December 31, 2009

New Desert Protection Act worth a look

Jim Matthews, www.OutdoorNewsService.com
San Bernardino Sun


The only reason the original Desert Protection Act passed in 1994 was because the environmental community finally realized it needed hunters' support to get enough votes to pass the legislation.

Sportsmen/conservationists had been frustrated with the management of the desert, too, and recognized the greatest threat to desert wildlife and hunting was ever-expanding mining, solar, and wind-farm operations, poorly managed cattle grazing and unregulated off-road vehicle use - all benchmarks of the Bureau of Land Management back then.

But hunters couldn't support the original bill because it would have banned hunting in the massive new national park proposed in the east Mojave Desert, an area they were just about the only ones using at the time. (And hunters certainly were the only users not having a negative impact on the land.) The simple designation change from National Park to National Preserve allowed for virtually all of the protections and enhanced management afforded by the National Park Service while also allowing hunting to continue.

It was a win-win situation. The Desert Protection Act put aside the shrill debate about regulated hunting to secure sound resource management and conservation of our pristine desert. Hunters came on board with the environmental community and massive desert protections were enacted. The Mojave National Preserve has continued to be one of the most popular destinations for Southern California hunters.

While I know some hunters will argue with me, and there with a few early problems with the preserve's first superintendent, the management of the area is better than it has ever been. Cattle grazing has been phased out, extractive industries banned, and off-road travel ended. For a lot of us, it is the most beautiful unit in the National Park Service system and it has the potential to just keep getting better and better.

But the Desert Protection Act preserved only a relatively small part of Mojave Desert's public lands, and in recent years, the threats to millions of acres of desert have grown by leap and bounds. I've recently written about wind farms on some of the best hunting and wildlife areas in the West Mojave, and applications for wind and solar farms -if all approved - would just about carpet our desert with so-called green energy production.

But at what cost? Alarm bells were going off throughout the conservation community.

Earlier this month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced the Desert Protection Act of 2010. The legislation would create two new National Monuments covering more than one million acres of Southern California deserts and local mountains. It would assure more than a quarter million acres of land donated to, or purchased by, the federal government for conservation were not put into energy farms, military use, or off-road vehicle areas, destroying the land's value for natural resources.

There's a lot included in the 178 pages of this legislation, but this time hunters were brought in the in the writing of this bill, and by and large, it stays focused on protection of natural resources. Hunting is specifically named as one of the activities that will continue on the newly protected lands. Even OHVs and cattle grazing are protected in areas where those activities currently exist. The bill really is aimed at stopping the rampant destruction of our desert public lands for energy production.

Most of the hunter-conservation groups are carefully looking over the language and likely will line up to support the bill.

Hunters almost always are asked to compromise in situations like this. Compromise in our case means giving up something - a gun right, a place to hunt, a game animal that has been hunted for centuries. And each time we give up a little so we don't lose even more.

This bill looks like one of those rare cases where we'll get something instead of giving up something. We'll get protection of traditional hunting spots and not have to worry about losing them in the future. I can support that.

December 30, 2009

Human bones found in desert

Staff Reports
Desert Dispatch


ESSEX • Travelers found human bones near the Mojave National Preserve when they pulled their car off of Interstate 40 Tuesday morning.

The bones were discovered in a desert area between Interstate 40 and Essex, approximately 100 miles east of Barstow, according to a San Bernardino County Coroner’s report. Sgt. Frank Montanez said the travelers flagged down a California Highway Patrol officer after finding the bones, and the officer contacted the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The body has yet to be identified as a man or woman. The sheriff’s department and coroner are investigating to determine the body’s identity and cause of death.

Anyone with information about the body is asked to call the coroner at 909-387-2978 or the Sheriff’s Specialized Investigations at 909-387-3589.

December 29, 2009

Desert bill a mixed bag for locals

By KRIS REILLY, Editor
Lucerne Leader


LUCERNE VALLEY • The name may sound appealing to desert conservationists: the California Desert Protection Act of 2010. And the new bill introduced on Dec. 21 by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) does indeed protect some parts of the Mojave Desert.

However, the bill would leave open a huge portion of the Johnson Valley off-highway vehicle area for the expansion of the Twentynine Palms Marine Base, and it opens the door for massive wind and solar energy projects in the California Desert.

Included in the bill is the Mojave Trails National Monument, which would protect more than 940,000 acres of land, including some former railroad lands along Route 66. The Sand to Snow National Monument would protect about 134,000 acres from the Coachella Valley to Mt. San Gorgonio. The bill also adds to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks and the Mojave National Preserve.

But the bill also seems to jibe with Alternative 6, the U.S. Marine Corps’ latest plan to expand its Twentynine Palms Base for training exercises. Under the plan, announced in late November, much of the Johnson Valley OHV area would be closed permanently. A portion would remain open to the public. Part of that area would be used for training exercises twice a year and would be open for public use about 10 months out of the year.

Alternative 6 was ostensibly a response to public comments on the issue, but most public comments were against a westward expansion. Alternative 6 still proposes a westward expansion with some changes to accommodate the public.

People close to the issue — such as Betty Munson, president of the Johnson Valley Improvement Association — believe that Alternative 6 may be a response to conferences with Feinstein, who wants to preserve the lands to the east of the base.

Whatever expansion plan the Marines eventually submit must be passed by Congress.

Munson criticized the language used in Feinstein’s press release, which stated that the bill would “enhance recreational opportunities.”

“I don’t know how that works; that’s government speak,” said Munson, pointing out the fact that a huge chunk of one of the country’s largest OHV areas would be shut down.

Munson said it also appears that the bill will make it easier for wind and solar plants to be developed. Munson is concerned that the desert countryside could be marred by these projects. She used Tehachapi and Banning as examples of how renewable energy projects can dominate an area.

“These projects proliferate ... They multiply on their own ugliness,” Munson said. “There was a time when there were no windmills in Tehachapi. There used to be poppy fields there, and it was gorgeous.”

Visit feinstein.senate.gov to view a summary, a map and a full copy of the bill.

74 wild horses caught in first day of controversial roundup

Associated Press
Silicon Valley Mercury News


WINNEMUCCA, Nev. — The Bureau of Land Management captured 74 mustangs in northern Nevada on the first day of a two-month roundup expected to relocate about 2,500 wild horses to other lands.

BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said Tuesday that there were no reported problems with the horses on the first day of the capture on Monday, with officials using helicopters to corral the animals from a mountain range about 100 miles north of Reno.

The capture was suspended on Tuesday because of heavy snow.

The plan has come under fire from advocates who question whether the roundup is necessary or humane.

Protests of the roundup are planned Wednesday in Chicago, Denver and San Francisco.

The federal agency says it needs to move the horses to control the population in an 850-square-mile area of public and private lands.

When it comes to energy, she's against it

STEVE WILLIAMS Opinion Page Editor
Victor Valley Daily Press

I don't know what they have to say, It makes no difference anyway, Whatever it is, I'm against it. No matter what it is or who commenced it, I'm against it.

—Groucho Marx in ‘Horsefeathers’ (1932)

That would be California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s stand on developing energy, of all sorts and types. She’s against it.

Her latest “I’m against it” gig occurred last week when she came out against using Mojave Desert land for solar and wind power projects.

The senator introduced legislation Dec. 21 to establish two national monuments on roughly 1 million acres of Mojave Desert land, one called Mojave Trails National Monument. The legislation would prohibit development on 941,000 acres of federal land and former railroad company property along a 105-mile-long stretch of old Route 66, between Ludlow and Needles.

Her proposal, of course, is aimed at wind and solar — mostly solar — projects.

Several energy companies involved in wind and solar-produced electricity have been looking at the Mojave for years as a perfect place for renewable energy projects. But recently, apparently in the face of Feinstein’s opposition, two of them, BrightSource Energy Inc. and Stirling Energy Systems, scrapped plans to build solar and wind farms on a stretch of the proposed Mojave Trails monument.

But that’s only the senator’s latest attack on energy development and production in this country. Back in 2003, when George W. Bush was proposing federal subsidies for construction of new nuclear plants in the United States, Feinstein said in a Senate speech that, “I strongly believe it is not in the public interest for our nation to subsidize costly nuclear plants. Instead we should devote more resources to the development of renewable energy.” Um, would that include wind and solar? Apparently not.

And then there’s oil exploration and production off the California coast. In 2008, in response to $4.50 a gallon gasoline, Bush lifted the executive order banning such drilling. Lady Di’s response? “This would be a terrible mistake. It would put our nation’s (read: California’s) precious coastlines in jeopardy and wouldn’t begin to fix the underlying energy-supply problem.” But what would?

This is all so typical, and reflects the not-in-my-back-yard stand on energy development taken by liberals, captives of the enviro-activists. Remember the Cape Wind controversy? Cape Wind, an energy development firm, spent millions of dollars in litigation costs, delays and regulatory hurdles in attempting to build a 130-turbine offshore project in Nantucket Sound. That was Ted Kennedy and John Kerry country, so they nixed the project even though the turbines would have been barely visible on the horizon from the shores of the Sound.

