August 28, 2008

More mountain land for endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep sought

The Press-Enterprise

A Peninsular bighorn habitat adds more scrutiny of developments.
Mark Zaleski / The Press-Enterprise

Federal wildlife officials are proposing to expand by about 36,000 acres the amount of land they consider essential for the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep to survive in the mountains above the Coachella Valley.

Although the land was added to the latest so-called critical habitat proposal issued last October by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, environmentalists complained it is still half the land included in the agency's original 2001 decision.

Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said that large gaps remain in the hillsides where the sheep roam, potentially allowing development to cut off migration paths.

"Having the critical habitat provides a stronger set of protection for the species and to ensure that it's not just about the survival of individuals but recovery for the species as a whole," she said.

Critical habitat adds more scrutiny of large developments by federal wildlife officials and can lead to design changes to minimize impacts on an endangered species, but the designation does not ban projects.

Jane Hendron, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman, said critical habitat doesn't necessarily include a species' entire range. She said the agency refined its mapping technique and excluded areas that already are developed when it reduced by half the 2001 habitat last year to some 420,487 acres.

"We did our best in 2001 but we've come along ways in terms of mapping and how we refined our criteria for what is considered essential habitat," she said.

Peninsular bighorn sheep were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1998 because of urban encroachment and disease that left the population at 290. According to 2007 documents from the wildlife agency, estimates showed the population to be 793 from the Palm Springs area to the Mexican border.

Hendron said the latest addition of 36,240 acres to the critical habitat proposal includes more alluvial fans, the sandy areas that spread at the bottom of canyons, where sheep forage and drink water. Also, she said, officials looked at old records to include land where bighorn sheep were observed 20 years ago rather than just 10 years. The added critical habitat includes sections of the eastern edge of the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Belenky said saving the habitat for the sheep helps preserve the reason many people live in the Coachella Valley with the scenic mountains as a backdrop.

"There are huge development pressures but also why people move there is for the beauty of the natural landscape," she said. "If we can't keep areas that allow the bighorn sheep alive, what are we going to have but barren hillsides?"

Sheep meetings

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has scheduled two meetings Sept. 10 to take public comment on the Peninsular bighorn sheep decision.

When: 1 to 3 p.m.; 6 to 8 p.m.
Where: The Living Desert
Address: 47-900 Portola Ave., Palm Desert
More information: or 760-431-9440

Goffs is a step closer to getting a fire station

Submitted by David Zook
Best Syndication News

Satellite view of Goffs, California. The red square indicates the 40 acre parcel to be transferred to San Bernardino County Fire for the location of a proposed fire station to serve the East Mojave.

SAN BERNARDINO - A much-needed fire station to provide coverage on Interstate 40 and the remote eastern Mojave Desert took its first step toward becoming a reality today when the Board of Supervisors approved the sale of surplus land to the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District.

"On the remote stretches of Interstate 40, rescue personnel have to come from as far away as Needles or Baker," said First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt. "Getting a fire station in the eastern Mojave Desert has been a priority of mine since taking office, and is essential for the safety of the traveling public."

The County Department of Public Works has owned 40 acres in the Goffs area as a borrow site to excavate material used for maintenance of county roads. It is no longer being used for that purpose and is being made available to be used as a site to construct a new fire station. The land was declared surplus today and is being sold to the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District for $20,000, or $500 per acre.

Goffs is situated 30 miles west of Needles and 50 miles east of Amboy. Supervisor Mitzelfelt and County fire officials continue to work toward planning a fire station to serve Interstate 40 in the area between Ludlow and Amboy. On June 24, Supervisor Mitzelfelt secured Board of Supervisors approval for $300,000 to go toward design work for the staion.

The proposed station in Goffs would augment fire protection and rescue services to the eastern Mojave Desert and the transportation corridors of I-40, Highway 95 and Route 66 (National Trails Highway). That would also provide the communities of Baker, Needles, Havasu Lake and Kelso with an additional resource for rescue.

San Bernardino County is the largest county in the lower contiguous 48 states. Most of the area is composed of a vast wilderness called the Mojave Desert. It can be very difficult to get emergency services to this sparsely populated area.

August 27, 2008

Fire station approved for Mojave Desert site

Richard Brooks

A fire station will be built in a remote Mojave Desert area, making crews available to help Colorado River vacationers and other travelers along Interstate 40, San Bernardino County officials said.

The station will be near the old railroad town of Goffs, 30 miles west of Needles and 50 miles east of Amboy. Emergencies in the region now draw fire crews from as far away as Needles and Baker.

Land for the proposed station was provided Tuesday to the San Bernardino County Fire Protection District. The county Board of Supervisors has allotted $300,000 for the project.

Several Train Thieves Arrested, Another Dies Of Heat Exposure

Mojave National Preserve
National Park News

On August 23rd, a joint effort by Union Pacific police, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and the National Park Service resulted in the arrest of four people for train burglary and a search for a fifth who was later found deceased from apparent heat exposure about five miles from the site of the attempted burglary.

Over $30,000 worth of property was recovered.

Around 2 p.m. that afternoon, rangers McDermott, Spillane and Cooperider were notified of a train burglary in progress near Cima, which is within the park. Union Pacific employees discovered between 10 and 15 people in the act of stealing 31 42-inch-wide televisions from a train. The employees told rangers that they’d fled in many directions into the desert.

Rangers requested a helicopter and assistance from the sheriff’s department and from the UP police. Upon arrival, the police told rangers that they had information that the would-be thieves were armed.

A search was begun, and UP police later in the day intercepted a vehicle driven by a known accomplice, arrested him, then put an undercover team in the vehicle to drive the surrounding roads. The team located and arrested four other suspects in a remote area of the park about four miles from the scene of the burglary. They told officers that another member of their group was sick and that they’d left him under a tree about a mile away in the desert.

McDermott and Cooperider retrieved ALS gear and along with UP officers started looking for him, finding him just after 11 p.m. He was DOA, having likely succumbed to complications from heat exposure (temperatures were over 100 degrees).

August 26, 2008

Ruling keeps roads, land measures off Ariz. ballot

Associated Press

PHOENIX - A state Supreme Court ruling Tuesday means Arizona voters won't be deciding proposed ballot measures on transportation funding and conservation of state trust land.

Election officials who reviewed qualifying petitions for each measure had determined that neither had valid voter signatures.

Supporters went to court to challenge those actions but a trial judge ruled last week that supporters missed a deadline to challenge petition checks by Secretary of State Jan Brewer's office that were part of those reviews. County officials also reviewed signatures on some petitions.

The Supreme Court's order Tuesday upholds the judge's ruling. Paul Eckstein, a lawyer representing supporters of both initiatives, said the high court's action means neither proposal will be on the ballot.

Proposition 203, titled "Transportation Infrastructure Moving Arizona's Economy," or TIME, by supporters, would have raised the state sales tax by a penny to pay for highway and other transportation improvements.

Proposition 103, which was titled "Conserving Arizona's Water and Land," would have set aside more than 500,000 acres of trust land as open space.

Gov. Janet Napolitano has called both measures important steps for the state to handle its continued growth, and spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer reacted to the ruling by called the proposals' failures to make the ballot "a tremendous blow" to the state.

"This is not good news," L'Ecuyer said.

The Supreme Court released its decision in a brief, one-page order signed by Chief Justice Ruth V. McGregor. As is typical in last-minute election cases, the Supreme Court's order said the justices will explain their reasoning later.

Woman killed in flash flood in San Bernardino County identified

by Richard Brooks

The motorist killed during last night's flash flooding near the Colorado River was a 51-year-old woman from Big River, according to San Bernardino County coroner's officials.

Rosemary Sebring Genc was pronounced dead soon after being pulled from her 1990 gold Honda Accord. A county road worker said he saw her drive into a flooded area at 9:15 p.m. Monday near Rio Vista Road and Tenaya Court. The water pushed the car to the edge of the roadway where it overturned in a wash, trapping the woman underwater, coroner's investigators said.

Flash flooding in the same general region also closed portions of Highway 95 from Vidal Junction south to Interstate 10 in Blythe. At 3 a.m., heavy rain had limited visibility to 20 feet in some places, according to the California Highway Patrol website.

With forecasts of possible thunderstorms and flash flooding through this weekend, officials point to the apparent drowning death as an example of the dangers of driving through floodwaters.

"Turn around. Don't drown," says the written warning issued Tuesday.

"Despite repeated warnings, some people continue to risk their lives by driving through running water," county analyst Roni Edis said in a written statement. "Be aware of flood hazards, no matter where you live."

Teenager found dead in desert after train burglary

By ABBY SEWELL - Staff Writer
Victorville Daily Press

Union Pacific train on the Cima grade between Kelso and Cima in the Mojave National Preserve.

MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE — Railroad police and park rangers found a 17-year-old boy dead in the desert after arresting several suspects in a train burglary in the Kelso-Cima area Saturday night.

Union Pacific Railroad police and U.S. National Park Rangers found the body of Omar Antonio Gonzalez Barajas of Paramount at about 8:30 p.m., according to a report from the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner Department.

Railroad police were called out to a burglary at a train car sitting on a siding in the Mojave National Preserve between Kelso and Cima at about 2 p.m. Saturday, said Union Pacific spokeswoman Zoe Richmond. A railroad track inspector called police after seeing several men taking television sets out of a train car while the train was at a standstill waiting for another locomotive to pass.

Officers arrested two suspects almost immediately and arrested two more suspects later in the evening, after an extensive search of the area, Richmond said. Dave Ashe, chief ranger for the National Park Service at the Mojave National Preserve, said the two suspects arrested later in the day were apparently waiting for a driver to pick them up at a pre-planned location. The men told officers that Gonzalez Barajas, who was with them, had gotten sick and passed out under a tree, Ashe said.

