April 30, 2014

A Ghost Town, Going Green

Mr. Freeman and his wife, Roxanne Lang, reopened the town’s store and cafe, and restored the hotel, room by room, creating a destination for bikers, hikers, miners and tourists. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

New York Times

NIPTON, Calif. — Gerald Freeman leaned on a walking stick on a dusty hill near the four rows of his solar arrays, talking about it like an apostle on a mission. Down the road are the eucalyptus trees he planted as a potential source of biomass. And not far away, he said, he hopes to install a hydrogen system, another source of renewable fuel.

It’s all part of Mr. Freeman’s unlikely dream here in the Mojave Desert — to turn this tiny town into a community running on clean power entirely of its own making.

The dream began in earnest about 30 years ago, when Mr. Freeman, a gold miner living in Malibu, bought this ghost town — hotel and general store included. He still has a ways to go, but Nipton now produces roughly half the electricity for its fluctuating population of 30 to 70 residents from the array Mr. Freeman installed in 2010.

“The more independent we can become of outside resources, the better,” Mr. Freeman said, citing the rising cost of utility power, frequent outages and preserving the environment as motivation. “I’ve been conscious of the global warming issue since my early days in school. It’s only now beginning to be so much part of the present day. People are slow to adapt to an oncoming reality.”

For decades, people have experimented with self-reliant living, whether hippies flocking to communes in the hills or survivalists hunkering down across the plains. But not since Henry David Thoreau took off into the woods near Walden Pond has the idea of going off the grid seemed so within reach — albeit this time without sacrificing the modern conveniences.

With cheaper and more widely available ways to make power at home or in town, individuals and communities have been moving ever closer to declaring their energy independence, using technologies like solar, batteries and even small-scale wind. In recent years, towns dedicated to environmental sustainability while reducing the reliance on fossil fuels — known as transition towns — have sprung up in Europe, Australia and the Americas.

Still, it is not yet easy to unplug from the power system, as Mr. Freeman’s journey — which he may not get to complete because of flagging health — illustrates.

Mr. Freeman, 81, first got to know the place — not much more than a few buildings plopped behind the railroad tracks like a movie set — back in the 1950s. With a degree in geology from the California Institute of Technology, he would come from Los Angeles to prospect for gold, spending days climbing and sampling the rocks on his own. He eventually established a successful mine and moved to Malibu with his second wife, Roxanne Lang, now 63, whom he had met on a dive boat off Catalina and wooed with the opening line, “Can I help you with your wet-suit?” she recalled.

But Malibu became expensive and was far from the mining operations he oversaw. So when Nipton came up for sale, he bought it, moving there with Ms. Lang in 1984.

The town offered tremendous natural resources in the form of a Pleistocene-era underground lake whose waters flow there first and strong, year-round sunshine barely trespassed by clouds. It also had a rich history, bustling from the late 19th to mid-20th centuries along with the mining industry, and even boasting a hotel that played host to the silent-movie star Clara Bow, who owned a ranch nearby.

But by the time the couple moved there, it was all but empty and in disrepair. They stayed for six years, until their son outgrew the one-room schoolhouse that serves the area, and then moved to Henderson, Nev., a Las Vegas suburb.

In that time, they reopened the store and cafe and restored the hotel room by room, creating a destination for bikers, hikers, miners and tourists, especially Europeans, looking for the flavor of the Old West.

Michael Truman, for instance, usually escapes the cold of Medicine Hat, in Alberta, Canada, to come to the area from November to March. He had never been to Nipton before, but took a different road looking for places to travel with the dog he was planning to look after for friends and stumbled upon it.

“It looked cool, so I said, ‘I’m going there,’ ” he said, adding that he would probably bring the dog back for a day in the preserve bordering the town. “I like plants and animals more than people — they’re easier to get along with.”

It has also attracted a cluster of about 10 full-time residents who work in Nipton, some who say they were attracted by its peace and solitude.

