February 29, 2008

Painter captured Southland scenes

Milford Zornes, 100; watercolorist painted everyday Southland scenes

By Mary Rourke, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times
Artist Milford Zornes is shown in Pomona in 1989.
The watercolorist, who began his craft in the '30s, was best known for painting everyday scenes of Southern California life and became part of a group known as the California Scene Painters. (Gordon McClelland)

Milford Zornes, a watercolorist who traveled the world for his art but is best known for the everyday scenes of Southern California he painted starting in the 1930s, died Sunday at his home in Claremont. He was 100.

Zornes, who taught art for many years in California and Utah, died from complications of congestive heart failure, his daughter, Maria Baker, said.

His paintings of grassy landscapes, rugged shorelines and coastal hills recall the time in California before freeways and housing developments. He was one of a group of area watercolorists led by Millard Sheets who became known as the California Scene Painters. They worked outdoors and aimed to create a distinctly American style of art. Zornes and his colleagues were part of a larger movement of regionalist painters across the country, with Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri one of the best-known names.

Zornes showed his watercolors in group and solo exhibits starting in the 1930s and became a member of several national art associations, including the American Watercolor Society. He also taught art classes through most of his career, on the faculty at Pomona College in the 1940s and later in workshops in the United States and Mexico. For some years he taught at his studio in Mount Carmel, Utah, where he had a second home.

"Milford's real contribution was as a teacher and promoter of the California style of watercolor painting," said Gordon McClelland, author of several books on Zornes. "That brought him a national reputation."

Born in Camargo, Okla., on Jan. 25, 1908, and raised in Oklahoma and Idaho, Zornes took his first art lessons from his mother, a schoolteacher. In high school he studied with visiting art teachers who taught him the basics of drawing, he said in a 1999 interview with Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art.

His father was a ranch hand and laborer who moved the family to San Fernando, looking for a better life, when Zornes was 17. After high school Zornes hitchhiked across the country and sailed to Denmark on a tanker, working to pay his way. From there he toured Germany and France before he returned to California.

After a year taking classes at what was then the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, he continued his studies at Pomona College and also took art classes from Sheets, who taught at several colleges in Southern California.

Sheets taught him, "It is a real life thing, not an arty thing," to "paint the world around you," Zornes said in 1999.

During the early 1930s Zornes worked for the federally funded Public Works of Art Project, producing watercolors to be displayed in public buildings. He painted murals for several U.S. post offices, including the Claremont branch.

Zornes married Gloria Codd in 1935. The couple had a son, Franz, before they divorced. He then married Patricia Mary Palmer. He is survived by his wife and children, six grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

Drafted in 1943, Zornes served as an Army artist stationed in Burma, China and India. Paintings he made there became the property of the Pentagon, McClelland said. Zornes was discharged from military service in 1945.

He continued painting and teaching into his 90s, completing a mural for East Los Angeles College in 2004. He gave his last public demonstration in January at the opening of an exhibit celebrating his 100th birthday at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. The exhibit continues through March 30. Other works by Zornes are on display at the Riverside Art Museum until March 29.

Contributions in his name can be made to the Milford and Pat Zornes Art Scholarship Fund, East Los Angeles College, 1301 Cesar Chavez Ave., Monterey Park, CA 91754. Make checks payable to the ELAC Foundation.

"Mojave," watercolor, 1963. (Hillcrest Press Inc.)

February 28, 2008

BLM: so much area to cover, so little time

BLM battles bullets, trail cutting, motorcycles, cherry bombs to stop “trashing of America”

Along the Trail
By David McNeill
Mammoth Times

I was out on the Chalk Bluffs near Bishop over the Martin Luther King holiday, and was surprised at what I saw. Just a week earlier I had observed about 10 people blowing off M-80 firecrackers in the rocks for hours. It was unnerving to say the least and ruined a good hike. On this day things got way out of control. The parking areas were full with 50 carloads of rock climbers at the bottom of the Bluffs. Cars were coming into the top entrance of Sad Boulders all day long, where there is very little parking. That increased the chance for damage to the brush all along the road from overflow.

Things were going about how they usually do on a holiday weekend in winter at the Chalk Bluffs, as I climbed up onto the big petroglyph panel called Sky Rock. I heard some motorcycles in the distance and didn't think too much of it, since there are roads out there. The next thing I knew, four guys on motorcycles were illegally going cross-country across the fragile high desert land. That was the first time I have ever seen anything like that in 30 years of hiking out there. It is common to see a solo track here or there on the Volcanic Tableland from some outlaw rider, but never a team effort. Of course I ran after them, and of course they got away. I phoned up law enforcement officer Mike Hubbard at the Bishop BLM office, and he invited me to come down and do a story on what they face out in the “wild west” with so much area to cover and so little time.

The Eastern Sierra is an off road paradise that is unsurpassed in beauty and different types of terrain. Despite this wonderful asset, there are still outlaw riders, who defy the rules and rough ride over the land. It is vicious and a number one problem for BLM, as careless Off Highway Vehicle people continue to erode the land foot by foot each year. This is the problem that Mike and his partner in Lone Pine, Ron Stormo, face each day trying to patrol an area 750,000 acres in size that extends from Cartago in the south northward to Topaz Lake, a stretch of nearly 250 miles. This is an area of diverse desert landscapes, volcanic rock and hot springs in Long Valley near Mammoth Lakes.

About 10 years ago, Mick Ryan and other climbers from the Eastern Sierra started advertising in magazines, guidebooks and the Internet that Bishop, Calif., was the new place to go for bouldering and rock climbing. Things had tightened up down in Waco Tanks in El Paso due to archaeological site damage from the climbers, and they were looking for new territory to establish. As thousands of people converged on Bishop to climb in a Haight-Ashbury type movement, BLM, Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power and the U.S. Forest Service had to react quickly with trail systems, signs, parking barriers, toilets and increased law enforcement. For BLM this was all extra work that the two overburdened law enforcement officers and the recreation department inherited.

To keep people centrally located instead of camping all over the place, Mike, along with geologist Cheryl Seth, helped set up a campground called the Pit in an old borrow pit that was used for the Pleasant Valley Dam construction. This was a perfect location for the campground and an excellent choice. The Pit is wintertime camping only and a great deal at $2 per day, including a host. There is no water and the fees cover the cost of the toilets, trash collection and recycle bins. Climbers were driving all over the place damaging brush, and the recreation department had to place barriers and configure parking areas. At the same time all the petroglyph and archaeological sites had to be identified and protected as best as could be done. Currently, the recreation department headed by Diana Pietrasanta, has six employees who work hard to do as much resource protection as they can.

