September 29, 2008

Translocating tortoises preserves the threatened species

Story and photos by Brian Passey
Desert Valley Times

Riale Jo Worthen helps place a tortoise in a bucket.

St. George, UT - There is something magical about seeing wild animals in their natural habitat. It’s even more captivating to see rare animals, such as those listed as threatened or endangered species. In Washington County we have the presence of a few rare species, including the famous Mojave Desert tortoise, the largest reptile found in its namesake region.

The tortoise was first listed as threatened in 1990. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service identified 129,000 acres in Washington County as critical habitat for the tortoise in 1994, it created many restrictions and regulations for developers in the rapidly growing county. However, 1996 saw the inception of an incidental take permit, allowing development of known tortoise habitat as long as certain criteria are met. The incidental take permit created the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve as protected habitat managed by a habitat conservation plan.

The HCP manages the moving, or translocation, of tortoises from populated areas outside of the reserve into the reserve’s boundaries. A couple of years ago I went along with reserve officials on a translocation project where we transported a dozen or so tortoises from populated areas into the reserve. It was a fascinating and educational experience, which also offered a rare opportunity: the chance to hold a desert tortoise.

Because the threatened species is susceptible to disease and other trauma caused by interaction with humans, reserve officials ask the public to never touch the reptiles unless the tortoises are in immediate danger. For example, if you see a tortoise in the middle of the road it’s OK to move them to the side of the road, taking care to move the animal slowly and without startling it. A startled tortoise may evacuate its bladder in defense, losing valuable liquids necessary for survival in the harsh desert environment. If you do move a tortoise from the road you should always move it to the side of the road in the same direction it was traveling. If there is a fence nearby with low mesh designed to keep tortoises in the reserve and away from the road, place the tortoise inside the fence.

Reserve officials perform translocation projects a few times each year, giving new homes to tortoises found in populated areas. Tom Webster, outreach coordinator for the reserve, asks that residents not transport the tortoises to the reserve themselves because of the possibility of spreading diseases. Instead he asks residents to report tortoise sightings so reserve officials can carefully capture the tortoises. They then take the animals back to a temporary care facility to check for diseases before releasing them into the wild.

Bill Mader, HCP administrator, says the most common problem found in tortoises is respiratory track disease. When they arrive at the temporary care facility they are placed in separate pens so they don’t infect each other. If they are found to be healthy, biologists inject chips into the tortoises to track them before translocating them into the reserve. Once they are in the reserve, however, the danger is not over. Mader says fires are an increasing threat to the tortoise population because the Mojave Desert environment is not supposed to burn, as opposed to forests where occasional burns can promote a healthy forest. “Fires are a monster at the door here and across the whole West,” Mader says. Wildfires in the desert and other areas have increased in recent years because of the presence of invasive plant species that easily burn.

In late August, a group of people associated with the reserve and a few family members gathered to release seven tortoises into the wild and they invited me to come along again. “All seven of these guys are healthy,” Webster told me as we drove toward the translocation spot near Leeds. “Otherwise we wouldn’t be releasing them.” Bob Sandberg, the HCP biologist, says the captured tortoises came from a variety of areas near St. George. Some were found near the Green Springs area in Washington City while others came from the West Black Ridge — where the airport is located — and the East Black Ridge — also called Middleton Ridge or Foremaster Ridge. Once we reach the reserve they’ll join more than 350 other tortoises previously translocated and roughly 2,000 others already living there.

However, the tortoises are not always released in the same location. Mader says they spread them out to preserve the gene pool and to make sure there are viable populations behind different firebreaks in case of a catastrophic blaze.

Arriving in Leeds, Mader, Sandberg, Webster and I met up with the rest of the group, which included Ann McLuckie, a wildlife biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources; McLuckie’s 3-year-old daughter, Robin Bock; Justin Neighbor, a field technician for the reserve; and his 3-year-old granddaughter, Riale Jo Worthen. Despite their young age, it’s not the first time the little girls have seen desert tortoises. “She gets to see them a lot with Grandpa,” Neighbor says of his granddaughter. Because of past experiences, Riale Jo and Robin both know they have to wear protective gloves before handling the tortoises. They also know they can only move the reptiles when it’s time to take them to their new homes.

From Leeds we travel east through private property for better access to the new habitat. It’s possible to reach the area within the reserve by following the Historic Babylon Trail but since we’re lugging the heavy reptiles it’s much easier to make our way through the private property — with permission, of course. We drive as far as the road takes us, which is only up to the reserve boundary, marked as it is throughout the county with the characteristic meshing at the bottom of the fence.

We walk out along the trail, Robin and her mom leading the way. Once we are a quarter-mile or more into the reserve we spit into smaller groups to spread the tortoises out. I go with the girls, McLuckie and Neighbor as we veer off the trail and into a sparse creosote forests. “They like this creosote,” McLuckie says. “Oh, they love it,” Neighbor responds.

The creosote offers shade, but not food for the reptiles. McLuckie says they generally eat grasses and flowers. “They’re really exploratory eaters,” she says. “They’ll eat anything and if they don’t like it they’ll spit it out.” They have excellent memories when it comes to food, she adds.

While shade is an important element when looking for a place to leave the tortoises, McLuckie says they don’t necessarily look for established burrows because the tortoises will usually leave anyway. “This is kind of a new area for them so the first thing they want to do is explore,” she says.

Finally we located a couple of potentially good homes for the reptiles and prepare to set them free. Robin releases her tortoise first, carefully pulling it from the bucket with her gloved hands and gently setting it down in the shade of a creosote bush. We then move about 50 feet away and Riale Jo does the same with her tortoise. Both animals amble off slowly, exploring their new environment and preparing for what will hopefully be a long and disease-free life.

As we walk along the trail back to the vehicles, McLuckie tells me that they have seen little evidence of disease in the wild tortoises they monitor. They especially like the area east of Leeds, known as Zone 4, for translocating tortoises because they believe it is disease-free. They track the tortoises every 10 to 14 days through telemetry, or the method of gathering data electronically, thanks to the chips they injected into the recently released reptiles.

Because Zone 4 is a favorite translocation area, it’s also a good spot to look for tortoises in the wild, and it boasts some of the reserve’s best trails, like the nearby Arch Trail. So if you’ve never seen a Mojave Desert tortoise in the wild, head out to the Babylon area and try out one of the trails. Just remember: Look but don’t touch.

September 28, 2008

Cadiz Valley desert water-storage plan renewed

The Press-Enterprise

The owners of remote desert land have revived a $200 million plan to store water underground to send to Southern California in dry times, although the region's major water agency rejected the idea six years ago.

Cadiz Inc., owner of land and water rights in the Cadiz Valley about 40 miles east of Twentynine Palms, has secured a 99-year lease to use railroad right-of-way for a 42-mile pipeline connecting to the Colorado River Aqueduct, said Richard Stoddard, chief executive officer of a sister company, Cadiz Real Estate LLC, in a telephone interview.

Water would be diverted from the aqueduct into the Cadiz pipeline and injected into the ground for storage in an aquifer beneath the company's land. When needed, the water would be returned to the aqueduct and could meet the needs of an estimated 1.2 million people in Southern California, the company contends.

Cadiz Inc.'s announcement surprised officials at Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the major buyer and distributor of water in the region.

The district, which built and operates the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct that Cadiz wants to use, rejected a similar proposal in 2002 amid environmentalists' opposition and concerns about costs. In addition, the Colorado River didn't have surplus water to fill the Cadiz aquifer, district officials said.

"We don't have any plans to proceed with the (Cadiz) project, and they haven't discussed their new approach with us," said Timothy F. Brick, Metropolitan's board chairman.

Metropolitan would have less involvement this time around, said Courtney Dedener, Cadiz investor relations manager. The previous deal would have made the water district a partner in the project, and the two entities would have jointly built the pipeline to the Cadiz Valley. Now, the company plans to build the pipeline without the water district and charge clients for water storage.

Aqueduct Rights

Cadiz Inc. owns 44,000 acres of land and related groundwater rights in the Cadiz, Fenner and Piute valleys of eastern San Bernardino County. It grows grape and citrus crops.

Stoddard said the company has been talking with several water providers that have rights or potential rights to water in the aqueduct and could benefit from the company's storage project.

California's "water-wheeling" laws give water providers the right to move supplies through the aqueduct, Stoddard said. The laws are similar to rules that allow various telephone companies to use the same transmission lines, he said.

Metropolitan spokesman Bob Muir said the district has not seen a proposal from the Cadiz company. To access the aqueduct, capacity must be available, he said.

The Cadiz clients also would have to pay access and stewardship fees, he said.

Fern Steiner, San Diego County Water Authority chairwoman, said the Cadiz venture possibly could be used to store Colorado River water the agency purchases from the Imperial Irrigation District.

"Our board should look at the Cadiz project," she said. "We should explore all possibilities to find new water sources."

Stoddard said he expects the pipeline to be operating in about three years, allowing 18 months for environmental reviews under the purview of the San Bernardino County planning agency.

It would take roughly the same amount of time to build the pipeline, he said.

Environmental Concerns

In 2001 and 2002, environmentalists who opposed the project said they feared that pumping from the Cadiz Valley would deplete natural groundwater that feeds area springs. The springs and groundwater are necessary to sustain desert bighorn sheep and various plants and other wildlife, they said.

Terry Wold, conservation coordinator for the Sierra Club's Inland chapter, said the group will continue to oppose the pipeline and storage project.

Wold said that besides concern about the springs, she is worried about contaminating the pure native groundwater with the saltier Colorado River water.

Elden Hughes, of Joshua Tree, former chairman of the environmental group's desert committee, said the environment would be damaged by construction of large-scale pumping stations.

"It they want to suck the aquifer dry, we will do our damndest to stop them," Hughes said.

Club members will write letters, lobby elected officials and, if necessary, sue to stop the project, he said.

Stoddard said native groundwater would be used but that levels would be carefully tracked to ensure the environment is protected.

