January 31, 2009

Mojave land trust achieves acquisition milestone

Joshua Tree charity donates 10,000th acre to Park Service

Hi-Desert Star

JOSHUA TREE — The Mojave Desert Land Trust, a Joshua Tree public charity, announced the acquisition of its 10,000th acre of land to be donated to the National Park Service this week.

The land trust has given land to Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park through 183 transactions at a cost of $5 million dollars.

Mindy Kaufman, the land trust’s president, said she was extremely proud of the achievement: “We are only 3 years old as a land trust and these acquisitions speak to the grit and determination of the board, our funders, small staff, great volunteers and the community in its desire to preserve land in the Mojave Desert.”

Founded in 2005, the Mojave Desert Land Trust uses a fund in the Preserving Wild California Program to acquire privately held parcels inside the boundaries of desert national parks.

Most national parks contain private lands that are holdovers from the homesteading, ranching and mining days.

The Mojave Land Trust believes these lands can become the staging grounds for incompatible development, such as commercial real estate or homes, putting wildlife, natural and cultural treasures and the experiences of park visitors at risk.

According to the land trust, the National Park Service lists 1.8 million acres of private land it hopes will be acquired and donated to the government at an estimated price tag of $1.9 billion.

Inholdings that require restoration from dumping, illegal roads or other uses are restored by the Mojave Desert Land Trust before they are donated to the National Park Service.

To date, using professional contractors and the volunteer time of trained land stewards, over 70 acres have been restored — recycling more than 15 tons of debris, 36 vehicles and four travel trailers.

This year, Nolina Peak, which the land trust acquired in 2007, was incorporated into Joshua Tree National Park.

The 640-acre Nolina Peak parcel protects the Quail Mountain watershed originating in Joshua Tree National Park.

“In only three years, the MDLT has acquired over 3,500 acres in Joshua Tree, a rate of acquisition that far exceeds what the park was able to accomplish,” said Curt Sauer, superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park.

“While these lands are all critical to the management of resources within the park, the acquisition of Nolina Peak is a giant step forward in our ability to preserve the northwest end of Quail Mountain, with its resident populations of bighorn sheep, bobcat, mountain lion and desert tortoise.”

Sauer said he considers the land trust an important partner for conservation in the Mojave Desert.

Another recent acquisition of 320 acres is located in the Mojave National Preserve. A wildlife corridor, this land links the pinyon juniper highlands of the New York Mountains with the Watson Wash drainage.

The site also includes habitat for plants and animals and is the location of a historic homestead.

Preserve superintendent Dennis Schramm said the land trust’s help has been especially critical in the past several years, when federal money to buy land was mostly unavailable.

“Wilderness, desert tortoise critical habitat, springs and other biologically diverse properties are now permanently protected due to the efforts of MDLT,” said Schramm.

January 30, 2009

Amargosa River bill will only affect California

Pahrump Valley Times

During very wet periods, the Amargosa River can flow at the surface, as it did in Death Valley during the wet winter of 2005.

The passage in the U.S. Senate of the Omnibus Public Lands Bill of 2009, including the designation of wild and scenic river status for the Amargosa River in California, was like a dream come true for the newly-formed Amargosa Conservancy.

Across the state line, however, Nevada District 36 Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, who has seen the influence of environmental designations like Death Valley National Park and Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge on water rights applications in Amargosa Valley, sees a possible nightmare.

Goedhart said a "wild and scenic river" conjures up images of people rafting through white water rapids in scenic national parks. The segment of the Amargosa River under wild and scenic river protection extends from four miles north of the Tecopa Hot Springs road, south to just past the Dumont Dunes access road crossing.

"Any time you want to make wilderness, national monuments, wildlife refuges, wild and scenic rivers, it's like dropping a pebble on a pond. These ripples go a long ways," Goedhart said. "It's an expansion of locking people out of not only public lands but also being able to utilize their own property and water rights, such as people in Amargosa Valley."

The legislation reminded him of the Death Valley regional groundwater flow model, which places limits on application for water rights. Goedhart said the area affected by that flow model would measure 20,000 square miles.

Amargosa Valley is being eyed up for solar power projects by companies like Solar Millenium and Ausra NV.

"When Death Valley was changed from a national monument to a national park, that now gives the National Park Service a buffer area where they can protest things being done outside the park borders up to 50 miles away. These types of things, they get increasingly difficult for people to utilize their land and water rights to attract capital, create wealth, produce payroll and pay taxes," Goedhart said.

Brian Brown, a founding member of the Amargosa Conservancy, which was formed as a nonprofit organization in September 2005, thinks those fears are overblown. Brown doesn't see any impact of the legislation across the state line. Instead, he sees benefits to the economy in the Tecopa-Shoshone area.

"Those small businesses that are surviving are doing it on tourism, and what we have to offer is the desert itself. It's a unique area. There's a lot of endemic plants and animals, and this will go a long way toward protecting their water source in that river," Brown said.

The lands bill is expected to be introduced in the House within the next couple weeks. The wild and scenic river designation was one of 160 bills in the Omnibus Public Lands Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif.

Brown said he met with the California delegation during a trip to Washington, D.C., in September, along with other residents of Inyo County.

"It's difficult to examine the scenario where this wild and scenic section might affect something 90 miles away in Beatty. It seems like a stretch," Brown said. "States control their water. That's their job. So this is in California, it's not in Nevada. The people in our area are looking forward to it. We look on it as an asset that will bring more tourism and travel to our area."

Brown said the conservancy is working with the state of California to cut a recreational trail down to the Amargosa Canyon from the China Ranch Date Farm he owns. A 17-mile hiking trail from Shoshone, Calif., to Dumont Dunes, part of it using the rail bed from the old Tonopah and Tidewater railroad, has also been discussed over the last several years, with kiosks, watch towers and other facilities.

"This legislation only affects federal land. It does not affect any private landowners' rights to their land," Brown said. "There aren't a lot of places in the lower 48 where you can get the vistas and quiet solitude like we have here. That has value. The truth is there are other values than an economic one, and those have to weigh into decisions on public land."

Brown said the public lands bill is an attempt to wrap up conflicts over wilderness study areas, enacted by the Desert Protection Act of 1994, which designated the Mojave National Preserve in a wide swath of desert from Interstate 15 to Interstate 40.

McKeon's legislation includes designating 11,000 acres in the Sierra Nevadas as a snowmobile area as well as wild and scenic river designation for places like Cottonwood Creek, just south of Lone Pine, Calif.

Brown said the legislation is written so there are seven different locations where off-highway vehicles can cross the Amargosa River.

The bill will also allow the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to measure the stream flow to prevent large diversions upstream that would lessen the flow through the wild and scenic section.

But Brown said that shouldn't affect users upstream since the Amargosa River doesn't have a lot of water.

Bob Haueter, deputy chief of staff for Rep. McKeon, said the water flow isn't sufficient on the Amargosa River to affect potential users in either California or Nevada.

"It has no impact in Nevada. It doesn't reach Nevada," Haueter said. "There can be no impact outside the area affected."

County Files Action to Preserve Public's Access to Camp Rock Road

By David Zook
Submitted by Dan Wilson
Best Syndication News

Nearly six years after San Bernardino County first sought to establish its authority over a critical High Desert road that crosses federal land, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday authorized a court order seeking to compel the federal government to process the County's application.

"We made a good faith effort under existing laws and regulations to establish that Camp Rock Road is a vital route across federal land and that it should be permanently under County control," said First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, who represents the High Desert. "We regret having to take this action to force the government to comply with its own rules and honor our rights under the Administrative Procedures Act."

On April 29, 2003, the County filed an application with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a recordable disclaimer granting the County's right of way on Camp Rock Road, which stretches about 42 miles between Lucerne Valley and Daggett. A recordable disclaimer is similar to a quitclaim deed, which would give the County a legal record of its ownership of the road.

The recordable disclaimer process was established to allow rights of way to be formally recognized and recorded. There was previously no regulatory provision for recording rights of way under federal rules.

The application was filed under Revised Statute 2477, part of an 1866 mining law that allowed rights of way over public lands as part of the effort to settle the West. R.S. 2477 was repealed in 1976 with the adoption of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, but existing rights of way were preserved. The County submitted substantial evidence that Camp Rock Road was a well-established and maintained route long before 1976.

"We are merely seeking to protect the interests of our economy and our citizens who rely on this route to travel across federal land," Supervisor Mitzelfelt said. "There is no reason for this application to have languished for nearly six years, and we look forward to working with the federal government to resolve this issue."

The County's request for a writ of mandamus will be heard in U.S. District Court, Central District, in Riverside.

