December 30, 2011

Mojave Tortoise Doesn't Need Hunting Limits

By Travis Sanford
Courthouse News Service

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Park Service does not have to protect desert tortoises with special hunting rules in the Mojave National Preserve, a federal judge ruled.

Finding that the agency took the requisite "hard look" at the how a lack of special hunting regulations would impact the species, U.S. District Judge Hellen Huvelle said its decision was not arbitrary or capricious and dismissed the suit filed by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The Mojave population of desert tortoises has been protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1995. Hunting or intentional interference with the species is prohibited in its designated critical habitat and on federal lands.

PEER said that the restrictions were necessary to protect the tortoises from the impact of hunting other species in the preserve, which allegedly increased the chances that tortoises would be crushed by cars, startled by gun fire or accidentally shot. The group further argued that the small-game hunting reduced the aesthetic experience of observing tortoises in their natural habitat.

When the Park Service developed its original management plant to protect tortoises in the 1.6 million acre preserve, it included a moratorium during the tortoises' most active period between March and September on any hunting besides big game.

Though the federal law that created the Mojave Preserve requires buy in from the California Department of Fish and Game, the department declined to adopt the moratorium and the Park Service implemented the management plan without it.

PEER petitioned the service in June of 2002 to reinstate the originally proposed hunting restrictions. The Park Service finally denied the petition in October 2010, leading PEER filed suit for an unreasonable eight-year delay.

The service recognized that it had changed its position on the hunting regulations but argued that no evidence had emerged to show that the tortoises had been harmed by small-game hunting in the preserve in the years since the threatened listing.

It also said that the original recommendations were based on inferences made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about the potential impact of hunting rather than on any scientific studies specific to the tortoises in the preserve.

Appealing the denial of its petition, PEERS moved for summary judgment to implement the restrictions. It claimed that the service's decision constituted an arbitrary and capricious decision in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.

Huvelle dismissed both claims, however, saying that the PEER suit rested on the assumption that the Park Service's previous inclusion of hunting restrictions in the original management plan showed that it believed the environmental impact of hunting was indeed significant.

"However, the portions cited do not demonstrate that NPS [the National Park Service] in fact found significant environmental impacts, as plaintiff contends, but rather reflect defendants' policy judgment in response to inconclusive data," Huvelle wrote, referring to PEER's citation of the original management plan.

"The problem is that, in 1994, there was little evidence that small game hunting was in fact a significant threat to tortoise mortality and, today, despite efforts to improve monitoring and survey techniques, there is still a paucity of data showing that small game hunting impacts desert tortoises," she added.

Park Service made a "reasoned" response to PEER's petition, consulting extensive records consulted on the maiming or injury of every tortoise in the preserve, the court found.

"Ultimately, the record shows that defendants have satisfied their burden; they have taken a 'hard look' at the impact of not enacting the special hunting regulations and have made a determination, which is supported by the record, that this decision will not have a significant environmental impact," Huvelle wrote.

December 7, 2011

Zombie Water Projects (Just when you thought they were really dead...)

The Cadiz groundwater mining project

Peter Gleick, Contributor
CEO Pacific Institute

Zombies are big business, in more ways than one. Zombie books, movies, costumes, make-up, computer games, and more are probably worth billions to our economy, not to mention the value of extra sales of axes, chainsaws, and shotguns to people who never hunt or cut down trees.

But not all zombies are fictional, and some are potentially really dangerous – at least to our pocketbooks and environment. These include zombie water projects: large, costly water projects that are proposed, killed for one reason or another, and are brought back to life, even if the project itself is socially, politically, economically, and environmentally unjustified.

The Cadiz groundwater mining project is one zombie water project that has been beaten down for a variety of reasons but keeps rearing its ugly head.

An effort to turn a public water resource into a private good is the Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project (or the Cadiz groundwater mining project). This project is the brainchild of another private investment group and hopes to mine groundwater from an aquifer located in the eastern Mojave Desert in San Bernardino County.

This project is unsustainable: it takes more groundwater out than nature recharges. Over time, this will result in disappearance of surface springs and ephemeral water in desert lake beds, and a declining groundwater level. In other words, the project exchanges public goods for private gain.

An earlier version of the project, not much different from the current one, was killed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California because of environmental and economic concerns, but like a water zombie, Cadiz has come back to life.

A new draft Environmental Impact Statement has just been released, but beware: it is 305 megabytes in size, which makes it pretty much impossible for normal citizens to download it and read it to find out if it needs to be tackled with an axe or a chainsaw.

There are many smart water investments to be made, in industrial and agricultural water-efficiency technologies, better wastewater treatment plants capable of producing the highest quality waters, improved piping and distribution systems, lower energy desalination systems, improved monitoring tools, low-water-using crop types, and much more. But wasting precious time and scarce money on a water zombie will not lead to a sustainable water future.

Keep those chainsaws lubed and fueled.

December 5, 2011

Desert preservationist Hughes dies

Pioneering Inland-area environmentalist Elden Hughes outstretches his arms while saying, "What a beautiful day" in 2009. (FILE PHOTO)

David Danelski

Elden Hughes, dubbed by many the “John Muir of the desert” for his work to preserve wild lands, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 80.

Mr. Hughes spent years exploring and documenting the wonders of the Mojave Desert and other pristine areas, convincing policy makers that such places should be preserved forever.

His work spurred passage of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994, which created the 1.6-million-acre Mojave National Preserve in San Bernardino County. It was a key part of his work that earned the comparison with Muir, the naturalist whose work helped establish the Yosemite and Sequoia national parks.

“Elden Hughes dedicated his life to the protection and revival of our great Mojave Desert and its tortoises,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, in a prepared statement.

“I'll never forget when he brought a couple of tortoises to a large constituent breakfast and the amazed and glowing faces of youngsters when he told them they live for decades, “ added Feinstein, who sponsored the legislation.

“He was just a lover of life, smart and witty, and a great singer and guitar player,” said David Myer, a friend of Mr. Hughes and executive director of The Wildlands Conservancy, based in Oak Glen. “He just had a zest for life that was even endearing for his opponents, and that zest was a great asset for his promoting the environment.”

Mr. Hughes’ wife Patty said Monday that Mr. Hughes had been battling prostate cancer and recently suffered from severe back pain. He died early Sunday at their home in Joshua Tree.

“I take joy in knowing that he is no longer suffering,” she said.

In a 2009 interview, Mr. Hughes took insisted on taking a reporter to the remote Sheephole Pass in the hills east of Twentynine Palms. He gestured in the gusting wind toward his legacy that stretched as far as the eye could see.

Beyond a vast valley and bright-white Bristol Dry Lake, the jagged horizon was defined by the successive peaks of the Marble, Clipper and Providence mountains — ranges now preserved in the federal legislation he fought for.

“It's just glorious,” said the large man with a white beard wearing a red polo shirt. “You can see the bare bones of the earth sticking through, and it is huge.”

Appreciating the desert takes a certain mindset, Mr. Hughes said later that day.

“You must get past the color green,” said Mr. Hughes, quoting the late writer Wallace Stegner. “And you must get used to an inhuman scale.”

Mr. Hughes was first moved by the desert in the late 1930s, when his mother, Ruby, took him camping in Palm Canyon near Palm Springs and to Death Valley, he said in 2009.

He grew up on a cattle ranch in Whittier and took horseback rides between his home and Huntington Beach and he saw urban sprawl slowly consume the hills and fields.

In the late 1940s, he drove on dirt roads to visit what is now Joshua Tree National Park. In his younger days, he was an avid river rafter, caver and camper.

By the 1980s, as he pursued a career as a computer systems designer and salesman, he was chairman of Sierra Club’s California/Nevada Desert Committee and working hard to preserve pristine public lands.

In 1987, he and his wife embarked on one their most influential projects: a two-year campaign to have documented in photographs 116 desert areas they and their cohorts believed should be protected. The effort produced a series of photo albums presented to decision-makers in Congress.

After years of hearings and debate, the California Desert Protection Act, protecting more than 6 million areas of California desert, squeaked through Congress in the fall of 1994. He and his wife took five baby desert tortoises to the Oval Office when President Bill Clinton signed the bill.

In recent years, Mr. Hughes spoke up against placing a large-scale solar energy project on Mojave Desert lands providing habitat for the desert tortoise, an iconic species listed as threatened with extinction. There is just as much sunshine for such a project on played-out farms and other less pristine properties throughout the region, he argued.

Mr. Hughes is also survived by his sons, Mark, Paul, and Charles, and three grandchildren. A memorial service is pending.

