April 29, 2008

Roy’s Gas Station In Amboy Reopens

History Of Small Town

Submitted by Dan Wilson
Best Syndication

Amboy CA – The sleepy town of Amboy California is waking up with the opening of the famous Roy’s Gas Station. The station sits on the corner of historic Route 66 (also known as the circa 1910 National Trails Highway) and Amboy Road, in the tiny community of Amboy. The restaurant and gas station was first opened in 1938 by Roy and Velma Crowl.

A Little History

The couple had two children, Lloyd Irwin and Betty, who helped run the business. Betty married Herman “Buster” Burris who road into town on horseback. Later Buster teamed up with her father in the business. They kept the gas station and café open 24-hours a day and later added a motel. During the 1940s business was brisk with travelers along Route 66.

Interstate 40

Lloyd moved to Twentynine Palms about 50 miles to the south, but continued to travel back and forth to work at the salt mines east of Amboy. In 1972 Interstate 40 opened to the north and the town lost nearly all of its business. Before the Interstate the town boasted over 100 residents, but nearly everyone was forced to move.

Death of the Founder

Roy died in 1977 and Buster took over the business. Betty died of cancer in the 1970’s and Buster later remarried a woman named Bessie. Buster was able to work at the station even into his 80s. He was able to change tires on trucks and buses until he finally retired. The café was known for great burgers and chili.

Although Buster burned most of the buildings to avoid a tax liability, he continued to operate the station until he sold the town in 2000 just before he died at age 92. Due to foreclosure, the investors, Walt Wilson and Tim White, were forced to relinquish control back to Bessie Burris in 2005.

New Owners

Bessie sold the property quickly to Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo Restaurant chain. Okura offered $425,000 in cash and promised to preserve the town and reopen Roy's. There was a lot to do including reestablishing water and electricity. After sinking over $100,000 in renovation and fixing the damage caused by vandals, Okura was able to reopen the gas station on April 24th 2008.

San Bernardino First District Supervisor, Brad Mitzelfelt, helped the new owners cut through some red-tape to get the station open. “I’m happy to see this historic landmark reopened,” said Mitzelfelt, who represents the area. “Roy’s will provide a much-needed rest stop for travelers on Route 66.”

Okura also plans to open the café and mini-mart at the same location.

April 28, 2008

Examining the Wheels of History

How Two Auto Club Employees Push the Past Into the Future

by Jay Berman
Los Angeles Downtown News

Morgan Yates (left), the corporate archivist of the Automobile Club of Southern California, and Matthew Roth, the club's historian and archives manager, at the Auto Club's Downtown building. Photo by Gary Leonard.

A century ago, when the Automobile Club of Southern California was still young, its employees pointed the way for the area's earliest drivers by installing directional signs along the largely unpaved roadsides.

"These people had an awareness of the impact of their work and they saved things," recalled Matthew Roth, the Auto Club's historian and archives manager, in a recent interview at the organization's landmark Downtown headquarters building.

"They kept a record of what they were doing, and they defined their mission as to do things that weren't being done.

"Here was this new technology determining how people would travel, how cities would be built. There were functions that the Auto Club identified to ease the relationship between this transforming technology and society. So they did a bunch of things that were later done by the public sector, including the directional signs and the issuing of license plates before there was a DMV."

Today, with the club in its 108th year, it is still, in many ways, pointing the way for residents with its historical and educational programs. One of these was through its participation as sponsor and co-producer of Sunshine & Shadow: In Search of Jake Lee, a retrospective of the late painter's work which closed April 13 at the Chinese American Museum.

Another is through a partnership in which it provides historic photos from Auto Club archives - there are more than 30,000 in the collection - to Angels Walk L.A., which displays them on kiosks adjacent to such Downtown Los Angeles sites as Olvera Street, the Bradbury Building, the Million Dollar Theatre and the Grand Central Market.

Still another example is the organization's involvement in the UCLA History-Geography Project, a partnership between the Auto Club and the university in which about two dozen teachers from Southern California meet for a week each summer at the 1923 Auto Club building. The teachers study photos, maps and travel literature from the club's collection and they incorporate them into a lesson plan to be taught in the next school year.

Roth, who has worked on the project with colleague Morgan Yates, the club's corporate archivist, since it began in 2005, said its success in increasing geographic literacy is based on the fact that "you can't understand a place without understanding its time."

The program began when secondary school teacher Mary Miller contacted Roth and Yates. It started in UCLA's Geography Department, then was expanded and moved into the School of Education. Miller was joined by Emma Hipolito, also a secondary school teacher. Today, they are co-directors of the program.

"The goal is to increase the quality of inner-city education," Roth said. "The premise is that once you open a mind, it's really hard to close it."

The program has involved teachers from the LAUSD, as well as Pomona, Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and private schools. "They get a solid week of training from the highly theoretical - how we think about urban areas and history - and a lot of hands-on practical training. By the end of the week, they are supposed to be pretty far along with their lesson plan," Roth said.

Community Involvement

The program gives Roth, who has a doctorate in urban history, the kind of community involvement he was looking for when he joined the organization in 1995.

"I was given a list of goals," he recalled. "One of them was to accomplish something like this. It was a lot of effort, but we responded to individual queries from teachers. But it was one at a time. Then, a teacher from Fremont High School allowed us to come in. We saw the implementation of her lesson plan - showing the transformation of economic geography, where factories were and what they made and how they transformed daily lives.

"It was one of my best days ever in working for the Auto Club, seeing kids dealing with material we had provided."

Roth is an expert on the transportation history of Southern California. While he directs the club's involvement in museum exhibits, such as the retrospective on painter Lee, his duties overlap those of Yates, the archivist. Yates, who joined the club in 1999, coordinates the Angels Walk photos, and he writes a monthly column on historic sites for Westways, the club's magazine since 1934.

Recent columns have focused on such Downtown sites as the old Los Angeles County Courthouse and the Times building, along with the nearby KFI building on Vermont Avenue, the Bimini Baths, also on Vermont, and Mount Washington.

Roth and Yates also are involved in the organization's relationship with news media and with film and TV production. "We still have a public affairs function," Roth said. "There is frequent demand to illustrate stories. The Daily News did a series last year on a retrospective of the San Fernando Valley's early history, and we supplied several photos for that."

In the area of television and film production, Roth and Yates have "worked on everything from documentaries to TV news to big studios," Yates said. "We'll get a call from someone who wants photographs or old maps," he said, "and we see what we have with an idea of incorporating it into their work."

While some films might be looking - as Yates said - "for historical accuracy," others are in search of what Roth called "the semblance of historical accuracy. They're in the business of creating illusions," he said. "They might want to know what a traffic signal might have looked like at a certain time."

Landmark Figures

Despite the group's work and programs geared toward tomorrow, many Auto Club members still associate the organization with its early posting of signs, issuance of license plates, the first road maps and, for a time, even its own theft bureau, which employed detectives to track down members' stolen cars.

"It was 1915," Roth said. "Vehicle theft was becoming a problem for the first time. The Auto Club would look for members' cars on its own, and also give awards to police officers who caught auto thieves."

The names of several early club employees have survived the decades, and Roth and Yates recall their accomplishments fondly. Attorney Galen Davis, for example, was a 30-year employee who was a key figure in the standardizing of traffic codes throughout the state.

Then there was Ernest East, who was with the Auto Club from 1921, when such automotive brands as Franklins, Durants and Hudsons shared Southern California roads, until 1957, when the Volkswagen bug was becoming popular.

In 1928, East, who eventually became chief engineer and served on the Los Angeles Traffic Commission, was concerned about traffic safety at Sunset Junction, where Sunset and Hollywood boulevards intersect with four other streets.

"There were six lanes of traffic plus two rail lines," Roth said. "There were no signals. It was a very dangerous intersection, no lane markers, no stop signs. Plus, pedestrians were crossing the street to get out to the trolleys. East put a 16-millimeter camera onto a pole, let it run and analyzed the data."

Roth cautions against calling East's move a predecessor to traffic cameras. "He was just documenting conditions as a way of influencing public policy," Roth said. "There were some traffic signals in the city, but they weren't everywhere. What he did was geared toward safety, toward transportation; where we needed parking, where we needed bridges.

"That's what he was filming for. That's what he did."

Gold diggers

Members of High Desert mining groups head into the Mojave for fun, relaxation, and perhaps treasure

Hugh Kidd, left, sifts dirt over a gasoline-powered dry washer as Guy Praster, right, looks for another shovelful during a gold prospecting trip in March near Barstow.

Victor Valley Daily Press

Huell Howser may be looking for California’s gold, but Norm Corey knows where to find it.

Corey has two claims in the High Desert, and both lie miles and miles down obscure dirt roads.

There are other claims he can work, though. His club, the Valley Prospectors, has claims that can be worked by anyone in the club. As far as we know, there have been no six-shooters drawn to defend a claim nor to steal one.

