July 31, 2008

Federal judge says cross can remain on San Diego's Mt. Soledad

ACLU says opponents may appeal the decision. The symbol is part of a federally owned war memorial

The cross atop Mt. Soledad in San Diego has been the subject of controversy for years. Groups advocating a separation of church and state have sought the removal of the cross, saying it's unconstitutional to have a religious symbol on public land. A federal judge has ruled that the cross can remain. Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

By Jia-Rui Chong
Los Angeles Times

A controversial cross on Mt. Soledad in San Diego can stay as part of a federally owned war memorial, a federal judge ruled.

"The court finds the memorial at Mt. Soledad, including its Latin cross, communicates the primarily nonreligious messages of military service, death and sacrifice," wrote U.S. District Judge Larry Alan Burns in his decision filed Tuesday. "As such, despite its location on public land, the memorial is constitutional."

An official with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents several of the plaintiffs in the case, including the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, voiced disappointment in the decision. Lawyers for the group had contended that including the cross in a government park violated the principle of the separation of church and state.

"If you want to put a cross on your front lawn . . . we will be the first to defend you," said David Blair-Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "When the government is sponsoring and endorsing the preeminent symbol of one religion, that's when we have a problem."

He said his side is discussing further legal action. An appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is "clearly on the table," Blair-Loy said.

William J. Kellogg, president of the Mount Soledad Memorial Assn. and grandson of one of the American Legion members who dedicated the cross in 1954, was pleased with the verdict. The association was not named in the lawsuit, but did not want the cross removed.

"The decision was based on the fact that it is clear it is a veterans memorial," Kellogg said. "That's what our association is all about." A cross has marked Mt. Soledad since about 1913, and the current concrete cross was dedicated in 1954 in memory of Korean War veterans, Kellogg said.

The lawsuits surrounding the cross began in the late 1980s when Philip Paulson, an atheist and Vietnam War veteran, sued the city of San Diego, which owned the Mt. Soledad property. In 2006, Congress passed a law taking the cross and the land on which it sits and giving it to the Department of Defense.

In his ruling Burns agreed that the cross is the preeminent symbol of Christianity, but said "it does not follow the cross has no other meaning or significance." He pointed to the exhibits on public beaches, such as Santa Monica's, where the group Veterans for Peace uses crosses in the sand to represent U.S. service members who died in Iraq.

The cross is also displayed "along with numerous purely secular symbols in an overall context that reinforces its secular message," the judge said.

Although walls with other religious symbols, such as the Star of David, have been added to the Mt. Soledad display, they are dwarfed by the large cross, Blair-Loy said. "It is a 43-foot cross on one of the highest points in San Diego," he said. "If the cross is not a religious symbol, I don't know what is."

Off-roading may end on state land around Phoenix

The Associated Press
Arizona Daily Star

PHOENIX — Off-roading could become a thing of the past on state trust land that surrounds the Phoenix area.

Because of dust, poor air quality and the potential loss of billions of dollars in federal road-building funds, the state is considering restricting or closing a large portion of trust land to motorized vehicles.

If it's approved, the Land Department's actions could effectively ban or limit dirt bikes, quads, Jeeps and all-terrain vehicles from a wide array of popular trails in Maricopa County and parts of Pinal County.

The areas affected by a possible ban include trails near Lake Pleasant and the White Tank Mountains, as well as Granite Mountain in Scottsdale, the Hassayampa River near Wickenburg, and Desert Wells near Apache Junction.

Off-roaders think there are other motives for banning their motorized activities.

"Some of the agencies, you have to wonder if their motive is to eliminate OHVs (off-highway vehicles) and maybe not dust control," said Mike Fissel, whose group, Jeep Expeditions, often takes days-long sightseeing trips into the desert.

"People like myself, the only reason we get outdoors is that we do have the ability to hop in our Jeeps and enjoy what the state, nature and God has given us," Fissel said.

"Without it, we are basically stuck on the freeways."

Off-roading has enjoyed tremendous popularity in Arizona.

According to some estimates, there are as many as 400,000 to 500,000 ATVs in the state, and the number of those participating has grown as much as 347 percent in the past decade.

Trying to control dust while allowing off-roaders to have fun has proved to be a challenge.

"We recognize that if all our lands were closed, that might be a problem," Deputy Land Commissioner Jamie Hogue said. "We have not come up with a final resolution."

U.S. review of snake's status could stall growth in Pinal

Tucson Region

By Tony Davis
Arizona Daily Star

Tucson shovel-nose snake.
Photo courtesy
Erik Enderson

The next place where development meets endangered species in Arizona could be Pinal County.

And the next pygmy owl could be a little-known but colorful snake subspecies that stretches a little longer than a foot.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says listing of the Tucson shovel-nosed snake as a threatened or endangered species may be justified.

Responding to a petition from Tucson's Center for Biological Diversity, the service announced Wednesday that it will start a review of the snake's status.

The service should decide whether to propose protection for the snake during the 2008-09 federal fiscal year, which starts in October, said service biologist Jim Rorabaugh.

"We find that the petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing" may be warranted, the service said this week in the Federal Register.

It's the desert scrublands along Interstate 10 and environs in Pinal County lying between Pima and Maricopa counties that the snake finds most hospitable.

Many of the same areas have also been targeted for future growth, particularly thousands of acres of state land near Picacho Peak, Florence and the Apache Junction area.

Pinal County is projected to grow from 313,000 people today to 600,000 by 2015.

The small town of Maricopa, lying within the snake's home range, is expected to grow from 4,855 people in 2004 to 350,000 by 2025.

One of the biggest areas in which the snake and development could compete is a 275-square-mile spread of state land south of Apache Junction where the State Land Department planned a major development.

Two-thirds of the proposed Superstition Vistas development lies within the snake's home range, the Fish and Wildlife Service says.

But State Land Department officials say they're willing to seriously consider a conservation plan that would balance growth in that area with land protection for the snake and nearly 20 other species.

This type of snake hasn't been seen in Pima County since 1979, when one was spotted in the Avra Valley near Avra Valley and Sanders roads.

It has been surveyed for the past few years in Central Arizona and been seen mainly in Pinal County, said Phil Rosen, a University of Arizona herpetologist who helped the Center for Biological Diversity to prepare the listing petition.

"It's already gone from most of Maricopa County," Rosen said.

The Southern Arizona Home Builders Association said in a statement, "The development industry is not surprised by this action by the radical Center for Biological Diversity, based on their track record of stopping growth at every opportunity.

"This issue is not about protecting species. It is simply another attack on property rights that ultimately increases home prices and property taxes for all residents of Pima County."

Rosen said the snake is almost certain to go extinct if some of this land isn't protected.

"If land is urbanized or turned into agriculture, the snake is gone," he said. "There aren't any snakes like this living in urban areas."

If the snake does get federal protection, that can mean federal reviews, delays, red tape and conservation requirements for new development that needs a federal permit to build in its important habitat.

Such reviews, lasting a few months to two years when the pygmy owl was listed as endangered, often lead to requirements that a developer set aside land on which an endangered species lives or could live.

Another option is for a landowner to seek a federal habitat protection plan, in which the owner would agree to set aside land for conservation in exchange for building on other land. The Fish and Wildlife Service can't require landowners to prepare such a plan, but owners are legally liable if their development is proved to harm or kill an endangered or threatened species.

That kind of plan is on the State Land Department's agenda for lands it owns in Pinal County that are potential homes for not just the shovel-nosed snake but the desert tortoise, the gray hawk, the yellow-billed cuckoo, the Chiricahua leopard frog, the Southwestern willow flycatcher and the pygmy owl, among other species.

It's going to get grant money to survey for these species on three large parcels.

Besides Superstition Vistas, they include lands lying between Interstate 10 and Highway 79, and the San Pedro River corridor in southeast Pinal county.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed recently to review the status of another local snake, the Mexican garter snake, to see if it should be listed as endangered. The Tucson Center for Biological Diversity filed suit last fall to spur that review along.

An aquatic, non-venomous snake that stretches about 15 inches, the Mexican garter was once a fixture along the Santa Cruz and San Pedro rivers.

Its fortunes have dwindled as the region's water supply dropped and the presence of such invasive species as bullfrogs and crayfish grew.

Source: Star archives

July 30, 2008

Moon Over Mojave


by Ken Layne
LA City Beat

White Trash Stonehenge.
Ken Layne.

Go north up the old Route 66 out of Victorville, past the biker saloon (FOR LEASE) and abandoned Old West antiques shops and the monstrous limestone-cement factory on the dry Mojave River, the chalky beige bluffs to your left, lush green cottonwood and alien tamarisk trees on the river bed, and you’re finally out of the Southland sprawl.