Myer said Mr. Hughes had asked him to scatter his ashes on top of Navajo Mountain in Utah, a task that will involve traveling 50 miles via boat and 10 more miles on foot.

November 29, 2011

Finding a fix for dying Salton Sea

After years of inaction by state, lawmaker wants to put regional group at helm

Pelicans fly to Mullet Island, one of the four Salton Buttes, small volcanoes on the southern San Andreas Fault, after sunset on July 2 near Calipatria. Scientists say Mullet Island, the only place for many thousands of island-nesting birds to breed at the Salton Sea, will become vulnerable to attacks by predators such as raccoons and coyotes if the water level drops just a couple more feet. (David McNew/Getty Images)

Marcel Honoré
The Desert Sun

NORTH SHORE — As state lawmakers held their first summit in more than four years on the looming death of the Salton Sea, Sonia Herbert gazed out the window at the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club marina, where squawking seabirds swooped across the glassy sea surface, fishing for tilapia.

Like most of the 60 people who attended Monday's hearing, Herbert, who has lived in Bombay Beach since the 1970s, fears the worst: that time is running out on efforts to repair the sea and sustain its wildlife, and that overwhelming public health and economic crises will follow.

“All we've seen is studies, studies, studies and nothing has been done,” a visibly frustrated Herbert told Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez and two Assembly budget committee members. “What's going to happen if we don't do something?”

The state remains broke, and its preferred $9 billion sea restoration plan has languished since 2007.

Sticker shock over the restoration cost has led to political paralysis, but Pérez, a Coachella Democrat whose district includes the sea, has called its restoration his top priority for the rest of his legislative tenure.

At the hearing, which Pérez's office organized, he listened to county supervisors, residents and environmental advocates call for the state to relinquish control and to let locals settle on the best plan to restore the sea and the best way to pay for it.

“The sea needs help and it needs it now. The answer isn't big brother riding to the rescue, because he's not coming. There is no rescue,” Imperial County Supervisor Gary Wyatt told Pérez and two other Assembly members, Republican Brian Jones of Santee and Democrat Richard Gordon of Menlo Park.

“We need to drive this train,” said Wyatt, quoting longtime Riverside County Supervisor Roy Wilson, who died in 2009.

Wyatt and others pushed public-private partnerships on new geothermal and solar energy projects at the sea as a realistic way to tap dollars for Salton Sea restoration.

Wyatt proposed taking a 7,000-acre former military test site at the sea's south shore, now controlled by the federal Bureau of Land Management, and converting it into a renewable energy depot that he said could provide 700 megawatts of power and produce at least $40 million a year in restoration funds.

Unlike redevelopment funds, that money would be exempt from state seizure, Wyatt said after the meeting.

“The interest is here, not there,” Riverside County Supervisor John Benoit said, referring to Sacramento. “What we need is the authority. If we fix this sea… the economic advantages to this area (are) nearly unlimited.”

Pérez said he hoped the hearing would help drum up support in the Legislature for his AB 939 bill, a proposal to switch the authority from the state's Salton Sea Restoration Council — a body that has never met — and place it in the hands of the local Salton Sea Authority, a joint-powers authority of the local counties and local water districts, along with some state presence.

“I'm optimistic that we can find a way if we work together and there's a political will from all levels of government including grassroots,” Pérez said. “Part of the reason why we have not been able to move forward is we're all moving in so many different directions. We need to find consensus to what the issues of the Salton Sea are.”

As runoff from irrigation and other water transfers evaporate, the Salton Sea's salinity has risen while its mass has shrunk. By the end of this decade, its retreat will be even more dramatic.

Created by flooding in 1905 and without a new source of water to replenish it, California's largest lake will grow uninhabitable to fish and the thousands of migratory birds that feed on them.

The exposed lakebed and the dust it generates could be disastrous in an area that already has one of the nation's highest rates for youth asthma, officials say. It also would damage agriculture and tourism.

State budget analysts at the hearing Monday reported that tens of millions of dollars in state bond funds from Propositions 50 and 84 have been spent on proposals for the sea's multi-billion-dollar fix, though exactly where the money went wasn't made clear.

“We've spent more than half our bond money … We don't have much to show for it, frankly,” said Kimberley Delfino, California program director of the national nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife.

“This is shameful and frightening,” Delfino said. “When you've lost 95 to 98 percent of the wetlands in California, the birds don't have any other place to go. The situation at the Salton Sea is grim and the stakes are high. We need a new governance structure, now. There isn't a lot of time left.”

As for the immediate next step, Pérez said he hopes for a meeting between Defenders of Wildlife, the Salton Sea Authority, the state's Legislative Analyst's Office, and other stakeholders.

“The sea still has its strong supporters, fighters and believers,” Wyatt said. “There are ways to make the revenues happen.”

November 23, 2011

Interior Reverses Course: No Shooting Restrictions

Paul Bedard
Washington Whispers

In a major victory for gun owners, hunters, and conservationists, the Interior Department today reversed course and junked its plan to tighten shooting restrictions on western lands, which could have put areas long used for target practice off limits.

Bowing to complaints from a special advisory committee made up of conservation and hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited, Cabela's, and the National Wildlife Foundation, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar today told the Bureau of Land Management, which manages 245 million acres of mostly wild western land, to stop drafting shooting rules.

"Based on feedback that members of the [advisory committee] have provided the BLM on the draft policy guidance, I am directing that the BLM take no further action to develop or implement the policy," wrote Salazar, himself a hunter and shooter and former Colorado senator and game official. [Check out new Debate Club about whether Congress needs to overhaul gun trafficking laws.]

Instead, he said in a letter to BLM, "The BLM shall continue to manage recreational shooting on public lands under the status quo in accordance with resource management and public safety considerations under existing authorities." Just the title alone of his letter made his point to BLM officials and the public: "Protecting Recreational Shooting Opportunities on Public Lands."

The issue of pushing shooters off some public lands where they have traditionally shot targets was a sensational one to gun rights groups and hunters. When Whispers first broke the story about the draft BLM plans, the story was headlined on the Drudge Report and Fox Nation. Officials conceded that the resulting pressure from gun owners who saw the Drudge and Fox report prompted them to clarify, and today end their efforts.

"BLM is not moving forward with the issue you wrote about," said an official. Instead, BLM land managers and not Washington will continue to use their existing authorities to work with communities and create land use plans where closure to shooting is a last resort. [Read about the subpoena issued as a result of Operation Fast and Furious.]

The issue of target practice put the BLM in the middle of traditional American gun rights and the rapid urbanization of once open public lands. Officials from BLM told Whispers that people moving in from more urban areas would "freak out" when walking in woods and hearing shots. Apparently, they also feared for their safety and BLM was working to draft a policy that soothed their concerns and also pleased hunters. Officials suggested that the end result would have been shooters being pushed a bit further away from urbanized areas near BLM lands, even provided with a guide to where they could shoot. They also assured hunters that access to public hunting lands would not be limited even under the draft rules.

But hunters and shooting groups saw it as a federal bid to clamp down on guns and shooting and they resisted. The advisory group, for example, assailed the draft policy.

In the end, they won. In his letter today, Salazar called hunting and shooting on public lands a national priority. He wrote: "It is a priority of the Department of the Interior to support opportunities for hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting on America's public lands. By facilitating access, multiple use, and safe activities on public lands, the Bureau of Land Management helps ensure that the vast majority of the 245 million acres it oversees are open and remain open to recreational shooting."

November 16, 2011

Cross shows up mysteriously, but briefly, on Mojave rock

By Henry Brean
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Mojave National Preserve - A white cross rose again this week over Sunrise Rock in California's Mojave National Preserve, briefly resurrecting a constitutional controversy over religious symbols on federal land.

It's unclear who put up the new cross, made of plastic pipe, or when, but the National Park Service removed it Tuesday from the rock 75 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Linda Slater, spokeswoman for the preserve, said park personnel had no choice but to take it down.

"We're under a court order prohibiting us from displaying a cross at Sunrise Rock," she said.

The legal fight dates back a decade now. The original cross goes back considerably further than that -- clear back to 1934, when a group of World War I veterans mounted a welded steel symbol atop Sunrise Rock as a memorial to fallen soldiers.

For decades, it served as a site for Easter Sunday services and the occasional veterans event. A handful of volunteers maintained -- and occasionally replaced -- the cross, which was damaged from time to time by vandals and the desert wind.

The Mojave Memorial Cross, as it came to be known, was still there in 1994 when the federal government declared the 1.6 million acres surrounding it a national preserve.