Mining is a bit more friendly nowadays. Mining clubs work claims together, and for the most part, just have a good time.

Corey, like most other miners, sees mining as an exciting way to relax. Although that sounds like an oxymoron, most prospectors will tell you it’s the best way they know to while away their time and get back to Mother Nature.

He and companion Eleanor Praster brought her grandson, Guy Praster out to work a claim on a recent Saturday. It was his first time out and it was something he wanted to do before joining the Marines.

Corey obviously enjoys mining. It doesn’t bother him a bit that it takes about 125 shovels of dirt — thrown into a machine that shakes out the dust, large pebbles, and other particles — to come up with enough dirt to start panning.

Of course, on this particular Saturday, he has Praster’s grandson along to do a lot of the digging while he supervises.

Corey, donning a rugged looking slouch hat with a wide rattlesnake band around it (one he killed and skinned himself), has a fairly wry sense of humor.

When he tells you that you can find gold using a dowsing (divining) rod, you don’t know if he is joking or not.

He is backed up by another prospector named Barstow Bob — a tall dark man with a white beard and handsome features — who says you can find anything you want with the dowsing rod.

He says if you’re looking for water, all you have to do is think water — let yourself become water — and the rod will find it for you.

“If you’re looking for gold and think gold, the rod will find it for you,” says Bob.

There is a certain wildflower, found in the sparse vegetation of the area, protruding from the dirt and pebbles. The stem is rotund and hollow, topped with tiny purple flowers. No one seems to know the name of the plant, but some prospectors believe that wherever they find it, gold is close by.

Gold miners are like Las Vegas gamblers. They have their own superstitions regarding where and how to find gold.

Instead of rolling dice after blowing a warm breath upon them or even feeding slot machines with quarters after some kind of ritual, miners look for signs that tell them where to dig.

Most gold miners seem to have an air of rugged individualism. They like being out in remote areas that lay at the end of bumpy dirt roads, and they don’t mind getting dirty. They enjoy the quest about as much as actually finding the gold. They just have a really good time.

There are differing ways of mining. There is dry wash, and there is wet wash, and many use metal detectors. So while most miners enjoy getting back to nature, some are incorporating technology in their searches.

The General Mining Act of 1872 made it legal for anyone 18 years or older to locate and mine a claim on Federal land. Before this, the laws governing mining were made up by miners as claims were established and word spread that California was rich in gold deposits. Newly acquired through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1849, California had no real laws except those made up in mining camps.

The HBO series “Deadwood” portrayed the development of such a lawless mining camp. It showed how the town created its own laws out of a necessity to bring order to the camp, and more importantly to protect claims. If you have viewed any of the scenes from this program, you know the language was pretty strong, but “Deadwood” gives a fairly accurate portrayal of the development of mining towns.

Ted Sparks, a retired geologist who works part time at Mining and More, a mining outfitting store in Hesperia, says, “It is important to know the geology of the area in which you are working.”

“I hate to burst somebody’s bubble,” Sparks adds, “People come in with what they think is gold, and I have to tell them it’s not.”

Sparks says that chances of getting rich are slim, but he remembers a couple of guys who came out with 16 troy pounds of gold. There are 12 troy ounces in a troy pound. On April 7, an ounce of gold was selling for around $924 per ounce, while silver was going for about $18 per ounce.

“I want a way of life that is not constrained,” says Sparks. “I don’t want to listen to my neighbors’ dog barking. Whether I find three specks or an ounce, (the fun) is being with people you enjoy.”

Hugo Mietzner says he has over $10,000 in equipment. He is one of the miners who sees the government as encroaching on public land, making it harder for miners to use the land as they see fit.

Although Mietzner has quite an investment, you don’t need to spend a lot to get started. Norm Corey has about $800 tied up in his generator and about $400 in the dry washer.

However, all of the local clubs urge newcomers to join and go out with someone who has equipment before investing any money.

The Au Mojave Prospectors of Hesperia meet the 3rd Thursday of the month at Los Domingo’s restaurant at 15885 Main St. in Hesperia. The meetings begin at 7 p.m. The club welcomes anyone interested in prospecting. For more information, you can call Hugo Mietzner at 524-1822.

The High Desert Gold Diggers meets the second Tuesday of the month at Church of the Valley in Apple Valley at 20700 Standing Rock Road. Their Web site is www.hidesertgolddiggers.org

April 27, 2008

Needles in a haystack

Lost in California shuffle, town's City Council considers secession

Las Vegas Review-Journal

NEEDLES, Calif. - Doomsayers predict a chunk of California will break off into the ocean after a cataclysmic earthquake.

But long before that happens, the Golden State might lose a splinter on its east side because of a political storm.

Some city leaders in Needles, a small border town cradled by three states, want to secede from California and merge with Nevada. Given the geography, Clark County probably would inherit the town and its 5,000 residents.

Those screaming for secession say they are fed up with San Bernardino County being so tight with funding. Needles' size and remote location at California's eastern edge have marginalized it politically, they contend.

Resentment boiled over when the county came through with considerably less aid for a struggling city-run hospital than the City Council had expected.

Council members went beyond idle grousing. They voted last week to form a nine-person panel to study the pros and cons of seceding.

"I think it's doable," Councilman Roy Mills said. "It's something Needles needs to pursue."

Mayor Jeff Williams, however, thinks switching to Nevada is an unrealistic course, fraught with hurdles.

Both state legislatures must approve, as well as a majority of voters from both counties, Williams said. Plus, Congress must sign off on it because the state line would be redrawn.

Williams worries that any attempt to annex Needles into Nevada will be a futile exercise that will alienate San Bernardino County and make Needles residents look foolish.

"It's like our council threw a fit like a child," Williams said. "They are thinking with their emotions and not their minds."

He questioned whether Clark County would adopt a city that would go this far to embarrass its home county because it didn't get its way.

'stepchild syndrome'

On the other side of the state line, Clark County Manager Virginia Valentine said information was too sparse now to seriously discuss annexing Needles.

The revenue the county would gain by taking Needles would have to justify the added costs, Valentine said. "It would have to be in the interest of Clark County residents."

Needles should study all the ramifications closely before making such a drastic move, she said. City officials might discover drawbacks, such as the Nevada Legislature possibly wielding more power over cities than California lawmakers do.

As an alternative to breaking from the state, the city is looking at how Needles might form its own county within California.

However, Williams and Mills both say that option would have a different set of snags, and fewer advantages. Because a California county must have at least 10,000 residents, Needles would have to merge with either Barstow or Blythe, Williams said.

And a county that small would be overshadowed by relative giants like San Bernardino, Mills said. "My personal preference would be to join Nevada."

Needles would benefit from Nevada's wellspring of gaming revenue, and the town could add slot machines and perhaps a casino or two, Mills said.

Nevada could tap into the stream of travelers who drive through Needles, he said, noting that the nearby state-border station tallies 4 million cars yearly.

Nevada also would be more likely to upgrade a stretch of Interstate 40 that runs through Needles, a project that is decades overdue, Mills said.

If Needles joins Nevada, it would be 115 miles from the Clark County seat in Las Vegas, he said, compared with 215 miles to the current seat of San Bernardino County.

"We're so far removed out here, we don't even feel part of it," Mills said. "The red-headed stepchild syndrome."

pros and cons

Needles is Mayberry with a rugged, desert edge and 125-degree summer heat.

It derives its name from spirelike rock formations. The town sprang from the railroad built across the Colorado River in the late 1800s. A chunk of Route 66 stretches through the town, the architecture of which denotes a hodge-podge of eras: turn-of-the-20th-century buildings, tract houses and 1960s eateries.

At the local Burger Hut, two Bullhead City, Ariz., construction workers munched on fast food and tossed out opinions about Needles joining Nevada.

It wouldn't hurt if California, one the country's largest states, got a bit smaller and Nevada got a little bigger, said Louie Vasquez, 51.

Needles could bring in gambling and save folks a drive to Laughlin, Vasquez said. "I'm not a gambler, but I'm sure that people would like to see it."

Everyone could use another casino, said James Medina, 24, as long as generic gaming dens didn't nudge out the distinct local restaurants.

"I enjoy places like this," he said, motioning to Burger Hut.

Down the road at the county-run library, Becky Court, a patron, talked of how she receives money from the state and must be a California resident to qualify.

If Needles joined Nevada, she'd have to move 90 miles to the nearest California city, Court said. "I love it here and don't want to move."

Tena McGee-Scott, a library employee, said secession was the silliest idea she'd ever heard. Yes, Needles could set up casinos if it joined Nevada, and, yes, the city could use the money, she said. But she questioned whether that was really good for Needles.

"I've been here 20 years," she said. "If I want to be in Nevada, I'll move to Nevada."

hospital funding

The local hospital is the catalyst for the rift between Needles and the county's board of supervisors.

When Life Point, the company that ran the city's 25-bed hospital, announced it would pull out of California, the county offered to take over.