The river is underground, at this point, flowing under the alluvial sands, feeding the trees and reeds and just barely supporting the handful of houses and farms along its banks. Next to the junkyards and crumbling mobile homes, some unlucky speculators have built Custom Homes on highway-frontage lots. Brand new houses with the standard granite counters and stainless steel appliances and Pergo flooring, never lived in, just sitting here 50 feet off a forgotten highway that used to define America.

Seven months ago, when snow still covered the San Gabriels and Barstow still froze at night, I looked up and down this secret river for a decent place to call home. Nobody seemed to know the housing market had collapsed after a few wild years. Nothing was for rent, everything was priced for a boom that had long passed and was never real anyway. I chased weird leads: a century-old adobe on an alfalfa farm, mystery houses inside Mojave National Preserve that only existed on computer maps.

Kids and dog in the car, I finally investigate “Silver Lakes.” Here, alongside a thirsty little river that rarely appears above the desert sands, some jackass genius carved a pair of evaporation ponds, built a collection of comical boat slips around the fake shore, and lined it all with “lake view” residential lots. About a third of the houses are vacant, For Sale signs everywhere. The cracked-stucco strip mall restaurant lunch is inedible. A dreary windowless liquor store is doing good midday business. At the otherwise empty real-estate office, a woman with a bleach-blonde Mojave beehive hands over a single-spaced full-page list of houses for rent.

It’s an asphalt maze of terrible architecture – everything from faded 1970s ranch boxes to orange 1990s two-story “Moroccan” monstrosities hanging over the lot edges. I get lost in dead-end loops of vacant lots and desolate playgrounds of sun-blasted plastic. It’s a gloomy Philip K. Dick colony on Mars, a shoddily constructed replica of an American suburb back on Earth.

I drive out of Silver Lakes and shudder. That night, two local kids are murdered, “execution style,” at an abandoned World War II bunker up a dirt road from the weird suburb. The story will play out in the Victor Valley newspaper over many, many months:

Bodhisattva “Bodhi” Sherzer-Potter, a 16-year-old honor student who lived in Silver Lakes, and her 18-year-old boyfriend Cody Thompson, of nearby Apple Valley, were hanging out with other kids at the trash-strewn bunker, celebrating somebody’s birthday. Bodhi and Cody were the last kids left when two psychopaths from “down the hill” showed up, dragged the doomed lovers into the bunker, and shot them dead.

As usual, the killers had MySpace pages with the requisite self-portraits brandishing their guns, and within a few weeks they were both behind bars. A third kid was arrested as an “accessory.” A San Bernardino sheriff’s deputy had stopped by the party spot before the murders, and left the teenagers drinking in a desolate Air Force bunker because “none appeared intoxicated and no trespassing complaints had been filed against them.”

The bunker was built for Hawes Auxiliary Field, a World War II air station and an environmental catastrophe thanks to its deteriorated fuel tanks poisoning the groundwater. A mile south of Highway 58 on a gently rising sage bush slope, the bunker loomed like a white-trash Stonehenge.

After the murders, the parents in Silver Lakes protested until the Pentagon agreed to tear down the bunker. But it’s endangered desert tortoise habitat, so fencing would have to go up, to prevent any tortoises from wandering into the demolition zone – a demolition that would be performed without explosives so as not to bother the tortoises. A wildlife biologist would be on the scene until the job was complete.

Late July on a 105-degree afternoon, I drive up the dirt road from Silver Lakes, discovering a Lockheed stealth test site along the way, its distant runway and giant hangars and weird pylons protected by chain-link and dozens of menacing NO TRESPASSING signs. Just before the 58, a pile of old tires points the way to the party bunker. I follow the jeep trail to another pile of tires marking the entrance. But the bunker is gone, wiped off the desert floor. There’s a wide circle of bulldozed and smoothed-over sand, patches of beer bottle shards glimmering in the white sun, pink shotgun shells pressed into the dirt here and there. No fence, no memorial, nothing to mark the scene beyond the pitted concrete rectangles set in the desert at 60-degree angles, in a loose circle around the half-mile site. I walk across the scraped desert site, wondering where, exactly, the two kids were murdered, for no reason at all, in a cold concrete pit somewhere beneath this ground.

The Air Force wants to renovate this old Army Air Field, for the new generation of robot war planes, those high-altitude drones often mistaken for alien spacecraft over the Mojave and, these days, over Iran.

July 29, 2008

Con: Department of Power should use existing lines and find alternative energy solutions


by April Sall
Special to The Desert Sun

Green Path North is a proposed power corridor of 500-kilovolt transmission lines that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wants to carve through pristine desert and desert communities.

LADWP claims that these transmission lines are necessary to bring renewable energy into the urban city to “diversify their energy portfolio.” Development of renewable energy resources including geothermal, solar and wind, should be our highest priority to replace fossil fuels. However, for LADWP to destroy pristine desert and conservation lands in the process, including condemnation of private property, is not a “green” way to go about it. I further disagree that LADWP needs to own its own transmission lines, when there are existing corridors that were established through years of focus and study and could be the shared with other utilities.

Save the canyons

As a third-generation resident of a canyon, I have been fortunate to have an intimate connection to a wild place that is integral to our family heritage. The place is in our bones and is where they will someday rest.

Pipes Canyon was established as the first preserve for The Wildlands Conservancy and protected 8,000 acres of pristine desert-mountain habitat and wetlands. After returning from college in Northern California and working as a biologist for the National Park Service, I accepted a position for conservancy as preserve manager of the Pipes Canyon Preserve.

LADWP threatens this land dear to our community with a new transmission corridor that will unnecessarily devastate us. There are other alternatives we have offered to LADWP, but so far their ears have been deaf to us.

The proposal for this new corridor lacks any detail as to how much renewable energy will come over the line, as well as how and by whom the mixture of renewable and dirty power will be monitored.

Threat of eminent domain

The route through desert communities, branded with LADWP survey markers until recently, traverses 30 miles of private property. Thus, unwilling sellers like homesteaders and conservation nonprofits like the conservancy could see their hard-earned properties condemned under eminent domain.

The project threatens conservation lands creating a potential breach with the public trust. Lands set aside for protection with private or public monies would be unnecessarily impacted for this project. Current and future generations would lose the benefits of these pristine lands established for managed recreation.

More innovative strategies

LADWP does not need to look hard nor far to see more innovative strategies to tap into renewable energy. Forward-thinking cities, including Palm Desert, have backed programs for home owners to go solar with low-cost loans paid back through property taxes. Los Angeles can meet its renewable energy needs without over stepping its bounds and devastating conservation lands under the misleading project name of Green Path North.

April Sall is preserve manager of the Pipes Canyon and Mission Creek Preserve for The Wildlands Conservancy and chairwoman of the California Desert Coalition, a nonpartisan citizen advocacy group created to stop the current Green Path North. www.cadesertco.org

Pro: Transmission line is needed to tap the vital geothermal energy of the Salton Sea


by H. David Nahai
Special to The Desert Sun

I would like to take this opportunity to set the record straight on the Green Path North Project — why it is necessary and where we stand.

There has been much discussion in the local media and among citizens of the desert communities, speculating that the city of Los Angeles plans to forge a “path of destruction” through this pristine desert, taking and devaluing properties, damaging the economy and shattering scenic vistas.

These charges are unfounded and not our intentions.

Let me first say that this project is still in its infancy.

On Saturday, July 19, we came together with the community in the first of many meetings to listen to your concerns and consider your input.

We have not yet even embarked on the rigorous environmental planning process, which will entail extensive public outreach and opportunity for public comments as required by the National Environmental Protection Act and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Careful environmental review

Through the environmental planning and review process, the various conceptual alignments for Green Path North will be evaluated; some will fall out because they are infeasible while new potential routes may emerge.

Moreover, the technology options will also be weighed, such as opportunities to underground portions of the line and other alternative circuit configurations.

Our goal is to access vital geothermal energy in the Salton Sea.

Utilities throughout the state of California are now required by law to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by generating energy using fossil fuels, such as dirty coal power, and to increase the amount of renewable energy.

Geothermal is critical

Geothermal energy is crucial to meeting these goals, because it provides power continuously and can be relied upon to replace coal as “base load” generation.

This cannot be said of solar or wind power, which are intermittent resources. Furthermore, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is pursuing aggressive energy-efficiency and solar rooftop programs within Los Angeles to curb our greenhouse gas emissions, along with a multitude of renewable energy projects throughout the western region.

However, none of these initiatives can replace geothermal energy needed.

