June 30, 2008

Government considering euthanizing wild horses

Associated Press

Wild horses make their way north of historic Virginia City in Nevada.

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Federal officials are considering euthanizing wild horses to deal with the growing population on the range and in holding facilities, authorities said Monday.

Wild horses have overpopulated public lands and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management can't afford to care for the number of mustangs that have been rounded up, said Henri Bisson, the agency's deputy director. Also, fewer people are adopting the horses, he said.

Monday's announcement marks the first time the agency publicly has discussed the possibility of putting surplus animals to death.

The agency is also considering whether to stop roundups of wild horses to save money, a move that would be criticized by and from sheep and cattle ranchers who see the mustangs as competition for feed on the open range.

"Our goal is supposed to be about healthy horses on healthy ranges. But we are at the point we need to have a conversation with people about pragmatically what can we do given the financial constraints of our program to meet the goals we have," Bisson said.

There are an estimated 33,000 wild horses on the range in 10 Western states, Bisson told the organization's National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board. About half of those are in Nevada.

The agency has set a target "appropriate management level" of horses at 27,000.

About another 30,000 horses are in holding facilities, where most are made available for adoption. But those deemed too old or otherwise unadoptable are sent to long-term holding facilities to live out their lives — some for 15 to 20 years.

The board will consider the alternatives at its next meeting in September.

Last year about $22 million of the entire horse program's $39 million budget was spent on holding horses in agency pens. Next year the costs are projected to grow to $26 million with an overall budget that is being trimmed to $37 million, Bisson said.

"We have a responsibility to balance the budget, so we are going to have to make some tough choices," Bisson said.

Bonnie Matton, president of the Wild Horse Preservation League, said she wasn't surprised by the agency's predicament.

"They really do have a can of worms," she said.

No Sun Intended

Alternative Energy: Washington has placed a moratorium on solar power projects on federal land.
Is this the work of evil oil companies?
No, it's the fault of environmentalists.


The Bureau of Land Management quietly decided in May that the development of solar plants in 119 million sun-soaked, federally owned acres in the western states of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah would have to wait at least two years while bureaucrats sorted out their environmental impact.

For decades environmental groups have been pushing the government and private sector to develop more alternative sources of energy. But that campaign is beginning to look like a sham to cover the groups' BANANA — Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything — activism.

To be fair, it appears the BLM acted without being forced by an environmentalist-filed lawsuit or activist pressure. And so far, the media are reporting that only a single group — the Wilderness Society — has expressed support for the moratorium.

Make no mistake, though. The environmental groups are the reason the BLM made its decision. Had they not spent the past 30 years rabidly crusading against development, reflexively defending wildlife habitats from minor and imaginary threats and demonizing economic progress, the solar projects would not have been interrupted.

Washington has become so overly sensitive to the possibility of vocal opposition on anything that has an environmental impact that it feels it must inoculate itself from the radicals — even when the project is one they should support without reservation.

Environmental groups at one time served a noble purpose. We are a cleaner nation and world now than we were in the groups' formative years because they helped the West understand that it needed to clean up the mess from the Industrial Revolution.

But now they have become BANANA's and CAVE — Citizens Against Virtually Everything — people. They are more interested in choking capitalism and imposing on the world a future without energy than they are with a clean planet.

Though a great deal of land has been set aside, it would take only about 1% of the total area now off-limits to generate through solar plants enough energy to power more than 20 million homes.

We have no particular affinity for solar power, but blocking an energy source for 20 million homes seems significant to us, especially when the price of our primary source continues to climb.

What's more, we don't like to see business opportunities shut down by government decree. There are companies that have sunk capital into solar power projects on federal land that will now have to wait at least two years, perhaps more, before they can begin to recoup their investments. Turning a profit will take even longer.

The moratorium conceivably could kill businesses and the jobs that go with them. It will have the same economic effect as the Kyoto Treaty on global warming but on a smaller scale.

Some on the left, Democratic Rep. John Hall being a prominent example, are attacking the moratorium as the Bush administration's favoritism toward the president's oil buddies. This sort of obfuscation is to be expected. The environmentalists' political partners can't afford to let the groups' real objective — wounding our free market system — be revealed.

You Can't Get There From Here


The problem: Much solar and wind power are generated far from the people who use it

FAR FROM HOME A wind farm (left) and transmission lines in the Mojave Desert and a solar farm operated by Southern California Edison

Wall Street Journal

Utilities are moving to harvest more power from renewable-energy sources like the wind and sun. The problem is getting that power to the places that need it.

A series of laws passed in recent years by state legislatures across the country require utilities to generate a certain portion of their power from renewable resources. The standards vary from state to state.

But the best resources for generating large amounts of wind and solar power are located in remote areas. One California utility, for instance, is developing a cluster of wind farms along the Tehachapi mountain range that separates the San Joaquin valley from the Mojave Desert. Across the desert, from California through Arizona and New Mexico, independent power producers are looking to build thousands of megawatts of solar farms that would sit on acres of land.

"There's enough solar potential in the whole southwest of the U.S. to equal the power of all of the oil in Saudi Arabia," says David Hawkins, lead industry-relations representative for the California Independent System Operator, a nonprofit that supervises the distribution of power for the state.

So utilities are embarking on the costly and lengthy process of building or upgrading long-distance transmission lines to get new power to customers in population centers -- and meet an expected rise in demand. New and upgraded lines would facilitate the transmission of power from new remote sources as well as renewable-energy projects that already have been developed. New far-reaching lines also could allow utilities to boost the amount of renewable power available across broader swathes of the country.

"Essentially you need to get a line out of the supplying regions to the consuming regions," says Mike Niggli, chief operating officer of San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas Co., subsidiaries of Sempra Energy.

Years in the Making

Edison International Inc. has plans for a renewable-energy transmission line that would stretch from the Tehachapi Mountains to the outskirts of Los Angeles. But because of the cost and regulatory oversight involved, it's taking years of planning and development to get the project approved.

December 2006 with Alta Windpower Development LLC, a subsidiary of Australian financial-services firm Allco Finance Group, for 1,500 megawatts of wind power generated from sites in the Tehachapi Mountains over a 10-year period.

Then in March 2007, the California Public Utilities Commission approved plans for Southern California Edison, an Edison International subsidiary, to build the first 82-mile segment of a transmission line that would bring more renewable power to California's grid. That segment is expected to be completed in early 2009. But it still needs final approval from the U.S. Forest Service, which oversees some of the land that would be used for new transmission lines and upgrades.

The full $1.8 billion project, which Southern California Edison has proposed constructing in 11 segments, is slated for completion by 2013 -- the same time the additional 3,000 megawatts of power would be ready.

New and upgraded high-voltage transmission lines will be able to transmit as much as 4,500 megawatts of wind power for northern Los Angeles and eastern Kern counties -- enough to power approximately three million homes.

While states like California look to transport power from new sources, others are planning to install new transmission lines to cope with the massive amount of power coming from existing renewable-energy projects.

In 2005, the Texas Senate directed the state's Public Utility Commission to designate what it called Competitive Renewable Energy Zones, which would concentrate the wind-power projects within certain resource-rich areas. The thinking was that once the zones were established, developers could begin planning projects, and transmission and distribution providers would know where to begin planning transmission infrastructure development.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state's utility grid, offered up several plans in April to address the bottleneck of power created by all the wind projects producing power in West Texas and the Texas panhandle.

The plans address how to get 6,903 megawatts of existing wind resources moved to load centers, where power is used, while simultaneously adding transmission capacity for the next 6,000 to 18,000 megawatts of power that might be developed in the region.

The council's plans, which range in cost from $2.95 billion to $6.38 billion, have been submitted to the commission for approval. The cost would be rolled into ratepayers' monthly bills.

'The Green Highway'

Another factor driving the construction of transmission lines is a push from utilities for greater interconnection between regions to boost the amount of renewable power available across the country.

A loose confederation of Western utilities from Washington State through Southern California -- including Portland General Electric Co., Avista Corp., Pacifcorp, PG&E, and British Columbia Transmission Corp. -- are considering building and upgrading transmission lines that would potentially link renewable power generated in Canada through the Western region of the U.S.

"You could think of it as the green highway," says Mr. Hawkins of the California Independent System Operator.

The $3.2 billion plan is being led by PG&E, which would like to use the line to meet its renewable-portfolio standards. The utility has received partial approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to recover some costs in the form of rate increases. The commission cited in its decision the need to encourage companies to explore new ways of delivering power from renewable resources.

Utilities involved in the project say that given all the players the challenge is daunting. "It's difficult to do really large projects involving multiple utilities because the question of which customers support the line and with how much is very difficult," says David Eskelsen, a spokesman for Pacificorp.

Some Opposition

Environmentalists have problems with some transmission projects, saying utilities are using the popularity of renewable power to get projects approved.

Sempra Energy wants to build a more-than-100-mile transmission line from California's Imperial Valley region to San Diego, through its San Diego Gas and Electric subsidiary. The energy firm says the Sunrise Powerlink project, estimated to cost as much as $1.4 billion, will transmit renewable power from new sources like the solar thermal power plant it has entered into a power-purchasing agreement with.