Another difficult area for BLM to manage is the hot springs and tubs in Long Valley as Wild Willys and Travertine near Bridgeport. Since Hot Creek is still closed, there has been increased use at the BLM tubs. One trail counter at Wild Willys hot tub recorded 30,000 visitors in one year, an astounding number of people going to a small area in one year. That is why the BLM and USFS installed a quarter-mile-long boardwalk to protect the sensitive ground out there.

Archaeological site vandalism has been going on for a long time in the Eastern Sierra. People drive out on ATVs and dig up the rock rings where the ancient people had their shelters. Thankfully the petroglyph target shooting practice has subsided, but people are still picking off pieces of petroglyphs and pictographs, at the same time picking away the pieces of our great land's heritage.

Mike and Ron have been staying on top of another situation involving partying high school kids at a place called the Quarry on top of the Chalk Bluffs. It is the usual stupid situation that many of us did as high school kids — throwing beer cans, breaking glass, making huge fires and leaving them burning. Mike picked up 500 beer cans after one night's party and plastic protectors from liquor bottles. Very clever how they get those bottles out of the store. There is a lot of potential for trouble out there from fires to vehicle accidents and underage drinking.

A change of the guard will be coming for both Mike Hubbard and Ron Stormo — Ron retires in April, Mike in December. Mike ends a long productive career that started as a firefighter after graduating from Humboldt State with a B.A. in wildlife management and outdoor planning. When a job opened up in the Eastern Sierra, he jumped on it. He grew up in Garden Grove in Southern California and vacationed with his family in the Eastern Sierra in the 60s. In 1988, he got a job with BLM as a law enforcement officer. Ron Stormo is also an ex-firefighter, former Hot Shot and worked for the park service. He lives down in Lone Pine and keeps the southern end under control.

It is hard to replace these guys, who have vast amounts of experience and common sense. They will be missed when they pass the baton. They will do everything they can to break in the new officers and give them a good orientation to their new duty station in the most beautiful place on Earth: the Eastern Sierra.

The BLM office in Bishop is very down home and public service oriented. Under the capable leadership of Bill Dunkelberger, all the staff are always accommodating to any valid concern that the public might have. When I have had a concern about some land use issue, they always met with me and never blew me off. They gave me an opportunity to talk about it and that means a lot to me. So they encourage you to keep your eyes on the long falling skies, and don't let our land get hurt. If you see something that isn't cool, they welcome you to give them a buzz. They rely upon us to do our part as good stewards of the land and to take part in the protection of it. Do your part to help stop the trashing of America.

David McNeill has lived in Bishop since 1974, working for the Water District and the Forest Service for most of that time. At home in the wilderness, he does a lot of hiking with Windy, his Springer spaniel. With a taste for writing he explored during stints at Mammoth's Channel 5 and the Mono Herald, he has a drawer full of stories.

February 26, 2008

Part of Salton Sea's desolate shore made into a lush oasis


One woman created a wetlands Eden with more than 135 bird species. Officials hope it's a microcosm of what will happen when state's restoration plan gets off the drawing board.

Birds take flight at a lush complex of seven ponds and artificial islands created at the Salton Sea on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation. (Don Bartlettei / Los Angeles Times)

By David Kelly
Los Angeles Times

THERMAL, CALIFORNIA -- A few careless words, the snap of a branch and a scene of bucolic splendor became utter chaos. Clouds of great blue herons exploded from trees and swaying cattails. Egrets erupted from watery redoubts. Ducks quacked furiously overhead.

Debi Livesay observed the frenzy from a windy bank.

"Wait a moment; they'll settle down," she said. "It's hard to sneak up on them."

Finally, the birds swung around in a tight circle and made splash landings in this patchwork of wetlands stretching out to the Salton Sea.

Livesay, 59, seemed pleased by the performance, as if she'd choreographed the whole thing.

And in a way she had -- or at least helped set the stage. For decades this 85-acre stretch of the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation lay beneath the Salton Sea. As the lake receded, it left behind a salt-encrusted wasteland worthy of Death Valley. Dead trees jutted like bleached skeletons from petrified mud. Even hardy creosote struggled to survive.

Now, thanks to Livesay's seven-year effort to bring back water, it's a lush Eden of wetlands, plants, fish and more than 135 species of birds.

And state officials -- who have their own $8.9-billion, 75-year plan to rescue the dying sea and restore bird habitats -- are eagerly watching what happens.

The Salton Sea, California's biggest lake, is saltier than the ocean and getting saltier all the time. Water agreements reached in 2003 mean Imperial Valley farmers will stop sending their runoff into the sea, causing it to shrink further and grow ever more saline. Scientists predict that, without drastic action, by 2015 the last of the sport fish will have died off. The 400 species of birds that nest there, including endangered species such as the Reservation California least tern and Yuma clapper rail, will leave soon after.

But while the state's plan is still on the drawing board, Livesay's is up and running.

"This is the first microcosm of what all of the rest of the plans call for around the sea," said Dan Parks, coordinator for the Salton Sea Authority. "Scientists have an idea of what they need, but there is a lot of stuff they can't get out of a textbook so you need to get in there and experiment."

Livesay is no scientist. She's a former journalist with a gift for big ideas, a talent for securing grants and total self confidence.

As the Salton Sea dwindles, pesticide-laced sediments have blown over the reservation, exposing thousands of tribal members and other nearby residents to toxic chemicals. In 2001, Livesay, the tribe's head of water resources, was charged with finding a solution.

"We can't afford to have the Salton Sea dry out or people couldn't live here anymore," she said. "It would be 200 times bigger than Owens Lake. All you need is an inch of water to keep the dust settled. So I said, 'Let's make a wetland.' "

Working mostly on her own out of a converted trailer, Livesay won $2.3 million from state and federal agencies and began excavating seven ponds ranging from a few inches to 6 feet deep, and up to 20 acres wide.

Contractors built artificial islands and barriers between pools. Using a complex system of pipes and valves, they diverted water from the Whitewater River, filling and emptying the ponds each day for two years to leach out salt.