But falling home values and a tightening state budget took a bite out of revenues, forcing the county to scale back on the long-term aid it could offer the hospital, said Brad Mitzelfelt, a county supervisor whose district includes Needles.

Mitzelfelt said he tried to sell his fellow supervisors on keeping the hospital at its current level of care for awhile, but to no avail.

They instead proposed eliminating the emergency room and overnight care, reducing the hospital to a large outpatient clinic, he said.

That plan was unacceptable to most City Council members, Williams said. They decided to keep it a full-service hospital, using a $1.3 million lease buyout from Life Point to cover costs until money from billing flowed in.

The city is now running the hospital on "a wing and a prayer" with no business plan, Williams said, calling that a high-risk gamble.

long odds

If history is any measure, the odds of Needles seceding are slimmer than winning a million-dollar jackpot.

Local governments' attempts to break from home states have rarely been fruitful since the 19th century.

Needles isn't the first city in a neighboring state to seek to join Nevada. In 2002, the U.S. House gave the go-ahead for Wendover, Utah, to merge with West Wendover, in Nevada, but Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., blocked the bill before it could reach the Senate.

Mitzelfelt argued that over the years San Bernardino County has funded many projects in Needles and created local jobs by putting a courthouse and other government centers there.

But he understands the city's frustration over the hospital, and wishes them the best in what will be a tough quest.

"Bordering cities should have the option of going to another state," Mitzelfelt said. "It shouldn't be an insurmountable challenge."

State Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, said he backs Needles' effort to join a more business-friendly state. The city has lost bids for big retailers that went to nearby Nevada and Arizona, both of which have lower taxes and fewer regulations than California, Ashburn said.

Ashburn said he will push for California and Nevada to do a joint study on how feasible it is for Needles to secede. Ultimately, it comes down to what's in the best interest of the citizens, he said.

"It's the kind of creative thinking that needs to take place. State lines are arbitrary, and things change."

April 24, 2008

Amboy's revival begins as long-closed gas station reopens

The Press-Enterprise

The pumps are running in Amboy.

Almost three years after restaurant chain owner Albert Okura bought the desert way station between Barstow and Needles on old Route 66, the gasoline pumps went to work Thursday.

Hundreds of travelers, including motorcyclists on the annual Laughlin River Run, stopped in to cool off with sodas and water and to fuel their vehicles.

Even before Okura formally reopened the restored gas station at 11:30 a.m., more than 200 vehicles had filled up at the pumps, paying a hefty $4.49 a gallon.

"It's not about the gas," said Jose Ramirez, 42, of Corona, who was making his fourth river run with his wife on a Harley-Davidson soft-tail motorcycle. "It's about resting and hanging out with the guys. The price won't matter to people. Once you get here, you're going to buy it anyway."

Okura, 56, who owns 35 Juan Pollo rotisserie chicken restaurants, bought the 500-acre town in 2005 for $700,000. That was more than $1.3 million below the asking price. He got the bargain after its previous owners put Amboy on the map by trying unsuccessfully to sell it on eBay.

The new owner has been restoring the town -- including the gas station, Roy's Cafe, a post office, a church building and a motel -- in hopes of capitalizing on Route 66 nostalgia.

Roy's was a popular pit stop on the Chicago-to-Santa Monica highway until the 1970s, when the opening of Interstate 40 turned the community into a ghost town.

It cost $75,000 and took more than twice as long as Okura expected to restore the gas station.

"This was real hard because I've never had a gas station," Okura said. "We had to meet all the environmental laws and the state laws and the federal laws. There were no permits on file for anything in town, so I had to start from scratch."

He got help last year when Route 66 motels made a list of 11 most endangered historic places in the country and the Route 66 Preservation Association vowed to help raise money for the restoration.

The toughest part comes next, when Okura plans to spend $700,000 to drill a water well and install a filtration system.

"The (San Bernardino County) health department doesn't want us to do anything further until we get potable water," Okura said.

Gas was enough for David Orneles, 60, of Rialto, who grew up in nearby Cadiz and worked at the motel cleaning rooms while he was attending Amboy School.

"In its heyday, Roy's was really busy," Orneles said. "Whether or not people wanted to, they had to come by here.

"By and large, people who came here were lost," he recalled. "The motel was always full."

Ron Jones, 59, drove 1,309 miles from his home in Bartlesville, Okla., to attend Thursday's opening.

A Route 66 fan, he showed off the 66 tattoos on his body, all but one depicting landmarks along the highway. His latest, on the lower right side of his back, is an image of Roy's Cafe.

"This one did hurt, big time," he said. "I think it was worth it."

Okura said he thought he might get a lot of business with the bikers passing through, but he said he won't make a lot of money selling gas. He pays $3.90 a gallon.

"I'm just happy to get open," he said. "It means we're finally getting the town restored the way it used to be."

He said station attendants have been "working the bugs out" but were able to get the gas flowing in time.

"The owner wants to bring back the feeling of the old gas station," said "Amboy" Jack Marcus, an attendant who washed the windows of every car and on many of the motorcycles that were filling up.

Loren Bayer, 64, of Apple Valley, was impressed.

"We always make a point to try to stop here," Bayer said. "It's so unique and nostalgic. It's nestled out here in the middle of nowhere."

He said he came Thursday to get out of the office, where he works as a cemetery-lot broker.

"It's alive here," he said, laughing. "Got to enjoy it. Any day could be your last."

Historic Gas Station Reopens

County boasts longest stretch of historic Route 66

From Staff Reports
Victor Valley Daily Press

AMBOY — A historic landmark has reopened for business on the Historic Route 66.

Beginning this week, travelers can once again enjoy stopping at Roy’s Gas Station, which reopened at the intersection of Route 66 and Amboy Road in the community of Amboy.

San Bernardino County boasts the longest uninterrupted stretch of Route 66 in the nation.

The grand opening of the historic gas station came just in time to serve cold drinks and gasoline to thousands of motorcycle riders on their way to the 26th annual Laughlin River Run.

The office of San Bernardino County 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt recently assisted the facility in cutting through red tape to help it reopen, said spokesman David Zook.

“I’m happy to see this historic landmark reopened,” said Mitzelfelt. “Roy’s will provide a much-needed rest stop for travelers on Route 66.”

The gas station’s owner, Albert Okura, who also owns the successful Juan Pollo fast-food chain, purchased the town in 2005 and has been working to renovate and reopen Roy’s Gas Station. He also has plans to open a cafe and mini-mart at the same location.

April 18, 2008

Bill seeks to add thousands of acres of wilderness

California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act

The Press-Enterprise

William Wilson Lewis III / The Press-Enterprise
John Garner's favorite spot to go hiking with his dog Daisy, along the south fork of the San Jacinto River, could become a federally designated wilderness area as part of a bill pending in Congress to protect 191,000 acres throughout Riverside County.

John Garner and Daisy, his German shepherd, hike a dirt trail above Hemet most mornings before he heads to work.

The five-mile trail hugs the side of a chaparral-studded canyon in the San Jacinto Mountains, then veers down to a tranquil river valley festooned with cottonwoods, willows and oaks where the only signs of modern civilization are jet contrails overhead.

"It's really quiet, peaceful," said Garner, 41, who owns Jag Pest Control in Hemet.

Garner said that although he was unaware his favorite hiking spot -- 21,670 acres with the south fork of the San Jacinto River at its heart -- may become a federally designated wilderness, he'd support the move.

This spring, Congress is likely to consider it in legislation by Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., that would protect 191,000 acres across Riverside County.

But the quest to garner the nation's highest form of land protection for a region prone to wildfires and heavily recreated has required compromises that allow the boundaries to be drawn in a way that permits normally banned activities in wilderness. Federal wilderness areas prohibit the use of mechanized equipment -- fire equipment, off-road vehicles and even mountain bikes.

And there could still be more compromises as Bono Mack faces fellow lawmakers who believe such concessions undermine the intent of the 1964 Wilderness Act. The act defines those areas as "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

"They think we're spoiling the wilderness designation," Bono Mack said of some of her colleagues. "It's hard to explain to people what Southern California wildfires are ... and it's precedent-setting that we're trying to take into consideration fire caution.

"I do worry and I think often about risking people's property or certainly lives with legislation like this," if it bans firefighting trucks and equipment, she said. "We're trying to be very, very careful. We're in uncharted territory here."

For instance, a fire road that snakes down the middle of the proposed South Fork San Jacinto Wilderness was left outside of the boundaries. The road, known as Rouse Ridge, is also used by off-roaders and mountain bikers as a link to Thomas Mountain.

"We wanted that bisect to be maintained," said Tom Ward, policy advisor for the International Mountain Bicycling Association-California. He said his group helped craft the compromises with the California Wilderness Coalition.

Mike Dietrich, fire chief for the San Bernardino National Forest, said Rouse Ridge, although quite bumpy, is a well-established fire road that provides good access to help douse fires in the rugged terrain.