January 28, 2009

Grim water outlook for Nevada and California

Associated Press

RENO, Nev. (AP) - Experts have offered a grim water outlook for Nevada and California, saying farmers can again expect to receive less water than normal this year because of a drought.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials, meeting with water users at a conference last week in Reno, said the snowpack water content is again averaging below normal so far this winter in both states.

In Nevada, it's currently running 71 percent in the Lake Tahoe basin, 68 percent in both the Truckee River and Carson River watersheds, 62 percent in the Walker River basin and 78 percent in the Humboldt River watershed, said Kenneth Parr, the agency's Lahontan Basin Area Office manager in Carson City.

Parr said that in addition to his fear for farmers, he also is concerned about the impact of a skimpy snowpack on smaller ski resorts around Lake Tahoe.

"The corporate ski resorts are facing no problem," he said. "I'm worried about the smaller ski resorts up there."

Ron Milligan, the bureau's Central Valley operations manager in Sacramento, Calif., said his office's initial water allocations will be "relatively low" this year because of the drought.

His office, which oversees farmers in California's Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys, plans to wait until Feb. 20 to announce specific figures to gain a better idea of the Sierra snowpack.

"Clearly, this is going to be a tight year," Milligan said. "The amount of water in storage is very low and the run-off projections at this point are very low. It's going to be very challenging to meet the various needs."

As of Jan. 22, the snowpack water content was 49 percent of average for the date in Northern California, 57 percent in Central California and 64 percent in Southern California, according to Milligan.

Bill Diedrich, an almond grower in Fresno County, said he's facing the prospect of losing some of his orchards because of the drought.

"Quarter sections of almonds may be dead by the end of the year. It's one of the grimmest water situations we've ever faced," said Diedrich, a member of a fourth-generation California farm family.

As many as 40 other farmers in his San Luis Water District are not planting annual row crops because of speculation they could get zero surface water, Diedrich said.

"You can't plant an annual crop when you're facing such an uncertain water situation," Diedrich said. "We need for everyone to understand it's an absolute emergency and anything to get water flowing quickly is needed.

"The real story here is food security. I believe it's a national issue," Diedrich added, noting California grows fruits and vegetables that are consumed nationwide.

As of Jan. 1, electronic sensor readings taken throughout the Sierra showed the overall water content of the snowpack at 76 percent of normal, compared to 60 percent last year.

"This doesn't bode well," Milligan said. "We'll have to see how the dynamics of the Pacific play out the rest of the season... and whether we get any major storms. It could go either way."

S.B. County suing federal government to get road

The Press-Enterprise

San Bernardino County officials this week agreed to sue the federal government to gain control of a 42-mile stretch of mostly dirt road that cuts through undeveloped public land between Barstow and the San Bernardino Mountains.

The county's 6-year-old effort to wrest legal rights to Camp Rock Road from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has raised concerns among some environmentalists, who say they fear county control could put wildlife at risk.

Camp Rock Road, a public-access route to a large section of open desert southeast of Barstow, crosses territory that is designated as critical habitat for the desert tortoise, a species threatened with extinction. It also skirts two wilderness areas in the Newberry and Rodman mountains south of Interstate 40.

"If the county were to pave the road or increase traffic on the road, it would be a detriment to desert wildlife, including the desert tortoise," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, a wildlife advocacy group.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt said the county has no plans to pave or otherwise improve the road, which he said is used principally by recreationists and miners. The county already maintains it.

"We just seek to keep it open for the various uses, as it has been many years," Mitzelfelt said. "We have an obligation as a county to keep it as a county road."

He added that the county is also in court to fight road closures on public land in the Mojave National Preserve.

San Bernardino County submitted an application to the BLM in 2003 to take over Camp Rock Road, but the bureau has not acted, according to a county petition filed in U.S. District Court.The suit asks the court to order the BLM to process the county's application.

Alan Stein, a BLM deputy district manager, said the agency has not acted because of unresolved disputes about a statute that allows counties to take over federal rights-of-way.

Heidi McIntosh, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said environmental groups are concerned because counties are not obligated to protect wildlife while the BLM must adhere to the Endangered Species Act and other laws.

Mitzelfelt said the road could not be improved without extensive environmental reviews.

County sues to ensure Camp Rock Road access

By ABBY SEWELL, staff writer
Desert Dispatch

San Bernardino County is suing the federal government in hopes of establishing its right of way on a road crossing federal land between Lucerne Valley and Daggett.

The county is seeking to officially establish its ownership of Camp Rock Road, a county-maintained road that covers about 42 miles between Lucerne Valley and Daggett and crosses federal land, according to press release from county First District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt’s office.

“The road supports numerous industries, such as ranching, mining, filming and recreation, and it’s a road a lot of people use to get back and forth between Lucerne and Johnson Valley and the greater Barstow area,” Mitzelfelt said Wednesday. “... Our position is that in order to maintain our roads and keep them open, we need to be able to show we have the right of way for a variety of reasons.”

In April 2003 the county filed an application with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management for a “recordable disclaimer,” which would establish its right of way on the road and give the county a legal record of its ownership. The application was never processed, and the county is now asking for a court order that would force the BLM to process it in a timely manner, Mitzelfelt said Wednesday.

“Either issue the disclaimer or don’t issue the disclaimer, and tell us why,” he said.

The county’s application showed that it has been maintaining the road since before 1976, allowing the county to claim right of way under an 1866 mining law, Mitzelfelt said. The law was repealed in 1976, but existing right of ways were allowed to stand, according to the county release.

Alan Stein, deputy district manager of resources for the BLM’s California Desert District, said the BLM had been waiting to see how court cases involving right of ways established under the old mining law played out in other states before taking up San Bernardino County’s application.

In the meantime, he said, the county continues to use and maintain the road, and in the BLM’s maps, the road shows up as being owned by the county.

“It’s not that we tried to close Camp Rock Road — we didn’t, and we didn’t try to change the use on Camp Rock Road,” Stein said. “It’s a legal issue, and the county is interested in, and has been interested in, maintaining access.”

The county filed its motion asking for a court order in the United States District Court in Riverside on Jan. 14 under the authority of board Chairman Gary Ovitt, and the board ratified the action at its regular meeting Tuesday, Mitzelfelt said.

Park official says science on canyon was ignored

Washington Post

Washington -- Interior Department officials ignored key scientific findings when they limited water flows in the Grand Canyon to optimize generation of electric power there, risking damage to the ecology of the spectacular landmark, according to documents obtained by the Washington Post.

A Jan. 15 memo written by Grand Canyon National Park Supt. Steve Martin suggests that the department produced a flawed environmental assessment to defend its actions against environmentalists.

The Grand Canyon Trust, an advocacy group, has sued Interior for reducing the flow of water from Glen Canyon Dam at night, when consumer demand for electricity is low, on the grounds that the policy hurts imperiled fish species and erodes the canyon's beaches.

"The government's brief as presented continues to misinterpret key scientific findings related to the humpback chub, status of downstream resources in Grand Canyon, and the need for the secretary to acknowledge [National Park Service] authorities and responsibilities to protect resources under [National Park Service] administration," Martin wrote in a memo that the Post obtained from the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Mike Snyder, the park service's intermountain regional director, said Tuesday that he concurred with the superintendent's analysis and had tried to petition Interior's top officials to reexamine the Colorado water experiment.

The issue highlights what Interior Secretary Ken Salazar will face as he evaluates Bush administration rules.

January 26, 2009

Judge refuses to halt huge Nevada gold mine

Native American Times

Cortez Hills plant, pit and exploration in northeast Nevada.

RENO, Nev. (AP) – A federal judge ruled Monday a massive gold mine project could proceed in northeast Nevada despite a bid by a Western tribe and conservationists to block it on religious and environmental grounds.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks ruled there’s not enough evidence to force Barrick Gold Corp. to postpone digging a 2,000-foot deep open pit at the Cortez Hills mine on Mount Tenabo 250 miles east of Reno until a trial is held on the merits of the project.

The Great Basin Resource Watch and the Western Shoshone claimed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s review of the Toronto-based company’s proposed mine ignores some of the environmental effects and disregards tribal leaders’ concerns it will destroy a sacred landmark.

Hicks, who took more than a half hour to explain his ruling from the bench, said a preliminary injunction like the one the plaintiffs wanted is an “extraordinary remedy” taken only when there is a likelihood they will prevail at trial.

He said that while he might change his mind, so far mine opponents had failed to prove construction of the mine would violate the tribe’s religious freedoms or that the BLM violated any federal environmental laws in approving the mine under the Mining Act of 1872.