Then, in 2005, the valves opened wide and water gushed into the ponds for good. Livesay released young tilapia, mosquito fish and mollies to control insects. She planted native palms.

Nature did the rest.

Willows and cottonwoods began to spring up. Herons nested on the islands. A bald eagle took up residence alongside numerous ospreys. Biologists say they wouldn't be surprised to find a California condor soon. They spotted one in nearby Anza-Borrego Desert State Park last year.

Livesay expects to open her creation to the public in November under the name "California's Everglades." And she hopes to create 10,000 more acres of wetlands across vast swaths of desiccated lake bed.

Tribal Chairman Ray Torres recently described the restored wetlands as a "magnificent sight." The tribe is building a cultural center and an amphitheater near the project's entrance on South Lincoln Avenue.

"The state's Salton Sea restoration plan is very ambitious, but there is degradation going on right now," said Monica Swartz, a biologist with the Coachella Valley Water District who advises Livesay. "The Torres Martinez are the only group taking responsibility for it. Everyone else is talking about it, but they are the only ones doing anything about it."

She called Livesay a "force of nature," adding, "Debi is a remarkable person who doesn't understand what impossible is. She saw what the tribe needed and she made it happen."

Livesay, who is not Native American, worked at the Whittier Daily News and the North County Times before quitting journalism because she said it was too difficult to be married, be a reporter and raise four children at the same time.

She picked up part-time jobs, working as a bartender, running construction crews and building houses.

"I can do anything I want to," she said matter-of-factly. "I can teach myself anything."

As her children got older Livesay began looking for a full-time career, something that satisfied her interest in science and the environment.

She took courses on water management, worked with wildlife biologists and landed a job with the Torres Martinez tribe in Thermal.

"This is where I am supposed to be," she said.

She often spends seven days a week at the remote wetlands site, and sometimes gets in dangerous standoffs with hunters.

Friendly but tough, Livesay fiercely guards the place.

She calls it "my baby" or "this puppy" and describes it as an egg she has "hatched."

At times she lapses into jargon about particulate matter and water chemistry that can baffle the uninitiated. Yet her overall message never changes.

"This is the future of the Salton Sea," she said, looking over the shimmering water. "Right here." Still, potential problems abound.

For one thing, selenium, endemic in Salton Sea sediment, could find its way into the ponds. The mineral is thought to cause genetic mutations in birds.

If the wetlands water gets too salty the fish could die off. And hunters are a constant threat, illegally shooting anything that flies, including, on one occasion, a black swan.

Hunting is forbidden on the reservation and Livesay routinely confronts violators. She recently found six hunting platforms on the edge of the wetlands. Thousands of pelicans, ibises, herons, ducks and grebes floated within easy range of the platforms, which were camouflaged in palm fronds.

"One day I came out here and the whole berm was covered in dead coots. The hunters just wanted to kill them and then left them there," Livesay said, clearly angry. "These guys show up in their cammies, with their dogs and trucks, and think they can't be arrested on tribal land -- but now they are learning otherwise. I got three arrested."

Richard Gamez, who works at the site, has found 15 birds at a time killed by hunters. The lock on the gate has been broken four times.

"When I stop them, they tell me they have hunted here for years," he said. "There are signs up everywhere that say `No Hunting.' They tell me the game warden said they could hunt here."

Harry Morse, a spokesman for the state Department of Fish and Game, said enforcing hunting regulations on tribal land is a "jurisdictional nightmare."

"We can't go on the land and make an arrest because we have no authority," he said. "But when they step off the reservation, we can do something."

So far, Livesay said, they haven't done much. She depends on local sheriff's deputies to go after violators.

"I want to open this place up to ecotourism, and you can't do that with firearms going off everywhere," she said.

The creation of the wetlands is significant for the Torres Martinez, a poor tribe whose 25,000-acre reservation includes 10,000 under the Salton Sea.

The reservation is one of the most polluted in the West, largely because of illegal dumping. But recent efforts by the tribe and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have made a difference.

Twenty of the 27 illegal dumps have been cleaned up, and fires at dump sites have been reduced 75% in the last year, said Clancy Tenley, head of tribal programs for the EPA.

"We have developed a strong partnership with the tribe on environmental issues," he said. "Now they have the first wetlands reclamation program on the Salton Sea."

The project stuns some tribal members.

"The first day I worked out here I was amazed," said Joe Tortes, who helps regulate pond levels. "It really took me by surprise. I had no idea this place was here."

Last week, Livesay boarded her "mule," an all-terrain vehicle, and motored down a dirt path along the water. It was cold and blustery. Snow squalls enveloped the San Jacinto Mountains behind her. As she entered an overgrown glade by the gurgling Whitewater River, dozens of black ibises shot up from the tall grass. Ospreys wheeled overhead.

She cut the engine.

"Wait until you go around the corner," she said. "You have never seen anything like it."

A few feet away, birds were thick as mosquitoes. They floated in dark, choppy water and buzzed about like feathery missiles.

"You have birds here that shouldn't be here, birds from Canada all the way down to Central America," she said. "People come from all over the world to see this sight. There is no other place like it. And that's why we have to preserve it."

February 25, 2008

A genuine artist


By Diana Sholley, Staff Writer
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

James Milford Zornes, who died in Claremont on Sunday at the age of 100.
(Therese Tran/Staff Photographer)

Today the skies won't seem as blue, the grass as green, or the sun so golden orange.

Landscapes everywhere will be somewhat muted as they've lost one of their most devoted admirers.

James Milford Zornes, born Jan. 25, 1908, died Sunday night in his Claremont home from congestive heart failure. He was 100.

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Pat; two children, Maria Baker and Franz Zornes; six grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren.

"We've known he's been going downhill for quite a while," said Maria. "He went peacefully. We're glad he didn't suffer. We were lucky to have him so long."

Maria heard a researcher once call her father "the most prolific watercolor artist in the United States." That really doesn't surprise her.

"My dad painted a story, and he wanted people to be able to understand the story," she said. "He would look at a landscape and get the feel of it, maybe add things that weren't there to give it more of a story. He'd listen to what it was saying to him - that's what sets him apart when you're looking at his work. You're not not looking at a photograph, you're looking at a concept."

Zornes' work is part of collections at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the White House.

In the Inland Empire, his work can be seen at the Claremont Post Office and the soon-to-open Lewis Library and Technology Center in Fontana. His paintings are also part of the Chaffey Art Association's permanent collection.

