City Emergency Services Department was able to put out the fire in time and salvage the sculpture (it had not yet been loaded with fuel or explosives). It is still scheduled for its normal burn on Saturday and they will be working throughout the week to repair any burn damage and re-install the neon.

UPDATE: They plan on re-building the man, complete with neon within 72 hours.

The early burn is being investigated as arson (there are reports a man armed with a propane torch starting the fire). According to the Reno Gazette-Journal, authorities have already arrested one person. Another source says that the man was set ablaze early due to an electrical problem when they turned the neon early for the lunar eclipse. Burning Man organizers hope to have more information later today.

Here’s an announcement from Burning Man regarding the fire:

Black Rock City Emergency Services Department units responded from Stations Three, Five, and Nine and put the fire out within approximately 23 minutes. There were no reported injuries. The Man is still standing, and an assessment is underway to determine the structural integrity of The Man and the Green Man Pavilion. The event will continue as scheduled.

An arson investigation is currently under way, and is ongoing. There is no confirmed cause of ignition at this time.

No further information is available at this time. More information will be released tomorrow morning after the investigation can safely be concluded.

UPDATE: Paul David Addis, a San Francisco based artist and performer, was arrested in connection with the arson. Joe Garofoli from the San Francisco Chronicle has reported that the person arrested in connection with the arson is Paul David Addis, a San Francisco based artist and performer. Paul is being held in the Pershing County Jail in Lovelock, Nevada on charges of arson, possession of fireworks, destruction of property and resisting a public officer.

Record Amount Of Land Saved In California


RECORD AMOUNT OF LAND HAS BEEN SAVED IN CALIFORNIA IN THE LAST 7 YEARS, REPORT FINDS

Press Release
Rare Earth News: Connecting California


With Californians packing our beaches and state and national parks this summer, a new online guide to the millions of acres of new California parkland has just been posted at Connecting California.

Together, our State parkland and wildlife habitat agencies and the Federal government have bought and preserved a record amount, or more than 1.5 million acres of California natural lands and wildlife habitat between 1/1/2000 and August of 2007. This comes after a 12 year lull (1988 to 2000) between approval of California Parks bonds. Since the year 2000, voters have approved 5 bond issues to save land statewide.

To put this in context, the recently preserved land is 42% of the size of the land covered by urban sprawl in the state, based on a year 2000 State Housing Department study which found that around 3.5 million acres of California was then urban sprawl, equaling over 100 years of development. This newly preserved land equals over 4 times the acreage of the State’s largest city, Los Angeles. This 1.5 million acres is also double the size of Yosemite National Park.

Many of these purchases have been in partnership with local land trusts, which are non-profit charitable groups.

The just-released report is part of the California Conservation Lands Inventory, which has been assembled by Connecting California, the place on the web to find information about saving land in our state, connecting our parks together, and supporting the groups that are doing it. Included in the report are maps and photos of the new parklands and links to reports, background information and the local environmental groups that helped make the purchases happen.

What are taxpayers getting for their money?

Buying up the rivers that flow from the mountains to the sea in Ventura, L.A., Riverside and San Diego Counties;

Buying up a ring of parks and wildlife areas around the L.A. and San Francisco Bay areas;

Buying up thousands of acres of redwood forests on the Northern California coast;

Buying river park corridors in the Central Valley’s Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers;

Buying the old railroad checkerboard lands in the Mojave Desert.

THE LARGEST PUBLICLY FUNDED PURCHASES:

-California Desert-San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial Counties—700,000 acres

-Hearst Ranch -San Luis Obispo County—82,000 acres

-Blue Ridge-Berryessa Natural Area/Yolo Bypass-Yolo and Napa Counties—46,000 acres

-Mendocino County Coast timberlands—46,000 (an additional 50,000 acres has recently been saved with private funds)

-San Diego County—40,800 acres

-Diablo and Gabilan Range-Monterey, Santa Clara, San Benito and Fresno Counties—38,900 acres

-Lassen Foothills-Tehama County—34,000 acres

-Riverside County—34,000 acres

-Carrizo Plain-San Luis Obispo County—30,000 acres

-Mill Creek-Del Norte County—25,500 acres

-Sierra Valley—Sierra, Nevada and Plumas Counties—24,000 acres

-Mendocino National Forest Inholding-Glenn County—23,000 acres

-Merced County wetlands and vernal pools—21,000 acres

-Butte County—20,000 acres

-Kern County—19,000 acres

-Shasta County—16,000 acres

-Anza-Borrego Desert-San Diego County—11,000 acres

-Sacramento County—10,000 acres

-Big Sur-Monterey County—8,500 acres

-Santa Clara River-Ventura County—2000 acres

We conclude that, along with well-informed voters and strong local control of development decisions, “the best way to truly control urban sprawl is to buy that land and add it to our state’s great park system”.

SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY

-San Bernardino County: 574 acres bought at Camp Cady, San Bernardino Mountains & Deep Creek and the Colton Dunes;

-375 acres were added to Chino Hills State Park (Because the park is also in Riverside and Orange Counties, we have counted the addition only here, although it may actually be in one or both of the other Counties.)

MOJAVE DESERT

731,000 acres in the Mojave Desert were bought from the Catellus Corp. by the U.S. Government; some is in Riverside and Imperial Counties. See Wildlands Conservancy projects for more details.

August 27, 2007

Exploring Nevada’s sand dunes


Uncovering the mysteries of the hillsides in the Southwest

By Shirley Robinson, Staff Writer
The Rebel Yell
University of Nevada, Las Vegas


Sand that makes music; vast dunes frozen in time; a living tarnish that spreads like a rash across hillsides; aquatic animals that seem to spontaneously appear out of puddles; boulders that blow across the ground. Although these features may sound like something from an oddball alien planet, they’re not. They are all found in and around Southern Nevada – a scientist’s, a child’s and a mystery-lover’s playground.

Among Nevada’s and the Southwest’s most striking characteristics are those smooth, shadowed mounds of sorted sand known as sand dunes. Grains from past, disintegrated mountains are gathered by strong winds and are often deposited against natural barriers where the winds die down. Grains that are very small, such as fine silts, remain suspended in the air and are carried off and aloft.

Although the grains comprising most dunes are pale-colored quartz crystals, streams of black sediments are frequently seen feathered within the peaks. These darker minerals are often heavy and iron-rich, and they are able to be transported along with the quartz sand due to their fine-grain size. Twirling a simple kitchen magnet within the sand may quickly attract a mass of iron filings. One of the most enchanting aspects of sand dunes is the ability of a select few to emit sound. Reports of this phenomenon have poured from all corners of the globe for hundreds of years with some likening the sound to that of a kettledrum or low-flying aircraft and others to that of a trumpet or harp.

It is thought that the sound of these musical sands, which are often called “singing” or “booming sand dunes,” is created from the movement of the quartz crystals as avalanches are triggered either by the wind or by dune travelers. The synchronized sliding of the polished grains emits a rumble, squeak or roar that reverberates across the dunes and can be heard for miles.

More than 30 locations across the world, from Morocco to Hawaii, feature singing sand dunes and over a half dozen of those are found in Nevada and California. Located 100 miles southwest of Las Vegas in Southern California’s Mojave National Preserve, the 45-square-mile Kelso Dunes are among the West’s most popular and highly studied singing sands.

With the exception of the Nellis Sand Dunes, located north of Nellis Air Force Base, the Las Vegas Valley lacks extensive dunes. However, geologists have concluded that this was not always the case.

