October 31, 2007

BLM urged to deny Kane County access to route

By Nancy Perkins
Deseret Morning News

A national coalition of environmentalists charged the Bureau of Land Management on Tuesday with conspiring to "surrender control" of a road that crosses federal land in Kane County.

The coalition, comprised of The Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Wild Utah Project and Center for Biological Diversity, object to the BLM's preliminary non-binding determination that Bald Knoll Road is a valid R.S. 2477 public right-of-way.

"Kane County's application (to designate Bald Knoll Road as an R.S. 2477 route) contains illegible aerial photos, an undated map, and contradictory stories from a few residents," said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice, another environmental group voicing opposition to the BLM's proposal. "Kane County admits that it has no official records concerning highway construction or maintenance during the years necessary to prove its claim. For this reason alone, the BLM must reject the county's application."

Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw said the county has "followed to the letter" what was required of it by the federal government's designation procedure.

"All that is required for a non-binding designation on Bald Knoll Road is for the county to submit a preponderance of evidence," he said. "We think we have far exceeded that burden."

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said the coalition is spreading "bald-faced lies."

"There's no question that road has always been maintained by the county. There is a good, solid record of that," Noel said. "There is no question in my mind, or anyone who understands what R.S. 2477 is all about, that the BLM did an excellent job evaluating the data and coming to the conclusions that they did. This road belongs to the citizens of this county and sovereign state of Utah."

An attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said the BLM's decision in Kane County on Bald Knoll Road could set a national precedent.

"If the Interior Department approves Kane County's flawed application, it will set a national precedent that will open the door to thousands of claims through wildlife habitat, rivers, and near archeological treasures. This is just the proverbial camel's nose poking under the tent."

Mike DeKeyrel, realty specialist with the BLM's Salt Lake City office, said while he hasn't had an opportunity to review in detail the coalition's voluminous comments, he does not agree with the group's premise.

"The BLM does not consider it (the Bald Knoll Road decision) as precedent-setting and a portend that would lead to thousands of such determinations," DeKeyrel said. "The BLM intends to review each right-of-way claim separately through the administrative process. It is important to note that the BLM's review is an internal, administrative one for its own management purposes."

Bald Knoll Road is a dirt road about nine miles in length. It crosses public lands administered by the BLM in western Kane County, approximately 20 miles north-northeast of Kanab. A review period for public comment expired Tuesday, the same day that the coalition filed a lengthy objection to the proposal and asked the BLM to deny the designation.

Roadways designed as R.S. 2477 routes remain open as a right of way to various forms of public access. Roads that fail to meet the specifications for the designation, which includes proof that the road was used and maintained by a county prior to 1976, are closed to public use.

"The Bald Knoll Road is not located in any identified sensitive area, wilderness area, or potential wilderness area, and in fact was of apparently little concern to interest groups until it became the first non-binding determination," DeKeyrel said.

A separate national campaign that urges the Department of the Interior to protect Utah's archaeological artifacts and roadless areas from off-road vehicles is also gathering steam.

In a bipartisan letter signed by 93 members of the U.S. House and sent to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne on Tuesday, the BLM is chastised for proposing off-road, public access to millions of Utah's back roads.

"The BLM currently recognizes 3.3 million acres of Utah BLM roadless areas as possessing important wilderness characteristics," the letter states. "These ORV plans will be devastating to some of the most magnificent public lands and prehistoric cultural resources in the country."

The congressional members urge Kempthorne to intervene and restrict off-road vehicle use on any Wilderness Character Areas in Utah.

Frightening Eco-Freak Quotes

from the Sussman Files
KSFO 560 Talk Radio
[San Francisco, CA]

Brian Sussman is a conservative commentator on the San Francisco radio station KSFO. He hosts his own show, “Right Thinking from the Left Coast,” weekdays from 6pm to 8pm.

"We already have too much economic growth in the United States. Economic growth in rich countries like ours is the disease, not the cure."
Paul Elrich, Stanford University biologist and Advisor to Albert Gore

"I think if we don't overthrow capitalism, we don't have a chance of saving the world ecologically. I think it is possible to have an ecological society under socialism. I don't think it's possible under capitalism."
Judi Barri of Earth First!

"Capitalism is a cancer in the biosphere."
Dave Foreman, Founder, Earth First!

"The northern spotted owl is the wildlife species of choice to act as a surrogate for old-growth forest protection," explained Andy Stahl, staff forester for the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, at a 1988 law clinic for other environmentalists. "Thank goodness the spotted owl evolved in the Pacific Northwest," he joked, "for if it hadn't, we'd have to genetically engineer it."
Andy Stahl at a 1988 law clinic for environmentalists, staff forester, Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund

"Now, in a widening sphere of decisions, the costs of error are so exorbitant that we need to act on theory alone, which is to say on prediction alone. It follows that the reputation of scientific prediction needs to be enhanced. But that can happen, paradoxically, only if scientists disavow the certainty and precision that they normally insist on. Above all, we need to learn to act decisively to forestall predicted perils, even while knowing that they may never materialize. We must take action, in a manner of speaking, to preserve our ignorance. There are perils that we can be certain of avoiding only at the cost of never knowing with certainty that they were real."
Jonathan Shell, author of Our Fragile Earth

"A global climate treaty must be implemented even if there is no scientific evidence to back the greenhouse effect."
Richard Benedict, an employee for the State Department working on assignment for the Conservation Foundation

"[W]e have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we may have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."
Stephen Schneider, Stanford University Professor and author Quoted by Dixey Lee Ray in Trashing the Planet (1990)

"I honor Earth First for having the guts to do the things they do. It's not for me, but I understand why they do what they do. And, ultimately, we all help each other."
Brock Adams, VP, Audubon Society, quoted in the Los Angeles Times.

"If we seek only personal redemption we could become solitary ecological saints among the masses of those we might classify as 'sinners' who continue to pollute."
Bill Devall & George Sessions, Deep Ecology: Living As If Nature Mattered Layton

"More science and more technology are not going to get us out of the present ecological crises until we find a new religion, or rethink our old one."
Lynn White, Jr. "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis," Science, (Mar. 10 1967), p 1206

"Childbearing [should be] a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license.... All potential parents [should be] required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing."
David Brower, Friends of the Earth

"The right to have children should be a marketable commodity, bought and traded by individuals but absolutely limited by the state."
Keith Boulding, originator of the "Spaceship Earth" concept

"If radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human populations back to sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS. It [AIDS] has the potential to end industrialism, which is the main force behind the environmental crises."
Earth First! newsletter

October 30, 2007

Ecoterrorism Kills

But not necessarily the way you think

by Robert J. Smith
Competitive Enterprise Institute

With reports that some of the fires in California may have been started by arsonists, some people have speculated that all the fires were set by ecoterrorists. What these accusations seem to overlook, however, is that the nation has long faced a much deeper and more insidious philosophical ecoterrorism.

This philosophical ecoterrorism envisions and strives for an mythical, pre-settlement America — while ignoring the fact that we have 300 million people living here. This philosophy, combined with governmental inefficiencies, has created the conditions under which forest fires flourish and eventually spread out to destroy private property, as has occurred with the most recent catastrophe.

Every one of this month’s 15 major southern California’s fires started on government lands — mainly in the three or four National Forests that stretch 250 miles from Mexico into Ventura County. These are the Cleveland National Forest, the San Bernardino National Forest, Angeles National Forest, and Los Padres National Forest. Also the Malibu fire came down out of the infamous Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The eighth-largest fire was at Camp Pendleton Marine Base, which is now run largely as an inviolate Endangered Species Preserve.