After a 45-minute search of the area, officers found Gonzalez Barajas, who was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the coroner’s report.

An autopsy has not yet been conducted to determine the cause of death, coroner’s spokeswoman Sandy Fatland said. Ashe said his rangers’ initial assessment was that the death was heat- or dehydration-related, possibly combined with a reaction to a wild melon that the teenager had eaten.

Richmond said that train burglaries, which are both difficult and dangerous, are not a widespread problem for Union Pacific.

“Situations like this are pretty rare,” she said. “It seems a little bit old-fashioned, sticking up a train ... It’s unfortunate that someone had to die in the situation.”

Ashe, however, said that in his nine months working in the Mojave National Preserve, two trains had been burglarized in the preserve, and he had heard of several more being targeted in other parts of the county. Typically, burglars stake out mountain pass areas where they know that trains will be traveling slowly, or sidings where they will stop to allow other trains to pass, he said.

“This is the first fatality that I’m aware of, but as far as trains being hit, the railroads are shelling out millions and millions of dollars every year,” he said.

The Union Pacific police, U.S. National Park Ranger Service and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department are investigating the death.

August 25, 2008

Desert tortoise numbers continue to decline

Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — It's been 18 years since the federal government decided to protect the shy, slow-moving Mojave desert tortoise, and wildlife officials fear little has been accomplished.

"We know for a fact a lot of localized populations have suffered dramatic declines," said Roy Averill-Murray, desert tortoise recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "From that, it's probably not too big a leap to think it's probably at least somewhat true across the board."

The long list of threats — urbanization, predators, wildfire, disease — isn't letting up. And that says nothing of the predicted shift toward higher temperatures and less precipitation that could jeopardize the tortoise's food supplies.

"The biggest challenge and unanswered question is the effects of climate change," Averill-Murray said. "That is the wild card for sure."

The agency is proposing to tweak its tortoise recovery plan, mainly by focusing on a more coordinated approach between dozens of state, federal and local agencies that control tortoise habitat.

But some environmentalists complain that the plan is too weak and too vague.

"To me it's a plan that says they're going to do more planning," said Ileene Anderson of the Center for Biological Diversity.

The agency's new proposal, unveiled earlier this month, waters down important measures from a 1994 plan that tried to protect tortoise habitat from disruptions like grazing or off-road vehicle use, she said.

More than $100 million has been spent since 1980 when some of the tortoises in Utah were listed as threatened. In 1990, Mojave tortoises in all their ranges received that designation under the Endangered Species Act.

Desert tortoises spend up to 95 percent of their time in underground burrows, can have shells 15 inches across, bob their heads oddly during courtship and are capable of noises described as hisses, grunts and whoops.

The population is spread over millions of acres, leaving the tortoise vulnerable to a wide variety of threats.

Kristin Berry, a U.S. Geological Survey biologist in California, hasn't seen much success in tortoise recovery in 15 areas that she monitors.

"My study plots in California at least indicate they've continued to plummet and very seriously so," Berry said.

Averill-Murray is pinning some of his recovery hopes on teams scattered throughout the tortoise's range that can identify problems and act on them.

That could mean doing a better job of educating people about keeping off-road vehicles on designated trails and not letting dogs run loose in places where they might snatch up a tortoise, he said.

One of the population's strongholds has long been Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, 97 square miles of protected habitat in southern Utah. But earlier this year, a biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources said the population there had fallen from 3,200 in 2000 to 1,700 last year — the lowest number since monitoring began there in 1998.

The population has also taken a symbolic hit.

Mojave Max, the Nevada tortoise whose emergence from his burrow was seen as a harbinger of spring each year, died from natural causes in late June. His age was estimated at 65.

Dust on the rocks

by Keith Kloor
High Country News

Constance Silver measures dust in Nine Mile Canyon.

Last summer, Constance Silver spent a week examining the world-renowned rock art in Utah's Nine Mile Canyon, a two-hour drive south of Salt Lake City. Tucked into the rugged Tavaputs Plateau, the place contains upwards of 10,000 images, painted and pecked onto sandstone walls. Many of them are visible from the curving, roughly graded road.

But the respected art conservator wasn't there to admire the renderings of hunters, bighorn sheep and geometric patterns. Rather, she came to study dust. More specifically, to take air samples and observe the brownish-gray clouds kicked up by an armada of oil and gas trucks as they rumbled through the canyon.

After wrapping up her fieldwork, Silver stopped by the local Bureau of Land Management office in nearby Price, which oversees Nine Mile Canyon, and sought out its lone archaeologist, Blaine Miller. She informed Miller that the dust was having an "alarming effect" on the rock art and "had to be taken care of immediately."

"In your dreams," Miller said, recalling the exchange. His own concerns had been repeatedly ignored by his superiors since 2004. That was when the Bill Barrett Corporation, a Denver-based energy company, began exploratory drilling for natural gas higher up in the plateau, using Nine Mile's rutted road as the main transportation route.

Silver, who specializes in restoring vandalized rock art, became adamant, according to Miller. "No, not in my dreams," she insisted. "It has to be taken care of now."

A year has passed since that conversation, however, and nothing has been done to solve the problem. Not only that, but Silver's original findings have essentially disappeared. Hundreds of documents obtained recently through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that crucial data and other supporting evidence attesting to severe dust contamination never made it into her study, which was released last February. These omissions enabled the BLM to cast Silver's report as inconclusive, at a time when the agency was approving a controversial proposal for expanded drilling by Barrett. It's not clear exactly what happened to the study or why, but the story of how it got watered down provides a window into the murky mingling of science, industry and an underfunded federal agency faced with an onslaught of energy development.

The doctored study is just one of many questionable actions taken by the BLM during the past five years relating to gas drilling impacts in Nine Mile Canyon. To many critics, the crowning insult came earlier this year, when the BLM issued its draft environmental impact statement for Barrett's 800-plus gas well project. "It is the worst document I have seen in my 30 years working in the BLM," Miller told me recently. Forbidden to participate in the review, Miller, who is an expert on Nine Mile Canyon, wasn't even permitted to see the document until it was released to the public. "There's nothing in there about how bad the dust is, what the effects are on the rock art, no attempt to mitigate any of it."

For decades, scientists and rock art buffs have marveled at the prehistoric carvings and paintings in Nine Mile Canyon. Even the BLM has acknowledged Nine Mile Canyon's importance, calling it the "largest concentration of rock art in North America."

Most of the pictures were left by the Fremont people, a culture of farmers and foragers that thrived throughout Utah a millenium ago, before leaving the area around 1350.

As recently as the 1990s, the Price BLM office had put Nine Mile's archaeological treasures front and center, writing a management plan that, according to Miller, would showcase and protect the rock art.

Then, in 2005, after several years of exploration, geologists for the Bill Barrett Corp. hit a sweet spot in the Tavaputs' ancient bedrock, with extractable gas deposits estimated to be worth $2.5 billion. The company quickly applied for a "full-field" development, which requires an environmental impact statement (EIS) to evaluate potential negative affects. The exhaustive assessment often takes years to complete, but that hasn't slowed down Barrett. To date, the company has drilled 200 of its proposed 800 gas wells, nearly half of them under "categorical exclusions," a provision in the 2005 Energy Act that allows the BLM to give the go-ahead to a variety of projects without doing an environmental review.

By 2006, however, the traffic and dust in Nine Mile Canyon had become so bad that the BLM had to respond to growing complaints by archaeologists and environmentalists. The agency called on Silver to assess the problem. The initiative stalled, though, after the BLM was unable to secure government funding. Barrett then agreed to pay for the study. By the time Silver arrived on the scene last summer, some 350 trucks and rigs were barreling through the canyon on any given day.

In the following months, as Silver worked on the dust study, her worst fears were confirmed by a series of lab analyses. Each time something noteworthy turned up, she e-mailed the person who hired her, Nine Mile Canyon's supervisory archaeologist, Julie Howard, who works out of BLM's Division of Land and Minerals office in Salt Lake City.

In early October of 2007, Silver advised Howard of the likelihood that magnesium chloride was being "tracked all through the canyon." For years, the Barrett Corp. had extensively applied the chemical dust suppressant -- essentially a salt -- along portions of the Nine Mile road. And over the years, the industrial flotilla has pulverized the unstable roadbed, creating an airborne potpourri of silt, diesel fuel and chewed-up magnesium chloride, which is notoriously corrosive to concrete, cars and just about everything else.

In that same e-mail, Silver also told Howard that the dust "all over" the Great Hunt panel -- Nine Mile Canyon's most iconic and frequently photographed image -- had the same chemical "signature" as the dust produced in the air along the adjacent stretch of the road by passing oil and gas trucks. Her other test samples of rock art sites in Nine Mile Canyon had shown a similar pattern. "So, at the very least, dust is getting all over the rock art," Silver wrote. "At the very worst, it is contaminating the rock art with magnesium chloride."

Silver explained to Howard that "the presence of magnesium chloride in dust could become a critical marker for how the Nine-mile road is producing and spreading dust." Puzzling this out -- and determining the extent of the overall problem -- would be huge, but Silver wanted to be sure, so she had the lab run a second set of tests. At the end of October, Silver informed Howard that the final lab results were in: "They found magnesium chloride all over the place, alas."

Two months later, in early January of this year, I met up with Silver in New York City, while she was working on a restoration project at the Guggenheim Museum. Clad in frocky work clothes stained with plaster, the Vermont-based conservator talked proudly of her study at Nine Mile Canyon. Previously, little research had been done on the impacts of dust on rock art -- a worldwide issue -- so she believed her contribution would fill in a significant academic gap.