Vast, barren sand seas (ergs) comparable to those of the Sahara Desert are thought to have blanketed the Las Vegas Valley and much of the Southwest with thousands of feet of sand. Evidence for this lies in the fiery-red cliffs and rounded outcrops of the ever-popular Red Rock Canyon west of Las Vegas. (Although now solid sandstone, petrified over time, the area’s formations were once soft, spilling dunes.)

Las Vegans tend to treasure these “fossil” dunes as their area’s own unique attraction, but the sandstone that makes up Red Rock is also present in the Valley of Fire State Park in northeastern Clark County. It is also in Zion National Park and at Lake Powell in neighboring Utah. Although known as the Aztec Sandstone in Southern Nevada and the Navajo Sandstone in Utah, the red rock is all believed to have been part of the same giant desert dunes.

Distinctive characteristics held by the Aztec and Navajo Sandstone include the streaks of red, orange and purple that stain the outcrops. These color bands are thought to be caused by the circulation of water through the quartz grains after they were petrified; the water essentially rusted the iron-rich minerals within the solid dunes, creating oxidized works of art.

Water has also taken its toll on the structure of the petrified dunes. Rainwater dissolves the cementation between the grains. Moisture also hydrates wind-blown salts that work their way between the sand grains, which swell and consequently pry the sandstone apart. Bizarre geologic forms result, such as deep, smooth hallows, rounded piles of boulders and towering, but teetering, balanced rocks.

Although they no longer look like dunes, the solidified remnants show undeniable evidence of being deposited by wind. Sediments that are carried and laid down by water tend to be stacked into fairly flat-lying planes or beds. The grains of the Aztec Sandstone, however, lie in gently curving, multi-angled layers (or cross-beds), suggesting that shifting winds of the past swirled the once loose sands and deposited them upon the dynamic slopes of restless sand dunes.

One may notice that some surfaces of the old, smooth and sculpted Aztec Sandstone is blackened and almost charred-looking. Although wildfires frequently ravage the desert and can indeed darken rock outcrops, the most probable cause behind these coatings is a life form rather than a flame. It is theorized that microbes living on the rock surfaces trap wind-blown dusts (clay, pollen, etc.) and cement them together with dark manganese and iron oxides. The oxides are thought to be leached out of the host rock, mobilized and concentrated by the microbes, creating the black, laminated film which has been termed “desert varnish.”

As one can imagine, the environment on a dry Mojave Desert rock is far from hospitable – becoming searing hot during summer afternoons and freezing cold during winter nights. Despite the temperature extremes, the microbes stay alive by going into a state of dormancy. Research has shown that the hardy little life forms explode with activity and create layers of varnish only during times of rain. Since precipitation is scarce in the desert, there are only a handful of days out of the year during which the microbes work. It therefore requires many years for varnish to accumulate; the older the coatings are, the thicker and darker they become.

It sounds rather far-fetched that life can survive in a torpid state for extended periods of time without water in such a harsh climate, but the phenomenon occurs more often than people might think.

One of the most amazing and surprisingly prevalent examples of dormancy lies buried beneath the fine silts of the dry lakes and playas throughout the Southwest. Microscopic eggs of a crustacean, known as the long-tailed apus, withstand the drought and heat of sun-baked mud-cracks for months, hatching only when heavy rains bring life-giving puddles to the seasonal lake beds. Adults, which reach two inches in length, mature rapidly as they have very little time to lay their eggs before the water soaks into the thirsty ground and evaporates into the hot air.

Although they have hatched out of the soils of several areas for centuries, these ephemeral creatures were first discovered within the Dry Lake of Eldorado Valley in1936 by a girl from nearby Boulder City, Nev. The news of rain-puddles teeming with life quickly drew local children with jelly jars hoping to catch their own early version of “Sea Monkeys.” Specimens were also collected by curious adults and sent away to various scientific organizations. Definitive answers about the mysterious species came in 1947 when Swedish naturalist Folke Lind identified them as A ”pus Longicauditus,” a tadpole shrimp often found fossilized in sedimentary rock.

Dry lake beds and salt-crusted playas, which form at the base of broad, desert valleys where fine silts accumulate, are among the most level surfaces on the earth. Hence, they make for ideal landing strips and are sought-after for racing high-speed craft. The dry Groom Lake of Lincoln County, Nev., home of the remote test facility “Area 51,” has one of the world’s longest run strips, and the Black Rock Desert, in northwestern Nevada, served as the racetrack on which the current land speed record of over 760 mph was achieved.

One of the most famous playas, however, is known for the “racing” of something other than top-secret aircraft and jet-powered cars. Located within California’s Death Valley National Park, “The Racetrack,” attracts thousands of flabbergasted “spectators” each year with its evidence of cobbles and boulders sliding mysteriously across the playa surface. Although no one has ever actually seen the rocks move, undeniable tracks, left in the now desiccated mud, trail the scattered subjects, which weigh up to 80 pounds.

Individual tracks have measured over 2,000 feet in length and tend to indicate that the rocks follow a straight coarse while traveling. Some, however, have sudden hairpin turns, and many show signs of rolling, tumbling and colliding.

Some investigators propose that the rocks become frozen within thin sheets of ice that are driven across the playa by winter winds. Most scientists, however, believe that the gusty winds of any season which happen to blow across the playa after a recent rain can propel the rocks. It is believed that the slick mud washed in by flood waters create unbelievably smooth surfaces on the flat playas across which wind can travel incredibly fast at ground-level. Stones just a few inches high can be blown across the slippery surface.

Southern Nevada is in the heart of one of the most mysterious regions on earth. By stepping out and exploring its natural wonders, we may unlock the secrets of the Southwest.

August 25, 2007

Whoops! Hottest Years Were in 1930s

NASA's Error Correction Fuels Global Warming Skeptics

By BRAD KNICKERBOCKER
Christian Science Monitor


Was 1998 the hottest year in United States history, as most reporting on climate change has presumed? Or was that record set back in 1934 before "global warming" became a scary household phrase?

A corrective tweak to National Aeronautics and Space Administration's formulation shows that the hottest year on record in the United States indeed was back during the Dust Bowl days.

But does this mean that all the concern about global warming being a relatively recent phenomenon tied to carbon-belching power plants and hulking SUVs is a bunch of Al Gore hooey?


Climate change skeptics and their cheering section among conservative bloggers and radio shoutmeisters think so -- even though most scientists say, no, the tweak is not a big deal and overall trends are in the direction of toastier days around the globe.

The controversy began "when Steve McIntyre of the blog Climateaudit.org e-mailed NASA scientists pointing out an unusual jump in temperature data from 1999 to 2000," reports The Los Angeles Times.

"When researchers checked, they found that the agency had merged two data sets that had been incorrectly assumed to match. When the data were corrected, it resulted in a decrease of 0.27 degrees Fahrenheit in yearly temperatures since 2000 and a smaller decrease in earlier years. That meant that 1998, which had been 0.02 degrees warmer than 1934, was now 0.04 degrees cooler."


Put another way, the new figures show that 4 of the 10 warmest years in the United States occurred during the 1930s, not more recently. This caused a stir among those critical of the push to stem human-induced climate change.

"Conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh used reports of the revisions to argue that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists with liberal agendas," reported The Washington Post.

"We have proof of man-made global warming," Limbaugh said on his show. "The man-made global warming is inside NASA. The man-made global warming is in the scientific community with false data."

Blogger Steve McIntyre, who started the controversy, lives in Canada. His hometown newspaper, The Toronto Star, headlined its story "Red faces at NASA over climate-change blunder."

"They moved pretty fast on this," McIntyre said. "There must have been some long faces."