These fires have burned out of control for a number of reasons. First, the federal government has mismanaged all the National Forests for a century — believing fires were unnatural and evil, the government sought to extinguish at all costs. The Smokey the Bear era — beginning in the 1940s — exacerbated that policy, pushing to stop every fire within 24 hours.

By contrast, the pre-settlement, open, park-like forests naturally were characterized by relatively frequent ground-hugging low-intensity underbrush clearing fires. However, the action on the part of the feds to stamp these out for about 100 years, filled the forests with duff, needles, cones, deadwood, and downed wood, and thousands of small undergrowth trees — what amounts to a tinder box. In addition, these conditions stressed and weakened the entire forest.

Then the nation let the Greens and “deep ecologists” move us from the era of mismanagement into the trendy era of no-management. This idea they dubbed “natural regulation.”

The “natural regulation” philosophy allowed forests to whither and die from drought, over-crowding, insects, beetles, diseases, and eventually fire. Greens and federal bureaucrats accepted this result simply because they deemed it “natural.”

President Reagan temporarily ended the let-burn policy in the National Parks following its ”successful” debut in the 1988 Yellowstone National Park fires, but he was shortly out the door, and the deep Green philosophy was quickly and quietly reinstated.

As a result of the reigning philosophy and its consequent regulations, we now can’t cut trees, thin over-crowded forests, or clear out underbrush. We can’t spray for insects or beetles, and we can’t harvest green trees. We also can’t salvage brown or black trees while the wood is still valuable.

The California government has given the okay for salvage of standing dying/dead brown and black trees, but unfortunately, there is no place to take them.

Green government policies have shut down hundreds and hundreds of sawmills. California sawmills have dropped from the 200 that were functioning 20 years ago, to about 38 today — a 70-percent drop. No one is going to salvage trees if they can’t process them, and the last sawmill in southern California near the end of the Sierra Mountains is on the verge of closing. It’s down to one shift and only enough logs already on the deck to last until June. (The ESA and courts closed all the National Forests around that sawmill because the fisher, a mink relative, may be added to the endangered species list.) If the sawmill closes, the nearest sawmill would be at least 500 miles north.

The green philosophy certainly reigns supreme. But rather than being directed by some “monkey-wrenching” Earth Liberation Front (ELF) activists, it’s advanced by our national acceptance of their philosophy, and implemented by our presidential advisers, Cabinet members, a vast number of the 70,000 people at the Department of Interior, and lord only knows how many of the 30,000 people in the Forest Service in the Department of Agriculture. It’s also upheld by our courts.

Supposedly the passage of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 was going to stop these problems. Many in Congress, horrified by the catastrophic fires in 2000, 2001, and 2002, worked with the Bush Administration to solve the problem in 2003. At the height of the very similar October 2003 southern California fires and after 3,000 homes were destroyed and 17 lives lost, Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) finally agreed to let the Healthy Forests bill go through. But then the Santa Anas fires stopped, cool fogs, rain and snow arrived, and Boxer refused to go to conference. After a month of wrangling, she finally capitulated, and Bush signed the bill on December 3, 2003.

Nonetheless, it didn’t work — just try to use the law. Try to salvage dead trees while the wood is still valuable. Greens will find a judge who will grant a temporary injunction of three months or so — covering the warm season when you can get into the mountains and remove trees. Then snow and ice hit the mountain forests and the standing deadwood has another year to rot and decay, become discolored, and lose value. And you can trust that when the next warm season rolls around, the process will be repeated.

There is a kind of “ecoterrorism” that is destroying America, but it takes the form of green policies. And though it may not be called arson, it’s much worse than the work of some lone ELF disciple.

Marines give supervisor desert tortoise tour

Submitted by: MCAGCC
Story by: Computed Name: Lance Cpl. Jared J. Butler

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, CA -- The Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs (NREA) staff showed Brad Mitzelfelt, San Bernardino County First District supervisor, to the Combat Center Tuesday.

Mitzelfelt plays a major role in keeping the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors updated with environmental issues, and spent the day learning how NREA works to improve the environment at the base.

Brig. Gen. Melvin G. Spiese, Combat Center commanding general, was the first to welcome Mitzelfelt and his staff to the Combat Center before they started their tour.

After the-meet-and greet with Spiese, Brad Henen, NREA ecologist, led the tour to the Tortoise Research and Captive Rearing Site at Combat Center Sand Hill Training Area and explained NREA’s involvement with the threatened desert tortoises aboard the base.

The TRACRS is a facility dedicated to monitoring desert tortoise egg production and disease status using cutting edge technology.

The highly qualified staff of the Natural Resources Section involved with TRACRS helps by bringing female tortoises to the facility pens to lay their eggs.

The TRACRS protects the nests and baby tortoises through their growing stages until they are large enough to become resistant to predators such as ravens, coyotes and ground squirrels.

The genetic, growth and bacterial analyses will also help in the assessment of the Combat Center population, according to the TRACRS information sheet.

“The TRACRS program is an effective way to save desert tortoises on base that the county would like to implement on private property,” said Metzelfelt. “It was very nice to get an opportunity to see it first-hand.”

Henen also explained the NREA involvement with Marines in case of direct contact with desert tortoises.

“The main focus is to keep the tortoises in the local area, but Marines occasionally encounter them in the training area,” said Henen. “Every Marine who enters the training area is made aware of the proper steps to take when they spot a tortoise.”

After the informational walkthrough of TRACRS, the tour moved on to the Range Residue Processing Center to learn about the recycling process.

Mike Quintana, RRRC supervisor, explained how used ammunition and materials from the Combat Center training area are reused.

“I was very impressed by the base’s recycling programs,” said Mitzelfelt. “It’s good to see the base takes recycling very seriously and they’re doing well.”

Mitzelfelt and his staff moved from the RRRC to learn about the base’s progress with residential recycling from Sue Corney, Qualified Recycling Program manager.

“We’re working to establish a recycling center on the base so Marines and their families don’t have to go out into town to receive cash value for their recyclable items,” said Jim Lessard, NREA deputy director.

The NREA staff thoroughly informed Mitzelfelt of desert tortoise protection and recycling to give the county supervisor a better understanding of the steps being taken to improve the Combat Center environment.

October 25, 2007

Judge Orders Conservation Groups Included in Mojave National Preserve Lawsuit

National Park Will Get Support Defending Against County’s Bid to Control Roads

Press Release
Center for Biological Diversity

RIVERSIDE, Calif.– Conservation groups must be included in a lawsuit that threatens to turn the Mojave National Preserve into a throughway by widening small rural roads and turning them into freeways, a federal district court judge has ruled. San Bernardino County is attempting to gain control over 14 roads within the preserve by laying claim to these federal lands under a repealed Civil War-era law known as R.S. 2477.

The ruling, issued October 24, allows the Center for Biological Diversity, National Parks Conservation Association, and Sierra Club to intervene in the suit by San Bernardino County to control the improvement and use of roads through the Mojave National Preserve and strip the National Park Service of its authority to manage these lands for conservation.

“San Bernardino County is seeking rights-of-way so that it can turn 14 small rural roads into high-speed, modern two-lane freeways in an area set aside for preservation of the environment and historic resources,” said Ileene Anderson, wildlife biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The County’s plans would vastly increase the through traffic in the preserve and increase the spread of nonnative weeds — the primary cause of fire in the desert. Increased through traffic would also threaten imperiled desert tortoises, other wildlife, and historic sites.”