Searching for the best route

We do not yet know what the best route and the best configuration will be.

At the outset, we have pledged to minimize impacts on the environment and on local communities as much as possible.

We believe the best project will emerge as we proceed with the rigorous environmental planning process.

It is my sincere hope that we can work together in a meaningful and productive way to achieve the best possible solution.

David Nahai is chief executive officer and general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Reach him at Joseph.Ramallo@ladwp.com.

Woman lost in Mojave National Preserve

Special to the Times
Quartzsite Times

Maria Pomona Cruz Estrada

A woman from the Philippines who was visiting relatives in the Blythe area, has been reported missing.

Maria Pomona Cruz Estrada, 66, was last seen on June 7, 2008. Estrada and a companion were hiking in the Mojave National Preserve in the area of Fort Piute, west of Laughlin, Nev. The two separated around 6 p.m. the same evening and she was last seen in a ravine west of Fort Piute.

Estrada was last seen wearing blue jeans, a long sleeve white shirt, an orange bandana, white althletic shoes and a baseball hat with "San Luis Obispo" written on front.

She is described as an Asian female, 5'3", weighing 128 lbs. She has black eyes and brown hair.

The San Bernardino Sheriff's Office began a search using helicopters, dog teams and on foot.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Deputy Travis Vessells, SBSD Colorado River Station at (760) 326-9200 or Sheriff's Public Affairs at (909) 387-3700 or email to corv-detectives@sbcsd.org.

Forest Service pulls Smokey Bear ad

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Smokey the Bear was unfair.

The Forest Service said Tuesday it has canceled a public service ad in which the iconic bear warned that sparks from off-road vehicles could start a wildfire.

Off-road groups had complained that the ad sent the wrong message that riders operating ATVs in a legal manner can start forest fires.

"The mutual goal of the Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters and the Ad Council is to spread Smokey's enduring message of preventing wildfires to all forest users," the Forest Service said in a statement Tuesday.

Because the ATV ad was interpreted as unfairly targeting off-road riders, the Forest Service has requested that TV stations and other media outlets that had broadcast the ad discontinue it, the Forest Service said.

The BlueRibbon Coalition, an Idaho-based group that advocates for off-road vehicles, hailed the ad's withdrawal.

"I honestly believe the agencies had intended to create a positive message regarding safe use of ATVs on public lands," said Don Amador, the group's Western representative.

Whatever its intent, the ad "incorrectly conveyed to the ATV rider that the best way for them to prevent wildfires was to stay at home. Instead, the ad should have encouraged the use of Forest Service-approved spark arresters and limiting travel to approved routes and areas," Amador said.

Forest Service officials said the ad was not intended to imply that all ATV use causes fires — rather that fire prevention is always important, especially at a time of high fire danger.

The Forest Service supports responsible use of ATVs on public land, said Jim Bedwell, the agency's director of recreation. ATV riders must use spark arresters — which restrict sparks from escaping an exhaust system — when operating off-road on public lands.

July 28, 2008

Had Enough Of Eco-Lobby's Energy Prices?


Investor's Business Daily

The dramatic escalation in the price of oil — a 40% spike just this year — has many Americans in a heightened state of anxiety.

Not only are soaring gas prices causing shock and fear at the household level, but commercial heavy fuel users such as trucking, shipping, and airlines are significantly reducing services, laying off workers, and increasing fares. For consumers, this means much higher prices for all goods and services.

With natural gas prices also climbing, utility companies are raising rates, some by as much as 29% beginning July 1. This is on top of the 30% rate increase consumers have paid over the past five years.

Yet, for all the uneasiness over super-heated oil prices, which some analysts have predicted will reach $200-a-barrel by year's end, both consumers and business leaders seem bewildered at the state of their predicament.

When they ask why oil prices are so high, the usual answer they receive — as a leading newspaper recently reported — is "higher demand, the falling dollar and lots of new investors." That's true, but not something people can do much about.

But there's another major reason that oil and gas prices are off the chart, and it's one that's not being talked about enough. And most importantly, should Americans choose to change it, we could positively impact the high price of oil.

For more than a half century, the increasingly powerful and wealthy environmentalist organizations have used laws like the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to impose a harsh, uncompromising regime on the nation's economy, on families' pocketbooks, and on every resident's quality of life.

Their frequently unfounded and typically exaggerated claims of countless species of plant and wildlife becoming extinct unless human endeavors are halted or severely curtailed underlies their ultimate goal of returning major portions of the country to an imagined pristine state. The sharp run-up in oil and gas prices is their "perfect storm" for accomplishing that goal.

Consider that in the 1980s the U.S. Geological Survey estimated some 17 billion barrels of recoverable oil lie under the 1.5-million acre Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. One million barrels of oil produces 27 million gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel; here there are potentially 17 billion barrels.

Many urged drilling in ANWR to capture this oil and natural gas. With modern drilling technology, only about 2,000 surface acres would be required to recover the oil and natural gas under the Coastal Plain. But the environmentalist organizations began a "no drilling in ANWR" PR campaign, claiming that wildlife species such as the porcupine, caribou, arctic wolf, polar bear and others were on the brink of oblivion, and would be lost forever if drilling occurred.

Several bills to allow extraction of this oil and natural gas were presented in Congress over the past 20 years, but each was either killed or vetoed. Nor was there scientific evidence supporting the claim that any of the wildlife species were even close to the brink of extinction.

Besides ANWR, the U. S. Mineral Management Service has estimated as much as 19 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie under the Atlantic, Pacific and Florida Gulf coasts.

But since a 1981 congressional moratorium on drilling from three to 200 miles offshore and a 1990 reinforcement of the ban by the first President Bush, the environmentalist lobby has killed all efforts to reinstate such drilling. They point to old oil spills from off-shore oil drilling that killed birds and other marine wildlife.

But consider that with new off-shore drilling technology, even Hurricane Katrina's major wallop was unable to cause oil spills from any of the numerous drilling platforms operating in the Gulf of Mexico.

As a result of the environmental lobby's years of influence in the nation's capitol, two-thirds of the oil used today in the United States is imported from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Iraq, Algeria, Angola and Russia.

With natural gas traditionally imported from Venezuela, Iran and Russia currently terminated, the U.S. is relying on countries like Angola, Yemen, and Algeria for this critical commodity. This dependence puts us in an uncomfortable, if not precarious, national security position.

If increased demand for a product drives its price up, then increasing the supply will drive its price down. The vast oil and natural gas supplies within the U.S. can be tapped with little environmental harm to the land or wildlife species.

It will happen whenever the American people are ready to tell the hard-core environmental lobby and its congressional followers: "Enough is Enough!"

Stirling is vice president of Pacific Legal Foundation, a nationwide public interest legal organization working in the courts to defend private property and environmental balance. He is author of the new book, "Green Gone Wild — Elevating Nature Above Human Rights."

July 26, 2008

Abandoned mines pose 'ominous' threat, report finds

Bureau of Land Management workers were warned by supervisors to ignore any problems at the sites, the Interior Department inspector general says

By Vimal Patel, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

A Suzuki Samurai is hoisted out of an open mine shaft in March 2006. DOI OIG.

WASHINGTON -- Abandoned mines in California, Arizona and Nevada have "ominous" potential for causing more deaths, and government supervisors have ordered staffers to ignore the problems, according to a new report by the Interior Department's inspector general.

Based on visits to more than 45 abandoned mines, the report concludes that dangerous levels of contaminants such as arsenic, lead and mercury are present at sites easily accessible to the public.

It also says that several adults and children have fallen to their deaths in abandoned mines that often remain uncovered.

"The potential for more deaths or injuries is ominous," the report states. The office said a "limited search" of accident records showed that 12 people were killed at abandoned mines from 2004 to 2007.

"Growth of the population and use of off-road vehicles in the West will increase the likelihood of additional deaths or injuries," the report says.

It states that Bureau of Land Management supervisors, apparently worried about liability and cost, told staff members to ignore these problems and that employees "were criticized or received threats of retaliation" for identifying contaminated sites.

The bureau declined an interview but released a statement Friday in response to a question from The Times.

"Threats or intimidation of employees will not be condoned or tolerated," the statement said. "In any specific case where the BLM management is made aware of such allegations, we will act to investigate and address the matter."

It added: "The BLM accepts the recommendations and will work diligently to implement them."

The National Park Service, which also is responsible for managing abandoned mine sites, declined to comment Friday afternoon, stating that officials had just begun to look at the report, which was released late Thursday.

"They couldn't state it more frankly that there's an urgent need for action," said Velma Smith, manager of the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining, which has been urging lawmakers to pass legislation to address mine health and safety concerns. "They have a greater responsibility in light of this report."