Some in the environmental community support the compromises.

"I think that it's very important especially in Southern California to ensure we have all the tools we need to fight fire and protect our communities," said Shane Walton, of Palm Springs, with Friends of the River, which is pushing for the bill's passage.

The South Fork wilderness proposal is a few miles from the town of Mountain Center, just south of Idyllwild.

The Bill

Boxer, after testifying Tuesday for the bill during a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forest, dismissed the notion that the bill has been watered down.

"What we're doing is we are making sure that if there's a fire, it can be put out ..." she said. "And we're not changing or weakening the rules here. We're just explicitly stating them so people know."

The bill would create four new wilderness areas across Riverside County in Joshua Tree National Park, the San Bernardino National Forest and open desert; increase the amount of land in six existing wilderness areas; add 31 miles of rivers to the National Wild and Scenic River System; and expand the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument by about 8,000 acres.

Bono Mack suspects the language in the 1964 Wilderness Act was based on circumstances happening then. For instance, areas weren't as populated, and the term wildland-urban interface -- the places where residences back up against wildland -- wasn't even thought of. And some say mountain biking wasn't yet invented.

Jenn Dice, with the international mountain biking group in Boulder, Colo., said biking trails recently have been included in wilderness areas across the nation but the issue often pits "old-school" wilderness advocates against recreationists who also oppose large-scale development.

"We believe our core values are the same as environmentalists'," she said. "We want clean water, clean air and healthy ecosystems. But it gets dicey when you're talking about wilderness and nothing else."

Both Dice and Ward said the real threat to wildlands is development.

Making the Compromise

Bill Dart, of the Off-Road Business Association, asked to downgrade the wilderness designations in Bono Mack's bill to a so-called "backcountry" -- meaning it would ban future development but allow recreation -- when he testified in November before a House subcommittee.

The off-roading group came around and now supports the bill after negotiating with Bono Mack's office, Dart said.

Bono Mack said it took a telephone call from her to an off-roading leader and assurances that the Bradshaw trail around the Orocopia and Chuckwalla mountains in eastern Riverside County wouldn't be affected.

"It was never clear, and we gave them certainty on it," she said.

Bono Mack has experience trying to hatch compromises in the name of land protection. She spearheaded creation of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument above the Coachella Valley eight years ago when President Clinton created more than a dozen in the West when he signed an executive order.

Bono Mack said it has been a similar experience this time.

"It's always been about bringing as many concerned people to the table to discuss the issues," she said.

Walton has a more ethereal reason for wanting the land protected, he said while sitting on the grass in a meadow near the San Jacinto River in the proposed wilderness.

"It's good for my spirits," he said of hiking. "... It leaves me feeling good for the whole day."

April 16, 2008

Marines looking to expand base by 100,000 acres

Victorville Daily Press

TWENTYNINE PALMS — Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Marine Corps officials confirmed that permits have been issued to look into expanding the facility at Twentynine Palms — possibly by as much as 100,000 acres into Johnson Valley.

The land acquisition is part of an effort to become the nation’s premiere combat training facility, said Gunnery Sgt. Chris W. Cox, the public affairs chief at the Marine Corps Air/Ground Combat Center.

“The Marine Corps is looking at areas contiguous to the base, including the Johnson Valley, but no final decisions have been made regarding what alternatives will be pursued and analyzed,” Cox said in a prepared statement. “When the alternatives are finalized, we will inform the public.”

Permits were issued to conduct surveys of cultural and environmental impact, said BLM Chief of Resources Mickey Quillman, who is based out of the Barstow office.

While both Quillman and Cox warned that the proposed project would be still be many years off, Quillman conceded there could be an impact on Lucerne Valley, in at least as much as noise levels are concerned.

“It would be used for military training — a combination of live-fire and force-on-force training,” Quillman said.

Cox said that there is currently no training facility in the nation that can support the training requirements proposed by the Marine Corps, and that Twentynine Palms has been tasked with rectifying that.

“It is imperative that Marines receive the most realistic training before deploying into a combat environment that demands split-second life or death decisions. The potential land parcel additions would allow Marines to ‘train as they fight’ as a large-scale Marine Air Ground Task Force, in particular a Marine Expeditionary Brigade,” Cox said.

Quillman said that while the surveys are taking place, the process will require Notice of Intent — which will open the discussion to the public, through scoping meetings — and the proposal of alternative locations.

“This process of simply figuring out what land the base might actually need to meet the Marine Corps training requirements and how it affects other interests could take anywhere from three to five years” said Jim Ricker, assistant chief of staff for the G-5 training center.

That process, Cox said, “will involve a great deal of input from the local community and the wide range of stakeholders.”
Quillman added that of particular concern are the off-road vehicle community and proposed solar projects.

Army's transfer of Mojave Desert tortoises tripped up by coyotes

The Press-Enterprise

Coyotes have killed at least 11 desert tortoises recently moved to make way for Army tank training exercises north of Barstow.

The problem coyotes, thought to be attacking tortoises because the drought has left fewer rabbits in its wake, will be tracked and possibly killed by a federal agency to help protect the tortoises -- a species threatened with extinction

All together, 23 tortoises have been killed since the large-scale relocation of more than 700 reptiles began in March south of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, said John Wagstaffe, an Army spokesman.

Some of the tortoises were already living in the relocation area.

Roy Averill-Murray, who is the desert tortoises recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said three tortoises survived attacks. Two tortoises had one of their legs chewed off, and one of the reptiles required treatment after being found flipped over on its shell for three days in a row, Averill-Murray said.

Dr. Leonard Sigdestad at Loma Linda Animal Hospital in San Bernardino operated on two of the tortoises last week and amputated one maggot-infested leg from each of them. He released them back to the federal biologists who are monitoring the tortoises in the wild.

Kristin Berry, a research wildlife biologist with the U.S Geological Survey, took one of the tortoises to her Riverside home to care for it. She said it can barely walk but she hopes it can one day be returned to the wild.

Out by Fort Irwin, biologists have been tracking the relocated tortoises with transmitters glued to their shells on a daily basis and found the ones that died, Wagstaffe said.

The Army started moving the tortoises in late March from the southern boundary of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin as part of an $8.5 million effort to deal with the threatened species while expanding its training grounds into the land considered critical for the tortoises.

The move capped a 20-year battle between the military and environmentalists.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees much of the land selected for relocating the displaces tortoises. BLM officials a few days ago discussed strategies with other federal and state agencies on how to solve the coyote problem, said Doran Sanchez, acting associate manager of the agency's California desert district.

Attacks by coyotes on tortoises are rare, said Averill-Murray. He said that with the drought in the Mojave Desert over the past few years, coyotes outnumber rabbits, their typical food source,
"The coyotes are just desperate and the tortoises are a tough food item to eat with that big shell," he said. "Rabbits would be easier, but when there aren't many rabbits, then tortoises seem to be their next choice."

Berry, with the USGS, said short-lived animals like rabbits don't bounce back quickly from drought.

She said coyotes recently have killed tortoises in other study plots in California and Nevada but it is infrequent. This spring, she said, presented a good time to relocate the reptiles from Fort Irwin because of the abundance of wildflowers, their main food source.

"We hoped with the flush of wildflowers we might be seeing some ground squirrels and other rodents the coyotes could eat," she said. "You can take it into account but we can't control every aspect of nature, if any."

The wildlife service division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the same agency that plans to shoot ravens found preying on young tortoises in other parts of the Mojave Desert, will help the Army remove the coyotes in three, one-square-mile plots where many of the dead reptiles were found. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concurred with the Army's plans to shoot or use traps and decoy dogs to capture the coyotes.

The job of decoy dogs "is to respond to coyotes calls and lure the coyote within shooting range," according to an April 15 letter to the Army by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Averill-Murray said it will be up to the crews in the field to determine whether to shoot the coyotes. He said he was unsure if they could be relocated.

"The plan is just to keep this as targeted and as limited as possible to alleviate the pressure. It's not widespread," he said. He added that there's no evidence of major preying throughout the habitat where the tortoises were moved.

Two environmental groups have threatened to sue the Army over the large-scale relocation of the tortoises, and they plan to go ahead with the lawsuit to ensure the new habitat is managed actively, said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Anderson agreed with Averill-Murray that the drought has caused an imbalance in the ecosystem. But she said that's no excuse for putting the tortoises in harm's way.

"While we're devastated, we're not shocked this is happening," she said. "You're putting these animals out there and if they're the only thing moving, they're going to be a target for predators."

Wagstaffe said the move was done to the best of the Army's ability with the help of federal and state biologists, and the tortoises will continue to be closely monitored.

"Part of the beauty of doing a detailed study is we're going to learn a lot of stuff," he said. "And we'll find some things that we did very well and some that didn't go well."