Monday the Wall Street Journal reported that a Korean-led consortium has won a landmark contract, valued at about $20.4 billion, to build four nuclear reactors in the United Arab Emirates. U.A.E., remember, is awash in oil, yet has opted to build the reactors. Why? U.A.E.’s leaders are not fools. It’s cheaper (and ultimately safer if one considers that nuclear reactors do not emit any of those pollutants enviros consider unsafe to human health and the planet, such as CO2) to build the plants so the oil saved can be sold elsewhere.

Remember too that U.A.E. is pretty much all desert, a perfect place for solar generation. But then remember that solar requires huge swaths of land, whereas nukes do not. Gwyneth Cravens, author of the book, "Power to Save the World. The truth about Nuclear Energy,” points out that “A nuclear power plant producing 1,000 megawatts takes up a third of a square mile. A wind farm would have to cover over 200 square miles to obtain the same result, and a solar array over 50 square miles.”

Fat chance we’ll build any new nukes in California anytime soon, though. Or wind farms or solar plants either. Di’s against it.

December 28, 2009

Senate Bill Could Block Solar and Wind Projects in California

RenewableEnergyWorld.com

Washington, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) last week introduced a bill that she says will improve the federal permitting process to advance large-scale wind and solar development on suitable lands. But opponents argue that it will simply block renewable energy development on some federal lands in California.

The pending introduction of the legislation has already prompted a number of companies, including BrightSource Energy, to cancel or change development plans for projects slated for that area of California.

The legislation, titled the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, would require the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to establish offices specifically focused on renewable energy development in each state with significant wind and solar resources on public land.

These offices would be funded from the existing BLM permit improvement fund – a fund which is currently only available to supervise the permitting for oil and natural gas development. It would also establish a pilot mitigation bank program to ensure that it takes no longer to review an application to develop private lands than it does to develop public lands, without infringing upon important environmental regulations.

Under the bill, federal land managers will be required to identify renewable energy development areas where the project is in the public interest through the programmatic EIS process. This will help avoid the sort of site-specific environmental conflicts that can delay projects for years.

It will also result in a formal evaluation of whether public land currently managed by the military will also be considered for solar development, instead of concentrating this development only on BLM land. There are currently approximately 3 million acres of California desert that are managed by the military, and some of this land could be developed for renewable energy consistent with the military mission.

“I strongly believe that conservation, renewable energy development and recreation can and must co-exist in the California Desert,” Senator Feinstein said. “This legislation strikes a careful balance between these sometimes competing concerns."

While all of that sounds good on paper, some in the renewable energy industry see the other provisions of the bill, which include setting aside more than 1 million acres of federal lands in California as "monuments," as an attempt to block renewable energy installations in areas where the best resources exist.

The pending introduction of the legislation has already prompted a number of companies, including BrightSource Energy, to cancel or change development plans for projects slated for that area of California.

December 27, 2009

McKeon, Lewis concerned about Feinstein's desert plan

By NATASHA LINDSTROM, staff writer
Desert Dispatch


BARSTOW • Citing concerns over suppressing critical development, Rep. Jerry Lewis is questioning Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s newly revealed plan to control 2,500 square miles of Mojave Desert land.

The legislation would create two separate national monuments to help protect hiking trails, bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and other animals and plants within various areas of the Mojave Desert, including Deep Creek and a 105-mile stretch of Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles.

“We are early in the legislative process and it will take time to assess the real impacts of this far-reaching lands bill,” Lewis, R-Redlands, said in a statement. “But I am extremely concerned that it locks up tens of thousands of acres that are not suitable for protection, and prevents other uses such as mining, energy development or military maneuvers that might better serve our national interests.”

Rep. Howard P. McKeon, R-Santa Clarita and Barstow's representative, said he is still reviewing the legislation to ensure his district’s land would not be negatively impacted, such as by the bill limiting training opportunities at the region’s three military bases.

“(McKeon) also wants to ensure that private property is protected, and he wants to make sure that Johnson Valley — the largest recreational off-road vehicle area — is not impacted,” said Lindsey Mask, spokeswoman for McKeon.

However, Lewis said he’s heard from several desert cities and groups in support of the legislation. He said he will keep a watchful eye over how the management of the vast new monuments will be funded, acknowledging the bill’s scope could change dramatically as it makes its way through the Senate and House of Representatives.

Under Feinstein’s plan, the larger preserve, Mojave Trails, would be a 941,000-acre parcel along a 105-mile stretch of old Route 66 ending on the California-Nevada border. The legislation would protect another 134,000 acres about 100 miles east of Los Angeles and make permanent five existing off-highway vehicle areas in inland Southern California.

The bill would allow construction of solar and wind farms on “suitable” desert land outside the protected area.

Green talk vs. green action / Feinstein’s scuttling of solar, wind projects a baffling mistake

Editorial
San Diego Union-Tribune


Every week seems to bring a new development that underscores the incoherence of the environmental movement, which believes global warming is the world’s most pressing problem yet is often the biggest roadblock to efforts to address the problem by developing cleaner sources of energy.

The latest example: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s push to protect 1 million acres of the Mojave Desert, which inevitably will kill 13 major solar power and wind power projects planned for the area.

Feinstein offered some plausible explanations for her stand, starting with the fact that a quarter of the acreage was donated to the federal government with the expectation it would be preserved. She also noted the availability of other areas for the solar and wind projects and introduced a bill with a tax credit meant to encourage solar plants on private land.

Nevertheless, any veneer of reasonableness disappears when one takes into account that California’s utilities face hard deadlines to provide one-third of electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Feinstein has unilaterally complicated efforts to comply with this deadline by scuttling projects with completed development plans and billions of dollars in established financing. She also may have set a disastrous precedent under which individual lawmakers, if the land were in their districts, would have de facto veto power over solar and wind power projects on prime sites among the 1 million square miles of land owned by the federal government.

President George W. Bush in 2005 ordered efforts to make it easier to develop renewable energy projects on this land, an effort supported by his successor, Barack Obama.

Yet the Obama administration also seems more open to letting environmentalists block projects – even as it seeks a federal law mandating much higher use of renewable energy, as California has done. This doesn’t add up.

This president already has had one Nixon-goes-to-China moment on a major public policy issue, telling a key Democratic constituency – teacher unions – that weeding out poor teachers is crucial to improving schools.

Now he needs to have another such moment. Obama should tell environmentalists that they need to reconcile their macro view – we must save the world by shifting to cleaner energy – with their micro record of making this shift much more difficult. It’s time for green action to match green talk.

This certainly holds true for California’s senior senator. Incoherent is not normally an adjective applied to Dianne Feinstein, but in this case, it fits.

December 26, 2009

Feinstein Bill: Balanced way to protect desert

OPINION
San Bernardino Sun

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act that upgraded Death Valley and Joshua Tree to national park status and created the Mojave National Preserve, is back with proposed protection for more of the Inland Empire's desert.

Last week she introduced legislation to establish two new national monuments and to set aside nearly 1.5 million acres of public land for preservation.

The centerpiece of the California Desert Protection Act of 2010 would be the Mojave Trails National Monument of some 941,000 acres, including 266,000 acres of former railroad easements along historic Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles. Existing recreatonal uses, including hunting and rock collecting, would be maintained.

The act would also establish the Sand to Snow National Monument, about 134,000 acres stretching from the desert floor in Coachella Valley to the peak of Mount San Gorgonio - including Big Morongo Canyon and Whitewater Canyon. It would give Wild and Scenic River protection to Deep Creek, Whitewater River and two other streams, add nearly 74,000 acres to the national parks and preserve, and designate five new wilderness areas.

But that's not all. The legislation also would designate as permanent four existing off-roading areas. It would streamline the federal permitting process for wind and solar energy projects in the desert on both public and private land. And it would permit construction of transmission lines on existing utility rights of way.

"I strongly believe that conservation, renewable energy development and recreation can and must co-exist in the California desert," Feinstein said. "This legislation strikes a careful balance between these sometimes competing concerns."

And so it does, no less than we would expect from one of the more balanced members of the U.S. Senate.

Feinstein and her staff worked with desert stakeholders - environmental groups, energy companies, off-roaders, Native American tribes, the military - to arrive at a bill that would serve as many of their interests as possible.

Among the supporters of Feinstein's bill are just about every desert conservation group, Edison International and Cogentrix Energy, the Route 66 Preservation Foundation, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, and the cities of San Bernardino, Hesperia, Barstow, Yucaipa, Desert Hot Springs, Indio and Palm Springs.

The new monuments would boost tourism in the Inland Empire.

"This makes our welcome sign shine a whole lot brighter," said Wayne Austin, president and CEO of the San Bernardino Convention and Visitors Bureau and of the California Welcome Center."

Visitors spend more than $230 million annually on outdoor recreation in the California desert, and Death Valley and Joshua Tree draw nearly 3 million visitors a year.

We think Feinstein's legislation will be good for tourism, recreation and renewable energy in the desert - and for the desert itself.

Bill sets up new Mojave monuments

By Stacy Moore
Hi-Desert Star


MORONGO BASIN — A bill introduced by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein Monday proposes adding almost 3,000 [acres] to Joshua Tree National Park and placing Big Morongo Canyon Preserve in a newly created national monument.

The bill, entitled the California Desert Protection Act of 2010, won a long list of supporters, including Hi-Desert conservation organizations such as the Friends of Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, Mojave Desert Land Trust and SummerTree Institute.

But it also prompted Congressman Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, to issue a caution about the amount of land the bill would remove from development plans.