But the Sierra Club opposes construction of the line, contending it would be used mainly to bring electricity generated at natural gas-fired plant that Sempra owns in Mexicali, Mexico.

"It appears to be a bait and switch," says Micah Mitrosky, an organizer for the Sierra Club in San Diego. "They talk about this line as a renewable-energy project. But when you peel away the PR, it is designed to tap into Sempra's liquefied natural-gas terminal in Mexico."

Sempra says electricity from its Mexico facilities are being delivered to California using existing transmission lines. It said in public statements earlier this year that it can't meet the California clean-energy mandate without the power line.

The Sierra Club also opposes a project proposed by Sierra Pacific Resources Group, which operates utilities in Nevada. The project combines a new 250-mile transmission line to connect planned and existing wind and solar plants and a new 2,500-megawatt coal-fired power plant. The Sierra Club says new coal generation is unnecessary and the development of solar and wind power meet the needs of most communities.

Sierra Pacific says the project, called the Ely Energy Center, needs to combine renewable- and fossil-fuel plants because it can't pay for the transmission piece with solar and wind power alone.

"This is the catch-22," says Roberto Denis, senior vice president of energy supply for Reno, Nev.-based Sierra Pacific. "Yes, we need the line. But no, we can't justify the line by economics. The way the line becomes economical is by siting this coal project between the two utilities."

June 28, 2008

Tehachapi residents remember the depot

staff writer
Bakersfield Californian

Tehachapi Train Depot in 1904.

After 104 years of service, it only took hours for the Historic Tehachapi Train Depot to come crashing down.

The old structure was engulfed in flames after fireworks, lit off late at night, started the inferno.

The depot was the second. The first built in 1876 and burnt down in 1904.

However for more than a century, it stood in the center of Tehachapi, acting as its lifeline, especially in the early days before highways went through Tehachapi. The 1952 earthquake flattened many of the historic buildings in town, but failed to damage the depot. Even when passenger service stopped in 1971, the depot survived and transformed. It continued to be used as office space for the Southern Pacific Railroad Company.

It took only fireworks to burn down a part of Tehachapi history, erase a visible part of American railroad history and shake the core of Tehachapi downtown.


Lydia Wheat, moved to Tehachapi in 1925. She remembers the historic depot as “just the depot.” She would board trains there and head into east Bakersfield for lunch and shopping before returning to Tehachapi.

“In the 1940s it was the only transportation we had,” she said. To send mail, Wheat said she would go to the depot.

“You could run and give the letter to the conductor and they would see that it would get out,” she said. “It was pretty nice.”

Growing up across the street from railroad tracks, Wheat said trains used to pass through the depot every three or four minutes.

“The first couple of nights we moved to town, we could not sleep,” she said. “Now they do not bother me in the least.”

“I was very sad to see it go,” Wheat said of the now destroyed depot.


As the son of an alfalfa farmer, Ed Grimes would always accompany his dad on trips to downtown Tehachapi for supplies and equipment repairs. The train depot was always the best place to play.

“There were so many places to hide,” Grimes said.

Walking into the depot, Grimes remembered smelling the wafting scent of cigars.

“It has always been so vivid in my mind,” he said. Outside the depot, all the old measuring scales piled up and the old equipment provided a “neat place for a boy to play.”

When he saw the depot on fire, he said he was so emotionally distraught he didn’t realize the tears running down his face.


Doug Pickard became concerned with the deteriorating condition of the depot when he realized the railroad company, now the Union Pacific, was not going “to spend a dime on it.”

The Union Pacific, which bought out the Southern Pacific in 1995, was using the building as an office for its maintenance workers.

Although Pickard has a relatively short history in Tehachapi (living there for only 14 years), he became emotionally attached to restoring the old depot to its former glory.

“It was a strong personal desire to restore that depot late in my life,” he said. As he researched the history of the depot, it grew on him. He formed the Friends of the Tehachapi Depot in 2004, a small group of enthusiasts pushing for restoration.

The City of Tehachapi achieved a major milestone in 2006 when Union Pacific agreed to exchange the depot if the city built another building for its workers.

After an October key exchange ceremony, volunteers officially could begin restoration of the depot, which Pickard estimates was 95 percent complete when it burned down last Friday. In less than three years of work, he said it was fully repainted, new windows and the heating system were installed and even the sprinkler system was set up.

Fortunately, they were not finished — historic artifacts to be displayed in the museum weren’t inside yet.

“Then it would have been a much greater loss,” Pickard said.


Where Pickard struggled for ten years to restore the depot, Dell Troy struggled for 35 years to rehab the old depot. As a resident of Tehachapi for 50 years, she began to push for a museum at the depot in 1973, two years after passenger service stopped.

“In the fall of 1972, there was a rumor that it would be sold and made into a restaurant,” she said.

She and several others formed the Tehachapi Heritage League to save the depot from becoming a restaurant. The Southern Pacific Railroad Company later said it would not sell the building.

From then on Troy said there was a tuggle war between the people of Tehachapi and the railroad company, which continually refused to allow restoration of the building.

“The answer was always no,” she said. When ownership changed to the Union Pacific, Tehachapi residents were able to start restoration on their favorite building.

She said the love affair residents have with the depot is rooted in history.

“I think everyone put so much love into the depot because they lost practically all of the downtown in the 1952 earthquake,” she said. “It’s 104 years of history gone.”

What’s next for the depot?

The Tehachapi City Council voted unimously on June 16 to rebuild the depot, said City Councilman Ed Grimes.

“We gave directions to the city manager to start building as soon as the investigation is complete,” said Grimes.

Insurance, a building donation fund and redevelopment funds will cover the cost of rebuilding the depot. Grimes said residents have already donated $13,000 to the building doantion fund.

Although it is still unclear when the construction will begin, the city will try to have the depot ready for Tehachapi’s 100 year anniversary in August 2009.

June 26, 2008

U.S. halts uranium mining near Grand Canyon

Reporting by Bernard Woodall
Reuters UK

South Rim from the Bright Angel trail in the Grand Canyon in this photo taken January 3, 2008.

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Uranium mining near the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona was halted for three years by a 20-2 vote on Wednesday in a U.S. House of Representatives committee.

A recent surge in mining claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park sparked the action. The number of claims close to the park increased to more than 1,100 by January 2008 from only 10 in January 2003, according to government figures.

Almost all those claims are to mine uranium. Uranium prices have increased in recent years as demand has spiked to feed an increasing number of nuclear power plants across the globe, as well as potential new U.S. plants.

"This emergency action will help prevent uranium mining from harming the Grand Canyon and polluting drinking water for millions," said Dusty Horwitt, public lands analyst at Environmental Working Group, which spearheaded the effort to block mining.

Horwitt said mining could pollute the Colorado River, source of drinking water for millions throughout the Southwest, including the Los Angeles, Phoenix and Las Vegas areas.

The world consumes about 180 million pounds (50 million to 55 million pounds in the United States) of raw uranium a year.

Wilderness Meeting Gets Ugly

Written by Tom Woods
Sierra Wave.net

Advocates for Access to Public Lands hands out signs during Wednesday’s public hearing on the Wild Heritage Act. Hundreds of residents and visitors from both sides of the issue went on record with their feelings about the controversial legislation. Photo by Debbie Murphy.

Emotions ran high at the Charles Brown Auditorium in Bishop Wednesday night, as about 900 people (county estimate) gathered to comment on the proposed Boxer McKeon Wilderness Bill that would place 430,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra under designated Wilderness. 370,000 of the acres lie in Mono County and about 60,782 in Inyo.

While there were real points made from both sides of issueat the meeting, the first hour of this public forum was marred by loutish behavior, catcalls, and disrespect.

Representatives from Senator Barbara Boxer’s office did not show up so Bob Haueter with Congressman Buck McKeon’s office led off the discussion. Haueter described how Boxer’s office had wanted 800,000 acres, but the number had been whittled down to 470,000 acres, which includes the 430,000 in the Eastern Sierra and another 40,000 in LA.

Motorized Access Advocate Dick Noles spoke first. He said the bill was not in the spirit of the 1964 Wilderness Act and that the bill was going to be a big mistake. Loud applause followed. After that, civility at the meeting degenerated and the first hour could be described as ugly.

Despite requests for calm by Supervisor Linda Arcularius, those who stood in front of the crowd to speak in favor were met with boos and heckling. One Bishop resident, speaking in favor of the bill, mentioned that she had seen a lot of disrespect for the land. A loud "B-S-" came from the back of the room. It appeared that one corner of the room was especially intent on embarrassing themselves, but after an hour or so most of that crowd left.

Emotions on this subject continued to run high throughout the night, but for the most part the remainder of the crowd respected the time limit allowed for speakers to take the microphone.

The main points made by those in favor of the bill included preservation of the land in question, roads that people use are left out of the bill, and that the pristine lands are what drives the tourist industry.

Burned by the Desert Protection Act, those in opposition named roads and motorized access.