April 15, 2008

Dos Palmas Preserve fire 90 percent contained

The Desert Sun wire service

A fire that scorched 261 acres southeast of Mecca was 90 percent contained this morning, and the flames could be completely out by the end of the day, "if the weather cooperates," a fire official said.

Fire authorities said yesterday that the so-called Dos Palmas fire -- which broke out Sunday evening -- had charred more than 300 acres, but the figure was revised after a review of the fire area, said Jody Hagemann of the Riverside County Fire Department.

A firefighter treated for minor heat-related injuries is the fire's only casualty, said Hagemann.

She said 212 firefighters were battling the flames on the ground today. No air crews were assigned to the blaze, Hagemann said.

A BLM employee indicated the fire affected most of the area in red. The preserve proper is shown in green and was mostly untouched by the wildfire.
Map and photo by RonsLog

The fire started just before 6:30 p.m. Sunday near Parkside Drive in the Dos Palmas Reserve, Capt. Fernando Herrera of the Riverside County Fire Department said earlier.

Salt brush, bamboo, tamarisk and mesquite trees were scorched by the flames.

"Full control (could come) sometime this evening if the weather cooperates," Hagemann said. Winds in the area are expected to "calm down today, which is good," she said.

April 14, 2008

Mojave Max Emerges

Local Desert Tortoise Says Spring has Finally Arrived

Press Release
Clark County NV

Mojave Max, the famous Southern Nevada desert tortoise, officially emerged from his burrow at 11:27 a.m. today.

This year marks the latest that Mojave Max has emerged. Many residents will agree that this has been a very cool spring for Las Vegas. However, now that he has emerged, we can expect the temperatures in Las Vegas to continue to climb as spring gets going.

Mojave Max is a live desert tortoise residing at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Like other Southern Nevada desert tortoises, he enters a burrow to brumate (the reptilian form of hibernation) every winter and emerges every spring. Mojave Max's emergence marks the beginning of spring in Southern Nevada. Warmer temperatures, longer daylight hours and an internal clock are factors known to contribute to his emergence every year.

As part of the ninth annual Mojave Max Emergence Contest, students have been studying Mojave Desert weather, temperatures, and conditions to scientifically estimate when they believed Mojave Max would first emerge from his burrow in 2008. They entered their guesses on line at http://www.mojavemax.com/. The entries are being tabulated and the official winner will be announced soon. The winning student will receive prizes including a year-long pass to federally managed fee areas and a personal game system. The winner's entire class will receive a field trip to Mojave Max's habitat, Mojave Max Olympic-style medals and T-shirts, while the winner's teacher will receive a personal computer.

"Now that Mojave Max has come out of his burrow, spring is officially here," said Clark County Commission Chairman Rory Reid, who declared it Mojave Max Day countywide. "Everyone's favorite tortoise is a great ambassador of the desert, helping our local school children understand our environment and how it works."

Questions about the live Mojave Max residing at the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area should be directed to the visitor's center at 702-515-5350. Volunteers, rangers, and members of the public have been watching Mojave Max's habitat closely for the last few weeks, anxiously awaiting his announcement of spring for Clark County.

Mojave Max's Emergences by year

2000 03/15/00 12:32 p.m.
2001 03/19/01 8:30 a.m.
2002 03/22/02 11:46 a.m.
2003 03/07/03 10:25 a.m.
2004 02/19/04 11:14 a.m.
2005 02/14/05 11:55 a.m.
2006 04/03/06 11:32 a.m.
2007 03/26/07 11:34 a.m.

More information is available at http://www.accessclarkcounty.com/

April 13, 2008

NLCSA: How your local Representative voted

Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to give legal recognition to a President Clinton-era conservation program that oversees some 27 million acres of federal land mainly in 11 Western states and Alaska.

The vote to write into law the National Landscape Conservation System came after assurances were given to Western and gun-rights lawmakers that the measure would not add new restrictions to current rules on hunting and fishing, energy development or grazing rights on the designated lands.

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt created the system in 2000 as a means to conserve, protect and restore nationally significant landscapes. Overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, it is made up of more than 800 units, including scenic and historic trails, national conservation areas, national monuments and wild and scenic rivers. It makes up about 10 percent of the land administered by the BLM.

H.R. 2016 passed 278-140

Yes: Reps. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino and Grace Napolitano, D-Santa Fe Springs.

No: Reps. Ken Calvert, R-Riverside; David Dreier, R-San Dimas; and Gary Miller, R-Diamond Bar.

Preserving a landmark Nevada bar

The Pioneer Saloon boasts a bullet-riddled wall, a 70-year-old urinal, and ghosts. And the town of Goodsprings loves it.

By Ashley Powers, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

GOODSPRINGS, NEV. -- The sense of decorum at this town's 95-year-old watering hole is summed up by two signs that greet its patrons:

"Open Everyday Till The Drinking Stops."

"Poker Players and Loose Women Are Permitted In This Establishment."

If you're still unclear about the Pioneer Saloon's disposition, well, ask the regulars about Gary. The longtime regular died unexpectedly while drinking in the bar a few years ago; they say the bartender downed Gary's unfinished beer, smashed the glass and proclaimed: "To you!"

Noel Sheckells fell for the bar's legends and lightheartedness when he drank away a night here years ago. So when the saloon and surrounding acreage went up for sale, the Las Vegas entrepreneur in 2006 plunked down $1 million for the pressed-tin structure with scuffed floors, a bullet-riddled wall and a urinal installed in 1938.

The bar's staff is doggedly trying to preserve this Wild West relic (and de facto town square) in a sun-scorched community 25 miles southwest of Vegas. The Times described the town as close to extinction -- in the 1960s.

There's a church, an elementary school, some aging homes and little else in the 200-person blip, though a planned airport in nearby Ivanpah Valley is expected to flood the region with residents.

Sheckells notched a major victory last year when the state added the Pioneer Saloon to its Register of Historic Places; it's now being considered for the national inventory.

"He hasn't made a nickel off this place," says Dave Kent, a regular known as Friendly Dave, cradling a Budweiser bottle on a recent afternoon.

"It's a great tax write-off," says Sheckells, and both men chortle.

Sheckells, who's run low-voltage wiring and payday loan companies, owns the presumably more profitable Tequila Cantina in Las Vegas, where he DJs on weekends.

He bought the Pioneer Saloon from a family that had owned it for decades. The place had been allowed to deteriorate, the staff says, until part of the floor collapsed one day, dumping patrons into a mining shaft.

Sheckells has poured $600,000 into building a patio, clearing dead rats from the attic and reconstructing the porch after a dozing driver crashed into it. He expects to unload hundreds of thousands more for an outdoor stage.

Why? Sheckells shrugs. Bars like this, he says, so easily disappear in raze-and-rebuild Clark County. In a proud-papa voice, he rattles off some of its quirks:

It's purportedly haunted, by a prospector and a poker player. Staffers say they once saw a pizza dish fly off the bar of its own volition.

An affiliated charity group (with an unprintable name) sponsors toy drives and has 6,000 members -- each issued a certificate confirming that "you have become a legend in your own mind."

Friendly Dave (member No. 1872) also runs "chicken bingo" outside the bar. Players pay $10, pick a number on a board and wait to see if a chicken defecates on it.

Cindy Niles, who met her husband here, sums up the saloon's importance from behind its cherry-wood bar: "Someone asked if I knew everyone in town. I said, 'Only the ones that drink.' "

The bar's history is appropriately eccentric.

Opening in 1913, the Pioneer Saloon was one of seven bars in then-booming Goodsprings, whose land was rich with zinc and lead ore, according to research by bar manager Monica Beisecker.

Townies enjoyed six cafes, the Goodsprings Gazette newspaper, an ice cream parlor and the Fayle Hotel, which Friendly Dave describes as "the finest hotel west of the Mississippi before you get to California" -- before it burned down.

(The bar has reproduced a Fayle sign to sell in the adjacent general store: "Street Girls Bringing Miners Into Hotel Must Pay For Room In Advance." The top seller, however, is the T-shirt that asks, "Where The Hell Is Goodsprings?")

In 1915, a man was shot and killed in the Pioneer Saloon after accusations flew of cheating during a card game with a $10 pot. The shooter, Beisecker wrote in the bar's application for the state register, was run out of town by a politician hoping to rid southern Nevada of "unscrupulous card hustlers, immoral dance-hall girls, and other unsavory characters."

Locals say the saloon's star turn came in 1942: They claim a shaken Clark Gable waited there to hear whether wife Carole Lombard survived a plane crash on nearby Mt. Potosi. (She didn't.)

The story's veracity is questionable, but a craggy piece of something -- which sits atop the potbellied stove that warms the building -- is said to be plane wreckage.

On a recent night, someone mistook it for an ashtray.

Sheckells is trying to capitalize on the Old Hollywood story by transforming a room once used for motorcycle repairs into a Gable-Lombard memorial.