Because of his artistic success, the Zornes family traveled the world extensively.

"We were lucky. We had a lot of opportunities other children didn't have," she said. "I learned early that art was his passion, but also my father loved people, he was always meeting new people."

With regularity Zornes would gather his family for a Sunday drive and before they knew it they were hundreds of miles away from home.

"One time, we wound up in this Navajo community. As he was talking and meeting people, I played with Navajo kids," Maria said.

"We learned to see the world through my dad's eyes - vast and beautiful landscapes just waiting to be painted, waiting to be captured."

Anyone who knew Zornes was given unique opportunities, especially his students who will carry on his artistic legacy.

"He was my first teacher in art at Pomona College," said Rupert Deece, a professional sculptor who became good friends with his instructor. "He contrasted the other teachings that were going on. He got us started on geometric composition and had us thinking of the spacial configurations of a painting. I heard him say many times that `a painting was an idea with a frame around it.' I never heard anyone else put it quite that way."

Zornes was such a good teacher that Deece, who attended college for a career in chemistry, turned his sights to his artistic passion and never looked back.

"There were so many things that I liked about the man, but what I loved about him most was his essential grace," he said. "He'd been losing his eyesight to macular degeneration for years and still continued to paint, never complaining."

Zornes was diagnosed with the debilitating disease about 20 years ago. Macular degeneration gradually destroys a person's central vision and can lead to blindness.

James Hueter, a good friend of Zornes since 1948, called the artist an inspiration.

"He was an outstanding individual in ways that other people might not even know," said Hueter, a professional artist. "How he handled his macular degeneration was exemplary. He did everything he could to learn about it and suggested new treatments to his doctors. He looked for ways to help himself and to help others."

Zornes painted nearly until the day he died. Hueter said his landscapes became more abstract, but still had the Zornes style.

When he could no longer see the pallet, paper or scenery with his eyes, he saw them in his mind and painted what he saw.

Hueter described his friend as "his own man" who said what he felt and meant what he said.

"More than anyone I knew, he always did what he thought was right," Hueter said. "He was quite a person."

No services are planned. Zornes' family considers the birthday bash that celebrated his 100th birthday the perfect ending to a life well-lived.

Desert Valley by Milford Zornes, 1953.

An artist's life

Jan. 25, 1908 - James Milford Zornes is born in rural western Oklahoma.

1928 - Hitchhikes across America.

1930 - Studies art in Los Angeles with F. Tolles Chamberlin at the Otis Art Institute. Zornes becomes interested in watercolor painting and takes additional lessons in this medium from Millard Sheets at Scripps College.

1930 - Becomes part of California Scene Artists, an elite group of watercolor artists that painted California landscapes.

1937 - Zornes was one of 12 artists picked to represent California watercolor painting for Larson P. Cooper's California Group traveling show.

1939 - Zornes and Millard Sheets work together on a mural for the San Francisco World's Fair.

1940s - Teaches at Pomona College.

1943 - Zornes is drafted into the Army and assigned to be an war artist in China, India and Burma. Zornes paints in those countries and turns most of the art over to the War Department. The art collection is housed at the Pentagon. He has an art show in Bombay during this time.

1948 - He becomes part of the American Water Color Society.

Late 1950s to early 1960s - He is the art director for the Padua Hills Theater in Claremont.

1951 - Helps build Thule Air Force Base in Greenland.

1963 - Buys the Maynard Dixon Studio in Southern Utah, outside Zion National Park. Teaches art classes there for 13 years.

1965 - Moves to Utah.

1982 - Creates the largest single-sheet watercolor, which is on display at the Claremont Colleges.

1987 - Receives the Paul Prescott Barrow award from Pomona College.

1988 - Receives "A Most Distinguished Citizen" award from Southern Utah State College.

1991 - Receives the David Prescott Burrows award.

1994 - Receives the American Artist Achievement award from American Artist Magazine.

1994 - Elected National Academician by the National Academy of Design.

1998 - Returns to Claremont.

Our Desert Home - Cima Dome


Special to the Press Dispatch
Victorville Daily Press

Photo from Back Roads West

From the rest stop on Interstate 15 near Cima Road in eastern San Bernardino County, a gently sloping mountain can be seen to the south. It is covered by Joshua trees. Outcrops of granite rocks stand tall near its summit.

This is the Cima Dome.

There are a half dozen of these features in the Mojave Desert, known to geologists as domes. They are rare.

Domes are large features covering a hundred or more square miles in area. The Cima Dome is perhaps the easiest to recognize. The best views of the dome are from the crests of the Mid Hills, which are to the south; Cima Road traverses Cima Dome between Interstate 15 and the post office at Cima.

Topographic maps show circular contour lines on the dome. If you put a pencil under a sheet and align the pencil until it is straight up, you will create a model of a dome.

Looking down on your model you should be able to observe that the lines of equal elevation, or contour lines as they are called, are circular. The top of the dome comes to a point, like an upside-down cone.

To understand how Cima Dome was formed, you have to understand a little about the history of the crust of the Earth in the Mojave Desert.

The Mojave Desert has been subject to a lot of pushing and pulling by tectonic forces in the last few million years. First the crust was stretched and thinned by the same forces that formed the Basin and Range Region of Eastern California, Nevada and Utah.

The thin crust of the Mojave Desert was then subjected to compression by forces placed on it when the Baja California micro-plate collided with North America. When these forces squeezed the thin crust of the Mojave Desert, hot plastic material from beneath the crust, known as the mantle, was pushed up to form the dome.

The Cima Dome has a thin crust and there is a bulge of mantle material beneath the crust. Some of this mantle material found its way through fractures and faults to form the 31 or more volcanoes of the Cima Volcanic Field, on the western flanks of the dome.

On your next trip to Vegas, spend some time at the rest stop between Cima Road on Interstate 15 and look at Cima Dome. Think about what is under your feet in the crust and mantle. This should help you understand some of the forces that are constantly changing “Our Desert Home.”

Bud Lorkowski is a retired science teacher. He is currently doing a geologic study in the Mojave National Preserve for the National Park Service. He has recently completed a geological study of Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho.

February 23, 2008

U.S. considers easing ban on guns in national parks

Advocates of change say it will improve safety.

Opponents are convinced it would do the opposite.