“The effect of the proposed mining project is on the plaintiffs’ subjective, emotional experience. It is offensive to their sensibilities and in the mind of some will desecrate a sacred mountain,” Hicks said.

“Nevertheless, the diminishment of that spirituality – as serious as it may be – under the Supreme Court’s holdings it is not a substantial burden on religious freedom,” he said.

Hicks said he also disagreed with the opponents’ claims that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Management Policy Act by failing to adequately consider effects on groundwater and scenic values of the area.

He said an environmental study was very thorough.

“It is very clear it represents thousands and thousands of work hours by BLM,” Hicks said.

“The court is satisfied they met the laws that require the BLM to take a hard look at all of the issues that pertain to a project such as this one,” he said.

Louis Schack, manager of communications and community affairs for Barrick Gold of North America, said the company was glad Hicks agreed the project was “thoroughly reviewed and responsibly approved” by the BLM.

“This is the most studied and scrutiinized mining project in Nevada. It is also very important to the economic stability of rural Nevada,” Schack said.

Roger Flynn, a lawyer with the Western Mining Action Project representing the tribe and the Great Basin Resource Watch, said before the ruling was issued that the plaintiffs would consider appealing to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. He did not immediately return a telephone call or e-mail seeking comment after the ruling.

Lawyers for Barrick – the largest gold mining company in the world – said any delay in digging the mine would have caused an undue financial hardship on the company and its workers during tough economic times.

The company is prepared to spend $640,000 a day for the next 15 months, said Francis Wikstrom, a lawyer for Barrick. He said a lot of that money would remain in Nevada, a state that produces more gold than any other – trailing only South Africa, Australia and China internationally.

Thirty workers already have been laid off and 250 to 300 more would be out of work and unlikely to find other jobs if the project had been halted, he said.

“This is basically the only game in town in northern Nevada,” Wikstrom said. “People need to feed their families.”

Hicks said the case has “tremendous significance” to the tribe, the mining company and its workers.

“And it certainly has huge implications to the public at a time of severe economic difficulties throughout the nation, not just in Nevada,” he said.

Hicks said that while there was no question Mount Tenabo was a very important mountain to the Western Shoshone, mining has been prevalent on the mountain since the 1860s – even before Nevada was a state.

Southern California utilities eye Inland desert as energy goldmine

The Press-Enterprise

Inland Southern California's desert backyard is ground zero in the state's efforts to cut back on polluting fossil-fuel-burning power plants and lead the nation's conversion to renewable energy.

For decades the region has been recognized for its rich renewable resources, from wind in the Coachella Valley and Tehachapi Mountains to the Salton Sea's underground reservoir of geothermal power to some of the most intense desert sunshine in the world.

Spurred by a state-imposed renewable energy requirement, now all of the major utilities in California -- Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas and Electric and San Diego Gas and Electric -- are scrambling to sign contracts to purchase electricity from new projects planned in the Imperial Valley and Mojave Desert.

"Because the California desert, particularly the Mojave Desert, is such a great place to develop solar and because of the proximity of large urban areas, there is probably more solar development going on in Southern California than anywhere else in the world," said Terry O'Brien, the California Energy Commission's deputy director of siting, transmission and environmental protection.

The task of transforming the state's energy structure to accommodate renewable power is huge and can't be done quickly. "We are transforming the electricity system in a way that hasn't been done before," said O'Brien.

Renewable energy provides about 12 percent of California's energy needs. State officials do not expect that investor-owned utilities will meet a legislated mandate to supply 20 percent of their customers' power needs with renewable energy by 2010.

"We should get close in 2012," said Dave Hawkins, lead renewable power engineer for the Independent Systems Operator, the agency responsible for maintaining the reliability of the state's energy grid.

Still, the push to renewable energy is intensifying with a state and national campaign to fight global warming and forge energy independence from foreign oil producers.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued an executive order calling for 33 percent renewable energy in California by 2020 and said he will sponsor legislation to make that target a legal requirement for public and private utilities.

Currently, municipal utilities are exempt from the state renewable energy portfolio mandate and have set their own goals.

Andy Horne, Imperial County's deputy chief executive for natural resources development, hopes jobs generated by a burst of renewable energy development will trim that county's 23 percent unemployment.

Horne said in the past he has seen corporate interest in renewable energy investment track with oil prices. Rising oil prices kindled interest in renewable energy that quickly dimmed when oil prices fell, making renewables less competitive with conventional coal and gas generation.

But this time as oil prices fall, the interest in renewable generation is holding strong because utilities must continue buying to comply with the law. "I think this is a different ball game," Horne said.

Economic Constraints

Meeting a 33 percent renewable goal by 2020 will require adding 20,000 megawatts of renewable power to the state grid -- enough to supply about 15 million homes.

That calls for the construction of $60 billion in generation facilities and $6 billion in new transmission, more than half of that in Southern California, said Dave Olsen, coordinator of the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative

Olsen said that task force of stakeholders, including state regulatory agencies, the energy industry and the Sierra Club, is determining the most effective and least environmentally destructive places to locate renewable energy-generation projects and the transmission lines to serve them.

Environmental concerns about protecting the desert are making it difficult to get these projects built. Also a freeze in the financial markets already has prevented at least one geothermal company from obtaining capital to start construction on an approved project in the Imperial Valley.

"The economy is working against what we are trying to do," said Robert M. Doyel, lands branch chief with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

Many Applicants

California is fielding a deluge of renewable-energy proposals. The federal Bureau of Land Management has 154 applications from prospective solar, wind and geothermal power developers requesting access to almost 1.5 million acres in its California Desert District that includes parts of San Bernardino, Riverside, Imperial, San Diego and Kern counties.

Not all the applications will become operating power plants. Greg Miller, the bureau's renewable-energy program manager for that district, said many wind companies want only to test the resource.

Miller said besides, the process of getting approval is so daunting that it is likely some applicants will give up. Part of the delay, he said, stems from the bureau's inexperience with vetting solar projects planned for federal lands.

"Because solar energy development on BLM land is so new, there are many issues cropping up that we have to address on the fly," he said. The myriad of issues, he said, range from the impact on desert tortoises to potential desert erosion. Also, he said the bureau is not staffed to deal with the flood of applications.

In an effort to weed out speculators, the Independent System Operator late last year required a hefty deposit from applicants waiting for transmission connection -- with the result that about half the projects dropped out.

Simplifying Steps

The governor and state legislators are trying to speed the development of renewable-energy projects by consolidating the approval process, which is now fragmented among numerous state, federal and local government agencies.

"Simply setting a goal isn't sufficient unless we aggressively remove barriers to siting and transmission and actively encourage the industry here in California," said State Assemblyman Paul Krekorian, D-Burbank.

Krekorian is co-sponsor of Assembly Bill 64, which would, among other things, establish a single state agency in charge of approving renewable-energy generation and transmission projects.

Schwarzenegger in November ordered state agencies to work together in reviewing renewable-energy projects. He also signed a memorandum of agreement with the federal Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for state and federal agencies to jointly streamline the approval process for such projects in the Mojave and Colorado deserts.

Transmission arguably remains the biggest obstacle to the development of renewable energy because of the need to carry electricity many miles from remote areas where it is produced to population centers.

Larry Grogan, a former Imperial County supervisor and longtime energy industry consultant, said "the first ones (renewable projects) with resources and financing will get onto the transmission lines and the rest will have to wait."

O'Brien of the California Energy Commission said clearly more lines will have to be built for all the new generation planned by 2020.

Sunrise PowerLink, a $1.9 billion, 120-mile transmission line designed to bring wind, geothermal and solar power from the Imperial Valley to San Diego won approval last month from the Public Utilities Commission after a three-year struggle by the developer, San Diego Gas & Electric.

That transmission line was approved after it was rerouted around a state park. It is expected to go into operation in 2012.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power also faces opposition to its plans to route transmission from the Imperial Valley to Los Angeles.

Geothermal Gem

"In my opinion, Imperial County will be the renewable capital of the country," said Vince Signorotti, vice president of land management for Terra-Gen, a renewable-energy development company looking for solar and geothermal sites in the area.

The Imperial Valley's most valuable resource, the experts say, is a rich underground reservoir of hot water near the Salton Sea. Steam extracted from briny water is pushed through turbines to produce electricity.

Currently about 400 megawatts of geothermal electricity is produced in the Imperial Valley and an estimated 2,000 megawatts of additional power remains to be tapped.

Mark T. Gran, vice president of Cal Energy, the largest geothermal plant operator in the Imperial Valley, said in anticipation of the new transmission the company plans to double its current geothermal energy production at the Salton Sea, building an additional 50-megawatt plant each year for the next dozen years.