It's advertised on Nevada 161, the two-lane road that snakes through town, next to signs for the Two Hawk Hay Ranch in nearby Sandy Valley.

The memorial room is also papered with photos from celebrity visits -- Travis Tritt! Cheech and Chong! -- and movies that were shot here, including "The Mexican" and "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

A History Channel clip loops on a flat-screen TV, broadcasting what could be the saloon's most significant endorsement: the ghosts of long-gone barflies who apparently have yet to find a better tavern.

Reflective collars may help save Riverside County's wild burros

The animals have become a traffic hazard along busy Reche Canyon Road, where residents hope to protect them.

By David Kelly, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

Former rodeo rider and jockey Kim Terry has been around all sorts of animals his whole life, but it's the wild burros that have snorted and kicked their way into his heart. He loves their moxie, respects their survival skills and is smitten with what he calls their "fantastic personalities."

"Just don't get behind them," he advised recently as he prepared to flush a dozen or so from a holding pen.

Terry let rip with a sharp "heyaaaah!" and charged them, swinging a long blue stick. The burros stampeded into a narrow chute. He straddled the bars above them, struggling to fasten shiny red collars around their thick necks.

"Man, that's hard work," he said, sucking deeply for air. "That'll make you sweat."

Terry and a handful of Reche Canyon residents are trying to save the feral burros prowling the badlands of the rural enclave between bustling Colton and sprawling Moreno Valley.

The burros are California's only herd on private land. They arrived at least half a century ago, and state officials think there are about 50 within Reche Canyon. Terry believes as many as 400 others live in neighboring canyons and wander over.

They have become major hazards on increasingly busy Reche Canyon Road, a convenient shortcut between the two cities.

Animal control officers said there were 37 accidents involving burros between 2003 and 2006, with 17 of the small donkeys killed. A 21-year-old Rialto resident died when her car struck a burro in 2005.

"I saw her laying dead," Terry said. "A burro went right through their windshield. It was the most heartbreaking thing you can imagine."

Terry, 55, and Rhonda Leavitt, 50, are now putting reflective collars on the animals to make them easier to spot at night. Terry rounds them up while Leavitt makes the collars.

"I go to thrift stores to get my belts, then sew on this reflecting tape," she said recently as she sat in the back room of her hilltop house, carefully feeding belts through an old sewing machine. "I can make 10 or 15 in a couple hours."

Two notches on the sewing table mark how long a belt must be to fit a burro's neck. Style isn't a question.

"They don't care what they look like," she said. "And the belts reflect like you wouldn't believe."

Leavitt, who operates a water truck service, has started Reche Canyon Burro Support to raise money for hay, veterinary care and more corrals.

She said the problems occur during dry periods, when burros wander in search of water. One side of the road has natural springs. Leavitt puts out water on the other side to try to keep the animals from crossing.

"I now go through 1,000 gallons of water a day in summer because 40 burros come," she said. "They wait for me to show up."

Canyon resident Cathy Yunker takes in injured burros. She keeps one as a pet -- an ungainly 6-month-old named Pumpkin that she nursed back to health after it was mauled by a dog.

Now the little burro, or burrito, trails Yunker around the yard, braying noisily whenever she moves out of sight. Pumpkin also eats two pounds of peppermint candy a week.

"She has the best-smelling breath of any burro in the canyon," Yunker boasted as Pumpkin sniffed her pocket. "When I want her, I just rattle the peppermint bag."

Velna Kraeger often lugs sacks of hay and carrots up the canyon to feed the burros. That's where she met Blaze.

"I'd walk up every morning and I'd talk to him," she said. "I'd holler, 'Blaze!' and he'd come running across the field. He'd start yelling at me if I hadn't been there for a while. Then about a dozen more showed up."

Wildlife experts usually frown on such interactions, saying when animals lose their fear of humans, they can get into trouble. In the case of Reche Canyon, they have said, it's probably too late.

"The burros are already habituated to people," said Rita Gutierrez, field services commander for Riverside County Animal Control. "If you drive up Pigeon Pass, you can find a wild herd where the babies will come up and snuggle you. The bad side is they associate cars with people."

Gutierrez supports the collars and thinks they will probably save lives.

"It's a clever idea and it certainly can't hurt," she said.

The canyon's rugged terrain, rough roads and steep ravines have long helped keep developers at bay.

Although the population has grown to nearly 3,000, it remains a rustic, eclectic hideaway. Ramshackle houses squat in hollows. Mansions hide behind locked gates. St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church sits on one side of the canyon. Olive Dell Ranch, one of California's oldest nudist colonies, is on the other.

Ranchers still dominate the area, raising horses, cattle and pigs.

How the burros got here is unclear. Longtime canyon dwellers say they came in the early 1950s after escaping from a festival at Big Bear Lake. Others say a Rialto farmer let a herd go and the burros multiplied and spread.

Humans have arrived in more traditional fashion, flooding into rapidly spreading housing tracts at opposite ends of the canyon. As Colton and Moreno Valley mushroomed, the winding road linking them turned from a bucolic country lane into a traffic-choked highway on which posted speed limits of 50 mph are routinely ignored.

Burros are often hit in broad daylight. Those badly hurt are euthanized by animal control officials, who average about one burro call a month.

"The four-legged animals with the big ears are OK. It's the jackasses behind the wheel that we're scared of," said Stella Terry, 73, Kim Terry's mother, who has lived in Reche Canyon since 1953.

Marveen Stout owns the Hitchin Post market on a busy bend in Reche Canyon Road. She sees both sides.

"The people who drive through here don't want to hurt an animal, but they don't want an accident either," Stout said. "They are neat animals, but they can do a lot of damage. It would be nice to put them all into one big corral somewhere."

Some drivers clearly dislike the donkeys.

"I was behind a guy the other day who flipped off a burro," Kim Terry said. "What is the point of that?"

Terry was a jockey for 27 years and lives on five acres of his family's 100-acre property. He trains horses when he's not rounding up burros, animals he compares to wild mustangs.

He can often lure the burros into his corral with barrels of water. But sometimes he has to chase them down using a motorcycle and his well-trained Queensland Heeler, Cheyenne.

Once the burros have been collared, he sets them free, though getting them to leave can be hard. Recently, Terry tried to cajole a dozen out of a pen, only to be rebuffed with baleful stares and fierce kicks in the air.

He got on his motorcycle and Cheyenne hopped onto the handlebars. They sped toward the burros and, at the last minute, the dog leaped off. The burros panicked as he bit their legs, sending them bolting out of the pen.

Minutes later, they were ambling up a dirt road toward the hills beyond, sporting their dapper new red-and-white collars while lingering to eat weeds.

Terry wiped the sweat from his forehead.

"I love these burros," he said. "If you raise them when they're young, they follow you around like a big dog. They're only mean if you push them around or if they are pregnant. Still, I wouldn't turn my back on one."

He does have one quibble about his growing reputation with the animals.

"I'm not sure I like my nickname," he said. "They call me the ass whisperer."

April 12, 2008

House passes conservation program

By Aaron Sadler
The Morning News

Over objections from some Western-state lawmakers and gun-rights advocates, the House passed a conservation system that covers more than 26 million acres of federal land, mostly in the West.

The vote was 278-140.

The National Landscape Conservation System Act codifies a program created in 2000 as a way to protect and conserve national historic trails, scenic rivers, wildlife areas and national monuments. The system encompasses about 10 percent of the land overseen by the Bureau of Land Management.

Opponents maintained that the legislation would tighten restrictions on activities on the lands. Amendments to the bill protect grazing rights and ensure states may manage hunting, fishing and trapping on the lands.

Supporters said putting the system into law allows BLM to manage the some 800 units as comprehensive entities and may motivate Congress to provide more money to protect the lands.

Mojave Trail Ride 2008

BLM people and mustangs join 140-mile Mojave Trail Ride

BLM-California News.bytes
Issue 328

More than 50 riders joined the Norco Mounted Posse for their 23rd Annual Mojave Trail Ride April 6-12th. Among them were Jason Williams, wild horse and burro program compliance officer for BLM-California's Folsom Field Office, and Jo Ann Schiffer-Burdett of BLM's California Desert District Office.

The equestrians started in Baker Camp, Mojave National Preserve, and rode 140 miles in six days along the Mojave Trail to Laughlin, NV. The ride traversed lands in the Mojave National Preserve, and the BLM Needles and Stateline Field Offices.

Six hardy mustangs and their owners did a great job representing the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro program: Jason Williams with Stinger; Folsom Field Office Volunteer Compliance Officers David Miller and Doug Gorman with Dot; U.S. Forest Service packer Davey Eubanks, "Mustang Larry" and Sue Jackson.

Two of the mustang owners -- Doug and Jason -- were on the drag team who helped riders in trouble repair broken cinches and saddles, assisted riders who fell off, and retrieved all of the cell phones, knives, tack, hats, ipods and assorted gear that fell off along the way.