The hard-rock mining industry for minerals such as gold, silver and lead is largely governed by the General Mining Law of 1872, which created a process for the public to explore, claim and mine public lands.

The legislation was meant to promote settlement of the West. Advocates of change see the law as outdated.

"We're talking about a toxic legacy of older mining when there weren't any environmental regulations," said Mike Thornton, mining project community organizer for the Sierra Fund, based in Nevada City, Calif. "Certainly, the environmental regulations that are in place now would have went a long way to prevent this disaster we're currently in from happening."

Congress in 1976 passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which improved federal management of mining and its safety and environmental effects.

However, historical mining activity left "hundreds of thousands of unmitigated abandoned mine sites," according to the report.

It's unclear exactly how many abandoned mines exist. The California Department of Conservation estimates about 47,000 in the state. Some estimates put the number nationwide as high as 500,000.

The inspector general's report says that several employees informed investigators about "threats against their careers" for reporting abandoned mine sites. One employee was told by a field office manager not to identify abandoned mine sites because it distracted from other land management activities.

"Another employee stated that putting sites on an inventory was more detrimental to BLM than leaving them off, because listing them acknowledged a hazard and therefore created a potential liability," the report states.

The report says that abandoned mines pose dangers including deadly gases, asphyxiation, collapsing walls, explosive and toxic chemicals, and rotting structures.

It recommends temporary measures such as more fencing and signs and more costly permanent measures including adding steel and concrete covers.

In 2006, the report states, BLM identified dangerous levels of arsenic contamination at the Rand Mining District near Ridgecrest, Calif. -- levels thousands of times higher than recognized as safe by the EPA.

"BLM had known about this potential contamination for decades but had never taken samples to assess the danger to the public," the report says. "We confirmed these serious environmental hazards and also found numerous physical safety hazards. These hazards were endangering the residents of Randsburg and Red Mountain as well as thousands of off-road-vehicle recreationalists who routinely visit the area."

But the cleanup of the district alone could exceed $170 million. A nationwide cleanup could cost $50 billion, according to Smith, of the Pew campaign.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would require mining firms to pay a 4% royalty on existing mining operations and 8% on new ones, with the revenue going to an abandoned-mine cleanup fund, but the bill stalled in the Senate after the House passed its version.

"Bottom line: This report is a clarion call to action," Feinstein said in a statement. "We need to move swiftly [to] clean up these abandoned mines."

Two agencies blamed for dangers at old mines

Audit: Park Service, BLM failing to clean, close sites

by Ginger D. Richardson
The Arizona Republic

Seth Johnson looks down into the mine shaft behind a makeshift memorial marking the site where two sisters fell into a 125-foot-deep abandoned mine shaft while driving their all-terrain vehicle in Chloride, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

The federal government put the public at risk by failing to clean up and close off abandoned mines in Arizona, California and Nevada.

That is the conclusion of a 42-page, blistering audit released Friday by the Department of Interior's inspector general.

Western mines have "dangerously dilapidated structures, serious environmental hazards and gaping cavities," according to the report, which also said that unsafe levels of lead, arsenic and mercury were found at sites easily accessible to the public.

At least 12 people died in abandoned-mine accidents from 2004 to 2007, according to the report, which specifically mentioned the death last year of 13-year-old Rikki Howard, who was killed when the ATV she was riding plunged into a Kingman-area mine shaft. Her sister was seriously injured. The shaft is surrounded by federal property, and the Bureau of Land Management maintains a campsite nearby.

The report focused exclusively on those mines under the jurisdiction of the BLM and the National Park Service.

Inspectors visited 45 areas in the three Western states from March 2007 to April 2008, including those near Kingman, Wickenburg, Octave, Quartzsite, Vulture and the Grand Canyon.

There are estimated to be 100,000 mine sites in Arizona.

At the Arizona sites, federal investigators found open shafts, inadequate fencing and signs, unrestricted access to open mines, safety hazards because of deteriorating structures and, in some cases, high levels of radiation.

Steps had been taken to mitigate the danger at only one of the two Grand Canyon sites: the so-called Orphan Mine on the South Rim Trail.

"The potential for more deaths and injuries is ominous," the report said.

The inspector general's audit ultimately concludes that the BLM's program for dealing with abandoned mines is "ineffective" and recommends establishing a specific line item in the budget for the abandoned-mine program, as well as the employment of experienced and trained staff.

The report also says the BLM should issue a clear policy statement that forbids retaliation against employees who identify or report abandoned mines. The audit said it is "disturbing" that some would-be whistle-blowers were criticized or threatened if they documented such locations.

The BLM, which administers more than 12 million acres of public land in Arizona, issued a lengthy statement in its own defense Friday, in which it called its abandoned-mine program "highly effective."

"Considerable progress is being made to address the program priorities of water-quality restoration and elimination of physical safety hazards," the statement said. The BLM added that from 2000 to 2007, it had inventoried 5,500 abandoned-mine sites and had mitigated safety hazards at "many" of them.

Conservationists lauded the inspector general's report, saying it underscores the need for mining reform and the need to dedicate a funding source for cleanup.

The Environmental Protection Agency and other groups have estimated mine-cleanup costs to be anywhere from $52 billion to $72 billion.

"The real culprit, in our opinion, is that there is no royalty in place to fund abandoned-mine reclamation," said Alan Septoff, research director at Earthworks, a Washington, D.C.-based mining watchdog organization. "There is no dedicated funding source."

Others renewed their call for an overhaul of the General Mining Act of 1872, which was designed to promote the search for valuable minerals and the settlement of the West. The law, as written, contains minimal requirements for remediation of mine sites.

"Hazards like these exist because the outdated 1872 mining law does not have adequate cleanup positions," said Velma Smith, manager for the Pew Campaign for Responsible Mining. "This report shows a real-world need for mining-law reform."

The House of Representatives last year passed revamped mining legislation that includes more stringent environmental protections for mined land and requires miners to pay royalties for the gold, copper and other minerals they extract. The proposal has stalled in the Senate.

July 25, 2008

Report: Abandoned Mines Threaten Health, Safety

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post

Sam Layne, abandoned mine supervisor, looks over a derelict mine shaft in the Arizona desert off U.S. Highway 60 between Florence Junction and Superior. Layne said plans are underway to fill in the shaft.

Thousands of dangerous and deteriorating mine shafts scattered across California, Arizona and Nevada contain unhealthy levels of arsenic, lead and mercury, according to a report from the Department of Interior inspector general.

Inspectors said they visited about 45 federal parks and conservation areas with abandoned mines between March 2007 and April 2008 and found the lands to have "dangerous physical safety and serious environmental hazards."

"The potential for more deaths and injuries is ominous," the report said, because of population growth and the use of off-road vehicles.

The report cited several problem spots within the lands operated by the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service, including a dilapidated, two-story concrete building at the American Flat Mill site, near the town of Virginia City, Nev., that is "extremely dangerous" and a known "party hangout" for local teens; thousands of open mine shafts near the Windy Point Recreation Area in Kingman, Ariz., where a 13-year-old girl died after falling into a 125-foot mine shaft over Labor Day weekend; and acidic water found at the Caselton Tailings site, near the town of Panaca, Nev., that reportedly can burn human skin on contact.

Inspectors also found health and safety problems at Death Valley National Park and the Mojave National Preserve in California; and Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona.

Several Department of Interior employees also alleged that supervisors at the Bureau of Land Management told them to ignore abandoned mine shafts that lacked fencing or warning signs and criticized employees for trying to identify contaminated sites, the report said.

Matt Spangler, a spokesman for the Bureau of Land Management, released a statement saying the agency "worked closely with the IG audit team over the last year in examining the complexities and challenges that land management agencies face in addressing hard rock abandoned mine lands (AML) impacts. The BLM accepts the recommendations and will work diligently to implement them."

Spangler noted that between 2007 and mid-year 2007, officials inventoried 5,500 sites and fixed physical safety hazards at 3,000 sites.)

The Department of Interior, acknowledging its mining safety program has been underfunded, said it has undertaken "temporary or interim measures" to mitigate hazards while "seeking additional funding to complete the needed remediation," according to the report.

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration identified 33 abandoned mine deaths between 1999 and 2007 in the western United States.

In response to the report's findings, the Department of Interior and lawmakers recommended posting more warning signs and building fences to ward off visitors to dangerous mine shafts and installing sprinklers and temporary covers to reduce air and water-borne contamination at environmentally contaminated sites.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said the report "paints an abysmal picture" of the efforts done to fix abandoned mines.