Silver sounded sure of her findings, stating unequivocally that magnesium chloride-laced dust was being kicked up by trucks and was "going all over the place and settling on the rock art." She was particularly "alarmed" by "all these little crystals of magnesium chloride getting into the pores of the rock art."

"It's such vicious stuff," she added. "It peels concrete, corrodes it."

I was surprised by Silver's certainty, because the last time we'd spoken about her study, over the phone in September, she made a point of telling me how difficult it might be to distinguish current impacts to Nine Mile Canyon from those that began a century ago, when homesteaders first arrived. During that period, the main road through the canyon was also used as a freight route, which no doubt produced its share of dust. Bored cowboys and stagecoach drivers were fond of using the rock art panels for target practice. Later, pothunters and tourists started leaving their own stains on the landscape.

"Let's face it, (Nine Mile Canyon) is not a pristine environment," she said to me. "What I was concerned about was how much of the dust is coming from current use and how much from 100 years of mistreatment. I was worried from the beginning how we were going to figure that one out. But now when you get the magnesium marker, you can pretty much say you're getting a really accelerated settlement of dust."

Silver was not opposed to Barrett's operation herself, but she believed her study results were so "harsh" that some environmental groups might seize on them to try to stop it. In 2004, activists and archaeologists had unsuccessfully sued to halt the company's incursion into Nine Mile Canyon.

They never got the chance, however, to use her results, because the version of her study published in early February contains none of the relevant, damaging information Silver expressed either to me or in her e-mails to Julie Howard.

In fact, Silver's published study makes no mention of the positive magnesium chloride finding throughout the canyon. Instead, it describes the difficulty of separating out the historical and naturally occurring dust and concludes that "thus far it has been impossible to isolate and identify magnesium chloride in the laboratory."

After learning of the e-mail exchanges between Silver and Howard, Nine Mile advocates are seething. "All these years, we thought they (BLM) were just being irresponsible," says Utah archaeologist Jerry Spangler, an expert on the canyon. "Now it's moved to willful, intentional deceit to benefit an agenda and one particular developer, and that's really disturbing."

If relevant lab results were intentionally excluded from the EIS, it was "a violation of NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act), which in the full spirit of disclosure, the federal government is supposed to present the most recently available information, not that which supports an industry project," says EPA's Larry Svoboda, a Denver-based director of the agency's NEPA program.

In a recent phone interview, Howard said no such intent existed. "To the best of my knowledge, we included everything we knew at this point," she said. But when confronted with e-mails showing that she knew about the excluded lab results at least four months before the EIS was published, Howard claimed that the results didn't get into the impact statement because the deadline had already passed. "We weren't trying to hide anything," Howard insists.

Barrett's involvement in the study also seems to be a point of confusion for Howard. She first said that the gas company "never saw the study until it was done." However, an extensive e-mail paper trail reveals that Howard kept Barrett officials abreast of Silver's progress, even giving them a chance to weigh in on draft reviews and participate during conference calls. In August, Duane Zavadil, Barrett's vice president for environmental regulatory affairs, confirmed that company officials saw the study before it was released to the public. However, he says: "We didn't provide a single editorial comment. We never asked for a word in the report to be changed."

Still, that the energy company paid for the study and was then allowed to review drafts before it was released "suggests that the process was biased," says Jeffery Clark, an archaeologist with the Tucson-based Center for Desert Archaeology. At a minimum, Clark says, the BLM should have put up a firewall between Silver's study and the company. "If data was withheld, then that's illegal," he adds. "That's like an archaeologist finding a site where the development is taking place and not recording the site. That would be grounds for shutting down the project."

Before any of this would be known, the BLM was already getting hammered from all sides regarding the Barrett EIS it released in February. In recent months, major concerns over ozone pollution, stream contamination, disappearing wildlife habitat, and of course, continuing destruction to the rock art, have poured in from many quarters, including the Utah governor's office, environmental groups, the Hopi (who claim ancestral ties to Nine Mile), and lately, the Environmental Protection Agency, which gave the EIS a failing grade for faulty air modeling of emissions.

Clearly, though, both the BLM and Barrett are most skittish over the allegations of dust damage to the canyon's rock art. When I spoke to BLM managers and Barrett executives in the spring and summer, they repeated the same talking point: Silver's findings were inconclusive. In a May editorial published in a local paper, a Barrett official even cited her study to defend its use of magnesium chloride, which it had applied again that month.

Despite her role in the BLM's shenanigans, Silver obviously cares deeply about the rock art. That's evident in her comments in an early draft of her study: "During the public comment period, some years ago, several conservation scientists and conservators (including the author of this report), raised objections to the use of magnesium chloride for dust abatement in Nine Mile Canyon, because eventually some magnesium chloride will escape the road and be deposited in rock art. The potential for damage is very great, and remediation would be very difficult." Those comments do not appear in the published study.

Silver's recommendation in the next (and concluding) paragraph on how to solve the problem never saw the light of day, either: "Therefore, another road surfacing must be developed and implemented as soon as possible in proximity to all rock art panels. A very promising road surface system identified by the BLM is asphalt chunks that can be spread on the road and then packed in place. -- It is absolutely critical that this -- or some other system -- be employed as soon as possible to arrest the development of dust near the rock art sites."

Notably, this solution was never mentioned in the BLM's draft EIS of the Barrett proposal. As this story went to press, the agency was testing six different types of dust control along Nine Mile road involving the use of enzymes. Whether or not enzymes would be any less harmful to rock art panels than magnesium chloride is not known, because no studies on their impacts have been done.

The company could utilize existing roads that circumvent Nine Mile Canyon altogether. Environmentalists and archaeologists have repeatedly suggested this, but the company insists that the cost and operational constraints are prohibitive. The BLM, for its part, has never seriously considered it as an alternative.

Several groups, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has listed Nine Mile Canyon as one of its nine most endangered places since 2004, are now paying for an independent engineering study to assess the viability of bypass roads.

A year after Silver conducted her study, conditions in Nine Mile Canyon remain unchanged. The road is crumbling under a steady parade of oil and gas trucks. Dust is still flying everywhere, eroding innumerable rock art panels, according to Miller and other archaeologists.

Final drafts of Silver's study and the BLM's evaluation of Barrett's drilling expansion are set to be released in the fall. At the most recent Utah BLM advisory council meeting in late June, Julie Howard assured attendees that, according to Silver's study, evidence of damage to Nine Mile Canyon's rock art from dust and magnesium chloride was "inconclusive."

Silver, for her part, seems to believe that her study was properly handled by both the BLM and the Bill Barrett Corporation. Until recently, she had not responded to repeated requests for comment on this story. Then, on Aug. 15, she sent me an e-mail stating, among other things: "The work that I am doing in Nine Mile Canyon -- with the full support of the BLM and BBC (Bill Barrett Corp.) -- is pure science and the chips are going to fall where they will."

Keith Kloor is a New York-based freelance writer and currently a Ted Scripps Fellow at the Center for Environmental Journalism, University of Colorado.

Expect Burning Man to increase traffic congestion

Sam Bauman
Nevada Appeal

The Burning Man alternate life-style celebration opens today and drivers can expect increased traffic on roads leading to Gerlach, which is 11 miles from the entrance to the Black Rock City on the desert playa.

For drivers taking Highway 50 east, traffic is not expected to be heavy, although many from Carson City will be on that road.

With some 50,000 Burners expected at the Black Rock City, traffic to Fernley from Silver Springs on highways 95 and 50 North can become clogged. From Fernley to Wordworth it's a two-lane road to Highway 447 and traffic can be expected to be almost bumper to bumper.

Once on 447 there are no gasoline stations until Empire, a mining town a few miles before Gerlach. Empire is the last stop for gas. Bruno's Country Club restaurant is the last place to eat before entering the Burning Man enclosed area. A Burning Man office is next to the Water Tower in Gerlach, but no tickets are to be sold there.

The celebration is scheduled to last all week, but traffic eases once most Burners arrive at Black Rock City. The climax comes Saturday night when the wooden Burning Man effigy will go up in a blaze of fireworks and flames. While many visitors will leave Sunday morning, jamming Highway 447, many will stay for the Sunday night burning of art works scattered about the playa.

Bureau of Land Management personnel furnishes law enforcement, joined by police from Washoe and Pershing counties.

Endangered ESA law

By Kat Kerlin
Reno News & Review

In what would be the biggest overhaul to the Endangered Species Act in 22 years, the Bush Administration has proposed major changes to the act. Federal agencies basically would be able to determine for themselves whether construction projects such as highways, dams, mines and others are a risk to endangered animals or plants. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times likened it to allowing oil companies to decide whether offshore drilling harms the ocean or a pharmaceutical company deciding if a drug it’s marketing is safe.

Federal agencies would also be barred from assessing the impacts on endangered species of greenhouse gas emissions produced by such projects.

Currently, the 1973 act requires federal agencies to consult with experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service if a project poses the slightest risk to species or habitats. If accepted, the draft regulation changes would eliminate the input of independent scientists and effectively end some environmental reviews, therefore speeding up and reducing the costs of federal projects that have been delayed. The Associated Press reports that Sen. Barbara Boxer has called the proposed changes illegal.

The proposed rules, which don’t require Congress’s approval, were entered into the federal register on Aug. 14 and are subject to a 30-day public comment period—not the usual 60 or 90 days—before being finalized by the Department of the Interior. If passed, there are two time-consuming options that potentially could undo them: A new administration could freeze or reverse any pending regulations, or Congress could overturn the rules through legislation.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, an average of 9.5 species have been added each year to the U.S. endangered species list under George W. Bush, compared with an average of 65 per year during the Clinton administration and 59 during the George H.W. Bush administration.