U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips said the conservation groups have an interest in protecting the natural values found in the preserve, which the federal government might not adequately defend; therefore the groups have a right to help fight efforts that would damage the environment.

“San Bernardino County’s efforts could undermine the values that the Mojave National Preserve was established to protect: the unique plants and wildlife and the historic character of the area,” said Sid Silliman, a member of the San Gorgonio Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The court understood that those with the strongest interest in protecting the preserve should be part of defending this suit.”

Routes mentioned in the suit include Kelbaker Road, Kelso-Cima Road, and Morning Star Mine Road, all of which cross designated critical habitat for the threatened and declining desert tortoise — an animal that has existed for between 15 and 20 million years.

“This is a good day for the Mojave,” said Anderson. “This preserve provides refuge for more than 1,000 kinds of plants and rare animals, many of which are not found anywhere else in the world. It should remain a quiet sanctuary for wildlife, not a highway.”

October 23, 2007

1873: Farmer from Illinois invents barbed wire

Bruce's History Lessons

By Bruce Kauffmann
The Tribune-Star [Terre Haute, Indiana]

There is an old adage that says, “Change begins at the ballot box,” which could not be further from the truth. Change begins with human ingenuity, which affects how we live our lives, which — at some future point — affects how we vote.

A perfect example is the invention that Joseph Glidden, an Illinois farmer, patented this week (Oct. 27) in 1873. He called it barbed wire because, unlike the single-strand fencing wire then in existence, Glidden used two strands of wire twisted together, which resulted in what Glidden called “barbed” wire spurs. Not only was barbed wire stronger, but also Glidden’s design proved to be conducive to mass production, meaning barbed wire became plentiful and inexpensive.

Which changed the American landscape forever. Before Glidden’s invention, relatively few farmers or ranchers settled the central or western part of the Great Plains because they had no practical way of fencing in their property. Trees on those barren plains were scarce, meaning wooden fence posts had to be shipped by train and wagon from distant forests. This made fencing prohibitively expensive, and without fences around their property, ranchers could neither prevent their own herds from roaming, nor prevent other herds — especially the herds of hungry cattle moved by the famous cattle-drives of the late 1800s — from encroaching on their lands.

But Glidden’s barbed wire changed all of that. Suddenly farmers and ranchers had an affordable way to fence their property, and by 1880 Glidden’s Barb Fence Co. — which he had formed in 1875 — had sold more than 80 million pounds of barbed wire.

As one rancher wrote of Glidden’s invention, “It takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts and is both durable and cheap.”

In sum, Glidden’s invention made farming and ranching practical in the Great Plains, helping to pave the way for a significant migration to that part of the country (granted, another byproduct of human ingenuity, the railroad, also made possible that migration). Just as the cotton gin and mechanical cotton picker had fundamentally changed the economic, social and — finally — political arrangements in the Deep South, so did Glidden’s invention help do the same in the Midwest and West. The western population rapidly increased, resulting in new states joining the Union, while increasing the economic and political power of existing states. Soon, the nation experienced a shift westward of both the balance of power and the political priorities of Congress.

As for Glidden, before dying a wealthy man in 1906, he donated 63 acres of his vast Illinois homestead to establish a college — today called Northern Illinois University — to further knowledge and, undoubtedly, to increase the likelihood that human ingenuity would continue.

October 18, 2007

Easterners, Westerners argue over wilderness bill

Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Eastern and Western members of the U.S. House clashed sharply Thursday over legislation that would designate almost 20 million acres of Western land as wilderness.

Western members angrily criticized the bill, which is sponsored by two members from the East Coast -- Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. It would give a new level of protection to lands and rivers in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

In testimony before a House Natural Resources subcommittee, Maloney said the bill would only apply to current federal lands.

"These are lands that belong to all American taxpayers," she said. "We all have a right and responsibility to protect our precious resources."

Declaring land as wilderness, the highest form of federal protection, usually bans logging, oil exploration and other development. It also generally prevents motorized access, limiting recreation on the land.

Supporters have called the wilderness bill an "ecosystem-based" plan meant to transcend political boundaries and replace natural resource jobs with others tilted toward restoration.

"Montanans don't take kindly to
people on the East Coast
telling us how to manage our lands."
- Montana Sen. Max Baucus

Western Republicans on the committee challenged Maloney and Shays, saying they shouldn't be interfering with land so far away from their own districts.

Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the top Republican on the subcommittee, called the bill "absurd" and "stunning," comparing the legislation to a Soviet-style land grab.

"The issue is the division between East and West. It's a division between urban and rural," he said. "Most people here just don't get it."

Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana testified before the committee, bringing with him several boxes of letters from constituents who had written him in opposition to the bill. He said he had heard from more than 7,000 Montanans in less than a week when he asked for comment on the legislation.

He said the legislation would ruin successful local efforts that have brought different interests together to find solutions on environmental issues.

"This is not the way folks do business in the West," he said.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., also blasted the legislation, along with Deputy Forest Service Chief Joel Holtrop and Deputy Bureau of Land Management Director Henri Bisson, who both said the administration opposes the bill.

Some Westerners are supporters, including Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the subcommittee chairman, and Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.

A spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she is also backing the bill, saying its consideration is long overdue. The bill has 115 co-sponsors.

"The speaker supports the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act, which will protect this unique and priceless ecosystem," spokesman Brendan Daly said in an e-mail.

Singer Carole King, who lives in Idaho, testified in favor of the bill, saying she has been working to pass it for 17 years.

"It is important to remember that these are national lands," she said, adding in her testimony that the "Northern Rockies ecosystem is America's Sistine Chapel."

Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester, both Democrats, expressed doubts, echoing Rehberg's comments that local efforts have been successful.

"This bill misses the mark by a long shot," Baucus said. "Montanans don't take kindly to people on the East Coast telling us how to manage our lands."

Tester said he supports "programs that ensure that Montana's ranchers, outdoorsmen, the logging industry, and conservationists all have a seat at the table."

A Republican candidate for Montana attorney general, Tim Fox, even chimed in Thursday, saying the bill would limit access to hunting, fishing and other outdoor activities in those areas.

Members of the Wyoming delegation have also criticized the bill. Republican Sens. John Barrasso and Mike Enzi both oppose it, as does Republican Rep. Barbara Cubin.

"It seems like every year legislators, whose districts are nowhere near Wyoming, come up with a bill telling Wyoming and other rural states how to manage our land," Enzi said. "Rural lawmakers won't stand for it and will continue to deny such efforts."

October 16, 2007

Green Path has crowd seeing red

By Stacy Moore
Hi-Desert Star

High-voltage power lines like these near Ludlow would trace a path through the Morongo Basin in a plan by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

YUCCA VALLEY — It was clear who was the villain Saturday night in the Yucca Valley Community Center: the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. About 250 people filled the center’s largest meeting room to learn and express their ire about the department’s Green Path North project.

Through Green Path North, energy generated near the Salton Sea and other points southeast of the Morongo Basin would travel to a transmission plant in Hesperia via a path of 200-foot towers passing directly through the Morongo Basin.

The people gathered in the community center Saturday night made it clear that, at least to them, the towers aren’t welcome.

“The Green Path will happen; it doesn’t have to happen here,” declared David Miller, a member of the California Desert Coalition, the group that called Saturday’s meeting.

Miller told the audience of how he and other California Desert Coalition members have culled through the DWP’s Web site, tracking down appearing and then disappearing maps, and contacted federal, state and county agents to try to get the facts about the Green Path, so they can mount a defense.