While there was much blanket opposition to all new wilderness, most of the specific complaints revolved around the proposed Wilderness in the White Mountains. There was also a fear of yet another layer of bureaucracy, a feeling that the damage to the land was exaggerated and didn’t need the restrictive protection of wilderness, as well as fear that roads would be closed. More than one speaker asked for stronger language in the bill to guarantee that the roads cherry stemmed into the Wilderness areas would stay open.

There were rumors that wilderness supporters were “bused in,” from out of the area. Perhaps they carpooled. Of those who spoke in favor of the bill, eight were from outside of the Eastern Sierra, including one woman who brought a letter from the Mayor of Santa Clarita supporting the bill. Three speakers opposing the bill were from outside of the area as well.

With those numbers in consideration, the speakers were close to dead even in support vs. the opposition. Roughly 55 spoke against the bill, while despite the openly hostile crowd, roughly 58 spoke in favor of the bill. Judging by the applause after the opposition, one could conclude either that they were the not silent majority or that the opposition was simply louder.

One thing is certain, designated wilderness and recreation on public lands is an issue about which the community feels strongly.

House panel OKs Matheson land swap

Deal would help cut down 'checkerboard pattern'
of property

By Suzanne Struglinski
Deseret News

WASHINGTON — A House panel has approved a 40,000-acre land exchange between the Utah school trust land administration and the Bureau of Land Management.

Wednesday, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2007, introduced by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, that calls for the exchange near the Colorado River in Uintah and Grand counties to help reduce the "checkerboard pattern" of state trust lands and federal land.

"This bill is the result of consensus among a broad, diverse group of stakeholders — public and private, urban and rural, industry, conservation, sportsmen and education," Matheson said in a statement. "The result is a proposal that is fair to the taxpayer, beneficial to Utah schoolchildren, mindful of hunting and other public access opportunities and a better configuration for land managers to protect habitat, watershed and recreational values."

The bill still must pass the full House and Senate before going to the president for his signature. Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch, both R-Utah, have the same bill in the Senate. The bill passed the House in the previous Congress, but the Senate did not vote on it.

Through the bill, BLM would receive state school trust lands in Grand and San Juan counties. The land includes portions of Westwater Canyon, the Kokopelli and Slickrock trails, multiple wilderness study areas and proposed wilderness areas and some of the largest natural rock arches in the country, according to Matheson's office. In exchange, the trust would get BLM land in Uintah County that has oil and natural gas potential, with proceeds from any eventual development directed to Utah schools.

The Utah Wilderness Coalition supported the bill's approval, calling it an example of how diverse stakeholders can work together.

"Many of the public lands to be acquired by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in this exchange qualify as wilderness and we believe this legislation advances protection for these proposed wilderness landscapes by bringing them into common public ownership," the coalition said in a statement. "At the same time, the state of Utah and its schoolchildren will benefit by receiving lands more appropriate for development and the ensuing revenues that development would provide."

The trust lands were set aside at statehood to support education. They were intended to offset the significant federal ownership of land in Utah. But the scattered nature of the lands has made productive use difficult and in recent years efforts have been made to trade tracts for areas with more earning potential. Proceeds from sales or use go into a permanent fund, with interest and earnings earmarked for education.

June 25, 2008

Inland acres in LA power path

ENERGY DELIVERY: Six possible utility routes include razing up to 3,500 houses or infringing on wildland.

The Press-Enterprise

A transmission route being considered by Los Angeles to carry renewable energy from the Salton Sea could lead to the condemnation of 3,500 homes and other properties in the Inland region to make way for the needed transmission lines.

The district is seeking energy from solar and wind sources, but is chiefly hoping to capture geothermal energy, which is generated by heat stored beneath the Earth's surface.

Known as Green Path North, the project has already generated criticism from environmentalists and local lawmakers for one of its six possible transmission routes because it would go through the Morongo Valley and some desert preserves west of Joshua Tree National Park.

But a portion of one path under consideration runs through a heavily urbanized area straddling Riverside and San Bernardino counties -- between Interstate 10 and Highway 60, from Interstate 215 to Interstate 15 before the path turns north along Interstate 15 and heads toward the Cajon Pass.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power might have to launch eminent domain proceedings to make room for the transmission line in the area, which from a map appears to cross into Rialto, Colton and Fontana, among other areas.

Utility officials could not be more specific about the path's location other than a broad swath through the area. They cautioned that all routes are preliminary and could change.

"We'll put it out there for public dialogue -- is it a feasible thing to do, to go out and condemn 3,500 properties?" said H. David Nahai, general manager of the Los Angeles utility.

"That kind of disruption is daunting to say the least and we're a governmental agency," he said. "We like to think that we operate with a conscience and we want to do the right thing by people."

Nahai said there is no estimated cost for that route or any that are being considered. All paths would carry the energy to a new substation in Hesperia, where existing transmission lines already go to Los Angeles and would not require any further construction or condemnation of properties.

Nahai said the utility was planning workshops in the Inland region to address concerns about the project. The first one is set for July 19 in the Morongo Valley. A meeting location has not been set.

Local Reaction

The Los Angeles utility earlier this month sent letters to supervisors in both Riverside and San Bernardino counties to say they want to meet with them and that the utility wants "to move forward with the environmental review of the project through a very open and transparent process."

John Field, chief of staff for Riverside County Supervisor John Tavaglione, who was out of town, confirmed that a letter explaining the project and requesting a meeting was received. But he said there was no map to indicate the transmission paths under consideration. A map shows the line could skirt the northern edge of western Riverside County.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Dennis Hansberger said he was skeptical about the utility's claim that as many as 3,500 homes would have be condemned to allow for the transmission lines in the Colton, Rialto and Fontana areas.

"They certainly haven't tried to document for us whether that statement is true," he said.

Hansberger said he believes there is enough room in the corridor to accommodate the expanded lines.

Roger Sullivan, a Los Angeles attorney who specializes in eminent domain issues, said unless the utility has received authority from the state through special legislation it will be no simple task to condemn property outside its boundaries. The passage of Prop. 99 earlier this month, which placed further restrictions on the use of eminent domain, makes it even harder to take single-family homes, he said.

"They've got a very tough task ahead of them," Sullivan said.

Nahai said the Department of Water and Power is in talks with Southern California Edison to see if it can share a utility corridor along Interstate 10 that is already established but that it only goes so far.

"We're in discussion to see if there's some way of sharing that corridor up to a certain point, but even at that point, the route would then have to go through densely urban areas," he said.

Sandi Blain, Edison's manager of project licensing, said the I-10 corridor begins in the Palm Springs area and heads west, splintering off into different directions. One line, she said, connects to a substation in Mira Loma, she said.

Blain said Edison will meet with DWP on Monday for preliminary discussions. She said Edison is in a data-collecting mode to determine whether it would even be possible to accommodate DWP's request.

"Building transmission is a really complex process," she said. "It takes a good amount of time to really evaluate."

San Bernardino County Supervisor Josie Gonzales, whose district includes Rialto, Colton and parts of Fontana, said she would prefer a project that would have the least impact to the community.

Gonzales said she hadn't been told about the potential taking of so many parcels and was concerned about the economic impact it would have on those cities.

"The people need to know why they're making the sacrifice," she said. "What's in it for them? What's in it for the people I represent?"

Both supervisors said they welcome the promised briefing from the utility district but said they have not been contacted about when it would be held or what form it would take.

Forest Route

Valerie Baca, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino National Forest, said the Los Angeles utility was planning to meet with forest officials this Friday. She said forest officials have no information yet but a map shows one route going along the edge of the forest.

April Sall, executive chairwoman of the California Desert Coalition, a group formed to oppose the utility's proposed route through the Morongo Valley, was critical of that forest route because it cuts through the headquarters of the Wildlands Conservancy, a nonprofit organization in Oak Glen. That option violates a promise made by Nahai to the conservancy, said Sall, who is the manager of the conservancy's Pioneertown Mountains Preserve.

Sall was also skeptical of the utility's claim that 3,500 homes would have to be taken along the existing path.

She said she believes the utility is trying to make the proposal through the Morongo Valley seem more palatable than the urban route that could destroy people's homes.

What It's About

The Green Path North project would initially aim to generate 800 megawatts, or enough energy to power about 520,000 homes.

Nahai said that Los Angeles, like most California cities, is under pressure by the state's 2006 global-warming law to reduce their dependence on coal-generated electricity. It is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions that lead to climate change.

"The need is undeniable," Nahai said. "I don't think anyone seriously disputes that Los Angeles needs to access the bountiful geothermal power and solar resources in the Salton Sea area."

"The question, of course, becomes how to bring that power to Los Angeles with the least environmental impact."

Nahai said that geothermal energy is a constant source, whereas the sun doesn't always shine and wind doesn't always blow to generate those renewable energies. Los Angeles gets 8 percent of its power from renewable energies and has set a goal of 20 percent by 2010 and 35 percent by 2020, he said.

"We're trying to diversify away from coal so as to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions," Nahai said. "That's both the right thing to do and it's a requirement under (state law) AB 32 as well."

County sets aside funds for new Interstate 40 fire station

By Abby Sewell
Desert Dispatch

San Bernardino County has committed to building a new fire station on Interstate 40 between Barstow and Needles.