And the cross was still there in 1997 when a retired park service employee lodged a complaint about it because he considered it a government endorsement of Christianity.

A pair of lawsuits ensued, and the cross was cast into darkness, spending several years covered by boards like a roadside sign with no writing on it.

One of the lawsuits made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where in a 5-4 decision last year the justices ruled the symbol could stay while a lower court reconsidered the case.

Two weeks later, the original cross was stolen by still-unidentified vandals.

It was replaced days later by a replica cross, but the service quickly removed that one because the Supreme Court ruling applied only to the original disputed cross.

Wyn Hornbuckle, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, said the PVC pipe cross that showed up this week on Sunrise Rock was taken down for the same reason.

"The National Park Service removed the newly erected cross yesterday to comply with the court's existing injunction," he said in a statement.

Not everyone is satisfied with that answer.

Southern California resident William McDonald visits Mojave National Preserve several times a year and writes a blog about the desert under the name Morongo Bill.

He noticed the return of the cross on Monday and was watching from a distance as it was removed on Tuesday.

As far as he is concerned, this isn't about the separation of church and state; it's about the desecration of a war memorial that has been around for more than three quarters of a century.

"I'm a veteran, and I believe we don't know where we're going if we don't know where we've been," he said. "I feel so strongly about this (that) I think they should do an Occupy Sunrise Rock-type thing."

Hornbuckle said settlement talks are under way that could finally bring the legal fight over the cross to an end.

On Tuesday, the same day the latest replica cross was removed, a federal judge granted the parties involved in both lawsuits until Feb. 15 to hammer out a deal.

The most likely option is for the federal government to transfer ownership of Sunrise Rock to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in exchange for private land elsewhere in or around the preserve. Once the rock is in private hands, there would be nothing to prevent the placement of a memorial cross there.

As it now stands, erecting a cross or other religious symbol on Sunrise Rock is "technically illegal," Slater said.

Asked what would happen to the latest cross removed by the service, she said: "We'll put it in the evidence locker with the other one. What else would we do with it?"

November 12, 2011

County unveils new Route 66 historical markers

Route 66 Ambassador Terry Kafides, foreground applauds as 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt unveils new San Bernardino County Route 66 signs along National Trails Highway. The county has the longest continuous paved stretch of the original highway in the country, and is beginning a project to post it with county highway signs. (JAMES QUIGG, DAILY PRESS)

Staff Reports
Victor Valley Daily Press

ORO GRANDE • In an effort to draw attention to the High Desert’s claim to the legendary Route 66, San Bernardino County is moving forward with a new historical sign marker program.

Friday marked the 85th anniversary of the storied thoroughfare, and 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt used the occasion to unveil the first sign marker at a dedication ceremony on National Trails Highway in Oro Grande, just north of the Mojave River Bridge.

“Marking County Route 66 is one of several steps I am planning to celebrate, promote and protect this road and to make county highways more user-friendly,” Mitzelfelt said in a statement.

More than 250 miles of the iconic highway runs the length of San Bernardino County from Needles through Upland. More signs will be placed at various intervals along the route, starting with heading north of Oro Grande onto Main Street in Barstow. The sign program will then head east on Interstate 40, north on Nebo Street near Barstow, east on National Trails Highway and north on Goffs Road to its junction with Highway 95.

Cultural and historic sites along this alignment include the City of Barstow and the communities of Daggett, Newberry Springs, Ludlow, Amboy, Cadiz, Chambless, Essex and Goffs, as well as the Mojave National Preserve. This alignment can be expanded to include additional portions of or the entire Route 66 at a later date. The remainder of the signs on this first leg will be installed by the end of December.

Mitzelfelt is contributing $45,000 for the program through some of the last of his office’s discretionary funds, with that pot of money no longer unavailable to supervisors. Mitzelfelt said he initiated the marker program after seeing its effectiveness in other counties.

The county’s Route Marker Program is the first to be added in the state since 1983, according to Mitzelfelt’s office. The California County Route Marker Program was established in 1958 to mark county routes of major importance and public interest that are constructed and marked to sufficient safety standards. San Bernardino County is the 43rd of California’s 58 counties to participate in the program.

November 9, 2011

BLM testing camouflage to hide new energy structures

$90,000 design paid for with federal stimulus funds

A camoflage pattern that the BLM tested this fall, simulated on a natural gas compressor station near Parachute, Colorado. (Guy Cramer)

By Mary Catherine O'Connor

In an effort to reduce our reliance on non-renewable and foreign energy sources, the government wants the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to boost the amount of renewable energy development it permits on public lands. That means we’ll be seeing more wind turbines and solar panels as we ply the nation’s wide swaths of public lands, especially in the mountain west.

There’s not much that can be done to lessen the visual impact these energy generators will make on the landscape. But the BLM is trying to lessen the visual punch that the many maintenance buildings and other ancillary structures, used to support these power stations, will pack, reports High Country News.

Near Rifle, Colorado, the BLM recently completed a series of tests to gauge the effectiveness of different paint applications to camouflage these outbuildings. To help create the designs, the agency turned to landscape architects, an engineering and design firm and camouflage-design experts who usually help the Department of Defense conceal its soldiers and buildings.

The desired aesthetic isn’t a huge jump from the BLM’s existing color scheme of green grays and browns–well, except that the agency has to completely reverse its approach of using monotones and instead use a series of layered hues, applied through stenciling. The secret sauce is in blending the palette in a manner that blends into the surrounding fauna, which can actually range widely, from “mountain meadow, sub-alpine conifer woodland and sub-alpine aspen, to sagebrush steppe, scrub oak and piñon-juniper,” writes HCN’s Kimberly Hirai.

The trick to good camo, she writes, is not just visual, but also pshycologiocal [sic]. The patterns that the BLM tested combine large and smaller designs in differing hues. The design needs natural geometric shapes that echo those in the background in order to trick the eye. Our brains register these shapes in the background and have already “catalogued” them by the time the camouflage enters our field of vision.

Funding for the camo project — specifically the $90,000 needed to hire the design engineering firm — came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Reducing the scenic impact of buildings associated with renewable energy development on public lands is just one part of a larger mitigation effort to reduce the negative effects of such programs. And it’s also rather simple compared to trying to resolve issues such as solar panel farms harming desert tortoise populations or turbines linked to avian mortality.

November 7, 2011

Highway 395 promoted as Three Flags Highway

Historians work to revive 'Mother Road of the West'

Natasha Lindstrom
Victor Valley Daily Press

It's not nearly as famous as Route 66, but Highway 395 — sometimes called the "Mother Road of the West" — carries its own historical weight.

In the 1930s, Southern Californians dubbed the thoroughfare the Three Flags Highway for linking Mexico, the United States and Canada.

During World War II, Highway 395 provided military convoys with a safe alternative to coastal roads deemed vulnerable to attack.

Even today, the Three Flags Highway offers a scenic ride isolated from the heavy traffic clogging routes through Los Angeles.

The Historic Route 395 Association in Southern California is now trying to revive the Three Flags name as part of an effort to preserve the vintage motor courts, gas stations, restaurants and signs that still dot the old route, which once stretched from the San Diego Bay near the California-Mexico border to the Canadian border in Washington state.

“For the High Desert, it allowed the tourist industry to come up through the Cajon Pass and to explore the Eastern Sierras,” said Jeffrey Harmon, founding member of the 395 association, “and it also provided the only north-to-south route for commercial traffic on the eastern side of the Sierras.”

In June 2008, the California Legislature unanimously approved designating Highway 395 as a historic route from San Diego to the Oregon state line. But legislators left it up to cities and community organizations to pay for putting up historic markers and promoting the designation.

“Everything south of Hesperia has been reassigned to either city streets or completely disappeared all together,” Harmon said. “That history is important to preserve.”

Tracing the thorough fare’s pre-1948 route, the association has already installed about 100 signs in Riverside and San Diego counties, slowly making its way toward San Bernardino County and the Cajon Pass. The group is giving talks at community events to spread the word and accepting donations to put up more signs, which cost about $70 each.

“We’re doing what we can to get people to slow down, get off that interstate, just take a drive on Highway 395,” he said. “It’s just such a beautiful route.”

Meanwhile, locals continue to wait on a Highway 395 realignment that’s been in talks for decades and other improvements to make it safer to travel the local stretch of the 395.