He added that using the Arizona & California Railroad Co. right-of-way would be less damaging to the environment than the previous plan that routed the pipeline across public land overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management.

"The more this project is examined, the more environmentally benign it becomes," Stoddard said.

Goffs Depot reincarnated as library

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Built as a replica of the historic Goffs Depot, this building is really a research library containing the unique Mojave Desert Archives.
Photo by Dennis G. Casebier/CERCA Contributor

A vanished railroad depot will be reborn as a research library and the home of a unique archive Oct. 11 during the 2008 Mojave Road Rendezvous at Goffs, Calif.

Goffs is a former railroad junction and ranching community that has become a repository of historical buildings, artifacts, and lore relating to the Eastern Mojave. The latest addition to its resources, the library, was built in the image of the Goffs Depot that formerly stood at the junction of the shortline Nevada Southern Railroad with the Santa Fe, the main east-west line through the Southern California desert. For about 30 years beginning in 1893, this junction connected Searchlight to the outside world; its depot stood from 1902 to 1956.

Goffs has become regionally famous as the site where historian and author Dennis Casebier, his wife, Jo Ann, and scores of other volunteers restored a charming one-room schoolhouse, originally built in 1914, to serve once again as the social center and soul of the sparsely populated community, as well as a small museum.

Here also Casebier and company assembled an unrivaled collection of over 100,000 photos, 4,500 maps, 700 oral histories, 6,000 books and other documents and ephemera now known as the Mojave Desert Archives, which will be the heart of the new library's collection. They chronicle the Mojave Road, an Indian trade route that became a 19th-century military highway; the region's mining boom of the 19th and 20th centuries; decades of friction between homesteaders and cattle barons; and much more.

Now in its 28th year, the annual Mojave Road Rendezvous is primarily a gathering of the volunteers who have restored and rebuilt the desert crossing and gathered the region's artifacts and knowledge. The event is also open to the public; however, no public accommodations or recreational vehicle hookups are available at Goffs; the closest are the motels of Needles, Calif., 30 miles to the east, or the campgrounds of the nearby Mojave National Preserve. Goffs is 104 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

The Rendezvous kicks off at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 with a covered-dish supper, where visitors bring one to share, continues with the dedication at 2 p.m. Saturday, and a no-host dinner at 4 p.m. in the no-frills "Flywheel Cafe." For further information, contact the Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association Web site,, or call (760) 733-4848.

September 25, 2008

Team of lone rangers scours the new Wild West

Park service workers in the Mojave never know what vestige of the Wild West they'll find, right down to train robbers.

By Mike Anton
Los Angeles Times

KELSO, CALIF. — High noon and the desert is hot as a wok, yet Tim Duncan is wearing body armor under his uniform. A handgun and a Taser hang from his belt. Next to him in the truck are a shotgun and an M-16 assault rifle with extra magazines.

"Out here, you have to be prepared," he said.

Duncan is a National Park Service ranger at the Mojave National Preserve, a Mordor-like sweep of serrated mountains, feral deserts, Joshua tree forests, dry lakes and lava beds -- a park five times the size of Los Angeles that's patrolled by eight law officers.

Here the wilds of nature meet the wilds of man, an incongruous environment that has hidden meth labs and illegal waste dumps, plant and wildlife poachers, archaeological thieves, the occasional dumped body and train robbers.

Yes, train robbers.

Union Pacific trains laden with goods from the coast rumble into the Mojave National Preserve at the aptly named Devils Playground, 40 miles of hellish sand dunes and salt flats at the base of the Kelso Mountains. Mile-long caravans of double-stacked cars wheeze to a crawl as they labor up the steep Cima Grade through the heart of the preserve. Sometimes they stop on side tracks to let other trains pass.

Thieves typically strike at night -- busting into boxcars and tossing down the booty to waiting accomplices with trucks.

Sometimes, looters find what they want, such as consumer electronics. "Other times the container is loaded with teddy bears or promotional magnets for a restaurant," Duncan said.

Congress created the preserve in 1994. When Duncan arrived three years later, the railroad was losing more than $1 million a month there to robbers.

"It was just like an open-air flea market out here," he said. "Stuff was strewn everywhere."

Stepped-up enforcement by park rangers and railroad police has dampened the wholesale looting. Yet rangers still come across piles of empty flat-screen television boxes and Styrofoam packing material. Four men were caught last month liberating TVs from a boxcar in broad daylight. A fifth suspect, a 17-year-old boy, was found dead, a victim of the scorching midday heat.

Such arrests are rare. Those who do get caught tend to stand out.

Three summers ago, Ranger Kirk Gebicke and a partner stopped to chat with two men sitting in an empty Budget rental truck near the railroad tracks. The pair had been drinking and couldn't explain why they were parked in a moving van miles from anything that needed to be moved. They expressed ignorance about a sack of cocaine the rangers found in the grass four feet away.

The men were arrested. An aerial search of the area found 75 flat-screen TVs worth more than $225,000 that had been thrown from a train.

"I'm at the edge of the world here," Gebicke said. "There are things here that you won't find at Yosemite or Yellowstone."

Mojave National Preserve lies an hour east of Barstow, sandwiched between Interstate 15, Interstate 40 and the Nevada state line. Known as the Lonesome Triangle, it has been trafficked for eons by people seeking riches, a path to someplace else -- or simply a place to hide.

Prehistoric hunters tracked large animals across a verdant landscape of rivers and lakes sculpted by volcanic activity. Ancestors of today's Mojave, Paiute and Chemehuevi Indians eked out an existence after the lakes disappeared.

Spanish soldiers and Mormon pioneers blazed routes to the coast that others followed in droves -- the Southland's first freeways. Miners in the 1800s discovered gold, silver, copper and minerals used in industry. Ranchers found endless grazing land. During World War II, Army Gen. George Patton chose the Mojave as a stand-in for North Africa to train soldiers. After the war, returning troops turned the Mojave into an off-road motorcycling mecca for a booming Los Angeles.

An anything-goes Wild West ethic permeates the area's history, and vestiges of it persist.

The freeways are conveyor belts for trouble from Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Some 1,800 miles of dirt roads lead to countless out-of-sight arroyos and hidey holes. It's impossible to know what's going on out there.

At any given time, two or three lone rangers drift across a potentially hostile universe where the road signs have been blasted by bullets and any hope of backup is a mirage.

Rangers study the landscape for signs of recent human activity. Gebicke carries what he calls a "track trap" -- a garden rake to smooth over entrances to dirt roads leading to known trouble spots.

"I'm seeing what's in place and what's out of place," Duncan said. "If I'm on a road where there never was a gate and suddenly there is one now, why, that raises a red flag."

Duncan, 52, is a gregarious bear of a man with a graying beard and a Georgia accent thick as country gravy. He grew up in the sticks and dreamed of a life outdoors just like Fess Parker's Daniel Boone in the '60s television series. After a stint in the Air Force and time working for an aerospace firm, Duncan went back to college, earned a forestry degree and joined the Park Service, serving first in Alaska and later at the Manassas Civil War battle site in Virginia. His first two years in the Mojave he patrolled alone.

More than 500,000 vehicles a year traverse the preserve's few paved roads. Because there are no formal entrances or fees, it's unknown how many are just passing through on what is a popular and at times white-knuckle shortcut between Palm Springs and Las Vegas. (A driver recently was clocked going 121 mph and ticketed; fatal wrecks are common.)

Park officials stress that the overwhelming majority of visitors come to admire the preserve's austere beauty. Three of North America's four desert ecosystems meet in its 1.6 million acres to form more than 30 distinctive plant and animal habitats. Hiking the Kelso Dunes, which rise to 700 feet, conjures a feeling of being Lawrence in Arabia. Spring wildflowers are a popular draw as is the lovingly restored Kelso Depot, once a thriving passenger train stop and now the preserve's visitor center.

But off the beaten path are scenes that will never appear in a glossy coffee-table book: The man hanging from a rope on a Joshua tree in February, an apparent suicide. The attempted hijacking of a recreational vehicle by a luckless man abandoned in the desert by a friend; he was beaten and subdued by the four vacationers when his gun proved empty.

"Some people look at all this desert and say, 'That's just wasteland. It doesn't matter what I do with it -- or do in it,' " Duncan says as he drives past an old water-pumping station with graffiti and three wild burros. "I've had people tell me to my face: 'We know what the rules are, but when no one's around, we do what we please.' "

Thieves will steal anything that's not anchored to the ground -- as well as stuff that is. Scrap metal from historic ranch structures and mining sites. Copper wiring from modern communication relay stations. Rare butterflies and reptiles coveted by collectors, including the colorful rosy boa and the endangered desert tortoise. Tortoises have also been found shot to death.

Two men who stole a front-end loader from an abandoned mine carved a road across miles of black lava cinder cones before they were caught.

Mojave National Preserve has 1,600 documented archaeological sites, some dating to 10,000 B.C. Many of them have been stripped of their pottery, baskets, stone tools and metates, arrowheads and other artifacts.

"What surprises me is how much material used to be there," said David Nichols, the preserve's full-time archaeologist, who compared his findings with old field surveys. "At most of these sites, I'd say 70% of the visible cultural material is gone."

Rampant looting predates the Park Service. An area first documented in 1977 was so rich in artifacts it was dubbed the Freightwagon Site because you could fill one with the stuff. A researcher's report offered this prescient observation: "As soon as this site location becomes public knowledge, it will be vandalized by off-the-road 'enthusiasts.' "

When an associate of Nichols' revisited the area last year, nearly everything was gone. Off-road quad tracks led straight to the site from I-15.

"It's awful," Nichols said. "And because the place is so vast we never, ever catch anyone in the act of doing anything."

Native American petroglyphs have been cut from rock walls and carted off. Boulders adorned with ancient art have vanished. Vandalism is pervasive, especially of petroglyphs depicting "mask figures" which resemble a human face with eyes and a mouth.

People shoot at them for target practice.

"I dream of the day that I come around a corner and find a guy with a hammer and chisel," Nichols said.

