October 31, 2013

Interior’s Jewell: no partisan motive in closing monuments

The U.S. Interior Department recently weighed in against the preferred route of the West Davis corridor freeway, saying that it would cause irreparable harm to Great Salt Lake wetlands. (Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune)

By Thomas Burr
The Salt Lake Tribune

Washington • Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Thursday there was "absolutely no political motive" in erecting barriers around some of Washington’s most iconic monuments during the government shutdown despite Republican critics who say the White House wanted to make the closure sting more for Americans.

"The people of the National Park Service did not want to barricade the monuments, but the monuments don’t take care of themselves," Jewell said at the National Press Club. "The barricades protect the resources, and we worked as best as we could" to accommodate groups, like veterans’ Honor Flights, who came to Washington during the shutdown to visit memorials.

Jewell, in her first public remarks since the 16-day partial government closure, said that federal law prohibited her from employing park rangers to staff the monuments or national parks, both of which became the public face of the shutdown when Republican members of Congress helped push through the barriers around the World War II Memorial for veterans to visit.

In wide-ranging remarks, Jewell also said members of Congress who say the Interior Department can repay states for re-opening national parks during the shutdown are spreading "misinformation," and that in the 1995-96 shutdown, the department didn't send a check to states, either.

"We had to do some digging in historical records to understand that, but our records are going to be much more helpful should this crazy thing ever happen again," she said.

Pressed on a new report by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., arguing that the National Park Service shouldn't buy new tracts of land when it has a burgeoning maintenance backlog on sites it already owns, Jewell said that was a "common refrain" from critics.

"I will say that these are the same people that squeeze our budget, so we end up with a larger maintenance backlog," Jewell said. "You can solve the maintenance backlog by taking care of the maintenance backlog; it’s not that complicated. As a business person that’s what we did on a regular basis; that’s what kept the economy going."

Jewell called on Congress to pass a regular budget instead of temporary, stopgap measures, and she said the "real test" of supporting conservation isn't when the cameras are rolling but when "you fight for it in budget conferences."

The Interior secretary said that Congress should act to preserve some treasured landscapes supported by local communities but that President Barack Obama would step in and use the Antiquities Act, which gives him unilateral power to name monuments if the legislative branch doesn't. Jewell added that controversial monuments are not a priority.

"I guess I haven’t seen anything yet where everybody agrees on everything, but certainly where there is a groundswell of support we will focus our energies," she said. "We won’t be focusing our energies where there is a tremendous amount of conflict."

In her first major policy speech, Jewell also announced a new secretarial order to ensure balanced development on public lands that includes mitigation of disturbed lands as part of the permitting process.

"Today we have an unprecedented opportunity — using science and technology to create a better understanding of landscapes than ever before — to advance important conservation goals and achieve our development objectives," Jewell said. "We know it doesn't have to be an either/or."

The secretary also outlined a four-year plan to develop partnerships in 50 American cities to help educate millions of grade-school students about outdoor recreation and conservation. As part of that goal, Jewell wants to provide 100,000 work and training opportunities for youth volunteers.

"For the health of our economy and our public lands, it’s critical that we work now to establish meaningful and deep connections between young people — from every background and every community — and the great outdoors," Jewell said.

Her comments were well received by the environmental community.

"What I heard today was Secretary Jewell echoing Westerners everywhere who want greater balance between energy development and conservation of our public lands," said Western Values Project Director Ross Lane. "We’re excited by what she said — and her leadership is definitely needed to deliver the kind of results and change that Western communities expect."

October 30, 2013

Crews will capture, test and attach radio transmitters to bighorn sheep

State and federal wildlife experts launch $48,000 helicopter survey and GPS tracking effort this weekend to gauge the scope of pneumonia epidemic that has killed more than 100 bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert.

Bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert will be outfitted with GPS radio collars so wildlife experts will know if they fall victim to a deadly pnemonia outbreak among otherwise healthy herds in the area. This photo was shot near Olancha Peak, in the Inyo National Forest.

Riverside Press-Enterprise

State and federal wildlife experts will launch a $48,000 helicopter survey and GPS tracking effort this weekend to gauge the scope of a pneumonia epidemic that has killed more than 100 bighorn sheep in the Mojave Desert.

The outbreak has decimated two herds, one around Old Dad Mountain in the Mojave National Preserve and a second in the Marble Mountains, 35 miles south. Officials have said the highly contagious infection may have come from sick domestic sheep illegally dumped off a truck en route to alfalfa fields in the Imperial Valley.

The National Park Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife will begin their four-day investigation on Sunday, Nov. 3, said Debra Hughson, science adviser for the preserve.

“We are throwing everything we have at this to better understand it and hopefully control it,” she said.

The crew of a federally contracted helicopter will search for the scattered animals over as much as 80,430 acres, in areas where dead and sick bighorns have been found and in nearby mountain ranges.

The helicopter can fly seven hours per day, at $1,600 per hour, paid for by the National Park Service, Hughson said.

Individual animals will be captured with a net fired out of the low-flying helicopter. The bighorn is then removed from the net, blindfolded to reduce stress and hobbled with a leather restraint to prevent kicking, she said. The workers take blood samples and a nasal swab, attach the collar and release the animal.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is providing 54 GPS collars that transmit information daily by satellite. If an animal stops moving, the collar sends out a mortality signal so that experts can quickly locate the carcass and take samples, Hughson said. The GPS collars work for four years.

After the GPS collars are gone, high-frequency radio collars will be used for any remaining animals that are located, she said. The radio collars have a longer battery life and are less expensive, but readings require a fixed-wing aircraft or people in the field with antennas, instead of a satellite.

“The idea here is to have collared animals in the surrounding mountain ranges so we can have an early warning of the spread of the pathogen,” Hughson said. “We can get a better understanding of the progression of the disease, its spread and impact on herds.”

Biologists, veterinarians and other staff will help with the field operation. If an obviously sick animal is captured, a veterinarian may decide to kill it and perform a field autopsy, Hughson said.

Experts don’t know exactly how many animals have died, mostly because they spread out as water sources become more plentiful this time of year, she said.

The first dead animals were found in mid-May at Old Dad Mountain, 15 miles southeast of Baker. The disease has killed about half the 200 to 300 sheep in the herd there and at nearby Kelso Peak.

In August, several sick bighorn sheep were found in the Marble Mountains, which are just south of Interstate 40 and east of Kelbaker Road.

Tests showed they all had the same strain of pneumonia. The disease is carried by domestic sheep and goats; bighorn have no immunity and almost always died of it. There is no vaccine or cure for pneumonia in bighorn sheep. The disease does not spread to humans.

State officials have decided to proceed with this year's bighorn hunting within the Mojave National Preserve, one of the few places in California where it is permitted, said Regina Abella, desert bighorn sheep coordinator at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The state issues a limited number of tags by lottery, based on the number of rams in a herd; last season, three tags were issued for the Old Dad area. The season starts Dec. 1

Utah County Reaches Road Settlement with Federal Government

Alyssa Carducci
Heartland Institute

Utah state and local officials reached a landmark settlement with the federal government to open access to roadways once closed due to a federal wilderness study area. The agreement could serve as a model for claims on thousands of other roads Utah counties have presented against the government.