Still, McIntyre called his finding "a micro-change," and others agree. For one, the reranking didn't affect global records, and 1998 remains tied with 2005 as the hottest year on record, the Los Angeles Times notes, quoting climatologist Gavin Schmidt of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

"The data adjustment changes 'the inconsequential bragging rights for certain years in the U.S.,' he said. But 'global warming is a global issue, and the global numbers show that there is no question that the last five to 10 years have been the hottest period of the last century.' "

A main target of criticism over the data shift is James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute at NASA and a frequently quoted expert on climate change. On his Web site, Hansen explained the reasons for the change, and he played down its importance.

"How big an error did this flaw cause? ... The effect on U.S. average temperature is about 0.15°C beginning in 2000. Does this change have any affect ... on the global warming issue? Certainly not.

... What we have here is a case of ... contrarians who present results in ways intended to deceive the public into believing that the changes have greater significance than reality. They aim to make a mountain out of a mole hill."

Meanwhile, evidence of global warming continues to mount. Citing a new study by researchers at the University of East Anglia, The Guardian newspaper reports that "some tipping points for climate change could be closer than previously thought."

"In drawing together research on tipping points, where damage due to climate change occurs irreversibly and at an increasing rate, the researchers concluded that the risks were much greater than those predicted by the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)."

Is the issue settled? Far from it, says Roy Spencer, a principal research scientist for the University of Alabama, who describes himself as "skeptical of the claim that global warming is mostly manmade."

Blogging on TCSDaily.com, Spencer writes: "In case you hadn't noticed, the global warming debate has now escalated from a minor skirmish to an all-out war. ... In the last year or so, more and more scientists have been coming out of the closet and admitting they've had some doubts about this whole global warming thing."

www.csmonitor.com Copyright © 2007 The Christian Science Monitor. All rights reserved.


August 24, 2007

Zzyzx facility to get new solar panels



By JASON SMITH Staff Writer
Desert Dispatch [Barstow, CA]


Thanks to a federal grant, an educational center in the Mojave National Preserve will be getting new solar panels. The new panels will expand the power-generating capabilities of the California Desert Studies center at Zzyzx within the preserve.

The project will be 50 percent funded by the National Parks Service as part of a national program to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the parks service. The remaining funds will be paid by the group that operates the facility, a group of seven California State colleges, said Larry Whalon, acting deputy superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve.

“It’s a good show of support from the Bush Administration for the national parks,” he said.

The centennial anniversary of the parks service will occur in 2016, but increased federal funds were put aside for improvement projects in the 2008 fiscal year. The preserve also might apply for funds to operate a Barstow-to-Kelso Depot rail line and to acquire more land, Whalon said.

William Presch, director of the consortium that manages the study center, said the 12-building complex needs more power-generating capacity. The facility includes housing for as many as 70 researchers.

Presch said the solar panels will teach students about environmental sustainability in the harsh desert environment. The facility currently uses diesel and propane generators in addition to its existing solar panels. The center is completely self-sustaining and treats its own wastewater.

“We have nothing coming in from the outside. We are completely off the grid,” Presch said.

The 1,200 acre facility receives an average of 20 users each day and 7,200 each year, Presch said. The majority of visitors are undergraduate students of biology, geology, astronomy and other subjects. Graduate researchers are also able to use the facility.

Recent research projects have included sand movement, earthquake research and studies of plant and insects. The Mars landers were tested at the facility before being sent to space, Presch said.

Construction of the panels will begin in March and be finished by October 2008.

August 22, 2007

Mary Martin Retires

Lassen names new park superintendent

Record-Searchlight [Redding, CA]

Lassen Volcanic National Park has a new superintendent.

Darlene Koontz, who is expected to start in early October, will be moving from Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico, where she has been the superintendent for the past four years, according to park officials

Koontz is a 27-year National Park Service veteran who also has worked at Everglades National Park in Florida, Cumberland Island National Seashore off Georgia and at Grant Kohrs Ranch in Montana.

She replaces Mary Martin, a 38-year park service veteran, who retired on July 3. Martin started as superintendent in fall 2005 after serving for a decade as the first superintendent for the Mojave National Preserve in Southern California.

County works out strategy on global warming


Attorney general drops lawsuit after supervisors approve plan to reduce emissions as San Bernardino County grows


CATHERINE GARCIA Staff Writer
Redlands Daily Facts [Redlands, CA]


Before even having to enter a courtroom, San Bernardino County has settled a lawsuit that alleges the county is not doing enough to curb greenhouse gas emissions, which are a cause of global warming.

According to Attorney General Jerry Brown, who brought the case against the county in April, the county's General Plan didn't properly address greenhouse gas reductions. The plan is an estimate of where houses, businesses and open space will be over the next 25 years.

The agreement, which states that officials will measure how much the county contributes to global warming and sets goals to begin cutting pollution, was reached by four county supervisors during a meeting held Tuesday morning.

"I thought it was irresponsible of the attorney general to sue the county" said 3rd District Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, who represents Redlands. "But because we've done so much to address the issue already, it was fairly easy to reach a settlement."

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt voted against working out an agreement. In a statement, he said he found the attorney general's lawsuit to be "contrary to California's separation of powers, where laws are adopted by the legislature."

Sen. Bob Dutton, R-Rancho Cucamonga, was also none too pleased with the settlement.

"I'm glad the county and attorney general were able to reach a compromise without having to go to court," he said in a statement. "However, I can't think of a more ridiculous waste of taxpayer dollars when the state files a lawsuit against a county, especially when the issues could have been solved with a telephone call."

Brown announced the deal during a news conference in Los Angeles Tuesday afternoon, and said that the county will have 30 months to amend its General Plan to include a greenhouse gas-reduction policy. It will also have to compile an inventory of emission levels from 1990 and project estimated emissions in 2020.

"This landmark agreement establishes one of the first greenhouse gas reduction plans in California," said Brown. "It is a model that I encourage other cities and countries to adopt."

San Bernardino County is not alone in disappointing Brown; he also wrote letters to San Diego and Orange counties, urging them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

State drops its lawsuit

County to work out global warming plan

Matt Wrye, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

The state Attorney General's Office isn't suing San Bernardino County over global warming issues after all.

Members of the county Board of Supervisors announced on Tuesday the end of litigation by Attorney General Edmund "Jerry" Brown, who filed suit against the county in April, alleging that its general plan didn't include direction on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

At a news conference, Brown said an agreement has been worked out, which four county supervisors approved during their morning meeting.

The county will work with the state in decreasing emissions through conforming county land-use decisions and operational policies to a reduction target goal - all at an estimated price tag of $500,000.

"This is a landmark agreement," Brown said. "This (emissions) problem is so large that no one county can solve it by itself. This plan is extremely innovative."

However, Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt voted against working out an agreement with the attorney general. The attorney general's lawsuit is "contrary to California's separation of powers, where laws are adopted by the legislature," he said in a statement.

Moreover, the county isn't entirely responsible for greenhouse emissions stemming from development and transportation growth, seeing as how it has authority over a mere 15 percent of the land within its borders, Mitzelfelt said.

Faced with questions about how the forces of economic development can be reconciled with a plan to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, Supervisor Gary Ovitt conceded that the agreement will be challenging to carry out.

"There are more problems than there are answers right now," Ovitt said. "There's a lot of things to do. (Land-use) planning only goes so far."

It will take "people at many levels" within local and state government, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations to accomplish the county's new goal, Ovitt said.

That agreement gives the county 30 months to add a policy to its general plan for reducing greenhouse emissions.

It also gives the same amount of time for adopting an inventory plan for compiling emissions data from 1990, current emissions data, sources of current emissions, projected emissions through 2020, a reduction goal and mitigation measures to meet that goal.

The agreement also calls for mitigation policies related to county-owned diesel vehicles.