By Richard Simon and Judy Pasternak, Staff Writers
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- In a victory for gun-rights advocates, the federal government is preparing to relax a decades-old ban on bringing loaded firearms into national parks.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said Friday that his department would suggest new regulations by the end of April that could bring federal rules into line with state laws concerning guns in parks and public lands. His announcement came in a letter to Sen. Michael D. Crapo (R-Idaho), one of 50 senators who have written to him about the issue. Senators from both parties have backed a drive to repeal the ban, which has been in place in some parks for at least 100 years.

The proposed rule change would let visitors carry loaded weapons into national parks in states with few gun restrictions, such as Montana.

California is not one of those states. Its law prohibits loaded guns in state parks unless they are locked inside a car trunk or are similarly inaccessible. "It's a place of refuge, not a place for hunting, and it's patrolled by state park rangers who are there to protect visitors," California State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said.

Gun rights advocates, notably the National Rifle Assn., have said the ban infringes on their 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms and their ability to defend themselves from predators, both human and animal.

"If you're hiking in the backcountry and there is a problem with a criminal or an aggressive animal, there's no 911 box where you can call police and have a 60-second response time," said Gary S. Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Assn.

Kempthorne's decision to review the ban was hailed by the NRA. "This is an important step in the right direction," said the organization's chief lobbyist, Chris W. Cox.

On the other hand, the National Parks Conservation Assn. called Kempthorne's action "alarming." Thomas C. Kiernan, the group's president, said loosening the ban would be "a blow to the national parks and the 300 million visitors who enjoy them every year."

His view is echoed by gun-control advocates and some rangers who say that permitting firearms would be dangerous for visitors and wildlife and would alter the national park experience.

"Parks have long been sanctuaries for both animals and people," said Charles R. "Butch" Farabee, a former acting superintendent at Montana's Glacier National Park who is retired. "There need to be places in this country where people can feel secure without guns and know that the guy in the campground across the way does not have one."

Although a federal rule change would not directly affect California, George Durkee, a board member of the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police who works at Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks east of Fresno, worries about gun owners from other states: "Somebody who says, 'Oh, well, I can now carry a gun in national parks,' and doesn't read the fine print will just figure he can carry one in Yosemite."

The federal government would not cede authority over firearms in national parks to the states, said Interior Department spokesman Chris Paolino, but would like to reflect the policies of host states. Paolino said the department would also take into consideration the ban on firearms in federal buildings.

Weapons originally were prohibited in national parks to prevent "opportunistic poaching" of wildlife, said Frank Buono, a former assistant superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park, east of Palm Springs.

A 1908 Yellowstone National Park regulation, for example, required that visitors "having firearms, traps, nets, seines or explosives" surrender the weapons at the entrance unless they received written permission from the park superintendent. A similar policy was in effect at most parks for decades. Then the Reagan administration in 1983 required that visitors unload and store their firearms before entering most parks.

Supporters of the repeal effort note that state gun laws apply to federal land managed by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, and they think that should be the case in national parks and wildlife refuges as well.

Half of the Senate seems to agree. Nine Democrats and 41 Republicans have signed letters to Kempthorne calling on him to lift the gun ban. "We do not believe that allowing law-abiding citizens to transport and carry firearms -- rather than forcing them to disassemble or store them in their trunks -- will increase the chances that they will be tempted to violate prohibitions on discharge," one group wrote.

In campaigning to repeal the ban, the NRA hoped to add to a string of recent victories that included blocking an effort in Congress to give local law enforcement officials access to federal gun purchase data and a move in Virginia to require background checks for buyers at gun shows.
In a measure of the bipartisan support for relaxing gun laws, a majority of Congress -- 55 senators and 250 House members -- recently urged the Supreme Court to strike down the District of Columbia's handgun ban, one of the nation's strictest.

Advocates of allowing loaded guns in national parks believe it is foremost an issue of ending what they see as an unconstitutional infringement on their right to bear arms. But they also contend that park visitors are "increasingly vulnerable" to violent crime.

"While park rangers now use bulletproof vests and automatic weapons to enforce the law, regular Americans in states where conceal-and-carry law exists are denied the opportunity for self-defense," Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said in "talking points" distributed by his office.

The National Park Service says there were 116,588 reported offenses in national parks in 2006, the most recent year for which data are available, including 11 killings, 35 rapes or attempted rapes, 61 robberies, 16 kidnappings and 261 aggravated assaults.

Supporters also think gun owners should be able to protect themselves against dangerous animals, dismissing arguments that firearms would ruin the park experience. "An attack, whether by an animal or a criminal, would degrade the experience of park visitors more," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam said.

The park service said there were four bear attacks last year: two in Yellowstone, one in Sequoia and one in Grand Teton. There were none in 2006.

Officials at Glacier -- which recorded 10 deaths from grizzly bear attacks between 1967 and 1998 -- said the last attack was in 2005, when two hikers were mauled.

One of the victims, Johan Otter, an Escondido man who, with his daughter, was seriously injured, said the idea that a gun could have stopped the 400-pound bear that charged him is naive.

"We only had, like, half a second between seeing the bear and the impact," Otter said. "Most likely, if you shoot, you're going to hurt the animal. It's just going to get even more mad at you. The minute they're on top of you, there's no way you can pull a trigger."

Organizations that represent current and retired park workers oppose a repeal, saying it would endanger visitors, rangers and wildlife, and change the parks' character.

Bill Wade, executive council chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, said people could be discouraged from visiting certain parks, such as Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, where he served as superintendent. "How many of you would want to go out there if you knew that people were running up and down the Appalachian Trail with guns?"

February 22, 2008

Congressman chides LA for power plans

By Jutta Biggerstaff
Hi-Desert Star

YUCCA VALLEY — Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, has added his voice to a burgeoning list of opponents to Green Path North, a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power plan to build a 118-mile power corridor through the desert to deliver power to LA.

Eighty-five miles of the transmission lines would traverse a path from Desert Hot Springs through environmentally sensitive areas in the Hi-Desert to Hesperia.

“…It is not acceptable to destroy some of the nation’s most sensitive and beautiful desert land to supply power to the city of Los Angeles,” Lewis said. “These transmission lines, and the necessary construction and maintenance associated with them, would have a very real and lasting impact on the desert, its wildlife and its residents.”

Johnson Valley resident Jim Harvey, an opponent to the proposed energy project, said he was pleased by the congressman’s response, but others in the government and private sectors still needed to be convinced.