The proposed changes draft document.

August 24, 2008

Desert tortoises making slow march toward recovery

KTVN - Reno NV
Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Eighteen years since the federal government decided to protect the Mojave desert tortoise, wildlife officials still don't know if it has done any good to stop its widespread decline in the scrubby desertlands of California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

In some places, biologists went looking for desert tortoises only to come up with empty shells.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to tweak its plan for recovering tortoises by focusing on a more coordinated approach between dozens of state, federal and local agencies who control land where the tortoise lives.

Wildlife officials are also trying to figure out better ways to monitor recovery progress.

More than $100 million has been spent since 1980 when some tortoises were listed as threatened.

Hikers keep standing date with Coachella Valley's desert

The Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument features scenic views such as this one. The scenic national-monument area can become the backdrop for exploring the desert. Ramon Mena Owens / The Press-Enterprise


The Press-Enterprise

PALM DESERT - At 6 a.m., a half-dozen people gather at the Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument before heading into the craggy mountains overlooking the Coachella Valley.

The Thursday Morning Hikes program attracts the adventurous and the fitness-minded.

They rise early for three- or four-mile hikes -- even in the dead of summer.

The program runs year-round so those who can't stand the heat can take the many winter hikes.

The scenic national-monument area becomes the backdrop for exploring the desert. The federally designated lands cover 272,000 acres, from the floor of the Coachella Valley to the surrounding mountains, including forests at more than 10,500 feet.

On a recent Thursday, two groups set out.

One explored the Randall Henderson Loop Trail, an almost three-mile hike with a fairly gradual 200- to 300-foot gain in elevation.

Other hikers, led by volunteer Drew Leander, covered the Art Smith Trail. It includes some strenuous uphill sections and a rise of about 500 feet in elevation over a four-mile trek.

"This is the most dangerous part of the journey," Leander joked, waving his group across blacktopped Highway 74, just below two blind curves.

Before the outing ended, the hikers saw a rattlesnake snuggling up for warmth against some rocks. They spied blooming spiny, green ocotillos arching skyward after summer rains. One guide spotted a rare desert tortoise. Trudging through the humidity, the hikers flicked at gnats buzzing around their eyes and ears.

During the winter, Thursday Morning Hikes attract 40 to 75 people and require the help of four to six guides.

"Many living in the desert are exercise-oriented," Leander said. "They are very outdoorsy.

"That's why they're here. They're curious, but many wouldn't do this on their own," he said.

"We try to instill a little confidence that they can -- with proper safety precautions," Leander added. "The trails are wide open, free to the public, and we have maps."

As the hikers made their way along the winding Art Smith Trail heading toward its junction with the Hopalong Cassidy Trail, sweat glistened on the back of their necks.

Year-round hiker Diane Kahan, 61, of Indian Wells, had come prepared.

She donned an Australian mosquito net that covered her entire face and drank a few quarts of water before setting out.

She'd brought sunscreen, a whistle -- three short blasts if you're in trouble -- and cold water tucked away in a fanny pack that has a long tube to suck on for a drink.

"My family thinks I'm crazy," she said, when asked about hiking during summer. "But it's a good workout, and the guides are very knowledgeable."

Leander stopped at the junction of the Art Smith and Randall Henderson trails so hikers could rest.

Along the way, he pointed out yellow flowers on brittlebush, barrel cactus, agave, cholla cactus, mesquite and the Little San Bernardino Mountains and Indio Hills. From a rocky perch, hikers peered into the ultraprivate Big Horn development and golf course, where multi-million homes and fairways spread across what was once virgin desert.

Spotting a rattlesnake, the guide said, "He's sleeping and not warm enough yet. That's the trouble with being cold-blooded. He knows we're here and doesn't like it."

The rattler's black tongue slowly flicked out.

"We'll leave him alone to wake up," the guide said.

When many have fled the desert, some summer tourists settle into their hotels and go for a hike.

Dave Heatherington, 61, of Vancouver, British Columbia, flipped through a visitor's guide and saw the nature getaway: "Thursday Morning Hikes."

Heatherington, who has hiked the Grand Canyon, carried water, macadamia-nut cookies, a sandwich and first-aid supplies in his backpack.

"It's all good," he said, a hat shading his face slightly. "I like getting out and meeting new people."

Getting Connected

Hikes and presentations are scheduled through the rest of the year and in 2009.

"The Top Ten Scary Desert Creatures," "Happy Tails Doggie Adventure Hike," "Desert Survivors Nature Walk," "History of Conservation in the Coachella Valley," "Ready, Set, Find!: Geocaching in the National Monument," Cactus Spring Hike and "Are You Smarter Than a Raven?" are just a few.

Information: 760-862-9984 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m. seven days a week); Web site:

Scott Segal is director of programs for Friends of the Desert Mountains at the National Monument Visitor Center.

Year-round, he watches hikers return from encountering a desert many only see in brochures.

"In essence, they feel a sense of connection with their national treasures," he said.

"They become connected with the geology and geography, the plants and the animals, and they learn about the culture of the native Cahuilla people."

In the Mojave, an oasis turns 75

On Aug. 15, 1933, Joseph Chiriaco built a gas station on a two-lane highway in Riverside County. He and his wife raised a family there. Today, the outpost is a booming hamlet along Interstate 10.

Pleas Uhlhorn, 87, a retired Marine, attends the gathering marking the 75th anniversary of Chiriaco Summit.jpg

By David Kelly
Los Angeles Times

CHIRIACO SUMMIT, CALIF. -- As desert rats go, few are hardier than the Chiriaco clan.

They came to this lonesome hilltop when it was little more than sand, scrub and venomous reptiles. Brooding mountains stared down from above while a handful of residents huddled in remote towns below.

"My father always wanted to go into business for himself, and this was where he chose to do it," said Margit Chiriaco-Rushe.

And so Chiriaco Summit was born, a desolate outpost of howling winds and Spartan comforts, offering what founder Joseph Chiriaco said were "all the necessities and a few of the luxuries" of life. That meant gas, water, a hamburger and maybe a bed in a creaky cabin.

Yet times have changed.

What began as a rough-and-tumble gas station is now a community of some 60 full-time residents. And this month, the now-booming hamlet along Interstate 10 celebrated its 75th anniversary as a landmark way station for travelers heading through the Mojave Desert to Phoenix.

The old Chiriaco family home is now a post office. A modern Chevron station dispenses gas and organic coffee. The General Patton Memorial Museum is open, with an array of vintage tanks on display. There is a Vietnam Memorial Wall, a cafe, classic car garage, trailer park and even an airport.

"We have come through a lot of hard times here, some really lean times," said Chiriaco-Rushe, 70, sitting in a back booth of the coffee shop. "I don't think just anyone can live in the desert. It takes a certain person to see the beauty here."

Appreciating the desert is often an acquired taste, and there were times when she yearned for a change. She once moved to Bloomington, near Fontana.

"One of the reasons I came back is because my family needed me," said Chiriaco-Rushe, chief executive officer of the business. "I wanted to be an artist. I dreamed about maybe moving to New York, but I felt the pull to stay here. It really has been a wonderful life."

And one that has touched many others.

On Aug. 15, hundreds of travelers stopped by to congratulate Chiriaco-Rushe and her extended family on the anniversary.

"We go to the river a lot and always stop in for dinner or a malt," said Nancy Barnes, 77, of Riverside. "It's a unique place with a personal touch. There is a pull that makes you want to come in. I can't go by without stopping."

Judy Duff drove by without stopping for decades until learning that she shared the same birthday -- Aug. 15, 1933 -- with the summit. The retired Riverside nurse felt the story was too good to keep to herself, so she drove up to share it.

"I used to see this place all the time on the way to Phoenix, but I never went in," she said. "I thought it was fascinating that we shared the same birthday. I worried though, what if I got there and Margit wasn't there? Who would I tell? The cook?"

Chiriaco-Rushe circulated among the local dignitaries like the chieftain of a small kingdom. She hugged Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff and posed under the cannon of a Sherman tank.

"Hurry up, I think I'm going to melt," she told a photographer as the sun beat down relentlessly.

The garrulous Huell Howser, host of KCET-TV Channel 28's "California's Gold," showed up with a camera crew and embraced her.

"Margit is a piece of history," he declared. "In a place like this, that seems so empty, you have two people who came out to find their dream. If that's not an example of California's gold, I don't know what is."

Chiriaco-Rushe smiled broadly, then ducked into a back room of the post office.

"This used to be our bedroom when we were kids," she said, standing in the narrow room now serving as her office. "We had four cots lined up in here. Each day we would take the school bus down to Indio."

Her father came from Alabama, working as a surveyor for the Los Angeles Bureau of Water and Power and then the Metropolitan Water District. His wife, Ruth, was a Minnesotan. They built their gas station along a two-lane highway about 30 miles east of Indio.

"My mom was a Norwegian blond, my dad was an Italian, and they both loved the desert," she said.

"We grew up without air conditioning in pretty crunched conditions. People out here made their houses from boxes and their fences from ocotillo sticks. But we had good values, and we were all straight-A students."

In 1942, Gen. George S. Patton came calling. He had chosen a site just a mile east of the summit as headquarters for an 18,000-square-mile training site designed to prepare soldiers for desert combat. When he died in 1945, the family erected a monument in his honor and donated the land where the museum now sits.

Joseph and Ruth Chiriaco died within months of each other in 1996. Their children took over and continue to run the summit, along with their children.

Many of the cooks, waitresses and clerks live in trailers behind the post office. Chiriaco-Rushe also lives on the property.

Over the years, the community has seen a parade of celebrities come through. President Reagan and his wife, Nancy, stopped in for ice cream. Basketball star Shaquille O'Neal ate a hamburger in the cafe.