Right now, it isn’t even clear what route the path would take through the Basin. “The word secrecy comes into play,” Miller said.

“Underhanded,” a voice from the audience called out.

The coalition thinks the towers might go from Deavers, which is between Desert Hot Springs and Interstate 10, up Pole Line Road in Little Morongo Canyon, next to Twentynine Palms Highway in Morongo Valley and by the gun range near the top of the Yucca Grade. From there, they may proceed along Water Canyon, across Pioneertown Road and into the flat-topped buttes of the Pioneertown vicinity.

Some information from the DWP suggests the towers might go through Gamma Gulch or into Johnson Valley.

Much of that land belongs to the Bureau of Land Management, which would be asked to lease property to the DWP at its standard rate of about $14 per year.

The uncertainty over the route is one of the reasons Miller accused the DWP of hiding information and presenting misleading and confusing information about the Green Path.

Another big reason is the placement of metal survey markers bearing the Department of Water and Power’s name in spots throughout the Basin, some apparently on private property.

California Desert Coalition Co-Chair Pamela Galvin said members have found seven such markers in the desert so far.

Jerry Gianoutsos, of Morongo Valley, stood up in the audience to say he had found a DWP survey marker on land he owns in Yucca Mesa. “I was going to build on that land, but now what do I do?” he asked.

Coalition member Claudia Sall claimed her group had contacted the Department of Water and Power to ask about the survey markers and were told the DWP wasn’t doing anything in the desert. “So if they don’t exist, I guess you can take them out,” she quipped.

In particular, images Miller presented combining photos of transmission towers superimposed on photos of the local desert to show what the Green Path might look like drew outraged gasps from the audience.

Miller gave a multi-pronged argument against Green Path North. His claims:

  • The DWP could transmit its energy using lines along Interstate 10, leasing power lines owned by Edison. It’s unknown exactly why this route hasn’t been explored by the DWP, but coalition member John Simpson said, “We suspect it’s because (Green Path North) would be a power line wholly owned by the DWP as opposed to a leased one.”
  • “There’s some stuff going on here that we don’t know about, but I suspect it revolves around that,” Miller added.
  • The transmission lines would be accompanied by concrete pads and a network of service roads, in some case crossing protected and environmentally sensitive lands. “Wherever these power corridors go, by law, service roads must go also,” said Miller.
  • He objects to the roads in part because they make accessing remote lands to dump trash and take part in other illegal activities much easier.
  • He also questioned, “When somebody gets hurt out here (on the service roads), who comes to help? It’s not LADWP. It’s not SoCal Edison. It’s the county. It’s us.”
  • Too little information exists on how high-tension power lines affect the health and behavior of animals, including humans.
  • Miller said some studies suggest the lines might contribute to higher risks of miscarriage, brain cancer and childhood leukemia.
  • The presence and noise of the power lines could drag down property values. “I think it’s clear if you have 200-foot power lines buzzing 24 hours a day, your property values are not going to take that favorably,” Miller said.

Off-roaders back in driver's seat?

Reshaped commission a win for riders, say conservationists

Michael Gardner
San Diego Union-Tribune

SACRAMENTO – Off-road riders have scored a major victory in their quest to reshape a state commission they have said has grown hostile to their sport.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed legislation that will strip the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Commission of its authority over most funding and also hand the governor a majority of the appointments to the board.

The law could lead to the commission's return to favoring off-roaders, some environmentalists say. Over the past few years, the panel's majority, appointed by Democratic leaders in the Legislature, had tended to line up behind environmentalists.

The commission favored spending money on environmental projects over maintaining off-road areas – a bitter point of contention because a large portion of the money was raised through fees on off-road vehicles.

Some environmentalists supported the legislation, albeit reluctantly, as a compromise.

“It's definitely a tough issue for conservationists,” said Brent Schoradt, of the California Wilderness Coalition, which wound up endorsing the bill. “Off-road vehicles are causing increased damage to California's wilderness, waterways and wildlife. However, this is starting to move us in the right direction.”

In return, riders accepted a sharp increase in registration fees, fines on those caught in off-limits territory and some concessions on environmental priorities.

It's a balanced bill,” said off-road lobbyist Pete Conaty.

Schwarzenegger and lawmakers were under pressure to strike a deal, with the statutory authority and funding for the program due to expire at the end of the year. Seven off-road parks were in danger of shutting down.

“It was a come-together or no-program situation,” said Sen. Darrell Steinberg, an environmentally leaning Sacramento Democrat who introduced the compromise, SB 742. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

Steinberg disagreed with critics who say the measure rolls over for the off-road community. Higher fees and clear funding guidelines will provide resources for law enforcement, maintenance and environmental restoration, he said.

Ed Stovin, president of the San Diego Off-Road Coalition, said: “We're not cheering wildly and having a parade. But we're happy with the bill.”

Stovin said just $365,000 went to maintain off-road areas out of $18 million in available grants this year. Under the new rules, half of that grant money must be set aside for operations and maintenance of off-road parks and trails, he said.

The commission will have little say, if any, over grants; nor will it control spending on capital improvement projects. Those decisions will be made by a separate division within the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Off-roading is a fast-growing sport, both at state parks specifically set aside for the activity, as well as on hundreds of miles of other public land. About 4 million riders annually use state-run off-road parks, and countless more journey to national forests and other getaways.

The sport's growth has spurred controversy, however. Riders are often branded as uncaring, cutting across pristine forests and through streams. Older vehicles are noisy and pollute, critics say.

Disputes have exploded at the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission, a seven-member panel that oversees off-roading in California. Most of the discontent involved funding, with off-roaders angry that their priorities were being shortchanged.

“Ugly personal and political battles don't make sense,” said Terry McHale, who represented the off-road community during marathon talks that produced the legislation.

McHale said the pendulum of off-road spending will swing back to the middle. Without clear spending guidelines, funding would remain up to the whims and ideology of the commission majority at the time, either pro-rider or pro-environment.

“The old days of either side picking each other's pocket are gone,” McHale said.

Under the law, about 25 percent of the funds each year will be dedicated to environmental programs. Some of that money will now become available to improve dirt roads to provide access for nonmotorized uses, such as hiking trails or fishing spots. Most of the remaining funds will go toward law enforcement.

That did little to mollify some critics.

“It's definitely a victory for the off-highway vehicle lobby,” said Terry Weiner, conservation coordinator for the Desert Protective Council. “It's not a good trade-off. In fact, it's a step backward.”

A key concession secured by environmentalists establishes that federal agencies, with a few exemptions, cannot obtain state grants for off-road programs in areas that were once designated roadless but have since been opened to vehicles.

Riders also will increase the amount of money available by doubling their “green sticker” registration fees to $50 every other year instead of $25. The program also receives some funding from the gas tax. Fines for illegal riding are set at $50 for the first offense, plus court-imposed costs to repair any damage.

Despite the changes, the commission could still sway with the political wind depending on who is governor, at least on policy decisions if not funding.

The seven-member panel will be expanded to nine and Schwarzenegger, a Republican with some environmental credentials, might be able to appoint a five-member majority once some terms expire. Currently, a governor only appoints three.

“This is a power grab,” said Karen Schambach of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

She criticized the measure as a giveaway to off-roaders angry that preservation is getting its due.

“This was the first commission in the program's history that really cared about balancing environmental protection with user opportunity,” Schambach said.

