November 30, 2010

Boxer, Reid huddle over strategy for massive resources bill

Colleagues enlist Reid's help with last-ditch push for massive water, lands, wildlife package

By Paul Quinlan, John McArdle and Patrick Reis
E and E Publishing

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Harry Reid (D-NV)

The full-court press is on to assemble and pass a monumental package of waterways, public lands and wildlife bills in the final days of this Congress.

Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last night to discuss packaging a slew of waterways bills that won bipartisan endorsements from her committee with measures that emerged with similarly broad-based support from the Energy and Natural Resources Committee aimed at protecting more than 2 million acres and creating new national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

"It was great," Boxer said of her meeting with Reid. "What we're doing is we're talking to the Republicans now who voted for all the bills in my committee to see if they will go along with doing a package of bills."
Boxer added it was unlikely that such a bill could pass the Senate with unanimous support; thus, work is under way to obtain the necessary 60 votes.

"I think we have a good chance because they are bipartisan bills," Boxer said.

Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle declined to discuss the meeting's outcome but said a package was possible. "We do not discuss private meetings, but this is on a list of possible items for consideration this work period," she said in an e-mail.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's National Parks Subcommittee, said his committee's bills have "broad support" and that he was working down a list of Republican colleagues to ask if they would be supportive.

"There's a lot of conversation occurring right now," Udall said. "There's been a lot of hard work the last two years, and it would be disappointing, to say the least, if a lot of these targeted bills died because the Senate couldn't find the time to move them forward."

Others, like Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio), who sits on Boxer's committee and hopes to pass a Great Lakes bill he is co-sponsoring as part of the package, spoke more pessimistically about the odds of success in a badly divided Senate chamber with an already swamped agenda for the lame-duck session.

"I think it's a problem getting anything done at this stage in the game," Voinovich said. "Anything now is going to be tough."

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who wants to include a Chesapeake Bay bill that would backstop the Obama administration's ambitious, U.S. EPA-led effort to clamp down on farm and stormwater pollution, also warned of the long odds.

"Lame ducks are always uncertain," Cardin said. His bill, the most controversial of the waterways bills, eventually won bipartisan committee support after negotiations with the GOP. "Significant changes were made because of their concerns. I think we got it right."

Environmental groups continue to push for action on what they say would be a landmark package. The waterways bills up for consideration, which sailed through Boxer's committee in June, would protect and restore the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Long Island Sound, Gulf of Mexico and San Francisco Bay. Most would authorize, but do not appropriate, money for EPA to set up new program offices relating to the major waterways, award grants and increase accountability.

The Pew Charitable Trusts is running an ad in tomorrow's editions of Roll Call and Politico that will urge Republicans and Democrats to pass the bipartisan wilderness legislation, which the ad says would "give permanent protection to more than two million acres of breathtaking landscapes in thirteen states -- from Washington State's Alpine Lakes to Idaho's Boulder-White Clouds to Tennessee's Upper Bald River."

"Hunters, anglers, business leaders, conservationists and other local citizens who've worked together to get these measures this far are counting on Congress to take action before it adjourns," the ad says, against a backdrop of New Mexico's Organ Mountains, which include lands in line to receive protection.

November 25, 2010

Demolition crews take down Carl Bray house

The Carl Bray House and Gallery was demolished and will soon be replaced with an “interpretive exhibit” to showcase artifacts from the historic site. (Courtesy of the City of Indian Wells)

Mariecar Mendoza
The Desert Sun

The last of the Carl Bray House and Gallery has been torn down to replace what the Indian Wells City Council called an “attractive nuisance” with a safer alternative.

Demolition of the more than 50-year-old building began last week, with final work completed Wednesday, Indian Wells officials said.

On Nov. 4, the City Council approved the demolition and gave the green light for city staff to move forward with work on an “interpretive exhibit” to showcase artifacts from the historic site.

The demolition was the result of more than a year of debate between city officials and residents who wanted to preserve the historic building.

The building was named after Bray, an artist known nationally for his desert landscapes and smoke tree paintings and has been a staple of the city since the early 1950s.

The city purchased the 14,148-square-foot site in January 2009 for nearly $260,000 claiming the structure posed a “safety hazard.”

The city spent $56,000 for the environmental impact report and legal services needed to ensure a vetted process.

The demolition cost about $58,000, said Community Development Director Corrie Kates.

Had the city decided to rehabilitate the building, city officials said it would have cost an estimated $960,000.

“We tried our best to save something of old Indian Wells,” said Adele Ruxton, president of the Indian Wells Historic Preservation Foundation, who fought to preserve the historic site.

“I hope that whatever appears as the interpretive exhibit on the Carl Bray site really depicts not only the artist who lived and worked there, but tells the story of old Indian Wells when it was but an Indian Village.”