Chiriaco-Rushe wants to put in a motel and maybe an RV park. But for now she is savoring the present.

"I am sure Joe and Ruth are here with us today," she told a small crowd as she teared up.

At the outdoor chapel, the Rev. Jack Keefe offered a blessing.

"May this be a place where people can shelter a little and then move on feeling renewed," he said. "May they not only find shelter but a home."

August 23, 2008

Law of the river: Don't dis the Colorado River Compact


Salt Lake Tribune

Herbert Hoover and dignitaries signing the 1922 Colorado River Compact.

The Colorado River Compact is like the Constitution. Many sensible people believe that it should be amended, but they're scared as hell of what might happen if a convention were called to do just that.

Nasty, unexpected things could come to pass, like populous, vote-rich California making a play to siphon even more water from the already overallocated Colorado River.

That's why there was a collective gasp across the so-called Upper Basin states, including Utah, when Sen. John McCain suggested the other day that the Colorado River Compact "obviously" should be renegotiated. Perhaps the good senator was having a senior moment.

The compact is the linchpin in a series of agreements, treaties, laws and court rulings that have evolved since the 1920s to allocate the water in the Colorado River among seven Western states and Mexico. The river is divided into the Upper Basin (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico) and Lower Basin (Arizona, Nevada, California). Each basin is allotted 7.5 million acre-feet of water a year. Mexico gets 1.5 million acre-feet.

Unfortunately, when the compact was negotiated in 1922, the West was wetter than it is now. In this decade, the Colorado often has fallen short of the 16.5 million acre-feet of flow that the compact anticipates.

Some of that annual flow can be carried over from one year to another behind the giant dams, including Hoover and Glen Canyon, that the Bureau of Reclamation built. But in a prolonged drought, even those resources could be tapped out. Some 30 million people in the West rely on that water, and that number is growing rapidly.

Late last year, the parties to the compact came up with a new agreement to better manage the river, particularly lakes Mead and Powell, during a drought. The hope was to make it easier for the Lower Basin states to negotiate among themselves to manage shortages and give the Upper Basin states, whose water rights are junior to those of California, greater assurance that their allocations are secure.

No sensible people in the West should want to duke it out in Congress or the courts when water gets really scarce. Water wars are never pretty.

The compact, flawed though it is, was designed to prevent that, and no westerner, McCain included, should talk lightly of renegotiating it.

August 21, 2008

Needles man up for conservation award

San Bernardino Sun

Cliff McDonald, a tenacious Needles hunter-conservationist who almost single handedly beat back the National Park Service's attempt to remove all man-made water sources from the Mojave National Preserve, has been named one of four finalists for the Budweiser Conservationist of the Year award.

The award carries a $50,000 prize and just being a finalist means McDonald will win at least $5,000 to further his efforts.

Besides battling former Park Superintendent Mary Martin over the shutting down of over 100 water sources used by wildlife in the preserve, and eventually winning, McDonald has now been at the forefront of organizing manpower, equipment and money to refurbish and restore the water sources that were shut down and those that were degrading. It was also at his prodding that the Park Service agreed to study the importance and impact of these water sources of wildlife, focusing the study on desert mule deer.

"Thanks to Cliff's persistence and quality volunteer service, the National Park Service has not only withdrawn its resistance but has gradually become a participant and supporter of the effort to provide these important water sources," said Anna Siedman of Safari Club International. "In the East Mojave, Cliff is wildlife's greatest champion."

It was also announced this week that McDonald won the Californian of the Year Award given by the Outdoor Writers Association of California (OWAC) for his efforts in the Mojave.

Jerry Springer, a long-time California writer and hunter who runs the online magazine from his Fresno home, nominated McDonald for the OWAC award.

"This all started in the fall of 2002 when it became obvious to Cliff that something bad was going on in the Preserve," Springer said. "He saw empty water tanks and started asking questions and found out that the staff of the Preserve was allowing over 100 water sources to go dry.

"That's when McDonald started his one-man campaign of letter writing, testifying at numerous meetings and informing wildlife organizations, in his attempt to save the wildlife of the Preserve."

When McDonald first started his restoration efforts, it was just him and a couple of buddies from Needles filling gamebird guzzlers with water or making sure desert springs had pools of water where wildlife could drink.

Today, McDonald's e-mail list of helpers is over 400 individuals long, and he's pulled together groups and individuals to create a diverse coalition.

He's managed to have Quail Unlimited, California Deer Association, Safari Club, and Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep volunteers working together on "McDonald projects," as they've come to be called.

There was and really is no name for McDonald's "group." In fact, the group is doing a major work project this weekend at Camp Cady, a state wildlife area east of Barstow.

Since McDonald started the effort, the group has repaired and refurbished 52 guzzlers and six springs, contributed more than 3,200 hours of labor, and raised more than $22,000 worth of equipment and materials for these efforts.

The list for this coming year of work is already long, targeting 40 guzzlers for repairs on and off the Preserve. There are also plans hatching for the installation of new water sources for wildlife.

Five grand will be a big help toward that work. But $50,000 would be enormous. McDonald will turn either amount into about 10 times their value in on-the-ground effort. You can count on that.

The public votes on the four finalists on the Budweiser Web site, determining who gets the $50,000. While the site wasn't set up to accept votes yet or the process delineated, I'll keep you posted on when the voting opens.

Water For Wildlife Guzzler Repair
Mojave National Preserve
December 2007

This video is about Water For Wildlife, a group of volunteers who maintain the water guzzlers in the Mojave NP in CA. This repair was on the B-18 guzzler near Goffs CA.

The work involves prepping the pad, the big flat part that catches the rain first. Chippers are used to clean off the old sealant and then Quickcrete concrete bonding adhesive is applied to the cracks. 2 coats or Merlex are then applied over 24 hours to seal the pad so the water all runs down into the underground water tank. The tank is also cleaned out and tortoise nets are installed so the tortoises can get out of the tank.

These water guzzlers are vital to the desert wildlife like the deer, bobcat, coyote, cougar, quail, bighorn sheep and desert tortoise.

Great food was served by the group and a raffle was held Saturday night to raise money for supplies to maintain the guzzlers.

Temps were in the low 40s at night and 60s during the day.

Huge thanks go out to CDA (California Deer Association), QU (Quail Unimited) SCBS (Society for the Conservation of Bighorn Sheep), SCI (Safari Club International), Bass Pro, DFG, BLM, PCOC (Predator Caller of Orange Co.), CA FNAWS and other groups that supplied gear, volunteers or other help.

We need more volunteers and it's a great campout in the desert.

For more info on Water For Wildlife please contact Cliff McDonald at 760-326-2935.

New wilderness proposals for Inyo

By Mike Gervais
Inyo Register

Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Buck McKeon, co-sponsors of the Wild Heritage Act, aren’t the only legislators who see the potential for additional wilderness in Inyo County, despite promises that the controversial wilderness designation would be the last requested within Inyo County.

Senator Dianne Feinstein is looking at several new wilderness designations in Southern Inyo that top officials are saying would hinder potential revenue sources, job opportunities and recreation in the area.

Feinstein’s office received a request by the California Wilderness Coalition seeking several new wilderness designations in Southern California, five of which are proposed for Inyo County’s Fifth District, including areas of Death Valley.

Feinstein’s staffers brought the proposals before Fifth District Supervisor Richard Cervantes, earlier this month.

The five new wilderness proposals include the Great Falls Basin Wilderness located near Trona on the southeast side of China Lake Naval Weapons Station, the Malpais Mesa proposed wilderness addition on the west side of Death Valley National Park, the Slate Range proposed wilderness just west of the Great Falls Basin proposal, and two wilderness additions within Death Valley National Park, one of which includes the area around the Ubehebe Crater, but does not include the crater itself.

The board decided Tuesday to review the wilderness proposals and draft a response to Feinstein. First District Supervisor Linda Arcularius said she was grateful that Feinstein’s staffers discussed the proposals with the board before drafting legislation.

“She has only been requested to do this, and she has not agreed to carry any legislation,” which gives the county the opportunity to work with the legislators to be sure the county’s needs are met before legislation is drafted.

Arcularius mentioned that the board did not have that opportunity with the Wild Heritage Act which aims to create the Eastern Sierra/ Northern San Gabriel Wilderness.

The board agreed to review the wilderness proposals and outline its concerns and send a response to Feinstein.

“Our first concern is that these proposals don’t fit the definition of wilderness” as defined in the 1964 Wilderness Act, said Fourth District Supervisor Jim Bilyeu. “The second is mining,” he said, adding that the areas described for the proposed wilderness are rich in mineral resources, have current mining claims on them and/or companies researching the possibility of opening mining claims.

Supervisor Cervantes brought up several concerns about mining in Inyo County and the negative effects the proposed wilderness could have on the industry. “This is about economic opportunities for Inyo County being locked up,” he said.

The proposed Malpais Mesa wilderness area includes an area where Timberline Resources is conducting an exploratory survey in hopes of opening a mine in the area “which would open up the potential for income for the county,” the Fifth District Supervisor said Tuesday.

There is also a study group conducting research in that same area in hopes of finding a location for a geothermal plant, Cervantes added.

If the wilderness designation is pushed through, the area would be off-limits to mining and industry of any kind, including a geothermal plant.

Cervantes called the latest onslaught of wilderness proposals a “nefarious plot” by environmentalists to outlaw mining in Inyo County’s mineral-rich areas.

Cervantes also mentioned that the Slate Range Wilderness Range near Panamint Valley is the site of the Briggs Mine and the Ratcliff mine.

He also said the Briggs Mine, which supports 120 jobs when it is operating, is completely out of sight of the public, and does not spoil the scenic desert views of Southern Inyo.