Mining claims near wilderness areas seen as threat

Wilderness areas in the state could be affected by pollution, public land analyst says.

By Margot Roosevelt, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

A citizen stakes a mining claim. Credit: EARTHWORKS

More than 21,300 mining claims have been staked within 10 miles of California's national parks and monuments and federal wilderness and roadless areas, according to an analysis of U.S. Bureau of Land Management records released Monday.

The claims, which have risen by more than one-third in the last four years, include more than 2,170 staked outside Death Valley National Park, 525 near Joshua Tree National Park and 285 outside Yosemite National Park. There are also 41 near the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

"If just a handful of these thousands of claims already staked turn into major mines, it could have devastating impacts on California's national treasures," said Dusty Horwitt, public lands analyst at the Environmental Working Group, the Washington-based nonprofit that issued the report.

In California and across the West, mining claims have skyrocketed in the last five years, driven by a boom in the global price of gold, copper, uranium and other metals. The rising demand, particularly from China and other developing nations, has spurred interest in reopening abandoned mining sites.

With its open pits, acid drainage, and air and water pollution, mining is the dirtiest of all resource developments, accounting for more Superfund toxic cleanup sites than any other industry. It also requires vast amounts of water for the processing of metal ore at a time when shortages are plaguing California and other western states.

The revival of hard rock mining also comes at a time when Congress is grappling with how to revise the General Mining Law of 1872 -- a statute virtually unchanged since it was signed by President Grant. Unlike the oil, gas and coal industries, which must pay royalties to extract resources from public lands, hard rock miners can dig out ore virtually for free. And, under the law, which has been the subject of fierce debate for decades, mining has precedence over ranching, hunting, fishing, conservation and recreation on public lands.

On Thursday, the House Committee on Natural Resources is to take up a proposed revision of the statute that would impose royalties on mining companies and recognize the value of water quality, fish and wildlife habitat in the consideration of claims. Roadless areas would be off-limits to new mines. Environmentalists are seeking an amendment for buffers that would protect the Grand Canyon, Yosemite and other national parks.

In 2002, California became the first state to require that open pits be refilled after a mine closes. As a result, mining companies moved to friendlier states, such as Nevada and Idaho, according to Adam Harper, former manager of the California Mining Assn., which shut down its operations in December. However, Harper said that underground mines, as well as smaller open-pit operations that don't fall under the regulations, might still be economically feasible in California.

In the 10-mile perimeter around Death Valley National Park, 723 new claims have been staked in the last four years.

"We are very concerned," said park Supt. James T. Reynolds. "I hope the public understands the destruction that will occur. Development will have far-reaching impacts that our grandchildren will have to address."

Reynolds said that the biggest threat is the depletion of groundwater, which is affected not only by mining, but also by farming and rapid residential development in California and Nevada communities near the park. "If too much water is pumped from the aquifer, then the seeps in the springs in Death Valley will no longer flow," he said. "Plants will die, animals will die and they would even have to truck in water to the valley's private resort."

Reynolds is negotiating with two borite mining companies in hopes that they will donate their land to the park. And he has strenuously opposed the reopening of the Briggs mine, an open-pit cyanide operation in the Panamint Range on the park's western border. "Unfortunately, we don't have the authority to stop" any of the claims, he said.

The surge in claims also affects wilderness areas within national forests and other public lands. More than 14,400 claims have been staked within 10 miles of California wilderness areas, including Ansel Adams, John Muir, Trinity Alps and Desolation.

Federally designated roadless areas, including the watersheds that replenish the drinking water in many California cities, are also affected. Nearly 11,400 claims have been staked within 10 miles of roadless areas in the Tahoe, Stanislaus and Humboldt-Toiyabe national forests, with more than 4,600 in the last four years. Nearly 1,500 of the claims are located within the boundaries of roadless areas.

Most of the claims will never become mines, Horwitt acknowledged. "But with the price of gold rising so rapidly, deposits that might not have been economically mined could become much more attractive," he said. "Once a claim is staked, there is very little land managers can do to prevent mining. And it takes only a handful of claims to create a multimillion-dollar Superfund site."

While overall mining claims in California have jumped 19% since 2003, claims have risen in 12 western states by an average of 81%, including 239% in Colorado, 178% in Wyoming and 127% in South Dakota. Claims are even being sold on EBay.

National parks in several states are threatened, including Grand Canyon, which has 815 claims within five miles of its borders and more than 2000 claims within 10 miles, many of them for uranium. Arches National Park in Utah, a jewel of red rock country and a staple of automobile ads, has more than 1,200 claims within 10 miles.

October 15, 2007

Environmental group seeks to limit mining near protected lands

The Press-Enterprise

An environmental group is pushing for federal legislation that would restrict mining within 10 miles of a national park, wilderness or other protected lands, a change that could affect thousands of California mining claims.

Congress is considering updates to the nation's 135-year-old mining law.

In San Bernardino and Riverside counties, 525 mining claims lie within 10 miles of Joshua Tree National Park, which straddles both counties, according to the Environmental Working Group. Of those, 207 claims have been filed since 2003. At Mojave National Preserve in eastern San Bernardino County, 2,486 claims are within 10 miles; 670 have been filed since 2003.

Statewide, 21,365 claims are within 10 miles of federal public lands, the group said.

Bill Walker, vice president of the environmental group's West Coast office in Oakland, said Monday that the group analyzed data from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which oversees mining activity.

Legislation has been introduced to update the Hardrock Mining Law of 1872, and the group wants the buffer zone to be included and land managers given power to weigh whether the mines would be harmful to the environment. The buffer zone is needed, Walker said, to protect the landscape and reduce the chance of damage to wildlife habitat and water sources from toxic waste.

The House Resources Committee is scheduled on Thursday to mark up the legislation, introduced by the committee chairman, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va.

Joe Zarki, chief of interpretation at Joshua Tree National Park, said park officials aren't aware of any current claims that are a threat. He said the Bureau of Land Management typically allows the National Park Service to comment on anything nearby.

"We're always concerned about issues along our borders that might possibly impact resources, whether it's the air, wildlife or vegetation," he said.

Robert Waiwood, geologist with the bureau for the California desert district, said most claims are for gold and that most don't become active mines. The district's only large, open-pit operation, he said, is in Imperial County.

Walker said he's concerned about the few claims that do become active.

"If just a few did," he said, "they would have quite an impact."

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the Formosa Mine in Oregon to the nation's Superfund list. Mining activities released copper, zinc and other metals into the headwaters of two creeks and severely degraded 18 miles of stream habitat, the EPA said.

October 12, 2007

Numbers stable as deer season opens

by Jim Matthews
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin [Ontario, CA]

Most of Southern California's deer hunting zones open this Saturday for the fall rifle season, and Department of Fish and Game biologists and game wardens say deer numbers are stable or up slightly across the region.

Even more importantly, there are no general access closures due to fire conditions this fall on any of the four National Forests in the region where most of the hunting takes place.

"All of the fires we've had the last couple of years have been a blessing for deer herds," said Kevin Brennan, a DFG biologist in Riverside County. "Although tragic, they've opened up a lot of deer habitat, and there's only one direction for the deer herd to go and that's up."

Zones D11, D13, D14, D15, and D17 open this Saturday. The D19 zone, which covers the Santa Jacinto Mountains in Riverside and eastern San Diego county, opened last weekend. Zone D16, which covers most of San Diego County, opens Oct. 27, and the popular D12 burro deer zone along the Colorado River, opens Nov. 3.