November 6, 2011

Oasis or mirage? Company wants to tap Mojave water

Conservationists worry about the impact of mining the aquifer

Seth Shteir, a California Desert Field Representative for the National Parks Conservation Association, points out features in the Mojave National Preserve near Kelso, Calif., on Oct. 19. By tapping into an aquifer the size of Rhode Island under a 35,000-acre Cadiz ranch, proponents say they can supply 400,000 people with drinking water in only a few years. Conservationists, however, are concerned. (Chris Carlson / AP)

The Associated Press and MSNBC

CADIZ, Calif. — Off historic Route 66 in the heart of the California desert the barren landscape of dry scrub and rock abruptly gives way to an oasis of tall green trees heavy with lemons and grape vines awaiting next month's harvest.

Some believe this lush farm in the unlikeliest of places also sits atop a partial solution to Southern California's water woes.

By tapping into an aquifer the size of Rhode Island under the 35,000-acre Cadiz ranch, proponents say they can supply 400,000 people with drinking water in only a few years.

If the plan sounds familiar, it is. A decade ago, Los Angeles' Metropolitan Water District narrowly rejected it when it faced widespread environmental opposition. A scaled back version has resurfaced with a greener pitch, momentum from five water agencies and what the company claims is better science to win over skeptics.

"Do we need additional water supplies? Yes. Do we need groundwater storage? Yes," said Winston Hickox, a Cadiz board member who headed the California Environmental Protection Agency. "The question is 'OK, environmental community, what are your remaining concerns?' I don't know."

But conservationists including the Sierra Club remain worried. Critics say the company has misrepresented the size of the aquifer and that mining it could harm the threatened desert tortoise, bighorn sheep, as well as the nearby Mojave National Preserve which has some of the densest and oldest Joshua tree forests in the world. Concerns over rare desert species were also echoed by state Department of Fish and Game biologists in March.

Conservationists also worry tampering with an aquifer in a place where water is so scarce could cause dust storms.

"There's a lot of unknowns here but we think this project has the potential to adversely affect air quality, draw down water resources and alter the flow of groundwater beneath the Mojave Preserve," said Seth Shteir with the National Parks and Conservation Association, which plans to scrutinize an environmental review of the project, expected to be released this month.

Groundwater has long played a part in the West's age-old water wars, which are increasingly being waged underground. These large unseen reserves of underground water nourish a place that would appear to most observers as dead.

California has few regulations when it comes to groundwater pumping, according to Carolyn Remick, who heads the Berkeley Water Center at the University of California. Consequently it is often weaker local agencies that largely oversee such extraction, leading to a raft of problems ranging from groundwater contamination to over-pumping and ground sinking.

Last year a conservation group sued the state water board in an effort to force the agency to regulate groundwater pumping that has depleted Northern California's Scott River, threatening salmon populations. In arid Kern County, north of the Mojave Preserve, a local water utility filed suit against wealthy farming interests claiming their enormous withdrawals of water lowered the water table and caused service disruptions.

Cadiz officials say they are aware of the concerns and promise an extensive monitoring system. The water in question begins in springs high atop desert mountains and travels under the Cadiz ranch before it resurfaces in dusty lake beds dozens of miles away where it evaporates.

The plan could cost as much as $225 million to sink 34 wells into the desert and build a 44-mile pipeline along a railroad right-of-way that intersects with the Colorado River Aqueduct.

In dry years, water would be pumped to burgeoning communities in Southern California. During years with above-average rainfall, Colorado River water could be pumped to the aquifer for storage. Proponents say the water would offer a much-needed alternative to boost supplies in a region hard hit with water cutbacks during the state's recent three-year drought.

For years the project was led by a colorful British businessman, Los Angeles-based Cadiz founder Keith Brackpool, who has since taken a more behind-the-scenes role. Brackpool, who also heads the California Racing Board, has deep political connections, contributing to past gubernatorial candidates, serving as a water consultant to former Gov. Gray Davis and whose company once employed Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as a consultant.

Brackpool, however, became something of a distraction when it was revealed by the Los Angeles Times that years earlier he pleaded guilty in London to criminal charges that included dealing in securities without a license and that his expertise before becoming the governor's water consultant was overseeing a food company. His company reports having $145 million in assets, but generated revenue of just $1 million last year. It also is being investigated by shareholders unhappy with recent executive bonuses.

Brackpool, through a company spokesman, refused repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press. Cadiz ranch is the company's only water project.

The Cadiz proposal was rejected in early 2000 by the Metropolitan Water District in part after conservationists raised concerns over possible environmental damage. A scaled-back version resurfaced in 2008 with a new spokesman, Scott Slater, a new greener pitch that they were conserving water that would otherwise evaporate and new studies that showed how much water they could safely pump.

"We're not taking water from anyone," Slater said. "It sincerely is depriving only the atmosphere of water that would actually evaporate."

Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called the proposal "a path-breaking, new, sustainable groundwater conservation and storage project." But Sen. Dianne Feinstein called it a "serious threat to the desert" in a 2008 letter to the Department of the Interior, potentially depleting water supplies which plants and wildlife rely upon for survival

Since 2010, the Santa Margarita Water District, Three Valleys Water District, Golden State Water Company, Suburban Water Systems and Jurupa Community Services District entered into agreements with Cadiz to receive water. These agencies supply water to parts of Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County and eastern San Gabriel Valley.

The company has invested $7 million in hiring top-flight consultants to study the science behind the project and in drilling wells. Cadiz also put together a panel of experts who reviewed the project and recently deemed it safe.

A comprehensive environmental report is expected to be released this month and if the project clears all required permits, the districts hope to get water within two years.

And if voters approve a $11 billion water bond measure intended to rebuild California's crumbling water system and fund new dams, water districts may apply for public funds available for new infrastructure to save up the precious resource for dry years. Schwarzenegger signed the bond bill in 2009, but it won't become law unless voters approve it a year from now next November.

John Schatz, Santa Margarita's general manager, calls the new vision a "conservation project," but he acknowledged potential hurdles in selling the greener pitch.

"We don't have any illusions that there may be some issues with environmental groups and what's happened in the past," he said.

October 28, 2011

Windmilling, a Dying Art, Hangs on in Texas

Mike Crowell, a third-generation windmiller, works on a windmill near Claude in the Texas Panhandle. (photo by: Axel Gerdau)
by Kate Galbraith
The Texas Tribune

CLAUDE — Working 35 feet above the flat earth of the Panhandle, a young man in a baseball cap loosened the bolts attaching a windmill to a steel tower.

“Ready?” came the shout from the ground. “Yeah, go ahead,” he hollered back. Slowly, the 500-pound windmill was lowered to the ground. A four-man crew expertly dismantled the wheel and replaced the motor, which had stopped working after it ran out of oil, and within an hour the windmill was hoisted back up and ready to spin.

“This is kind of hard to do when it’s windy,” said Mike Crowell, the crew’s 59-year-old boss, who said his crews sometimes work on as many as nine windmills each day.

Only a few dozen outfits like Crowell’s still exist in the Texas Panhandle, practicing the dying art of “windmilling” — fixing the old-style whirligigs that pump water from the aquifers. Windmills were crucial to 19th-century settlers of West Texas and the Great Plains because little surface water existed. Now, thousands of them — far smaller than the giant electricity-producing turbines that have sprouted around West Texas in recent years — still twirl in remote pastures. The windmills go where electricity cannot reach and cattle need to drink, though cheaper solar pumps are starting to push them out.

“Obama wants everybody to go green,” said Bob Bracher, the president of Aermotor Windmill, a company that has manufactured windmills for more than 100 years and still makes a few thousand of them each year in a warehouse in San Angelo. “Well, hell, we’ve been green since 1888.”

Much has changed since then. Now, some of Bracher’s sales go to what he calls the “enthusiasts’ market,” meaning people who want a windmill simply for its iconic look.

But the windmiller profession, celebrated by novelists like Larry McMurtry and Annie Proulx, still hangs on in remote corners of Texas. Crowell’s family has been working on windmills since 1896, when his grandfather traded 60 horses for a rig to drill wells. He learned the trade from his father and uncle, and now his two sons, both in their 20s, have joined the business. He has high hopes for his five grandsons, who occasionally come to watch the work.

“Some of the best features of being a windmill man is we go out on places that only a cowboy will see once in awhile,” said

Crowell, who sometimes works in the scenic Palo Duro Canyon as well as on vast ranches that have 80 or more windmills apiece.

But windmilling can be difficult and dangerous. Crowell needed stitches after another worker atop a windmill dropped a hammer on his head. Work goes on year-round, despite occasionally ferocious winds and ice storms, because if a windmill has stopped pumping water, cattle can die.

“It takes a certain kind of person to be able to stand that type of work environment,” Crowell said.