Juab County, the Utah Attorney General’s Office, and the federal Bureau of Land Management filed a joint consent decree in the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, which requires approval by a federal judge.

State Will Enforce Restrictions

The settlement gives Juab County ownership of three dirt roads accessing the Deep Creek Mountains. The three roads are Trout Creek, Granite, and Toms Creek roads.

The BLM agreed to remove fallen trees blocking the roads and turn them over to Juab County. State and local officials agreed to ban motorized vehicles between December and May each year and strictly enforce a ban on off-road motorized vehicle traffic in the wilderness study area. State and local officials can repair the dirt roads but must leave them in their “primitive” state. The agreement prohibits paving, improving, expanding, and performing routine maintenance on the roads.

Juab County also agreed to abandon some of its right-of-way claims in the wilderness study area as part of the settlement.

Model for Future Settlements

“Today’s agreement serves as a model for resolving road disputes going forward. We can find ways to agree, and I applaud the county and all stakeholders for proving this approach can work,” said Gov. Gary Herbert in a statement. “My hope is that we will continue to work to resolve RS2477 disputes.”

Utah counties have filed an additional 29 lawsuits against the federal government, encompassing more than 12,000 miles of roads. State officials plan on additional lawsuits regarding an additional 24,000 miles of roads.

Statute Recognized Rights of Way

A nineteenth century statute, known as R.S. 2477, granted the state ownership of roads crossing federal lands. The statute granted states and counties rights-of-way across federal lands to meet transportation needs during the 1800s. Congress repealed the law in 1976 but recognized state ownership of all roads the state could prove state residents regularly used for 10 years prior to repeal of the law. The federal government and environmental activist groups have vigorously challenged the state’s road-use claims.

Parties Express Support

Three environmental activist groups participated in the negotiations and signed on to the settlement agreement.

“Conservation groups have been permitted to intervene in several of these cases and are actively working to defend the United States’ title to these claims,” Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance legal director Stephen Bloch said in a statement.

State Rep. Roger Barrus (R- Centerville) told Environment & Climate News the road settlement will benefit Utah residents and protect their access to recreation areas.

“If Juab County leaders and our state public lands officials are comfortable that the agreement is in the best interest of the citizens of Juab County, our state and nation, then it's a good decision. It's the kind of decision that could be made more easily and pragmatically if the lands were under state ownership and management rather than burdened by red tape in a litigious federal system,” Barrus said.

Barrus sponsored H.B. 142, which he said is “designed to gather credible information in a report to reflect economic trends and management practices of public lands under federal control. With that information, Utah can better project how to best manage those lands for the benefit of the public and the citizens of our state.”

“The whole idea of transferring federal public lands to Utah is to improve how they are managed,” he added.

October 29, 2013

Coburn attacks National Park Service for wasteful spending while parks themselves fall into disrepair

By Doug McKelway

Taxpayers shell out $52,000 a year to maintain the home of Black History Month founder Carter Woodson. Yet the tiny, dilapidated row house in northwest Washington D.C., with a "No Trespassing" sign and iron bars blocking the front door and windows hasn’t seen a visitor in the seven years since the National Park Service bought it for $2.1 million and designated it a National Historic Site.

Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla.,points to the house as one tiny symbol in a sea of dysfunction in the National Park Service. The Service, with its comparatively small budget, is, he says, a microcosm for wasteful spending in the federal government.

A report released Tuesday by Coburn's office finds the National Park Service devotes huge portions of its budget to the purchase of more and more federal properties and land, even while the country’s most treasured national parks are falling into disrepair and neglect.

His report documents a federal agency that is top heavy with bureaucracy and management, but badly mangles its spending priorities.

"This is an agency that spends $650 million a year administering a $2.6 billion budget," says Coburn -- a ratio he calls, "outlandish."

His report cites dozens of cases of waste. The Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site in the San Francisco Bay area, for example, averages less than 10 visitors a day. "With nine employees, the National Park Service often has more staff working the grounds, than daily visitors," the report says.

Yet, Coburn doesn't blame the Park Service, which fought against the O'Neill home historical designation. He blames Congress. "There is no ribbon-cutting ceremony for taking out the trash, fixing a broken railing or filling a pothole," he says.

"Congress continues to add things – ‘parks’ - that aren't significant in terms of national interest in a declining budget. What we have is our most treasured resources, the big parks, with maintenance backlogs in excess of $2 billion."

The report catalogues a litany of unfilled potholes, crumbling stairs and deteriorating infrastructure in many of the nation’s most visited national parks. "Look at the Grand Canyon," says Coburn. "They're not even replacing water lines that are 50 years old. They can't even flush the toilets, because they're not doing the critical maintenance that's needed."

He adds, "If you continue to add federal land and federal parks, what you are going to do is make this problem worse."

His report also documents many other cases of frivolous spending: a Park Ranger sent to Italy to judge an Italian Film Festival; an antique car show in Michigan; a wine tasting train in Ohio. The Service spent $731,000 to find stains on St Louis's Gateway Arch - but none of that money actually went to clean the stains.

As Congress gets to work on a budget conference, Coburn’s report and 50 others his staff has compiled over the last nine years on government waste provide no shortage of ammunition for members intent on cutting spending.

"Look at federal government IT," Coburn says. "We spent $84 billion a year on it and $42 billion is wasted. Where’s the management for that?" he asks.

Imperial Valley's pact could help save the Salton Sea

Members of the Imperial Irrigation District board of directors, the Imperial County board of supervisors, and other officials commemorate the signing of memorandum of understanding at Red Hill Marina on Oct 24 at the Salton Sea. ( Jay Calderon/The Desert Sun)


Written by The Editorial Board
Desert Sun

The pledge by three Imperial County entities to develop renewable energy projects to generate money for the restoration of the Salton Sea could be a big step. Progress is long overdue in a decades-long debate that has been incredibly frustrating for those of us who see the future of the shrinking sea as the region’s largest pending threat to public health and the environment.

Finally, the Imperial Irrigation District (IID), Imperial County and the Imperial County Air Pollution Control District are on the same page. Representatives last week signed a memorandum of understanding to work together on geothermal and other renewable energy projects, and to work with the state to build transmission lines to bring that power to California’s grid.

A preliminary IID study estimates these projects could generate $3 billion in revenue for restoration projects. That’s three times higher than an earlier estimate and the most significant potential investment we’ve seen yet.

With the closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, there is a strong need for new sources of power in Southern California. It could be a huge opportunity.

As promising as it may sound, we’re skeptical. Power plants like this take huge capital investments and years to make it through the regulatory process. Even with the state’s mandate of generating at least a third of its power from renewable sources by 2020, the energy market is hard to predict.

Utilities are looking for the cheapest sources of energy available, as they should on behalf of their customers.

If the fracking program approved by the Legislature this year generates the mother lode of natural gas that has been predicted, building transmission lines to reach the remote southern end of the Salton Sea might not be the top priority.