"It captures a snapshot of agencies that are failing to oversee abandoned hardrock mines, allowing these scarred properties to pose real and serious threats to the health and safety of Americans," Rahall said.

The committee held hearings last year to reform the Hardrock Mining Law of 1872, which regulates the bevy of mines built as gold, silver, copper and lead production in the West picked up steam in the 1850s.

Other environmental issues have been raised about old mines. Judy Pasternak of the Los Angeles Times wrote an award-winning series of articles in 2006 about the health problems caused by abandoned government uranium mines on Navajo land in the West.

July 23, 2008

Locals boo Green Path, Los Angeles power manager

By Rebecca Unger
Hi-Desert Star

Some at Saturday's public meeting at Yucca Valley High School appeared to support utility General Manager David Nahai's idea of burying underground power lines, others booed and heckled him. Jennifer Bowles / The Press-Enterprise

YUCCA VALLEY — It was a tough room for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power General Manager David Nahai and his coalition of Green Path North boosters Saturday. The multipurpose room at Yucca Valley High School was overflowing with a wide cross-section of Hi-Desert citizens who had come to let Los Angeles know what they thought about an energy corridor proposed to cut through 85 miles of Morongo Basin homes and habitats.

The path through the Hi-Desert is one of six Nahai said is being explored by his department to get geothermal energy from the Salton Sea into Los Angeles.

“We need to access geothermal energy because global warming is a reality,” Nahai told the audience. “We’re putting too much carbon dioxide into the air.” Nahai said the Department of Water and Power must reduce its reliance on coal and other non-renewable energy sources, as mandated by California legislation in the Senate and Assembly.

By 2020, the state will require all utilities to be getting 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Los Angeles has set even more ambitions goals.

In solidarity with his cause were the executive director of the Southern California Public Power Authority, who brought along representatives from member cities Burbank, Glendale, Riverside and Banning and the Imperial Irrigation District.

“We are at the forefront of a national debate that pits environmental values against each other,” opined Nahai, who seemed to draw a distinction between the global environmental good served by renewable energies and the local environmental good.

Nahai said his purpose in coming to Yucca Valley was to address the Basin’s speculations and suspicions about the project, as well as the “myth that L.A’s not doing its part.”

But when California Desert Coalition chairwoman April Sall was given her chance to talk, she told Nahai, “There is a way to do this better.”

She told Nahai her organization appreciated the opportunity to talk over Green Path alternatives, “But David, you and the department need to understand the department has a reputation for steamrolling smaller communities, and we have a lot to protect and a lot to fight for here.”

Nahai came under attack almost immediately once public comments got under way. Some of the participants took the opportunity to vent at the general manager, but others asked serious questions, searching for details about the project.

When Eldon Hughes, of Joshua Tree, asked if the LADWP’s new application to the Bureau of Land Management rescinded earlier requests for a right-of-way through Morongo Valley, Nahai would only say his agency’s application “superseded” a previous one.

A Pioneertown resident asked about the percentage of energy Los Angeles receives from a nuclear power plant in Arizona. Nahai was quick to answer that while Los Angeles gets 8 percent of its total energy load from the nuclear plant, none of that would be coming through Green Path.

Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency Director Duane Lisiewski took the LADWP to task for a project where “only L.A. benefits, we get nothing, and it will destroy the value of my home.” Nahai defended the project, saying, “It’s just wrong that only L.A. will benefit” by a project that will cut greenhouse emissions.

Bill Boyce from Yucca Valley observed, “There appears to be very little respect for us. You’re asking us to pay the differential in our quality of life.”

A retired electrical engineer used a large sketch pad to illustrate some problems he saw with using the Salton Sea as Green Path’s geothermal source. “Steam comes from water pumped in,” he explained. “Money should come back to rebuild the Salton Sea, and it can be refilled by the Sea of Cortez. You would use less Colorado River water. Desalination plants would create jobs, and it could be an oasis.”

Nahai called the Salton Sea’s potential geothermal resource “God’s gift.”

“Electricity seeks the path of least resistance,” said crowd-pleasing speaker Scott McKone. “These routes are the path of most resistance — the people’s resistance!”

One of the concerns was about the cumulative affects of Green Path and several other energy projects with applications into the BLM. “Your project is one of many that will impact our desert, ”said a man identified as Roger of Lucerne.

Nahai contended if Green Path’s lines went through heavily urban areas instead, the LADWP would have to use eminent domain to seize thousands of homes and businesses.

Nicole Panter of Twentynine Palms urged those present to “remember Owens Valley.” She soon created the crowd’s rallying cry: “What’s in it for us?”

As more speakers described the LADWP and by extension Nahai as untrustworthy and disingenuous, Nahai appeared to be losing his earlier cool. “I didn’t have to come here today,” he said, prompting a chorus of sarcastic groans. “I came for constructive comments.”

The final jab came from William Hampton at the back of the room: “How dare you come here and upset all of these people? We don’t want it!”

July 21, 2008

More Bad News for the Global Warmers


By Michael R. Fox Ph.D.
Hawaii Reporter

The issue of global warming rages on is some minds. Remarkably, there really hasn’t been much of a debate, not a serious science debate anyway. There have been shouting and screaming, predictions of doom, and the willingness to destroy our energy sources and our economy to “save the planet”. But as P.J. O’Rourke noted, there are a lot of people who would do anything to “save the planet”, except take a science course.

While there hasn’t been a true debate, there has been a hugely one-sided angry monologue, heaping scorn upon those who dare ask for evidence. The one side has been heavily funded by the government, foundations, and individual contributions. The so-called “warmers” have enjoyed the unstinting support of a scientifically illiterate media, the movie industry, and many institutions that have been on the receiving end of an estimated $5 billion annually for nearly 2 decades. That will buy a lot of supporters, Ph.Ds or not.

They have also received a great deal of support from the public school systems, many of which require the student viewing of the latest, mostly discredited, “warmists” scare stories. These are the organized educators of two generations of citizens who have been crippling the citizenry with declining math. and science skills. Too many educators regard the scare stories as received wisdom making the videos required viewing. Too few of the educators are apparently disposed to challenge the scare stories, utterly incapable of asking any hard questions, like “where is the evidence?”.

The world of science is moving quickly past these questionable events in an expanding universe of new evidence, which is showing that the current state of the global warming theory is in serious decline.

For example, the recent summary by Fred Singer and 22 expert contributors to “Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate” makes some extraordinary statements about computer models. (In addition to the many excellent contributors, this summary also contains 167 references to the scientific literature).

This is important since computer models are being improperly, yet extensively, used by state legislatures as the basis of policies for greenhouse gas mitigation, rather than using actual climate data taken from the real world. These statements include:

  • Computer models do not consider variations of irradiance and magnetic fields of the sun.

  • Computer models do not accurately model the role of clouds.

  • Computer models do not simulate a possible negative feedback from water vapor.

  • Computer models do not explain many features of the Earth’s observed climate.

  • Computer models cannot produce reliable predictions of regional climate change.

We must conclude that climate models used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), do not accurately depict our chaotic, open-ended, climate system. They cannot make reliable predictions and should not be used to formulate government policy.

As Christopher Monckton recently admonished, “We must get the science right, or we will get the policy wrong”. Many states such as Hawaii and Washington are well along the way of doing just that.

As a Washington State citizen who was born, raised, and educated in Olympia, with very strong scientific credentials, I am disheartened to see the state, as a matter of policy, muzzle science, terminate debate, and pretend “the science has spoken”. I am also frightened that State leaders would rely so heavily on such dubious computer models to formulate state environmental policies. Atmospheric physicist Jim Peden recently observed “Climate modeling is not science, it is computerized tinkertoys”. This doesn’t inspire confidence or respect in our state officials to formulate the best policies they can. They clearly are not.

In fact, state sponsored repression of science is reminiscent of the sacking of the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt. It is reminiscent of the Burning of the Books of Nazi Germany in 1933. It is reminiscent of some of those killed in the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia for the sin of wearing glasses, the user being perceived as being capable of reading, and perhaps, even thinking, unapproved thoughts.

What is the state of Washington trying to hide, trying to accomplish by suppressing science? Stopping science when it is politically convenient? Why teach science if it going to be ignored? Yes, I am ashamed of this type of leadership in my state. There is nothing to be proud of in such repression.

As Dennis Avery recently said, “Let’s have a real debate of the climate evidence. We’ve heard enough from the computers.”

Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., a science and energy reporter for Hawaii Reporter and a science analyist for the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, is retired and now lives in Eastern Washington. He has nearly 40 years experience in the energy field. He has also taught chemistry and energy at the University level. His interest in the communications of science has led to several communications awards, hundreds of speeches, and many appearances on television and talk shows.