“We are going to confront every lawmaker and so-called environmental organization that doesn’t oppose Green Path North and the other 120-plus deplorable energy projects slated to permanently devastate hundreds of thousands of public land acres in our Mojave Desert,” he said. “It’s great to know we can take the congressman off our list.”

The congressman’s objections were made to Nick Patsaouras, president of LADWP, in the form of an official letter dated Feb. 6. While lauding the department for its commitment to renewable power, he denounced the planned route of the transmission lines through unspoiled desert when other corridors designated by the Bureau of Land Management are available.

“To disregard these carefully planned routes would be irresponsible of the department and disrespectful to Los Angeles’ neighbors in San Bernardino County,” he wrote.

Lewis’s opposition joins a growing contingent of groups that have gone on record against Green Path North, including the local chapter of the Sierra Club.

In addressing the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors last week, the environmental group called the LADWP project harmful and unnecessary.

“Clean, renewable energy is imperative if we are to stop global warming, but building unnecessary, new energy transmission corridors, especially in pristine natural areas, is unwarranted and unacceptable,” said Sid Silliman, energy chair of the San Gorgonio chapter.

Lewis’ letter further denounced the LADWP’s alleged covert surveillance of private and public property, which has been a sore point among many Green Path North opponents in the surrounding communities.

“It was very disconcerting to hear that LADWP began surveying land without first notifying local officials and property owners of their intentions for the region,” the congressman wrote. “This lack of transparency has created a great deal of ill will among my constituents.”

The congressman was referring to several residents who saw helicopters flying onto their land and others who came upon survey markers clearly marked “City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.”

“Congressman Lewis is to be commended for his strong stance against the underhanded tactics of LADWP’s General Manager David Nahai and his boss, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,” Harvey said. “They are the real enemies of the preservation of our desert.”

February 21, 2008

Desert debate

Sierra Club joins forces against plan

By Lauren McSherry, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

The Sierra Club has joined a contingent of other environmental groups opposing a proposed high-tension electrical corridor from Desert Hot Springs to Hesperia, calling the proposal "unnecessary and unjustified."

The nation's largest municipally owned utility, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, has proposed building the Green Path North Transmission Project to bring power from the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California.

The LADWP maintains the proposed corridor is a "green" project because it will tap into renewable energy sources, such as geothermal, wind and solar.

However, environmental groups - such as the California Desert Coalition, Wildlands Conservancy and Center for Biological Diversity - have expressed concerns about the project. They said the corridor, particularly the section from Desert Hot Springs to Hesperia, will run through pristine stretches of desert, some of which have been federally designated as areas of critical environmental concern.

Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, has also been critical of the proposed route. Lewis sent a letter to the LADWP earlier this month urging the agency to avoid the Morongo Basin by using existing corridors.

Lewis has taken the position that Green Path North is an ill-conceived plan that was put forward in an irresponsible way because there was no discussion with local officials and residents, his spokesman, Jim Specht, said.

The Sierra Club says the project, which could be anywhere from several hundred feet to several miles wide, does not need to cut through the region's most environmentally sensitive land.
The group wants the LADWP to enter negotiations to use Southern California Edison's existing energy corridor, which parallels the 10 Freeway.

"It's unjustified because they've not provided a rationale for running through fragile areas," said Sid Silliman, chairman of the energy committee for the Sierra Club's San Gorgonio chapter. "They want to do the right thing, but they're doing it the wrong way."

In a written statement, H. David Nahai, LADWP chief executive and general manager, expressed disappointment in the position taken by the Sierra Club, labeling its opposition "premature."

"(Green Path North) is still at its very preliminary stages. There will be a comprehensive dialogue with the affected community about all of the alternatives before any one is selected," according to the statement.

Dave Miller, spokesman for the California Desert Coalition, called the Sierra Club's decision to oppose the route "a step forward," but he questioned whether a movement against the project would be enough to stop it because the LADWP receives no regulatory oversight from the state Public Utilities Commission.

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution in December urging the LADWP to choose a different route.

Wildflower Reports 2008

Week of
17 Feb 2008

View from Amboy Crater 02/17/2008

The wildflower season is off to a good start with the recent rain in the desert areas. More rain is forecasted for Southern California and Arizona.

The hot spots for wildflower sightings are Southern California between 29 Palms and Amboy, CA and the southern part of Joshua Tree NP. Sand verbena is showing shades of purple in the Palm Desert and Palm Springs regions.

Sand verbena, Amboy 02/15/2008

The bloom has just starting in Death Valley and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Reports indicate that Arizona is looking good. Organ Pipe NP is blooming now.

See reports and pictures.

Evening primrose, Dumont Dunes 02/08/2008

February 13, 2008

Study: Lake Mead could dry up by 2021

Recent drought's effects on Lake Mead can be seen by the white ring around the shore at Hoover Dam in 2006.
Laura Rauch, AP file photo

PHOENIX (AP) — Changes in climate and strong demand for Colorado River water could drain Lake Mead by 2021, triggering severe shortages across the region, scientists said in an unusually bleak water-supply outlook.

Scientists working at San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography said Tuesday the West's largest storage reservoir faces increasing threats from a combination of factors including human-induced climate change, growing populations and natural forces like drought and evaporation.

A dried up Lake Mead would be a disaster for Arizona and Nevada.

When water levels dropped below 1,000 feet in elevation, Nevada would lose access to all its river allocation. Arizona would lose much of the water that flows through the Central Arizona Project canal. Power production also would cease before the lake level reached bottom, researchers said.

There is a 50% chance Lake Mead will run dry by 2021 and a 10% chance it will run out of usable water by 2014, if the drought deepens and water use climbs, researchers said.

"We were stunned at the magnitude of the problem and how fast it was coming at us," said marine physicist Tim Barnett, who co-authored a paper examining the fate of Lake Mead. "Make no mistake, this water problem is not a scientific abstraction but rather one that will impact each and every one of us that live in the Southwest."

Lakes Mead and Powell help manage water resources for more than 25 million people in the seven states, including Arizona, that rely on the Colorado River for water and power.

The two huge reservoirs have been studied in recent years using numerous hydrology models, but none forecast a dry Lake Mead within 15 years.

"We did a lot of studies, and none of them ever made Lake Mead go dry, period, end of story. We looked 100 years out, and Lake Mead never went dry," said Larry Dozier, deputy general manager of the Central Arizona Project.