The Quantification Settlement Agreement, the nation’s largest agriculture-to-urban water transfer from Imperial County to San Diego County, takes full effect at the end of 2017. At that point, mitigation flows will cease, which could expose more of the lake bed, allowing fine dust to become airborne in the desert wind and create a health hazard. There is a sense of urgency.

Whether the renewable project can come online and generate a revenue stream within the next four years is a big question.

Assemblyman V. Manuel Pérez’s determination is admirable. He is cosponsoring Senate Bill 760 with Sen. Rod Wright, a Democrat from Inglewood, which would elevate geothermal power in the state’s energy procurement process.

Another bill, AB 177, would direct retail sellers of electricity to adopt long-term strategies to reach even loftier goals for renewable energy — more than half the state’s power by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

Both bills are pending until the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Tapping into the sea’s vast potential of geothermal energy also fits with the new commitment to reduce greenhouse gases made by Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed a climate change pact Monday with the governors of Oregon and Washington and the environmental minister of British Columbia.

It is good that the Imperial County power brokers are now united in their Salton Sea strategy. That wasn’t always the case, Pérez said.

“That made it difficult, quite frankly, for folks like myself at the state level to advocate on behalf of our locals here,” he said.

Kevin Kelley, IID’s general manager, said he hopes this show of unity will push state legislators to finally address the plan that was devised by state water officials in 2007 but never voted on.

When lawmakers gather in two months in Sacramento, they should debate serious and swift solutions for the Salton Sea. The folks who live around the sea are committed. They have an aggressive plan of action, although it might be overly ambitious. We may not be able to wait for the geothermal genie to rise up and save us.

October 28, 2013

No injuries suffered in multi-car train derailment

Derailed BNSF railroad cars near Ludlow on October 22, 2013. (Needles Desert Star)
Needles Desert Star

NEEDLES — Two Burlington Northern Santa Fe trains traveling in different directions derailed near Ludlow Oct. 22. There weren’t any injuries.

The derailment happened about 3 p.m. Oct. 22 about 50 miles east of Barstow, near Ludlow. San Bernardino County Fire Department responded to the incident. Members of the Marine Corps Logistics Base Fire Department also responded, along with California Highway Patrol.

Lena Kent, spokeswoman for BNSF, said one train carrying grain was headed west to Fresno and had a total of nine cars overturn. The second train, headed east to Kansas, was carrying all kinds of freight. It, too, had nine cars overturn, she added.

It was mistakenly reported that it was a head on collision, but that was not the case, Kent said. The actual cause of the derailments is under investigation.

The two trains were on separate tracks headed in opposite directions, she said. Both derailments were close to one another but the cause was unknown as of Oct. 25.

Kent said there weren’t any injuries involved in the incident. There also weren’t any hazardous materials issues.

As with any emergency situation, crews worked through the evening to get the lines operational again, Kent said. The lines were reopened by the evening of Oct. 23.

October 26, 2013

Western Ranchers Defend Big Victory in Grazing Battle

Fairfield Sun Times

DENVER -- Two ranching organizations, an Arizona ranch, and an Arizona rancher at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today defended their victory from an Arizona federal district court that granted them summary judgment in a lawsuit by environmental groups demanding that grazing permits be revoked and subjected to lengthy federal environmental review.

The groups claim the U.S. Forest Service violated federal law when it reauthorized permits that allow ranchers to graze their livestock on nearby federal lands as they have done for generations by failing to conduct full environmental impact statements (EISs) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prior to reissuing the permits.

The Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, the Public Lands Council, Orme Ranch, Inc., and Bert Teskey, all represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), maintain that Congress made clear that no EISs are required. After the two groups dropped challenges to seven Forest Service decisions, the matter was briefed and argued. The district court upheld the agency’s ruling as to seven of the eight decisions.

“The Forest Service complied with the law and the panel should uphold the district court’s ruling,” said William Perry Pendley, MSLF president.”

In fiscal years 2005 through 2007, the Forest Service, without conducting environmental reviews pursuant to NEPA, reauthorized several grazing permits on lands managed by the Forest Service. On August 15, 2011, the Western Watersheds Project and the Center For Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit alleging that 17 of the reauthorizations—seven in the Coconino National Forest in Arizona, three in the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona, six in the Prescott National Forest in Arizona, and one in the Coronado National Forest in New Mexico—violated NEPA. The lawsuit was filed despite the clear intent of Congress that the Forest Service is not required to do the reviews.

Beginning in 1995, Congress enacted legislation to address its concern that the inability of the Forest Service to complete NEPA analyses on expiring term grazing permits would delay renewal of the permits to the detriment of the western ranchers involved. Specifically, Congress sought to reduce the amount of documentation and expense required to conduct NEPA. In 2003, Congress strengthened these protections of ongoing livestock grazing by directing that term grazing permits shall remain in effect pending compliance with NEPA. Then, in 2005, Congress directed that reauthorization of grazing permits is “categorically excluded” from documentation under NEPA if the Forest Service makes certain determinations. The total number of allotments reauthorized under the provision may not exceed 900.

Mountain States Legal Foundation, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

October 25, 2013

Lunch counter to close at Kelso Depot Visitor Center

Visitors will no longer be able to enjoy a bite to eat at the Kelso Depot "Beanery."

Staff Reports
Victorville Daily Press

KELSO • After more than four years in operation, the Beanery Lunch Counter at Kelso Depot Visitor Center will close at the end of the month. The counter’s operator, Mike Williams, will serve his last lunch on Tuesday, according to a Mojave National Preserve news release.

Williams took over the lunch counter at Kelso Depot in 2008.

“I’ve enjoyed meeting people from around the world here at Kelso,” Williams said. “But it’s time for me to move on to other activities.”

The National Park Service spent a year searching for a replacement for Williams but was unable to find someone new in time to keep the lunch counter operating, according to the release. Although 50,000 people per year visit Kelso Depot, it is far from any town, presenting challenges for prospective business operators.

The National Park Service is currently exploring other food service options for the near-term, the release stated.

The Kelso Depot Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Tuesday.

October 21, 2013

Public allowed back on lands as federal government shutdown ends

Needles Desert Star
News West

NEEDLES — Residents of Golden Shores awoke to the sound of gunfire on Friday. Cause for the gravest concern in many parts of the world, in the community on the shore of Topock Marsh it was a sign of reassurance: the partial federal government shutdown ended and access was being allowed to the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge in time for the Oct. 18 waterfowl opener.

Barrycades across the entrances to Catfish Paradise and North Dike have been taken down, though there were still cones across the road to Five Mile Landing. The road to North Dike was in very poor condition and should likely only be attempted with 4-wheel-drive, especially by those towing a boat. Vehicles without substantial ground clearance shouldn’t attempt it at all. Deep, soft sand washed onto the road in the violent thunderstorms of late August and early September had not been removed.

The traditional Pintail Slough hunt is not being offered this year, due to an irrigation pump failure before the shutdown. Visit refuge headquarters at 317 Mesquite Ave. in Needles for specific details.

Mojave National Preserve also reopened to visitors Friday, according to the National Park Service. Visitors can access public areas and roads immediately while facilities and other public services are brought back online.