“We are early in the legislative process, and it will take time to assess the real impacts of this far-reaching lands bill,” Lewis said in a statement released by his office.

“But I am extremely concerned that it locks up tens of thousands of acres that are not suitable for protection, and prevents other uses such as mining, energy development or military maneuvers that might better serve our national interests.”

Reaction among off-highway vehicle interests also was mixed.

At the Johnson Valley OHV area, the bill strikes a compromise between the Department of Defense’s consideration of the area for a Marine base expansion, and off-roaders’ desire to keep the area devoted entirely to recreational use.

The bill gives part of the OHV area to exclusive military use and part to off-roading, while mapping out a third area to be shared between off-roaders and the Marines.

Over 1 million acres preserved

Feinstein’s bill would create two new national monuments:

• The Sand to Snow National Monument would encompass 134,000 acres of land from Coachella Valley to the top of Mount San Gorgonio.

Two Morongo Basin preserves — Big Morongo Canyon Preserve and The Wildlands Conservancy’s Pipes Canyon Preserve — would become part of the new monument, affording them extra protection.

The Mission Creek Preserve and Whitewater Canyon also would be inside the monument, along with the San Gorgonio Wilderness.

• The Mojave Trails National Monument would cover about 941,000 acres of federal land, about a quarter of them along Route 66.

The bill gives the Bureau of Land Management authority over the lands, allowing existing recreational uses such as hunting and vehicle travel to continue.

Feinstein’s bill also adds adjacent lands to Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks and the Mojave National Preserve.

The 2,900 acres added to Joshua Tree National Park come from small parcels of BLM land.

Energy projects scrutinized

The bill also addresses the multitude of plans for renewable-energy projects in the Mojave Desert, setting new deadlines for environmental studies and creating new federal offices to manage development.

Companies with projects on public lands would be required to give 25 percent of their revenue from new renewable-energy projects to the state and 25 percent to county governments, to help pay for permitting, public lands protection and local conservation efforts.

The new act would establish strict deadlines for developers to conduct required biological and cultural studies, ensure connection to the grid, and develop a plan for water.

“This would ensure that serious development proposals are moved to the front of the line — and help put an end to unfettered speculation on desert lands,” an analysis from Feinstein’s office states.

The Bureau of Land Management would be directed to establish offices specifically focused on renewable energy development in every state that has significant wind and solar resources on public land.

The offices would be funded from an existing permit improvement fund.

A shortfall in Mojave protection bill

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's desert-protection proposal is leaving solar energy out in the cold.

Editorial
Los Angeles Times


From an aesthetic perspective, vast solar arrays stretching for thousands of acres across the desert aren't pretty. But what they do for the environment and for U.S. energy independence can be downright beautiful. Which is why, though we'd be happy to see about 1.5 million acres of the Mojave Desert preserved under a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, it's disappointing that the California Democrat didn't include more meaningful support for renewable energy.

In her bill introduced Monday, Feinstein would create two national monuments covering more than 1 million acres of fragile desert ecosystem, including land that is home to such sensitive species as the bighorn sheep and desert tortoise. The bill would confer lesser protections on hundreds of thousands of additional Mojave acres and designate more than 300,000 acres for use by off-road vehicles.

Though the legislation also includes some provisions to aid solar-power development -- rights to construct transmission lines along existing utility corridors and a potentially quicker permitting process, for example -- it does nothing to set aside land for such development or help the solar industry obtain them. The state has pledged to generate a third of its power from renewable resources by 2020, and the rest of the nation also is looking to the desert as fertile land for power generation. That has touched off a land scramble to protect the interests of recreation, the military, endangered animals and renewable energy. Any bill that controls huge segments of Mojave land should be more comprehensive, making certain that the public need for nonpolluting energy also is met.

Fortunately, the interests of conservation and environment-friendly power generation aren't mutually exclusive. Much of the land that Feinstein aims to preserve is in the eastern portion of the Mojave, and the solar industry is more interested in areas of the western desert, where the sun burns hotter and there is easier access to transmission lines. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been studying four parcels totaling 350,000 acres outside the proposed monument as possibly suitable for solar and wind projects, but is just beginning the process of environmental review, which could easily knock much of that acreage out of consideration. Solar industry leaders are concerned that one of the parcels might be too remote to be useful.

Environmental protection isn't just about land conservation anymore -- renewable energy is just as crucial. Feinstein's legislation should include a multi-agency approach to finding land in the Mojave to meet competing needs. It would be a strange day when we devoted 300,000 acres to dune buggies but nothing to the energy sources that would fight global warming, reduce air pollution and provide a key source of power.

December 24, 2009

Proposed national monuments seek to protect desert beauty

But some say the designation could hinder other efforts to promote green energy here



K Kaufmann
The Desert Sun


A bill that would create a new national monument stretching from Joshua Tree National Park to the top of Mount San Gorgonio could boost the Coachella Valley's profile as a destination for hikers, bird watchers and other outdoor enthusiasts — and the economy.

The California Desert Protection Act of 2010, introduced Monday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also is expected to spark controversy for effectively banning solar or other renewable energy development on 941,000 acres in the Mojave Desert, also to be made a national monument.

But this week, valley civic, business and environmental officials focused on the positive impacts of the proposed 134,000-acre Sand to Snow National Monument.

The new area would abut the western boundary of Joshua Tree National Park and include the Big Morongo and Whitewater canyons, the San Gorgonio Wilderness and 23.6 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

“We see ourselves as the Coachella Valley's gateway to (the park),” said Rick Daniels, city manager of Desert Hot Springs, which has already signed on in support of the bill. “We see that as an economic advantage. Folks going on day hikes (can) start in Desert Hot Springs, stay at our spas, eat in our restaurants, shop at our stores.”

A national monument is similar to a national park but can be created by Congress or an order of the president without congressional approval. Monuments receive less funding and provide less wildlife protection than national parks.

Feinstein's bill also would designate the Whitewater River as a federally protected wild and scenic river, meaning the river would be kept free-flowing.

Another provision of the law would add 2,900 acres to Joshua Tree National Park, including key habitat for endangered desert species such as the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep, said Curt Sauer, superintendent of the park.

Sauer added that Joshua Tree is estimated to pump between $40 million and $60 million a year into communities within a 100-mile radius of the park.

The draw at Sand to Snow could be the proposed monument's range of ecosystems, said David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, which also is supporting the bill.

“It's arguably the most biologically diverse national monument in America,” Myers said. “It extends down to the Sonoran desert and up to alpine meadows in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.”

Mark Graves, communications director at the Palm Springs Desert Resort Communities Convention and Visitors Authority, said the CVA already promotes Joshua Tree National Park as a tourist destination and sees Sand to Snow as a very marketable extension.

“We would literally be surrounded by national monuments,” Graves said.

Karen Lowe, a real estate agent and president of the Morongo Valley Chamber of Commerce, added that the monument would be good for property values.

“People move here to not be in the city, to not have someone right next door to them,” Lowe said. “We very much (want) to see Morongo Valley stay rural.”

Effect on solar efforts

Others, however, raised concerns about potential impacts on recreation and the development of solar and wind energy on prime public land, such as the 941,000 acres in the Mojave Desert that Feinstein wants to protect.

That land would become the Mojave Trails National Monument, running along Route 66 and stretching from the Nevada border on the east to north of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.

Speaking in the Senate on Monday, Feinstein noted that the land had been bought largely with private funds and donated to the government specifically for conservation.

While several energy companies have proposed solar development in the area, no applications have been submitted, according to information on the California Energy Commission Web site.

The bill would have no impact on the solar plants in development on federal land east of Joshua Tree National Park, the area known as the Riverside East solar study zone.

To balance the land loss, Feinstein's bill would spur renewable energy development in other solar study zones by streamlining the approval process, similar to the fast-track schedule now being used to get Riverside East projects approved by December 2010.

And while solar plants would not be allowed in the Mojave Trails National Monument, transmission lines would.

Not good enough, said Palm Desert resident Colt Stewart, who sees the bill as an obstacle to renewable energy development at a time when the U.S. is striving to be less dependent on foreign oil.

“It's overkill on Sen. Feinstein's part,” Stewart said. “The bill is inconsistent with an energy independence position.”

Southern California Edison is on the list of the bill's supporters, saying it strikes a good balance between conservation and renewable energy development.

A statement from Edison on Tuesday said, “The bill provides clarity about this issue, and importantly, it ensures existing transmission corridors are not affected. That allows Southern California Edison continued access to renewable energy-rich locations.”

Michael Cipra, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., said the issue should not be an either- or.

“There is no conflict with this bill and renewable energy development,” Cipra said, “We can have both.”

Myers said preserving the land was important, not only for future generations, but right now.

“It gives people a sense of place, and these heroic landscapes like Sand to Snow are as much needed in our communities as schools and universities and churches,” he said. “They're really the backbone of the community.”

California Desert Protection Act of 2010

Other key provisions of the bill include:


  • Other national parks: Adds 30,000 acres to the Morongo Preserve and 41,000 acres to Death Valley National Park.
  • Off-road vehicle areas: Designates five existing off-road areas — a total of 314,000 acres as permanent off-road recreation areas. But permanent status for the Johnson Valley off-road area near the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms is on hold pending decisions about possible expansion at the base.
  • Renewable energy permit process: Would establish new approval deadlines and streamline the approval process for solar projects by giving first priority to companies that complete environmental and other required studies on schedule and secure power agreements with electric utilities.
  • New funding sources for solar development and conservation:
  • Half of the income generated by solar projects on federal land would be used to improve the federal approval process and increase federal resources for land and water conservation. The other half would go to states and counties for similar purposes.