July 15, 2008

Critics assail Green Plan North proposal

Transmission line's path may threaten several preserves

Mariecar Mendoza
The Desert Sun

COACHELLA VALLEY - Green Path North, a proposed transmission line that would funnel renewable energy from the Salton Sea area to Los Angeles and Orange counties, has some questioning exactly how "green" the project really is.

On July 19 in Yucca Valley, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power representatives are expected to meet with concerned residents and environmentalists about the up to 313 miles of power lines that would run through the Coachella Valley and Joshua Tree National Park, as well as Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

The project aims to construct and operate a high-voltage transmission line - possibly including underground lines - linking the Imperial Irrigation District's transmission system in the Salton Sea to LADWP's existing transmission line in the Hesperia-Victorville area.

The proposed line would have an initial capacity of 800 megawatts, which is enough to power more than 500,000 homes.

"We want to submit the project for public scrutiny and have a thorough airing of all of the options," said H. David Nahai, general manager of LADWP.

If approved, the project is expected to be completed by 2020.

According to the utility's report to the Bureau of Land Management, the Salton Sea is the "largest untapped geothermal resource in the state of California."

Geothermal energy derives from the liquid boiling more than a mile below the Earth's surface.

Steam from the boiling liquid tapped from below the ground is then transferred into turbines that transform motion into electricity.

Geothermal energy is thought to be more reliable than other renewable energy sources, experts say, since, unlike wind and solar resources, the steam can be tapped 24 hours a day.

April Sall, chairwoman of the California Desert Coalition and preserve manager for the Wildland Conservancy, said for years there has been a "geothermal grab" involving the Salton Sea.

Currently, at least three major companies have immediate plans for five new geothermal plants in the area.

The transmission line would require the construction of two new switching stations, one near Desert Hot Springs called Devers II and another in Hesperia.

Causing problems

A path for the line has yet to be chosen, but project planners have identified six routes.

Those routes, however, are troubling to local leaders, environmentalists and residents in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Riverside County Supervisors Roy Wilson and Marion Ashley said they have objections to the project they plan to discuss with the rest of their fellow supervisors during their board meeting today.

The two also plan on writing Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa a letter "letting him know our stance," Ashley said.

Among some of the supervisors' main concerns is the environmental impact of Green Path North on the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan, which aims to protect 27 endangered species.

"We are also very concerned and sympathetic with San Bernardino County, who took a stance again Green Path North going through the Joshua Tree National Park," Ashley said.

Those concerns are shared by other local environmental groups, including the Wildland Conservancy, who say the proposed routes threaten the following preserves:

Pioneertown Mountain Preserve: A 35,000-acre private preserve in a transition zone between the Sonoran and Mojave deserts.

Oak Glen Preserve: An area in the San Bernardino National Forest just above Beaumont that serves as the Wildland Conservancy headquarters and is the site of a historic apple orchard.

Mission Creek Preserve: A 2,200-acre area west of Highway 62 near Desert Hot Springs.

Initially, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power representatives assured Wildland Conservancy officials that a route through the national forest is not an option, Sall said.

"But now that route seems to still be in the recent proposal and there has been a lot of helicopter activity along that route," she said. "So that's discouraging and disappointing."

Sall, however, emphasized this is "not just about the removal of some trees."

"This is about designing an energy future that's responsible and has the least amount of impact on conservation land and public recreation lands," she said.

Sall added she and others against the project also are skeptical about the transmission lines because they fear the LADWP might use the path to link its nuclear power plant in Arizona to Southern California.

"The concern is that there will be more (of the non-green) nuclear (energy) than renewable (energy) coming over those power lines," Sall said.

Nahai's response is that the utility is "not contemplating putting that (nuclear) power on that line" at this time.

However, he also said "maybe, in the future, that could happen."

Another critical concern: Nearly 3,500 homes in the Colton, Fontana and Rialto areas of San Bernardino County could be affected.

Supervisor Dennis Hansberger, who represents that area, has publicly voiced his concerns about the project and the possible use of eminent domain to buy the property.

"We're not saying there would be the use of eminent domain, but it does require us to acquire property on that route," said Joe Ramallo, director of public affairs for the utility. "But we haven't even begun the environmental review at this point so it would be really premature to talk about eminent domain."

Project planners have not identified any threat to Riverside County homes at this time, Nahai said.

'Still very preliminary'

Should the project go through, those in opposition say they'll urge the utility to use existing corridors.

The "best alternative," Sall said, is sharing the Interstate 10 utility corridor currently used by Southern California Edison.

Edison officials said they were approached in late May and have had two meetings with LADWP representatives about the possibility.

But "everything is still very preliminary," said Sandi Blain, Edison's manager of project licensing for transmission and distribution.

"At this point, we're evaluating the information they gave us to see how that may or may not fit into that corridor," Blain said. "We're looking at our existing transition needs and that will tell us our possible next step."

Overall, Green Path North is a plan formed to meet state and local mandates to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, utility officials say.

And though the laws do not apply to publicly owned utilities, the LADWP Board of Commissioners has set a goal of getting 20 percent renewable energy by 2010 and 35 percent by 2020, Nahai said.

"I want to make sure we do the right thing," Nahai said. "At the same time, we have renewable resources in the Salton Sea area and we're trying to diversify from coal, so our commitment is to do that with the least possible environmental impact."

July 14, 2008

George B. Hartzog Jr., 88

Former Park Service director led expansion of nation's wildlife refuges, historic sites

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post

George B. Hartzog Jr. added 70 areas totaling 2.7 million acres, to the Park Service and expanded its reach in urban areas.

George B. Hartzog Jr., a former director of the National Park Service who led an unprecedented expansion of the nation's system of parks, wildlife refuges and historic sites and who helped secure passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, has died. He was 88.

A resident of McLean, Va., Hartzog died June 27 at Virginia Hospital Center of complications from diabetes and kidney disease.

In almost nine years as director, Hartzog used charisma, political savvy and deep knowledge of the nation's park system to broaden the scope of Park Service programs and to increase their popularity. He expanded the service's mission from wilderness conservation to make it the principal guardian of the nation's historic patrimony.

He added more than 70 areas to the Park Service, totaling 2.7 million acres, and doubled attendance at the nation's parks and historic sites.

"He was an empire builder," said Robert M. Utley, who was the Park Service's chief historian under Hartzog. "His vision fit right into Lyndon Johnson's Great Society ideas."

Except for the Park Service's founders, Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, Utley said, "I judge George Hartzog the greatest director in the history of the service."

Hartzog expanded the reach of the Park Service in urban areas, introduced programs for volunteers and inner-city youths and promoted living-history interpretations by park rangers, now standard at historic sites around the country. He developed the concept of cultural parks with the establishment of Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts.

In 1966, Hartzog was a key proponent of the National Historic Preservation Act, which increased the range of historically significant properties and created the National Register of Historic Places. The register is administered by the Park Service.

In 1969, when his budget was cut by President Nixon, Hartzog made a daring countermove: He closed all the national parks, including the Washington Monument and Grand Canyon, two days a week.

"It was unheard of," he told Parks & Recreation Magazine in 2005. "Even my own staff thought I was crazy."

As public outcry grew, Congress restored the funding.

Hartzog expanded opportunities for women and minorities. He appointed the first African American park superintendent and promoted women to top jobs. Stewart L. Udall, the former secretary of the Interior who named Hartzog the Park Service's director in 1964, once called him "one of the most inspiring leaders I worked with during my years in the federal government. . . . George Hartzog reminds us of the glories of public service and the legacies our best bureaucrats leave to future generations."

Hartzog was born March 27, 1920, in rural Smoaks, S.C. He grew up in poverty and was preaching in local churches by the time he was 16. When the family's farmhouse burned down, the Hartzogs had to survive on charity.

Hartzog attended Wofford College in South Carolina for one semester before dropping out to make a living. He worked in gas stations and hotels before taking a job as a clerk in a law office in Walterboro, S.C. In less than three years, he passed the state bar exam, without having spent a day in law school.

He served in an Army military police unit in World War II. He worked briefly at the Interior Department before joining the Park Service's legal office in 1946. In 1959, he landed in St. Louis as superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

While there, he was responsible for building one of the nation's most notable landmarks.

"It was Hartzog," John McPhee wrote in the New Yorker in 1971, "who took a set of plans that had been lying dormant for 15 years and built the great arch of St. Louis."