As far as the attorney general's duties, that office will be responsible for assisting the county in recouping the estimated costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the agreement states. It will give advice on projects and assist the county with any legal challenges to its effort.

Ovitt and Supervisor Josie Gonzales said the agreement is a testament to the county's commitment in reducing greenhouse gasses, which are thought by some scientists to cause global warming.

The issue arose four months ago when the Attorney General's office said it was suing the county for not having a global warming element in its general plan. The plan is a general vision of where houses, businesses and open space will be over the next 25 years.

The lawsuit in April came after the state's global warming law, Assembly Bill 32, was signed in September. It was a time when the county was busy completing its general plan, a hefty undertaking.

According to the bill, the California Air Resources board of directors must develop state guidelines on global warming by 2011.

"What we're doing right now is taking an educated guess in what AB32 will result in," said David Wert, county spokesman.

There are no official state guidelines on how counties should approach the issue of global warming, but the agreement helps chart a new path within the issue, Wert said.

"It sounds like (the attorney general) sued San Bernardino County to put all of the other counties and cities on notice that local governments should address global warming," Wert said.

He agreed with Mitzelfelt's comment about the county having authority over only 15 percent of the land within its borders.

Given that fact, the county has a limited role in shaping greenhouse emissions, Mitzelfelt said.

The supervisor believes the county would've won the attorney general's lawsuit.

He said he's worried the agreement will give the false perception that the county has authority over a greater amount of land than it actually owns.

August 21, 2007

Supervisors settle global warming suit

by RYAN ORR
Victorville Daily Press


SAN BERNARDINO — The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors in closed session Tuesday voted to settle a lawsuit filed by state Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr., who sued the county for not properly addressing global warming in the recent general plan update.

The vote to settle was 3-1, with 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt voting in against. Board Chairman Paul Biane was on vacation.

In a page and a half statement, Mitzelfelt said he voted against the settlement because he believes the general plan already includes comprehensive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"These measures are designed to conserve energy, encourage mass transit and reduce vehicle commutes by creating more jobs closer to home," he said.

"Only a handful of California counties and cities have formally addressed climate change issues, and San Bernardino County will lead the way in the implementation of strategies and steps to enhance our future and serve as a model for others," said Supervisor Gary Ovitt.

Ovitt said that county's general plan, which took more than five years to update, would remain in affect and the county won't have to spend taxpayer money on further litigation.

Brown said county can now set the pace for how local governments can combat oil dependency and climate disruption.

"The landmark agreement establishes one of the first greenhouse has reduction plans in California," Brown said. "It is a model that I encourage other cities and counties to adopt."

The county will amend its general plan within 30 months to add a policy outlining the county's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

video

Deal cools Inland global-warming fight


By JIM MILLER
Sacramento Bureau
Riverside Press Enterprise


SACRAMENTO - San Bernardino County will begin tracking greenhouse gas emissions under an agreement with Attorney General Jerry Brown expected to be approved today by county supervisors.

Brown sued the county in April, charging that its recently approved general plan would worsen global warming. The settlement would uphold the growth plan's legality and ends a fight that became part of state budget negotiations.

In Sacramento, Brown's suit came to embody Senate Republicans' fears that the attorney general was increasingly using the courts to pursue greenhouse gas reductions prematurely. The issue was a major sticking point in the almost eight-week budget standoff. The Legislature adjourned late Monday without reaching a deal.

Neither Brown nor San Bernardino County officials would comment Monday.

Brown has scheduled a news conference to discuss the case this morning in Los Angeles. Later, Brown is scheduled to appear with San Bernardino County supervisors in San Bernardino.

Both sides have been in talks for weeks. Board of Supervisors Chairman Paul Biane and Vice Chairman Gary Ovitt met with Brown for more than an hour in Whittier one Sunday last month.

The county will agree to track heat-trapping emissions and create a greenhouse gas reduction plan, according to the settlement summary. As part of the plan, the county will measure 1990 greenhouse gas emissions, current emissions and their sources, as well as project how the county's land-use decisions will affect emissions in 2020 within 2-½ years.

Brown will help the county recoup the estimated $500,000 in testing and other costs required to live up to the agreement.

Brown's office also will work with the county to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets and to help it avoid any future legal challenges over global warming issues, according to the draft summary.

The county's general plan, a blueprint for growth through 2030, projects more homes and increased traffic as the county's population continues to increase. It was the first time the state has sued a public agency for not taking into account global warming.

GOP senators and allies such as the California Manufacturing and Technology Association complained that Brown's actions were unfairly premature because regulations to implement last year's greenhouse gas law will not be complete until 2012.

But environmental groups and others accused Republican lawmakers of trying to undermine last year's law as well as the state rules requiring environmental reviews of major projects.

The $145 billion state budget agreement limits environmental lawsuits against projects funded by $19.9 billion in transportation borrowing approved by voters last November. The provision reflected concerns arising from the San Bernardino County case and others.

August 18, 2007

Steward program gives desert's fragile artifacts a fighting chance

SLIDESHOW: Restoring the old stamp mill

By MARK MUCKENFUSS
The Press-Enterprise


When Bruce and Penny Tappeiner saw what had been done to one of their favorite places in the desert, they were horrified.

Vandals had attacked the remains of an old stamp mill in a canyon not far from Desert Center, pelting the historic stone structure with beer-bottle Molotov cocktails and turning its window and door frames into charred wood and ash.

The Tappeiners had been to the site before, but this trip was their first since volunteering to serve as site stewards for the Bureau of Land Management. The program helps government archaeologists protect sensitive sites within their jurisdiction.

Accompanied by Wanda Raschkow, the BLM archaeologist for the Palm Springs Desert District, the Tappeiners found the area near the mining structure littered with spent rounds of ammunition, broken glass, plastic bottles and other trash. But what struck them was the intentional attack on an archaeological resource.

"It just really crushes you because it's important," Penny Tappeiner said.

"It's old and it's beautiful. To see people destroy it like that, it's just frustrating," she added.

Restoring Damaged Sites

On this visit, the Palm Springs couple got a chance to help repair some of that damage. The Tappeiners, who consider themselves amateur archaeologists, joined a group of National Park Service employees who spent the day reframing the damaged windows and door and replacing some of the masonry that had collapsed.

"To partially preserve it is really neat," said Bruce Tappeiner. "I'm ecstatic. We just have to take steps that it remains so. We'll be posting signs and trying to limit access."

They hope to block off the road that leads right to the site. He hopes forcing people to walk across a wash to get to the mill will help limit future damage.

Their project is just one example of the long-running challenge of identifying and protecting millions of historic sites on public lands. That challenge is particularly great in the desert regions of the Southwest, where one archaeologist may be responsible for a region that covers millions of acres.

That's why, the archaeologists say, the site steward program is so important. It puts additional observers in the field, who can report on illegal activities that might endanger existing sites, such as looting, vandalism and negligent offroading. They also can help identify new historical sites.

Jim Shearer is the archaeologist for the 3.2 million-acre region covered by the BLM's Barstow office. He has seven volunteer site stewards and hopes to add more. Recently, he said, he has seen more damage to sites in his region.

"In the last six months, it seems to have increased dramatically," Shearer said. "I've had multiple reports."

Looted Petroglyphs

One place hit by looters is Inscription Canyon, north of Barstow. Here, a 300-yard-long stretch of sandy ground is banked by 30-foot walls of basalt boulders peppered with fantastic images of big horn sheep and geometric designs of unknown meaning.

The scars are unmistakable: caramel-colored cavities where chunks of the otherwise black rock face have been removed -- chipped away by thieves. The looters use drills, chisels and pry bars to remove sections of rock containing petroglyphs.