Cervantes said the same of the Great Basin proposed wilderness. “That particular area is a high mining area,” said Cervantes. He added that Feinstein’s staffers are also saying that the Great Falls Basin proposed wilderness area “would provide a buffer zone for the (China Lake) naval base. But everybody who’s been out there knows that you can’t wander onto the base without knowing about it, there are signs everywhere.”

“That buffer thing doesn’t hold water,” he added, and the other supervisors agreed.

Second District Supervisor Susan Cash noted that wilderness designations, according to the 1964 Wilderness Act, are not designed to provide “buffer” zones for military instillations, but to protect “unchanged and unspoiled” areas. She also said many of the areas don’t fit the description of “unchanged and unspoiled.”

“This has nothing to do with protection, it has everything to do with numbers,” said Third District Supervisor Beverly Brown, noting that the Ubehebe Crater is an area she could see being protected as wilderness, but not the surrounding desert area that is being considered for the protection.

“My position is that I don’t support any additional wilderness designation unless it fits the 1960s definition,” which says the designated land must be “unspoiled,” Bilyeu said.

Phone calls to Senator Feinstein’s office seeking comments on the proposed wilderness designations were not returned.

In the Nevada desert, there's something out there -- the Black Mailbox

Near Area 51, a solitary mailbox -- white -- is the only landmark for miles around. It has become the subject of UFO lore and a magnet for true believers on the state-christened Extraterrestrial Highway.

Laura Rauch / For The Times
UFO enthusiast Lester Arnold of Declo, Idaho, waits for nightfall and an evening of sky watching next to the so-called Black Mailbox. The white mailbox, which replaced the black original, is the only landmark for miles along a stretch of Nevada's Highway 395, officially nicknamed the Extraterrestrial Highway, near Area 51. UFO seekers frequently camp beside the mailbox, hoping to discover what the night may be hiding.

By Ashley Powers, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Times

TIKABOO VALLEY, NEV. -- The only landmark for about 40 miles on a barren stretch of highway is a mailbox battered by time and desert gusts. It's known as the Black Mailbox, though it's actually a faded white.

Over the years, hundreds of people have converged here in south-central Nevada to photograph the box -- the size of a small television, held up by a chipped metal pole. They camp next to it. They try to break into it. They debate its significance, or simply huddle by it for hours, staring into the night.

Some think the mailbox is linked to nearby Area 51, a military installation and purported hotbed of extraterrestrial activity. At the very least, they consider the box a prime magnet for flying saucers.

A few visitors have claimed they saw celestial oddities. But most enjoy even uneventful nights at the mailbox, about midway between the towns of Alamo and Rachel. Alien hunters here are surrounded by like-minded -- meaning open-minded -- company. In a place where the welcome sign to Rachel reads, Humans: 98, Aliens: ?, few roll their eyes at tales of spaceships, military conspiracies and extraterrestrials that abduct and impregnate tourists.

Tonight, Lester Arnold, a 59-year-old industrial mechanic, is in Rachel offering to show visitors Mailbox Road. He traveled from Declo, Idaho, for the annual UFO Friendship Conference Camp Out (sample lecture: "Teleportation and Esoteric Consciousness"). A few years ago at the mailbox, Arnold says, he saw a fireball-like object shoot over the mountains, stop and shrink until it vanished.

He meets Steve Crosby at a double-wide named the Little A'Le'Inn, a Rachel restaurant, bar and tourist stop. Crosby, 57, is debating whether the "Earthlings Always Welcome" T-shirt looks better in purple or black. He lives in Bedford, Texas, and hopes to spot his second spacecraft here (his first was a bluish oval that he says zipped over Atlanta).

The guys and three others caravan to the mailbox on the state-christened Extraterrestrial Highway, a two-lane road that tumbleweeds cross more frequently than cars. The cows grazing alongside it, conspiracy theorists whisper, are mounted with spy cameras. The men park near the mailbox and a bullet-dinged stop sign, and open their doors to silence.

The box is made of quarter-inch-thick bulletproof metal, and its door is clamped shut with a Master Lock. Its owner, say the black letters printed on its side, is STEVE MEDLIN, HC 61, BOX 80. Visitors have added bumper stickers and their own musings:

"Trust no one."

"I am the last alien."

"It's become this mecca," says a Las Vegas man who's admiring the weathered box. He wears a Johnnie Walker RVs ball cap and declines to give his name.

"That's probably the most photographed mailbox in the world," Arnold says, his gruff voice tinged with awe.

The owners of the mailbox, Steve and Glenda Medlin, moved in 1973 to a cattle ranch in Tikaboo Valley, about 80 miles north of Las Vegas. There was no talk of aliens, and no home mail delivery.

A few years later, a local tungsten quarry reopened. Some miners moved to a trailer park near the Medlins; it grew into the town of Rachel. Postal carriers began delivery, and the couple put up a common black rural mailbox about six miles from their home, near Highway 375.

In 1989, according to a history of Rachel, a man named Bob Lazar told a Las Vegas television station that he had worked with alien spacecraft at nearby Nellis Air Force Range. He and his buddies, Lazar claimed, also watched saucer test flights in Tikaboo Valley.

So many tourists soon descended on Rachel -- on the edge of the valley -- that the Rachel Bar & Grill was renamed the Little A'Le'Inn. People would down Alien Burgers and beer there before making their way to the mailbox, the only landmark in Tikaboo Valley. The mailbox acquired a cult-like following.

"For some reason, Tuesday nights was when they thought the aliens came out. Then it was Wednesdays," Glenda Medlin says with notable disdain. UFO tourists left messages in the mailbox for the aliens -- on business cards, napkins and notebook scraps. "They were waiting for the aliens to abduct them, and they were anxious to meet them. . . . We'd just shake our heads," says Medlin, who long ago stopped reading the notes. "It was so asinine."

Some people opened the couple's mail, hoping to intercept classified correspondence. Some camped at the mailbox -- for weeks. A few shot the mailbox, leaving holes in the Medlins' bills and junk mail. That was too much for the ranchers.

Medlin doesn't remember when her husband swapped the black mailbox for the larger white bulletproof one, but an online posting pegs the date as March 27, 1996. The next month, the state baptized Highway 375 as the Extraterrestrial Highway, making headlines internationally.

Steve Medlin attached a second box solely for the alien-seekers: It has a mail slot and is labeled ALIEN and DROP BOX; some people slide in dollar bills.

Despite years passing, the Black Mailbox remains an enigma, puzzled over on Internet message boards:

6/27/03: the farmer painted it white in hopes that people would stop being fascinated with this mysterious black mailbox in the middle of nowhere

5/3/05: Steve Medlin has a government contract to provide cattle for the space aliens to mutilate

2/25/08: Can anybody give me any info on the rancher. . . . I know his mailbox is famous and his cattle look strange. . . . I bet he has stories.

The sun disappears, and the surrounding Groom, Timpahute and Pahranagat mountains blacken. Stars peek through clouds. It's 52 degrees -- unseasonably cold for spring -- and Arnold and the other sky watchers are shivering through lined gloves and wool ponchos. They pace near the mailbox, one of the few things visible in the dark.

They clutch digital cameras and night-vision binoculars that tint everything green. They tilt back their heads, training their lenses on the sky. Someone clicks on a scanner, but it broadcasts only silence. Becky Spidell, 60, and her husband join the group, which passes time trading stories that, back home, are usually pooh-poohed.

"My mother was a UFO person. We had a big telescope in the living room," says Spidell, who runs a mobile home park in Phoenix. "I was so embarrassed -- I wouldn't bring friends over."

But three years ago, after seeing the Little A'Le'Inn on television, Spidell and her husband headed to Tikaboo Valley in early summer. She said that she peered out her car window and glimpsed three orange UFOs, followed by a giant saucer.

"We watched it for a little bit," she says, "and then it went over the mountain and it glowed for two or three minutes. It landed at Area 51." The Spidells have returned every year since.

"My youngest daughter thinks I'm nuts," she says. "I think this is the mother's curse."

Minutes pass; the sky watchers never lower their gazes.

Spidell: "It's a big sky, big universe."

Arnold: "It would be naive to think we're the only ones."

Spidell: "I'd like to know the games they're playing with us. The abductions and all."

They continue the UFO chatter.

"After I see one, I always check my clock," Spidell says.


"In case I've been abducted."

That way, she says, she could figure out afterward how long she'd been missing.

The others nod in understanding.

The pauses lengthen. Two hours crawl by. It's so dark now the mailbox seems like a mirage. There's a glow emanating from behind the mountains, but the group decides it's merely the Las Vegas Strip.

Crosby clutches a half-filled Coors, quietly surveying the night. A friend wanders off, and his flashlight occasionally blinks, jarring the group.

"We're not counting on seeing anything," Crosby finally says.


There's a light in the sky. A fast-moving light.

The group debates in hushed tones: Is it a shooting star? A spaceship?

They train their binoculars on it, hoping.

"Probably a commercial jet," someone concludes.

Crosby slumps.

"Well," he says, "I can say I was here."

After Crosby's friend returns, the group disbands -- it's too frigid to camp until dawn. They start their cars and warm their fingers, the mailbox flickering in their headlights. They drive away, united in their certainty that the sky is hiding something.

August 20, 2008

Endangered tortoise found burned to death

Associated Press
Los Angeles Times

An endangered tortoise has been found burned to death in a fire grate at Black Rock campground in the Yucca Valley area.

Joe Zarki, information officer for Joshua Tree National Park, says rangers are seeking information from anyone who knows anything related to the dead desert tortoise found Aug. 4. He estimates the tortoise was 45 years old.