Dozier had not seen the Scripps study but worked closely on other models that have produced different results.

"We did what we called our worst case, and it just didn't happen," he said.

Currently, Lake Mead is half-full, as is Lake Powell.

February 12, 2008

Arrest in 2006 Mojave Preserve slaying

Henderson man arrested in 2006 slaying of man found in Mojave National Preserve

Desert Dispatch
The Associated Press

HENDERSON, Nev. (AP) — A 38-year-old Henderson man has been arrested in the slaying of a man whose body was found by hikers in the California desert in May 2006.

Henderson police say Shawn Pritchett was being held without bail pending a court appearance Wednesday on murder charges in the slaying of 47-year-old Lawrence Thomas of Henderson.

Thomas’ body was found in the Mojave National Preserve by a family of hikers near Cima and Excelsior Mine roads west of Interstate 15. According to a San Bernardino County Coroner’s report, Thomas died of blunt trauma, and investigators believe the victim died at another location and was later left at the Cima Road location.

Police say Pritchett was a friend and business partner of Thomas’ wife, Stephanie Thomas, who moved into the Thomas home after Lawrence Thomas disappeared.

Stephanie Thomas told investigators her husband left home with some belongings after an argument April 13, 2006.

Police say they later found evidence that Pritchett was in California when Lawrence Thomas disappeared.

Kelso Depot Hosts Fine Art Photo Exhibit

Press Release
Mojave National Preserve

Bob Killen Photo

Since the turn of the last century, transcontinental railroads have promoted rail travel to national parks by producing framed prints and advertizing art that depicts the beauty of these national treasures. The tradition of close ties between the railroads, art, and national parks continues as Mojave National Preserve inaugurates its new gallery space with Back to Loneliness, a fine art photography exhibit at the Kelso Depot Visitor Center.

The Back to Loneliness collection of photographic prints by Bob Killen is an exploration of Mojave National Preserve’s Ivanpah Mountains. Killen’s cinematic style, reflective of his commercial editorial work, applies a fine art edge to the saturated hues of Teutonia granite formations, pointy cactus flora, crumbling mine sites and the world’s largest Joshua tree forest.

“The Mojave Desert has always been an inspiration for writers, photographers, and other artists,” said Linda Slater, Chief, Resource Interpretation & Outreach for Mojave National Preserve. “The addition of an art gallery to the Kelso Visitor Center is an exciting opportunity to enrich the experience of our visitors.”

The Back to Loneliness exhibition runs from February 16th to May 19th. Limited edition prints of Bob Killen’s work will be available at Western National Parks Association bookstore inside the Kelso Depot Visitor Center. Proceeds from print sales will fund additional projects aimed at promoting the understanding and enjoyment of Mojave National Preserve.

Senate to Vote on Allowing Park Visitors to Carry Loaded Guns

Environment News Service

WASHINGTON, DC, February 12, 2008 (ENS) - The U.S. Senate is likely to consider the "National Forests, Parks, Public Land, and Reclamation Projects Authorization Act," this week. When that happens, Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican is expected to offer an amendment to allow state law, rather than federal law, to govern the carrying and transportation of firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges.

This measure was authored and is supported by the National Rifle Association, which said in a February 1 letter to its members, "We have been working on your behalf for nearly five years to facilitate this policy change and are committed to ensuring that it finally happens this year."

On February 1, the Association of National Park Rangers, the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, and the U.S. Park Rangers Lodge, Fraternal Order of Police wrote a joint letter to U.S. senators urging them to reject the Coburn amendment.

"Senator Coburn's amendment could dramatically degrade the experience of park visitors and put their safety at risk if units of the National Park System were compelled to follow state gun laws," warned the rangers and retirees.

"For example, since Wyoming has limited gun restrictions, visitors could see persons with semi-automatic weapons attending campground programs, hiking down park trails or picnicking along park shorelines at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks," they wrote.

An analysis of the Coburn amendment and NRA campaign released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER, finds that they are founded upon basic misconceptions.

Coburn's amendment forbids the Interior Secretary from enforcing "any regulation that prohibits an individual from possessing a firearm in any unit of the National Park System or the National Wildlife Refuge System…"

On December 14, 2007, a group of 47 senators wrote to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne urging repeal of these regulations because they are "confusing, burdensome and unnecessary."

The letter was signed by 39 Republican senators along with eight Democrats.

The NRA claims credit for both the senators' letter and the Coburn amendment.

A central assertion of the Coburn measure is that the current regulation offends the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by prohibiting the possession of a firearm in parks.

But in fact the current regulation states that weapons may be possessed as long as they are not loaded and ready for use.

The regulation, (36 CFR 2.4), says that "…unloaded weapons may be possessed within a temporary lodging or mechanical mode of conveyance when such implements are rendered temporarily inoperable or are packed, cased or stored in a manner that will prevent their ready use."

These rules, re-written in 1983 under the Reagan administration, were intended to relax earlier stricter prohibitions. As the National Park Service then explained, "[T]he Service has determined that it is not feasible to prohibit the possession of weapons in all situations, and a total prohibition would be unenforceable."

"The Second Amendment right ‘to keep and bear Arms' does not specify that the weapons must always be loaded and holstered," said PEER Board Member Frank Buono, the former deputy superintendent of Mojave National Preserve. He notes that the fundamental reason for this regulation is to prevent opportunistic poaching, as most park units forbid hunting.

The other rationale for removing firearm regulations is "consistency in firearms policy" on federal lands, according to the senators' letter to Kempthorne.

Senator Coburn's legislation would have federal firearm policy conform to state laws, but because firearms laws vary from state to state, there would then be at least 50 sets of rules for federal lands. In some instances, where a park straddles a state line, there would be two different firearms policies in different sections of the same park.

"This uniformity argument is absurd," Buono added, pointing out that the White House is also part of the national park system. "We don't allow guns on airplanes, in penitentiaries or in the halls of Congress, either."

The rangers and retirees say allowing the possession of loaded and accessible guns in parks would be dangerous to law enforcement officers. "Many rangers can recite stories about incidents where the risk to other visitors - as well as to the ranger - would have been exacerbated if a gun had been readily accessible. This amendment would compromise the safe atmosphere that is valued by Americans and expected by international tourists traveling to the United States," they wrote.