The couple running the cafe, Susan and Fernando Gamez, have begun growing some of the vegetables they use for offerings like the If Looks Could Kale burger, using an intensive vertical system intended to save on space, energy and water.

“The whole area is more and more into how do we use our environment,” said a woman behind the cash register who gave her name as Brenda M. “Let’s not trash it; what can we do with it?”

For Mr. Freeman, those questions were there all along. He had begun experimenting even before he bought the town, using a grant from the state to plant eucalyptus as a potential energy source and farming euphorbia, which produces a latex that can be refined into fuel.

But he had always been interested in solar, he said. Over the years, he talked to several companies about installing an array, but it was too expensive. Then he came across a Palo Alto-based company that used mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays on light-sensitive material to increase the efficiency and lower the cost, and decided to go ahead, especially given the generous state and federal incentives.

That company, Skyline, has since gone out of business, but the array shines on.

“It seems to come up when the normal path of the 20th century toward eternal growth is stymied or when groups of people feel like that path is not going to work for them,” said Dona Brown, a University of Vermont professor and author of “Back to the Land: The Enduring Dream of Self-Sufficiency in Modern America.”

Mr. Freeman said he was now looking to a system to make hydrogen, both to store energy and to sell. The couple have put in five tent cabins using a modified Frank Lloyd Wright design and are talking about building an R.V. park to accommodate workers from the giant Ivanpah solar power plant nearby and a rare-earth mine just around the bend.

Mr. Freeman may not be the one to see all those plans to fruition, however. With diagnoses of congestive heart and renal failures, he is considering selling the town or finding a partner who can realize the vision.

Standing near the spot where, on those long-ago prospecting trips, he would call the train depot to tell the motorman to pick him up on the way back, he referred to the need for self-sufficiency in the face of global warming and economic instability.

“Things are evolving and the future is clear,” he said. “It’s just a question of how soon we can get there.”

Long History of BLM's Agressive Cattle Seizures

Bureau of Land Management law enforcement officers block the Overton Beach Road at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Overton, Nev. Thursday, April 10, 2014, as protestor's shadows are seen in the foreground. (John Locher/Las Vegas Review-Journal)


Every month, Raymond Yowell, the 84-year-old former chief of the Shoshone Indian Tribe in northeastern Nevada, has almost $200 garnished from his $1,150 Social Security check, and it all dates back to a 5:00am phone call on a Friday morning in 2002.

That morning, a government official from the Bureau of Land Management told him to come down to a seizure site where the 132 cattle he owned were about to be impounded.

When he arrived, men brandishing handguns told him he couldn't get any closer than 250 yards from his cattle. He watched from a distance as the government loaded the livestock onto stock trailers.

Within a week, the cattle had been sold at a private auction – for what Yowell estimated to be a quarter of their market price. The proceeds belonged to BLM, officials told him, paying a portion of the grazing fees he suddenly owed. It wasn't enough to cover the full debt, and BLM sent Yowell a bill for $180,000.

Yowell has been fighting the BLM in court ever since, but while the case moves its way through the system, his Social Security check takes a hit every month.

The story, ranchers in Nevada say, is far from unique. Beginning in the late 1980s, BLM adopted aggressive tactics in the West, leading to large-scale cattle seizures and a disruption of life for ranchers that had utilized public lands for decades prior.

While the press has showered attention on Cliven Bundy, a polarizing man who prompted a tense standoff between Bundy's well-armed militia supporters and federal police, the struggle between ranchers and the BLM is much broader.

In 1994, Clinton Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt rushed through a total overhaul of cattle and sheep grazing regulations on over 260 million acres of land that was managed by the BLM and Agriculture Department's U.S. Forest Service, The Washington Post reported.