December 23, 2009

Judge allows wild horse roundup in Nevada

Mustang advocates claim use of helicopters to corral animals is inhumane

Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration said Wednesday it is going forward with a contentious plan to round up about 2,500 wild horses in Nevada.

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said herds in the Calico Mountains Complex in northwestern Nevada are overpopulated and need to be reduced to protect the horses and the rangelands that support them.

"The current population in the five Calico herd management areas is three times what the range can handle, so this gather will ensure high-quality habitat for the wild horse and burros and other wildlife while protecting the public rangeland from overuse," said spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff.

She called the dispute over the roundup "yet another clarion call to develop and implement a long-term solution to the challenges we face concerning wild horses and burros on our public lands."

The Interior Department announcement came after a federal judge on Wednesday denied a request to block the roundup, saying opponents had failed to demonstrate that removal of the horses would violate federal law.

Mustang management

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said the agency is obligated under a 1971 law to carefully manage wild horse herds to prevent overpopulation.

The mustang roundup planned for Monday would be one of the largest in Nevada in recent years. Officials plan to use helicopters to force the horses into holding pens before placing them for adoption or sending them to long-term holding corrals in the Midwest.

The roundup is part of the land management agency's overall strategy to remove more than 10,000 mustangs from public lands across the West and ship them to greener pastures in the Midwest and East. The Bureau of Land Management estimates about half of the nearly 37,000 wild mustangs live in Nevada, with others concentrated in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Another 32,000 horses and burros are cared for in corrals and pastures in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

Contentious issue

Mustang advocates had sued to block the roundup, saying that use of the helicopters is inhumane because some of the animals are traumatized, injured or killed. Opponents also contend that the bureau is grossly inflating horse numbers to justify their removal from the range.

The lawsuit says wild horses are an integral part of the natural ecosystem and should remain on rangeland throughout the West rather than be herded into long-term holding pens.

A state wildlife agency sided with federal land managers, arguing in court papers last week that the mustangs have "severely degraded" the range and adversely affect Bighorn sheep and other wildlife that compete for scarce water resources in the drought-plagued region.

Friedman sided with roundup opponents in one aspect of his 25-page ruling. He said federal officials likely were violating federal law by stockpiling tens of thousands of horses in long-term holding facilities in the Midwest. The judge invited both sides to offer more legal arguments on the issue but said Congress ultimately may have to get involved.

Since the bureau has no money to euthanize the horses and no authority to hold them in a long-term facility, "it would face an inescapable conundrum" in conducting the roundup, Friedman said. The dispute is best solved by Congress, he added.

William Spriggs, a lawyer who argued against the roundup on behalf of California-based In Defense of Animals, said he was disappointed that Friedman allowed the roundup to go forward, but added: "I'm elated the judge at least bought one of our arguments."

Spriggs said President Barack Obama should issue a "holiday reprieve" for the mustangs and block the Nevada roundup until the legality of the long-term holding facilities is decided.

"The BLM's policy of stockpiling tens of thousands of horses in the Midwest — off their rightful Western ranges — is contrary to law, the intent of Congress and the will of the American people," Spriggs said.

December 22, 2009

Solar Shutdown: Feinstein to Block Energy Projects

The Foundary
The Heritage Foundation


We need to transform to a new, clean energy economy but we can’t build solar panels in the Mojave Desert if California Senator Diane Feinstein has anything to say about it:

Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.

But before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation’s fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California’s effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.

Developers of the projects have already postponed several proposals or abandoned them entirely. The California agency charged with planning a renewable energy transmission grid has rerouted proposed power lines to avoid the monument.”

Years of subsidies and tax credits haven’t helped wind and solar projects compete with more reliable sources of energy. Solar power supplies less than one percent of the country’s electricity demand; wind does slightly better. That’s not necessarily a red flag to stop building more, but it is indicative of how far we have to go and how costly it would be “transform to a clean energy economy” as President Obama said in his remarks to the delegation at the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.

If the private businesses deem it in their interest to pursue renewable energy projects (without federal help), they should be able to do so. But where these projects may be the most economically viable, such as the Mojave Desert, the government is shutting them down.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm invested in solar, told the New York Times, “This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review.”

This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, the renewable projects have either been thwarted or put on hold because of self-interested in politicians. Cape Wind spent millions in litigation costs, delays and regulatory hurdles in attempting to build a 130-turbine offshore project in the Nantucket Sound that Senator Ted Kennedy long opposed despite the turbines being barely visible from the horizon.

The Mojave Desert situation is slightly different because Sen. Feinstein says, “the lands were purchased with nearly $45 million in private funds and $18 million in federal funds and donated to the federal government for the purpose of conservation, and that commitment must be upheld. Period.” But if an environmental group wants to preserve these lands, they shouldn’t rely on the taxpayer to fund the purchase nor fund the conservation of the land. In fact, many environmental groups do just that. Private property rights make it possible for the Nature Conservancy and Ducks Unlimited to protect habitat by purchasing land and establishing wildlife preserves.’

Nantucket and the Mojave Desert aren’t unique. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Project No Project shows that the “Not in My Back Yard” crowd is everywhere. It’s not just anti-oil and anti-coal, it’s anti-energy and anti-development.

Even with subsidies, tax breaks and mandates, shifting our energy away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy will be a prohibitively costly and difficult task. Senator Feinstein is about to make it that much more difficult.

Legislation would set pair of national monuments

JOE NELSON
San Bernardino Sun


Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Monday introduced legislation that would establish two new national monuments in the Mojave Desert and set aside nearly 1.5 million acres of public land for preservation.

The California Desert Protection Act of 2010, if passed, would create the Mojave Trails National Monument, which would protect about 941,000 acres, including 266,000 acres of former railroad easements, along historic Route 66 between Ludlow and Needles.

In addition, it would establish the Sand to Snow National Monument, which would encompass 134,000 acres of land from the desert floor in the Coachella Valley to the peak of Mount San Gorgonio.

Feinstein's bill would help protect crucial wildlife corridors for the desert tortoise and bighorn sheep and shimmering desert landscape.

"Our desert parks are places of remarkable beauty, rich cultural history, and profound ecological importance," said Michael Cipra, program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

The bill builds off Feinstein's 1994 legislation that set aside 7 million acres of desert land and established Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks and the Mojave National Preserve.

The new legislation would add nearly 74,000 acres of new land to the national parks and the national preserve. It would also designate as wilderness about 250,000 acres of public land near the Army's training center at Fort Irwin.

The bill also designates as permanent four off highway vehicle (OHV) areas. At the Johnson Valley OHV area near Twentynine Palms, the Marines have agreed to consider an option for base expansion that would allow for an exclusive military use area, an exclusive OHV area and a joint use area.

Dan Smuts, senior deputy regional director for the The Wilderness Society, said the sweeping legislation would protect an area nearly twice the size of Yosemite National Park, and would designate nearly 76 miles of waterways as wild and scenic rivers. They include the Deep Creek and Whitewater River near the San Bernardino National Forest and the Amargosa River and Surprise Canyon Creek near Death Valley National Park.

The second part of Feinstein's bill is geared toward the streamlining of the federal permitting process for renewable energy projects. It would, among other things, expedite the application process for solar development on private lands and require the Bureau of Land Management, the Forest Service and the military to complete environmental impact statements on their programs to develop renewable energy on the lands they oversee.

Shannon Eddy, spokeswoman for the Sacramento-based Large Scale Solar Association, said she had not yet reviewed Feinstein's proposed legislation and therefore could not comment.

James Conkle, founder of the Route 66 Alliance, said the bill will likely increase the amount of tourism on Route 66 from Needles to Barstow and breathe new life into sleepy desert pass-throughs like Amboy, Essex, Ludlow and Goffs. It could revitalize business and spur the re-opening of gas stations, motels and restaurants.

Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, whose district spans most of the High Desert, is concerned about the economic impacts the two proposed national monuments can have on the mining industry in the desert.

He embraces the legislation in how it protects OHV areas and other types of recreation like rock collecting and horseback riding and how it aims to harness future renewable energy projects.

"If this legislation passes, it will be a significant step toward drawing the line where remaining development in the Mojave Desert can occur and where it can't," said Mitzelfelt. "I fear legislation like this may be necessary because of the influx of renewable energy plants."

Route 66 -- immortalized, but mortal

National Park Service provides funding to document California's portion of the Mother Road as a step toward preservation of the cultural touchstone.



By Martha Groves
Los Angeles Times


It was, John Steinbeck wrote in "The Grapes of Wrath," the "Mother Road" of Dust Bowl sharecroppers heading to the promised land of California. It was where George Maharis and Martin Milner got their 1960s kicks in a Corvette and the highway that brought families to Disneyland and the original McDonald's in San Bernardino.

Immortalized in countless novels, songs and movies, Route 66 was the 2,400-mile road along which adventure seekers meandered from Chicago to the Pacific Coast, bedding down in tepee motels and eating at greasy spoons.