April 11, 2008

More money sought for national parks

Private land jeopardizes landmarks

Detroit Free Press

WASHINGTON -- A conservation group warns that unless the White House and Congress provide more money to buy private land within national park boundaries, there could be logging at Washington state's Mt. Rainier, commercial development in Valley Forge, and similar problems at national parks from Golden Gate to Gettysburg.

A National Parks Conservation Association report Tuesday said money to buy so-called in-holdings within the parks has declined sharply over the past decade, from a high of nearly $148 million annually to $44 million now.

"It's not a pretty story," said Ron Tipton, a senior vice president for the association. "We have park lands for sale, park lands threatened and very little money."

Nationwide, there are about 1.8 million acres of privately held land within national park boundaries that would cost an estimated $1.9 billion to buy, Tipton said.

"The American public will be surprised to learn a lot of land in the parks is not protected," he said. "A lot of land is vulnerable to being developed, subdivided or sold."

At Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania, site of the battle that was a turning point in the Civil War, 1 in 5 acres is privately held.

At Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania, where the Continental Army spent the brutal winter of 1777-78, 1 in 10 acres is privately held, and a hotel, conference center and museum are planned "within cannon shot" of Gen. Washington's headquarters, the report said.

Private holdings in the Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas could be developed; in Zion National Park in Utah, construction has started on a conference center on private land, and in Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska, unpatented mining claims could be used as the site of a remote lodge.

"Of the 391 units in the national park system, a significant and growing number face some threat to wildlife habitat or the preservation of cultural treasures because of development on privately owned land within national park boundaries," the report said.

Though some of the private landowners have been willing to sell to the National Park Service or to conservation groups, the report said the Park Service has "lacked funding to close the deals, and even the most public-spirited owners cannot be expected to forgo their own financial needs indefinitely."

The Land and Water Conservation Fund was established in 1964 to pay for land purchases by the Park Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies. It is funded from royalties paid on offshore oil and gas leases. But Congress has to decide how much to put in the fund every year.

The National Park Service is well aware of the private holdings in park boundaries, but over the past several years it has focused on maintenance, operation and construction, said Dave Barna, a Park Service spokesman.

Congresswoman blasts conservation measure

By Noah Brenner
Jackson Hole Daily

U.S. Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., criticized a bill that would formally recognize and protect wilderness study areas and historic and scenic trails on BLM lands in Wyoming.

The National Landscape Conservation System Act would make permanent the National Landscape Conservation System, which officially recognizes national monuments, conservation areas, wilderness areas, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national scenic and historic trails. The National Landscape Conservation System is in the Bureau of Land Management.

House Resolution 2016 would solidify the National Landscape Conservation System, which was established administratively in 2000 “in order to conserve, protect and restore nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological and scientific values for the benefit of current and future generations.”

The U.S. House passed the bill Wednesday night. The Senate still must consider the measure.

In Wyoming, the system includes 42 wilderness study areas and five historic or scenic trails, including the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, which runs along the Wind River and Absaroka ranges near Jackson Hole and into Yellowstone National Park. In addition, the Snake Headwaters Legacy Act under consideration in the U.S. Senate would protect about 400 miles of the Snake River and its tributaries under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Cubin took issue with what she perceived as vague language in the bill because it does not specify exactly what “values” the government is trying to protect, according to Cubin spokeswoman Rachael Seidenschnur.

“Unfortunately, this bill contains no clear definition as to what those values are,” Cubin said in a news release. “This stark omission allows federal land managers to interpret current law rather than basing decisions on sound science. It also gives an additional tool to any environmental trial lawyers unhappy with current land-management decisions in the West.”

BLM spokeswoman Cindy Wertz said her organization has already formulated and implemented management plans for NLCS areas in Wyoming and the legislation would not change those management plans.

NLCSA amended to preserve hunting and fishing

from the National Rifle Association of America
Institute for Legislative Action

Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of an NRA-ILA-backed amendment to H.R. 2016, the "National Landscape Conservation System Act." The amendment will preserve hunting and fishing on public lands for the benefit of current and future generations, and protect sportsmen's access for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting on certain public lands. The amendment was adopted by a 416-5 vote.

The amendment provides that:

  • Access for hunting, fishing and recreational shooting will be assured on all appropriate National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) lands; and
  • States will manage, control or regulate fish and resident wildlife under State law or regulations in any area within the System. Regulations permitting hunting or fishing of fish and resident wildlife within the System shall be, to the extent practicable, consistent with State fish and wildlife laws, regulations and management plans.

"It is important for hunters, anglers, shooters and sportsmen--our nation's foremost conservationists--to continue to have ample lands and access to lands to enjoy America's hunting heritage," said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox. "With the adoption of the amendment offered by Congressman Jason Altmire (D-PA), hunting, shooting and fishing on certain public lands will be protected for current and future generations."

H.R. 2016 originally did not include language to protect hunting, fishing and recreational shooting or ensure continued access for these sporting activities on NLCS lands, but thanks to an amendment submitted by Congressman Altmire, the concerns of NRA-ILA, hunters, and shooters were adequately addressed.

"Conserving America's hunting lands is a priority for the tens of millions who enjoy hunting and shooting recreation each year," concluded Cox. "I applaud those who have taken the steps to further preserve this extraordinary American tradition."

April 10, 2008

Conservation bill to add protection for mountain land

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument

Diana Marrero • Washington Bureau
Desert Sun

A popular destination for tourists and local hiking enthusiasts - the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument - could receive extra protection under a bill the House approved Wednesday.

The mountain terrain is among nearly 26 million acres of national monuments, historic trails and wilderness areas out West that could get additional protection under the bill, which now heads to the Senate.

The 278-140 House vote would officially designate the system of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management as the National Landscape Conservation system.

The lands include the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains, the California coastline, a portion of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, the Black Rock Desert of Northern Nevada and the Grand Staircase in Utah.

These "crown jewels," of the West have fallen victim to vandalism, artifact theft, and off-road vehicles that trample plants and other habitats despite their designation as conservation areas by former President Clinton in 2000.

Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs and co-chair of the National Landscape Conservation System Caucus, said, "Passing this bill is a positive step toward ensuring the protection of some our nation's most unique and valuable lands. … These valuable and culturally significant lands deserve the oversight and permanence that comes with Congressional recognition."

Conservation advocates say the congressional recognition - already given to the national parks and wildlife refuges - would ensure a steadier source of funding for the system.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains tower over the Coachella Valley and encompass about 272,000 acres, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

Public land agencies could join services

Study measures proposal to move U.S. Forest Service under management with BLM and National Park Service

By Steve Grazier Staff Writer
Cortez Journal

A study was launched by the Government Accountability Office in Washington D.C. last month to determine whether moving the U.S. Forest Service under the umbrella of the Department of the Interior is feasible.

“While I have not had the opportunity to fully consider the implications, when I look at the unequal treatment of the Forest Service compared to the Department of the Interior when it comes to budget, it makes me wonder whether such a move might be worth some serious thought,” Allard said in a prepared statement.

Allard is the ranking Republican leader of the Senate Interior Appropriations Committee.

Stephanie Valencia, a D.C.-based spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colorado, noted that the GAO study is something the senator has his eye on.

“He’s looking at the issue now,” Valencia said. “Regardless of what agency is running the Forest Service, the senator wants to make sure it’s funded correctly. He’ll continue to work to make sure that happens.”

Salazar is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Bureaucratic brethren of the Forest Service include the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which manage 84 million acres, 96 million acres and 258 million acres of public lands. The latter three are within the Interior Department.

The four agencies have overlapping missions that include fire prevention and suppression, natural resource conservation, fostering recreational uses, and regulating commercial activities such as logging, drilling, mining and livestock grazing.

According to a written statement from Allard’s Washington D.C. office, the House Appropriations Committee requested in March that the GAO look into the issue. Proponents of the move suggest that under the Agriculture Department, the Forest Service does not gain the attention it needs and that it could be better managed by Interior because the BLM, Park Service and the Forest Service are similar agencies.

Neither the Forest Service nor Interior Department have officially requested the GAO study.

The Forest Service was originally placed under the Agriculture Department in 1905 because it was treated as a resource for harvesting timber. Now that timber harvesting is declining, many people believe it would fit better in Interior.

“In Colorado, we are faced with a situation where a lack of harvesting has led to poor forest health, and this plays out throughout the West,” Allard said. “If anything, we need to promote an increase in responsible and sustainable timber harvesting.”

During the Reagan Administration in the 1980s, a proposal to combine the BLM and Forest Service was discussed, according to Steve Wymer, a spokesman for Allard.

“There does seem to be some previously established evidence to suggest that this (move) could be wise,” he said.

April 9, 2008

Pioneertown mourns death of mascot

$10,000 Reward Offered in Labrador's Shooting Death

By Jason Sloss
Palm Desert

The owner of a dog who was killed in an apparent execution-style shooting in the High Desert is looking for answers in her Labrador's death.