“We are excited and happy to be back at work and welcome visitors to Mojave National Preserve,” said Deputy Superintendent Larry Whalon in a prepared statement. “With cooler temperatures, autumn is a particularly special season to enjoy all that Mojave has to offer.”

Rangers have removed barrycades and all roads and campgrounds are again open for hunters and other visitors. For updates on road conditions check nps.gov/moja and click on Current Conditions. The historic Kelso Depot Visitor Center returns to the same post-sequester schedule it’s been on since May: Fridays through Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Needles Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management is back in service; information about many area public lands under federal control, including the preserve, can be accessed there. Free and reduced-fee passes for federal lands can be obtained. Visit the office from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday at 1303 U.S. Highway 95. Call 760-326-7000.

Further afield, the Lake Mead National Recreation Area including Lake Mohave is once again open. Campgrounds, trails, launch ramps and the visitor center were to open immediately, concessionaires were reported to have recalled employees and reopened marinas, Lake Mead Cruises and Black Canyon/Willow Beach Adventures were to resume cruises and raft tours over the weekend. Visit http://www.nps.gov/lake/; call the visitor center seven days a week at 702-293-8990 or the park information desk Monday through Friday at 702-293-8906.

Death Valley National Park announced reopening of most facilities on Oct. 17. “The economic impact of closing this park for 16 days has been extremely tough on our gateway communities, local businesses, neighbors, and park partners,” said Superintendent Kathy Billings, also in a prepared statement. “We look forward to working with our neighbors and partners on ways to lesson that impact.”

Visitor facilities that have reopened include Furnace Creek Visitor Center, Texas Springs Campground, Mesquite Springs Campground, Stovepipe Wells Village, Scotty’s Castle, the park’s major scenic overlooks, backcountry and wilderness.

Due to the shutdown the opening of Furnace Creek Campground and Sunset Campground was to be delayed. Sunset was to have opened Monday; it’s hoped that Furnace Creek Campground will open by Friday, Oct. 25. Check www.nps.gov/deva.

All other public lands under federal control were expected to be open and rapidly returning to normal operations. Facilities at the Grand Canyon had been reopened by the state of Arizona before the shutdown ended.

October 14, 2013

National Parks episode shows state better at managing public lands


By John Swallow and Anthony Rampton
Salt Lake Tribune

The closure and re-opening of Utah’s national parks offer a dramatic demonstration of the need to have greater state and local control over programs and services.

The political deadlock has also proved few in Washington gave any serious thought about the devastating ripple effects it would have on the lives of ordinary citizens.

National parks, monuments and recreation areas in Utah were among the many victims of this shutdown. They were all closed, locked and shuttered on Oct. 1. But the real impact of these closures reach far beyond park boundaries.

Local economies, merchants and service providers who rely heavily upon the tourism and recreation associated with the parks immediately lost their lifeblood. Tourists and vacationers from all over the world were turned away, along with their desires to experience the beauty and grandeur of Utah’s scenic wonders. State, county and local governments were suddenly faced with the prospects of the loss of projected and necessary revenues

Local citizens and officials were understandably outraged and they searched for self-help remedies that could be taken to force the re-opening of the parks and associated federally operated facilities. Cooler heads prevailed. In contrast to criticisms leveled against Utah’s public lands initiatives, state and local officials responded with great responsibility. They proposed an interim solution that addressed the needs of the tourist and recreation industry, local economies, citizens of Utah and the parks’ lands.

Gov. Gary Herbert took the lead and proposed to the Department of Interior that Utah could fund the re-opening and operation of the parks on a temporary interim basis. To Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s credit, she embraced the governor’s proposal. Together they directed their respective offices to immediately hammer out the details. Within a period of hours, the agreement was consummated and the re-opening of the parks was put into motion. The parks will now be open for two of the busiest weekends of the year. We are proud of the role the attorney general’s office played in this process.

We firmly believe the events of the last couple of weeks vividly demonstrate three important realities. First, in these days of federal austerity, we assume substantial risk by relying too heavily upon the federal government to fund and administer programs that directly affect us in our businesses and daily lives. Because of the extensive federal presence in the state, Utah is particularly vulnerable to political and financial fluctuations in Washington.

Second, responsibility for and implementation of government programs and operations, including those pertaining to the public lands, should be vested in the hands of those who feel the greatest impact and who have the greatest understanding of the situation on the ground. Those in Washington simply do not understand, nor do they appreciate, the effects their far-removed decisions have on rural Utah.

Third, if allowed greater jurisdiction, powers and governing responsibilities, state, county and local governments will respond prudently, even-handedly and in the best interest of the citizens of Utah and all Americans, including in the proper stewardship of our treasured lands.

Utah’s track record of government management and accountability is unmatched. The last few weeks show Utah can and should have an enhanced role in its citizens’ affairs and in the uses of its land. The long-term public health, safety and economic welfare of Utahns depend on it.

John Swallow is Utah attorney general. Anthony Rampton is an assistant attorney general.

October 13, 2013

The National Park Service's Behavior Has Been Shocking -- It Should Be Privatized


by Paul Kengor

The behavior of the National Park Service during President Obama’s shutdown campaign has been shocking. As has been widely reported, Park Service employees have been told to make life as uncomfortable as possible for people, and have flourished in that endeavor. They have acted unprofessionally as a partisan and ideological arm of the White House and its campaign.

If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, then just click Google GOOG +13.8% and start searching. There are unfortunate first-person accounts everywhere. Among the worst examples was a case innocently covered by a small Massachusetts newspaper that reported on a group of tourists traveling to Yellowstone National Park. The tourists, by no means a bunch of Tea Partiers, described the Park Service as “Gestapo”-like in its tactics.

That, of course, is an exaggeration. But the mere fact that a group of apolitical citizens would invoke such hyperbole to describe how they were treated really says something.

The Weekly Standard, a conservative source likewise not given to hyperbole, argues in an editorial that the Park Service’s conduct “might be the biggest scandal of the Obama administration.” That’s no small claim for an administration plagued by scandals ranging from Benghazi to the eye-opening overreach of the IRS, the NSA, and (among others) the HHS mandate. The Standard rattled off examples of abuses during the shutdown, highlighting the most egregious of them all, the shameless scene at the World War II Memorial:

“People first noticed what the NPS was up to when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was “closed.” Just to be clear, the memorial is an open plaza. There is nothing to operate. Sometimes there might be a ranger standing around. But he’s not collecting tickets or opening gates. Putting up barricades and posting guards to “close” the World War II Memorial takes more resources and manpower than “keeping it open.”

No question. What happened at the World War II Memorial was pure political exploitation. For the propaganda artist, the image of elderly, heartbroken, wheelchair-bound vets voyaging thousands of miles to remember their fallen brothers, maybe for a final earthly time, only to be denied by cruel, intransigent Republicans, was apparently too lovely to pass up. What great political theater! The propaganda points for the White House and its lieutenants must have been irresistible.