The best news seems to be coming from the increasingly difficult-to-get desert deer zones in the East Mojave and along the Colorado River. Joe Branna, game warden for the Imperial County region, said desert zones D12 and D17 should be very good again this year.

A big fire in the Mojave National Preserve opened up a lot of pinon-juniper habitat in D17 just before last year's hunting season, and those areas have greened up this year. It looks like there was good fawn survival, which bodes well for future seasons, too.

"There were a lot of deer taken last year, and this season should be as good or better," Branna said.

Preserve superintendent Dennis Schramm said deer were using the burned areas extensively in D17, and he said there were a lot of places where the deer were bedding right out in the open in the burn throughout the summer and early fall. Schramm said you couldn't drive Black Canyon Road between Cedar Canyon and Wild Horse Canyon without seeing deer.

Branna said the D12 zone finally got a significant amount of rainfall this year, and he believes the harvest will be equal to last year's near record season when 90-100 bucks were taken from the zone. The rainfall also should improve deer production for this year, which will allow the herd to continue to grow.

"You can thank Leon Lesicka (with Desert Wildlife Unlimited in Brawley) for the record harvest. All the water he's put in the desert has made a big difference in deer numbers here," Branna said.

Both D17 and D12 filled before the general deer tag drawing in June, the first time a first-come, first-serve zone filled before the deer tag drawing. Many hunters who normally counted on getting a desert tag after applying for a premium late season Sierra hunt were disappointed to find they didn't get a desert tag this year.

These two zones have become increasingly popular as hunters have discovered both produce a good number of quality bucks each year. Just over 30 percent of the bucks taken from D12 are four-point or better bucks, while 18 percent of the bucks from D17 are four-point class deer. Hunter success rates in D17 were 26 percent, while only 12 percent of hunter in D12 shot bucks. This is dramatically better than most Southern California deer zones.

"I remember when I first came on, no one hunted out here in either of these desert zones," said Branna. "They've been discovered."

Brennan said the drought has not had a negative impact on deer numbers in most of the Southern California mountain ranges. While the DFG has initiated new survey methods for deer in the region and he said you can't directly compare the old data to the new data, he believes deer numbers are up throughout the region, mostly because of fires creating new habitat.

Brennan, an avid deer hunter, shot four-point bucks in D19 and D14 last season and pointed out D19 produced the same percentage of four-point or better deer last year as D17 - and D19 tags still are available. It also had a hunter success rate of nine percent.

Most of the other deer zones in Southern California have about nine percent of the buck harvest each year as four-point bucks, with only about a seven percent success rate on public lands. The D16 zone in San Diego County has a 12 percent hunter success rate, but a good percentage of deer in this region are taken on private land.

Fire closures have been a problem in the D11 zone (San Gabriel Mountains) during deer season the past few years, but this zone - along with most of the the D14, D15, D16, and D19 zones - mostly will be open for this year's opening day.

October 11, 2007

Non-profit begins effort to end land ownership in preserve

Solitation Letter Targets
East Mojave Property Owners

Exclusive to The Guzzler

Expansion of the Mojave National Preserve boundaries will be accomplished through "buffer zones." Source: Mojave Desert Land Trust.

The Mojave Desert Land Trust
P.O. Box 207
Twentynine Palms CA 92277

Dear Landowner,

The Mojave Desert Land Trust, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit organization, would like to purchase the above referenced property located within the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert Land Trust purchases from willing sellers land located within national parklands and then donates the property to the National Park Service. All transactions with the Mojave Desert Land Trust are voluntary and at a mutually acceptable fair market value. We cover all transactions costs, including appraisals, necessary environmental site assessments and close quickly with minimal contingencies. Limited funding is in place to complete this acquisition.

You have received letters from me in the past on behalf of the National Park Foundation. For several years, the National Park Foundation was working with a grant that provided funding for acquiring privately owned land withing the National Park System. The Mojave Desert Land Trust has recently been awarded theat grant; I am working with them and look forward to possibly working with you.

If you have an interest in selling your property and would like to learn more about this opportunity, please contact me a (909) 797-5496 or email me a alavender@earthlink.net.


Allyson Lavender

October 10, 2007

Coalition gathers support for stopping Green Path

Hi-Desert Star

YUCCA VALLEY — A community-wide public meeting to present plans to stop the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Green Path north corridor project will be held at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in the Yucca Valley Community Center.

The California Desert Coalition is holding the meeting and asks everyone to join the group to provide input and learn more about Green Path North.

For information, call the CDC at 365-0900 or visit http://www.cadesertco.org/.

The Green Path North is one of several alternatives contemplated by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to transport energy into L.A. This particular route would cut through Desert Hot Springs, Big Morongo Preserve, Morongo Valley, Yucca Valley, Pioneertown, Pipes Canyon, Flamingo Heights and Landers on its way to Hesperia, according to the CDC.

In July, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power submitted applications to the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service for right-of-way access on federal lands for the power path.

At that time, the utility’s Commission President H. David Nahai said a public meeting would be held in the Hi-Desert in later phases of the proposal process.

He also disclosed the estimated date for the power line’s operation is November 2013.

Partners in the venture are the City of Los Angeles, the Imperial Irrigation District — where geothermal energy is being produced and where production of solar energy is proposed — the Boston, Mass.-based Citizens Energy Corporation and the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

It is the position of the CDC that the Green Path North corridor is unnecessary, inappropriate and will negatively affect the Hi-Desert’s quality of life.

October 9, 2007

SoCal Farmers to Face Water Woes in 2009

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Officials of Southern California's major water wholesaler say deliveries to the region's agricultural customers will be cut by nearly a third next year and residents are likely to face rate hikes in 2009 because of a statewide shortage.

Utilities that serve residential customers and are supplied by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California can expect price hikes between 5 percent and 10 percent in 2009, district spokesman Bob Muir said Monday.

The rate increases would be needed to pay for additional water supplies from other sellers in the state and further investment in the water grid, he said.

The district provides water to nearly 18 million people in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The district sells water at wholesale rates to local utilities, providing Southern California with half its supply. The rest comes from underground sources and other local supplies.

The district is also reducing by 30 percent deliveries to 12 agencies that buy water at discount pricing for agricultural customers, Muir said. Those cuts will take effect Jan. 1, he said.

Utilities that sell to agricultural users receive water at a discount under a program that makes them first to suffer cutbacks during shortages.

Farmer Al Stehly said the avocados he grows in northern San Diego County are entirely dependent on water provided by the district and that he will take a financial hit from the cuts.

"It's going to be tough and there will be some belt tightening, but we're going to get through this if it's only one year," he said. "But if it's permanent or it's more than 30 percent, it's going to be real tough to make a living."

The actions follow an August court decision limiting outflow from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect an endangered fish species. The federal ruling came in response to a 2005 lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The suit complained that the massive pumps used by the State Water Project and federal Central Valley Project were driving the threatened delta smelt to extinction.

Because of the lead-up to the ruling, farmers expected the cuts, said San Diego County Farm Bureau director Eric Larson. "We've seen this coming for quite some time," he said.

October 8, 2007

SB library gets gift of $749K

By Michael Sorba, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

SAN BERNARDINO - A $749,000 gift left to the library from the estate of Arda M. Haenszel is unlikely to be spent any time soon.

Library officials say the money has been placed in the San Bernardino City Library Foundation endowment fund. Interest from the money, however, is expected to be used to fund improvements at the various libraries in the city eventually.