This year, the weather has brought extreme heat and drought — which has meant boom times for both Aermotor and Crowell Water Well Service, Crowell’s company. Desperate for new sources of water, Texas ranchers have drilled more wells and ordered more windmills.

“We have been very busy this summer because there’s no surface water, and the cattle sure need to drink somewhere,” Mr. Crowell said.

Now, however, things have gotten so bad that ranchers have sold huge numbers of cattle, so business is likely to slow during the winter.

“When there’s no grass and no cattle, there’s no need for water out of windmills,” Bracher of Aermotor said.

Windmills also face a competitive threat from solar pumps, which have recently made significant inroads. Crowell says he spends about 70 percent of his time on windmills but also works on solar pumps, which he began seeing in the Panhandle in the late 1990s.

“Nearly every rancher I know is contemplating going solar,” said Delbert Trew, who ranches on rolling prairie about 40 miles east of Claude, Crowell’s base. He got rid of three windmills about five years ago — they were too expensive to maintain, he said — and bought a solar-powered pump from an Oklahoma company called Robison Solar Systems.

Bill Hoots, a sales executive at Robison, said that things have been “extremely, extremely busy” until recently, though they are now slowing as in the windmill business as ranchers sell off cattle. Dan Prangsgaard, a spokesman for Grundfos, a Danish pump manufacturer, said that growth in the solar pump business has almost tripled in the last two to three years.

Windmills last about 60 years, longer than solar pumps, according to Brian Vick, the lead scientist for renewable energy at a federal agricultural research laboratory in the Panhandle community of Bushland. But windmills need more maintenance and the solar pumps — which are cheaper up front — are better matched to the summertime needs of cattle, he said, because August and September tend to have little wind and lots of sun.

“You have to haul some water out to the cattle during that period sometimes, especially if the winds are low,” Vick said.

Ranchers putting in windmills and solar pumps can get substantial subsidies via the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the federal Department of Agriculture. Under the N.R.C.S.’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Texas ranchers have recently been eligible for payments of about $6,000 for a solar pump installation atop a well that’s more than 300 feet deep, according to Troy Headings, a civil engineer in Amarillo with the N.R.C.S. The payment runs about $7,260 for a 10-foot diameter windmill, and the rationale, he said, is to make sure cattle graze the entire pasture, "rather than concentrating around one water source and completely denuding that area of grass."

The federal program can cover about 40 to 60 percent of the installed cost of a windmill or solar pump, according to Mr. Crowell.

Will solar pumps ever eclipse windmills in West Texas? Vick, of the Bushland agricultural research laboratory, said that the windmills have “still got a pretty good future for another 20 or 30 years or so.”

Plenty of ranchers still swear by the machines, whose design has changed little in a century.

Rocky Farrar, a rancher near Canadian, has about 15 windmills on his land, and although he installed a solar pump a few months ago, he still hasn’t turned it on.

“I’m just not ready to do that,” Farrar said. “I don’t know why.” He said he loves the sound of the windmills, which have given him little maintenance trouble over the years.

“I think as long as you have any old-school people left,” Farrar said, “you’re going to have windmills.”

October 27, 2011

Huge solar power plants are blooming in California's southern deserts

By Dana Hull
San Jose Mercury News

MOJAVE DESERT -- At first glance, California's vast Mojave Desert seems barren: mile after mile of dust, sand and scrubby creosote bush under a blistering sun. But the huge desert, which spans an area larger than West Virginia, is becoming speckled with gigantic solar power plants that are creating hundreds of construction jobs and, when complete, will generate electricity for millions of homes.

California's solar Gold Rush is under way, fueled by billions of dollars of federal stimulus funding and a new state law that requires utilities to buy a third of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. While the collapse of Fremont solar manufacturer Solyndra has dominated the news in recent weeks because it received a $535 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy, several other solar companies that received loan guarantees appear to be thriving.

The project furthest along is BrightSource Energy's Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System, which has been under construction for one full year and is currently being built on federal land near the California-Nevada border with the help of a $1.6 billion loan guarantee. BrightSource, which is based in Oakland, uses mirrors to concentrate the sun and turn turbines that generate electricity. When complete in 2013, Ivanpah will be the largest solar thermal power plant in the world, generating enough electricity for 140,000 homes.

Currently, more than 800 construction workers are on the sprawling 3,600-acre site, which covers an area half the size of Los Gatos. The steel shell of a massive tower that eventually will be taller than coastal redwood trees is rising from the dust near a parking lot filled with cars, trucks and construction vehicles. Most of the workers arrive before dawn to beat the searing late-afternoon heat, and engineering managers pore over plans in air-conditioned trailers.

Ivanpah is one of nine solar thermal power plants approved by the California Energy Commission last year. In addition, scores of other solar projects are in the pipeline. In August, the federal Bureau of Land Management was processing applications for 17 solar power plants in California's deserts.

Solar currently accounts for less than 1 percent of the state's electricity, most of which comes from natural gas, two nuclear power plants and hydropower. But advocates -- including Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown -- want solar to play a key role in the state's energy future, in part because each project generates hundreds of construction jobs. Brown hopes to add 20,000 megawatts of renewable generation -- about one-third of the state's current power needs -- to California's electric grid by the end of the decade.

"We use a lot of energy in California, and we have aspirations to electrify our vehicle fleet, our ports and to develop high-speed rail," said Commissioner Karen Douglas of the California Energy Commission. "We need significant amounts of utility-scale renewable electricity."

Public land at risk?

However, critics and grass-roots organizations such as Solar Done Right fear the West's last remaining tracts of pristine public lands are being industrialized by "Big Solar" in the name of clean energy, bringing irreparable harm to native plants and threatened species. They want "smart from the start" planning that allows renewable energy development in some parts of the desert while protecting the rest as conservation land. They want residents in the Bay Area and elsewhere to know that California's deserts are as beloved to some residents as its beaches, parks and redwood trees are to others.

"There's plenty of desert out there -- just put it in the right place," said Jim Lyons, senior director for renewable energy at Defenders of Wildlife, a national organization that opposes the proposed 4,613-acre Calico Solar Project east of Barstow because of its effects on desert tortoises, burrowing owls and bighorn sheep. "It's a lot like real estate: location, location, location."

Solar's potential

The Ivanpah facility embodies many of the hopes and fears of solar power plants in the desert. It will generate 370 megawatts of electricity, which BrightSource says will displace 13.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the plant's 30-year life. Google (GOOG) has invested $168 million in the project, while PG&E and Southern California Edison have signed long-term contracts to purchase the electricity.

"Solar thermal technology projects like Ivanpah are playing a vital role in helping us meet our state renewable goals while providing for a secure and sustainable energy future," Fong Wan, senior vice president for energy procurement at PG&E, said in a statement.

Unlike rooftop solar panels that directly convert sunlight into electricity, solar thermal plants concentrate the sun's rays with mirrors or lenses to boil water to create steam; the steam then turns turbines that generate electricity. Ivanpah consists of three separate power plants, each with a 459-foot-tall "power tower" and tens of thousands of mirrorlike "heliostats" -- 173,500 in all. While land has been cleared for the construction site, BrightSource has taken pains to leave much of the native vegetation intact. Thousands of pylons protrude from the ground amid vegetation that has been trimmed, but not plowed.

"This has the lowest environmental impact of any project in solar," BrightSource CEO John Woolard said in remarks to media members who toured the project. "We're using a minimal amount of water, and there is low impact on the soil and terrain."

But Jim Andre, a botanist and plant ecologist at UC Riverside, says native plants will not survive under the newly created shade.

"You're altering the conditions that the species have evolved in," he said. "It goes against conservation biology 101."

Concern about tortoise

The biggest environmental controversy at Ivanpah is the endangered desert tortoise. Though BrightSource expects to spend at least $45 million on everything from salaries for biologists to the purchase of thousands of acres of conservation habitat, activists worried about the tortoise protested outside the company's Oakland headquarters.

While alienating some environmentalists, Big Solar has many supporters among the ranks of the state's unemployed. Ivanpah is a welcome source of jobs in San Bernardino County, which has been hit hard by the housing crash.

Iraq War veterans Ross Bowlin and Kenneth Platten carpool more than 200 miles from their homes near Riverside to get to Ivanpah, and they share an inexpensive hotel room in Nevada during the workweek. Both obtained their jobs via "Helmets to Hardhats," an apprentice program that helps veterans transition to careers in the construction trades.

"Before this job I had no construction experience at all, and I was on unemployment for a while," said Bowlin, a former Marine who served two stints in Iraq. "But this job reminds me of being in the military, in that we have a job that's bigger than ourselves. We're facing an energy crisis."