In the county’s 2008-09 budget, approved by the Board of County Supervisors on Tuesday, $300,000 was earmarked for design work on the new station. Andy Silva, a spokesman with 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s office, said the exact location has not been determined, but Ludlow and Amboy have both been floated as possible sites. The size and other specifications of the station will be worked out in the design phase.

County spokesman David Wert said the county saw a need for a station, despite the sparse population of that stretch of I-40, because of the great distance between fire stations on the interstate. There are no fire stations, county or volunteer, on the 124 mile stretch of I-40 between Newberry Springs and Needles.

San Bernardino County Fire Department representatives did not return calls for comment, but Newberry Springs Fire Department Assistant Chief Steve Miller said the new station would take some pressure off his all-volunteer department, which currently responds to fires and collisions in Ludlow.

“It will certainly be a help in reducing response times out there on the 40,” he said.

The stretch of National Trails Highway between Amboy and Essex is in an even worse position than Ludlow, Miller said. The “no-man’s land” is between 60 and 80 miles from the closest fire stations in Newberry Springs, Needles, Baker and Twentynine Palms.

The most recently built county fire station, in Baker, was completed in 2006 and cost $3.5 million, Silva said. Wert said the county does not currently have an estimate on the cost of the I-40 station, but it will likely be in the same range.

“It’s definitely going to happen, and that’s good news for everyone who travels on Highway 40 and surrounding areas,” he said.

Wert said the county will begin the project this fiscal year. By the end of the summer, the county will start receiving bids for the design work, and construction could begin in the next year, Wert said. The county’s contingency fund, reserve fund, and capital improvements fund are all possible sources of funding for the project.

Man found dead near Mojave Desert highway

San Diego Union-Tribune

LUDLOW – An elderly man was found dead after he wandered from his disabled van in the Mojave Desert on a day when temperatures soared above 100 degrees.

Elton Eugene Fields, 75, of Reno, Nev. was found Monday night about two miles south of his vehicle off Interstate 40, the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner department said Tuesday.

Somebody reported Fields' empty vehicle and a search and rescue team found his body several hours later.

An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death.

It was the second time in a week that someone was found dead in the desert.

On June 16 a passer-by found the body of 77-year-old Joyce Sanders and her severely burned husband, 90-year-old Virgil Sanders, about 50 yards from their car in eastern San Bernardino County. Temperatures reached 116 degrees in the area that day.

June 24, 2008

Wildlife agency agrees to revisit protections for rare Mojave Desert plant

By Abby Sewell, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed Monday to consider new protections for the habitat of a rare plant that grows only in the Mojave Desert in and around Fort Irwin.

The Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit environmental advocacy group, sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in an attempt to make the department reconsider an April 2005 decision not to designate any critical habitat for the Lane Mountain milk-vetch plant, a flowering perennial in the pea family. The plant, which was placed on the endangered species list in 1998, grows only in a 20-mile strip of land, a majority of which is located within the newly expanded boundaries of Fort Irwin, said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity.

In April 2005, the Fish and Wildlife Service released its decision not to designate any critical habitat for the plant. Designating areas as critical habitat would require more evaluation of the activities that could take place on parts of Fort Irwin and on Bureau of Land Management land where the milk-vetch grows.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Fish and Wildlife Service in late 2007, stating that the decision not to designate critical habitat violated the Endangered Species Act. Anderson said the milk-vetch is important to the desert ecosystem because it converts nitrogen into a natural fertilizer that enriches the dry desert soil.

“That is a really important component, particularly in the desert soil, where there’s just not a lot of nutrients in the soil to begin with,” she said.

In its response to the complaint, the Fish and Wildlife Service admitted the value of the Lane Mountain milk-vetch to the desert ecosystem but denied that the survival of other desert plants depends on the milk-vetch or that failure to designate critical habitat would result in the milk-vetch going extinct.

Connie Rutherford, plant listing and recovery coordinator with the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, said no critical habitat was designated originally, partially because Fort Irwin had already completed a resource management plan outlining how it would protect the milk-vetch. The BLM has also taken measures to protect the plant, including closing some roads, she said.

Anderson said her group would like to see the milk-vetch habitat off limits for training exercises involving heavy equipment at Fort Irwin.

“We would like Fort Irwin not to run over the plants with tanks,” she said.

Fort Irwin already has a Fish and Wildlife Service-approved natural resources management plan in place, which lays out ways in which the base will attempt to protect the milk-vetch, spokesman John Wagstaffe said. Because of that, he said a critical habitat designation would not affect the base in its operations. Wagstaffe said he believes that training exercises in the milk-vetch habitat area are currently limited.

In addition, Anderson said her group would like to see a reduced number of roads on the BLM land in the milk-vetch habitat area to restrict access by off-roaders.

The settlement signed by the Fish and Wildlife Service is not a promise to designate critical habitat but simply a commitment to reexamine its April 2005 decision. The agency agreed to come out with a final critical habitat designation in April 2011.

Fish and Wildlife Service representatives said the final decision may or may not be any different from the one released in 2005.

“We’re willing to start with a fresh slate here and look at any information submitted by the public and by the agencies involved,” Rutherford said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also agreed to pay $6,762 to cover the Center for Biological Diversity’s attorney’s fees and other costs of litigation.

Pearce wilderness bill draws fire

Diana M. Alba
Las Cruces

Nathan P. Small expresses concern regarding a bill proposed by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce. (Sun-News photo by Shari Vialpando)

LAS CRUCES — The introduction of a bill last week by U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., has revived controversy about the fate of thousands of acres of public land in Doña Ana County.

Pearce, also a candidate for U.S. Senate, last Wednesday introduced legislation, H.R. 6300, that would remove a temporary wilderness designation from parcels of Doña Ana County land and instead create two new designations for certain swaths. It would also change a federal process for selling public land, opening up 65,000 acres for disposal.

A spokesman for Pearce said the legislation, backed by a group of area ranchers, accomplishes a goal of protecting key lands from development, without hindering law enforcement access. Ranchers applauded the legislation, saying it would keep operations unharmed.

However, conservationists during a news conference objected to the bill, saying it would weaken protection that already exists for special areas and create a large-scale sell-off of lands currently under federal control. They advocated for a competing proposal that would grant federal wilderness to much of the acreage. The designation keeps land from being developed and prohibits mechanized travel in most instances.

Pearce spokesman Brian Phillips said the congressman went about crafting the legislation because he believed a process for drafting the wilderness proposal was flawed.

"There was a notion that everyone agreed with the wilderness proposal, and what we found was that there was considerable disagreement," he said. "We decided to try to forge a better bill that was agreeable to most of the parties that had an interest in the legislation."

Under Pearce's bill, a temporary wilderness designation would be removed from eight regions in Doña Ana County. The designation, created in the "80s and early "90s, is generally managed as if it was wilderness by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; one exception is that vehicles are allowed on designated roads.

In place of the temporary designation, Pearce is proposing that roughly 300,000 acres be classified under two new designations: special preservation areas and rangeland preservation areas. Special preservation areas are proposed for near Picacho Peak and the Doña Ana Mountains and would prevent the sale or lease of that acreage. Rangeland preservation areas — which includes land around the Organ Mountains — would exist to promote grazing and would allow motorized vehicle use on designated roads.

Doña Ana County rancher Tom Cooper applauded Pearce's proposal in a news release.

"We are gratified that Congressman Steve Pearce has recognized our efforts of the past two years by introducing this legislation," he said. "Congressman Pearce remains steadfast in his efforts to meet the desires and expectations of the citizens of the 2nd Congressional District and the state."

Cooper is a member of People for Preserving Our Western Heritage. The group contends wilderness, because of a ban on vehicle use, will hinder ranching operations on public lands.

A crowd of wilderness supporters attended a news conference Monday at the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces to express opposition to Pearce's proposal. Among those in attendance were Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, Doña Ana County Commissioner Oscar Vásquez-Butler and City Councilors Nathan Small, Sharon Thomas and Dolores Connor.

Small, who also works for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, addressed attendees, saying Pearce's legislation, by removing the temporary wilderness status already given to some lands, is a step backward. In addition, he said a provision calling for the sale of 65,000 acres of public lands goes against planned growth and the protection of open space.

"Congressman Pearce's bill calls for the stripping away of permanent protections in places like the Organ Mountains and replacing them with a much-lesser designation ...," he said.

Small called the bill "an attack on our public lands" and said it "seem intended to please a select few special interests."

Asked to clarify the statement, Small said he believed special interests included certain members of the ranching community and off-road vehicle groups, as well as some developers.

Phillips responded, saying those were the groups Pearce felt had been left out of the development of an initial proposal for wilderness that was put forward by conservationists. In addition, he said a provision calling for land sale would allow for input from the local community.

Phillips said the sale of land "cannot violate any city or county ordinance or master plan," he said. "Second of all, it has to be in accordance with the BLM land use plan. There are considerable provisions for groups of all kinds to get involved."

The first wilderness proposal in Doña Ana County surfaced in late 2005 with draft legislation proposed by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici. It would have created about 200,000 acres of wilderness, while freeing up 65,000 acres for eventual sale. But the draft drew criticism from environmental groups and some in the development community, and Domenici never introduced the legislation. Conservationists countered with a proposal of their own to create about 300,000 acres of wilderness and other protected land.