Maybe he shouldn't, given that Nichols patrols the backcountry unarmed.

The preserve's remoteness makes it an ideal place to take care of certain types of business.

In 2001, a Dallas man was traveling to Los Angeles with three men he met in a coffee shop. They pulled off I-15 and drove into the preserve to find a quiet place to empty their bladders. That's when one of the man's new friends shot him to death under the soft light of a million stars.

Two years later, a woman's torso was found just outside the preserve. Tattoos of a hummingbird over the left breast and an "M" with a star on the lower back led authorities to identify the remains as those of a 19-year-old Las Vegas prostitute last seen getting into a car with California plates.

Duncan figures it's a sure bet there are more out there who will never be found. "There's an old story: If all the dead here in the desert stood up, we'd have a forest."

As he approaches places such as the New Trail mine, a lurching 20-minute drive up a rock-strewn road, Duncan is aware of the risk of being in this country alone.

It was here in 2001 that Duncan and Gebicke went to saw off locks that had been placed on the camp's old cabins. They encountered four men in a pickup coming the other way. They just happened to have the key.

At the mine, the rangers discovered a drug lab and 10 gallons of pure methamphetamine oil ready to be crystallized.

The men were arrested and the mine site cleaned up.

A 2003 National Park Service narrative of the preserve's history noted that "crystal meth has posed a considerable problem to the park." Rangers periodically run across red phosphorus stains, containers of lye and empty boxes of pseudoephedrine -- signs of a cook at work.

"If I don't get up here for six months, you have no clue as to what's gone on in that six months," Duncan said.

On this day, the New Trail mine is quiet. On a table in an outbuilding are empty bottles of whiskey, sour apple schnapps and a half-filled jar of clear liquid labeled "corn whiskey."

Outside, a lizard scurries across ground strewn with beer bottles and spent shells.

Whoever was here left several camp chairs behind, suggesting they will be back. What they'll be up to is anyone's guess.

The desert is good at keeping secrets.

On patrol, Ranger Tim Duncan carries a handgun and a Taser. Next to him in his truck are a shotgun and an M-16 assault rifle with extra magazines. “Out here, you have to be prepared,” he says.

Pro-energy group seeks probe of environmental lobbyists

By Lee Davidson
Deseret News

A pro-energy development group is calling for Congress to investigate possible illegal coordination between an arm of the Interior Department and lobbyists for environmental groups.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, announced last week that Interior's inspector general is already conducting its own probe into whether environmental lobbyists improperly coordinated with officials at Interior's National Landscape Conservation System.

But Americans for American Energy President Greg Schnacke said Wednesday that "the congressional oversight process must be brought into play as well."

He added, "The Wilderness Society and the National Wildlife Federation spend millions of dollars pursuing an anti-American energy political agenda. The question we have is how far does this extend and is it more extensive than simply the NLCS?"

Bishop, ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, last week called for those NLCS employees being reviewed by the inspector general investigation to relinquish duties until the probe is completed.

Federal law generally prohibits federal employees from using appropriated funds or their official positions to lobby Congress. Americans for American Energy worries that some NLCS officials may have met at Wilderness Society offices to coordinate lobbying strategy and messages with environmental groups.

"You can't tell me this is an isolated incident," Schnacke said. "The political agenda of the NWF and the Wilderness Society is too broad and touches more in the Interior Department than just the NLCS."

He added, "If the (congressional) committees refuse to conduct such oversight (and look into the matter), it will be sending a message to the American people that it intends to turn a blind eye to such activities."

The NLCS was created in 2000 to protect nationally significant landscapes recognized for their cultural, ecological or scientific values, including several national monuments given to the Bureau of Land Management to manage. Among lands it oversees is Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Americans for American Energy is a Denver-based group that says it is dedicated to promoting greater energy independence for America. Its web site says Utah Rep. Aaron Tilton, R-Springville, is its vice president.

Tilton was defeated at the GOP convention this year. He is an energy consultant looking into building a nuclear power plant in Utah, and was on a House committee that oversees nuclear power. He was criticized for not declaring a conflict of interest until his ties were later publicized by the media.

Of course, the latest probe comes after the Interior Department recently found that officials at its Minerals Management Service engaged in sexual relationships with energy industry representatives, and accepted gifts from them.

September 24, 2008

Public Land Seizure for Military Bombing Range Threatens California Desert and Desert Tortoise

Center for Biological Diversity

LOS ANGELES — The Bureau of Land Management has issued a Notice of Proposed Legislative Withdrawal to enable the eventual transfer of 365,906 acres of fragile public land in the Mojave Desert to the U.S. Marine Corps for bombing, tank training and other “live fire” exercises.

The lands identified by the Marine Corps for its Air Ground Combat Center training grounds near Twentynine Palms include habitat critical for survival of the threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) and desert bighorn sheep. The Marine Corps says it needs the expansion for national security.

“National security doesn’t require seizing and bombing public lands and threatened species habitat,” said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The public needs more explanation on the need for the proposed expansion under which deserts and wildlife that are already in decline will fall victim to tank treads, heavy artillery and other destructive military activity.”

Today’s proposal is the latest in a string of threats to the tortoise. Having survived more than a million years in California’s deserts, desert tortoise numbers are now crashing, particularly in the West Mojave, where much of the expansion would occur. The population decline is due to numerous factors, including disease, habitat degradation, crushing by vehicles, military and suburban development, and predators. Because of its dwindling numbers, the desert tortoise, California’s official state reptile, is now protected under both federal and state endangered species acts. The expansion could also lead to additional disastrous tortoise relocations. Nearly 2,000 tortoises are already being experimentally relocated for the expansion of Fort Irwin, an Army post about 25 miles north of the Marine Corps base. That effort so far has resulted in unexpectedly high tortoise mortality rates.

In August, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a new draft recovery plan that would weaken protections for the tortoise. The plan provides only vague descriptions of recovery actions – actions that are not derived from the best available science. Recently, population genetics studies have identified the desert tortoise in the western portion of the Mojave Desert as distinctly different from its relatives to the northern, eastern, and southern portions. This finding sheds new light on why increased conservation and relocation success are more important than ever for the Fort Irwin effort.

“The legacy of one million years of evolutionary history should not fall victim to our president’s failed war,” Anderson said. “Endangered species remain the Bush administration’s very lowest priority — and in its final days, the administration appears to have set its sights on speeding the desert tortoise towards extinction.”

Congress Should Shelve Public Lands Bill Due to Enviro Lobbying Scandal


A coalition of Western business leaders is urging Congress not to reward "scandalous and potentially illegal behavior" by enacting legislation to establish the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

The "National Landscape Conservation System Act" (S. 1139) is a bill to statutorily establish the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) within the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It is one of over 90 bills contained in a omnibus lands package (S. 3213) being prepared for Senate Floor consideration by Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Chair Jeff Bingaman.

General at the U.S. Department of the Interior has initiated an investigation for possible violations of anti-lobbying law by federal employees at the NLCS. Emails and other documents obtained by the House Resources Committee Minority staff raise serious questions about the degree and extent of communications and coordination between top officials of the NLCS and environmental lobbyists.

In a letter sent to Senator Bingaman today, the Roundtable urged the Senator and his colleagues to postpone consideration of language relating to NLCS that would statutorily establish the NLCS within the BLM.

"As you undoubtedly know, federal law prohibits federal employees from using appropriated funds or their official positions to lobby Congress. If these accusations prove to be accurate, federal employees at NLCS actively supported and participated in efforts designed (directly or indirectly) to encourage government officials to favor the NLCS legislation. This would be in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1913," noted Jim Sims, President and CEO of the Roundtable.

The NLCS was first concocted in 2000, by then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, through administrative mandate. The NLCS covers a vast amount of territory of various types and quality, consisting of tens of millions of acres of federal lands administered by the BLM including National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and National Scenic and Historic Trails. The vast majority of these lands are located in 12 Western states.

"If the Inspector General finds that public officials were indeed using their time, office, and influence to lobby for NLCS legislation, what kind of message does Congress send to the American public if it turns around and enacts the very legislation these federal employees were illegally promoting?" said Sims.

"The least we can do is wait until the Inspector General and/or the Justice Department have adequate time to investigate these charges. It would be a shame to allow rogue government employees to benefit from inappropriate and illegal behavior," Sims added.

For more information on the details of S. 1139, see the Roundtable letter to Bingaman.

Court: No reserved water rights for state trust land

The Associated Press
Santa Fe New Mexican

There are no federally reserved water rights for the millions of acres of state trust land in New Mexico, the state Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday.

In an important case involving water law in the West, the court rejected claims made by the State Land Office that a federal legal doctrine reserved water rights for lands granted to New Mexico by the federal government when it became a territory and then a state.

At issue is a legal doctrine that recognizes water rights for tribal lands as well as federal lands that make up national forests, military bases and national parks.

The court's decision came in a case involving the adjudication of water rights in the San Juan River Basin of northwestern Mexico. In the river system, there are nearly 300,000 acres of trust land.

The Land Office manages about 13 million of acres of land across New Mexico, generating money for public schools and other institutions from oil and natural gas production on the lands as well as grazing, mining and real estate development.

New Mexico's top water official, the state engineer, as well as the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache Nation and Ute Mountain Ute Tribe had opposed the water rights claim for trust lands.

"The Court of Appeals got it exactly right," D.L. Sanders, chief counsel for the state engineer, said in an interview.

He said no state court has recognized federal reserved water rights for state trust lands in the West although the legal question has come up in other places, including Arizona and Montana.

"By everybody's calculation, this was a huge stretch in the legal theories," Sanders said.

Had water rights been reserved for New Mexico's trust lands, Sanders said, it would have been a "sweeping change in law" and disrupted the current system that allocates rights for using water. Federal reserved water rights typically are more senior than those held by private landowners or municipalities in New Mexico, giving them a greater priority in times of drought when not enough water is available to cover the demands of all users.

Last year, a state District Court in San Juan County rejected the claim made by the Land Office.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the decision.