The San Bernardino City Library Foundation Board of Directors is slated to meet Dec. 5 to consider which projects to fund next year with money from the endowment. Interest from the extra $700,000-plus could help pay for improvements such as renovating the children's room at the Feldheym Library and bringing in big-name American authors to conduct guest literary lectures. The foundation is expecting to donate about $40,000 next year.

"We are just thrilled with this bequest," said Millicent Price, principal librarian at the Feldheym Library. "It's so fitting that the money comes from Arda. She knew so much about the local area, and she was a teacher so she liked to pass on her knowledge to others."

Haenszel, who was a teacher in San Bernardino for 31 years, is described by friends as a walking encyclopedia on the local area.

She died in 2002 and left her life savings behind to support three elderly friends.
The last of the three friends recently passed away. This triggered a stipulation in her will transferring any remaining money to the San Bernardino City Library Foundation, Price said.

Haenszel's donation bolstered the endowment fund to about $1.8 million, said Maureen Godfrey, the foundation's president.

"We don't have any major fundraisers," said Godfrey, "so the money will keep the perpetuity of the endowment going."

Interest and other money generated from the endowment fund is used to help the city's public libraries.

Last year about $50,000 generated from the endowment fund paid for early literacy computers and children's books for the library system.

October 5, 2007

Preserve ranger tasers suspected thief

National Park News

On the afternoon of October 4th, ranger Mike Ice contacted two people in a parked ATT company vehicle on a road in a remote part of the Mojave National Preserve.

Ice suspected that they might be stealing copper or other metals due to some items that he saw on the ground next to the truck. The passenger, George Davis, produced a Nevada identification card, but the driver said that he had no identification on him. Ice checked both Davis and the truck on NCIC – both returned clear.

The driver then looked around a couple of times and ran to the truck. As he was putting it into gear, Ice was able to open the door and deploy his taser. The door slammed shut as the truck went forward, though, and the taser evidently had no effect.

Ice decided not to pursue and instead questioned, cited and released Davis.

In the ensuing investigation, rangers learned that the ATT truck had been stolen from Las Vegas, but had not yet been reported.

Ranger Brian Cooperider found it on BLM land west of Searchlight on October 8th. Numerous items of stolen property were recovered from it.

Ice is working on case with Las Vegas Metro PD and NPS agents from Lake Mead.

October 3, 2007

U.S. to have say in power line siting

In a boost for utilities, the Southland is deemed a key energy corridor, allowing federal officials to overrule the state and condemn property.

By Janet Wilson, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

California utilities are up against a tough state deadline to obtain 20% of their power from renewable sources by 2010, which in most cases means shipping in wind, solar or geothermal energy from elsewhere.

The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday designated nearly all of Southern California, parts of Arizona and much of the northeast as "national interest" energy transmission corridors, an action that allows federal regulators to approve new high-voltage towers and lets private utilities condemn homes and land even if a state agency won't.

The action is potentially an enormous boost for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., all of which have faced fierce local opposition to proposed transmission lines that would stretch for hundreds of miles through numerous communities and counties.

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, following direction from President Bush and Congress, designated six California jurisdictions in their entirety as "national interest electric transmission corridors," including Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Kern and San Diego counties.

"We're not talking about a huge new transmission tower on Wilshire Boulevard," said Mary O'Driscoll, spokeswoman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But it's not clear how newer, fast-growing communities in the Antelope Valley or the Inland Empire would be affected. Small towns in rural areas and private land preserves around national parks could be early targets.

Kevin Kolevar, assistant secretary of the Energy Department's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, said "critical areas of congestion" had been identified in both the southwest and the northeast by federal energy researchers, including coastal Southern California and the Inland Empire. Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the federal energy commission will now be able, as a last resort, to designate badly needed transmission corridors between states to ensure reliable power reaches those areas, Kolevar said. The commission would act only if a state had not acted on an application by a utility within a year or had turned it down, he said.

A spokeswoman for the California Public Utilities Commission said its staff was researching the decision. But utilities and other business groups, including the California Chamber of Commerce and Edison Electric Institute, a national electric industry lobbying group, praised the announcement. Residents in rural areas expressed concern.

"If you're building a power plant, you tend to have lot of concern within one community; if you're building a transmission line you tend to have 1,000 miles of those kinds of concerns," Edison International Chief Executive John Bryson said in a recent interview. Edison is the parent company for Southern California Edison. "We're enormously fast-growing in Southern California, we serve . . . four of the 10 fastest-growing counties in the United States. So we're going to need a real big increase in supplies," he said.

Although Edison International is prepared to spend as much as $4 billion on new transmission lines in the next five years, Bryson said the utility recently suffered "a real setback in Arizona" because of the state's unwillingness to provide more power to California. Edison International was recently denied approval by Arizona regulators to build a new transmission line between an area of the state, which is covered by Tuesday's decision, and Southern California.

"We're evaluating the Arizona situation, and I think in the view of Congress this was enough of an issue, the parochialism and state balkanization, that a law was adopted . . . so that all parties can apply to FERC," Bryson said. "No one has done that yet. It's something you don't do lightly because in our case we would like to work very well with Arizona and California."

DWP Board President H. David Nahai also reacted cautiously. "The energy corridor designations released today were subject to a lengthy public process, with input from a variety of stakeholders. We are now evaluating these new designations and determining the extent to which they will facilitate the transmission of renewable energy to Los Angeles," Nahai said in a statement.

Residents in San Bernardino County's Morongo Valley have been fighting a proposal by DWP to lace huge new towers through historic Pioneertown, the setting for countless television westerns and movies, and through bucolic private land preserves pieced together between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest.

Federal energy regulators would steer clear of public parks and forests unless sister agencies allowed transmission lines, putting more pressure on private lands as possible route sites, Kolevar said.

"We've been expecting the federal preemption card to be played . . . and we're going to fight it," said Danny Sall, 59, a lifelong resident of Pioneertown whose home has been identified on DWP maps as possibly being in the route of a proposed transmission line. It is not yet known if Tuesday's decision applies to that line because it may not link up to out-of-state power.

"People live out here because they don't want the congestion and the traffic; they're interested in a different quality of life," Sall said. "Constitutionally I think we should be able to do that without some conglomerate 100 miles away coming in saying, 'Ha ha, this is for the greater good because we have more heads to count, so we're taking your land."

Earlier this year, members of Congress tried unsuccessfully to roll back the new powers of the federal commission. And some land trust groups are considering whether to file legal challenges.

But leading eminent domain attorney Gideon Kanner said there was a long established track record for governments to use eminent domain under the U.S. Constitution if it would benefit the greater good.

"This is another example of NIMBYism writ large," he said of objections by desert and forest community residents to power lines. "They want to live in pristine, wooded areas, but they want to be able to jump in their car, too, and run down to the local Starbucks and get a latte powered by electricity."

October 2, 2007

Judge halts cattle plan

A final ruling could increase grazing in tortoise habitat

Matt Wrye, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

BARSTOW - To graze or not to graze? That's the issue a federal administrative judge confronted Monday when he halted a plan by the federal Bureau of Land Management to increase the number of cattle allowed to graze on thousands of acres near here.

The BLM wants to increase cattle-grazing to a former level on land recognized as critical habitat for the desert tortoise.

The land is located south of the 15 Freeway.

The plaintiffs - the Center for Biological Diversity and other California conservation groups - say the decision is a small victory.

But the lawsuit is still undecided, and bureau officials are confident they'll eventually prevail.

At issue is whether 130 more cows and a few horses should be allowed to graze on about 152,000 acres of private, state and federal land. The terms are part of the BLM's 10-year lease contract that was renewed in September with private ranchers and other lessees.