November 24, 2010

Dennis Schramm to Retire

Mojave National Preserve
NPS Digest

Dennis Schramm, Superintendent of Mojave National Preserve for the last five years and a 33-year-veteran of the National Park Service (NPS), is retiring on December 3rd .

Dennis completes 12 years at the Preserve, including seven years as a management assistant, from 1995 to 2002, a tenure that spans the first seven years of the park’s existence.

He began his NPS career in the Denver Service Center in February 1978 as an environmental specialist and planner. In his park service career, he worked in three California parks, including Lava Beds National Monument, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, and the Preserve. His career also includes assignments in the Alaska Regional Office and at the park service’s national headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Dennis especially prizes his eight years in Alaska, where he was fortunate to travel throughout the state working on mining and hazmat issues in the parks. He is particularly proud of the extensive hazmat clean-up work that was completed in Denali National Park & Preserve, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve.

Dennis served on the National Wilderness Steering Committee during his tenure in Washington, D.C., and he was pleased to be part of the team that rewrote management policies in 2005. Dennis also lead a national team of planners in the development of the updated management planning policies and handbook and, in particular, the new planning training course for NPS.

Dennis was honored to be assigned to duty in Washington, D.C., in 2007 to help develop plans for the celebration of the parks national centennial in 2016. He also was privileged to serve as deputy superintendent at Yosemite National Park in 2009. Other assignments included serving as the Pacific West Region superintendent representative to the Natural Resource Advisory Group for three years and, most recently, as NPS representative on the Desert Landscape Conservation Cooperative initiative.

Dennis is proud of his five years as superintendent at Mojave and of the many accomplishments of his dedicated staff. His management of the Preserve focused on building support for the park, on turning around troubled relationships with stakeholders, and on starting the first friends group for the Preserve. He was also extensively involved in external issues and in working across agency boundaries on landscape scale conservation.

Dennis has extensive experience in the Mojave Desert through his NPS assignments and his formal education and a deep life-long connection, having grown up in the Mojave. He was reared mostly in Las Vegas and attended undergraduate and graduate school at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. Dennis had the good fortune to conduct his graduate studies in Death Valley, studying the plants of the Black Mountains.

He and his wife, Marcia, also an NPS employee, have three grown children. They plan to relocate to the Denver area in the spring of 2011 where they can be closer to their grandson, Mason.

November 7, 2010

Acres may be fenced off for protection of endangered plant

By KAREN JONAS, staff writer
Barstow Desert Dispatch

NEAR FORT IRWIN • About 14,000 acres of land near Fort Irwin could be fenced off and closed to off-roading in order to protect an endangered plant if a proposed critical habitat plan is approved.

The Lane Mountain milk-vetch is a perennial plant in the pea family that grows only in the west Mojave Desert north of Barstow. Fish and Wildlife Services is proposing to designate a total of 14,069 acres for protection of the plant in two separate areas.

Some off-roading enthusiasts are upset that the land is being fenced off and believe that the desert should not be closed to off-roading.

“Off-roading is the way of the desert,” said Mike McCain of Barstow. “That’s how you get around.”

McCain is a member of the American Motorcyclist Association and has put in a complaint about the potential critical habitat area. He also said that he has found the milk-vetch plant in a different area that will not be considered part of the critical habitat area.

The public comment period on the economic impact of the critical habitat proposal will be open until Dec. 3.

About 21 percent of the land is privately owned, 70 percent is owned by the BLM and 9 percent is owned by the Department of Defense. The designation of critical habitat would prohibit activities that could endanger the milk-vetch plant, including off-roading, surface mining and wind energy development.

The BLM is already in the process of fencing off part of the land in order to prevent people from off-roading in the area. The agency has been working on the fencing for over a year and should be completed with the most critical areas by the spring, according to William “Mickey” Quillman, resource supervisor for the Barstow field office of the BLM.

Quillman said that the fencing is being put in place where excessive off-highway vehicle use has been occurring and that it is being done as funding permits. The area is already designated limited use, which means that vehicles can only travel on designated paths, but there are some who drive across the restricted areas despite the rule.

Most of the year, the milk-vetch exists in a dormant state below the surface, said Ileene Anderson, biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. The growth period for the plant occurs in the late winter or early spring, which is also a popular time for off-roading.

Anderson said that the milk-vetch was important because it lives in such a restricted area.

“It’s a plant species that has a very, very small distribution on the planet,” said Anderson. “It’s a perennial plant that stays around for a number of years.”

Lois Grunwald, a spokesperson for the Ventura Fish and Wildlife Office, said that an endangered species could be an indication that the ecosystem is in trouble.

Anderson also said that the recent milk-vetch surveys show that more plants are dying than sprouting and it was unclear why the plants were doing poorly in spite of adequate rainfall.