Not everyone was enamored of Hartzog's outsize personality, and some conservation groups thought he was too eager to build roads and houses in national parks. One person he couldn't please was Nixon. In 1972, Hartzog revoked a permit to use a private dock in Biscayne National Park in Florida. The permit was used by Bebe Rebozo, a close friend of Nixon's. The president promptly fired Hartzog.

For the remainder of his life, Hartzog practiced environmental law and spoke about issues facing the nation's parks. Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Helen; three children; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

July 13, 2008

Lane Mountain milk-vetch center of controversy between environmentalists and military

The Press-Enterprise

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch lives on land where the Army wants to expand its tank-training grounds north of Barstow. Special to The Press-Enterprise.

It's a wispy plant with cream to purple flowers that grows only in a small pocket of the Mojave Desert.

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch is also in danger of going extinct. And like the threatened desert tortoise, the plant lives on land where the Army wants to expand its tank-training grounds north of Barstow at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin. And like the lumbering reptile, the milk-vetch has become a sticking point between environmentalists and the military.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed last month to issue another critical habitat designation for the milk-vetch, a move that can restrict activities and development on land considered essential to the plant's survival.

The agreement was reached with the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a lawsuit against the federal wildlife agency after it decided the plant's habitat required no additional protection.

"That is basically biologically indefensible," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the center.

A member of the pea family, the milk-vetch is a perennial that grows through shrubs and helps nearby plants thrive in desert soils by converting nitrogen in the air into usable fertilizers, Anderson said. Much of the plant's habitat is threatened by off-road vehicles, mining and development.

In this case, a habitat designation would not affect training or the Army's expansion plans, said John Wagstaffe, an Army spokesman. Troops from across the country go to Fort Irwin for monthlong tank-training stints.

Like many military bases, Fort Irwin has a natural resources management plan that spells out how the Army will prevent harm to any endangered species, he said.

"We believe that we're OK here," Wagstaffe said.

Connie Rutherford, with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said no critical habitat was designated for the milk-vetch in 2005, partly because of concerns the accompanying maps would lead to vandals destroying the plants, or collectors picking them. Plus, she said, Fort Irwin's plan now sets aside two conservation areas for the milk-vetch and another area where no digging is allowed during training.

Anderson said those types of plans may conserve the plants that now exist but don't typically help a species to thrive and move off the endangered list like critical habitat is expected to do.

"Critical habitat identifies areas that federal biologists recognize as being essential for a species not to just survive, but to give them room to grow so they can recover," she said.

Endangered plant

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will take a new look at designating critical habitat for the Lane Mountain milk-vetch.

2010: Proposed decision due

2011: Final decision due

July 12, 2008

The History and Railroad Museum marks its arrival at the Santa Fe Depot in San Bernardino

The Press-Enterprise

Stan Lim / The Press-Enterprise
At the new San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum, members of the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society, from left, Don Sheets, Glen Icamberry, Tom Marek and Steven Shaw bring in two track inspection cars used by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1948. The society will help operate the museum.

When the Santa Fe Depot opened in 1918, it became the bustling center of a growing city, providing jobs to many and serving as a vital transportation hub.

The depot was bustling again Saturday as a large crowd took in a glimpse of the city's past with the opening of the San Bernardino History and Railroad Museum, timed to coincide with the depot's 90th birthday.

The museum, in the former baggage-handling room at the west end of the depot, features railroad memorabilia, historical photographs, refurbished horse-drawn carriages and model railroad replicas.

The Redlands Fourth of July orchestra played music as the crowd -- a mix of history buffs and residents with ties to the depot -- toured the museum. Outside, a minivan-sized locomotive replica circled the parking lot, giving rides to children.

"I love trains and I love this station," said Jack Brennan, a Yucaipa resident who reminisced about riding Amtrak's El Capitan line to Chicago from the depot in the early 1950s when he was in high school.

The opening of the museum is the latest step to make the depot more accessible to the public since a $15.6 million restoration of the building four years ago. At that time, the city began a fundraising campaign to help with the project that included a chance to have people put their names on commemorative bricks at the depot.

The first of those bricks -- ranging from 4 by 4 four inches to 8 by 16 inches for donations between $75 to $500 -- were unveiled Saturday outside the southern entrance of the depot.

Joyce Miller, a San Bernardino resident for 65 years, posed besides the brick that she purchased with her husband and daughter in memory of her mother Bunny Sonnichsen.

"It's nice to come and see the different names of people you know and have been here for a long time," she said.

San Bernardino Mayor Pat Morris said more improvements are planned for the depot, including a project to resurface the exterior of the building to eliminate cracks and landscape the parking lot. The city also hopes to bring back Santa Fe Engine 3751, an 80-year-old steam locomotive that was once based at the depot.

Morris jokingly made Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, raise his arm and pledge to help get funding to display the steam engine, a promise readily agreed to by Baca.

The San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society plans to have the museum open to the public Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

July 11, 2008

Arizona monsoon brings scattered rain to San Bernardino deserts and mountains

By Melissa Pinion-Whitt
San Bernardino Sun

A monsoon moving through Arizona dropped some rain on parts of the San Bernardino Mountains and desert cities Thursday, and more rain could come today.

Essex, an area west of Needles, measured .32 inches of rain between 7 a.m. Thursday and this morning, according to the San Bernardino County Flood Control District.

Other areas reporting rain in the same period were Morongo Valley, .14 inches; Fawnskin, .16 inches and Yucaipa, .12 inches.

A 40 percent chance of rain is expected in Twentynine Palms, surrounding desert areas and the San Bernardino Mountains today. The showers may move through the area as early as 11 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.

The chance of showers will continue tonight before 11 p.m. and decrease through the weekend.

Temperatures today will be 92 degrees in San Bernardino, 87 in Twentynine Palms and 78 degrees in Big Bear.

July 10, 2008

Federal Land Grab Update

Dangerous Time In Congress Next 30 Days
Until August 8th Recess

Land Rights Network
American Land Rights Association
Federal Parks & Recreation

  • Congress Often Rushes Bad Legislation While You Are Busy With Summer and Vacation Activities.
  • Your Congressman and both Senators may be home at times during the next month and later and will likely be home after August 8th for the month long Congressional August Recess.
  • You must make sure you call, fax and e-mail your Congressman and both Senators to get their July to September schedules for when they will be in your area. It is critical that you follow the directions below. Your private property rights are severely threatened.

During the month of July up to approximately August 8th both the House and Senate are expected squeeze in a lot of votes including votes on a number of land grab bills that threaten you. They rush to get bills out before the recess that would come approximately August 8th.

HR 2421 - "Clean Water Restoration Act"

During this time the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could vote on HR 2421, the Clean Water Restoration Act (Wetlands Corps of Engineers and EPA Land Grab) and it could move swiftly to the full House for a vote.

HR 2421 is the Democrat effort to overturn the Rapanos (2006) and Swancc (2001) Supreme Court Wetlands Decisions favorable to private property owners and seize control of all US watersheds.

HR 2421 would give control over Wetlands and other lands back to the Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and make their jurisdiction the same as it was before the Supreme Court limited their jurisdiction.

That means national land use controls. It will give the Corps of Engineers and EPA control over your property.

S3213 - Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2008

The Senate will likely vote before August on S3213 (new Omnibus Lands Bill just introduced), the giant new Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2008.

S3213 includes the dreaded BLM National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), numerous new Wilderness areas, Heritage Areas and many other Federal lands and parks bills put together as one giant omnibus bill.

Think of it as the Omnibus Federal lands, BLM NLCS and Wilderness Bill, S3213 or just Senate Omnibus Lands Bill. This Omnibus bill includes over 90 bills you have not likely seen.

The NLCS was created Administratively in 2000 by former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt. The NLCS has lain low for eight years until they could get Congress to pass it and make it permanent.

The NLCS will lay a preservationist National Park type regulatory overlay over 26,000,000 acres of BLM land including many National Monuments, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Wilderness Study Areas and much more. It threatens access and use by ranchers, miners, forestry advocates, recreationists and many other Federal land users.

These votes will come while you are busy on vacation or distracted by summer activities. There will be so many bills rushed to a vote that many Members of the House and Senate will not have time to even read them.

That means your friends in the House and Senate that you count on to keep an eye open to protect you could easily allow bills to pass that would threaten you and not be aware of it or have a bill of their own in the Omnibus Bill and not want to touch it. So they look the other way as bad bills pass.

You need to insist that your Senators and Representatives read each bill they vote on and protect you.

I cannot stress too strongly how critical your calls, faxes and e-mails are to your Congressman and both Senators during the coming four weeks opposing the Senate Omnibus Lands Bill (S3213) and HR 2421, the Wetlands Corps of Engineers EPA land grab in the House....