Indeed, as the Standard noted, the barricading of the World War II Memorial was “just the start of the Park Service’s partisan assault on the citizenry.” It noted other historical sites that are privately owned and operated, where “the Park Service doesn’t actually do anything.” Nonetheless, the Park Service mustered the resources to deploy officers to forcibly remove volunteer workers and visitors. As the Standard put it, the Park Service “is now in the business of forcing parks they don’t administer to close…. It’s one thing for politicians to play shutdown theater. It’s another thing entirely for a civil bureaucracy entrusted with the privilege of caring for our national heritage to wage war against the citizenry on behalf of a political party. This is how deep the politicization of Barack Obama’s administration goes.”

This is Obama’s shutdown campaign, pure and simple—akin to the kind of crass political campaigns the American far left has engaged in for decades. This time, sadly, federal employees have been enlisted in the cause; the National Park Service is serving as an army of agents in the campaign. Not unlike the IRS, NPS agents are abusing their powers. They are being tasked as a political/ideological arm of the state. This is precisely not what civil servants are to be.

As a personal sidenote, the National Park Service falls under the Department of Interior, once run by my late friend Bill Clark, whose biography I wrote. A rancher and cowboy, Clark left Reagan’s National Security Council to run the Department of Interior in 1984. He had great respect for the department, its mission, and its employees. Clark died in August. We talked constantly. He was depressed at the country’s direction under Obama. If he had seen his former Interior employees enlisted and behaving like this, he would have been despondent. I’m thankful this happened after his death.

And so, my reaction to this egregious behavior by the National Park Service is one word: privatize. Privatize. Privatize. Privatize.

I’m not talking about privatizing the parks themselves, a suggestion others have raised. In the 1990s, I specialized in privatization, writing reports for state and local think-tanks, particularly the excellent Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. I quickly learned one of the most crucial things about privatization that most people don’t understand: much privatization involves not ownership but operation. It’s often wiser to privatize not ownership but operation. (Roads are an example. Let the government own the roads, but their maintenance should be contracted.) That’s particularly true when government employees operating a service become unionized, entrenched, bloated, and over-extended. And that’s precisely what we should now consider with the National Park Service. We should privatize not the parks but the service that operates, manages, administers them.

The beauty of privatizing management rather than ownership is that ownership is permanent but management is not. This means that if one management group doesn’t perform up to expectations, a new one can be hired. The hiring process should always be regularly competitively contracted. This “competitive bidding” process keeps the current management group on its toes and accountable. If it performs badly, it can be fired and replaced—unlike the current group of government employees running the National Park Service, which is a protected class with a monopoly on its service.

Let’s privatize the National Park Service.

This thought will anger NPS employees. Well, for that, they can thank White House schemers for overplaying their heavy hand and unwittingly shedding ominous light on the abusive possibilities of this agency. That’s not a sentiment that the president and allies intended to foster when they began agitating and orchestrating their shutdown campaign. Rather than convincing us of the alleged evils of congressional Republicans, they’ve unveiled the roguish tendencies of some federal employees who blindly follow orders. Let’s respond by taking power away from those employees, so this cannot happen again. Easily maneuvered into providing propaganda for a president or party, these NPS workers have proven themselves unworthy of the mission entrusted to them. They are the embodiment of the dangers of unaccountable, big government.

Let’s respond by privatizing the National Park Service.

Dr. Paul Kengor is executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

October 12, 2013

Park Service Paramilitaries

The government has King John’s idea of public lands.


By Mark Steyn
National Review Online

If a government shuts down in the forest and nobody hears it, that’s the sound of liberty dying. The so-called shutdown is, as noted last week, mostly baloney: Eighty-three percent of the supposedly defunded government is carrying on as usual, impervious to whatever restraints the people’s representatives might wish to impose, and the 800,000 soi-disant “non-essential” workers have been assured that, as soon as the government is once again lawfully funded, they will be paid in full for all the days they’ve had at home.

But the one place where a full-scale shutdown is being enforced is in America’s alleged “National Park Service,” a term of art that covers everything from canyons and glaciers to war memorials and historic taverns. The NPS has spent the last two weeks behaving as the paramilitary wing of the DNC, expending more resources in trying to close down open-air, unfenced areas than it would normally do in keeping them open. It began with the war memorials on the National Mall — that’s to say, stone monuments on pieces of grass under blue sky. It’s the equivalent of my New Hampshire town government shutting down and deciding therefore to ring the Civil War statue on the village common with yellow police tape and barricades.

Still, the NPS could at least argue that these monuments were within their jurisdiction — although they shouldn’t be. Not content with that, the NPS shock troops then moved on to insisting that privately run sites such as the Claude Moore Colonial Farm and privately owned sites such as Mount Vernon were also required to shut. When the Pisgah Inn on the Blue Ridge Parkway declined to comply with the government’s order to close (an entirely illegal order, by the way), the “shut down” Park Service sent armed agents and vehicles to blockade the hotel’s driveway.

Even then, the problem with a lot of America’s scenic wonders is that, although they sit on National Park Service land, they’re visible from some distance. So, in South Dakota, having closed Mount Rushmore the NPS storm troopers additionally attempted to close the view of Mount Rushmore — that’s to say a stretch of the highway, where the shoulder widens and you can pull over and admire the stony visages of America’s presidents. Maybe it’s time to blow up Washington, Jefferson & Co. and replace them with a giant, granite sign rising into the heavens bearing the chiseled inscription “DON’T EVEN THINK OF PARKING DOWN THERE.”

But perhaps the most extraordinary story to emerge from the NPS is that of the tour group of foreign seniors whose bus was trapped in Yellowstone Park on the day the shutdown began. They were pulled over photographing a herd of bison when an armed ranger informed them, with the insouciant ad-hoc unilateral lawmaking to which the armed bureaucrat is distressingly prone, that taking photographs counts as illegal “recreation.” “Sir, you are recreating,” the ranger informed the tour guide. And we can’t have that, can we? They were ordered back to the Old Faithful Inn, next to the geyser of the same name, but forbidden to leave said inn to look at said geyser. Armed rangers were posted at the doors, and, just in case one of the wily Japanese or Aussies managed to outwit his captors by escaping through one of the inn’s air ducts and down to the geyser, a fleet of NPS SUVs showed up every hour and a half throughout the day, ten minutes before Old Faithful was due to blow, to surround the geyser and additionally ensure that any of America’s foreign visitors trying to photograph the impressive natural phenomenon from a second-floor hotel window would still wind up with a picture full of government officials. The following morning the bus made the two-and-a-half-hour journey to the park boundary but was prevented from using any of the bathrooms en route, including at a private dude ranch whose owner was threatened with the loss of his license if he allowed any tourist to use the facilities.

At the same time as the National Park Service was holding legal foreign visitors under house arrest, it was also allowing illegal immigrants to hold a rally on the supposedly closed National Mall. At this bipartisan amnesty bash, the Democrat House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said she wanted to “thank the president for enabling us to gather here” and Republican congressman Mario Diaz-Balart also expressed his gratitude to the administration for “allowing us to be here.”