A spokesman for Domenici declined to comment on Pearce's legislation.

June 23, 2008

Southern California pollution sinking into desert

Orange County Register

Eastbound Interstate 40 in the East Mojave Desert.

Deserts suck.

Suck carbon dioxide, that is. The Mojave Desert is absorbing more of the airborne pollutant than previously thought, says Lynne Fenstermaker, a scientist at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada. And it may be that this nearby desert is doing more than absorbing car exhaust from our freeways. The study by Fenstermaker and colleague Jay Arnone has found that the Mojave can absorb as much carbon dioxide as a temperate forest.

“Without deserts, the annual rate of [man-made] carbon dioxide rise might be twice as rapid as it is presently and might therefore promote more rapid global warming,” Arnone said in a recent news release.

And since deserts make up more than 30 percent of Earth’s land surface, if all deserts were absorbing as much as the Mojave, “then the amount of carbon dioxide taken up each year would match the amount emitted to the atmosphere globally through burning of fossil fuels,” Arnone says.

Carbon dioxide in the Mojave Desert is absorbed both by plants and by micro-organisms in the top layer of the soil. This “microbiotic crust” contains lichens, mosses and blue-green algae. All of these do some type of photosynthesis, which turns carbon dioxide into sugar, which they then use for food.

You wouldn’t think that the sparse vegetation on a desert would be able to take up so much carbon dioxide, but in an El Niño year, where the deserts get a large amount of rainfall, the population of annuals can be quite high, Fenstermaker says. And the more plants there are, the more carbon dioxide they inhale.

At this point, they’re not sure exactly where the carbon dioxide is going. That is, if the vegetation or the soil layer is doing more of the work. But more studies are planned. They also want to take measurements in deserts worldwide, to see if other deserts suck up as much carbon dioxide as the Mojave.

The Mojave study is funded by the Department of Energy, Terrestrial Carbon Processes project.

Search For Missing MNP Hiker Suspended

Mojave National Preserve
National Park News

On the evening of Sunday, June 8th, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department received a 911 call reporting an overdue 67-year-old hiker from the Philippines who had last been seen by her hiking companion at Fort Piute on the evening of June 7th.

Rangers and deputies interviewed the reporting party, then conducted a hasty search of Piute Canyon with ground teams and an infrared-vision-equipped helicopter. She was not found.

An interagency search was conducted through Friday, June 13th, with up to 50 searchers employed each day. Also employed in the effort were helicopters and as many as six search dogs. The canyon is steep and narrow, with ledges and rugged terrain, and daytime temperatures were over 100 degrees, although there is water in the canyon.

The search has been suspended, but the investigation continues.

Wilderness, schmilderness

In Nevada, wilderness-wary locals derail lands bills that could help their communities

by Gordon Gregory
High Country News

A view looking northwest from the top of Bald Mountain, Nevada, an area that could be proposed for wilderness protection. CAMERON JOHNSON

In this tiny farm town, which lacks a stoplight or even a store, the gathering of more than 700 people on April 2 was unprecedented. And they weren’t at the high school gym to watch the Bulldogs play Class A basketball; they were there to tell officials just what they thought about a proposal to turn their mountains into wilderness.

It was a peaceful if not entirely well-mannered crowd, with most wildly cheering those who railed against wilderness, and jeering the three lone proponents. Shouts of "go back to Santa Cruz" and "we’re the public, stupid" peppered the warm evening.

Over and over, angry citizens came to the microphone to proclaim that no outsiders were going to tell them to keep their trucks and ORVs out of the hills they considered their heritage. Jim Sanford, former publisher of the local paper, summed up the mood: "I don’t think this group here tonight is interested in compromise."

But without compromise, there would be no public-lands bills like the ones approved over the past six years for three other Nevada counties, bills that called for the sale of thousands of acres of federal land and -- in conjunction with a 1998 law generated billions of dollars for everything from school funding to park development. Pushed by Nevada Sens. Harry Reid, D, and John Ensign, R, the bills sought to eliminate the management headaches and local resentments that are rife in a fast-growing state where more than four of every five acres is federal property.

The bills also designated major new wilderness areas. In Congress, the rough political calculus for such bills is this: If locals get to benefit from the sale of land owned by all Americans, the broader public receives additional wilderness in return. That seemed fair enough to folks in Clark, Lincoln and White Pine counties, where a total of 164,000 acres of federal land was identified for auction and about 1.7 million acres were added to the wilderness system. And the state’s congressional delegation had every reason to expect success in other counties.

But in western Nevada this winter, that calculus was faulty. In quick succession, three counties -- Lyon, Mineral and Esmeralda -- rebuffed efforts to craft compromise bills for lands within their boundaries. Fear and misunderstanding fueled a revolt against what locals perceived as a land grab. And now that the state’s anti-wilderness forces are energized, their efforts may derail what until recently seemed like a collaborative way to both meet local needs and protect wild lands.

The federal government owns more than 86 percent of Nevada, more than it owns in any other state. In some counties, the dearth of private property has limited growth, inflated property values and complicated land management. While counties with large federal holdings do get annual PILT funds (Payments in Lieu of Taxes) from the government, the payments are often a fraction of the taxes they’d receive if the land were privately owned. Esmeralda County, for example, gets only about $60,000 a year through PILT, even though 98 percent of it is federally owned.

The first attempt at redress was the 1998 Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act, which called for the sale of thousands of acres of BLM land near Las Vegas in Clark County. Thus far, about $2.7 billion has been generated from those lands sales, and some of that revenue has also been made available to other Nevada counties through public-lands bills.

The Clark, Lincoln and White Pine lands bills were designed with local input to meet local needs. For example, the White Pine County bill created 550,000 acres of wilderness and identified 45,000 acres of BLM land for auction. Funds from those land sales will go to the state education fund, local law enforcement and fire protection, and to the BLM. In addition, the bill transferred thousands of acres of BLM land to the county and state for commercial and park projects and funded a study of off-road vehicle trail expansion.

With such successes under their belts, in 2007 Sens. Reid and Ensign and Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., set their sights on Lyon, Mineral and Esmeralda counties, again hoping to craft bills that combined wilderness designation with public-land sales and other locally beneficial provisions. Senate staffers began meeting with wilderness proponents, some ranchers and a few local leaders in the three counties. But most residents and many local officials were unaware of the process until early 2008, shortly before the bills were to be drafted. They felt blindsided by the news that such legislation was being considered for their areas and that they had only a few months to be involved.

"We just found out about this in February," says Mineral County Commissioner Richard Bryant, who says he and others were "dumbfounded" when they learned that almost 500,000 acres of federal land in the county were being considered for wilderness designation.

At a May 21 meeting, the commissioners lambasted Sen. Reid’s staff for not involving the counties earlier in the process. The commissioners couldn’t endorse any lands bill this year, they said; they needed time to determine what wilderness would mean for activities such as mining, geothermal development, grazing and recreation.

Lyon County residents say they were similarly surprised. Most first heard about the bill in late January, after local ranchers announced that they had met with congressional staff and representatives of the Nevada Wilderness Project to discuss how wilderness designation might affect their ranching operations.

Marianne Leinassar, whose family has run sheep in the area since 1858, says the ranchers had assumed that the wilderness would cover about 88,000 acres in the Bald Mountain area -- renamed Wovoka by local wilderness proponents -- because it had been the focus of past discussions about possible wilderness.

But at a Jan. 25 meeting, the ranchers saw maps from the Nevada Wilderness Project indicating that up to about 690,000 acres were being considered for wilderness designation in Lyon and in neighboring Mineral County. "We were all taken aback," Leinassar recalls, as they realized the size of the potential wilderness. "This was huge."

The news that hundreds of thousands of acres might become wilderness and that a bill to that effect could be drafted by summer spread like dust in a fast spring wind. Many didn’t know what wilderness designation meant, so anything seemed possible; there was talk of fences, even razor wire stretched across the landscape -- vast areas placed off limits, with mines closed, flight paths diverted, firefighting hobbled, and military training curtailed during wartime. Rumors of conspiracy and speculation about what Reid was really up to ran wild. "They were like a tornado generating their own storm," Steve Pellegrini, a retired teacher and wilderness advocate, says of his neighbors.

Within weeks of the Jan. 25 meeting, locals formed the Coalition for Public Access. By March, membership reached 1,000, then 1,500, most from Lyon County. Residents in Mineral County also started their own chapter. "This has united just about everybody in all of our surrounding communities who are normally ... on separate sides of the fence on water issues, on grazing issues, things like that," says Emery Thran, the group’s chairman. "This affected a lot of people." Residents saw wilderness not as a way to protect the natural qualities of the land, he says, but as a federal assault on what they most value.

In a place where many families arrived in the area more than 100 years ago, those values often involve a personal sense of history. Dr. Robin Titus practices medicine out of a one-physician clinic set amid an ocean of alfalfa fields. From her small office window, she can see the mountains her great grandfather mined. Some of her ancestors are buried there. And though she is an avid outdoors-woman, the idea that "outside" interests might affect local use of the nearby mountains rankles her deeply. "Somebody from out of town is trying to do something that affects the way we live here," she says. "People will tend to fight over that."