More than 100,000 acres in that land area is designated as the bureau's Desert Wildlife Management Area and lies within the California Desert Conservation Area.

The current allotment is 172 cows and a few horses. Only 25 head of cattle are grazing the land, according to Anthony Chavez, rangeland management specialist at the BLM's Barstow field office.

"This allotment is our biggest challenge because three quarters of the land is critical habitat for the desert tortoise," he said. "We have to strike a balance between all of this, and it's not an easy task."

The desert tortoise is listed as a threatened species with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Officials with the Center for Biological Diversity say more cows means less habitat for tortoises because cattle trample the underground burrows the reptiles live in.

"We have a number of concerns," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the center. "There is direct competition for forage between cows and the desert tortoise. They're both herbivores and eat plants. They directly compete for food resources."

Both possibilities can ultimately end in death for desert tortoises, she said.

In 2000, the BLM settled a lawsuit with the center that temporarily reduced the cattle-grazing limit to 172 cows and a few horses until the lease was up for renewal.

The original cattle-grazing limit approved in the late 1980s was about 300 cows, Chavez said.

"(The center's) premise that we're increasing livestock use isn't exactly correct," Chavez said. "We're restoring measures ... prior to the settlement agreement. There is no real increase. Now the interim is over with and we're going back to our original permitted use."

The settlement ended with approval of the West Mojave Plan in 2006, which kept the temporary 172-cow cattle-grazing level the same, as long as forage was above 230 pounds per acre.

Another official on the plaintiffs' side a 130-cow increase is considerable, given that it's almost double the current amount allowed under the temporary settlement.

"If you impact the environment in the desert, it takes a long time for desert habitat to recover," said Michael Conner, California science director of the Western Watersheds Project.

"We're delighted that we got a stay," he added. "(The judge) looked at our appeal and decided that we have substantial evidence and are likely to prevail in a court case."

On the contrary, the BLM is "fairly confident" the judge will rule in its favor, Chavez said.

He noted a professional opinion sent to the BLM from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that says an increase in cattle grazing will not jeopardize desert tortoises or other critical habitat in the area.

Whatever the lawsuit's outcome, the BLM is prepared to implement the judge's orders, he said.

State officials address mounting water ‘crisis’

Victorville Daily Press

James Quigg / Staff Photographer
Water flows through the California Aqueduct Tuesday. Several state officials are predicting a water crisis in California's future.

The Victor Valley’s future water supply is in danger — facing an onslaught by drought, global warming, aging infrastructure and a requirement to preserve a little fish called the Delta smelt.

The crisis has not yet percolated to the Victor Valley, but it puts at risk the water supply coming over the California Aqueduct. That water is a key component of the Mojave Water Agency’s plan to recharge the region.

“I’m extremely concerned ... about what could very quickly become a real crisis for this state,” said state Sen. Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, who has proposed a $9 billion plan to address the weaknesses in the system.

Cogdill was speaking at a news conference broadcast by telephone. He was joined by Lester Snow, director of the Department of Water Resources.

Last year, snowpack was at its lowest level since 1988, Snow said. Because of the drought, levels in state reservoirs are down 40 percent from last year, he added.

“We combine that with the vagaries of climate change ... and know that the forecast is pretty clear, that our droughts are going to be much worse in the future,” Snow said, referring to the wide swings in future weather that global warming presents. “This could be the second year of a 10-year drought, or the highest flood flows we’ve seen in the state.”

On top of that, in August a federal judge imposed limits on water flow from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect the endangered Delta smelt, whose habitat lies in the area of the Delta’s massive pumps. The same judge, Fresno-based Oliver Wanger, is scheduled to hear a companion case today aimed at protecting salmon.

Locally, the Mojave Water Agency has stored Aqueduct water underground since 1991, for a total of 114,205 acre feet. An acre foot is said to supply a family of four for one year.

The amount of water pumped in the entire region was unavailable, but for perspective, the former Victor Valley Water District, now the Victorville Water District, pumped about 22,000 acre feet in 2005.

For two years, the MWA has been heralding its plan to recharge the Victor Valley’s sub-basin through its Regional Recharge and Recovery program — using Aqueduct water.

While the MWA is allotted 75,800 acre feet per year, it remains to be seen whether the state will be able to provide its court-mandated annual allotment.

Michael Stevens, spokesman for the MWA, said he could not comment on the future of the agency’s water entitlement. But he did acknowledge that the situation is a crisis.

“It could have a huge impact if these issues are not addressed,” he said, referring to drought and Delta problems. “We should not be in a panic, but don’t become complacent. Because the state is in a crisis, it could impact our situation if things continue the way they are.”

Snow and Cogdill encouraged the state’s investment in “regional self-sufficiency,” which involves local agencies pursuing ways to avert a crisis themselves.

Such measures include surface water storage, desalinization, conservation and reclaimed water.

“But these measures by themselves can’t solve our problem,” Cogdill said.

“We won’t be able to rely on the Sierra any longer, it appears,” he added. “We think it’s crucial that we move forward (on the bond proposal).”

In the meantime, officials from the retail districts to the state water agencies are pushing conservation above all.

For more information on the state’s water crisis, go to www.calwatercrisis.org

Judge prevents BLM from extending grazing rights

Victor Valley Daily Press

A federal judge issued a temporary order on Monday preventing the Bureau of Land Management from increasing the number of cattle a local ranch can graze on 136,000 acres, just north of Lucerne Valley.

Conservation groups sued the BLM over concerns that desert tortoises and other endangered species could lose their habitats due to the grazing cattle.

Under the current lease, the BLM is allowed to let the nearby Shield F Ranch graze up to 175 cows on public lands near the Ord Mountains. The area includes 117,000 acres of desert tortoise habitat. Shield F currently has about 25 cows on the land.

The BLM previously allowed up to 295 cows on the lands, but after a legal challenge in 2001, was ordered to reduce the maximum number allowed until the Western Mojave land-use plan was developed in 2006. The BLM now seeks to return to the pre-2001 allotment, but a consortium of four environmental groups appealed the plan.

Harvey C. Sweitzer, an administrative law judge with the Department of Interior’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, ruled that the effects of the lease extension on wildlife should be further explored before the 10-year lease is extended.

Sweitzer will further consider the matter in a hearing to be held in the coming months. The hearing has not yet been scheduled, said Luke Smart, an attorney adviser with the hearings office. He said that conservation groups and the BLM frequently disagree over the effects that cattle grazing has on the environment.

“These are kinds of issues that come up, and these are the types of issues the BLM, grazers and conservation groups wrestle with,” Smart said.

Michael Conner, California science director with the Western Watersheds Project, one of the conservation groups behind the lawsuit, said he was pleased with the decision. He said feels the land needs time to recover from the effects of past grazing.

“We’re very happy with this ruling because the judge is basically agreeing that our case has merit,” he said.

Conner said that grazing cattle can trample tortoises, tortoise eggs as well as burrows. He said other endangered species such as the big-horned sheep and Mojave monkey flower could also be at risk.

Anthony Chavez, a rangeland management specialist with the BLM, said he disagrees with the idea that the current herd of 25 cows on 154,000 acres is a burden on he environment. He said the terms of the new lease did not represent an increase in the number of cattle because the levels were allowed prior to 2001.

He said the agency has not yet decided how to proceed and will wait for the upcoming hearing.

Members of the Shield F Ranch did not respond to calls seeking comment.