Of the eight states through which Route 66 passed -- the others are Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona -- California is the only one that has not done a cultural survey of the highway.

The California Preservation Foundation and the National Park Service said Monday they want to change that. With $65,000 in funding from the park service, the foundation plans to hire a consultant to document the state's portion of the Route 66 corridor.

Cindy Heitzman, executive director of the California Preservation Foundation, said an official with the National Park Service Route 66 Corridor Preservation Program broached the subject of a survey in July, and the groups formed a partnership.

"We were the holdout," Heitzman said, "and this was a wonderful opportunity to complete the survey."

James M. Conkle, a Route 66 aficionado and activist, said he and others had been promoting the idea of a survey for years. A full survey could cost as much as $650,000, he said.

"It's not fully funded, but it's at least a start," said Conkle, chairman of the Route 66 Alliance, one of several nonprofit groups seeking to promote awareness and preservation of the legendary highway.

The foundation has been meeting with a stakeholders committee that includes representatives from federal and state agencies as well as several Route 66 nonprofit groups, including the Route 66 Alliance and the California Route 66 Preservation Foundation.

The consultant will travel the Route 66 corridor from the Arizona border at Topock to Santa Monica and catalog the different roadside properties, such as diners, motels and attractions, and identify historic themes and key periods of significance.

A 1931 AAA guide indicated that California had 332 miles of U.S. Highway 66 from Needles to Los Angeles, though the road was later extended to Santa Monica. Along the way, the highway passes through Mojave Desert ghost towns and miles of urban sprawl.

The highway, rendered unnecessary by the interstate highway system, was decommissioned in the mid-1980s and much of the living history of Route 66 has vanished as the road has been broadened into suburban thoroughfares.

Still, groups have sprung up to preserve the highway and its history, one with deep connections with the American psyche.

As "roadie" Michael Wallis wrote in his 1990 book "Route 66: The Mother Road": "Route 66 is Steinbeck and Will Rogers and Woody Guthrie and Merle Haggard and Dorothea Lange and Mickey Mantle and Jack Kerouac. It's thousands of waitresses, service station attendants, fry cooks, truckers, grease monkeys, hustlers, state cops, wrecker drivers and motel clerks. . . . It's yesterday, today and tomorrow. Truly a road of phantoms and dreams, 66 is the romance of traveling the open highway."

A chief goal for the consultant will be to complete at least one nomination for the National Register of Historic Places, said Jennifer Gates, field services director for the California Preservation Foundation and manager of the Route 66 project.

A number of California Route 66 attractions are already listed in the National Register. They include the Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, the Broadway theater and commercial district in downtown Los Angeles and the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena.

December 21, 2009

Feinstein introduces proposed desert legislation in Senate

By JESSICA CEJNAR
Desert Dispatch


WASHINGTON D.C. • U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation Monday that would establish a national monument along an area of Route 66 near Ludlow, add land to the Mojave National Preserve and change the permitting process for renewable energy projects located on public land.

The California Desert Protection Act of 2010 would create two national monuments — the Mojave Trails National Monument and the Sand to Snow National Monument. According to Feinstein’s office, it would add land to Death Valley and Joshua Tree National Parks as well as add 30,000 acres to Mojave National Preserve. It would also designate 250,000 acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management near Fort Irwin as wilderness. The bill would also address off-highway vehicle usage, and change the permitting process for renewable energy projects.

The Mojave Trails National Monument consists of 940,000 acres of land along Route 66 near Ludlow, according to Feinstein’s office. The BLM would be given the authority to conserve the monument lands, but also to maintain existing recreational uses, including hunting, camping, horseback riding and motorized travel on open roads and trails.

“What’s really interesting about the (Mojave Trails) is it would effectively create a wildlife corridor between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve,” said David Lamfrom, the Barstow representative for the National Parks Conservation Association. “It would be really significant for the health of these ecosystems.”

Feinstein’s bill would also require the BLM to establish offices focused specifically on renewable energy development. It would set strict guidelines for developers to conduct environmental reviews and ensure connection to the power grid. The bill would also require the BLM, Forest Service and military to complete environmental impact statements on renewable energy programs located within their jurisdiction.

The Sand to Snow National Monument would encompass 134,000 acres of land from the Coachella Valley to Mount San Gorgonio.

Legislation introduced to create national monuments in the Inland area

David Danelski
The Press-Enterprise


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, is introducing legislation today that would create two national monuments and protect more than a million acres of public land in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, her office announced.

"I strongly believe that conservation, renewable energy development and recreation can and must co-exist in the California Desert," Feinstein said in a news release. "This legislation strikes a careful balance between these sometimes competing concerns."

The bill would create the 941,000-acre Mojave Trails National Monument, encompassing dry lakes and other land on both sides of Interstate 40 between Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave National Preserve, in eastern San Bernardino County.

Another 134,000 acres would become the Sand to Snow National Monument, stretching from the floor on the Coachella Valley to the top of San Gorgonio Peak. It would include the Big Morongo and Whitewater canyons as well as the Pipes Canyon and Mission Creek preserves.

It also would add 41,000 acres to Death Valley National Park, 30,000 acres to the Mojave National Preserve and 2,900 acres to Joshua Tree National Park.

Desert Vistas vs. Solar Power


The solar developer BrightSource Energy has canceled one solar-energy project in the Mojave Desert, above, but is proceeding with several others. (Reed Saxon/Associated Press)

By TODD WOODY
New York Times


AMBOY, Calif. — Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation in Congress on Monday to protect a million acres of the Mojave Desert in California by scuttling some 13 big solar plants and wind farms planned for the region.

But before the bill to create two new Mojave national monuments has even had its first hearing, the California Democrat has largely achieved her aim. Regardless of the legislation’s fate, her opposition means that few if any power plants are likely to be built in the monument area, a complication in California’s effort to achieve its aggressive goals for renewable energy.

Developers of the projects have already postponed several proposals or abandoned them entirely. The California agency charged with planning a renewable energy transmission grid has rerouted proposed power lines to avoid the monument.

“The very existence of the monument proposal has certainly chilled development within its boundaries,” said Karen Douglas, chairwoman of the California Energy Commission.

For Mrs. Feinstein, creation of the Mojave national monuments would make good on a promise by the government a decade ago to protect desert land donated by an environmental group that had acquired the property from the Catellus Development Corporation.

“The Catellus lands were purchased with nearly $45 million in private funds and $18 million in federal funds and donated to the federal government for the purpose of conservation, and that commitment must be upheld. Period,” Mrs. Feinstein said in a statement.

The federal government made a competing commitment in 2005, though, when President George W. Bush ordered that renewable energy production be accelerated on public lands, including the Catellus holdings. The Obama administration is trying to balance conservation demands with its goal of radically increasing solar and wind generation by identifying areas suitable for large-scale projects across the West.

Mrs. Feinstein heads the Senate subcommittee that oversees the budget of the Interior Department, giving her substantial clout over that agency, which manages the government’s landholdings. Her intervention in the Mojave means it will be more difficult for California utilities to achieve a goal, set by the state, of obtaining a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020; projects in the monument area could have supplied a substantial portion of that power.

“This is arguably the best solar land in the world, and Senator Feinstein shouldn’t be allowed to take this land off the table without a proper and scientific environmental review,” said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmentalist and a partner with a venture capital firm that invested in a solar developer called BrightSource Energy. In September, BrightSource canceled a large project in the monument area.

Union officials, power industry executives, regulators and some environmentalists have also expressed concern about the impact of the monument legislation, but few would speak publicly for fear of antagonizing one of California’s most powerful politicians.

The debate over the monument encapsulates a rising tension between two goals held by environmental groups: preservation of wild lands and ambitious efforts to combat global warming.

Not only is the desert land some of the sunniest in the country, and thus suitable for large-scale power production, it is also some of the most scenic territory in the West. The Mojave lands have sweeping vistas of an ancient landscape that is home to desert tortoises, bighorn sheep, fringe-toed lizards and other rare animals and plants.

As conflicts over building solar farms in the Mojave escalated earlier this year, Mrs. Feinstein trekked to the desert in April. The senator’s caravan, including the heads of two of the nation’s largest utilities, top energy regulators and a group of environmentalists, bumped along a dirt track and pulled up to a wind-whipped tent. Inside, executives with a Goldman Sachs-owned developer waited to make their case for building two multibillion-dollar solar power plants.

The presentation over, the entourage rolled on to the next solar project site to hear the developer’s pitch. Mrs. Feinstein gave the developers a hearing but was not moved by their arguments, according to five people present on the tour. The senator seemed concerned about the visual effect of huge solar farms on Route 66, the highway that runs through the Mojave, they said.

“When we attended the onsite desert meeting with Senator Feinstein, it was clear she was very serious about this,” said Gary Palo, vice president for development with Cogentrix Energy, a solar developer owned by Goldman Sachs. “It would make no sense for us politically or practically to go forward with those projects.”

Another project, a huge 12,000-acre solar farm by Tessera Solar, was canceled last week, and the company cited Mrs. Feinstein’s opposition.

Steven L. Kline, chief sustainability officer for Pacific Gas and Electric, called the proposed monument “prime territory” for solar development and noted that the loss of the planned solar projects would hurt his company’s efforts to comply with state renewable energy mandates. The utility was planning a solar farm in the monument area.