Platten, who served in the Army, misses the adrenaline rush of war but says the sheer scale of Ivanpah gives him a different kind of thrill. The good wages -- about $35 an hour -- help make up for the long drive. In addition, he's used to the desert heat: The deserts of Iraq are even hotter than the Mojave.

"We're building the biggest solar thermal power plant in the world," he said, as he surveyed the power tower. "To see this going up is amazing. I can look out and know that I hauled some of that iron, and that's cool."

Sprouting like weeds

Ivanpah is not BrightSource's only project. The company has filed applications with the California Energy Commission to build two other large solar power plants: the 500-megawatt Hidden Hills project, in California's Inyo County, and the 750-megawatt Rio Mesa project in Riverside County.

"There's so many companies submitting plans and filing for permits that it's hard to keep track," said Laura Cunningham of Basin and Range Watch, a volunteer group fighting "energy sprawl."

"You basically have a few dozen activists trying to protect this huge desert," she said. "Each solar project is on a different type of ecosystem, and there hasn't been a lot of planning. It's been, 'There's sun, let's build a power plant.' "

Cunningham grew up in the Bay Area and moved to a rural mining town in southern Nevada 10 years ago. A biologist and reptile expert, she has grown to love the desert, and the sense of calm and wonder it inspires.

"You can go into the desert and feel like you are the only person in the world," she said. "And yet it's teeming with life: jack rabbits, burrowing owls, rattlesnakes. In the spring, we have the most spectacular wildflowers, and the whole desert erupts in blossoms."

Conservation plan

In an effort to resolve conflicts between solar companies and conservationists, California is developing a Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan to decide which parts of the desert will be open for renewable energy development and which parts will be protected.

"Initially, all of these big solar projects were being crammed down our throats," said Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity who is active in the conservation plan's process. "But now the state is realizing that you can't just bully projects into being -- you have to take a close look at where they are sited. Climate change is real, and we have to transition to renewable energy. But let's do it without driving species to extinction."

October 22, 2011

Haenszel became 'the source' on San Bernardino County's past

Nick Cataldo, Columnist
San Bernardino Sun

During my years researching San Bernardino County's colorful past, more than a few historians have helped me out immensely. But without question the scholar who made local history the most exciting for me, not only through her own amazing work, but also through the encouragement she gave me, was the late Arda M. Haenszel.

Born on Sept. 24, 1910, in Ebenezer, N.Y., the only child of Dr. Allen and Arda C. Haenszel became fascinated with history early on when she moved with her parents to the semi-abandoned Nevada desert mining town of Searchlight in 1919. Dr. Haenszel was the company physician for the Santa Fe Railway as well as the lone town doctor. In fact, he was the only doctor for miles around.

The region's mining boom was over by nearly a decade, so young Arda grew up around the ghostly reminders of abandoned buildings, mine shafts, and rock dumps. This unique environment may have sparked her interest in the past.

The Haenszel family left Searchlight in 1922 and moved to San Bernardino, which is where Arda called home for most of the rest of her life, until moving to Redlands' Plymouth Village, where she resided during her last years.

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, Arda launched a 33-year elementary school teaching career in San Bernardino. No doubt, her kids learned a thing of two about our region's "olden days" during her tenure.

After her retirement in 1966, she often was honored as the No. 1 consultant on our county's rich heritage. A longtime associate of the San Bernardino County Museum, she amassed a famous set of files - an unbelievably extensive historical collection on any and every topic regarding San Bernardino County as well as parts of Southern Nevada - that have provided material for countless other researchers (including yours truly) in their quest of exploring this region. She efficiently and willingly shared information on local Indian tribes, old trails, pioneers, historic sites, nearly forgotten towns, the Mojave Desert ... the list goes on and on.

Arda also had a strong interest in archaeology and, although not blessed with great health, was no "couch potato" writer. Up until about 10 years before her passing, she always was driving her Jeep out into the most remote areas of the desert, photographing abandoned sites, documenting her findings, and analyzing ancient petroglyphs.

Over the years Arda wrote numerous articles pertaining to archaeology, paleontology, anthropology and history for the San Bernardino County Museum Association. She also wrote many articles for the San Bernardino Historical and Pioneer Society's publications, "Heritage Tales" and "Odyssey," an amazing accomplishment considering her busy schedule volunteering with the County Museum and San Bernardino Public Library. Even more remarkable was that this was mostly done while she was practically deaf and her vision was failing.

Arda was well known for her book donations; she is responsible for the creation of the California Room at San Bernardino's Feldheym Library.

For decades Arda Haenszel had been the "the source" for local history and when she passed away on Jan. 9, 2002, the 91-year-old San Bernardino County resident became part of that story she loved to research and write about.

Her estate included a very generous donation of $749,000 to the City of San Bernardino Library Endowment Fund. On Dec. 13, 2007, the San Bernardino Library Board of Trustees unanimously approved the naming of the California Room as the Arda Haenszel California Room.

September 28, 2011

David Myrick passes away at 93

David F. Myrick in Ojai in 2007. (The Guzzler)
A Talented and Extraordinary Man Passes On

James Buckley
Montecito Journal

Over the past weekend, Montecito lost a writer of renown, a native-born historian of unparalleled accomplishment, and most of all, a friend, supporter, and defender of all that is valuable in Montecito. David Myrick, whose two books on our area – Montecito and Santa Barbara: From Farms to Estates, and The Days of the Great Estates – stand as the definitive tomes on the establishment, expansion, and development of Santa Barbara and, especially and distinctly, Montecito.

Dana Newquist, with whom I had planned to visit David at Casa Dorinda on Sunday morning, September 25, called with the sad news the day before we were planning to stop by. Dana had been visiting David almost daily for the past six months and had noted that over the previous three days 93-year-old David Myrick had “dramatically declined.” He passed away at 10 am, Saturday morning, September 24. David’s nephew, Scott Allen, prepared the following obituary:

Santa Barbara News-Press

David F. Myrick was born in Santa Barbara's Cottage Hospital on June 17, 1918. His parents were Donald and Charlotte Porter Myrick. He was educated in local schools, the last being Crane Country Day School, until he transferred to Fountain Valley School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He then attended Santa Barbara State College for 2 years before going to Boston to attend Babson College where he earned his degree in business administration.

In 1940 he worked for Convair in San Diego in various clerical positions. Then in August of 1944 he began his long career working in the president's office of Southern Pacific Company at their headquarters in San Francisco. He put his business acumen to work composing letters to stockholders; representing the company in financial matters before various commissions; and researching potential mergers and acquisitions.

During his life he also found time to pen 17 books and approximately 140 published articles and book reviews. His special focus was writing about different locales, including Telegraph Hill (where he lived for 29 years during his career with Southern Pacific) and Montecito, CA (where he purchased his retirement home before moving there in 1981).

He also wrote extensively on the history of American railroads and mining camps in Eastern California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, including the most populated mining camp in the Western hemisphere located in Potosi, Bolivia.

Mr. Myrick was also on the board of directors for many associations--a few of them were the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, the Nevada Historical Society, Telegraph Hill Dwellers (two times) and the Montecito Association.

He eventually moved into Casa Dorinda Retirement Community in November of 2003 while retaining ownership of his Montecito home.

His was a member of the Bohemian Club and Birnham Wood Country Club.

Mr. Myrick is survived by his brother Richard Myrick; his sister Julia Allen; and her three sons Peter, Scott, and Edward Allen.

No one knew Western Railroad History better. He was a pleasant and generous correspondent. For the inhabitants and fans of the East Mojave Desert, from Tonopah to Parker, Oro Grande to Las Vegas, David Myrick's 1963 Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California: Volume II, The Southern Roads is the singular history on the region's railroads, referenced by all local historians after him. In this wonderful book can be found the detailed histories of the Atlantic & Pacific Railroad, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe (now BNSF), The Salt Lake Route, Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad, Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, Nevada Southern Railway, Ludlow and Southern Railway, Bullfrog Goldfield Railroad, and the Guzzler's favorite, the Searles Lake monorail of the Epsom Salts Railroad. The heritage of the Desert West has been greatly enriched by the life and work of David Myrick. - The Guzzler

September 15, 2011

San Bernardino County: Board considers new boundaries

Proposed San Bernardino County redistrict map. (San Bernardino County)

by Imran Ghori

San Bernardino County -- Supervisors will take up a redistricting ordinance today but remain split on the plan, which has drawn criticism from some mountain and Latino residents.

The board approved a draft proposal on a 3-2 vote last month at its fourth meeting since May on how to draw the county's supervisorial district boundaries.