But wilderness supporters say many locals simply misunderstood the status of the proposal, as well as what a wilderness designation would mean. The Nevada Wilderness Project had not finalized its plans when it presented its maps to ranchers at that January meeting, says Cameron Johnson, northern Nevada outreach director for the group. He says it had identified roughly 690,000 acres in Lyon and Mineral County as possible wilderness, but had yet to make specific recommendations about which areas were most suitable for designation. Contrary to rumor, he says, his organization would have recommended accommodating traditional uses, including all existing mines and grazing allotments.

Thran, however, says the problem wasn’t a lack of understanding. He blames overreaching by wilderness proponents: If they had remained focused on the Bald Mountain/Wovoka area, he says, the outcome might have been different. "I don’t know if it would have raised an eyebrow around here," he says, of a bill containing just the 88,000-acre Wovoka wilderness. "But now, they’ve pretty much angered our community. No negotiations now. I’m sorry." Titus agrees that local passions are so inflamed that reasoned discussions on the topic are nearly impossible. "People feel that if they give in at all, they’ll lose it all," she says.

Local wilderness proponents still hope that at least the Wovoka area can receive protection through other legislation. Pellegrini and fellow advocate Art Shipley say that when they explain to other residents why the area is so special, many agree it deserves protection from off-roaders. But as soon as the word "wilderness" is mentioned, they say, people back away, thinking that practically the entire county is included. "I wish we didn’t have that 690,000 acres hanging over us," Pellegrini says.

The western Nevada experience may well hang over other potential lands bills in the state, as newly-empowered anti-wilderness activists are determined to continue the fight.

Peter Liakopoulos, host of the Las Vegas talk show Rural Nevada Today, is promoting the creation of a coalition of 14 counties to fight public-lands bills. The BlueRibbon Coalition, an off-road advocacy group based in Pocatello, Idaho, is backing anti-wilderness efforts in Nevada and elsewhere, says Brian Hawthorne, the group’s public-lands policy director. "I think what you’re seeing is a change, a realization that you’re trading wilderness for reasonableness," he says.

Part of what’s changing as well is that some local officials, under pressure by the Coalition for Public Access and others, now refuse to even talk about a lands bill because of the likely wilderness component. Lyon, Mineral and Esmeralda counties passed resolutions this winter opposing any new wilderness within their boundaries. Lyon County and Esmeralda County also passed resolutions rejecting any lands bill that designated new wilderness, effectively shutting off further consideration of any lands bill.

Mineral County commissioners put lands bill discussions in limbo earlier this spring, when they said they weren’t ready to work with Senate staffers. Mineral County Commissioner Jerrie Tipton still says a carefully crafted lands bill is critical to her county’s economic future, and she, for one, would consider some wilderness as part of the package. "(Federal land ownership) is part of the reason we’re so damn poor," she says. But overcoming a tidal wave of opposition may be impossible at this time, she says: "A year ago, I would have said that we can work through it. Today, I don’t know."

The only hope is to fully engage residents in the design of the lands bill, Tipton says. "These people (local citizens) have to be brought into it, or it’s not going to work," she says. "They need to have a hand in the crafting of the vision, or we’re all going to be tarred and feathered."

Without local residents and governments on board, there’s little chance that Sens. Reid and Ensign and Rep. Heller will press forward on these bills. A modest lands bill for Carson City (which includes the former Ormsby County) is progressing without rancor -- in part because the county contains no chunks of federal land large enough to qualify for wilderness. Jon Summers, Sen. Reid’s communication director, says, "We said from the beginning we’re not going to force this down anyone’s throat."

June 22, 2008

'The more cows, the more tortoises'

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Vin Suprynowicz

A May 14 editorial in the Review-Journal cited a portion of Vern Bostick's study, "The Desert Tortoise in Relation to Cattle Grazing," published in "Rangelands," in June 1990.

This brought a letter from a newly arrived "expert" on the extent to which desert tortoises are allergic to having large ungulate grazers sharing their range, arguing that desert tortoises won't use cow droppings to get nourishment or moisture no matter how desperate their straits, and that "All leading tortoise scientists agree that cattle grazing and tortoises don't mix."

I'm not a "leading tortoise scientist," but I've been out on the range visiting with some of Nevada's long-time, multi-generation ranchers, and those experts tell a different story.

Cliven Bundy, who grazes the Mesquite allotment, says he's seen an exhaustive study compiled -- at great expense and under federal orders -- when the big Kern River natural gas pipeline was laid through Southern Nevada, counting the fewest tortoises in route miles where cattle and sheep hadn't grazed in recent years; many times higher tortoise densities in areas where cattle still graze; and the highest tortoise density of all right here in the Las Vegas Valley -- hardly evidence that this is some fragile creature endangered by the very presence of mankind and his infrastructure.

Seems like we might want to take a closer look at that document.

Not that such findings should come as any surprise. Cattle's presence on the land benefits tortoises in many ways. Cattle mean ranchers, and ranchers make some effort to reduce the populations of coyotes and ravens, which are the tortoises' main predators. Ranchers also clear out springs and pipe water to remote tanks, so both the ranchers themselves and their wandering cattle bring water to areas where deer, and doves, and quail -- and especially tortoises, who can't travel as far in a day as any of those species -- would otherwise find none.

Finally, cattle graze down brush, reducing the severity of range fires and causing tender new shoots to grow in closer to ground level, where tortoises can more easily reach them.

Meantime, I talked to Vernon Bostick on the phone last week.

"They claim cow dung is 'nutritionally deficient,' Vern laughs. "It's high in nitrogen and that's USDA Bulletin No. 49. Cows absorb 20 percent, pass 80 percent of the nutrients through their system. And they graze stuff too tough for tortoises to masticate. ...

"Each cow makes 12 deposits a day, and it's 90 percent water," Vern explains. "Remove the cattle and the tortoises are dependent on rainfall; they have to hold their urine ..." which can result in illness and, eventually, death.

Mr. Bostick followed up with a lengthy letter.

"The tortoise fraternity will (try to) discredit what I write because I am not a herpetologist. Deciding if Nevada tortoises should be named as a distinct subspecies is herpetology. Managing animals on the range, wild and domestic, is range management. I am not encroaching on their field; they are encroaching on mine. And they are awfully short on clues. ...

"Rob Mrowk in (his) letter to the editor opened his rebuttal of my 1987 report ... with this statement: 'All leading tortoise scientists agree that cattle grazing and tortoises don't mix.' whatever that means. ...

"Before I offer my rebuttal of the above nonsense allow me to qualify myself as an expert witness. ..."

Vern has a M.S. in biology from UNLV and a B.S. in range management from Colorado State. He wrote the text for a course in judging range condition and trend (whether the range is improving or deteriorating) taken by all U.S. Forest Service personnel working in Arizona and New Mexico.

"I will call History as my first rebuttal witness," Vern writes. "Before there were any cattle grazing on the western range, the desert tortoise was extremely rare. The first Spanish explorers found roasted shells at old Indian camps but never saw a live tortoise. They concluded that this unique reptile was extinct. ... Spanish colonists brought cattle with them. Cattle and tortoise have shared the same range for more than three centuries in some places and for more than a century everywhere. ...

"The following quotation is from Kristin Berry's 'Tortoises for Tommorrow':

" 'Long-time desert residents in California notes extraordinary densities' (in the early thirties ... when cattle numbers peaked) 'that could have been as high as 2,000 per square mile.'

"A member of the survey party in Antelope Valley in 1933 saw over 100 tortoises in one place at one time. He told Kristin Berry that tortoises 'were everywhere ... all over the ground' (and so were cow pies.)

"From the early thirties to the mid eighties the number of cows grazing on federal range was reduced about 90 percent. ... From the early thirties to the mid eighties tortoise densities declined from 2,000 per square mile to 65 i.e. 97 percent (Medica, oral communication) in response to reduced cattle grazing. Kristin Berry used this drastic reduction in tortoise population to get the desert tortoise listed as an endangered species. Then she used this listing to 'get rid of the cows.' Mission accomplished.

"History reveals a positive correlation between cattle and tortoise populations: the more cows on the range, the more tortoises, and with fewer cows there will be fewer tortoises. There is ample evidence that this correlation is a cause and effect relation.

"My 1987 report reviews all cases where cattle grazing was eliminated and tortoises had exclusive use of the range ... In every case elimination of cattle grazing resulted in a smaller tortoise population.

"The most complete data is from the Beaver Dam Mountains. Woodbury and Hardy reported a tortoise population density of 150 per square mile in 1948. BLM reduced cattle grazing a few years later and eliminated cattle in 1970. Coombs reported a tortoise density of 39 per square mile in 1974. In these 26 years cattle use was reduced 100 percent and tortoise numbers were reduced 74 percent.

"These tortoises were doing so poorly a veterinarian, Dr. Jarchow, was consulted. He reported all six specimens were suffering from osteoporosis caused by a protein deficiency in their diet. Dr. Jarchow examined five specimens from the same mountains that shared their range with cattle. He reported these specimens were all healthy and well nourished. The historical record proves conclusively that tortoise thrive when cattle are on the range with them and without cattle grazing they are malnourished and unhealthy and their numbers plummet.