Is this for real? It’s not King Barack’s land; it’s supposed to be the people’s land, and his most groveling and unworthy subjects shouldn’t require a dispensation by His Benign Majesty to set foot on it. It is disturbing how easily large numbers of Americans lapse into a neo-monarchical prostration that few subjects of actual monarchies would be comfortable with these days. But then in actual monarchies the king takes a more generous view of “public lands.” Two years after Magna Carta, in 1217, King Henry III signed the Charter of the Forest, which despite various amendments and replacement statutes remained in force in Britain for some three-quarters of a millennium, until the early Seventies. If Magna Carta is a landmark in its concept of individual rights, the Forest Charter played an equivalent role in advancing the concept of the commons, the public space. Repealing various restrictions by his predecessors, Henry III opened the royal forests to the freemen of England, granted extensive grazing and hunting rights, and eliminated the somewhat severe penalty of death for taking the king’s venison. The NPS have not yet fried anyone for taking King Barack’s deer, but it is somewhat sobering to reflect that an English peasant enjoyed more freedom on the sovereign’s land in the 13th century than a freeborn American does on “the people’s land” in the 21st century.

And we’re talking about a lot more acreage: Forty percent of the state of California is supposedly federal land, and thus officially closed to the people of the state. The geyser stasi of the National Park Service have in effect repealed the Charter of the Forest. President Obama and his enforcers have the same concept of the royal forest that King John did. The government does not own this land; the Park Service are merely the janitorial staff of “we the people” (to revive an obsolescent concept). No harm will befall the rocks and rivers by posting a sign at the entrance saying “No park ranger on duty during government shutdown. Proceed beyond this point at your own risk.” And, at the urban monuments, you don’t even need that: It is disturbing that minor state officials even presume to have the right to prevent the citizenry walking past the Vietnam Wall.

I wonder what those Japanese and Australian tourists prevented from photographing bison or admiring a geyser make of U.S. claims to be “the land of the free.” When a government shutdown falls in the forest, Americans should listen very carefully. The government is telling you something profound and important about how it understands the power relationship between them and you.

The National Park Service should be out of the business of urban landmarks, and the vast majority of our “national” parks should be returned to the states. After the usurpation of the people’s sovereignty this month, the next president might usefully propose a new Charter of the Forest.

— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon.

October 11, 2013

Government shutdown complicates deer hunting season at Mojave National Preserve

Piute Gorge. The closure of federal lands will put a damper on the opening of deer hunting season atthe Mojave National Preserve. / Mojave National Preserve

Written by Denise Goolsby
The Desert Sun

The government shutdown-induced closure of all federal lands — including national parks — is going to put a damper on Saturday’s opening of deer hunting season, when scores of hunters will be turned away at the gates of the Mojave National Preserve.

Compounding the situation is that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife — which regulates hunting, fishing and other game-related activities in the state — allows hunting in state wildlife areas but must enforce the federal government’s closure of national parks and Bureau of Land Management territory — where hunting is normally permitted.

“If people are hunting, they are subject to a citation,” Andrew Hughan, California Department of Fish and Wildlife public information officer said Friday.

But there’s been confusion throughout the week as to what, if any, federal lands would be open to hunters on Saturday.

The shutdown has made it difficult for state and federal agencies to communicate, and local officials are working to clarify conflicting information.

“Mojave National Preserve is closed to all recreational use, including hunting,” said Linda Slater, the preserve’s public information officer. “Our rangers are going to use an educational and informational approach to work with hunters to help them understand the situation.”

The southern boundary of the sprawling, 1.6 million-acre preserve is north of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms in San Bernardino County, just north of the Interstate 40 freeway, is about a 90-minute drive from Palm Springs. The preserve was established in 1994 with the passage of the California Desert Protection Act by Congress and is part of the national park system.

“Mojave National Preserve is arguably the most popular location for hunters in Southern California,” said David Lamfrom, senior California desert program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association.

But those who purchased hunting licenses and “tags” — required for the taking of certain big game animals, including deer — might not realize they can’t enter the grounds.

The preserve has multiple access points, a situation that creates a “high potential for conflict with law enforcement,” if disgruntled hunters decide to ignore the closure, he said.

“It’s public land,” Lamfrom said. “It’s going to be another example of a portfolio of people not being served. They miss the opportunity to do the things they love to do or want to do.”

“We share everyone’s disappointment that the National Park Service is shutdown,” said Slater, who happens to be on furlough but is handling media inquiries. “We look forward to getting back open as soon as we can.”

The preserve is the third largest park in the lower 48 states. Only Death Valley National Park (3.4 million acres) and Yellowstone National Park (2.2 million acres) are larger.

Dennis Schramm, who retired as Mojave National Preserve superintendent in 2010, worked at the preserve during the previous government shutdown for several weeks in 1995 and 1996.

A couple of hundred hunters, many who’ve been coming since the preserve opened, look forward to the first weekend of deer hunting, he said.

“Opening day of rifle season for deer hunting is a big deal,” Schramm said. “They go to the same spots every year. The group campsites get filled up.”

He said thinly stretched preserve employees — only essential personnel are still working while most of their colleagues are furloughed — could face some angry hunters who might choose to bypass the barriers.

“It’s a major concern,” Schramm said. “If they don’t resolve this ... it’s going to catch people off guard. Hunters are going to show up there and not be very happy. It’s going to be a very difficult impact for park staff.”

“Nothing about this situation is easy,” Schramm said. “It is difficult for the park staff to implement the closures, and equally difficult for the public to understand why they can’t just visit the parks anyway.”

Schramm, who was traveling with family through Durango, Colo. during this interview, had plans to visit some of the state’s national parks during the weeklong trip — including a visit to the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

“All the things we planned on doing this week, we can’t do,” he said.

Lamfrom said the fallout is going to be felt by gateway communities that provide goods and services for hunters and campers coming in and out of the preserve.

“The shutdown of the federal government has created countless unexpected and unnecessary impacts to the National Parks in the California desert, and on the communities that rely heavily on them for their economic well-being,” he said.

How long the shutdown lasts is anyone’s guess, he said.

“We’re all in denial,” Lamfrom said. “We thought it would be over the day after the government shut down. There are economic impacts that are radiating. Look how deeply connected all these economic systems are.”

When open for business, the three California desert national parks sites – Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park – combined, welcome more than 6,500 visitors a day in October. The three parks collectively infuse more than $230,000 a day into local communities.

October 10, 2013

The Park Police

“We are a nation that has a government—not the other way around.”
Ronald Reagan

Welcome to Death Valley National Park, ...not really. (Mammoth Times)


By Jonathan V. Last
Weekly Standard Magazine, Vol. 19, No. 07

The conduct of the National Park Service over the last week might be the biggest scandal of the Obama administration. This is an expansive claim, of course. Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the IRS, the NSA, the HHS mandate​—​this is an administration that has not lacked for appalling abuses of power. And we still have three years to go.

Even so, consider the actions of the National Park Service since the government shutdown began. People first noticed what the NPS was up to when the World War II Memorial on the National Mall was “closed.” Just to be clear, the memorial is an open plaza. There is nothing to operate. Sometimes there might be a ranger standing around. But he’s not collecting tickets or opening gates. Putting up barricades and posting guards to “close” the World War II Memorial takes more resources and manpower than “keeping it open.”