The 1994 “Rangeland Reform” regulations included doubling the current fees charged to ranchers for public forage and further environmental rules to prevent “overgrazing.” Opponents noted that in the runup to the new regulations, the National Academy of Scientists – a preeminent scientific authority on which federal agencies rely for expert analysis – had issued a report concluding so little was known about the condition of U.S. range lands that the new standards were essentially a shot in the dark. But Babbit forged ahead anyway.

At the time, former-Sen. Pete Domenici ripped the plan, a version of which he had defeated in Congress when it was a legislative proposal the year before. "The last thing we should do is hurry decisions that have far-reaching effects on western states," he said.

Underlying the move to raise fees was BLM's view that the fees on public lands were too low – much lower than fees to graze on private land, for example.

But as Heather Smith Thomas, an Idaho rancher, noted in a 1994 article in Rangelands, a peer-reviewed academic journal, the private grazing fees were artificially high because the government owns so much land in the West.

“What many people do not understand is that the ‘low’ fee is just one small portion of the rancher's many costs in using public land. The total costs amount to much more than renting private pasture, yet the rancher is locked into this situation, totally dependent on the public range. He can't just walk away if the fee gets too high, and rent pasture elsewhere; there is not sufficient private pasture available,” Thomas wrote.

The new fees imposed upon ranchers in the 90’s were skewed, according to Thomas, because the fee was based on private land lease rates, but private lease rates were high due to the scarce availability of private land and the lack of regulations on private land compared to federally owned land.

Thomas noted the“BLM states that "land treatment solely oriented toward meeting livestock forage requirements will be discontinued". Additionally the reforms have less emphasis on grazing, “yet the BLM wants to charge the rancher more for something that is being made much more difficult to use.”

Before the Babbit rule, fees were based on a formula that reflected annual changes in the costs of production.

“All the legislative history involving FS and BLM fees show that grazing fees were intended to be based on the rancher's ability to pay, not on some arbitrary value of forage or budget needs of the administrative bureau,” Thomas said of the 1978 legislation.

Ranchers found themselves in court for years fighting the BLM immediately following 1994 regulations.

Idaho Republican Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth-Hage and her husband Wayne Hage, lost their grazing permit on their Nevada ranch property for federal lands in 1991, when the federal government refused to renew it. This incident started a 20-year battle with the BLM. The government also denied access to the Hage family’s water rights, which pre-dated the implementation of the 1934 Taylor Act’s grazing permit requirement, by not allowing access to streams and wells. Eventually, the agency built fences around any water source, so the cattle could not drink. The BLM seized Hage’s cattle and filed a civil trespass action against Hage.

A little over twenty years later, however, seven years after Hage and his wife died, Hage’s children, Wayne Jr. and Ramona Morrison Hage won a victory for the family in court.

Last May, U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Jones ruled that “the government and the agents of the government in that locale, sometime in the ’70s and ’80s, entered into a conspiracy, a literal, intentional conspiracy, to deprive the Hages of not only their permit grazing rights, for whatever reason, but also to deprive them of their vested property rights under the takings clause, and I find that that’s a sufficient basis to hold that there is irreparable harm if I don’t … restrain the government from continuing in that conduct.”

Judge Jones found the government’s demand for trespass fines and damages from innocent ranchers to be “abhorrent to the Court and I express on the record my offense of my own conscience in that conduct. That’s not just simply following the law and pursuing your management right, it evidences an actual intent to destroy their water rights, to get them off the public lands.”

Jones went further and accused federal government personnel of racketeering under the federal RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corruption Organizations) statute, and accused them of extortion, mail fraud, and fraud, in an attempt “to kill the business of Mr. Hage.”

Morrison Hage, a member of the Nevada Agriculture Board, told Breitbart News that “In the west our governors almost conduct themselves as if they’re a colonial governor and as if they’re only governor over the private land, adding “They take their hands off the steering wheel even though all state power emerge from the state. They take their hands off the steering whenever there’s anything to do with federal land management.”