The lands conveyed to New Mexico by acts of Congress from 1850 to 1910 "were never withdrawn from the public domain and reserved for a federal purpose. As such, it necessarily follows that any attendant federal reserved water rights that the commissioner now claims in connection with those lands were also not impliedly reserved," the court said in an opinion written by Judge James Weschler.

A spokeswoman from the Land Office did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment on the case or whether the ruling would be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

September 21, 2008

Marines Running Into Opposition On Expanding Twentynine Palms

By David Danelski, Scripps Howard News Service
San Diego Union-Tribune

RIVERSIDE – The federal government is evaluating more than 400,000 acres of public and private land – including a major off-road vehicle recreation area – for an expansion of the Marine Corps training center at Twentynine Palms.

Marine Corps officials said they need more territory for weapons testing and live-ammunition exercises for 3,000 or more troops.

The Navy has identified 424,000 acres of public, private and state land for possible addition to the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center. The acreage is roughly two-thirds the size of the existing training center in San Bernardino County, about 175 miles northeast of San Diego.

The land includes most of the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area, a 189,000-acre mecca for motorcyclists and other off-roading enthusiasts. It also contains habitat for threatened desert tortoises and bighorn sheep.

Motorcycle enthusiasts and environmentalists cited concerns about the plan.

The area encompasses an array of geological features, such as Bristol Dry Lake, known for its salt mining; Amboy Crater and the surrounding lava fields; and the Sheephole Mountains and Cadiz Valley. It also borders several wilderness areas.

The expansion area has more than 450 active mining claims for sand and gravel, iron, gold, copper and other materials, according to a report released by the military. Claim holders would be reimbursed if their claims become part of the Marine property, a federal official said.

The expansion plan covers more than 341,000 acres of public land, 75,780 acres in private ownership and 6,820 acres of state property. The proposal will be the subject of detailed environmental study and will require approval from Congress and the president, a process expected to take three to five years, said Mickey Quillman, resources chief for the Bureau of Land Management's Barstow office.

Existing uses and public access will continue until then, he said.

If the Marines get the necessary approvals, expanded training exercises are expected to start by 2015.

The additional territory is necessary to create a training area where three battalions could maneuver simultaneously using live ammunition accompanied by air support, Marine officials said.

Malugani said the military would work to minimize its effect on the environment and nearby communities.

Environmentalists and off-roaders are concerned about losing public land to the military.

Johnson Valley is used by thousands of motorcyclists and four-wheeler enthusiasts and is the largest officially designated off-roading area in the United States, said Jerry Graybow, president of the American Motorcycle Association's District 37, which covers most of Southern California. "We understand the Marines need to train, but OHV users need to have areas to recreate, as well," Graybow said.

If the military takes control of Johnson Valley, off-roaders would like to see replacement lands, he said.

Officials with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group with offices in Los Angeles, said the study area includes habitat needed by desert tortoises and bighorn sheep. Wildlife and sensitive habitats need to be protected, said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the group.

September 19, 2008

DOI IG investigating coordination by BLM and enviro groups

Noelle Straub, E&E Daily reporter
Environment & Energy Newsletter

The Interior inspector general is investigating possible illegal coordination between lobbyists for environmental groups and federal officials of the National Landscape Conservation System, Rep. Rob Bishop said yesterday.

Interior officials informed his office about the investigation into the NLCS, which is a division of the Bureau of Land Management, the Utah Republican said in a statement.

E-mails and other documents show extensive coordination between top NLCS officials and environmental lobbyists, said Bishop, the top Republican on the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee.

The main groups involved appear to be the Wilderness Society and the National Wildlife Federation, a House GOP aide said. At some point NLCS officials had weekly meetings with these and other groups, often at the Wilderness Society's office, to coordinate lobbying strategy and messaging, the aide said.

E-mails show that NLCS officials requested environmental groups to write budget language, the aide added. E-mails also talk about coordinating lobbying efforts, setting up NLCS events, sending out draft memorandums for each other to review and preparing for congressional hearing.

The federal and advocacy officials exchanged resumes and job announcements in their respective organizations and BLM, the aide said. Travel documents are still being collected and reviewed and will be part of the investigation, the aide added.

Federal law generally prohibits federal employees from using appropriated funds or their official positions to lobby Congress.

Kevin Mack, NLCS campaign director with the Wilderness Society, said he was unaware of the investigation. "I don't know what the investigation is about, have not been called by the IG, so I can't say anything more than that," Mack said.

Both his groups work on public lands issues and are in contact with many people related to their work, Mack added. "I don't know what 'there' is there."

NWF spokeswoman Jennifer Jones said the group has not been contacted by the
IG's office.

Interior spokeswoman Tina Kreisher said the department had no comment at this time. An inspector general spokesman could not be reached by press time.

Bishop said the Interior Department should act quickly to halt any improper activities involving advocacy groups and the NLCS. He also called on employees involved in the investigation to step aside from their positions until the inspector general finishes his work.

"The department must insist that any employee involved in violations of the
anti-lobbying law step aside until the inspector general or the Justice Department has reviewed his or her conduct," Bishop said. "Just as the employees of the royalty-in-kind program at MMS learned, we will not tolerate misconduct by public officials."

Bishop was referring to a sex, drugs and financial favors investigation of Minerals Management Service employees recently completed by the Interior inspector general, on which the full committee held a hearing Sept. 18.

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt established NLCS during the Clinton
administration to grant protections to ecologically and historically valuable lands controlled by BLM.

But Babbitt's designation did not codify the system, meaning a later Interior secretary could dissolve it. When the House approved a bill in April codifying it, Bishop complained the House Rules Committee blocked GOP amendments, including one by him that would have addressed the private property rights he said were threatened by what he called a "vague legislative entity."

September 16, 2008

Unidentified body found near Amboy

ABBY SEWELL Staff Writer
Victorville Daily Press

AMBOY — The body of an unidentified man was found under a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train bridge near Amboy Monday.

A bridge maintenance worker found the remains wedged against the bridge piling on Bureau of Land Management property near National Trails Highway, about seven or eight miles west of Amboy between 9:30 and 10 a.m., said San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Damon Ward.

The man was carrying no identification and officials could not determine an age from the dried out and partially decomposed body, Ward said. The man was white, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighing about 180 pounds, with light brown hair and a short beard, according to a report from the county coroner’s department. He was fully dressed, and a backpack containing plastic bottles, clothing and a badly faded ticket issued by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was found nearby, Ward said.

“Our best guess at this point is that he was probably a transient and the heat was probably too much for him and he just died out in the desert,” he said.

However, deputies have not ruled out homicide as a possibility. The San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner Department will conduct an autopsy to determine a cause of death and will attempt to identify the man.

To report any information relating to the death, call the Barstow sheriff’s station at 760-256-4838. To remain anonymous, call WE-TIP at 1-800-78-CRIME or leave information on the WeTip Web site at

Wildlife service believes Fort Irwin plant not endangered

By Abby Sewell, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

FORT IRWIN — Fish and wildlife officials recommended downgrading the endangered status of a rare plant found primarily in and around Fort Irwin.

After completing a five-year review of 16 endangered species in California, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended Sept. 10 that the status of the Lane Mountain milk-vetch be changed from endangered to threatened.

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group that sued the fish and wildlife service in 2007 over its 2005 decision not to designate any critical habitat for the plant, immediately voiced objections to the recommendation.

“The populations are continuing to decline, and it seems antithetical to the Endangered Species Act when you have a species that is listed as endangered and is continuing to decline, that you’re going to downlist it to a less-protected status,” center biologist Ilene Anderson said.

She called the recommendation a politically motivated move on the part of the Bush administration.

Fish and Wildlife Services spokeswoman Lois Grunwald said the five-year review showed that there were considerably more plants in a slightly larger area than officials had believed when the milk-vetch was first listed as endangered in 1998. The Army found 5,700 plants during surveys in 2001.

However, surveys since then have showed the number of plants declining in some areas, according to the five-year summary, which noted that the milk-vetch is sensitive to changes in weather patterns.

Grunwald said that because of the increased numbers since 1998 and because Fort Irwin and the BLM have conservation plans for most of the milk-vetch’s habitat, the species does not appear to be in imminent danger of extinction.

In practical terms, Grunwald said that downlisting a plant species from endangered to threatened does not impact its legal protections.

Downlisting also would not affect an agreement between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Center for Biological Diversity that came out of a lawsuit settlement, requiring the wildlife service to reconsider designating areas of critical habitat for the milk-vetch, Grunwald said.

The fish and wildlife service has not yet written a proposed rule that would open up the process necessary to change the plant’s status and Grunwald said the agency has no immediate plans to do so.

Lane Mountain milk-vetch

  • The Lane Mountain milk-vetch is an endangered plant species in the pea family that is found only in an approximately 20-mile strip of land north of Barstow, with about half the habitat on Fort Irwin and half on Bureau of Land Management lands.

  • The milk-vetch improves the quality of desert soil by converting nitrogen from the air into a natural fertilizer.

September 15, 2008

Highway linking Antelope Valley to Victorville moving forward

By Jason Pesick

The office of San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who represents much of the High Desert, announced last week that a firm will be selected next month to build a 50-mile freeway linking Palmdale in the Antelope Valley in Los Angeles County to Victorville.

Mitzelfelt has supported the project, claiming it will lead to the creation of thousands of jobs and easing traffic congestion in Southern California.

Mitzelfelt also maintains hiring a private firm to work on a public project will serve as a new model for infrastructure projects. This position is similar to that of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has applauded public-private partnerships for infrastructure and environmental cleanup.

"This public-private partnership will create a major new route for freight movement that will benefit the entire region in terms of jobs, air quality and traffic congestion," Mitzelfelt said in a statement.

Bat man comes to the rescue of, well, bats

Associated Press

Jason Corbett descends into a mine in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona in August. Since January, Corbett, an Arizona conservation biologist, has taken on a specialized role that has him going into mine shafts to ensure that bats living underground don't become casualties in efforts to close abandoned mines across the Southwest.