The closure of the World War II Memorial was just the start of the Park Service’s partisan assault on the citizenry. There’s a cute little historic site just outside of the capital in McLean, Virginia, called the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. They do historical reenactments, and once upon a time the National Park Service helped run the place. But in 1980, the NPS cut the farm out of its budget. A group of private citizens set up an endowment to take care of the farm’s expenses. Ever since, the site has operated independently through a combination of private donations and volunteer workers.

The Park Service told Claude Moore Colonial Farm to shut down.

The farm’s administrators appealed this directive​—​they explained that the Park Service doesn’t actually do anything for the historic site. The folks at the NPS were unmoved. And so, last week, the National Park Service found the scratch to send officers to the park to forcibly remove both volunteer workers and visitors.

Think about that for a minute. The Park Service, which is supposed to serve the public by administering parks, is now in the business of forcing parks they don’t administer to close. As Homer Simpson famously asked, did we lose a war?

We’re not done yet. The parking lot at Mount Vernon was closed by the NPS, too, even though the Park Service does not own Mount Vernon; it just controls access to the parking lots from the George Washington Parkway. At the Vietnam Memorial​—​which is just a wall you walk past​—​the NPS called in police to block access. But the pièce de résistance occurred in South Dakota. The Park Service wasn’t content just to close Mount Rushmore. No, they went the extra mile and put out orange cones to block the little scenic overlook areas on the roads near Mount Rushmore. You know, just to make sure no taxpayers could catch a glimpse of it.

It’s one thing for politicians to play shutdown theater. It’s another thing entirely for a civil bureaucracy entrusted with the privilege of caring for our national heritage to wage war against the citizenry on behalf of a political party.

This is how deep the politicization of Barack Obama’s administration goes. The Park Service falls under the Department of the Interior, and its director is a political appointee. Historically, the directorship has been nonpartisan and the service has functioned as a civil, not a political, unit. Before the current director, Jonathan Jarvis, was nominated by President Obama, he’d spent 30 years as a civil servant. But he has taken to his political duties with all the fervor of a third-tier hack from the DNC, marrying the disinterested contempt of a meter maid with the zeal of an ambitious party apparatchik.

It’s worth recalling that the Park Service has always been deeply ambivalent about the public which they’re charged with serving. In a 2005 Weekly Standard piece about the NPS’s plan to reconfigure the National Mall, Andrew Ferguson reported:

The Park Service’s ultimate desire was made public, indiscreetly, by John Parsons, associate regional park director for the mall. In 2000 Parsons told the Washington Post he hoped that eventually all unauthorized traffic, whether by foot or private car, would be moved off the mall. Visitors could park in distant satellite lots and be bused to nodal points, where they would be watered and fed, allowed to tour a monument, and then reboard a bus and head for another monument. “Just like at Disneyland,” Parsons told the Post. “Nobody drives through Disneyland. They’re not allowed. And we’ve got the better theme park.”

Yes, yes. They must protect America’s treasures from the ugly Americans. No surprise then that one park ranger explained to the Washington Times last week, “We’ve been told to make life as difficult for people as we can.”

“To make life as difficult for people as we can”​—​that would be an apt motto for the Obama worldview. And now even the misanthropes at the National Park Service have been yoked to his project. This is the clearest example yet of how the president understands the relationship between his government and the citizenry.

October 9, 2013

Sorry! Your national parks do not belong to you


By Warren L. Dean Jr.
Washington Times

The Public Broadcasting System has a promotional television commercial that starts off with a picture of Lincoln's statue in the memorial on the Mall in Washington and continues with pictures of national and local parks and other public facilities. It is accompanied by the soundtrack from the film “Dances with Wolves.” It is both majestic and inspiring. The theme of the commercial, set out in bold letters in front of Lincoln, is “THIS BELONGS TO YOU.” It ends with a picture of the United States Capitol.

We just found out the commercial is a lie.

Apparently, our national parks, monuments and treasures no longer belong to the people of the United States. They belong to a capricious federal establishment that is intent on punishing the American public for its temerity to elect representatives who think there should be a limit to the resources and power the government can take from its citizens. At the root of this vindictiveness is contempt for the very democratic processes that the Constitution prescribes.

For the first time during one of many government shutdowns, the National Park Service has closed the monuments and memorials in its care. It even closed the World War II Memorial to Honor Flight veterans who sacrificed far more for their country than anyone in this administration could imagine. It also roped off the overlooks on parkways that were otherwise still open, for no apparent reason. The government shuttered parks, beaches, historic sites, waterways and other facilities putatively owned by the public, regardless of the source of funding for those facilities. Never mind that these facilities are still patrolled by police that continue to be paid.

On the other hand, President Obama’s Camp David retreat and favorite golf courses remain open — at least for him. To make it absolutely clear that the closings are nothing more than political retribution against American voters, a pro-immigration rally was allowed to proceed Tuesday on the otherwise closed National Mall.

What this tells us is that the noble ideal — championed by PBS — that these national treasures actually belong to the people of the United States is false. They belong to a government that prints and borrows its own money, tells its citizens how to behave, and demands whatever tribute from them it may require for its purposes. When the people — 60 percent of which already think the government is too powerful — try to insist on some accountability through their elected representatives, the federal government sets out to exact its revenge from the public for exercising that right. In other words, it resorts to petty tyranny.

It is a sad irony that Congress is considering legislation to give federal employees back pay for the days they were furloughed by the legislative impasse. That is a horrible mistake. The budget of the National Park Service and the salaries of its employees should be cut, and cut permanently, for each day that the public was denied access to these supposedly public facilities. Perhaps that might bring the administration to its senses.

The monuments and treasures that have been expropriated by the administration are all tributes to the citizenry, their history and their accomplishments. Many of the sites celebrate the individuals, like President Lincoln, who embodied the highest values of the nation. By arrogating the power to close those facilities to the public that commissioned and paid for them, the federal government has betrayed those values. After all, the nation’s monuments and memorials are nothing more or less than physical symbols of the nation’s values and ideals. The government has managed to deface them more effectively than any vandal could.

The closure of the Lincoln Memorial will avoid at least one embarrassment for the administration. No one will be there to witness the marble statue inside shed a tear for the betrayal of what he stood for. In words inscribed on the memorial itself, Lincoln stated his dream for the nation: “That government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” The Great Emancipator never would have envisioned the day those words would be manacled by a federal bureaucracy charged with their care. He, for one, understood the meaning of liberty.

Warren L. Dean Jr. is a lawyer and an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center.

October 8, 2013

Cadiz project would drain our lifeblood from the desert

Guest commentary

By Jay Cravath
San Bernardino County Sun

Newspapers recently reported that Congressman Paul Cook, representing the northern Mojave Desert, called for a federal review of the Cadiz Water Project. The proposal to take groundwater from an aquifer that includes the Mojave National Preserve prompted his action. Numerous environmental groups, including the National Parks Conservation Association, the Great Basin Water District, farmers and ranchers, all have been vocal in their stringent opposition. The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors’ approval of the project last October ignited a fire storm.