Southern California Edison is a major customer of geothermal energy produced at the Salton Sea. The company is also building a $2 billion transmission project, with anticipated completion in 2013, to spur development of up to 4,500 megawatts of wind power in the Tehachapi region.

Southern California Edison Vice President Stu Hemphill said the company is relying on a provision in the state mandate that allows utilities that can't deliver 20 percent renewable energy to its customers next year to make up the shortfall by contracting to buy power from projects still on the drawing board.

"The question is how many of them will actually deliver and when," Hemphill said.

Mapping California deserts for projects, protection

Desert Sun

State officials are mapping the California desert to identify what to designate for renewable energy projects and what to protect.

At the direction of the governor, energy and wildlife experts are trying to get ahead of potential solar, geothermal and wind projects that could lead to acres of solar panels and miles of transmission lines.

Protected areas such as those in the Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan are in the review area, but state staff members expect them to benefit from the state effort.

‘‘We think this can help local entities reach their conservation goals sooner,'' said Kevin Hunting, who oversees the work for the state Department of Fish and Game.

He added: ‘‘I think there is a nice fit with the Coachella Valley plan and the (state) desert plan.''

The work on the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan generally is welcomed in the local area, where it's seen as a way to avoid haphazard development that could undermine the desert quality of life.

‘‘It's going to happen,'' Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson said of renewable development. ‘‘We want it to be well-planned.''

He, Supervisor Marion Ashley and local Sierra Club representative Joan Taylor agreed that habitat planning is important before major new generating plants or transmission lines are built.

Initial assessments indicate potential renewable sites for 6,748 gigawatt hours per year in the region that includes Palm Springs, Twentynine Palms and eastern Riverside County, and there are dozens of applications for renewable projects on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in the desert.

‘‘Basically, if they are put in the wrong places, it could be a disaster for the desert ecosystem,'' said Taylor, who lives in Palm Springs.

But Ashley added that he also is looking at ways to tap energy projects to help finance the rescue of the Salton Sea, where wildlife and the sea are threatened by increased salinity and diversion plans for some water now flowing into the sea.

‘‘There should be a fee for restoration of the Salton Sea,'' Ashley said.

The goal is to speed up the development of renewable energy to help the state reduce greenhouse gas and switch to cleaner fuel by predetermining the best sites for renewable energy development.

Developers wouldn't have use these sites, but those that do would save time by capitalizing on environmental reviews done for those spots.

‘‘It dramatically reduces the time it takes for an applicant on a renewable energy project to get from drawing board to generating electricity,'' Hunting said.

The review, which covers the Colorado and Mojave desert regions, was ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Nov. 17 executive order that called for a third of the state's electricity to be produced by renewable power by 2020.

Now it's about 12 percent.

In his proposed 2009-10 budget, the governor recommended spending $5.6 million on this effort by the two agencies.

While the budget has yet to be approved, work has already begun on the desert plan with existing funds.

It is being coordinated with an older state project, the Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative, that is primarily focused on ensuring adequate transmission for renewable energy projects needed to meet state targets.

The desert plan is meant to provide environmental reviews of the best sites for renewable projects based on such issues as their value for energy production and access to transmission lines, while designating environmentally sensitive sites for long-term protection.

The executive order calls for the draft plan to be done by the end of 2010 and the final plan by June 1, 2012. The goal is to cut the processing time of permits for projects in designated areas by at least 50 percent.

With 80 percent of proposed solar development on federal land, the desert planning project also includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

All together, Hunting said 24 local, six federal and a dozen state agencies have some say in energy development.

Arne Naess, Norwegian philosopher, dies at 96

Naess coined the term 'deep ecology' to indicate that humans are no more important than other species, ecosystems or natural processes.

By Patricia Sullivan
Los Angeles Times

Arne Naess.

Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher who coined the term "deep ecology" to indicate that humans are no more important than other species, ecosystems or natural processes, died Jan. 12 in Oslo. He was 96.

The philosophy drew adherents as diverse as the radical Earth First! activists of the late 1980s and Douglas Tomkins, co-founder of the Esprit clothing line.

"Naess presented us with a way of approaching problems that will continue to be used in environmental work," Light said. "That is, look for the real origins of environmental problems and not just their surface impact."

January 25, 2009

Marines want to take over Amboy Road

Mojave Daily News / News West

LAUGHLIN - The U.S. Marine Corps wants to expand its Twentynine Palms, Calif., air-ground combat training base to the east, taking over Amboy Road, which Southern California drivers use to reach the Colorado River cities.

The Laughlin Chamber of Commerce recently found about the military's expansion effort for its live-fire training and is concerned that eventually the key artery from the Palm Springs to Laughlin will be closed permanently.

Friday is the deadline to submit concerns, which would be addressed in the environmental impact statement of the withdrawal of territory owned mostly by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the state of California.

Chamber manager Janet Medina describes the route from California Highway 62 to Old Route 66, which connects with Interstate 40 at Interchange 115, as “a leisurely drive to and from Laughlin.”

“If the road becomes clogged with military convoys or closed during training exercises, travelers will change their driving patterns and detour past Indian casinos prior to their arrival in Laughlin,” she advised her board of directors.

Medina added, “If the road is permanently closed, visitors will have no alternative but to detour and (it) definitely has the potential to negatively impact Laughlin” and its neighbors to the east and south.

Alternative three would add 22,000 acres (more than 34 square miles) to the south and 224,000 acres (about 350 square miles) east of the existing sprawling base.

There are five other options which don't affect the key travel route.

The draft impact statement is scheduled to be issued next year and the final EIS with the record of decision in 2011.

January 23, 2009

Battle over desert power line escalates

An environmental group asks the state Supreme Court to review PUC approval of the project.

By Marla Dickerson
Los Angeles Times

An environmental group has asked the California Supreme Court to review a controversial power transmission project that was approved last month by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The petition filed late Wednesday by the Center for Biological Diversity alleges that the commission violated California law by failing to ensure that the proposed Sunrise Powerlink would be used principally to carry renewable energy and by rejecting alternative routes that would have avoided fragile wilderness areas. The group wants the court to void the decision and order the PUC to reconsider the proposal.

"Sunrise . . . would sacrifice sensitive public lands and vital habitat without any guarantee the line will be used to deliver clean energy," said Ileene Anderson, Los Angeles spokeswoman for the group.

The center also plans to ask the PUC for a rehearing on the $1.9-billion project, which it contends is unnecessary and too costly, Anderson said.

Wednesday's filing, which was expected, is just the latest development in a lengthy dispute over Sunrise. Proposed by San Diego Gas & Electric, the $1.9-billion ratepayer-financed transmission line is slated to run 123 miles from Imperial County to San Diego, crossing remote areas of the San Diego backcountry and the Cleveland National Forest.

SDG&E said the line was necessary for it to meet state mandates to boost its use of renewable power by ensuring there is enough transmission capacity available to get energy from remote wind, solar and geothermal projects to urban areas where it's needed.

Opponents say it's a costly boondoggle that will destroy unique desert habitat while allowing SDG&E to transport fossil fuel-generated electricity through the lines. They contend that funds would be better spent developing urban solar projects that use existing transmission infrastructure.

PUC spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said she couldn't comment on a pending appeal of a decision. The court can take as long as it wants to decide whether it will hear the petition.

January 22, 2009

Saving the tortoise

Feds sure have spent a lot of money over the years

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Back in 1973, Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act. Fifteen years later, someone looked around and realized there was no way to do a cost-benefit analysis on how much was being spent to "protect" the proliferating list of weeds and bugs in question, so Congress in 1988 added a section to the ESA requiring an annual species-by-species expenditure report.

And about eight years later, the appropriate federal agencies finally got around to issuing them.

And which endangered species do you suppose these government agencies spend the most tax dollars "protecting"? The grizzly bear? The bald eagle?


The 2006 report, the latest released by the Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates $884 million were directly spent "protecting" more than 1,100 species on the list. But there's a wide disparity in how money is doled out.

The top recipients have been salmon in the Pacific Northwest and the Steller sea lion. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on those species since reporting began in 1996.

The pallid sturgeon, a prehistoric-looking freshwater fish, topped the 2006 list at $39 million. But a mere $6 was expended "protecting" a rare Utah herb called the Barneby reed-mustard, which sounds like it might be tasty in a salad.

Another critter ranking high on the list of money spent by state and federal agencies trying to keep it from extinction, according to an Associated Press analysis of the past 11 years of available data, is Southern Nevada's own desert tortoise. From 1996 to 2006, more than $93 million was spent on managing the long-lived reptile, The AP figures. That's more than was spent on the grizzly, the gray wolf or the bald eagle.