"The tortoise recovery program is based on a popular but false premise that the desert tortoise is endangered because of competition with cattle for forage," Vern Bostick concludes. "The recovery team has had a lot of time and they have spent a lot of money. I think we should have an accounting. How many tortoise populations have they recovered and to what extent? Have any tortoise populations decreased since their program began? All new" (Southern Nevada) "home-buyers pay $500 into the recovery program. I believe they have a right to know what they are getting for their five hundred bucks."

Sounds reasonable to me.

June 21, 2008

New trail map shows the way in wilderness

The Press-Enterprise

PALM DESERT - It's the wilderness at your fingertips.

A big, new foldout map pinpointing more than 75 trails in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument spotlights desert hikes and alpine forest treks.

It's all part of the national monument's Celebration of Trails campaign.

The $8.95 map is now available exclusively at the visitor center, 51-500 Highway 74, about four miles south of downtown Palm Desert. Information: 760-862-9984.

"It's a giant undertaking, involving hundreds of miles of trails," said Buford Crites, vice president of The Friends of the Desert Mountains, one of several groups and agencies involved. "This map will encourage hiking and make it more likely that people will come back safely."

The 36-inch by nearly 39-inch map -- unveiled about a week and a half ago -- brings it all together.

In all, 10,000 maps were produced at a cost of about $40,000 -- plus a lot of donated time and labor, Crites said.

In the past, hikers often stopped into the national monument's visitor center and thumbed through a raft of maps -- U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Automobile Club of Southern California, Desert Riders, Palm Desert's foldout trail map, hiking guides such as "140 Great Hikes in and Near Palm Springs" by Philip Ferranti and Pacific Crest Trail books.

At times, visitor center staff would even walk hikers out to a nearby trailhead or draw a diagram, volunteer Deborah Stone said.

But things are much easier now.

At the visitor center, people just reach for the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Trail Map.

Three years in the making, the new map became a collaborative effort by the Friends, Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, Tahquitz Group of the Sierra Club, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, California State Parks, Southern California Edison Co., city of Palm Desert and Palm Springs Life.

It wasn't all high-tech and GPS.

Crites said the desert and mountain trails were also hiked as a way of ensuring exact locations. Then, people got in a room and pored over GPS data and their own observations.

"The next time that I look at a map, I'm going to have a significantly broader appreciation of the process that goes into it," Crites said.

The new map is water-resistant -- something that will come in handy in the wilderness.

It includes a key listing trails by geographic area and gives their length, change in elevation and relative difficulty -- "easy, moderate, strenuous."

For Palm Desert/Rancho Mirage -- where several trails converge -- there's a blow-up box breaking out popular trails such as Bump & Grind, Hopalong Cassidy, Herb Jeffries and Gabby Hayes.

"A lot of people can find their way down El Paseo (a shopping street) much more quickly than the Art Smith or Hopalong Cassidy trail," Crites said. "But there's enormous interest by both residents and tourists in getting off the landscaped portion of our valley and out into the country and looking at our desert."

The national monument covers 272,000 acres, stretching from the desert floor of the Coachella Valley to the surrounding mountains, including forests at more than 10,500 feet.

In 2000, local conservationists and community leaders worked with Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Palm Springs, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in passing legislation recognizing the vast wilderness area.

Something for everyone preserved in the Mojave

Trevor Summons, Correspondent
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Mojave yucca and barrel cactus.

"The main difference between a national preserve and a national park is that on a preserve you can hunt, mine and graze," said Anne Maasberg, a visitors use assistant for the last 2 1/2 years. "Providing you have all the right permits, of course."

At the headquarters of the Mojave National Preserve in Barstow, Maasberg and some 30 other staffers help to oversee this huge area of natural beauty, which is toward the eastern end of San Bernardino County.

"The preserve came out of the Organic Act of 1916," she continued. "It was introduced by President Teddy Roosevelt to `conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein."'

The size of the preserve is impressive - some 1.6 million acres. But to put it more graphically it covers all the land between the 15 Freeway and the 40 Freeway, from Zzyzx to just about the Nevada State line - a large piece of real estate. In fact, it is the third largest national preserve in the lower 48 states.

"Five or six years ago we added another piece to the preserve, just to the west of Primm," Maasberg said. "It's Clarke Mountain, and it has some unique features like white fir trees. Birders also like it out there very much."

There are a few residents within the area, and visitors are asked to respect their privacy while passing through. But there are no motels inside or gas stations. Being such a wild, open place, you must keep an eye on your water intake and supply, and also be careful not to get lost.

Scenery can look very different with changes of the light and also the direction you may be hiking. Temperatures can go up to 110 degrees in mid-July, so it's hot, hot, hot.

Camping is permitted in designated areas, and there are good sites at Hole-in-the- Wall. Providence Mountains, where the famous Mitchell Caverns are located, is another good site with all the necessary facilities. Costs are $12 per site per night.

As for wild animals, there are plenty. From the American Kestrel flying above to the pretty Kit Fox running below, there are a wide variety of species. Try to spot a Desert Tortoise, or a Bighorn Sheep. There are rattlesnakes, too, and the Colorado Desert Sidewinder, if you look carefully.

There are plenty of wildflowers and plants, too, but don't try and remove any, as it's an offense. The Mojave Yucca is all around - it can reach a height of 20 feet. Also, you'll spot the round barrel cactus plants.

If you're out hiking, or you keep the windows of the car rolled down, you will be able to smell the strongly scented Creosote Bush Scrub. These are said to be among the world's oldest living things, with some colonies in the Mojave Desert being 11,500 years old.

Roughly cutting the preserve in half from east to west is the Mojave Road. It was originally used by American Indians as a trading route before the Europeans arrived. Paiute, Mojave and Chemehuevi Indians guided the Spanish along it in the 1770s, and in the 1860s the U.S. Army improved the road and established outposts for the safety of travelers and supply wagons. The coming of the railroad in the 1890s removed the road's importance and allowed it to settle back into its natural state.

Traffic hurtles along the busy 15 and 40 freeways, and motorists may not be aware that what they are passing is a huge area preserved for everyone's benefit. But if you can make the time, try and stop, get out of the car, and just look at the scenery and listen to the quietness of it all.

June 20, 2008

Encountering the Integratron in the Mojave Desert

Out There Southern California

Three sisters take over the dome in Landers, where therapeutic 'sound baths,' time travel and who knows what else are said to be possible

By Scott Gold, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

If you set off one morning and drive into the desert, past swirling dust devils and Wile E. Coyote rock formations, and then you drive some more, all the way until the paved road ends, you might find yourself at the Karl sisters' place, where time travel might, or might not, be possible.

Here's Joanne Karl now, at 53, the oldest of the trio, striding across the compound. Today, she's all desert flower -- billowing dresses and sun-bleached tresses. Like the others, she's strayed from her roots.

The sisters grew up in the New York suburbs. Their father worked in plastics; Saturday meant the country club and Sundays meant church. They also had a whimsical mother who, at 79, has yet to acknowledge that questions have been raised about the existence of Santa Claus.

"Be bold," Jackie Karl told them time and again, "and mighty forces will come to your aid."

That, topped off with a collective case of wanderlust, helps explain how Joanne, Nancy and Patty Karl came to own 11 acres of unforgiving Mojave Desert moonscape -- and one 38-foot-tall, blindingly white dome called the Integratron.

Modeled after the Tabernacle that some believe was built by Moses and built atop an unexplained spike in the magnetic field, the place might, or might not, have been imbued with healing powers -- and that's not all. The dome's architect also believed that he could harness energy, creating what he called a "proprietary frequency" and distorting the space-time continuum.

The sisters want to give it a shot. If only they could figure out how to turn the thing on.

More than 1,000 devotees visit each year. About a third are musicians who record here, taking advantage of the wooden dome's unusual acoustics. Most, however, come to kind of be, and to undergo therapeutic "sound baths," which Joanne describes as "kindergarten nap time of the third kind."

"OK," Joanne says, climbing a steep ladder into the rotunda. "Here we go."

As you lie on the floor, Joanne begins to circle the rim of quartz bowls with a wooden pestle -- the same principle, she'll explain later, as when you used to wet your finger and "play" the rims of grandma's crystal glasses. "Take the deepest breath you've taken today," she says, tenderly.

The quartz begins to sing. Here's where the similarities to grandma's crystal end.

It's 105 degrees outside, and sunlight is streaming in through 15 windows ringing the rotunda. Somehow, it is not hot, not in here. The notes clash over your head, some in breathtaking harmony, some in startling dissonance. Just when you're starting to see patterns in the grain of the wood in the soaring ceiling, it's over.

There is silence, and no one moves. The acoustics are so good you can hear a man swallow from across the room. It has been either the shortest or the longest half-hour of your life.

"It's a cleansing," said David Williams, 48, reverently.

He's a recording engineer who recently underwent a sound bath; he's here to record an album for a Los Angeles band called Finn MacCool. "It's like you've had a massage -- but no one has touched you."