PHOENIX (AP) — He may not be caped, but in the bat world, Jason Corbett is definitely a crusader.

Since January, the Arizona conservation biologist has taken on a specialized role that has him descending into mine shafts to ensure bats living underground don't become casualties of efforts to close abandoned mines across the Southwest.

"It's easy enough to exclude bats from mines. There's no reason for them to be entombed," said Corbett, who works out of Tucson as a coordinator for the nonprofit group Bat Conservation International.

As someone designated to stick up for the little — albeit furry — guy, the bat buff travels around Arizona and other states offering inspections and recommendations. He is getting more companies and agencies to agree that doing nothing would be senseless.

Bats occupy a very important niche as nocturnal predators. They help the ecosystem by eating insects, including pests that eat crops like cotton and corn.

Angie McIntire, bat management coordinator for the Arizona Game & Fish Department, said mines can house thousands of bats. They may only use a mine for a couple months but it could be during a critical time such as giving birth or feeding young.

Both McIntire and Corbett said there is no way to gauge how many bats have been lost in mines. There is no official survey.

"I'm sure sites have been closed without any thoughts to bats or even knowledge they're in there," McIntire said.

Bat Conservation International started a national bats and mines program about 12 years ago. It was only a couple years ago that officials decided it would be better to have a coordinator devoted specifically to the Southwest.

Corbett's mine visits generally occur when government agencies and groups approach him with a mine location. But sometimes he will learn about a site and initiate contact. The real work begins once he and a support team, usually a trio of land officials and wildlife biologists, decide to go in.

While Corbett often inspects caves and horizontal shafts, it's vertical shafts that involve more work. Corbett uses a variety of ropes and a harness to lower himself into the shafts — some have been more than 500 feet deep. Corbett will hang a few feet before touching down in a shaft, using a pole or tracking stick to probe for other critters. He once came down near a rattlesnake and was able to gently move it away.

Once he's landed, Corbett looks for signs of bat life, such as bat droppings, also known as guano, or meal leftovers in the form of insect parts. But the research doesn't stop there.

"I'm looking at the bigger picture — how does that one mine fit into the larger landscape in terms of providing quality of habitat," Corbett said.

If other factors like temperature and exposure to predators show the mine to be habitable bat space, Corbett will recommend constructing a steel gate that would be narrow enough to keep humans out but let bats flit freely.

"If a mine is unsafe, putting a bat gate on is twofold; it keeps people out and also protects bats," Corbett said. "The two goals are not mutually exclusive."

If the danger to people is too great, they can drive bats out before filling up a mine. The process, called exclusion, involves putting a chicken wire netting over an entry point for several days. Bats can fly out through the netting but can't squeeze back in.

If no bats are found, then mine owners will likely be free to seal up a mine however they see fit.

Closing deserted mines has long been a public concern.

The issue took on more urgency in Arizona last year when a girl fell to her death in a mine shaft in the northwestern part of the state. The Arizona State Mine Inspector's Office estimates there are more than 9,500 abandoned mines statewide. There are hundreds of thousands more in neighboring states.

Chris Ross, leader of an abandoned mines program for the Bureau of Land Management in Nevada, praised Corbett for his understanding of not just the science, but the social and demographic issues. He said Corbett makes assessments that are economical but don't compromise public safety.

"He'll prioritize and spend big bucks on expensive bat gates on the ones that are important," Ross said. "The rest of them, we can chase the little dears out and fill them (the mines) up cheaply."

Corbett hopes to continue building relationships in more states such as Colorado and Utah. Most mining companies have been cooperative when it comes to finding a way to let bats roost in peace.

"They're happy to have some help on these issues," he said. "They want to do the right thing but like everyone else, they are strapped on resources."

On the Net:
Bat Conservation International:

September 14, 2008

Mining company renegotiates purchase of Langtry property

Matt Wrye, Staff Writer
San Bernardino Sun

International Silver Inc. (OTCBB: ISLV) - a Tucson, Ariz.-based exploration and mine development company - has announced that its escrow on the Langtry property in the Calico Mining District near Barstow is being extended for three months, and that it renegotiate the purchase terms.

The terms previously pegged payment at $8 million, with 100 percent undivided interest.

But now, International Silver will pay $2 million by Dec. 5, and the remaining $6 million will be financed and payed over a 15-year period.

Langtry comprises about 400 acres, and it's estimated to have 72 million ounces of silver and almost 3 million tons of barite.

The company also wants to start drilling by year's end on the Laviathan Property, a 1,300-acre piece of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management and also located in the Calico Mining District.

The company estimates there's about 1 million tons of barite-silver ore entrenched throughout 60 mining claims on Laviathan. Barite is a heavy material used in manufacturing oil drills.

September 12, 2008

Senate Energy Committee Approves Three Boxer Bills to Protect More than 700,000 Acres of CA Wilderness

Sen. Barbara Boxer's office

Washington, DC - U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today commended the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for including three bills she sponsored that would designate more than 700,000 acres of federal public land in California as wilderness in a larger package of legislation that will now proceed to the Senate floor for consideration.

Senator Boxer said, "Working with colleagues from both sides of the aisle, we have put together legislation that protects some of California and the nation's most magnificent places and ensures that they will be preserved for generations to come. I commend the Committee's decision to include these measures, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to see them become law."

The three bills approved by the committee were the California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act, the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness Act and the Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act, all three of which are cosponsored by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA).

"Preserving California's rich natural heritage is one of my top priorities in the Senate," Senator Feinstein said. "I'm pleased to work with Senator Boxer to help ensure the lasting federal protection of these pristine wilderness areas in the Eastern Sierras and San Gabriel Mountains, in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park, and in Riverside County. And I thank Chairman Bingaman and the members of the Committee for their help in moving these bills one step closer to reality."

The California Desert and Mountain Heritage Act, introduced in the House by Representative Mary Bono (R-CA-45), designates new wilderness areas and expands existing wilderness areas. It designates segments of four rivers as wild and scenic and adds four parcels to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. The total scope of the proposal encompasses approximately 200,000 acres of federal lands and 31 miles of rivers.

The Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park Wilderness Act, introduced in the House by Representatives Jim Costa (D-CA-20) and Devin Nunes (R-CA-21), designates approximately 90,000 acres of land within the Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park as wilderness. The proposed wilderness area includes the Redwood Mountain Grove, the largest Giant Sequoia grove within the Park and California's longest cave. This bill also establishes the John Krebs Wilderness Area, honoring former Congressman John Krebs, who authored the law transferring Mineral King Valley to the National Park Service in 1978, which protected the valley from development.

"This is a fitting honor for a man of great political courage and vision," Boxer said.

The Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Wild Heritage Act, introduced in the House by Representative Buck McKeon (R-CA-25) will give wilderness designations to more than 450,000 acres of federal public land in Mono, Inyo and Los Angeles Counties, including magnificent High Sierra lands, California's second highest mountain range-the spectacular White Mountains, and classic southern California mountain landscape accessible to millions of people.

September 11, 2008

Environmentalism: cult of death

By Thinking Man

Make no mistake: environmentalism, with its attendant army of politicos all armed to the teeth with environmental laws, is the highroad to hell.

Before going all the way green, I urge you to take a longer look into exactly what horse you’re backing here: it may very well turn out to be a horse of an entirely different color than you think.

Environmentalism is a philosophy that upholds a profound hatred of humankind. And here is what I mean:

“Human beings, as a species, have no more value than slugs” (John Davis, editor of Earth First! Journal).

“Mankind is a cancer; we’re the biggest blight on the face of the earth” (past-president of PETA and environmental activist Ingrid Newkirk).

“If you haven’t given voluntary human extinction much thought before, the idea of a world with no people in it may seem strange. But, if you give it a chance, I think you might agree that the extinction of Homo Sapiens would mean survival for millions, if not billions, of Earth-dwelling species…. Phasing out the human race will solve every problem on earth, social and environmental” (Ibid).

Quoting Richard Conniff, in the pages of Audubon magazine: “Among environmentalists sharing two or three beers, the notion is quite common that if only some calamity could wipe out the entire human race, other species might once again have a chance.”

Environmental theorist Christopher Manes (writing under the nom-de-guerre Miss Ann Thropy): “If radical environmentalists were to invent a disease to bring human population back to ecological sanity, it would probably be something like AIDS.”

A speaker at one of Earth First!’s little cult gatherings: “Optimal human population: zero.”

“Ours is an ecological perspective that views Earth as a community and recognizes such apparent enemies as ‘disease’ (e.g., malaria) and ‘pests’ (e.g., mosquitoes) not as manifestations of evil to be overcome but rather as vital and necessary components of a complex and vibrant biosphere … An antipathy to ‘progress’ and ‘technology.’ We can accept the pejoratives of ‘Luddite’ and ‘Neanderthal’ with pride…. There is no hope for reform of industrial empire…. We humans have become a disease: the Humanpox” (Dave Foreman, past head of Earth First!)

“Human happiness [is] not as important as a wild and healthy planet. I know social scientists who remind me that people are part of nature, but it isn’t true. Somewhere along the line we … became a cancer. We have become a plague upon ourselves and upon the Earth…. Until such time as Homo Sapiens should decide to rejoin nature, some of us can only hope for the right virus to come along.” (Biologist David Graber, “Mother Nature as a Hothouse Flower” Los Angles Times Book Review).

“The ending of the human epoch on Earth would most likely be greeted with a hearty ‘Good riddance!’” (Paul Taylor, “Respect for Nature: A Theory of Environmental Ethics”).

“If we don’t overthrow capitalism, we don’t have a chance of saving the world ecologically. I think it is possible to have an ecologically sound society under socialism. I don’t think it is possible under capitalism” (Judi Bari, of Earth First!).

“Isn’t the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?” (Maurice Strong, Earth Summit 91).

David Brower, former head of the Sierra Club and founder of Friends of the Earth, calls for developers to be “shot with tranquilizer guns.”


“Human suffering is much less important than the suffering of the planet,” he explains.