The following bulletin from Federal Parks & Recreation newsletter reports on the giant new Federal Lands Omnibus Bill in the Senate.

From Parks and Recreation Newsletter:

New Omnibus Bill Bigger Than Last One, It Includes NLCS
90-Bill Omnibus Measure Contains NLCS, 10 Heritage Areas and More

Omnibus Bill (S3213) Specifics:

The Senate Energy Committee, having succeeded in pushing a big omnibus bill through Congress in April, is trying again.

The old bill (PL 110-229 of May 8) included only individual measures approved by both the committee and the House, about 50 in total.

This time committee chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) has assembled a bill (S3213) that includes more than 90 individual bills the committee has approved, whether the House has acted or not.

There are controversies. Included in the package is legislation (S1139) to certify the 26 million-acre National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM.) The Senate Energy Committee approved S1139 May 23, 2007, but the bill has not moved since. The House approved a counterpart NLCS bill (HR 2016) April 9 by a 278-to-140 vote.

Western Republicans opposed the House NLCS bill. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the bill not only failed to address existing problems in multiple use management of BLM lands in the system, but also could hamper management. He cited such ongoing problems as lack of access for energy development, grazing and other activities. Bishop said the bill could impose Park Service-like restrictions on BLM.

Besides, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has said she will attempt to expand the system to 32 million acres from 26,000,000 by adding the entire California Desert Conservation Area (CDCA) to the NLCS.

Some four million acres of the CDCA are already in the system but Feinstein would add another six million acres.

Beyond the NLCS, S3213 includes individual bills that would:

  • Designate two new National Park System units: Paterson National Historical Park in New Jersey and Thomas Edison National Historical Park in New Jersey,
  • Authorize additions to nine existing National Park System units,
  • Designate ten new national heritage areas (NHAs) and authorize studies of two NHAs. The new NHAs would be: Sangre de Cristo National Heritage Area, Colorado; Cache La Poudre River National Heritage Area, Colorado; South Park National Heritage Area, Colorado; Northern Plains National Heritage Area, North Dakota; Baltimore National Heritage Area, Maryland; Freedom's Way National Heritage Area, Massachusetts and N.H.; Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area; Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area; Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area, Alabama; and Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area, Arizona,
  • Designate four national trails: Arizona National Scenic Trail; New England National Scenic Trail; Ice Age Floods National Geologic Trail; and Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail,
  • Authorize studies of additions to four National Historic Trails: Oregon National Historic Trail; Pony Express National Historic Trail; California National Historic Trail; And The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail,
  • Add three wild and scenic rivers: Fossil Creek, Arizona; Snake River Headwaters, Wyoming; and Taunton River, Massachusetts, and
  • Designate a Snowy River Cave National Conservation Area of about 3.5 miles of cave passages in Lincoln County, New Mexico.

The Senate Energy Committee said June 27 that the bill runs 759 pages long and includes measures sponsored by Democrats, Republicans and both parties.

The committee puts together the omnibus bills because Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) routinely places holds on individual bills, preventing them from being considered on the Senate floor. When assembled in one omnibus bill, the individual measures create a critical mass and sponsors can obtain the 60 votes needed to break Coburn's holds. Coburn has objected to any legislation that would come with a price tag and require additional federal spending.

But these giant Omnibus Bills are killing you.

July 8, 2008

The desert boom

In the Southwest, demand for sites for solar power projects is creating a hot real estate market.

By Todd Woody, senior editor

Solar energy properties are scrambling to lock up desert land like the Mormon Mesa in Nevada. [Christoph Norlinghaus]

(Fortune Magazine) -- Doug Buchanan grins with relief when he sees the carcasses. He has just driven up a steep dirt road onto a vast, sunbaked mesa overlooking the Mojave Desert in western Nevada. There, a few feet from the trail, lie the corpses of two steers. A raven perches on one, the only object more than three feet above the ground on this pancake-flat plateau. Cattle, dead or alive, qualify as good news in Buchanan's line of work. If cattle are present, that means grazing is permitted, and that in turn means that this land is most likely not protected habitat for the desert tortoise.

Buchanan, 53, is scouting sites for a solar power company called BrightSource Energy, an Oakland-based startup backed by Google (GOOG, Fortune 500) and Morgan Stanley (MS, Fortune 500). The blunt, fifth-generation Californian, who used to survey the same area for natural-gas power sites, knows that the presence of an endangered species such as the tortoise could derail BrightSource's plans to build a multibillion-dollar solar energy plant on the mesa.

BrightSource badly wants these 20 square miles of federal land on what is called Mormon Mesa. The company was in such a hurry to stake its claim with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that it applied for a lease sight unseen. That's an expensive gamble for a startup, given that application fees alone run in the six figures. "I usually like to go out and kick the tires before filing a claim," Buchanan says, "but there's a lot of competitive pressure these days to move fast."

That's putting it mildly. A solar land rush is rolling across the desert Southwest. Goldman Sachs, utilities PG&E and FPL, Silicon Valley startups, Israeli and German solar firms, Chevron, speculators - all are scrambling to lock up hundreds of thousands of acres of long-worthless land now coveted as sites for solar power plants.

The Southwest is on the cusp
of what could be a green revolution.
And the biggest obstacle of all may be
... environmentalists.

The race has barely begun - finished plants are years away - but it's blazing fastest in the Mojave, where the federal government controls immense stretches of some of the world's best solar real estate right next to the nation's biggest electricity markets. Just 20 months ago only five applications for solar sites had been filed with the BLM in the California Mojave. Today 104 claims have been received for nearly a million acres of land, representing a theoretical 60 gigawatts of electricity. (The entire state of California currently consumes 33 gigawatts annually.)

It's not just a federal-land grab either. Buyers are also vying for private property. Some are paying upwards of $10,000 an acre for desert dirt that a few years ago would have sold for $500.

No doubt the prospect of potential riches is overheating expectations. But California and surrounding states have mandated massive increases in renewable energy in the next few years. That has led some experts at Emerging Energy Research of Cambridge, Mass., to predict that Big Solar could be a $45 billion market by 2020.

Meanwhile, the land rush is setting the stage for a showdown between solar investors and those who want to protect a fragile environment that is home to the desert tortoise and other rare critters. The Southwest is on the cusp of what could be a green revolution. And the biggest obstacle of all may be ... environmentalists.


Over the past year a parade of executives bearing land claims have made the trek to a stucco BLM office just off the interstate in the dusty city of Needles, Calif., a 110-mile drive south from Las Vegas. (It's the town where the late "Peanuts" cartoonist, Charles M. Schulz, briefly lived as a boy; in the comic strip, Snoopy's brother Spike is a resident.) The Bush administration has instructed the BLM to facilitate renewable-energy projects (along with nonrenewable ones). But Sterling White, the BLM's earnest Needles field manager, is also concerned about what could happen if they transform the Mojave into a collection of giant power stations. "One of our biggest challenges is the cumulative impact of these projects," he says.

Nearly 80% of the land that White's office oversees is federally protected wilderness or endangered-species habitat. That leaves about 700,000 acres for solar power plants, only some of which are near transmission lines. Land leases are handed out on a first-come, first-served basis, but White is also supposed to weed out speculators from genuine solar developers based on loose criteria such as who is negotiating with utilities and who is applying for state power licenses. White has yet to approve a single lease, but he has summarily rejected four because they lie in protected-species habitat.


Solar prospectors tend to be as secretive about their land as forty-niners were about the veins of gold they discovered. Most bids are placed by limited-liability corporations with opaque names that conceal their ownership. And no one has been as quick to move into the Mojave - or as tightlipped about it - as Solar Investments.

That entity, it turns out, is Goldman Sachs's (GS, Fortune 500) solar subsidiary. The investment bank's designs on the desert are a topic of intense interest and speculation. Goldman declined to comment. But here's what we know:

Solar Investments filed its first land claim in December 2006 and within a month had applied for more than 125,000 acres for power plants that would produce ten gigawatts of electricity. Many of the sites lie close to the transmission lines that connect the desert to coastal cities. (Goldman has also staked claims on 40,000 acres of the Nevada desert.)

Nobody expects Goldman to begin operating solar plants. It will probably either partner with another developer or sell its limited-liability company (and its leases) outright. The firm has been making the rounds of solar developers. "The conversation's been pretty wide-ranging, primarily as an investor interested in financing deals," says one solar energy executive approached by Goldman. "But there's clearly an element of interest in our technology." Goldman has requested permission to install meteorological equipment on its sites and is evaluating "competing technologies, including solar dish systems, power towers, and large-scale photovoltaic arrays," according to a letter Goldman sent to the BLM in August 2007.