The increase in damage that Shearer has seen may be limited to his region. Officials in the BLM's Needles office say they have noted a decline in such incidents in recent months. Rolla Queen, the archaeologist for the California Desert District, which covers all of Southern California's desert area, says he hasn't noticed much of a change.

"There's always been a low level of what we call pot hunting," Queen says. "We know it's going on, but we don't have a way to track it systematically."

The state BLM office also was unable to provide such statistics.

Queen says he has seen steady pilfering in the 12 years he's been with the district. In many desert areas, particularly those composed of a rocky surface called desert pavement, artifacts are often found lying on the surface. People who pick up such objects may not even know they are breaking the law, he says.

Limited Artifacts

They also may not appreciate the damage they are doing. Compared with other ancient cultures, little is known about the American Indians of the desert region. And when the limited artifacts that exist begin disappearing, whatever might have been learned from them disappears as well.

The Archaeological Resource Protection Act, passed in 1979, was meant to help prevent such damage. It provides for as much as two years in prison and fines up to $20,000 for looting or damaging a historic site. But prosecutions are rare.

"It's really difficult to catch people in the act," Queen says. "In some areas we have only one or two rangers for several thousand square miles. People can be out there digging for days, and you just don't know about it."

Site Steward Program

This is where the site steward program can help. Sponsored by the Society for California Archaeology, it is designed to increase surveillance. Volunteers take a two-day class and then are assigned a site or sites to monitor.

The Tappeiners say they visit the mining site at least once a month during the summer and twice a month during the rest of the year. They haul away the trash they find and photograph and report any evidence of illegal off-road activity or vandalism. If they encounter someone damaging an area, they are trained not to make contact but to gather what information they can, including license plate numbers, and contact law enforcement officials.

On most of their desert visits, they never see another soul, they said.

The recent workday was an exception. A crew of nine workers mixed concrete, nailed frames and used the rocks on site to rebuild a retaining wall and the areas around the door and windows.

Dave Yubeta, an exhibit specialist at Tumacacori National Historical Park in Arizona, was leading the group. He said his crew spends about four months of the year restoring sites throughout the Southwest. The following day, they were set to begin a two-week project in Joshua Tree National Park.

Protecting Resources

Site stewardship programs have become popular in Arizona, Yubeta said.

"When we have sites like this, you have to rely on site stewards," he said. "The program is the only way to protect resources."

For Penny Tappeiner, it's a chance to enjoy two of her passions.

"It's a perfect match for people who love the outdoors and want to give back to the community," she said.

Barstow's Shearer is hoping that as such programs grow, fewer sites will be damaged and fewer keys to our history will disappear.

"Once it's gone," he says, "it's lost forever."

August 17, 2007

County Museum closes controversial exhibit

By DAVID OLSON
The Press-Enterprise


The San Bernardino County Museum unexpectedly shut down an exhibit on Mesoamerican art that had been criticized for being inaccurate and culturally insensitive. The exhibit opened May 19 and was scheduled to run through Nov. 4. But the Redlands museum quietly closed it on Aug. 1. Exhibit critics did not find out about the closure until this week.

Museum Director Robert McKernan and Curator Adella Schroth said the controversy had nothing to do with the decision. The exhibit closed three months early because the hall where it was located was being remodeled, they said.

Enrique Murillo, an educational anthropologist and associate professor of language, literacy and culture at Cal State San Bernardino, was incredulous at the explanation.

"They're basically using the refurbishment as a way of saving their dignity," said Murillo, one of the exhibit critics. "They did a sloppy job with the exhibit. Now they've decided because they can't really silence us, they'll close the exhibit. It's a shame. These objects deserve to be displayed, but in a way that's contextualized and educative."

He and others said the exhibit was riddled with misspelled names, inaccurate dates, geographical errors and culturally insensitive wording. The museum made several changes to the exhibit after the problems became public. But experts said some of the revisions were careless and simply replaced some factual errors with other inaccuracies.

McKernan said in a July 17 interview that he would meet with Murillo and two other critics to discuss their concerns and would make whatever changes were necessary to make the exhibit accurate. Murillo said McKernan never met with them. McKernan did not mention in that interview that the exhibit would close early.

The museum remodeling was planned before the exhibit opened, McKernan acknowledged Thursday. The county Board of Supervisors approved $500,000 for the project on June 19. Some remodeling began before the controversy emerged over the exhibit, yet the artifacts from Mesoamerica - which refers to the pre-Hispanic civilizations of much of Mexico and Central America - remained on display.

Xavier Cázares Cortéz, an artist and art educator, said it was a "slap in the face" to him and other critics that McKernan only informed them of the exhibit's closure this week, and only after Cortéz sent McKernan emails asking for an update on the exhibit.

Cortéz said it was better to close the exhibit than misinform visitors with incorrect information. But he said the revisions needed to make the exhibit accurate were inexpensive and relatively minor, such as changing labels. Instead, he said, the museum spent county tax money to install the exhibit only to dismantle it less than halfway through its run and before many residents had a chance to see it.

McKernan said at least half of the artifacts in the Mesoamerican exhibit would go on permanent display at the museum by the beginning of January 2008. He said outside experts would review the accuracy of the labels and other materials related to the artifacts before they go on permanent display -- something he acknowledged did not occur before the temporary exhibit opened.

Miners staking claims on public land surrounding national park

Use of centuries-old law helping prospectors gobble up territory.

BY MICHAEL DOYLE
Merced Sun-Star Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — Miners are using a controversial 19th century law to claim more public land around national parks like Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Death Valley.

Amid escalating demand for uranium, gold, copper and other metals, a new report shows the number of active mining claims grew 80 percent since January 2003. The rapid increase brings California's active claims to 22,544, and swings a spotlight onto renewed efforts to change the 1872 law that governs Western mining.

"We've seen a modern-day land rush," Dusty Horwitt, public lands analyst with the Environmental Working Group, said Thursday. "The big cause of concern is that the mining law provides very poor protection for our treasured places."

Relatively few claims turn into active commercial mines. Even so, environmentalists grow particularly anxious when claims are staked near national parks. Within five miles of Yosemite, for instance, the new study shows there are now 83 active claims. Of these, 50 have been filed since 2003.

The recent Yosemite-area claims include several dozen filed by a firm identified as the Troy Mining Corp. on land south of Highway 140, in Mariposa County. The company could not be reached Thursday.

All of the claims are filed under a law signed by President Ulysses S. Grant. Critics call the law dangerously outdated, and issued the report Thursday to highlight the need for reform. Miners and their political allies caution against moving too fast.

"We're not opposed to reasonable changes in the mining law," said Russ Fields, president of the Reno-based Nevada Mining Association.

On Tuesday, Fields will testify at a House energy and minerals subcommittee hearing in Elko, Nev. The committee chairman, Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, promised a "productive debate on the need to bring a 135-year-old law into the 21st century."

Under the current law, companies can stake a claim and mine federal land without paying royalties. Costa backs a bill that would impose an 8 percent federal royalty.

Fields called the proposed 8 percent royalty on gross proceeds "extraordinarily high," and said it must take into account mining expenses. These expenses include new environmental requirements imposed in California and other states.

"California is a difficult place to get a gold mine going, even with the price of gold up," said Adam Harper, formerly head of the California Mining Association and now head of the Sacramento-based California Construction and Industrial Materials Association.

The current federal law also enables companies to "patent" — or buy — the land outright for as little as $5 an acre. A moratorium currently blocks these sales. Fields said miners would permanently give up the old patenting provision in exchange for guaranteed long-term access to their mining sites.

The new report, available at http://www.ewg.org, identifies 376,493 active claims on federal land in 12 Western states. In January 2003, there were 207,540 active claims. The Environmental Working Group notes that 4,708 claims are within five miles of a national park.