“In the near term, it would have a very substantial impact,” he said, emphasizing that in principle, P.G.& E. supports Mrs. Feinstein’s efforts to preserve sensitive desert lands. “Over time those projects will be built somewhere else and we’ll have benefits of the power.”

Mrs. Feinstein has long championed desert preservation, sponsoring legislation in 1994 that created Death Valley and Joshua Tree national parks and the Mojave National Preserve. Five years later, she pushed for federal money to help acquire nearly 500,000 acres owned by Catellus.

A small Southern California environmental group, the Wildlands Conservancy, had negotiated the acquisition of the Catellus property and raised tens of millions of dollars for its purchase from a major benefactor, the financier David Gelbaum, a former hedge fund manager turned philanthropist.

The Catellus holdings consist of hundreds of small parcels that form a checkerboard across the Mojave.

“The whole objective was to preserve the core of the Mojave Desert,” said David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy. “To a large extent this land is the connective tissue that holds the desert together.”

When Mr. Myers became aware that solar and wind developers had applied to lease federal land that included the former Catellus holdings, he contacted the senator.

The legislation to protect a million acres of desert land would include 266,000 acres of the former Catellus lands. (The balance of the half-million acres of Catellus property is already protected, in various ways.) The proposed renewable energy projects would have occupied about 30,000 acres of Catellus land, according to the Bureau of Land Management.

“If all this solar development took place in the Mojave, the higher you climb the more industrialized the vistas would look,” Mr. Myers said recently as he walked past bighorn sheep tracks and scrambled up a peak overlooking the Trilobite Wilderness Area.

Mr. Myers stresses that he is not against large-scale solar power plants but prefers that they be concentrated on already disturbed farmlands. In recent months, he said, he has worked with solar developers to find alternative sites.

On Thursday, Mrs. Feinstein introduced legislation to provide a 30 percent tax credit to developers that consolidate degraded private land for solar projects. She followed that on Monday with the legislation to create the 941,00-acre Mojave Trails National Monument and the 134,00-acre Sand to Snow National Monument.

“I strongly believe that conservation, renewable energy development and recreation can and must co-exist in the California desert,” Mrs. Feinstein said in a statement. “This legislation strikes a careful balance between these sometimes competing concerns.”

Developers and environmentalists say Mrs. Feinstein has modified the monument legislation to address some of their issues. The 2.5 million acres set aside in a draft version of the monument act has been shrunk to around one million acres, allowing at least two projects to proceed. The bill also includes provisions designed to accelerate approval of renewable energy projects on federal land.

That is not likely to mollify monument opponents, including unions that were anticipating the creation of thousands of construction jobs.

“Unfortunately, Senator Feinstein wants to wall off a large part of the desert based on historical land ownership rather than science,” said Marc D. Joseph, a lawyer for California Unions for Reliable Energy. “It seems the wrong approach to where solar should go and where it shouldn’t go.”

But John White, executive director of the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies in Sacramento, said the monument legislation would put so much land off limits for development that it might actually spur a more vigorous state and federal effort to compensate by creating renewable energy zones. “The problem is,” he said, “if you take a million acres off the table, what are you going to replace it with?”

Feinstein to introduce legislation to establish 2 national monuments in Mojave Desert


The protected areas would encompass 1 million acres containing wildlife, extinct volcanoes, sand dunes and ancient petroglyphs. The senator says the bill could be enacted in late 2010.

By Louis Sahagun
Los Angeles Times



Reporting from Barstow - Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says she plans to introduce legislation today to establish two national monuments on roughly 1 million acres of Mojave Desert outback that is home to bighorn sheep and desert tortoises, extinct volcanoes, sand dunes and ancient petroglyphs.

Its centerpiece, Mojave Trails National Monument, would prohibit development on 941,000 acres of federal land and former railroad company property along a 105-mile stretch of old Route 66, between Ludlow and Needles.

The smaller Sand to Snow National Monument, about 45 miles east of Riverside, would cover about 134,000 acres of federal land between Joshua Tree National Park and the San Bernardino National Forest in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Its diverse habitats range from desert scrub to yellow pine forests 9,000 feet above sea level.

The legislation, which had been delayed by efforts to resolve conflicts among environmentalists, off-roaders and renewable energy interests, would also designate 250,000 acres of public land near the Army's training center at Ft. Irwin as wilderness; add 41,000 acres to the southern boundary of Death Valley National Park and add 2,900 acres to northern portions of Joshua Tree National Park.

In addition, it would designate as permanent five existing off-highway vehicle areas in San Bernardino County covering 314,000 acres.

Feinstein, author of the 1994 California Desert Protection Act, vowed to make the legislation a priority. "In the best-case scenario, this legislation could be approved by late 2010," she said in an interview.

"This magnificent land and its lonely beauty are a significant part of our history, and we shouldn't give it up," Feinstein said, adding that private donors helped acquire the former railroad parcels "with the belief they would be protected from development. We have an obligation to keep them that way."

The railroad land was purchased between 1999 and 2003 with $45 million in private donations collected by the nonprofit Wildlands Conservancy and $18 million in federal funds, then donated to the Department of the Interior.

The Bureau of Land Management is reviewing 130 applications for solar and wind-energy development in the California desert, covering more than 1 million acres of public land.

At least 19 renewable-energy projects have been suggested within the boundaries of the proposed Mojave Trails monument, according to Feinstein, who has discussed her concerns with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Feinstein's legislation would assist companies with projects currently proposed inside monument boundaries in relocating to federal energy zones being developed elsewhere. It would also permit construction of transmission lines within existing utility rights of way to facilitate the transfer of renewable energy generated in the Southern California desert and adjacent states.

Some congressional Republicans accused Feinstein of engaging in a not-in-my-back-yard campaign when her plans for legislation restricting renewable energy projects in California deserts surfaced earlier this year.

The senator countered that she "strongly" supports such projects, but only if they are built on "suitable" lands.

In an effort to avoid conflicts, BrightSource Energy Inc. and Stirling Energy Systems recently scrapped plans to build massive solar and wind farms on a panoramic stretch of the proposed Mojave Trails monument known as Sleeping Beauty Valley.

"We had a project within what we understand to be the boundaries of the monument, but we recently decided to withdraw it," said Sean Gallagher, Stirling's vice president of marketing strategies and regulatory issues. "We're trying to be respectful of what Sen. Feinstein has been doing in that area of the desert."

Environmentalists, hunters and off-road vehicle enthusiasts expressed support for Feinstein's legislation.

Elden Hughes, an honorary vice president of the Sierra Club, described it as "good news -- and darned important because it means this land would never be built on or fenced off."

James Conkle, founder of the Route 66 Alliance, which seeks to protect the historic route linking Chicago with Southern California, said the bill would "open up the desert to more travelers, sparking interest in fascinating, out-of-the-way places like Ludlow, Amboy and Essex."

Megan Grossglass, spokeswoman for the Off-Road Business Assn., was more cautious in her appraisal. Her group "has not had a chance to fully analyze the bill," she said, "so we cannot give it our endorsement, but we are supportive of the balanced approach it seems to take."

Mojave Trail, a four-hour drive from Los Angeles, includes such environmentally sensitive areas as Afton Canyon, a four-mile ribbon of green wetlands wedged between weathered rock walls, and Amboy Crater, a dormant volcano.

Then there is Sleeping Beauty Valley, a 150-square-mile expanse roughly 60 miles east of Barstow. It contains bighorn sheep, a newly discovered species of lupine that features showy purple blossoms in the spring, and unusually dark lizards that appear to have genetically adapted to the volcanic terrain.

During a tour of the area Sunday, David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, scrambled up a rocky hill at the base of a row of snaggletoothed mountains freckled with clumps of brittlebush.

"Heroic country, isn't it?" he said. "Just a few months ago, there were plans to cover this entire landscape with solar and wind farms. Instead, with this legislation, we are striking a balance with the insatiable demands of population growth."

December 17, 2009

1,000 skilled laborers to get work building new solar plant

Environmentalists to get $1 million per tortoise

Joe Nelson
San Bernardino Sun


About 1,000 skilled laborers from across San Bernardino County will be recruited to work on the world's largest solar complex near the Nevada border under a labor agreement ratified Thursday between the builder and California labor unions.

BrightSource Energy and Bechtel Corp., both located in the Bay Area, have teamed up to develop and build the Ivanpah Solar Electricity Generating System in the Ivanpah dry lake bed, east of the 15 Freeway and north of the Mojave National Preserve, about five miles southwest of Primm, Nev.

Construction of the 440-megawatt complex, which officials say will nearly double the amount of commercial solar electricity produced in the U.S., is slated to begin in late spring or early summer 2010 and wrap up in mid-2012.

It will be the first major solar project in California in two decades.

The solar complex will generate an estimated $400 million in local and state tax revenues over the plant's 30-year life cycle, and $250 million in construction wages from 2010 to 2012, BrightSource spokesman Keely Wachs said.

"There's going to be a big boom here. There's going to be a lot of economic benefits," Wachs said.

On Thursday, Bechtel entered into the labor agreement with the Riverside & San Bernardino Counties Building and Construction Trades Council and the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California (SBCTC).

"This project is a great example of how the new green technology is now providing real jobs for thousands of workers," said SBCTC President Robert Balgenorth in a statement.
William Perez, executive secretary/business manager for the Riverside and San Bernardino Counties Building and Construction Trades Council in Riverside, said the agreement will pull skilled laborers from across the county.