Yet with all the opposition and vitriol — articles, editorials and lawsuits — the interests of an important constituency are missing. Certainly the project will draw more water than the aquifer can replace; it will pose a threat to the ranchers, rural communities and East Mojave landowners; and yes, it will do long-term harm to the springs of the precious Mojave National Preserve. However, concern for this sweeping landscape’s first citizens is conspicuously missing.

We, the Chemehuevi, along with our neighboring tribes, have traveled Mojave’s trails for a thousand years. For us, the New York Mountains are akin to the Hebrews’ Mount of Olives; the forests of the Ship Mountains, our Cedars of Lebanon. Nuwü, The People, consider those springs as important for reasons other than physical survival. Anthropologist Catherine Fowler describes our springs and streams as “highly symbolic sacred places, part of a living landscape, a storied land peopled with animals, plants and other beings that brought it life and gave it meaning.” We have stories, sung and told, exalting the names of this lifeblood. These tales celebrate our travels, hunts and gatherings. They were woven into the fabric of our own “Old Testament” and give us our belonging to the place.

The trails that cross and intersect this vast and compelling space are also honored through the Salt Songs. These songs are still sung today, and they traverse the landscape, describing symbolic and actual journeys. They are recited in cycles, often of four — a sacred number for us. They guide us on the trails through the geography of their text. Perhaps the lyrics will instruct: “By the three circled peaks with the bloom of mesquite between. Shade and a quiet pond, the tender shoots.”

The Creator, Ocean Woman, “sprinkled particles of her skin upon the sea to create a patch of earth, which she stretched to present size,” reminds Dr. Fowler. What could be a more powerful metaphor for our connection to the land than this from our origin story?

In a recent keynote address to the National Clean Energy Summit, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell touted the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) as a long-term approach to planning for public spaces, yet giving stronger voice to the land and new sensitivity to its original stewards. “Landscape-level conservation objectives” are said to embrace a comprehensive approach that considers the overall health, sustainability and even aesthetics of the landscape. But this is not the case. Instead, the DRECP offers a method to commercialize discrete bits of real estate to private contractors and owners. Dividing our sacred lands into pieces is nothing new to us. Alongside conservation groups, we call for a more far-reaching vision of this earth and water.

Since ancient times, we have seen the land as connected, not to be divided into disparate chunks. Whether the Interior Department’s commitment to a paradigm shift is real or a semantic glitch remains to be seen in the implementation.

On Cadiz, however, we stand firm in rejecting the greed and narcissism of those who would put their corporate bottom line above the rest of us. As this process moves forward, any decision must also weigh the sacred nature of these lands to the Chemehuevi and our fellow nations.

Jay Cravath is cultural director of the Chemehuevi Tribe.

GOP rips public land shutdown

By Ben Geman
The Hill

Hunters and tourists are needlessly being kept away from public lands during the shutdown, Republicans claimed Tuesday.

GOP members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee accused the Interior Department of closing roads and lands that could have been kept open in Western states.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is wrongly blocking access for hunters as the Alaskan winter approaches.

“This is moose season. This is hunting season. This is when Alaskans are filling up their freezer for a long winter. In so many of our communities there is no Costco; there is no Safeway; there is no grocery store,” said Murkowski, the panel’s top Republican. “Our hunting areas are the grocery store.”

Several GOP lawmakers spoke after the committee unanimously approved two nominees for roles in the Energy and Interior departments. The committee plans to hold a hearing as soon as next week on the shutdown's effects.

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) blasted the Interior Department's closures of areas in his state.

He said scenic highway overlooks to view Grand Teton National Park have been closed even though they don’t have trash cans or restrooms that would require staffing.

“No money has been saved by doing this,” he said.

“The Obama administration has made a concerted effort to intentionally hurt the public,” Barrasso said. “Maybe the [National] Park Service could study how to drop a large curtain in front of the mountains to block the view from the road,” he said with sarcasm.

Barrasso also said the FWS has closed a bike path that runs next to Highway 89 outside of Jackson, Wyo., for no good reason.

“Small and petty actions like these have been taken all across the West,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), meanwhile, said a rafting company in his state is losing business because a launch ramp has been closed by the Forest Service, which is part of the Agriculture Department.

Republicans are taking aim at restricted access to Washington, D.C.-area monuments and attractions and lands across the country.

“It appears this is a strategy to maximize disruption associated with the shutdown rather than minimize it,” Murkowski said, adding that private concessionaires are getting hurt from missing business.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) on Tuesday noted harms to energy permitting, hunting, logging and other effects of the shutdown.

Democrats want Republicans to agree to a “clean” spending bill to reopen government.

Wyden said that problems are inevitable until the government is back in business. He noted the shutdown is “inherently messy.”

“We are going to have all of these contradictions in policies, ambiguities and confusions about interpretation, and it is almost impossible to avoid it until we get the government open,” Wyden said.

October 7, 2013

Fill Mead first idea has big flaws


by Ron Thompson and Don Christiansen
Utah Voices -- The Spectrum

The Glen Canyon Institute is advocating Fill Mead First, a proposal to send water from Lake Powell to fill Lake Mead’s current water deficiency of 13.81 million acre feet.

That amount of water would completely drain Lake Powell, a primary goal of GCI, which is “dedicated to the restoration of Glen Canyon and a free flowing Colorado River.” In other words, GCI wants us to surrender enough water to sustain the entire state of Utah’s consumptive use for more than five years.

Lake Powell storage protects the water source for millions of residents in the upper basin states: Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah. In addition, the reservoir allows the upper basin states to store the water required by the 1922 Colorado River Compact to be released for use by the lower basin states: Nevada, Arizona and California.

If we couldn’t deliver the required 7.5 million acre feet of water on a 10-year rolling average, upper basin water use would be curtailed and restricted, drought protection would be sacrificed, and the downstream flow requirements would be compromised.

For decades, because of the storage in Lake Powell, the lower basin states have received significantly more than the minimum required by the compact, averaging 8.8 million acre feet during the past 15 years. The lower basin diverts an average of 9.5 million acre feet of water from Lake Mead every year, which continuously lowers lake levels.

GCI claims Fill Mead First would prevent water losses from seepage (bank storage) at Lake Powell. In reality, nearly 200,000 acre feet of the allegedly lost water is returned to the river and sent down to the lower basin.

Lake Powell is an essential, well-functioning reservoir that provides a critical service to all dependent on the Colorado River. We can’t afford to sacrifice this resource to serve a false agenda.

Fill Mead First also would cause catastrophic economic consequences to the upper basin states. According to some estimates, 13.81 million acre feet of water would support nearly 1.4 million businesses, more than 15 million employees and generate more than $1.25 trillion in personal income. It would also forfeit power generation revenues at Glen Canyon Dam, which have produced more than $370 million during the past three years. Add in the 2.3 million annual visitors to Lake Powell who spend $238 million in nearby communities and support 2,819 jobs, and the situation becomes even more dire.

Utah has a legal right to its share of the Colorado River to support current and future generations. Any organization that would advocate otherwise clearly doesn’t have Utah’s best interest in mind.

Ron Thompson is general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District, and Don
Christiansen is general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.