Southern California, of course, has no shortage of New Age gurus pleased to pump you full of herbs and plunk you in baths of minerals and shoot lasers into a variety of orifices, often with dubious results. And yet, somehow -- even way the heck out here in the wind-swept town of Landers, between Joshua Tree and Big Bear -- the Integratron draws a crowd.

A couple weekends ago, it was 60 emergency responders training in nonconfrontational mediation. Shortly before that, it was acupuncturists from Boston, who took a sound bath with needles sticking out of them.

The crowds are drawn in part by the perceived healing, but largely by the site's zany history, which starts with its architect, an iconoclast named George Van Tassel.

In the midst of a career in aerospace, Van Tassel effectively dropped out. In 1947, he leased four square miles of desert from the federal government and built an "Interplanetary Airport" and a tiny restaurant, famous for his wife's apple pie, near fabled Giant Rock, a seven-story-high boulder that has since split in two.

Van Tassel claimed to have been visited by aliens in 1952, and thousands began making pilgrimages to his "Spacecraft Conventions" in the desert. He said the aliens had imparted information regarding time travel and rejuvenation.

Van Tassel began building the Integratron. He never quite finished, however, and died in 1978. Everyone who had worked with him left immediately, Joanne said, and his diagrams and documents vanished. Someone even ripped out the copper coiling that was the heart of the purported time-traveling aspect of the dome.

The dome sat unused and forgotten until 1987, when two investors bought it and opened it to the public for the first time, though only on occasion.

The sisters, meanwhile, were spending an increasing amount of time in California, particularly Nancy and Joanne. Nancy had worked in dot-com marketing and Joanne in heart monitoring systems. But they were burned out and started running adventure retreats for professionals -- mountain treks, dolphin swims and desert outings.

The first time they visited the Integratron, they broke in. Knowing none of its history, they began visiting regularly. Often it seemed they were the only ones who ever came; sometimes they would arrive and a coffee cup they'd left on a fence post was in the same place they'd left it months earlier.

"When we were here, no one knew where we were or what we were doing," Joanne said. "It was like being on another planet."

They began to spruce up the place, planting pomegranates and plums, and Joanne and Nancy bought it with two other investors in 2000. (They won't reveal the price but say it was less than a typical house in Los Angeles.) Three years ago, they bought out their partners, and Patty, who still lives back East, became the third owner.

Since then, the sisters have learned more about the Integratron, though there is still plenty of mystery. They found an underground bunker, for instance, and old-timers in the area have suggested that there is more below ground on the property than is visible on the surface of the sand and gravel.

The big remaining hurdle is figuring out if they can do what Van Tassel never did: turn on the Integratron, spinning a system of spokes circling the dome, generating electricity, capturing it in wiring and -- probably not, but just maybe -- tinkering with time. If they can retrace his steps and rebuild the destroyed copper coil, they'll give it a shot, Joanne said.

Van Tassel claimed that the aliens had told him that humans were "remedial" -- and that the Integratron could extend life, allowing us to become better educated.

"I think we can all embrace that. People are starving. We are at war. We're morons," Joanne said, laughing. "Do I want to live to be 800 years old? Not really. But it would be fun to see what happens if we try."

Carlos Coyan of Rancho Cucamonga meditates as more than a dozen people gather at the Integratron in Landers for a "sound bath." "I would describe it as the fusion of art, science and magic," said co-owner Joanne Karl.

New Mexico 4-Wheelers - 50 Years Of Trail Riding

By Joan Wolf
4Wheel Drive & Sport Utility

An early trail ride of stock vehicles to view unusual rocks near Cabezon in 1958.

It's been an exciting 50-year ride for the Albuquerque, New Mexico-based New Mexico 4-Wheelers (NM4W). Incorporated in 1958, the original club name was Albuquerque Jeep Herders. However, the club was never restricted to Jeeps, and the name, New Mexico 4-Wheelers, was adopted in 1976. Regardless of name, the club has always been committed to fun, safe, responsible, and family-oriented off-highway adventure.

Twenty people attended the first Albuquerque Jeep Herders meeting held on August 6, 1958. The newspaper notice invited "all owners of vehicles with 4WD or rough-road capabilities."

One of the first club runs was to the Mt. Taylor area of the Cibola National Forest, 70 miles west of Albuquerque. It was September 1958, and four vehicles participated: a CJ-3, CJ-5, and two Willys Station Wagons. The off-highway section was a Forest Service road that wound up the mountains through pine forests and open meadows and ended at the La Mosca Peak fire lookout (elevation 11,038 feet). Those carburetors must have been well-tuned!

In 1959, a group of 22 vehicles hauling 64 people caravaned to the Gila Cliff Dwellings near Silver City, New Mexico. According to the trip report, the group "encountered a nearly perpendicular trail on the side of Copperas Peak that had been strewn with boulders by recent rains. They also had to ford the hubcap-deep Gila River 18 times before reaching the remote cliff dwellings. The club picked up three Fort Bliss, Texas, military men who were stranded in a pickup truck on the rocky route." This route is now paved all the way to the ruins.

Looking back, it seems that people did more with less. In a 1960 outing to the Rio Salado Valley near Socorro, New Mexico, the club newsletter reported, "Dr. Homer Musgrave's Jeep fell into a hole of quicksand, and it took a number of Jeeps to get it out. The Jeep Herders also pulled a deer hunter's car out of the sand." If winches were used, it wasn't mentioned.

Fifty years is a long time for any organization to carry on. What are the secrets to longevity? Alan Gilmore, now a Colorado resident, was an active member from 1983 to 1995 and a four-wheeler before and since. He says, "The club has always been conservation-conscious. We stayed on established trails and abided by the same rules on the trail as on the highway."

That meant no drinking, no shortcuts, and no racing.

None of the 1958 charter members still belong. Pat and Sue Brady, 22-year members, are the longest-standing current members. Why has the club remained intact for 50 continuous years? Pat explains, "We're nondenominational. Pickups, Suzukis, Rubicons ... it doesn't matter. We accept everybody. And we're dynamic. We like to do lots of different things, and we change. Members have been into sand drags and hard-core rockcrawling, but trail riding, easy to hard, has been the mainstay of the club."

As with any organization, there have been ebbs and flows. In 1983, the club was running out of steam. Alan remembers, "My wife Marty and I were in our 40s and were the youngest members age-wise. The charter members were getting older and driving on dirt roads, not trails."

After scouting for more challenging trails, Alan and Marty introduced the group to "new" areas including the Caballo Mountains in southern New Mexico. The Caballo Trail, on BLM land, is rated Hard and remains a club favorite. Caballo offers big rocks, shelf roads, and the history of Palomas Gap, a notch between mountains that allowed stage coaches to travel between New Mexico and Texas.

Over the past few years, the club has been stable at 70 members/families. The club strives to retain existing members and attract new members by offering a well-rounded schedule of activities. There are trail rides at varying levels of difficulty, campouts, and participation in outside events and the political arena.

Some runs that started in 1958 became club traditions. Christmas tree-cutting runs, "aspencades" to view fall colors, and summer events in the higher elevations of New Mexico and Colorado are mainstays. More recently started traditions include a "Chic Challenge" with women-only drivers, an annual trek up Mt. Blanca in Colorado, and a large attendance at the Chile Challenge in Las Cruces, New Mexico, every February.

Community service has been an ongoing club endeavor. In the early decades, the club organized toy drives and provided Christmas trees for the New Mexico Children's Hospital. There have been work days at a day-care center, assistance with search-and-rescue efforts, and cleanups of adopted forest trails and highway miles.

Road closures on public lands have been an ongoing concern. The meeting agenda for February 16, 1960, included "speakers discussing the state land-grab situation." The club spoke out against a Cibola National Forest proposal to regulate off-road-vehicle use in January 1976. And since 2007, the group has been heavily involved with the National Forest Travel Management Rule. To show support for keeping forest roads open to motorized vehicles, members attend meetings, write letters, and document routes. Members have even taken United States Forest Service staff members on field trips to show them routes to save.

NM4W was instrumental in the formation of the Southwest Four Wheel Drive Association (SWFWDA), currently comprising clubs from six states (New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri). In 1991, Alan took action on what had been talked about for years. He linked seven clubs to form SWFWDA. Alan says, "We needed a bigger voice to fight trail shutdowns. A regional group would wield more influence with the United Four Wheel Drive Association and the government."

A series of events are planned throughout 2008 to celebrate the 50-year milestone. The club will rerun some early trails, participate in a show 'n' shine, perform community service, and host a reunion picnic. A photo book showcasing club vehicles through the decades is being compiled by member Justin Simenson.

From early rockhounding and photography trips in stock vehicles to today's typical rockcrawling in TJs with 35-inch tires, the focus remains fun and adventure. For 50 years, club members have enjoyed and promoted fun, responsible four-wheeling.

Lauri Rector, current NM4W president, comments, "What an amazing history this club has had. To look at things that were recorded in 1958 makes me realize how long this club has sustained itself and thrived as well. I think it's due to the camaraderie of club members. We share an interest in getting out there with our vehicles and seeing what nature has to offer."