Laborers will be dispatched out of San Bernardino, Victorville and Barstow, carpenters and millwrights out of Ontario, electricians out of San Bernardino and Victorville, teamsters and boilermakers out of Bloomington, cement masons and pipefitters out of Colton, ironworkers out of San Bernardino and operating engineers and surveyors out of Redlands, Perez said.

"Everybody going out there would be referred out of those hiring halls," Perez said.

But first, Bechtel must complete the permitting process through the California Energy Commission and Bureau of Land Management.

The project also needs to clear some environmental hurdles. Public hearings on the draft environmental impact study began this week.

Wildlife biologists found 25 desert tortoises during the study. BrightSource will pay more than $25 million to mitigate the impact on desert tortoise habitat. The 25 tortoises will be relocated to land next to the project site, Wachs said.

BrightSource claims there are no endangered species on the project site and that the 4,000-acre swath of open desert is flat and needs no grading. The only grading needed, Wachs said, will be for roads and the plant's power block.

"We feel that we have a very thoughtful mitigation strategy in place that will serve as a model for other projects that follow," Wachs said of the environmental study.

But not everyone is thrilled with the project.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt, whose district includes most of the High Desert region, opposes the project because he feels it has too severe an impact on the environment and will benefit Las Vegas's economy more than San Bernardino County's.

"The natural labor pool for that area is the greater Las Vegas metropolitan area, and I don't think that's something can be changed, but I do think it can be offset by this labor agreement ... " Mitzelfelt said. "I haven't seen the agreement, so I don't know how binding it is and how effective it may be."

He questioned the number of desert tortoises found during the environmental study.

"It is very difficult to find 25 tortoises. They're a threatened species. In my opinion, that's a lot of tortoises," Mitzelfelt said.

Having to set aside 12,000 acres of land for tortoise habitat mitigation could affect other proposed projects for the Mojave Desert, which may have a hard time finding land of their own for mitigation purposes if so much has already been chewed up by BrightSource, Mitzelfelt said.

The county supervisor also has concerns about visual impacts. Seven 459-foot-high power towers are planned for the complex, each crowned with a 60-foot-high boiler that will glow bright white throughout the day.

"We're talking about seven 459-foot towers, the top 60 feet of which will glow like giant lightbulbs and you've got millions of cars driving past those," Mitzelfelt said. "They're probably going to be the tallest structures in the whole county."

By comparison, the Morongo Casino Resort and Spa in Cabazon is about 300-feet tall, said Andrew Silva, Mitzelfelt's field representative.

Mitzelfelt said about 90 percent of the power generated from Ivanpah will serve the San Francisco Bay Area, not San Bernardino County.

"It's not a benefit to our region. It's a benefit to the state, perhaps," Mitzelfelt said.

December 16, 2009

Plaque part of 'Clampers' philosophy

Route 66
Part 6 of an ongoing series

By Claudia Heller
Pasadena Star-News


The Honorable and Ancient Order of E. Clampus Vitus, Platrix Chapter has dedicated a plaque honoring the Ross Field, U.S. Army Balloon School, which once stood on land that later became a portion of Route 66. (Alan Heller)

E Clampus Vitus.

Just the sound of it is intimidating, conjuring up visions of a horrible disease or perhaps a fraternity of enlightened scientists.

Neither apply. It is a men's organization with dual personalities whose members wear red shirts and funny hats. Some "Clampers" call it a historical drinking society, while others dub it a drinking historical society.

But whatever its secret purpose, it is a name you will find all along California's Route 66. If you see an historical plaque along the Route, it was probably the work of ECV.

One of the recent plaques erected on the Mother Road is located on the Elks Lodge Building on Route 66 (Huntington Drive) and Santa Anita in Arcadia, and is dedicated to the Ross Field U.S. Army Balloon School. Built in 1918, the school served as the training grounds for cadets to learn to observe enemy activity from hot air balloons. During construction, the workers lived in Lucky Baldwin's racing horse stables.

The school trained 60-man ground crews responsible for raising and lowering the balloons, and two-man observation crews. It remained viable until the end of World War I in 1919.

The "Clamper" plaque was dedicated on Sept. 6, 2008, by ECV Platrix Chapter No. 2 of the Ancient & Honorable Order of E. Clampus Vitus and the Arcadia Elks Lodge No. 2025.

Not far from Route 66, on Aug. 9 this year the Clampers dedicated a plaque honoring the Adams Pack Station located at Chantry Flats in Big Santa Anita Canyon. In 1936, J.P. Steele obtained a special permit to operate a pack station and store at Chantry Flats, an enterprise that flourished until the great floods of 1938 washed much of it away along with 200 cabins in the area. Steele sold what was left after the floods. Although the station changed hands several times, it continued to operate, making it the only remaining packing station in Southern California.

On Aug. 13, 1995, the Clampers erected a plaque in Sierra Madre at Hermosa and Carter avenues honoring the town's wistaria vine, "the world's largest blossoming plant."

On Route 66 in Daggett, near Barstow, you will find an ECV Billy Holcomb Chapter plaque dedicated to the Daggett Garage which "began life in the 1880s at the borax town of Marion." It was later moved to Daggett, where it housed an auto repair shop on the National Old Trails Highway.

Plaques appear along Route 66 from Chicago to the "End of the Route" plaque in Santa Monica. We have many visionaries to thank for providing permanent historical notes which remain long after the remnant has decayed or disappeared. These one-page history books may be found along many roads, most notably on The Mother Road and its environs. Near where Santa Monica Boulevard dead ends at Ocean Boulevard, a brass plaque marks the official end of Route 66, and refers to it as the "Will Rogers Highway," one of the many names the famed highway has been called.

Now we can add five new Route 66 sites to our list: (12) The U.S. Army Balloon School; (13) The Adams Pack Station; (14) The Sierra Madre Wisteria Vine; (15) The Daggett Garage; and (16) the official end of Route 66.

Judge asked to block wild horse roundup in Nevada

June 28, 2002 File Photo. A helicopter used by the Bureau of Land Management rounds up wild horses near Cold Creek, Nev. Federal officials plan to use helicopters to force the horses into holding pens before placing them for adoption or sending them to long-term holding corrals in the Midwest. (AP Photo/Joe Cavaretta)

By MATTHEW DALY
Associated Press


WASHINGTON – An animal protection group asked a federal judge Wednesday to block a plan to round up about 2,500 wild horses to remove them from a Nevada range.

The mustang roundup planned for Dec. 28 would be one of the largest in Nevada in recent years. Federal officials plan to use helicopters to force the horses into holding pens before placing them for adoption or sending them to long-term holding corrals in the Midwest.

Mustang advocates say use of the helicopters is inhumane because some of the animals are traumatized, injured or killed.

The roundup is part of the Bureau of Land Management's overall strategy to remove thousands of mustangs from public lands across the West to protect wild horse herds and the rangelands that support them. The bureau estimates about half of the nearly 37,000 wild mustangs live in Nevada, with others concentrated in Arizona, California, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Another 32,000 horses and burros are cared for in corrals and pastures in Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

A lawyer for In Defense of Animals, a California-based group that advocates on behalf of animal protection, called the roundup plan illegal.

"The BLM's policy of mass removal and stockpiling of horses was never authorized by Congress when it protected these iconic animals in 1971 as an important part of our national heritage," said William Spriggs, a Washington lawyer who argued against the roundup plan in court Wednesday.

In Defense of Animals and wildlife biologist Craig Downer sued the BLM last month to block the Nevada roundup. Terri Farley, a Nevada author whose books about wild horses target young readers, joined the lawsuit Monday.

Erik Petersen, a Justice Department lawyer who represents the BLM, said the roundup is needed because more than 3,100 horses and burros crowd the Calico Mountain Complex in northwestern Nevada — about five times as many horses as the land can handle.

The 1971 law requires removal of excess horses to ensure they are treated humanely, Petersen said. Removing the animals also will help preserve the "endangered and rapidly disappearing" rangeland where they live, Petersen said.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the mustang roundups in October as part of a new management plan he said would avoid the need to kill any wild horses. Interior Department officials had warned last year that slaughtering some of the 69,000 wild horses and burros under federal control might be necessary to combat rising costs of maintaining them.

Salazar said the current program is not sustainable for the animals, the environment or taxpayers.

The BLM's wild horse program cost about $50 million this year and is expected to rise to at least $85 million by 2012 if the program is not changed, officials said.

Spriggs, the lawyer for In Defense of Animals, said the BLM has only itself to blame for the high costs. At least two-thirds of the costs for wild horses are for long-term storage facilities in the Midwest that he said were nothing more than warehouses.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman said he would rule on the case before Christmas.

December 14, 2009

BLM approves Nevada wild horse roundup



Wild horses after a roundup at the Caliente Complex near Panaca, Nev. on October 5, 2009. The BLM says as many as 25,000 of the horses need to be removed from public lands because of suffering due to a lack of forage. (AP Photo/Bureau of Land Management, Ben Noyes, File)

By SANDRA CHEREB
Associated Press


CARSON CITY, Nev. — The Bureau of Land Management approved the removal of 2,500 wild horses from the range near Reno on Monday as opposition grows to what would be one of the largest mustang roundups in Nevada in recent years.