The new map shifts parts of the San Bernardino Mountains -- from Lake Arrowhead to Running Springs -- from the 3rd District to the 2nd District.

The proposed map would also move Barstow, Lucerne Valley and Twentynine Palms from the 1st District to the 3rd District and half of Upland from the 2nd District to the 4th District.

The county's consultant, National Demographics Corp., recommended the option out of five maps considered as the best able to meet different county criteria.

Changing demographics from the 2010 census required the county to decrease the size of the High Desert 1st District, which saw the largest population increase, while adding to the 4th District, which needed to grow the most to ensure the districts are equally balanced, according to county spokesman David Wert.

Supervisor Neil Derry, who represents the 3rd District, voted against the plan along with 1st District Supervisor Brad Mitzelfelt. Both remain opposed.

Derry had proposed two alternatives that would move all of the San Bernardino Mountains into his district -- an option supported by a large group of mountain residents who spoke at the public hearings of wanting to unify the area under one district.

"The public has come out and spoken and been routinely ignored," Derry said of the plan favored by the board majority.

Board Chairwoman Josie Gonzales, who represents the 5th District, said she is satisfied that the plan is as fair as it can be given the different regulations governing redistricting.

"We go into the redistricting process knowing we're not going to make everybody happy; that includes ourselves, the supervisors," she said.

Gonzales said she believes the mountain area is better served by two representatives on the board instead of just one.

The plan also came under fire earlier this month from Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, who joined a Latino advocacy group in accusing the county of refusing to create a second Latino majority district.

County numbers, however, show that Hispanics would have a majority in two districts in the proposed plan -- 57 percent in the 4th District and 69 percent in the 5th District.

The group, the League of United Latin American Citizens Inland Empire chapter, held a news conference to criticize the county plan but did not contact county officials, Wert and Gonzales said.

"I'm at a loss as to why they've not contacted me or the CEO," Gonzales said. "We'd be happy to listen to them."

Gonzales sent a letter last week to Joe Olague, president of the group's Inland Empire chapter, inviting him to submit the group's proposed maps. In his response, Olague reiterated the group's criticisms but did not offer its maps.

Wert said the figures cited by the group in criticizing the Latino population represented in the districts are false.

The board meets at noon at the County Government Center at 385 N. Arrowhead Ave. in San Bernardino.

September 13, 2011

BLM rapped for silencing citizens

by David Danelski

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has decided to allow members of the public to speak during meetings held to gather public comments.

A brouhaha developed after an Aug. 31 meeting in Primm, Nev. The point of the meeting was to gather public input on environmental concerns related to a planned solar development. But people, some of whom drove hundreds of miles to express their views, were not allowed to speak and instead were told to write their thoughts on pieces of paper and submit them.

On Tuesday, after public criticism and media calls, BLM leadership decided to return to a process that lets people "listen to what each other has to say," said David Briery, a spokesman for the agency's California Desert District, headquartered in Moreno Valley.

"We thought we had a process that worked, but it didn't," he said by telephone.

At the Aug. 31 meeting, the BLM sought public input -- as required by federal law -- to identify topics to cover in environmental reviews of a planned 2,000-acre solar project on public land in northeast San Bernardino County.

But after representatives of Tempe, Ariz.-based First Solar gave a presentation about their plans, no one in the audience of about 50 people was allowed a turn at the microphone.

Instead, BLM officials told people they could fill out a form that gave them space for about 75 words of handwritten comments, said Chris Clarke, a Palm Springs resident and member of a group called Solar Done Right. He was among those who attended the meeting, at Primm Valley Golf Club.

Some audience members were flabbergasted and shouted at BLM officials. Dozens of people left frustrated, witnesses said.

"I had some people come from as far as Long Beach, and that's two tanks of gas," said David Lamfrom, California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "They gave the impression that a decision (on approving the project) was predetermined."

The meeting spurred official letters of complaint and critical Internet postings on media websites. First Solar responded to the flap by scheduling a meeting for Monday in Barstow to give people "an opportunity to provide input and ask questions about the project in an open forum discussion," according to a company email. The meeting is at 6 p.m. at the Hampton Inn, 2710 Lenwood Road.

The meeting format that last month irritated members of the public is not new.

In recent years, BLM officials considering solar and wind energy developments and military officials wanting to expand the Marine Corps training center at Twentynine Palms also have avoided giving the public a forum. People could walk from table to table to meet individually with various officials and were allowed to submit written comments. The meetings did not give people a chance to pick up a microphone and address an audience.

Briery, the BLM spokesman, said the Desert District officials adopted that meeting format because they had to get through numerous public meetings, a result of the dozens of wind and solar energy projects proposed on public land.

"We were looking for the most efficient way to get substantive comments from the public, and that's why we had gone to written comments only," Briery said.

Rob Mrowka, a former U.S. Forest Service manager who is now a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said some federal officials have been concerned that allowing people to speak at meetings might lead to grandstanding by those who could then encourage a crowd to become unruly.

But Mrowka, who attended the Aug. 31 meeting, faulted the BLM for not even letting people ask questions about the project.

"A large number of participants traveled great distances to the middle of nowhere for the meeting and deserved the right to have questions answered," he said in an email to BLM officials.

Clarke and other meeting participants said the BLM's meeting format suppressed public discourse, because no one could hear what other citizens had to say. The situation made it difficult for like-minded people to find each other and for those who may disagree about the project to find common ground, he said.

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, said citizens should be given a choice of speaking or submitting written comments.

"Sometimes freedom speech can be a little bit messy, but it benefits us in ways that outweigh the cost," he said.

September 10, 2011

Take a 'monumental' tour of Cajon Pass

Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument (

Mark Landis, Correspondent
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

For centuries, the Cajon Pass has been a primary corridor into Southern California, and a series of little-known monuments commemorate the pioneers who blazed the trails over the rugged mountain barrier.

There are nine unique monuments set in historic locations throughout the Cajon Pass. Each one tells a story of the hardships and triumphs faced by the pioneers who made the difficult journey.

The routes through the Cajon Pass began as simple footpaths used by Indians traveling from the inland deserts to the coastal regions of Southern California.

The first white explorer to travel through the Cajon Pass was most likely Spanish military Captain Pedro Fages in 1771, who was leading a band of soldiers hunting for deserters.

Other famous explorers including Padre Francisco Garces and mountain man Jedediah Strong Smith followed various routes through the Cajon Pass.

The most prominent group of settlers that traveled through the pass was a party of 500 Mormons who came by wagon train from Utah in June 1851. The task of hauling their heavy wagons down the steep slopes of the Cajon Pass was the final test of their grueling 400-mile journey.

The monuments are spread throughout the Cajon Pass, and all but three are easily accessible by car. Those that are accessible can be seen in an enjoyable afternoon road trip.

Stoddard-Waite Monument: The first monument set in the Cajon Pass was dedicated May 18, 1913 to commemorate the early pioneers who came by horseback and wagon train through the passage. Sheldon Stoddard and Sidney P. Waite, two of the most well-known pioneers who traveled through the pass in 1849 were honored attendees.

This spire-shaped monument, listed as California Historic Marker No. 578, was placed along the former Santa Fe/Salt Lake Trail. It is located in a thick grove of Cottonwood trees near the CHP truck scales on the southbound I-15, about three-quarters of a mile south of Highway 138. The monument is on private property owned by the San Bernardino County Museum, and is only accessible by special permission.

Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument: A second monument of similar size and shape was erected in 1917 just a few hundred yards northeast of the Stoddard-Waite Monument. A festive ceremony was held to dedicate the monument, once again attended by pioneers who had traveled the early wagon roads.

The concrete spire, listed as California State Historic Landmark No. 576, is located at the end of Wagon Wheel Road (south of McDonalds), just east of the northbound I-15 CHP truck scales.

Sycamore Grove Monument: This large spire-shaped monument was built in 1927 to mark the site of the 1851 Mormon camp at Sycamore Grove, known today as Glen Helen. The 500 Mormon settlers camped here while the leaders of their party negotiated the purchase of Rancho San Bernardino.

This monument, listed as California Historic Marker No. 573, is located just inside the grounds of Glen Helen Park, on Glen Helen Parkway, .8 mile south of Cajon Boulevard.

Mohave Trail Monument: The Mohave Trail Monument was set on Sept. 19, 1931, on a remote mountaintop northeast of Devore, fittingly named Monument Peak. This small stone and mortar monument was placed by the San Bernardino County Historical Society to commemorate the explorers and frontiersmen who traveled this ancient footpath.