"This is market-driven," Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Heather Feeney said. "The market price for uranium has increased, and the same is true for hard-rock minerals."

Gold that sold for $325 an ounce in 2002 now sells for nearly $700 an ounce. Uranium prices scraped along at about $10 a pound in 2003.

Now, nuclear power demand has driven uranium prices to above $125 a pound.

Consequently, uranium-related claims in Western states leaped to 32,000 last year, compared to 4,300 in 2004. The latest claims, most uranium-related, include 805 filed within five miles of Grand Canyon and 864 filed in the vicinity of Arches National Park in Utah.

"Mines are quite destructive, a leading source of toxic pollution," Horwitt warned.

Feeney stressed, though, that the federal agency guards against "unnecessary degradation" from mines, and she added that officials "take a hard and serious look" at potential environmental consequences.

Neither the Bush administration nor Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., support the mining law reforms being pushed by environmental groups. Reid's resistance, in particular, significantly diminishes the prospects for the 1872 law being changed this Congress.

August 14, 2007

Lucerne Valley back on track

County will seek reimbursement from state

RYAN ORR
Daily Press [Victorville, CA]

SAN BERNARDINO — The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors ratified the emergency proclamation issued last week for the Lucerne Valley water shortage and forwarded a copy to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in hopes of getting reimbursed for relief efforts.

The estimate to date that the county has spent replenishing water for the desert community is $56,554.

“I’ve been told that there’s a good chance of getting some reimbursement,” said Brad Mitzelfelt, 1st District supervisor.

Mitzelfelt presented a PowerPoint to the board on the progress made in Lucerne Valley.

A joint enforcement action between the California Highway Patrol and California Department of Health Services on Aug. 1, shut down Lucerne Valley water haulers for not carrying the proper permits.

On Aug. 3, it reached 106 degrees in Lucerne Valley where many residents were without water.

“It was an artificially created crisis,” said Mitzelfelt, who added that the county was never notified of the sting operation. “There really should be no excuse for it ever happening again.”

Lucerne Valley doesn’t have a municipal water system and approximately 800 households depend on water to be trucked in.

The county sent around nine trucks over the weekend to deliver water free of charge to residents in immediate need and donated 1,488 gallons of bottled water.

Mitzelfelt said that by 6 p.m. Saturday, all immediate-need households in the Lucerne Valley area had received water.

He estimated that 90,000 gallons of water was distributed to about 170 homes last week alone.

Mitzelfelt said that it is yet to be seen if the cost of water will increase as a result of the actions but if the county has to take any further actions to ensure reliable water supplies, than it will do it.

“Bottom line is, this isn’t the end of the story, but the immediate emergency situation has been stabilized,” Mitzelfelt said.

August 13, 2007

Governor urges stricter rules to protect wilderness areas


Ramon Mena Owens / The Press-Enterprise
Ed Pollitt, of Murrieta, prepares to hang glide near Main Divide Road in the Cleveland National Forest


By PAIGE AUSTIN
The Press-Enterprise [Riverside, CA]


Gov. Schwarzenegger recently escalated a battle of words with federal officials over how to manage the remaining wilderness areas in Southern California's national forests.

In an August letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Schwarzenegger accused the federal government of not doing enough to make sure wilderness in the San Bernardino, Cleveland, Angeles and Los Padres national forests is protected from road construction.

The state and environmental groups want more restrictions on forest roads than are outlined in new forest management plans, 10- to 15-year master plans for land use in the forests. Schwarzenegger charged the federal government with not living up to promises made to the state over the past few years as the management plan was written.

This month, the U.S. Forest Service denied appeals by the state seeking to limit roads in wilderness areas to those needed for fighting fires or for accessing Indian tribal grounds or recreation areas.

The Forest Service has taken the stance that it needs the flexibility to create roads that help balance the threat of wildfires and demand for off-road vehicle activities with wilderness protection, said Matt Mathes, regional spokesman for the agency.

Similar disputes have simmered in other states when a legal challenge to federal wilderness law left states in limbo between conflicting regulations from the Bush and Clinton administrations.

California could also take this dispute to federal court, state officials said.

"Your recent denial is unacceptable and places the protection of valuable land in greater jeopardy," Schwarzenegger wrote in a letter to the secretary of agriculture. "Frankly, it is not too much to ask for the Forest Service to do the right thing and live up to its own assurances. Please take the necessary action to ensure that California's forests are safeguarded for generations to come and resolve this important issue before any more time and resources are expended. The people of California deserve nothing less."

The regional office of the U.S. Forest Service is deciding how to respond to the governor's letter, Mathes said.

The forest management plan allows officials the flexibility to build "environmentally acceptable" roads in lieu of the makeshift roads created by people using the forest for recreation and off-roading, he said. The user-created roads can damage the forest through erosion or by trampling sensitive habitat, Mathes added.

Throughout the planning process, environmental, recreational and industry groups competed for a say in how Southern California's last remaining roadless areas should be used. Groups such as the National Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and the Riverside Land Conservancy have advocated for increased wilderness protection. Groups such as the Warrior Society, the International Mountain Bicycling Association and Trails 4 All have sought to expand trail and road systems for recreational use.

In the meantime, a proposal for a hydroelectric power plant in Lake Elsinore is the first one on the horizon to test the state's tolerance of new road construction against the federal government's more flexible standards.

If approved, the plan would involve pumping water from the lake to a hilltop reservoir and then releasing it downhill to power turbines during peak electricity demand. The electricity would travel along power lines through 30 miles of the Cleveland National Forest.

The project would require access roads to be built through wilderness areas of the forest, said Sandy Cooney, spokesman for the California Resources Agency.

Native fish returns to Victor Valley


Mohave tui chub will return to the Mojave River


The Mohave Tui Chub, is the area’s only native fish, and endangered.

by Hillary Borrud
Victorville Daily Press


APPLE VALLEY — A small, endangered fish that has disappeared from the Mojave River seven decades ago will return to the carea this fall in a refuge to be constructed at the Lewis Center.

The day when the Mohave tui chub, which disappeared because of predators and hybridization, might return to the actual river remains unknown.

The new refuge is the product of several years of work by students and a teacher at the Lewis Center. Employees of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Fish and Game praised the center for bringing the project to fruition.

Mohave tui chub are humble looking fish, but they can grow to a foot long and live up to 36 years, said Steve Parmenter, a senior fishery biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game.

A recovery plan written in accordance with the Endangered Species Act calls for six refuges to be created before the Mohave tui chub can be downlisted from endangered to threatened, said Judy Hohman, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office in Ventura.

“That will get us closer to our goal of downlisting the chub,” she said.

The three existing refuges are at China Lake, Camp Cady and Lake Tuendae in the Mojave National Preserve.

The fish cannot be removed from the endangered species list until it is returned to the river, a proposition that is unlikely to happen anytime soon because of the many non-native predators still in the waters of the Mojave River, said Parmenter.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is contributing $25,000 from its budget to the Lewis Center refuge, Hohman said.

Students and teachers at the Lewis Center will be contributing elbow grease and working to get the community involved, said Matthew Huffine, the middle and high school science coordinator at the Lewis Center.

“Efforts like these only really take off when the community gets involved,” said Huffine, who needs help with fencing, grading and signage.

The Lewis Center has a small pond where the fish will be released this fall, until the larger pond can be built.

Students at the Lewis Center will be involved with experiments related to Mohave tui chub recovery and water quality. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service generally does not manage land, so finding areas 'for refuges can be difficult, Hohman said.

“We continue to look for more sites where we could put this fish,” Hohman said. “We would like to downlist it and eventually take it off the list.”