There are some odd things about the case of the Mojave Desert tortoise, though. For one thing, its "critical habitat" stretches across 9,600 square miles. Jurisdictions include four states, seven military installations, four national parks and scores of federal, state and county agencies.

For another, for a supposedly "threatened" species, there seem to be a whole lot of them out there. Roy Averill-Murray, desert tortoise recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno, estimates there are 111,000 to 187,000 adult desert tortoises in areas designated as critical habitat.

Government agencies spent $10.5 million on the desert tortoise in 2006 and more than $11 million in 2007 -- on monitoring, fences to keep them from wandering onto highways, studies on a respiratory disease and stacks of long-range plans.

Problem is, no one's sure if it's done more good than harm.

One of the most ambitious plans was to relocate 770 of the reptiles to Bureau of Land Management land to make way for the expansion of Fort Irwin, a national military training center near Barstow, Calif.

The move started last March, but was put on hold in October after most of the tortoises "relocated" to date -- about 90 of them -- were promptly killed and eaten by coyotes.

"Nobody thought it was going to be an inexpensive proposition," says Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, the radical and lawsuit-prone environmental outfit. "But the desert tortoise is a bellwether for the health of our deserts."

One wonders if the Fort Irwin tortoises wouldn't rather be alive than serve as somebody's "bellwether."

One of the region's few surviving ranchers, Cliven Bundy, argues that when federal officials required a comprehensive tortoise population survey before allowing the Kern River gas pipeline to be run through Southern Nevada a few years back, they discovered by far the densest concentrations of tortoises were not out in the dry and barren desert (though there were somewhat more where cattle grazed), but right here in the suburban Las Vegas Valley.

What if it turns out tortoises love lawns and golf courses and other man-made improvements to the environment? What would that do to the theory that mankind and his "development" are some of the things from which the desert tortoise needs to be "protected"?

Court rules on ownership of 97/10,000ths of an acre

By Paul E. Pfeifer
Ohio Supreme Court Justice

Throughout history there have been countless border disputes, great and small. Germany and France battled over Alsace-Lorraine; Canada and the United States once got testy about the border of Alaska; even Ohio and Michigan squabbled over Toledo and surrounding territory. Now we can add to that list the Evanich-Bridge boundary quarrel.

It all began in 1965, when William Evanich bought a piece of land in a residential subdivision with his wife, Roselyn. The Evaniches built a house on the property and began landscaping in 1967.

Before he started landscaping, Evanich surveyed the property by running string from a survey stake at the rear of his lot to a stake at the front. Evanich assumed that the resulting line marked the edge of his land.

With his boundary defined, Evanich installed a split rail fence, decorative railroad ties, stone blocks, bushes, flowers and at least one tree. All of that landscaping was in place when, in 1977, Steven and Margaret Bridge bought the property next door.

In 2002, twenty-five years after moving in, the Bridges had their lot surveyed and discovered that Evanich's 1967 self-survey had included 97/10,000ths of an acre that belonged to the Bridges. Evanich had unwittingly landscaped along what he assumed was his lot line.

Upon making this discovery, the Bridges sent a letter to the Evaniches requesting removal of the split rail fence and other landscaping. The Evaniches refused, and instead filed a complaint in court to obtain a declaration of their rights through adverse possession.

What is adverse possession? It's a legal doctrine that says a plaintiff -- the Evaniches in this case -- can acquire legal title to another person's real property if he or she proves exclusive possession and open, notorious and continuous use adverse to the owner for a period of 21 years.

At trial, William Evanich testified that he had intended to landscape his own property only, and that he would not have planted where he did had he known that the property belonged to his neighbors.

The trial court concluded that the claim for adverse possession was proven by a preponderance of the evidence and judged in favor of William and Roselyn Evanich. But the Bridges appealed, arguing that the trial court had applied the wrong standard of proof.

The case was sent back to the trial court to apply the standard of clear and convincing evidence, but again the trial court ruled in favor of the Evaniches. So the Bridges appealed again, this time arguing that William and Roselyn were required to show that they took possession of the land with the intent to claim title to it.

Despite the Bridges' argument, the court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court. After that, the border dispute came before us -- the Supreme Court of Ohio -- for a final review.

The doctrine of adverse possession is well established in Ohio, with Supreme Court cases on the subject dating back to the 1800s. Time and again we have determined that in order to succeed in acquiring title by adverse possession, the claimant must show exclusive possession that is open, notorious, continuous and adverse for 21 years. But the issue here is how the claimant's intent relates to the legal element of adversity.

We have never said that a claimant must establish subjective intent to acquire title to someone else's land in order to succeed in an adverse possession claim. Rather, the adversity element has been explained this way: "It is the visible and adverse possession with an intent to possess that constitutes the occupancy's adverse character, and not the remote motives or purposes of the occupant."

In a case on this subject from 1866, our court addressed the precise issue of whether the element of adversity requires that a person have the actual motive, the intent, to claim the property of another.

In that 1866 case, the court considered instructions that were given to the jury on adverse possession that stated: The person seeking adverse possession "must have knowingly and designedly taken and held the land... Occupancy by accident, or mistake, or ignorance of the dividing line, is not sufficient."

But that instruction was rejected as unprecedented, erroneous and "mischievous in its operation." Instead, the court in 1866 reaffirmed that possession is what matters.

The 1866 court said that if the adverse possessor "occupies what he believes to be his own, a similar possession gives him a title. Into the recesses of his mind, his motives or purposes, his guilt or innocence, no inquiry is made. It is for this obvious reason that it is the visible and adverse possession, with an intention to possess, that constitutes its adverse character, and not the remote views or belief of the possessor."

As Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote in our majority opinion, "In other words, title may be acquired 'irrespective of any question of motive or of mistake.' In a claim for adverse possession, intent is objective rather than subjective in determining whether the adversity element of adverse possession has been established, and the legal requirement that possession be adverse is satisfied by clear and convincing evidence that for 21 years the claimant possessed property and treated it as the claimant's own.

"This has been the law in Ohio for over 140 years, and we are unwilling to alter a rule that has successfully directed the application of the doctrine of adverse possession for so long."

The court of appeals concluded that the Evaniches acted in a way consistent with true ownership by installing landscaping that included railroad ties, the fence, the tree and all the rest. The court determined that the Evaniches possessed the necessary intent based on their exclusive control over the property for 35 years.

We saw no error in the court of appeals' conclusion that the Evaniches took possession of the disputed property via adverse possession. We therefore affirmed -- by a seven-to-zero vote -- the judgment of the court of appeals.

Thus ends another of history's border disputes.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The case referred to is: Evanich v. Bridge, 119 Ohio St.3d 260, 2008-Ohio-3820. Case No. 2007-0863. Decided Aug. 5, 2008. Majority opinion written by Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul E. Pfeifer is a Bucyrus native.

January 20, 2009

Plenty spent on endangered species list's tortoise

Associated Press

The Mojave desert tortoise is among the top recipients of money spent by state and federal agencies trying to keep it from the brink of extinction, according to an analysis of the last 11 years of available data. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Leathery, shy and a bit world-weary, the Mojave desert tortoise doesn't come across as a high-roller.

But among land-going critters on the endangered species list, it's among the top recipients of money spent by state and federal agencies trying to keep it from the brink of extinction, according to an Associated Press analysis of the last 11 years of available data.

From 1996 to 2006, more than $93 million was spent on managing the long-lived reptile, records show. That's more than was spent on other species such as the grizzly bear, gray wolf or bald eagle.

Not bad for a pokey desert dweller that spends most of its time in underground burrows in parts of Utah, California, Arizona and Nevada.

Not that preserving the tortoise is simple.

The tortoise's "critical habitat" stretches across 9,600 square miles. Jurisdictions include four states, seven military installations, four national parks and scores of federal, state and county agencies.

Add to that a long list of threats, from highways, urbanization and wildfires to disease, off-road vehicles and climate change.

"We don't have a good silver bullet for the tortoise," said Roy Averill-Murray, desert tortoise recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Reno, Nev.

Congress in 1988 added a section to the Endangered Species Act requiring an annual species-by-species expenditure report. Before then, no one knew how much was being spent to save plants and animals on the list, said Valerie Fellows, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The reports are an attempt to calculate how much states and 31 federal agencies — from the Coast Guard to the Federal Highway Administration — are forking over for threatened and endangered species.

By far the top recipients have been salmon in the Pacific Northwest and the Steller sea lion. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on those species since reporting began in 1996.