Also from socialist Sierra Club: “The goal now is a socialist, redistributionist society, which is nature’s proper steward and society’s only hope.”

From the green party’s first Presidential candidate Barry Commoner:

“Nothing less than a change in the political and social system, including revision of the Constitution, is necessary to save the country from destroying the natural environment…. Capitalism is the earth’s number one enemy.”

From Barry Commoner again:

“Environmental pollution is a sign of major incompatibility between our system of production and the environmental system that supports it. [The socialist way is better because] the theory of socialist economics does not appear to require that growth should continue indefinitely.”

So much for your unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Indeed:

“Individual rights will have to take a back seat to the collective” (Harvey Ruvin, International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, Dade County Florida).

Sierra Club cofounder David Brower, pushing for his own brand of eugenics:

“Childbearing [should be] a punishable crime against society, unless the parents hold a government license. All potential parents [should be] required to use contraceptive chemicals, the government issuing antidotes to citizens chosen for childbearing.”

That, if you don’t know, is limited government environmentalist style.

“There’s nothing wrong with being a terrorist, as long as you win. Then you write history” (Sierra Club board member Paul Watson).

Again from Paul Watson, writing in that propaganda rag Earth First! Journal: “Right now we’re in the early stages of World War III…. It’s the war to save the planet. The environmental movement doesn’t have many deserters and has a high level of recruitment. Eventually there will be open war.”


“By every means necessary we will bring this and every other empire down! Mutiny and sabotage in defense of Mother Earth!”

Lisa Force, another Sierra Club board member and quondam coordinator of the Center for Biological Diversity, advocates “prying ranchers and their livestock from federal lands. In 2000 and 2003, [Sierra] sued the U.S. Department of the Interior to force ranching families out of the Mojave National Preserve. These ranchers actually owned grazing rights to the preserve; some families had been raising cattle there for over a century. No matter. Using the Endangered Species Act and citing the supposed loss of ‘endangered tortoise habitat,’ the Club was able to force the ranchers out” (quoted from Navigator magazine).

It is a sad fact for environmentalists that in free societies, humans are allowed to trade freely.

Among other things, the right to private property means: that which you produce is yours by right.

Private property is the crux of freedom: you cannot, in any meaningful sense, be said to be free if you are not allowed to use the things that you own, including those things necessary to sustain your life. Everything you need to know about a political ideology is contained in its attitude toward property.

Private property, in the words of one environmental group, “is just a sacred cow” (Greater Yellowstone Report, Greater Yellowstone Coalition.)

This is also called socialism.

In 1990, a man named Benjamin Cone Jr. inherited 7,200 acres of land in Pender County, North Carolina. He proceeded to plant chuffa and rye for wild turkeys; he conducted controlled burns on his property to improve the habitat for deer and quail. And he succeeded: in no time, that habitat flourished. Inadvertently, however, he attracted a number of red-cockaded woodpeckers, a species listed as endangered. He was warned by a certain governmental agency that, on threat of imprisonment or stiff fines, he was not allowed to disturb any of these trees, which were all on his property. This put 1,560 acres of his own land off-limits to him, the owner. In response, Benjamin Cone Jr. began clear-cutting the rest of his land, saying: “I cannot afford to let those woodpeckers take over the rest of my property. I’m going to start massive clear-cutting.” (Richard L. Stroup, Eco-nomics p. 56-57.)

Socialist Eric Schlosser, author of the misbegotten Fast Food Nation, makes no secret of his socialist agenda. As doctor Thomas DiLorenzo points out, Schlosser lauds the “scientific socialists” (a generic term coined by comrade V.I. Lenin) and everything they stand for: government intervention and bureaucracy, public works, job-destroying minimum wage laws, OSHA regulations, food regulations, regulatory agencies to control ranching, farming, and supermarkets, bans on advertising and much more. Only then, he says, will that great day come when restaurants exclusively sell “free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers” (Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal).

All of which is simply by way of saying that individual consumers should not be allowed to choose what we want to eat, and that the supply of free-range hamburgers should not be determined by demand. Rather, by law, government bureaucrats must do this for us, regardless of whether we personally want to eat organic, grass-fed beef, about which I personally could not care less.

Colorado congressman Scott McInnis confessed that four firefighters burned to death in Washington state because bureaucrats took 10 hours to approve a water drop. The reason: using local river water is prohibited by the Endangered Species Act, on the grounds that it may threaten a certain kind of trout.

Further proof of the Sierra’s hatred of humanity can be found in their 1995 attempt to block an Animas River water diversion project, which project was designed to bring water to Durango and the nearby Ute Indian Reservation.

Dams and irrigation are often life-and-death matters in the arid west, a fact of which Sierra is well aware. Thus, after successfully getting the project slashed by more than 70 percent, thereby depriving the Ute Reservation of much-needed water, the Sierra Club lawyers went for the jugular: they demanded the project be cut still more.

Fortunately for the rest of us, they overplayed their hand.

Their shady methods and motives prompted the following quote from Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell:

“The enviros have never been interested in a compromise. They just simply want to stop development and growth. And the way you do that in the West is to stop water.”

From a chairwoman of the Ute Indian tribe: “The environmentalists don’t seem to care how we live.”

Greenpeace is worldwide the largest and wealthiest environmental group.

Of their co-founder Dave McTaggart, fellow co-founder Paul Watson said this:

“The secret to David McTaggart’s success is the secret to Greenpeace’s success: It doesn’t matter what is true, it only matters what people believe is true. You are what the media define you to be. Greenpeace became a myth, and a myth-generating machine.”

And since, rather than addressing the actual data, environmentalists believe that citing the source of funding is the only argument one ever needs to refute a counterargument, they should be extraordinarily persuaded by this very partial list of Greenpeace’s funding here.

Most people have no inkling that throughout Greenpeace’s tireless campaign against “Frakenfood” (i.e. biotech food - “Frakenfood” is a word coined by Greenpeace campaign director Charles Margulisto, who hates technology), the Third World has steadily perished from malnutrition and famine, as a direct result thereof.

Quoting Tanzania’s Doctor Michael Mbwille (of the non-profit Food Security Network):

“Greenpeace prints and circulates lies faster than the Code Red virus infected the world’s computers. If we were to apply Greenpeace’s scientifically illiterate standards [for soybeans] universally, there would be nothing left on our tables.”

For an example of how to successfully expose Greenpeace’s lies, please read this relevant article.

Candidly, I haven’t even begun.

And yet from this small sampling, you can probably get an idea of what an exceptionally gracious and non-politically motivated folk these environmentalists and environmental leaders are. Indeed, environmentalism is a benevolent and life-affirming philosophy, and the people who populate it are a kind, non-violent people, whose reasoning is sound and scrupulous, and who believe unreservedly in the individual’s inalienable right to life and property.

There is of course only one real problem with all that: these people are pigs, and environmentalism worships at the shrine of death.

The entire movement, replete, as it is, with its politicos and environmental politics, is not simply “wrong.” That would be too easy.

The environmental movement is criminal.

Reader, if you have even a vestigial love of freedom within you, you must denounce environmentalism with all your heart. You must see it for what it actually is: a statist philosophy of human-hatred and enslavement.

Enviromentalism is neo-Marxism at its blackest.

Congress Prepares Additional Wilderness Legislation for Approval

Campaign for America's Wilderness

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee favorably reported eight wilderness bills today, which together would protect special wild places to benefit local economies, enhance the quality of life for people living in nearby communities, safeguard clean air and crystalline water, and provide for hunting, fishing, camping, canoeing, and other popular activities.

"This Congress continues to build an impressive record of accomplishment on wilderness protection, much to the gratitude of constituents of every stripe, from Main Street businesses to county commissions, from teachers to ranchers," said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness.

Members of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands heard testimony on bills to protect land in Oregon and California also today.

"The action on both sides of Capitol Hill shows that Congress is intent on getting good things done yet this year," said Matz. Championed by Republicans and Democrats alike, these important conservation bills ensure that America's common ground in iconic places like Colorado's Dominguez Canyons; California's Eastern Sierra and Northern San Gabriel Mountains, Joshua Tree and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks; New Mexico's Sabinoso; Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Seashore; and Spring Basin and the Badlands in Oregon can be handed down to future generations."

Another seven wilderness bills are wrapped into an omnibus lands package, S. 3213, which should see action before adjournment.

"This Congress has the opportunity to leave a significant natural legacy to future generations," said Matz. "And our children and grandchildren will be the real winners."

September 10, 2008

Expansion of desert base faces opposition

By Gidget Fuentes
Marine Corps Times

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — As the Marine Corps looks to expand its largest training base, off-road enthusiasts prepare to fight for a coveted piece of the Mojave Desert.

Marine officials have asked the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to set aside 442,000 acres adjacent to the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms so the service can study those parcels for the proposed expansion.

“Together with the [Bureau of Land Management] and the Federal Aviation Administration, we will study the best path forward for the Marine Corps to meet its training requirements, while analyzing and weighing the impact of the various alternatives on natural and socioeconomic resources,” Corps officials said in a news release.

The 589,400-acre base is located in the high desert three hours northeast of Los Angeles. The Corps and the Navy Department plan to conduct an environmental impact study, a lengthy process that begins with public “scoping” meetings tentatively set for December. It will analyze “reasonable alternatives” for meeting training requirements, officials said.

The plans have been poorly received by recreational groups and environmental conservationists. Local off-road riders fear they will lose access to the popular Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation area, which lies west of the base and is the site of rallies and races. Its rocky trails, including one boulder-strewn area called the Hammers, attract many four-wheel drivers.

The 189,000-acre Johnson Valley is owned by the BLM. Several groups have started petition drives and letter-writing campaigns targeting members of Congress.

Officials have not specified which land parcels the Corps wants to study. A federal notice published in March cited potential acquisition of 450,000 acres of public, state and private land.

Marine officials want to extend the reach of units that come to Twentynine Palms to sharpen their desert warfare skills and live-fire training. One of the military’s largest military training bases, the combat center can support only one unit at a time.