A federal judge in Washington, D.C., is to hear arguments Wednesday in a lawsuit filed to block the roundup planned for later this month.

The gather is part of the BLM's overall strategy to remove thousands of mustangs from public lands around the West and ship them to greener pastures in the East. The BLM estimates about half of the 36,600 wild mustangs live in Nevada. It wants to reduce the overall population to what it considers an "appropriate management level" of 26,600.

In its decision involving the 2,500 Nevada horses, the BLM said removal of the mustangs is needed to bring population numbers down in the Calico Mountains Complex to prevent habitat deterioration.

The agency estimates that more than 3,000 mustangs roam the five herd management areas near the Black Rock Desert that make up the complex. It wants to reduce the population to about 570 by removing horses and treating others with birth control.

BLM spokeswoman JoLynn Worley said the agency in 2000 set what it deemed to be appropriate horse populations for areas in Nevada, and has been working since to achieve those goals. In 2002, about 2,200 horses were taken each from the Calico area and another area near Elko. Smaller gathers have been ongoing.

Horses taken from the range would be placed for adoption or sent to long-term holding corrals, which now hold about as many wild horses as left in the wild.

Mustang advocates counter the planned gather using helicopters is illegal because some of the animals are traumatized, injured or killed.

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to hear arguments Wednesday on a motion to stop the gather. The suit was filed in November by California-based In Defense of Animals and wildlife biologist Craig Downer. Terri Farley, a Nevada author whose books about wild horses target young readers, joined the lawsuit Monday.

"If we allow the BLM to continue to ignore the will of Congress and the America people, then soon there will be no horses left to preserve," Farley said in a written statement.

Horse advocates said the roundup violates the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which Congress passed in 1971 to protect wild horses and burros as "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."

In 2008, the BLM said it would have to consider euthanizing wild horses because of escalating numbers and the cost of caring for them in long-term holding facilities. But earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the agency instead would pursue shipping horses to pastures and holding corrals in the Midwest and East.

Horse advocates call that proposal unnecessary and inhumane. During a hearing last week, they urged the BLM's National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board to press for a moratorium on roundups until an independent audit of mustang numbers can be conducted.

December 12, 2009

Judge rules against landmark 2003 state water pact

If the tentative ruling is upheld, the agreement aimed at reducing California's reliance on Colorado River water would be voided.

By Bettina Boxall
Los Angeles Times


The Salton Sea, California's largest inland lake, is located in the Salton Sink, a natural below sea-level depression extending from Palm Springs, California, on the north to near the Gulf of California on the south. California's open-ended pledge to fund restoration was found to violate the state Constitution.

A state judge appears poised to throw out a landmark pact involving California's use of Colorado River water.

If upheld, Thursday's tentative ruling by a Sacramento County Superior Court judge would unravel a complex 2003 agreement that put the state on a timetable to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River.

Brokered by federal, state and regional officials, the deal also established a program of farm-to-city water sales that are playing a growing role in Southern California's water supply.

"It's very serious," said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. "There will be appeals. It's going to be some time before we know what it all means and what the impact is."

Ironically, the action comes in a case in which Judge Roland L. Candee was asked to validate the agreement.

Examining the 13 contracts that make up the deal, Candee focused on those involving a state commitment to help fund restoration of the Salton Sea in Imperial County.

The judge concluded that the language amounted to a blank check in which the state was promising to fund restoration, even if it cost billions. Such an open-ended pledge, Candee found, violated the state Constitution.

"The court has no ability to sanction a way to contract around the Constitution," the 27-page ruling states. "It is clear to this court that if this contract language is validated, executive agencies of the state can contract for amounts well over the constitutional debt limit."

Concluding that all the agreements were linked, he invalidated the other contracts as well, even though he seemed to have no quibble with them.

"It certainly was not what we expected," said Kevin Kelley, spokesman for the Imperial Irrigation District, which launched the court action. "While it's clearly a cause for concern in the Imperial Valley, it's also of great concern to Southern California."

Candee set a Dec. 17 hearing for arguments on his tentative ruling, and water officials said this week's opinion was not the final word. "It is not the end of the story," said Dennis Cushman, assistant general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority. "The water is continuing to flow."

San Diego is one of the major beneficiaries of the 2003 agreement, which allows the water-rich Imperial district to sell some of its Colorado River supplies to the authority. Combined with another arrangement, the San Diego region this year is getting nearly a quarter of its supplies through transfers under the accord. Those water sales are scheduled to increase over the years.

The transfers and Salton Sea restoration are intended to help lessen California's dependence on the Colorado River.

For decades the state took more than its legal allotment in the form of surplus deliveries. It agreed to phase out that surplus use over a period of years to free up supplies for other states on the river.

The pact also called for the state to help pick up the tab for restoration of the Salton Sea, an important stop for migrating waterfowl that is fed by irrigation runoff. The water transfers will eventually decrease that runoff, raising the salinity of the sea and compounding its environmental problems.

December 11, 2009

Hunters now in environmentalists' sights

Jim Matthews http://www.outdoornewsservice.com/
San Bernardino Sun


Telling the Department of Fish and Game and the Fish and Game Commission they'd sue them if they didn't get their way, a collection of environmental groups has petitioned the commission to close the Mojave National Preserve to hunting much of the year under the specious guise of protecting endangered desert tortoises.

Ironically, even the National Park Service hasn't asked the state to do any special closures because their scientists recognize hunting is not an issue in the protection of tortoises.

The 11-page petition asks all hunting and gun possession be curtailed between Feb. 1 and Aug. 31 in the preserve, and hunting of cottontail rabbits, jackrabbits and predators be eliminated. Night hunting with lights also would be banned.

The petitioners list three reasons for the necessity of the changes.

First, they cite reports that say 15 percent of tortoises found dead were killed by gunshot. Second, they suggest hunters leaving carcasses and trash in hunting areas increases the raven population, and ravens perhaps are the biggest known predator on tortoises. Last, they suggest road use by hunters is a problem because many tortoises are killed on roads.

All three arguments are, in fact, wrong or the facts are misrepresented.

First, the studies on tortoise mortality showed about 15 percent of tortoise shells (mislabled carcasses by the petition) have signs of gunshot, but there was no forensic analysis to determine if the bullet holes in the carcasses were the cause of death or made postmortem.
Target shooting still was allowed in all the areas where these studies were done and one scenario is that plinkers found the shells and used them for target practice. This is correlated by mortality studies in remote areas, where hunting is more likely to take place, in which few shells had bullet holes.

Second, the petition pointed out desert tortoise populations have declined in the Preserve, although that data is sketchy. Even if taken at its face value, the number of hunters in the area has actually declined in the same period, so increases in raven populations and their predation cannot be blamed on hunters.

The National Park Service has been improving roads, facilities, and non-hunting visitation in the preserve, and the increase in ravens and other scavenging predators that also eat tortoises, is far more likely a result of other human uses in the desert that increase trash.

Last, the petition blames hunters' road use as a factor in tortoise mortality, even though they are more likely to be aware of tortoises and less likely to run one over than a tourist. The petition said in one study, 40 percent of tortoises found dead (again, we're talking about shells or pieces of shells, not fresh carcasses) were killed by gunshot or vehicles, even though there was no way to be sure gunshot or vehicles actually caused the tortoise death.

While there's no question tortoises are killed on roads, especially paved roads with vehicles whizzing along at 50 mph to 80 mph, the evidence of actual mortality caused by humans is very small.

Cliff McDonald, a long-time Needles hunter and conservationist who has battled to keep man-made wildlife water in the desert, points out that the Desert Tortoise Council Advisory Board, one of the groups involved in filing the petition, said in 2001 direct human mortalities represent only 3 percent of tortoise deaths (and that was assuming the inflated mortality speculated to be caused by vehicles and gunshots).

The effort to ban predator hunting on the preserve will probably have a negative impact on tortoises because a number of studies have show that coyotes and grey foxes are the only predators that target older tortoises, not needing to break open the shells to kill and eat the reptile. By stopping the hunting of these animals, their populations will increase and even more mature tortoises will be eaten.

Some other things puzzle me.

If these issues were so critical to the survival of the tortoise, why didn't the petitioners ask the Commission to ban hunting in all the desert tortoise range? Why didn't they ask the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management to close all roads and ban OHV use on public lands from February through September when tortoises are most active above ground? Why didn't they ask for caps on visitation to be set during these periods to reduce trash to keep raven numbers in check?

They didn't do any of these things. They targeted hunters.

The petition was filed with the Fish and Game Commission on Nov. 19 by the Center for Biological Diversity, in conjunction with the California/Nevada Desert Subcommittee of the Sierra Club, the National Parks and Conservation Association, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Desert Tortoise Council, and Defenders of Wildlife. That same day, management staff in the DFG offices in Sacramento were told they would be sued if the Commission didn't approve their petition.

The petition is certainly not about protecting tortoises because there are far more important issues that could and should be addressed than any hunter-caused mortality.

This is an anti-hunting petition, pure and simple. If the groups involved were concerned about tortoises they would be working diligently to get the federal government to allow the "take" or killing or ravens, which have increased more than 1,000 percent in our deserts

What can be said with absolutely certainty is that hunting today in the Mojave National Preserve is not a factor in any downward tortoise population trend.