The 2006 report, the latest released by the Fish and Wildlife Service, estimates that $884 million was spent on more than 1,100 species on the list.

There's a wide disparity in how money is doled out. The pallid sturgeon, a prehistoric-looking freshwater fish, topped the 2006 list with $39 million. A rare herb in Utah called the Barneby reed-mustard got just $6.

About $10.5 million was spent on the desert tortoise. Spending in 2007 was more than $11 million, according to a draft report.

"Nobody thought it was going to be an inexpensive proposition," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. "But the desert tortoise is a bellwether for the health of our deserts."

Tortoises in southwest Utah were listed as threatened in 1980. That designation was expanded to Mojave tortoises in the rest of their range in 1990.

Since then, millions have been spent on monitoring, fences to keep them from wandering onto highways, studies on a respiratory disease and stacks of long-range plans intended to make sure the tortoise survives.

One of the most ambitious plans was to relocate 770 of the reptiles to Bureau of Land Management land to make way for the expansion of Fort Irwin, a national military training center near Barstow, Calif.

The move started in March but was put on hold in October after about 90 tortoises died — most killed and eaten by coyotes.

Averill-Murray estimates there are 111,000 to 187,000 adult desert tortoises in areas designated as critical habitat.

Getting them off the endangered species list means populations must increase or remain stable for at least 25 years.

But it's unclear whether progress has been made. In fact, many populations have declined dramatically.

The federal government is in the midst of revising its recovery plan. A final draft is expected later this year.

Averill-Murray said the tortoises' peculiar nature — secretive and slow to breed — means there's a lag in seeing results from all the effort to keep them from disappearing.

"We really haven't given the tortoise enough time to know whether we've done any good or not," he said.

January 18, 2009

Historic home items to be saved in Indian Wells

Mariecar Mendoza
The Desert Sun

Historic image of the Carl Bray Gallery and Home. Courtesy of Ann Japenga

The Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation is working with city officials to save an historical gallery set to be leveled.

Indian Wells city officials recently announced plans to purchase — then demolish — property off Highway 111 known as the Carl Bray Gallery and Home.

The land would then be incorporated into the city's future Highway 111 beautification project.

“There's no question it's a public safety issue,” said Councilman Patrick Mullany. “Truly, the building itself is a hazard. We inspected the building and saw it was a real danger.”

The Carl Bray Gallery and Home, named after the artist famously known for his desert landscapes and smoketree paintings, has been part of the Coachella Valley since the early 1950s.

Bray, who now lives in Banning after nearly 50 years in Indian Wells, purchased the frontage lot for $1,000.

Now the property, which lapsed into foreclosure last year, is priced at $258,000.

The city expects to close escrow on the property in the next few days.

Since learning of the city's plans, the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation has committed to holding work sessions — with its first meeting held Friday — to create a plan to protect as many historically important items they can, including the Carl Bray Gallery sign.

The group will then present Council with a list of items to keep and ways to commemorate Bray such as erecting a monument or installing a plaque.

“We want to preserve the legacy of Carl Bray and preserve the integrity of the city, too,” said Adele Ruxton, foundation president.

No deadline has been set for when recommendations must go before City Council.

“Although the physical structure of the building is beyond repair, we're working to catalog all relevant artifacts, photograph the building and preserve the art for future generations to enjoy,” said City Manager Greg Johnson.

Response posted to Desert Sun:

As President of the IW Historic Preservation Foundation, I refer to the article in today's newspaper and have to say that portions of the article were true, but at NO time has the IWHPF said they would be satisfied with asking that ONLY items of historic importance be kept!!

There was misleading information presented at the IW City Council meeting (I could not attend due to another commitment) on January 15, and at the present time have sheduled another Work Session for Board members as well as Committee members this week.

We want to work with Council and City staff and wish to carry out the business regarding the Carl Bray property in an utmost and respectful manner. Carl Bray is LIVING legend, not only to be identified with Indian Wells but to the world of ART and ARTISTS! - Adele Ruxton

January 15, 2009

Senate passes sweeping public lands package

Sally Schuff

In one of its first votes of the new Congress, the Senate passed a major public land omnibus bill 73-21 on Jan. 15. The bill, which included delineated new wilderness areas and scenic rivers in several states, passed with bipartisan approval despite a filibuster attempt by Oklahoma's Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican.

The bill was applauded by environmental groups and coalitions within states that had worked out compromises on some of the controversial land issues. However, in December it was opposed as a "land grab" by the unlikely combination of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute and by R-CALF USA.

The bill will now go to the House for action. Eventually it must be signed by the President, however the Bush Administration did not issue a Statement of Administration Policy, presumably since the final legislation would go to the desk of President Obama.

The Senate bill includes a sweeping package of more than 150 previous bills. Congressional sources report the new bill authorizes programs and activities in both the Interior and Agriculture departments. Interestingly, the Obama nominee to be the new Interior Secretary, Sen. Ken Salazar (D., Colo.), voted for the bill; while former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who is now the junior U.S. Senator from Nebraska, voted against it.

Congressional sources reported the bill authorizes a host of actions, including: national wilderness preservation, boundary adjustments, national rivers, the national landscape conservation system, national conservation areas, land conveyances and exchanges, watershed management, watershed restoration and enhancement, wildland firefighter safety, forest landscape restoration, national trails, paleontological resources preservation, wolf livestock loss, national parks, studies, infrastructure, advisory commissions, national heritage areas, national heritage corridors, water projects, tribal water rights, ocean exploration, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) undersea research, ocean and coastal mapping integration, the integrated coastal and ocean observation system, federal ocean acidification research and monitoring, and coastal and estuarine land conservation.

Marine Corp Plans Invasion, Targets American Citizens, Endangered Species

The USMC is planning on taking over 424,000 acres of land, much of which is state or federal wilderness areas that are home to endangered and protected species.

Neighbors of the 29 Palms Marine Base expansion

29 Palms, Ca.- The USMC/ MCAGCC is planning on taking over 424,000 acres of land, much of which is state or federal wilderness areas, some of which is considered "Areas of Critical Environmental Concern". They are also going to displace thousands of people, virtually destroy the property values of several thousand other property owners, and negatively affect the quality of life of many thousands of local residents

Above and beyond the above-mentioned issues is the despicable manner in which MCAGCC has handled the matter. MCAGCC has not only violated Federal and Constitutional law, they have violated the basic laws of common decency and honesty, and have shown blatant disregard for the local tax paying residents. They have not made any public announcement of their intentions, in violation of Federal law, and Constitutional amendments, nor have the local residents and property owners received any notification. Their motivations are obvious, to avoid property owners being able to adequately organize, and to prevent environmental protections organizations from getting involved.

These wilderness areas are home to the endangered Desert Tortoise, and Bighorn Sheep, as well as other rare desert plants and wildlife. This area will become aerial bombing ranges and a tactical maneuver - live fire area. In other words, total obliteration of these species. Not to mention the increased water, air, noise and dust pollution in the entire region.

The MCAGCC base is already the largest military base in the world, yet they want to almost double the size. Why? So they can conduct "three brigade simultaneous combined maneuvers". They consider these maneuvers more important than the lives of the local residents, plants and animals.

The MCAGCC Land Acquisition Proposal, by it's omissions, makes it painfully clear that they could care less about the devastating financial, and quality of life effects this take over will have on local residents and property owners. Who wants to be forced to sell their property when the property values are the lowest in years? Who wants to own property, or live in an area that has constant air traffic, 24 hour a day live fire maneuvers, constant aerial and artillery fire, excessive air, water, noise and dust pollution, (all of which are part of the proposal). Examination of the MCAGCC proposals verifies that there is not one single word acknowledging the proposals effects on area residents, and the manner in which they are handling the matter is quite insulting.

To date, the MCAGCC has failed to adequately respond to the community’s complaints about over flights of military aircraft. The MCAGCC has already allowed too many over flights in Wonder Valley causing a disruption to wildlife and peace and quiet. Wonder Valley is already out of compliance with state air quality standards and any additional dust or other pollutants will only adversely impact the public health.

When developing the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the MCAGCC must recognize that in my view, the proposed expansion cannot be mitigated in terms of visual resources, safety, biological resources, air pollution, traffic, noise, or impact on our water and our quality of life. But must include the devastating financial and emotional impact on local residents and property owners, The costs of moving would be unaffordable and unfair, especially when property values have fallen so drastically, and I am very concerned about how the base expansion will even further affect my property values.

MCAGCC has said that they have held the initial NEPA "public" hearings, but these hearings were not publicized, and were not open question and answer meetings. The NEPA hearings deadline is Jan. 30, 2009.