Desert tortoises are a threatened species, protected by the federal Endangered Species Act as well as state wildlife laws. The desert tortoise also is California’s official state reptile.

Base taking closer look at Johnson Valley property

By Jimmy Biggerstaff
Hi-Desert Star

MCAGCC — The Department of the Navy has submitted an application to the Bureau of Land Management to withdraw from public use 421,270 acres of land that border Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, including land in the Johnson Valley area.

The Marine Corps announced in May last year that the Secretary of Defense authorized a study that could lead to land acquisition near the base.

The public acreage in the study area borders the base on its eastern, southern and western areas.

Base officials say the withdrawal request gives the Marine Corps the opportunity to carefully study these areas as alternatives for meeting training requirements.

The BLM will publish a notice of intent for the withdrawal request, which will trigger a public-comment period.

While forming an environmental impact statement, the Marine Corps and BLM say they will work with off-road vehicle, recreation and business communities to manage continued public access to the areas under study for potential acquisition.

Base officials expect the Department of the Navy to issue a notice of intent to begin the environmental impact study in late October or early November, with a public scoping meeting to be held in early December.

At the meetings, officials say they will share with the public reasonable alternatives, including one alternative to take no action at all.

Solar and wind power enterprises have also expressed their interest in acquiring government land in this area for solar- and wind-power generation.

Off-roaders urge base to look east

Ray Pessa is past president of the Friends of Giant Rock, a non-profit organization that formed a few years ago, “To address issues of concern to off-roaders and keep riding areas open,” among other stated goals.

Pessa is also working with the newly formed Partnership For Johnson Valley, which seeks to keep an approved off-road riding area bordering the base from being annexed for military use.

Johnson Valley is the site of the largest open access riding area in the country.

The partnership has met with base officials to inform the leadership about public land use and encourage the government to look to the east of the base for its expansion plans, not into Johnson Valley.

In addition to off-roaders, Pessa pointed out that government land bordering the base hosts hikers, campers, rock hounds, scouting organizations and rocket clubs.

Pessa said the organizations he represents are in “full support of Marines getting best training they can possibly get.”

He further stated the groups he is associated with would like for the government to “take a good, hard look to the east” to fulfill its training needs.

Twentynine Palms called best site

The Marine base currently covers 932 square miles of land north of Twentynine Palms and south of Interstate 40 in the southwest Mojave Desert. If the Marines were to acquire all of the proposed 658 square miles, it would increase the size of the training grounds by more than 70 percent.

The Marines have stated previously that any additional land area added to existing base real estate would be primarily used as buffer zones, not for live fire or maneuvering.

In a fact sheet published last year, the Marine Corps said it conducted a lengthy, nationwide search for additional training areas in Virginia, North Carolina, the Southeast and the Southwest, concluding only the Twentynine Palms facility met its requirements.

Earlier this year, the Marine Corps announced plans for building projects and facilities upgrades totaling more than $271 million dollars for the Twentynine Palms base and the intent to station an additional 1,700 Marines here.

The planned plus-up is part of a proposal to increase the active-duty population of the Marine Corps from 175,000 to 202,000.

Brig. Gen. C.M. Gurganus, commander of the combat center, wrote in a letter to the community on Monday that the proposed land acquisition has a single purpose: To train Marines as they fight.

There Ought to Be a Roadless Law


New York Times

Among President Bill Clinton’s signature environmental achievements was a regulation that prohibited new roads — and by extension, new commercial activity — in nearly 60 million largely undeveloped acres of the national forests. For seven years, the Bush administration, egged on by its friends in the timber and oil-and-gas industries, has worked tirelessly to kill the roadless rule. Conservationists have worked just as hard to preserve it.

Rules devised by the executive branch are often challenged on grounds that they violate an underlying federal statute or have been rushed through without proper vetting. Environmental regulations are especially contentious. The roadless rule, in particular, has been caught in an endless game of Ping-Pong, with some courts upholding it, others overturning it.

The good news is that little has changed on the ground: In seven years, only seven miles of new roads have been built in protected areas in the lower 48 states. Legally, though, things are a complete mess. That means that there is no guaranteed protection for the roadless forests.

The Clinton rule has been thrown out three times by district courts in response to lawsuits from states and industries. The most recent injunction was handed down last week by Clarence A. Brimmer, a conservative Federal District Court judge in Wyoming. He issued one of the earlier injunctions and has supported the administration on whether to limit snowmobiles in Yellowstone, which is another long-running environmental dispute.

The roadless rule has been reinstated twice — once at the appellate level by the Ninth Circuit, and later by a federal magistrate judge in San Francisco, Elizabeth LaPorte. Judge LaPorte also slapped down a sneaky effort by the Bush administration to take advantage of all the confusion by replacing the Clinton rule with a much weaker alternative of its own.

Environmental groups will surely appeal Judge Brimmer’s latest ruling, which, of course, they should. But that still leaves too much room for mischief. Congress will have to intervene. Last year, more than 140 House members and 19 senators introduced the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act. It is past time to provide permanent protection for the forests by turning the Clinton rule into firm law.

Chronology of the Roadless Area Conservation Policy


January 5
President Clinton announces and USDA Secretary Glickman signs the final roadless policy.

January 8
Boise Cascade et al. files suit in Idaho U.S. district court.

Case is assigned to Judge Edward Lodge.

January 9
State of Idaho files suit in Idaho U.S. district court. Case assigned to Judge Lodge.

January 12
Roadless Area Conservation Rule published in Federal Register.

January 20
President Bush takes office. White House directive postpones effective date of all federal rules not yet in effect.

January 31
State of Alaska files suit in Alaska U.S. district court.

February 5
USDA Secretary Veneman postpones effective date of Roadless Rule until May 12, citing White House directive.

February 20
Boise Cascade files motion for a preliminary injunction (PI), requesting decision on their case prior to May 12.

March 9
Bush Administration requests delay in answering both Idaho complaints.

March 15
Senators Patrick Leahy and Maria Cantwell write to Attorney General John Ashcroft urging vigorous defense of Roadless Rule litigation.

March 16
Bush Administration requests a 42-day delay in responding to Idaho PI motions and commits to postponing implementation of Roadless Rule until Judge Lodge rules on the PI motions.

March 16
Nez Perce Tribe submits friend of the court brief opposing the PI request.

March 20
Judge Lodge denies the Administration's March 16 request to delay proceedings and orders Administration to respond to PI requests by March 21.

March 21
The Bush Administration's response to the Idaho PI requests makes no effort to defend the Roadless Rule and suggests the court enjoin the roadless rule after May 12.

March 28
State of Colorado files friend of the court brief in support of State of Idaho's lawsuit.

March 30
At court hearing on Idaho PI motions, the Bush Administration does not defend the Roadless Rule and asks the court to wait for the Administration to complete its review and file a status report by May 4.

April 5
Judge Lodge issues an opinion in which he defers a decision on the PI requests until May 4, but agrees with Idaho plaintiffs that the Roadless Rule violated was adopted illegally.

April 20
State of Utah files lawsuit in Utah U.S. district court.

April 20
Timber industry coalition, led by American Forest and Paper Association, files lawsuit in District of Columbia U.S. district court.

May 3
States of Montana and Wyoming file friend of the court briefs in support of the State of Idaho's lawsuit.

May 4
Bush Administration files status report with Judge Lodge saying that it will implement the Roadless Rule, but will propose amendments to the rule that address the concerns of Judge Lodge and the plaintiffs.

May 8
Four counties in North Dakota file lawsuit challenging Roadless Rule.

May 10
Judge Lodge issues preliminary injunction blocking implementation of Roadless Rule; environmental intervenors appeal to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals

May 12
Roadless Area Conservation Rule scheduled to go into effect.

May 19
State of Wyoming files lawsuit challenging Roadless Rule.

May 21
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals grants environmental intervenors' request to expedite consideration of their appeal of Judge Lodge's preliminary injunction.

May 31
Environmental intervenors file appeal brief with Ninth Circuit.

June 1
Judge Lodge stays further proceedings pending a ruling from Ninth Circuit.

June 6
Montana attorney general files amicus brief with Ninth Circuit in support of Roadless Rule.

June 7
Forest Service requires approval by Chief of all road building and logging projects in roadless areas until forest plans are amended.

July 10
Bush administration issues Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) with 60-day public comment period on 10 questions regarding protection of roadless areas.

July 27
Forest Service issues interim directive on roadless area management.

August 22
Forest Service begins 60-day public comment period for interim directive on roadless area management.

September 10
End of public comment period on ANPR. More than 800,000 comments submitted.

September 10
State of North Dakota files lawsuit challenging Roadless Rule.

September 20
Forest Service proposes changes in its "categorical exclusion" regulations that would exempt small-scale management activities in roadless areas from environmental analysis requirements.

October 1
Judge Jackson grants federal government's motion to stay indefinitely the two Roadless Rule lawsuits filed in the District of Columbia

October 15
Ninth Circuit holds hearing on expedited appeals of Judge Lodge's preliminary injunction.

December 20
Forest Service issues interim directive on roadless area management, removing protection for contiguous unroaded areas.


Judge Brimmer denies the federal government's motion to stay the State of Wyoming's case.

April 12
Representatives Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) announce their intention to introduce legislation codifying the Roadless Rule.

May 10
26 Senators send a letter to President Bush asking him to uphold the Roadless Rule.

May 17
Bush administration recommends no wilderness protection for roadless areas in Tongass National Forest.

June 5
Inslee-Boehlert roadless area conservation bill introduced in House, with more than 170 original cosponsors.

July 25
Cantwell-Warner roadless area conservation bill introduced in Senate.

August 12
Bush Administration files legal brief in North Dakota case strongly defends the legality of the Roadless Rule.