August 11, 2007

A resort town thirsts for solutions


Drier than its name would suggest, Borrego Springs braces for an impending water shortage. Big changes may be in store.

The most conspicuous indication of groundwater decline in Borrego Valley is a graveyard-like forest of dead and dying mesquite trees on the valley floor.(Annie Wells / LAT)

By Alison Williams, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

BORREGO SPRINGS, Calif. -- In a flat desert valley filled with cholla, creosote, citrus and golf, far from any major highway or state water project, residents are struggling to deal with an impending water shortage, highlighted by the failure of a public well this past spring.

Borrego Springs is a small unincorporated resort, retirement and agricultural community in northeast San Diego County, surrounded by 600,000-acre Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

Aside from the 6 inches or so of annual rainfall, the sole water source is an aquifer whose groundwater has been declining by 1 to 2 feet a year for more than half a century and has an expected useful life of only 30 more years.

At that point, according to the Borrego Water District, the water will be half gone, and pumping from the district's 12 working wells and other private wells will become much more expensive and less productive. More recent studies this spring by the California Department of Water Resources worsened the prognosis: "There may be substantially less water in storage in Borrego Valley groundwater basin than previously interpreted.

"Preserving this area's way of life may require dramatic changes, and water experts say some of the choices facing Borrego Springs -- whether to fallow farmland that uses most of the water or allow desert flora to wither and die, starving wildlife -- will increasingly be confronted elsewhere in the state as water sources become less reliable.

Robert Glennon, a University of Arizona law professor and the author of "Water Follies," calls the Borrego Valley a microcosm of California. Agriculture, which "is a small part of the overall California economy, uses something like 80% of the water," he said. "If you expect to have water for high-value uses in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, you have to figure out how to reallocate the water."

In the Borrego Valley, neither the state park nor the fields of citrus have shown many signs of distress thus far. The most conspicuous indication of groundwater decline is a forest of dead and dying mesquite trees. Farmers, most of whom do not live in the area, are particularly anxious about their future. They accuse community leaders of conspiring with developers to turn Borrego Springs into a bedroom community for San Diego.

County officials have "decided that the only thing they're interested in is removing agriculture from the valley," said Reuben Ellis of Ellis Farms. "I really do believe that part of what is behind the emphasis on decreasing water use in Borrego Springs is the desire of certain development and regulatory interests to move farmers out of the way."

In fact, Aaron Barling, a San Diego County planner, said that in most places, the county strives to preserve agriculture by lowering residential density. But in Borrego Springs, he said, "the community" has asked for a higher allowed residential density on farmlands to make it more profitable for farmers to sell out.

But merely replacing farmland with houses won't solve the water problem if there are no curbs on population growth, experts warn. Glennon pointed out that predicted growth in San Diego may lead more people to discover the area -- "and then you've really got trouble."

The Borrego Water District estimates that agriculture uses 70% of the water, golf courses 20% and residences 10%. In addition, agriculture and most of the golf courses depend on private wells, meaning the water district cannot regulate their use.

The aquifer's total yearly overdraft, or how much more water is pumped out than is replenished by rain or snowmelt, is about 14,000 acre-feet. Coincidentally, agriculture -- mostly citrus farms -- uses about that much water. (One acre-foot is roughly equivalent to the amount of water a family of four uses in one year.)

The water district has adopted a measure designed to allow growth while protecting the aquifer. For every acre-foot of new water to be used, two more must be found, whether through recharge projects or the fallowing of farmlands. If this cannot be done, an in-lieu fee of about $4,000 per house must be paid to the district to assist in its efforts to obtain more water.

But recharge projects, which would involve capturing surface runoff, could have a serious effect on natural areas of the park and valley, which depend heavily on runoff from rain, said David Law-head, an environmental coordinator for the California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Several years before the community well ran dry, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Supt. Mark Jorgensen wrote a letter to the district warning that the overdraft could spell trouble for the park's wildlife, including several species of toads and frogs and the endangered least Bell's vireo and peninsular bighorn sheep. Jorgensen was out of the country and could not be reached for comment.

Lane Sharman, a San Diego computer scientist who is related to one of the area's pioneer farming families, has formed the Borrego Water Exchange, in part to formulate a "sustainability" ordinance that would enable a public agency to require certain water use reductions each year, even from private well owners.

Still, Sharman and others believe the valley must find new sources of water -- no easy task in a state gripped by drought.

One possibility is nearby Clark Dry Lake, but tests have showed limited water of poor quality. Another long shot -- finding a source somewhere in Northern California, exchanging it through the Metropolitan Water District and sending it through the Imperial Irrigation District from the Colorado River -- is not only complicated but, for now, too expensive for the district even to study.

A third option would be to store other people's water in the Borrego aquifer in exchange for a portion of the water. The district tried to do that a few years ago with the San Diego County Water Authority, but the lack of local infrastructure put it at a competitive disadvantage with other districts.

Sharman and others worry that public apathy may be an even bigger obstacle.

Eleanor Shimeall, a water district board member, said that despite the well failure, many people are still unaware of the problem. The area, she said, is filled with older "ultraconservative Californians who move away to the desert to not be bothered."

Nonetheless, Robert Mendenhall, president of the water district board, remains optimistic: "If I was discouraged," he said, "I would probably resign tomorrow."

August 10, 2007

Water situation better in Lucerne Valley

The situation for residents of water-parched Lucerne Valley eased somewhat Friday when nine truck haulers were given conditional licenses to deliver water, a spokesman for Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said.

This is in addition to the five trucks that were authorized to deliver water Thursday, said David Zook, the first district supervisor’s spokesman.

The truck haulers still have to file applications for permanent licenses.

“We have made tremendous progress,’’ said Zook, the state Department of Health and the California Highway Patrol swooped into Lucerne Valley last Friday to shut down the water haulers who keep Lucerne Valley supplied with water. There is no other water system in the valley.

With the haulers that were approved Friday, Zook said the county is confident that everyone who was awaiting water deliveries has received it by now.

Zook said the county will continue to monitor the situation through the weekend, and county fire can deliver bottled water and non-potable water.

“It is important that the community came together and put forth a lot of effort to identify who needed water, and that they got the water they needed,” he said.

The county’s Web site, www.sbcounty.gov has been updated with additional information, including the names of all the companies that can legally haul water, what wells are available and where to go to get water.

For senior citizens, or those without Internet access, the Lucerne Valley branch library has computers available and staff who can help access the information. All the online information has been printed out and is being distributed door-to-door, he said.

August 9, 2007

Wells open, water flowing in Lucerne Valley

County, CHP, community team up to streamline the process

by Ryan Orr
Victorville Daily Press [Victorville, CA]

LUCERNE VALLEY — The Lucerne Valley residents in the most dire need of water finally started getting it delivered Thursday.

Five water trucks sent by the San Bernardino County Office of Emergency Services were sanitized and delivering water by noon Thursday free of charge, said David Zook, spokesman for 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt.

As of Thursday night, two more were on their way. The California Highway Patrol is working with water haulers that were shut down last week, to streamline the process of getting the proper licenses to get back on the road, said Officer Jeff Perez of the CHP Victorville station.

The water haulers who are not yet able to operate were riding with the drivers of the county trucks to direct them to residents in need, said Chuck Bell, secretary for the Lucerne Valley Economic Development Association.

The county sent out two messages using their Telephone Emergency Notification System, calling all resident in Lucerne to tell them about the situation and where to go for water. It is only the second time the system has been used in the High Desert.

Stater Bros., Sparkletts and Lucerne Valley Market/Hardware all donated bottles of water to the community that were loaded into residents’ vehicles with the help of the Lucerne Valley High School football team.