Detailed information can be found at:
The official Marine Corps Land Acquisition Study (LAS)

January 14, 2009

Pork-filled 'wilderness' bill gets Senate approval

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Calling a rare Sunday procedural vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., moved the U.S. Senate closer to passing a 1,300-page lands bill that would allocate $5 million in federal tax dollars on botanical gardens in Hawaii and Florida and $3.5 million to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine in 2015 -- and place an additional 2 million acres in nine states off limits for any productive economic use by labeling them "wilderness" and/or declaring new and additional rivers to be wild and scenic.

The legislation -- which would allow the state of Alaska to build an airport access road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge -- pulls together 150 public lands, parks and water bills in one package. It passed 66-12, well above the 59 votes needed to allow it to proceed to a formal vote later this week.

"Everybody holds their nose" and votes for it
- Sen. Tom Coburn

The bill advanced over the objections of Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who objected to what he described as questionable priorities and wasteful earmark spending in the package. The measure is also opposed by Nevada Republican John Ensign, though he was in Nevada and did not return to Washington for the procedural vote.

"Everybody holds their nose" and votes for it, Sen. Coburn said, because so many senators have individual projects they want to see passed in their states.

Despite the purportedly unprecedented provision to allow an access road through a wildlife refuge, many conservation groups supported the package as a whole because it had so many provisions to "protect" rivers and designate wilderness.

"It will be a most welcome action by many Americans who face so much uncertainty in their lives," explained Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness. "It will be nice for them to know they can visit their most treasured spots and see them just as they are. They will be able to continue to hike, hunt, fish, camp or canoe amid this natural splendor, and that is no small consolation in these difficult times."

And there you have it.

Yes, Americans who live so far away they will likely never see the "wilderness" areas in question -- all in the Western states, you understand, none throwing anyone out of work in Georgia, Illinois, Connecticut or Massachusetts -- may sleep more cozily now, believing that, far away in the distant West, something nice has been done for the birds and the bunnies.

But those who actually live in the affected regions may not find it much of a "consolation" to be deprived of gainful employment in any number of resource industries -- mining, ranching, lumber -- that will now be barred from making any productive use of yet an additional 2 million acres.

Such legislation is "necessary for the day-to-day functioning of the Western economy," intoned Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, and among the Senate's largest, second-generation pork wranglers.

Oh, hogwash. To the Americans actually attempting to make their livings on or near the lands in question, "wilderness" is not just about cozier dreams of happy squirrels. It's about loss of livelihood as a full- or part-time miner, rancher, sawmill worker, or even mushroom picker -- having to go on the government dole rather than feed their families with honest, productive work.

January 12, 2009

Federal wilderness protection for California land moves forward

The Senate clears the way for passage of legislation that would expand wilderness protection to more than 2 million acres of public land nationwide, mostly in California and the West.

By Richard Simon
Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Washington -- Large swaths of California wild lands would gain federal wilderness protection under legislation that took a step toward approval in the U.S. Senate during a rare Sunday session.

The measure, which would expand the protection to more than 2 million acres of public land nationwide, may be the most significant conservation legislation in a decade, said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the bill's manager.

It would designate as wilderness -- the government's highest protection -- about 190,000 acres in Riverside County, including parts of Joshua Tree National Park; about 450,000 acres in the Eastern Sierra and San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles; and about 90,000 acres in Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, including John Krebs Wilderness.

The measure also would authorize $88 million in funding to launch an ambitious effort to restore the San Joaquin River, which has been drained for decades to supply Central Valley farms. More water would be left in the river, and populations of spring-run chinook salmon would be returned under terms of a legal settlement in a long-running environmental battle over the river.

The proposal is expected to win final Senate approval by the end of the week and then go to the House, where it is also expected to be approved.

"We're very excited that these slices of wild California are so close to being permanently protected," said Ryan Henson, policy director of the California Wilderness Coalition.

As part of its wilderness protections, the measure would authorize a study on whether the Tule Lake Segregation Center, a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans, should be included in the national park system.

"This is a great moment -- for me personally and for California -- to see three important parts of it move closer to becoming law," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the Sunday session -- and the Senate's first roll call of the year -- out of anger over what he regarded as stalling tactics by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), a critic of the bill.

Democrats increased their majority in the November election and were prepared to flex their muscle to prevent a filibuster. But it wasn't necessary. Because the bill includes projects eagerly sought by senators from both parties for their states, it easily cleared the procedural hurdle with a 66-12 vote.

Besides California, wilderness designations would be made in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Michigan, West Virginia and Virginia. The package of about 160 bills also would designate former President Clinton's childhood home in Hope, Ark., as a national historic site.

The measure also includes initiatives intended to reduce wildfire risk and increase water supplies.

The legislation drew opposition from conservatives and property rights groups, which assailed it as a land grab that would close areas to energy production. Critics also questioned whether Congress, facing massive budget deficits and a backlog of park maintenance, should be taking up legislation now that would authorize, among other things, a commission to plan a 450th anniversary celebration in 2015 for the founding of St. Augustine, Fla.

"We can't continue to pass bills by putting together a little bit of what everybody wants and forgetting what's good for our country," said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America's Wilderness, said the legislation would be a "most welcome action by many Americans who face so much uncertainty in their lives. It will be nice for them to know they can visit their most treasured spots and see them just as they are. They will be able to continue to hike, hunt, fish, camp or canoe amid this natural splendor, and that is no small consolation in these difficult times."

Artist's gallery a must-see

Jamie Lee Pricer
The Desert Sun

Carl Bray (right) spent time in the 1950s with Indian Wells neighbor and artist Fred Chisnell. (Courtesy of The Bray family)

His canvas of choice is a slab of masonite, perhaps because it is a sturdy medium when you paint in railroad yards or out in the desert.

His most popular subject is the wispy smoke tree that grows in washes.

His painting — influenced by days spent near the Salton Sea with iconic desert artists such as John Hilton, Maynard Dixon, Bill Bender and Clyde Forsythe — ranks him as a prized California artist.

His Indian Wells gallery was a Coachella Valley landmark for nearly 50 years.

Carl Bray was born in 1917 in Prague, Okla. He studied art during the Depression at Miami College in the Dust Bowl state, while working on farms to pay his tuition.

He moved West to find work in 1936 and landed a job with the railroad in Southern California, where he worked for more than 40 years. He painted almost every day, either at the railroad yard or later at one of his studios.

He married his wife, Luella, in 1939. The young couple moved 20 miles east of Niland, little more than a lonely railroad siding. Despite the lack of creature comforts, including air conditioning, the Brays learned to love the desert, and it was here that a shy Bray met the other iconic artists.

The railroad job took Bray and his wife to the Los Angeles area during WWII, where they bought property in rural El Monte, built a house and started their family of four children.

The desert beckoned, though. In the early 1950s, Bray bought a Highway 111 frontage lot in Indian Wells for $1,000. Working weekends and vacations, he built a house and gallery, and the family moved to the desert in 1953. Their backyard, now a golf course, was once the site of one the largest Cahuilla villages in the valley, Kavinish.

At the time there was little development in Indian Wells. The Brays' neighbors included a few cabins, a dance hall, two small groceries, two gas stations, a dance hall and a café. By the early 1960s, those businesses had been demolished, and the Bray gallery remained a signal outpost for miles in either direction on Highway 111.

Bray's art was popular, and people, including a steady fan base of celebrities, stopped by the gallery regularly.

Done in 2008, this 8-by-10-inch painting is of Carl Bray’s
most popular subject, smoke trees. (Courtesy of Adele Ruxton)

Bray continued working for the railroad while his wife ran the gallery. In the early 1960s, the Brays started to spend summers in Taos, where he had a gallery on the plaza for several years.

Bray retired from the railroad and continued to paint. He figures he's painted more than 6,500 smoke trees. Through the years, he has won dozens of art awards, demonstrated art on TV and has one-man shows throughout the nation and overseas. His paintings are owned by celebrities and held by the city of Indian Wells in its permanent collection.

The couple sold their Indian Wells property in about 2000 and moved to Banning.

Luella died a year ago, and the new owners of the Bray property lost it recently to foreclosure. It's now owned by Indian Wells, and the fate of the city's oldest building is not clear.

Ann Japenga contributed to this story.

An expensive land grab

Oil & Gas Journal

In a move with dire implications for exploration and production on federal land, the US Senate returned to business as usual as the 111th Congress began work. The phrase “business as usual” here means sneaking energy mistakes into law as parts of a wide-mouth sandwich of provincially irresistible spending adventures.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reintroduced an omnibus lands bill that opponents fear will tighten limits on access by producers to federal oil and gas resources. He had withdrawn the legislation, actually a package of more than 150 bills, in November in response to resistance led by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

‘Worst habits’

In a statement on the Senate floor last week, Coburn said he had learned from the Democratic leadership that the lands package contained 12-13 new bills. “This is an omnibus lands bill that indulges the worst habits of a parochial Congress,” he said.