The Corps wants to stretch the base’s boundaries, providing enough space for brigade-sized forces to train, maneuver and fire their complement of weaponry, which can include air and ground assets. As is, only 40 percent of the base can be used for maneuver training, officials said.

Dispute over roads in Emery County heats up

By Aaron Falk
Deseret News

Link Flat, Emery County, Utah

The fight between the state and the Bureau of Land Management over a number of closed roads in wilderness areas continues, and a handful of environmental groups wants in the mix.

Attorneys for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society and the Sierra Club argued Tuesday in U.S. District Court the groups have the right to intervene in the state's 2005 lawsuit over control of seven dirt roads in Emery County's San Rafael Swell.

In the lawsuit, the state and Emery County lay claim to the roads under RS 2477, a statute that dates back to 1860 but was repealed in 1976. Though it was repealed, any route in use before then might come under RS 2477.

Federal officials and environmental activists, however, argue opening the roads will have a negative impact on the area. A BLM attorney said he doesn't want SUWA intervening, but an attorney for the environmental groups said neither the state nor federal government has the best interest of Utah's wildlands in mind.

"There's a long and historic disconnect" between SUWA and the BLM, attorney Edward Zukoski said. "Forgive us if we're a little skeptical."

Where the BLM has taken "baby steps" toward environmental protection, he said, SUWA would like to see greater strides. Whatever the case, the state's attempt to wrest control of the roads "drives a stake through the heart of that progress," Zukoski said.Emery County, Utah

Roger R. Fairbanks, the assistant attorney general in the suit, said the BLM has closed roads leading into wilderness-quality areas, in some instances placing boulders in the roadway. If the state is successful in winning control of the rights of way, the roads could be improved and widened to two lanes.

Zukoski said improved roads will mean increased traffic in the areas, but Fairbanks said the roads would not be improved beyond their condition in 1976.

"The notion that we want to go out and pave wilderness is fiction," he said.

Late last year, the state dropped a lawsuit against the BLM over control of roadways in six counties because the roads were already highly developed and the parties did not disagree over their use, Fairbanks said. State officials have continued to fight to open roads in Canyonlands National Park, Deep Creek and the San Rafael Swell.

A federal appellate court has already denied SUWA's attempt to intervene in the Canyonlands suit, saying the group's interests were already being represented by the BLM. Last week, however, a federal judge permitted SUWA to intervene in the lawsuit concerning Deep Creek.

U.S. District Judge Dee Benson will now decide if the activist group has the right to intervene in the Emery County suit.

Grand Canyon flood results erode

Some of the sandbars and beaches built up in the March high-flow release are back to pre-flood levels.

Arizona Daily Sun

A half-year after a manmade flood built bigger sandbars and beaches in the Grand Canyon that are boon to native fish and plants, U.S. Geological Survey researchers say beaches are again eroding.

The data at this point is incomplete, researchers say, but some of the photos to date point to eroding sand bars as water releases from Glen Canyon Dam vary to meet peak power demands and interstate water-sharing agreements. A group of federal agents, tribes, environmentalists and power agencies that advises the Interior Department on how the Colorado River in Grand Canyon should be managed is meeting in Flagstaff Tuesday and today to discuss the latest research and propose next steps.

A budget up for discussion by the group today could determine whether there are any more experimental floods in the next five years. The next one called for in an earlier report by the Bureau of Reclamation is not until 2012.

About $3.3 million is projected to be spent on USGS research related to the flood this year and next.

The amount of sand in the Colorado River is of interest because it is believed to be linked to the creation of backwaters that could help promote the survival of some fish species, and because boaters use beaches for camping.

All of the sand that once flowed into the lower Colorado River upstream of Lake Powell is now trapped by the dam, leaving it to the remaining tributaries to supply sand to the main channel during periods of high water.

The advisory group did some battle publicly this spring, when Grand Canyon Superintendent Steve Martin proposed more regular floods to improve the canyon's ecosystem, to the disagreement of power producers and his bosses.

The floods are conducted as part of an experimental program to manage the Grand Canyon ecosystem to allow for power generation at the dam, while offsetting the dam where possible.

USGS researchers say it is possible to maintain some sandbars and beaches along the Colorado River with the dam in place.

But for that to happen, according to researchers' findings, power production would often suffer.

Environmental groups, including the Grand Canyon Trust, have litigated over dam operations, saying what's beneficial for peak power production puts some of the canyon's few remaining endangered fish species in jeopardy.

Trust employee Nikolai Lash, who works on this issue, said it's hopeful that the coming presidential election could change the Colorado River.

"The orientation has been completely backwards," he said. "This dam has been operated not for the benefit of Grand Canyon, but for the benefit of hydropower interests."

The third experimental flood since 1996, the March experiment was timed to move around three times more sand than was available in the tributaries to the Colorado River in 2004.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at 913-8607 or at

ON THE WEB Time-lapse videos

Wrangling more water than cows

Ely Times

ELY -- When the branding begins, Brandon Humphries is on horseback, his lasso turning slow loops in the air above a herd of nervous calves.

One by one, he snares the animals by their hind legs and drags them to a waiting group of ranch hands, who go to work with vaccine guns and an electric iron.

The air fills with white smoke and the smell of scorched hair.

After about an hour of this, Humphries climbs down from the saddle and right into the path of a calf that has slipped away from the ground crew. He wrestles the 200-pound animal to the ground, then pops back up with a grin on his face and a splash of green manure across the front of his long-sleeved work shirt.

He looks down at the stain and shrugs. "Shirt was going to get dirty eventually anyway," he says.

A scene like this is not unusual in the lonesome valleys of White Pine County. This kind of work has been going on here for more than a century.

What's strange is who Humphries' boss is.

Last year the Southern Nevada Water Authority hired him to run the string of ranches it now owns in Spring Valley, about 40 miles east of Ely. His authority-issued business cards identify him as "ranch manager," a position that rarely, if ever, shows up in the staff directory of a major municipal water supplier.

Humphries' job is to oversee Great Basin Ranch, a collection of seven agricultural operations the authority has snapped up since 2006.

The water agency's holdings in Spring Valley now include more than 23,000 acres, 4,000 sheep, 1,700 cows, a working hay farm, and the rights to more than 13 billion gallons of surface water and groundwater each year.

The authority also has acquired more than 1 million acres of federal grazing rights, including a sheep range that stretches more than halfway to Las Vegas, some 250 miles away.

The purchases were made to support a scheme to tap groundwater across eastern Nevada.

By as early as 2013, the authority hopes to start sending water south through a pipeline that is expected to cost between $2 billion and $3.5 billion. Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy has described Spring Valley as the "anchor basin" for the project. More than half of the water destined to one day fill the pipeline is expected to come from there.

The water project has stirred fierce opposition, and so have the purchases in Spring Valley.

Critics say the authority paid way too much for the ranches and now runs them with a mixture of incompetence and reckless spending.

Rancher and Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea considers it public money down the drain.

"If they had to pay for those ranches with the way they're running their livestock, they'd be broke in three years," says the Republican from Eureka. "It doesn't matter who's running them, though. Christ couldn't come off the cross to run those ranches and break even with what they paid for them."

But water authority officials insist the deals make sense in the proper context: They didn't buy the ranches for the livestock or the land. They weren't looking to break into the cattle industry or set up a rural retreat where city folk could play cowboy for a weekend. They were after one thing.

"We're paying market value for water," Humphries explains. "We're not buying a ranch for a ranch."

And if authority officials have their way, at least some of their new groundwater holdings in Spring Valley will be sent down the pipeline to Las Vegas one day.

Beyond that, the authority hasn't developed a long-term plan for the ranches yet. Though they are projected to operate at or near the break-even point starting this year, it might not make sense to keep them running as they are forever, officials say.

One idea is to open up the land to the state's university system as a sort of living laboratory for agricultural and environmental research. Another idea involves setting aside a portion of the property as a public natural area.

Authority Deputy General Manager Dick Wimmer says some changes undoubtedly will be made, but it's too early to say what those might be.

In the meantime, authority officials have one very compelling reason to keep ranching and farming on their property: Under Nevada law, you either use your water rights or you lose them.

The team

In the first two hours of branding, the water authority's calves stop lowing only once, when a single clap of thunder crashes down from a dark cloud gathering over nearby Wheeler Peak.

The animals wait in stunned silence for a few seconds to see what might happen next. Then they start up again.

The ranch hands greet the thunder with a holler.

Now it's a race against the weather. As any rancher will tell you, it's damned hard to brand a wet calf.

Most of these cows and steers were born in Spring Valley within the last 50 days. Each is roped and dragged backward across the grass to ground crew members who restrain it with a metal device known as a Nord fork.

In addition to the brand burned onto its right hip, each animal gets two vaccine shots. The males get castrated.

When it's over, the calves are turned loose to rejoin their mothers, which seems to calm them instantly.

The whole process takes about a minute and moves in a way that suggests an assembly line or a pit stop at a NASCAR race, with one key difference: Cars don't fight back.

"It's interesting to see how they do their business, how quick it is," says water authority biologist Zane Marshall, who stops by the corral to watch for a few minutes.

After snapping some pictures on his digital camera, he tries his hand once with the branding iron, then heads back out to continue his work.

Marshall is in Spring Valley to check on a contract crew hired by the authority to map the area's vegetation. The crew's work will help fill in the detail on aerial photos of the valley.

The goal is to catalog the existing flora and fauna so any impacts from the groundwater transfer can be tracked more easily once the pumps are turned on.

"It supports long-term monitoring," says Marshall, who manages the authority's Environmental Resources Division.

His team is also tracing the movements of sage grouse in the valley. Five of the birds have been fixed with radio telemetry collars, a process that sounds a lot easier than it ought to be.

Basically, Marshall says, you find them where they roost at night, shine a spotlight in their eyes and crank some loud music.

"Def Leppard or Metallica," he says. "It depends on when you were born."

Then you just scoop up the stunned birds with a net.