In February, the black lab named Brody was found blooded near a Pioneertown road. With a bullet casing found nearby, investigators say Brody had been shot in the back of the head.

Brody was widely regarded as the unofficial mascot of Pioneertown, where residents are still outraged over the shooting of the dog. "Somebody came out and brought my dog here and shot him," Brody's owner Sara Horowitz said. "It's just disgusting."

Horowitz, her boyfriend, and Brody just moved last year to settle peacefully in Pioneertown. It wasn't until the shooting that that peace was instantly shattered.

"I cried a lot," Horowitz says. "I still do. It's like losing a family member."

Word of the shooting quickly spread around High Desert communities. And that support has lead to a $10,000 reward leading to the arrest of Brody's killer.

Despite being consumed by Brody's death, Sara has found comfort from others and a new black lab which was a gift from a Landers man.

Of the $10,000 being offered, $7,000 of it is coming from San Bernardino County.

The rest is being offered by the Humane Society, the Coalition to Protect Animals Rights in Entertainment, and United Activists for Animal Rights.

Anyone with information on the shooting can call the Morongo Basin Detective Bureau at 760-366-4175.

Anonymous tipsters can call 1-800-782-7463.

House Endorses Conservation Program

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The House voted Wednesday to give legal recognition to a Clinton-era conservation program that oversees some 27 million acres of federal land mainly in 11 Western states and Alaska.

The 278-140 vote to write into law the National Landscape Conservation System came after assurances were given to Western and gun-rights lawmakers that the measure would not add new restrictions to current rules on hunting and fishing, energy development or grazing rights on the designated lands.

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt created the system in 2000 as a means to conserve, protect and restore nationally significant landscapes. Overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, it is made up of more than 800 units, including scenic and historic trails, national conservation areas, national monuments and wild and scenic rivers. It makes up about 10 percent of the land administered by the BLM.

By establishing the conservation system in statute, Congress would both draw attention to the high conservation value of the lands and prevent a future Interior secretary from abolishing the system administratively.

The Bush administration has indicated support for the bill. NLCS director Elena Daly told Congress last year that the act would "assure that these landscapes of the American spirit would be conserved, protected and restored for the benefit of current and future generations."

To assuage concerns that the bill was an attempt to impose the same restrictions on private use that apply to the national parks system, a provision was included to make clear that nothing in the bill alters current management authority and rules governing individual NLCS units.

That didn't satisfy Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee, who wrote in a dissenting view that the true purpose of the bill "is to prevent many locally popular, wholesome family recreational opportunities and almost all economic activities from taking place on 26 million acres of BLM land."

Similar legislation is being considered by the Senate. The bill is H.R. 2016.

Major Land Conservation Initiative Passes House

Diverse conservation coalition commends House action

NewsBlaze - Folsom, CA

WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation today that formally recognizes 26 million acres of wild and historic lands in the first congressionally designated conservation system in the past 40 years.

"These lands play an increasingly important role in protecting our natural and historic resources," said William H. Meadows, the president of The Wilderness Society, one of 75 conservation, historic preservation, faith-based, recreation, business and place-based friends groups supporting the bill. "We look forward to the Senate taking action on this important legislation."

The National Landscape Conservation System Act, H.R. 2016, formally recognizes and protects the best lands and waters managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The National Landscape Conservation System was administratively created in 2000 to "conserve, protect, and restore these nationally significant landscapes." But without the Congressional stamp of approval provided by this legislation, the Conservation System remained susceptible to being dissolved. The bill ensures that lands within the Conservation System remain a single system which will allow a greater communication within BLM.

The National Landscape Conservation System encompasses many historically and ecologically important areas, including 15 national monuments, 13 national conservation areas, 36 wild and scenic rivers, 148 wilderness areas, 4,264 miles of national scenic and historic trails, and more than 600 wilderness study areas.

"Many of these lands contain man's first imprints on the American landscape in the form of kivas, pueblos and rock art," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Because they represent our shared heritage, they richly deserve the recognition that this legislation gives them."

April 5, 2008

Tortoises airlifted to new home to make room for Fort Irwin expansion

The Press-Enterprise

Paul Alvarez/The Press-Enterprise
Biologist Colin Spake weighs a tortoise before placing it in its new home. Over the next two weeks, 770 of the reptiles will be moved.

The helicopter sweeping above the desert scrub Friday northeast of Barstow carried rare and precious cargo in the aluminum boxes mounted above both skids.

The specially built boxes held 11 desert tortoises, each contained in a plastic sweater box secured with duct tape and punched with holes so the creatures could breathe. The reptiles, threatened with extinction, were among hundreds being relocated from land where the Army wants to train soldiers with tanks and weaponry of war.

"It's better they take a nine-minute helicopter ride than a bumpy two-hour truck trip" on dirt roads, said Bill Boarman, a scientist contracted by the Army to oversee the relocation.

The tortoises -- protected by one of the nation's most powerful environmental laws, the Endangered Species Act -- moved Friday were airlifted to an area west of the Calico Mountains and five miles north of Interstate 15. The Army's two-week operation will relocate nearly 770 of the reptiles from the southern border of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, where troops from across the country battle a home team posing as the enemy.

The $8.5 million move, the culmination of a 20-year battle that pitted environmentalists against the military, went ahead despite two environmental groups' recent threat to sue.

"We are at war, and we need to train the solider so they are prepared," said Muhammad Bari, environmental divisions chief at Fort Irwin.

The Army is expanding its training grounds by 131,000 acres to accommodate faster-moving tanks and longer-range weaponry. Some of that land, which had been under U.S. Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction, is considered critical for the tortoises to survive.

The Army had its eye on a far bigger chunk of land in the past. In 1997, the Army wanted 331,217 acres, and earlier proposals were even larger, said Elden Hughes, a longtime Sierra Club member who lives in Joshua Tree.

Hughes, 76, said both sides compromised over the years. But still, he fears some of the tortoises will die after the move.

"Your soul cries. And the desert will be the poorer for it," he said. "Do it the best you can, but you realize you're losing things."

Hughes said the large burrows that the lumbering reptiles dig create homes for a slew of wildlife, including burrowing owls, coyotes and lizards.

"It creates most of the terrestrial homes in the desert; all life suffers if we lose the tortoise."

The Move

In the largest field experiment of its type, government and private scientists will study how the tortoises adapt to their new habitat over the next four years.

Scientists will check on their health, whether respiratory and shell diseases show up in larger numbers, whether they stay within their new habitat, and whether their reproduction is affected by the move, said Kristin Berry, a wildlife biologist and tortoise expert with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Fort Irwin's Bari said that, if the tortoises fare poorly in their new habitat, the Army will consult the scientists to see if anything should be done.

Work on the relocation project started 18 months ago when biologists began tracking tortoises in the area Fort Irwin had claimed.

The scientists attached transmitters to the tortoises' shells, assessed the animals' health and conducted blood tests. Reptiles that tested positive for a contagious respiratory disease were left in their habitat and will be tested again later, Berry said. They could be put in pens at Fort Irwin away from healthy tortoises and the tanks, but if they are in bad shape, they may be euthanized and necropsied, she said.

On Friday, a crew of 25 from an Army contractor moved 37 tortoises. Crew members armed with radios had scoured the land in the Fort Irwin expansion area Thursday to locate the tortoises, then gave them water, examined them and loaded them into boxes to await Friday's flights.

At the new location, each tortoise was placed in a burrow, some manmade, or under the shade of a creosote bush.

Colin Spake, one of the biologists, donned gloves to take female tortoise No. 2552 from her box and hoist her with string to weigh her -- just over 5 pounds -- with a spring scale. After recording the location and other details, he placed her into the burrow. Later, she could be seen peering out.

'Gigantic Experiment'

The Center for Biological Diversity and Desert Survivors have filed an official notice of intent to sue, alleging the relocation area is plagued by illegal dumping and off-roading, mines, lower-quality habitat, and tortoises with diseases that could spread to the new arrivals.

The decline of the reptiles, which have lived in the Mojave Desert for hundreds of thousands of years, has been blamed on disease, predation by ravens, habitat loss and off-roading, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They are found in widely scattered areas of the Mojave in California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the center, said the groups still plan to file suit.

"We want the relocation area to be much better protected then it currently is," she said.

"It's an onerous, gigantic experiment to begin with," Anderson said, noting that research has found that 20 percent of relocated tortoises die or can never be found again. "So that's a big hit. Compounding that with disease problems just seems like it dilutes the effectiveness of the translocation."

On Friday, biologists said time will tell.

Berry glanced at the ground, noticing desert dandelions and other annual flowers the tortoise eat.

"There were tortoises here already," she said. "One of the questions we'll find out is how many will stay and who will leave."

Video: Scientists relocate tortoises from the area around Fort Irwin in Barstow