December 12
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in 2-1 decision, reverses Judge Lodge and lifts preliminary injunction.


March 26
Forest Roads Working Group recommends that the Forest Service implement the Roadless Rule and discontinue efforts to amend Rule.

April 4
Ninth Circuit denies Boise Cascade and State of Idaho petition for re-hearing.

June 5
Roadless Area Conservation Act introduced in House and Senate.

June 12
Bush Administration announces that it will propose changes to Roadless Rule to exempt Tongass and Chugach National Forests and grant waivers upon request of individual State governors.

June 14
Interim directive on roadless area management expires.

July 14
Wyoming U.S. District Court Judge Clarence Brimmer decides that Roadless Rule violated NEPA and Wilderness Act and issues injunction.

July 15
Forest Service publishes proposed temporary rule exempting Tongass from Roadless Rule and an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to permanently exempt both the Tongass and Chugach.

August 14
Comment deadline for Tongass temporary rule and Chugach ANPR.

August 21
Justice Department and North Dakota plaintiffs request a 2-month delay in North Dakota cases due to anticipated revisions in Roadless Rule.

September 5
North Dakota U.S. District Court agrees to postpone summary judgment hearing and schedules settlement meeting for September 23.

September 12
Justice Department declines to appeal Brimmer decision.

November 12
Justice Department files amicus brief urging 10th Circuit Court of Appeals to deny intervenors’ appeal of Brimmer decision.

November 12
Forest Service proposes logging 12,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas in Siskiyou National Forest.

December 23
Forest Service exempts Tongass National Forest from Roadless Rule.


January 14
22 Senators send letter to President Bush asking him not to change the Roadless Rule.

June 16
House of Representatives votes 222-205 to end taxpayer subsidized road-building in the Tongass National Forest.

June 28
Administration schedules July release of proposal to replace the Roadless Rule with a process for Governors to petition for changes in roadless area management.

July 6
Forest Service decides to approve the Three Mile Timber Sale in Tongass National Forest, with 621 acres of logging and 7.78 miles of new roads, mostly in inventoried roadless areas.

July 8
Forest Service decides to log 8,173 acres of inventoried roadless areas in Siskiyou National Forest, despite objections from Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski.

July 12
USDA Secretary Veneman officially announces that Administration will propose replacing the Roadless Rule with Governor petition process.

July 16
Draft rule on replacing Roadless Rule published in Federal Register.

August 19
California federal district court enforces Roadless Rule as basis for enjoining timber sale in Duncan Canyon Roadless Area.

November 12
New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson and 8 other governors send a comment letter opposing the Administration’s draft rule and supporting the Roadless Rule.

November 15
Comment period on draft rule ends. More than 1.7 million comments oppose the Adminstration’s proposal and support retaining the Roadless Rule.


January 24
The State of California asks the Forest Service to continue protecting roadless areas in the state.

April 1
Oregon Governor Kulongoski asks the Forest Service to defer logging of roadless areas in the Siskiyou National Forest. The Forest Service agrees to wait until 21 days after the Administration’s new roadless policy is adopted and goes into effect.

April 7
Forest Service in Alaska agrees to drop roadless area logging in the Orion North Timber Sale through partial settlement of a lawsuit over the Tongass National Forest management plan.

May 4
Oral arguments scheduled before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on the Wyoming district court decision enjoining the Roadless Rule.

May 5
The Administration announces their plans to overturn the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. Congressmen, Senators and Governors express their opposition to new rule. The Outdoor Industry Association and Republicans for Environmental Protection also express opposition.

May 13
Bush Administration issues final regulation repealing the Roadless Rule and replacing it with a state petition process. Interim directive requiring Chief-level approval of roadless area projects is renewed.

July 11
Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals dismisses appeal of the Wyoming district court decision and vacates the decision, on grounds that the case has been made moot by the May 13 repeal of the Roadless Rule.

July 28
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and over 140 cosponsors introduced legislation to restore protection for our roadless forests.

August 5
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals invalidates the Tongass National Forest management plan and remands the case to the district court to determine appropriate relief.

August 28
States of California, Oregon, and New Mexico file a lawsuit challenging the Bush Administration’s repeal of the Roadless Rule. The case is assigned to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte in Northern California federal district court.

October 5
Earthjustice files suit on behalf of The Wilderness Society and 19 other conservation groups, raising issues similar to the states’ case. The case is also assigned to Laporte.

October 14
Oregon Governor Kulongoski petitions Bush Administration to allow states to adopt 2001 Roadless Rule. The petition is denied on October 27. Washington Governor Gregoire files a similar petition on November 2.

December 14
National Roadless Area Advisory Committee holds its first meeting.

December 22
Governor Warner (VA) is the first Governor to submit a petition to protect the 380,000 acres of roadless forests in Virginia.


January 10
Bush Administration attorneys deny all allegations in states' and conservationists' lawsuits.

January 16
Forest Service extends interim policy requiring Chief's approval of logging and roadbuilding projects in most roadless areas.

February 9
Washington Governor Gregoire announces that Washington will be joining the California, Oregon, and New Mexico lawsuit.

February 24
Montana and Maine file an amicus brief supporting the states’ lawsuit challenging the repeal of the Roadless Rule.

March 2
Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) reintroduces Roadless Area Conservation Act in the Senate with 11 cosponsors.

March 6
Governor Easley (NC) petitions to protect 172,000 acres of inventoried roadless areas in North Carolina.

March 16
Judge Laporte orders the Forest Service to disclose internal documents on the Bush Administration’s decision to repeal the 2001 rule.

April 5
Nez Perce Tribe petitions for withdrawal of 2005 Roadless Repeal.

April 19
Governor Sanford (SC) files a petition to protect South Carolina’s 7,900 acres of roadless forests.

May 9
National Roadless Area Advisory Committee reviews and endorses petitions from Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

May 31
New Mexico Governor Richardson submits the first western state petition, requesting protection for all of the state’s inventoried roadless areas, plus the newly acquired Valle Vidal.

June 9
Forest Service auctions Mike's Gulch Timber Sale in South Kalmiopsis Roadless Area. Oregon Governor Kulongoski announces he will go to court to stop the sale.

June 21
Bush Administration accepts the Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina roadless area petitions, leading to state-specific rulemaking processes.

July 12
California Governor Schwarzenegger petitions to protect all 4.4 million acres of the state's inventoried roadless areas.

August 1
Court hearing held in roadless cases before Judge Laporte.

August 4
Forest Serivce auctions Blackberry Timber Sale in North Kalmiopsis Roadless Area.

August 7
Logging begins in Mike's Gulch Timber Sale - the first time a roadless area has been logged since the Roadless Rule was adopted in 2001.

August 11
State of North Dakota settles its lawsuit challenging the Roadless Rule.

September 20
Judge Elizabeth LaPorte of the U.S. District Court Northern District of California ruled that the Administration illegally repealed the Roadless Rule, sets aside the State Petitions Rule and reinstates the Roadless Rule nationwide except in the Tongass National Forest.

September 20
Idaho submits petition allowing road building and logging in most of the state's 9.3 million acres of roadless areas.

September 21
Timber industry appeals Laporte to 9th Circuit.

September 22
State of Wyoming asks Judge Brimmer for immediate reinstatement of his 2003 decision enjoining the Roadless Rule.

September 22
Forest Service Chief issues national directive to stop roadless area activities unless consistent with the Roadless Rule (except in Tongass).

September 29
Judge Singleton issues decision on relief in Tongass case (following 9th Circuit reversal on August 5, 2005), enjoining eight timber sales in roadless areas until Forest Service revises Tongass forest plan.

October 4
Judge Laporte denies State of Oregon's request to enjoin nearly-completed Mike's Gulch and Blackberry timber sales.

October 4
Bush Administration re-charters National Roadless Area Advisory Committee to review state petitions submitted under Administrative Procedures Act.

October 18 - 19
Meeting of National Roadless Area Advisory Committee (RACNAC); decides to continue reviewing petitions.

November 13
Colorado outgoing Governor Owens submits petition based on state task force recommendations.

November 29
Judge Laporte issues injunction barring road construction in connection with more than 300 oil and gas leases sold since January 2001.

November 29
Idaho outgoing Governor Risch tells RACNAC that his petition is intended to protect all but 500,000 acres of Idaho’s IRAs consistent with the Roadless Rule.


February 6
Judge Laporte issues final injunction, clarifying that the injunction extends to oil and gas drilling permits (as well as leases) issued since May 2005.

April 9
Forest Service and timber industry appeal Judge Laporte’s decision to the Ninth Circuit.

April 10
Federal Register notice initiates 30-day scoping comment period on Idaho petition for state-specific rulemaking.

April 11
Colorado Governor Ritter submits roadless petition including exemptions for ski areas, grazing, and coal mining.

May 24
Bills to enact the Roadless Rule are introduced in the House and Senate.

June 7
Judge Brimmer denies State of Wyoming's request to reinstate his 2003 decision enjoining the Roadless Rule.

July 5
Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals denies State of Wyoming's request to reinstate intervenors' appeal of Judge Brimmer's 2003 case.

October 19
Judge Brimmer holds oral arguments on State of Wyoming's new lawsuit challenging the 2001 Roadless Rule.

December 20
Idaho roadless rule draft EIS released.

December 26
Colorado roadless rule scoping notice issued.


January 22
10-year anniversary of Forest Service proposed moratorium on road construction in Inventoried Roadless Areas.

January 25
Tongass final forest plan released.

February 25
Comment deadline for Colorado roadless rule scoping.

February 28
State of California sues the Forest Service for failing to protect roadless areas in 4 southern California forest plans.

April 7
Comment deadline for Idaho roadless rule draft EIS.

Source: The Wilderness Society