The county has sent about 1,000 gallons of bottled water to the community and made the county fire department’s water tender available for evaporative coolers and livestock.

“What’s amazing here is how the town has really pulled together,” said Bell. “The citizens have demanded help and it’s happening.”

Zook said that he had contacted the County Economic Development Agency to see about getting small-business loans to help water haulers get the proper licenses.

Last week, a joint enforcement action between the CHP and the state Department of Health, shut down the majority of water haulers in the area for not being properly permitted or transporting unsanitary water.

As of Thursday, Lucerne had five wells open including one at the high school, Lucerne Valley Market/Hardware and one that the county opened up in Midway Park.

“It’s not back to normal,” said Linda Gommel, who works at the hardware store. “The bureaucrats are taking over.”

Mitzelfelt said he will be in Lucerne Valley today to assess the situation and spoke about it Thursday at a countywide water conference in Ontario.

“Their situation was an artificially created crisis,” Mitzelfelt said. “By shutting down a few unlicensed haulers, they created a chilling effect preventing other haulers from coming in.”

Chuck Bell said the community was having a meeting Thursday night to update residents on the situation.

“Normal is going to be a while,” Bell said. “But we’re getting a handle on it.”

San Bernardino County in water crisis, officials say

A crackdown on unlicensed trucks left far-flung communities without water. The state has put several trucks into delivery service.

By Sara Lin

Los Angeles Times

San Bernardino County supervisors Wednesday asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a local state of emergency in Lucerne Valley after authorities impounded several unlicensed trucks that supplied much-needed water to far-flung desert communities.

A spokesman for the governor's office said that at least three replacement trucks had been ordered to begin providing water immediately and continuously.

The crisis began last week after state health officials and the California Highway Patrol impounded the trucks, saying that they were delivering non-potable water. Though some customers said they didn't mind using the water for showers, evaporative coolers and other non-consumption purposes, most had been purchasing it to drink.

The crackdown caught haulers by surprise and threw residents into a panic as water deliveries across eight desert communities ground to a halt. As a result, many customers shut off their coolers and stopped flushing toilets to save water.

"Whether they're licensed or not is irrelevant at this point," said Carl Kerns, publisher of the Mojave Desert News. "People need the water. The state didn't allow for the safety of the individuals of this community. What's more important: whether the truck is licensed or whether an 80-year-old woman can turn on her swamp cooler to keep cool?

"The California Department of Public Health stopped three water trucks during last week's sting, citing each for being unlicensed and unsanitary. Two of the trucks were impounded by CHP officers because their operators lacked the proper drivers' licenses and permits. The third was ordered out of service for mechanical reasons.

State health officials have said they will expedite applications from unlicensed haulers and allow them to resume deliveries as long as they are making an effort to come into compliance. But that message has been slow to circulate.

San Bernardino County Fire Department trucks on Wednesday began delivering non-potable water for residents' livestock. The county Department of Aging and Adult Services also started contacting elderly and disabled adults, delivering bottled water to at least five households.

"We're working to identify those who need assistance and encouraging water haulers to provide service to the area," said Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, whose district includes Lucerne Valley.

August 8, 2007

Lucerne Valley still without water


Kenneth Stewart, a resident of Lucerne Valley, siphons water from barrels transported to his property from a friend’s house. San Bernardino County declared a state of emergency Wednesday and is working on providing water to Lucerne Valley residents.

by Ryan Orr
Victor Valley Daily Press

LUCERNE VALLEY — More than 200 angry Lucerne Valley residents gathered Tuesday night demanding that the state give them their water back.

“This is kind of like giving everyone a death sentence,” said C.J. Spratt, a 15-year resident of Lucerne Valley who can’t provide water for his livestock.

A sting operation last week orchestrated by the California Department of Public Health, Food and Drug branch and the California Highway Patrol shut down Lucerne Valley water haulers for not having proper permits or transporting non-potable water.

“The state has created the disaster by turning the water off,” said Bob Smith, candidate for the 34th Assembly District. “We’re talking about people that need a vital resource.”

Despite a representative from the state health department being at the meeting, residents felt there was little progress made, many yelling, “free our water haulers.”

Paula Nowicki, Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s chief of staff, said that once the state starts an investigation and finds that unsanitary water is being delivered, it can’t be undone.

Debbie Mills said she cannot find a licensed water hauler to deliver to her remote desert home, and with only enough water to make it through one more hot weekend, is worried about her disabled son.

On Monday, Lea Brooks, a health department spokeswoman said that if the water haulers applied for the proper licenses and made a good will effort to come into compliance they would be allowed to operate while their applications were pending.

As of Tuesday night, residents — many that have already gone five days without water — said that none of the water haulers was back in service.

“I don’t want to die,” said one little girl who took the microphone at the meeting. “If we don’t get water, we will die.”

San Bernardino County, who was not notified of the sting operation, delivered 336 gallons of bottled water to Lucerne Valley Tuesday and another delivery is planned for today, said Nowicki.

She is exploring other options to get water to the residents of Lucerne Valley as soon as possible.

State of Emergency Declared in Lucerne Valley

Mitzelfelt requests assistance from Governor

Press Releasse from Brad Mitzelfelt
Supervisor, First District, San Bernardino County

LUCERNE VALLEY - San Bernardino County First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt today requested that a local state of emergency be declared in Lucerne Valley due to a shortage of water caused by a lack of available water haulers. An emergency declaration was signed by Chairman of the Board Paul Biane this afternoon and will be reviewed by the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for ratification.

"We need to get water delivery service restored as soon as possible," said Supervisor Mitzelfelt. "Until that happens, we are doing everything we can to provide other sources of water for residents."

The shortage of haulers was caused by recent enforcement actions by state agencies against water haulers serving the rural area, which relies heavily on hauled water for domestic and other uses.

Mitzelfelt contacted Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office and requested that state resources be provided in order to deliver water to residents. "I was informed by the Governor's Office that the State Office of Emergency Services will be providing several potable water trucks by morning," said Mitzelfelt.

Mitzelfelt authorized an emergency notification message yesterday that was sent to Lucerne Valley residents through the County's Telephone Emergency Notification System (TENS). The message notified residents of the shortage and provided a number for residents to call San Bernardino County for further information regarding resources available to assist those without water.

County staff members are also contacting Lucerne Valley residents directly in an effort to identify residents with special needs, such as elderly, children and disabled residents.

"We have identified County resources through a number of departments and we are making those resources available to residents as we identify their needs," said Mitzelfelt. The County Departments of Aging and Adult Services, Environmental Health, Children's Fund, Office of Emergency Services, County Fire Department and Special Districts Water and Sanitation Division are all providing assistance.

The Department of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) has been contacting elderly and disabled adults with whom they have had contact in the past to determine their status. The department identified at least five households in need of water and delivered bottled water to those homes.

Anyone with knowledge of elders or dependent adults in need should provide information to the Victorville DAAS office by contacting District Manager Ron Buttram at (760) 843-5160 or Shar Grimm at (760) 843-5108.

County staff are also attempting to find out from haulers if they are aware of any water customers with special needs, such as residents without transportation or phones.

Bottled water is also being distributed in town by the County. "We provided 348 gallons of bottled water yesterday and delivered another 204 gallons today," added Mitzelfelt.

The County Fire Department is also providing non-potable water for residents who need water for evaporative coolers and animals. The fire department may be contacted at (760)248-7322.

Supervisor Mitzelfelt also requested that the County Economic Development Agency attempt to contact the haulers who were shut down to determine if there is anything the County can do to help get them licensed and on the road, such as providing small business loans to help with equipment upgrades or licensing costs.