When the lands bill was under consideration last year, the Western Business Roundtable of Lakewood, Colo., said its biggest concern was congressional establishment of the National Landscape Conservation System (NCLS), a Department of Interior program now covering 27 million acres in 850 parcels of federal land. Administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the NCLS includes national monuments, national conservation areas, wilderness and wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, and national scenic and historic trails. “The bill would give federal land managers the ability to alter the longstanding multiple-use management philosophy of the BLM by elevating the conservation purposes above other purposes for NCLS units,” the group said.

Claire Moseley, executive director of Public Lands Advocacy in Denver, called the NCLS move “a whole new land classification” that would block or delay exploration and development with new layers of regulation and legal hurdles. Another group, the American Land Rights Association, predicted that under the lands bill NCLS units would become national parks, with traditional uses restricted and roads cut off. It also warned of political pressure to add federal acreage to NCLS regulation. It called the legislation “one of the largest land grabs in history.”

In his Senate remarks, Coburn put the acreage figures into perspective by noting that the US area off-limits to development as wilderness already exceeds that of developed land—107 million vs. 106 million acres. Beyond giving statutory authority to the NCLS, an initiative of former Interior Sec. Bruce Babbitt late in the administration of President Bill Clinton, the bill in various ways would withdraw a further 3 million acres from leasing and energy exploration, Coburn said. Some of that lock-up would occur through wilderness and other such designations imposed with the stipulation that the land become subject to NCLS management.

In a period of intense public concern over energy supply, federal deficits, and economic health, the mere consideration of new measures to restrict commercial use of federal land is distressing. A new ICF International study for the American Petroleum Institute shows how much the US already denies itself by limiting oil and gas leasing in Rocky Mountain states. If land now off limits for other than statutory reasons became accessible, the study estimates, the Rockies by 2030 would have new production of 35,000 b/d of oil from 321 million bbl of reserves and 677 MMcfd of gas from 8.4 tcf of reserves. The extra production would boost all-time government receipts by $22 billion and employment in 2030 by 12,318 jobs.

Local seductions

When the federal government proposes to undertake further sacrifice of this type, taxpayers, energy consumers, and job seekers deserve to know what’s happening to them. But revelation is difficult when official refusal to pursue national potential hides in a swarm of local seductions. Coburn said 1,082-page lands bill last year contained 592 spending measures, including 15 new state and local water projects. The proposed spending totaled $10 billion—“money we don’t have,” he said.

The new version of the bill is 100 pages longer and no doubt more expensive. Legislation important to energy supply, to the economy, and to the federal budget deserves treatment more straightforward than this.

January 11, 2009

Wilderness bill moves forward in the Senate

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — In a rare Sunday session, the Senate advanced legislation that would set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as wilderness. Majority Democrats assembled more than enough votes to overcome GOP stalling tactics in an early showdown for the new Congress.

Republicans complained that Democrats did not allow amendments on the massive bill, which calls for the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Democrats said the bill — a holdover from last year — was carefully written and included measures sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.

By a 66-12 vote, with only 59 needed to limit debate, lawmakers agreed to clear away procedural hurdles despite partisan wrangling that had threatened pledges by leaders to work cooperatively as the new Obama administration takes office.

Senate approval is expected later this week.

Supporters hope the House will follow suit.

"Today is a great day for America's public lands," said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. "This big, bipartisan package of bills represents years of work by senators from many states, and both parties, in cooperation with local communities, to enhance places that make America so special."

The measure — actually a collection of about 160 bills — would confer the government's highest level of protection on land ranging from California's Sierra Nevada mountain range to Oregon's Mount Hood, Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia. Land in Idaho's Owyhee canyons, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan and Zion National Park in Utah also would be designated as wilderness.

Besides new national wilderness designations, the bill would designate the childhood home of former President Bill Clinton in Hope, Ark., as a national historic site and expand protections for dozens of national parks, rivers and water resources.

Reid said about half the bills in the lands package were sponsored by Republicans. Most had been considered for more than a year.

"I am happy that after months of delay we will finally be moving forward," Reid said.

The bill's chief opponent, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., denounced what he called Democratic bullying tactics.

"I am disappointed the Senate majority leader has refused to allow senators the opportunity to improve, amend or eliminate any of the questionable provisions in his omnibus lands bill," Coburn told fellow senators.

"When the American people asked Congress to set a new tone, I don't believe refusing to listen to the concerns of others was what they had in mind," Coburn said. "The American people expect us hold open, civil and thorough debates on costly legislation, not ram through 1,300-page bills when few are watching."

Coburn and several other Republicans complained that bill was loaded with pet projects and prevented development of oil and gas on federal lands, which they said would deepen the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

Environmental groups said the bill set the right tone for the new Congress.

"By voting to protect mountains and pristine wildlands, Congress is starting out on the right foot," said Christy Goldfuss of Environment America, an advocacy group. "This Congress is serious about protecting the environment and the outstanding lands that Americans treasure."

January 9, 2009

U.S. Senate poised to shut Off-Highway Vehicles out of more than 1 million acres of public land

American Motorcyclist Association

The U.S. Senate is poised to act as early as Sunday [01/11/2009] on a massive package of public lands bills that would shut motorcyclists out of more than 1 million acres without adequate public comment, the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) reports.

The last-minute move just as the newly elected Congress takes over has raised the ire of the AMA and at least one congressman, who believe the proposal and process deserve more public participation.

"Those who say things get better with time obviously never encountered the public lands omnibus bill," said U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah). "This bill was a bad idea last Congress and it's only gotten worse over the past month."

Ed Moreland, AMA vice president for government relations, agreed.

"It makes little sense to lump together more than 160 very important public lands bills into once package and expect the public to digest it all, and to rush a vote through the Senate on a weekend." Moreland said.

More than 160 public lands bills have been grouped together by Senate majority leader Harry Reid. The package would create more than 1 million acres of designated Wilderness land, which would shut out all motorized vehicles.

The last-minute congressional maneuver would also make the National Landscape Conservation System permanent. This system creates an additional level of bureaucracy for the National System of Public Lands and would remove much of the authority of the existing agency in managing those lands.

"Congress should put together a new package and pass it through committee rather than debate legislation carried over from the previous Congress," Rep. Bishop said. "Poor process produces poor product, and this is an example of congressional process at its worst. Parts of this bill are good, and parts are very bad. Each part deserves to be discussed and voted on its own merits."

"Continued responsible access to public lands is a vitally important right for current and future generations," added Moreland. "This measure deserves to be fully analyzed and thoughtfully debated in the 111th Congress prior to a final vote."

All AMA members and anyone else who enjoys outdoor recreation is urged to contact their U.S. Senators and ask them to oppose the omnibus public lands bill.


January 8, 2009

'Citizen of the Year' Bud Smith passes away

Las Vegas Review Journal

Bud Smith at home in 2005.

MELVIN SMITH JR. -- Melvin "Bud" L. Smith Jr., of Cima, Calif., passed away Sunday, Dec. 7, 2008, after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 76 years old.

Bud Smith was born Nov. 18, 1932, in Canistota, S.D., to Melvin Leroy Smith and Francis Campbell. He married Marilyn A. Day Feb. 28, 1952, who passed away in 1995.

He served in the military forces during the Korean War, during which he was stationed in Puerto Rico. Bud was a Las Vegas business owner of an appliance delivery and antenna installation service. He retired to his home in the East Mojave near Cima, now surrounded by the Mojave National Preserve, where he was a pillar of the community.

Bud Smith was instrumental in saving his neighbors' homes during the Hackberry Complex wild fires in 2005. He was awarded "Citizen of the Year" for his efforts by the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department.

Bud's home was a favorite camp site for the Norco Mounted Posse's Annual Mohave Trail Ride for many years. He will be greatly missed by family and friends.

Bud was preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn; his parents, Melvin and Francis Smith; brothers, William and Eugene Smith; and his sisters, Frances Stephenson and Barbara Sireci. He is survived by his daughters, Peggy Goodnough, Rhonda Long, Patricia Jackson-Lemp, Jacqueline Smith and Shelley Smith; his son, Melvin Leroy Smith III, 13 grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and his sister, Gloria Cowger.

Services will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 17, at Bunkers Memory Gardens, 7251 W. Lone Mountain Road, Las Vegas, NV 89129.