Humphries, who went along on one of the grouse roundups, says ranchers and wildlife biologists don't often mix, let alone collaborate as they do at Great Basin Ranch.

"Usually he doesn't like what I'm doing, and I don't like what he's going to do," Humphries says of a biologist like Marshall. "Here we're colleagues on the same team working for the same purpose."

On the ground

Spring Valley is a patchwork quilt of sagebrush, greasewood and meadow grass, stitched here and there with stream-fed ribbons of willow and silver maple trees. It is also a science textbook flipped open to the chapter on basin and range geology.

At about 25 miles wide and 110 miles long, it runs north-south between mountain blocks that rise sharply on either side like Cenozoic parentheses.

To the west is the Schell Creek Range, to the east the Snake Range, crowned by Wheeler Peak, Nevada's second highest summit at 13,063 feet.

The so-called "Loneliest Road in America," U.S. Highway 50, crosses the valley's midsection like a belt, its buckle the junction where U.S. 93 arrives from the south.

The authority bought its first ranch here in 2006. Within a year, Nevada's largest wholesale water supplier owned more private land in the valley than anyone else.

The almost $79 million buying frenzy has led some to predict that the authority could one day own all of the private property in Spring Valley.

The water authority's Mulroy won't rule that out, but she doesn't think it will be necessary.

"The strategic ranches we needed to protect sensitive species in the area we got. And the ranches with the greatest opportunity for reinjecting water into the groundwater table, we got those, too," she says.

As Wimmer explains it, Great Basin Ranch is "not looked at as a profit center" but as a "holistic" way to manage Spring Valley's water and environmental resources. As a result, he says, what goes on there at times might bear little resemblance to a typical livestock operation, where the bottom line is all there is.

Already, the authority is busy upgrading equipment, examining ways to improve water efficiency, and opening the property up to a small army of hydrologists and biologists whose primary mission is to make the pipeline pay off.

The authority's opponents see a more sinister motive at work.

"The only reason they bought those ranches was to provide a buffer. If they own them there's no one there to cry foul" if the water table drops, Assemblyman Goicoechea says. "They can say what they want, but that's why they bought the valley."

The cowboy lawmaker does agree with Las Vegas water officials on one point: They aren't running their ranches in a way he's ever seen.

"There's some things they've done that have some people in the industry grinning," he says.

At a recent livestock auction, for example, Great Basin Ranch agreed to some unusual sale conditions for its calves that could needlessly stress the animals and reduce their value when they are weighed for delivery in the fall, Goicoechea says. "They were the laughingstock of the auction."

Not everyone is upset by the authority's presence in Spring Valley.

Dennis Eldridge ranches on neighboring land that has been in his family since 1917. He thinks the authority is "doing fine" so far.

"They do things a little differently, but they've been fine with us," he says. "They've been a good neighbor."

It should be noted that the Eldridge family is in talks to sell its 6,300-acre spread to the authority. It should also be noted that Dennis Eldridge has a reputation for speaking his mind.

He says some fellow ranchers are jealous of Great Basin Ranch's new equipment and bottomless financial backing. Others just don't like change.

He says people are always anxious at first when a "foreign entity" moves into the valley, especially one affiliated with the government, which he jokingly refers to as "the big thumb."

As far as Eldridge is concerned, though, it's the people on the ground who count.

"Brandon's always been a good neighbor," he says. "He's helped us even before they (the authority) came along."

Along with Humphries, the authority directly employs three ranch hands, two of them college graduates with degrees in plant or animal science.

About 30 contract workers make up the rest of the staff. Some are here from Mexico and Peru on work visas that allow them to stay for months or years at a time.

There's plenty of work to go around, especially on branding day.

Several members of the day's crew were up before the sun, moving wheel lines that keep the alfalfa green and tending to the two dairy cows that keep the ranch supplied with milk.

Ranch hand Latara Pickering has logged 127 hours of work in the last two weeks.

Her brother, Matt Pickering, literally can't remember the last time he had a vacation. Ask him, and he has to think about it for a minute. "I went and picked up my brother at the airport," he finally says.

To brand every new calf on the ranch takes six full days scattered over three weeks. After that, the animals are turned out for five months to graze and pack on about 250 pounds each.

In early November, the animals will be loaded into trailers and trucked to their final stop before the slaughterhouse: a ranch near California where they will be "finished" with more grazing aimed at adding another 500 pounds of beef.

Humphries says the cattle operation near Bakersfield, Calif., agreed to buy the authority's first full batch of calves based on a video of the animals that was shown during an Aug. 1 auction in Winnemucca.

When a smaller group of cows and steers were sold and shipped off the ranch last fall, the line of cattle trucks stretched for a mile, he says.

Back in the saddle

A water utility with ranch property is not as unusual as you might think.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California leases some of its land for agricultural use. So do Denver Water, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, and several municipal water companies in Arizona.

What makes the arrangement in Spring Valley unusual is the water authority's decision to staff its property rather than lease it.

For Humphries, that meant a new opportunity at an opportune time.

"At that point, I needed a job," he says. "I knew the ranch, and they needed someone to look after their investment."

Humphries moved to Spring Valley eight years ago from Cedar City, Utah, to help his uncle run a hay farm.

When his uncle sold the place to the water authority in April 2007, Humphries suddenly found himself out of work.

Mulroy says Humphries seemed like the natural choice to look after the authority's livestock.

"It's not like we plucked somebody who has never done this before," she says. "We're going to the people who know how to do these things.

"The decisions on running those (ranches) are Brandon's."

Before he landed in Spring Valley, Humphries ran a landscaping company, a Mormon bookstore, and a side business that sold old railroad ties in Cedar City.

But cowboy life is in his blood.

When he was a kid, his family used to spend part of the year on a spread near Gunlock, Utah, where his grandfather kept 120 head of cattle and "we did everything by hand."

Humphries first climbed into the saddle at age 6, and within a year he was spending whole days on the range with his grandfather. He rode with blocks of wood taped to his stirrups so his legs would reach.

Today, the 36-year-old Humphries lives with his wife and five children in a house with a white rail fence and a sweeping view of Wheeler Peak from the front window.

"Basically, I went from operating a 600-acre farm for my uncle to operating a ranch with 1.2 million acres" of rangeland, he says. "It was quite a change."

Show 'em

On this day, Humphries and his branding crew get lucky. The clouds hold off until the last calf is done.

When the sky finally opens up around noon, what comes down is snow, a rarity for early June on the more-than-mile-high valley floor.

The weather is a mixed bag, Humphries says. It's good for the hay crop, but it also means two guys will have to go out on graders the next day to make sure the roads through the ranch are passable.

"In the ranch business in Spring Valley, what you deal with is too much water or not enough water," he says. "Both are occurring right now on the ranch."

Reaction to Humphries and his employer in White Pine County seems a little like that, too. It arrives in a trickle or a flood, some of it good, most of it bad.

Humphries predicts the anger and suspicion will fade over time, as "people come to realize we're here to be part of the community."

Until then, he knows only one surefire way to silence the critics: "Show 'em."

"That's what we do day by day," Humphries says. "We're under the microscope."

A new brand for a new ranch

When the Southern Nevada Water Authority bought the El Tejon ranch in White Pine County last May, the agency also acquired some livestock and an unusual problem.

Suddenly, the wholesale water supplier for the Las Vegas Valley needed its own cattle brand.

The design job fell to senior public information coordinator Lisa Riess and graphic artist Cathy Leece.

"It was absolutely the most unusual thing I have been asked to do," says Riess, an eight-year employee of the water authority.

Since neither of them knew the first thing about branding, they began by hitting the books.

What they discovered was a rich Nevada tradition dating back well over a century, one with its own complex set of rules and conventions.

It was a little like learning a new language, one Riess compares to Morse code or hieroglyphics, with letters and symbols that contain entire phrases if you know how to unlock them.

"This is not the typical brand you're used to in marketing," she says. "This was an entirely new subculture for us."

In other words, the authority could not simply burn a version of its water-droplet logo into the hides of its newly acquired cattle and sheep. Developing the brand had to be a "very careful, very deliberate" process, says Brandon Humphries, the authority's ranch manager in White Pine County.

Riess and Leece knew going in that their design would have to be unique, so it wouldn't be confused with any other brand on file in Nevada. They didn't realize that would mean paging through the state's brand book, a 600-page tome crammed with about 4,000 different symbols.

"I would liken it to a copyright search," Riess says.

They also had to consider the landscape in which the livestock roam, since tradition dictates that a brand be "symbolic of the land it represents," Riess says.

Humphries had an additional requirement. He needed the brand to be easy to identify from a distance, but not so easy as to "rub it into people's faces" that the Southern Nevada Water Authority now owns livestock in the area. After all, Las Vegas water officials aren't exactly popular in White Pine County, what with their plans to export billions of gallons of groundwater from the area.

Finally, Riess and Leece had to consider the technical constraints of brand design, namely that the symbol they selected must be easily rendered in iron. And in the interest of being humane, they had to avoid the use of multiple symbols and enclosed spaces in their design that might cause painful "hot spots" in the finished brand.

The process took about nine months and involved dozens of drafts, including one that translated to "small fancy g."

Riess says the water authority's administrative team helped pick the final version, and the Nevada Department of Agriculture's Division of Livestock Identification gave its approval last October after a few weeks of review.

The authority's brand looks like an uppercase G with a waterfall tumbling out of it. And for good reason. The symbol literally translates to "falling water G."

The G stands for Great Basin Ranch, the name under which the water authority operates the more than 23,000 acres it has acquired in White Pine County's Spring Valley since 2006.

"A brand to us is a literal brand, but it still represents the company," Humphries explains.

The new brand was seared onto the right hip of about 1,500 calves in late May and June.

Asked how she feels about that, Riess says she has no moral objections to the practice of branding or cattle ranching in general. She used to be a vegetarian, but now she enjoys a good steak once in a while.

That's where she draws the line, though.

Riess says she has no interest in actually burning her "falling water G" onto the side of a live animal.

"I'll leave that to the professionals," she says.