A 4-wheel drive vehicle is required to reach the 5,290-feet elevation Monument Peak site. Take Palm Avenue north from the I-215 until the paved road ends and becomes Bailey Canyon Road. The 5.9-mile trip up the dirt road can be readily found on Google Maps. The monument is located at GPS coordinates: 34 14'43.95"N, 117 21'12.33"W.

Mormon Trail Monument: A modest stone and mortar monument topped by a wagon wheel was built in the West Cajon Valley by the Sons of Mormon Pioneers, and dedicated on May 15, 1937. A small, weathered plaque commemorates the Mormon settlers who passed through this area in 1851. The monument, listed as California Historic Marker No. 577, is located on Highway 138, 4.2 miles west of I-15.

Pioneer Women Monument: On April 16, 1977, this simple concrete and marble monument was placed near the former Mormon campsite of Sycamore Grove to commemorate pioneer women. The plaque is a memorial to the hardships the pioneer women faced as they traveled across the untamed country by ox team and covered wagon.

The monument is located on Glen Helen Parkway at the onramp to the northbound 1-15 freeway.

Mormon Pioneer Trail: This small stone and mortar monument was placed in July 1985 to commemorate the wagon train of 500 Mormon settlers who passed by the site in 1851.

The monument is located on the Old Salt Lake Trail near the 1912 Stoddard-Waite Monument and is accessible only by permission.

Blue Cut: This large concrete monument was erected alongside old Route 66 in a narrow gap of the Cajon Pass known as Blue Cut. The monument, dedicated July 23, 1994, was placed by the Billy Holcomb Chapter of the Ancient and Honorable Order of E. Clampus Vitus. The inlaid brass plaque describes the explorers and immigrants who blazed the trails and roads through the pass, as well as some of the historic events that occurred in the area.

To reach this monument, exit I-15 at Kenwood Avenue and go south to Cajon Boulevard (old Route 66). Turn right onto Cajon Boulevard and go 3.7 miles north. Look for the monument on the left in a wide turnout area, set back among the shade trees.

Summit Train Station Monument: This carved marble monument was placed near the site of the Summit Train Station in 1996 by the Hesperia Recreation and Park District. The weathered text carved into the marble commemorates the site of the Summit Train Station on the Santa Fe Railway, and the nearby site of the Elliot Ranch settled in 1927.

The monument also is near the entrance to Horse Thief Canyon where thousands of stolen horses were driven through this section of the Cajon Pass in the 1800s.

The monument is located in Summit Valley on Highway 138, 4 miles east of I-15 on the north side of the road. It is part of a series of monuments placed by the Hesperia Recreation and Park District to commemorate historic sites in the area.

September 7, 2011

Burning Man fest leaves the desert

BURNING MAN 2011: The Temple at Sunset by Jeff Sullivan

Zelie Pollon

Organizers of the iconic "Burning Man" celebration began this week to clear the desert of any evidence that 50,000 people had just spent the past week here in a transient, art-filled, makeshift city.

As the anti-establishment arts festival and survival project disappears piece by piece from the white sands of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, participants and organizers say Burning Man -- which just had its largest week in its 25-year history -- is going through some growing pains as plans to expand its size and scope moving forward over the next year.

"When you have to be accountable and not anonymous, you change the way you act. As it's gotten bigger we've lost some of that," said Katrina Van Merter, 32, of Dallas, attending her sixth Burning Man.

The event is characterized by massive art projects and the namesake burning figure at its close, with participants heading into the desert for a week each year to build a working city from the ground up -- including an airport, a post office, and a security team -- that tries to be devoid of consumerism.

Burning Man started with an 8-foot structure burning on a beach in California at summer solstice and has morphed into a sophisticated community with year-round projects including solar energy development and a crisis response network.

Black Rock City LLC announced plans to turn its profit-making enterprise into a nonprofit this year.

Participation was capped at 50,000 people a day per a Bureau of Land Management use permit, said organizers.

Next year they're hoping to up that number, gradually adding 20,000 more people by 2016, said Burning Man communication manager Andie Grace.


But as the crowds grow, some of the long-time participants wonder if the desert gathering's principles -- including what self-styled "burners" call radical self-reliance, community, civic responsibility and an economy based on giving freely -- can take the strain of a growing population.

Others say that its growth has helped Burning Man change from a tiny party into an organization capable of innovation that can have benefits outside the "playa," the Spanish word for "beach" that burners use to refer to the site.

The Hexayurt, for example, is an easily deployable paneled shelter, created by Vinay Gupta in 2007 in honor of that year's Burning Man theme "The Green Man."

Gupta has since begun conversations with USAID about using the inexpensive structure in post-disaster areas, Grace said.

The town's crescent design, developed by Rod Garrett and founding member Harley Dubois, covers five square miles and includes 60 miles of streets, hundreds of intersections, and between two and four thousand signs created annually by a Burning Man sign shop, said Will Roger, a founder.

Roger has been asked to present to numerous audiences, including a retired Army group, about the building of what is known as Black Rock City.

Firefighters, city planners and reportedly members of Homeland Security have come to study the organizational and support structure of the complex erected to support tens of thousands of participants for a week, that then disappears as if it never existed.


But the astounding growth of Burning Man has its drawbacks, as some participants struggle to accept the changing demographics and influx of strangers into Black Rock City.

Participants point to bike thefts across the dusty playa, people coming to indulge but not to share, and a kind of close knit community feeling that is simply slipping away.

On Monday, thousands of talc-covered vehicles streamed out of the Black Rock Desert as the festival drew to a close.

Cars, trucks and RVs -- topped with dusty bikes, bright furry clothes and the makings for elaborate shelters -- snaked down the small single lane road toward civilization.

"We used to sit on the corner and wave goodbye to people as they left the playa, and tell them we'd see them again next year," said Dave Roetter, who came to the event with his 6-year-old son, Memphis. "People just don't do that anymore."

There are about 600 rangers who patrol the playa, along with several state agencies and the BLM. And despite the growing size, there is still a kind of citizen monitoring that encourages good behavior.

Accidents occur, as do arrests and numerous cases of dehydration, but nothing more than one would see in any city of this size, organizers say.

As for the missing bikes, Rogers says they're probably misplacing them. Thousands are left strewn around the basin by the event's end.

"It's still one of the safest cities in America," he said.

The demographic of Black Rock City is increasingly wealthy and older participants. A 2010 survey listed 40 percent of participants to be between the ages of 40 and 70 years old, and incomes ranging anywhere from less than $10,000 a year to over one million dollars a year. Several have groused about ticket prices that can top $360.

But there are also a greater number of families, and even very small children, many of which live together in one of Burning Man's largest camps called Kidsville.

The more, the merrier, said Sandy Lyle, 43, of San Diego.

"This year definitely feels bigger than usual, but what we do here is create community, so more people just gives us more opportunity," she said. "That's what Burning Man is all about."

September 6, 2011

Burning Man from Earth's orbit

A European Space satellite took photos of the 2011 Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert from 373 miles above.
By Mike Wall
Christian Science Monitor

The annual Burning Man festival is in full swing in the Nevada desert, and a tiny European satellite has snapped an overhead shot of the eccentric action.

The European Space Agency's Proba-1 microsatellite took a photo of Burning Man on Thursday (Sept. 1) from an altitude of about 373 miles (600 kilometers). The picture shows campers and tents massed for the annual gathering, which attracts 50,000 people to the Black Rock Desert 120 miles (193 km) north of Reno.

The image was stitched together from four black-and-white photos, each of which has a resolution of about 16 feet (5 meters), European Space Agency (ESA) officials said. [See the satellite photo of Burning Man]

IN PICTURES: Burning Man 2011

Burning Man is a weeklong art and self-expression festival that meets every year around Labor Day. This year, it runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 5. Attendance was capped at 50,000, and the event sold out in July.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the festival, which takes its name from the ceremonial torching of a giant wooden effigy. The event began modestly in 1986, when a handful of friends torched an 8-foot (2.4-m) wooden man on a San Francisco beach.

Burning Man first moved to the Black Rock Desert in 1990, and it has grown greatly over the past two decades. The height of the torched man has grown as well; in 2009, he measured 50 feet (15.2 m) tall, according to the festival's website.

"Proba" stands for "Project for Onboard Autonomy," and Proba-1's two cameras are indeed largely autonomous. The microsatellite, which is less than 3.3 feet on a side (less than 1 cubic meter), launched in October 2001 as an experimental mission.

Proba-2, which focuses on solar monitoring, was launched in November 2009. Two other Probas are in preparation, ESA officials said. Proba-3 will test formation flying, and Proba-V will monitor global vegetation.