"There is simply no legitimate or substantive reason for a thoughtful sportsman or gun owner to carry a loaded gun in a national park unless that park permits hunting. The requirement that guns in parks are unloaded and put away is a reasonable and limited restriction to facilitate legitimate purposes," wrote the rangers and retirees, "the protection of precious park resources and safety of visitors."

February 7, 2008

Furnace Creek Road revisited

By Ken Koerner
The Inyo Register

When it comes to public lands, few disagree with the premise that they belong to everyone; it’s how they’re accessed and used that causes the disagreements to pile up.

Even just a procedural announcement by the Bureau of Land Management’s Ridgecrest office last week drew comments of support and consternation from both sides concerned with off-highway vehicle access in the Furnace Creek area of the eastern White Mountains. The assessment will initiate a new review on whether to reopen a road into the area that is currently closed.

“Following some 180 protest comments related to Furnace Creek that were received in the BLM’s Washington, D.C. office,” said BLM’s Ridgecrest Field Manager Hector Villalobos, “staff back there reviewed our prior environmental assessment and determined there were a couple areas of weakness which should be reviewed before we move forward” with reopening the road.

OHV proponents, such as the Bishop-based Advocates for Access to Public Lands (AAPL), find no shortage of arguments to support the contention that OHV access to public lands on existing roads is appropriate. The Friends of the Inyo, however, have a different perspective.

Responding to the Jan. 29 announcement of BLM’s decision, Paul McFarland, executive director of Friends of the Inyo, remarked, “There are thousands of miles of road for people on diverse public lands. With massive federal budget shortfalls for public-land management, the BLM can make a better investment of its limited funds in places that benefit a majority of people recreating on public lands, while protecting rare places like Furnace Creek.”

“We’ve been fighting this battle for four years,” said Advocates for Access to Public Lands spokesman Dick Noles. “That road has been in use for 100 years and should remain open – and our AAPL members are equally dedicated to protecting the integrity of the riparian area of Furnace Creek … there are ways to do that and still have access for people that can’t walk up in there.”

“The fact that we’re pulling our environmental assessment,” said Villalobos, “means that as we revisit the document we will once again be opening up another period for public comment.”

The BLM’s timetable for additional public comment doesn’t have a date-certain at this point, but, Villalobos said, “Sometime in the spring of this year we will have that required public comment period opened. The public comments that are then received will be reviewed and reflected in the next environmental assessment on Furnace Creek that is released.”

The road that leads toward the Furnace Creek area has been behind a locked gate since 2003, as a result of a lawsuit filed by those with concerns about negative impacts that could accompany OHV access.

AAPL’s Noles said, “There’ve been a few mindless OHV users that have been up in the Furnace Creek area in years past and we intend to make sure that sort of activity is policed and prevented in the future.”

The Friends of the Inyo has played an active role of photographically documenting what it attests are the negative environmental impacts of OHV use along and within the Furnace Creek stream. According to information published on its website, there are fewer than 20 OHV users that visit the area annually.

Americans of all opinions on the matter of Furnace Creek’s potential access via wheeled vehicles will have the opportunity to take advantage of the public comment period to make their feelings known.

In the meantime, the road is closed and the exploration of the policy decision to be reached continues.

February 6, 2008

Suicide Victim Found Off Cima Road

Mojave National Preserve
National Park News

A park visitor found the body of a 47-year-old Las Vegas man hanging from a rope on a Joshua tree just off Cima Road on February 1st and called 911. Rangers responded along with California Highway Patrol and San Bernadino county officers.

Investigation revealed that the man had driven off the road and into a wash and parked his car. He then walked straight from the car to the tree, climbed up on it, placed a rope in a notch on the tree, then placed the other end around his neck and jumped. Ground areas around the car and the man were fresh and showed no other tracks leading to the tree.

The death has been ruled a suicide. No note was found.

February 5, 2008

Nevada Hearing Mulls Water to Las Vegas

Associated Press

CARSON CITY, Nev. - A hearing took place this week into plans to pump billions of gallons of water from three rural Nevada valleys to booming Las Vegas - with proponents saying state officials should ignore foes who contend the pumping will end the valleys' growth prospects.

Opponents of the plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority compare it to a Los Angeles water grab that parched California's once-fertile Owens Valley in the early 1900s.

But Attorney Paul Taggart, representing SNWA which wants more than 11.3 billion gallons of groundwater a year from Delamar, Dry Lake and Cave valleys, said Monday some of the growth possibilities mentioned by opponents are "nothing more than speculation."

Taggart also said state Engineer Tracy Taylor, who must rule on the pumping plan, wouldn't be the first Nevada official to determine that water from an outlying valley would be best used as a resource for growing urban areas.

"The highest and best use of this water resource is in the Las Vegas Valley," Taggart said in opening arguments on the bid for the water, which is a key component of SNWA $2 billion-plus project to pipe water across the desert to Las Vegas.

Kay Brothers, SNWA's deputy general manager, outlined an elaborate system of monitoring wells to ensure the pumping doesn't cause environmental damage in the valleys.

The monitoring system resulted in the federal Interior Department and the Moapa Band of Paiute Indians dropping their opposition to the plan last month - but farmers, ranchers and others fear they'll lose their way of life in the remote area.

Critics argue that relevant information wasn't made public and that more planning and studies are needed. They also say growth potential in some areas would be sharply curtailed because of a lack of available groundwater for future development.

Simeon Herskovits, attorney for the Great Basin Water Network, said the plan should be rejected because there's not enough water in the valleys for exportation without harming existing water users and the environment.

Herskovitz represents a group of ranchers and farmers opposed to the project, as well as local irrigation companies, a water board, the Sierra Club, Nevada Cattlemen's Association and White Pine County which borders the county where the valleys are located.

The project is bcked by casino executives, developers, union representatives and others who point to water conservation efforts in the Las Vegas area and who warn of an economic downturn affecting the entire state unless the city has enough water to keep growing.

The valleys are all in central Lincoln County, which initially opposed the plan but reached an agreement with the water authority that states which groundwater basins can developed. The agreement also allows for use of the pipeline, for a price, by the county.

The agency, feeling the effects of a seven-year drought on the Colorado River from which it gets 90 percent of its water, hopes to begin delivering the rural groundwater to Las Vegas by 2015.

The water authority's eventual goal is to tap into enough water in rural Nevada to serve more than 230,000 homes, in addition to about 400,000 households already getting the agency's water in the Las Vegas area, one of the fastest growing regions in the nation.