Harvey Frank Robbins became a Wyoming dude ranch owner in 1994, after buying a piece of land in the state, but Robbins troubles began soon after his purchase. He told Live Stock Weekly, "The government — the Forest Service, the BLM and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department — were trying to buy the ranch," he explains. "They had these plans of grandeur of having this sanctuary of elk and trout fishing and all the things they could do. Then this guy from Alabama comes in at the last minute, not knowing any of this, and buys this ranch."

Robbins accused BLM employees of trying to force him to renew an easement to the point of almost putting him out of business. When Robbins refused to do so, according to his lawyer, Karen Budd Falen, BLM employees broke into his house and demanded to be allowed on to his property without a court order, among other things. While Robbins won victories in lower courts, a RICO case against the BLM employees eventually went before the Supreme Court in 2006, where the majority ruled the BLM agents were not liable for the alleged actions against Robbins.

Justice David Souter wrote opinion for the majority, stating, “Souter wrote that "we think [that] any damages remedy for actions by Government employees who push too hard for the Government's benefit may come better, if at all, through legislation."

Legislative changes could very well happen in the near future. New legislation to reform how much land the government does own could be headed to Capitol Hill. The meeting of western lawmakers in Utah last week signaled such a plan. Additionally, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced the Lone State’s plan to defend its own land from BLM seizures.

April 29, 2014

Courtroom defeat won't stop Utah in roads fight

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue

SALT LAKE CITY — The state of Utah and San Juan County may have lost a key fight over access to a road in Canyonlands National Park, but the roads war being waged against the U.S. government is far from over.

On Friday, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Utah and San Juan County failed to prove that Salt Creek Canyon Road was a "public thoroughfare," meaning the road remains off-limits to their rights-of-way claims under a Civil War-era statute.

“It would be mistake to consider this decision limiting us from going forward in our other road cases,” said Harry Souvall, public lands section chief for the Utah Attorney General's Office. He added that the decision provides clarity on such issues as statutes of limitations, but does not shut down the state and counties' case in claims to 12,000 other roads.

In their ruling, justices rejected the state's argument that uninterrupted periodic use over a 10-year period was sufficient to establish a claim to the dirt road — and therefore access by motorized vehicles.

"The state and county failed to carry their burden of establishing 10 years of continuous public use of the Salt Creek Road as a public thoroughfare prior to (establishment) of the Canyonlands National Park in 1964," the opinion read.

It would be mistake to consider this decision limiting us from going forward in our other road cases.
Harry Souvall, Utah AG's office

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance hailed the ruling as key to protecting valuable natural resources within Canyonlands.

"For Salt Creek Canyon, it is a great decision," said Steve Bloch, attorney with the organization. "It means the only perennial stream in the park outside the Green and Colorado rivers will remain protected from signficant adverse impacts of motorized travel."

The issue

At issue is the question of motorized use of an unimproved 12.3-mile road that is intertwined with a creek bed in Salt Creek Canyon. The state argued that periodic historic use by cattle ranchers, uranium miners and tourists was enough to elevate the route to claims under the so-called RS2477 statute.

Before the 1995 implementation of a backcountry management plan for the park, access to the road was unrestricted and then modified to a permit-system only.

At that time, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance challenged the park service's decision to keep the road open, arguing that continued motorized use of the trail ruined the perennial stream and posed risks of damaging prized archaeological resources in the area.

By 2004, the park service decided to lock the gate on the road, prompting the lawsuit by San Juan County and the state, which claimed its historic use over the years constituted status as a roadway or public thoroughfare.

The state pointed to grazing uses in the late 1880s or early 1890s that gradually increased through the 1950s, uranium mining and exploration in the 1950s, and uses of the canyon by Boy Scouts and tourists beginning as early as the 1950s.

Supporters of preserving access, including the Utah Shared Access Alliance and the Blue Ribbon Coalition, also argued that the road is the primary route for tourists to reach several scenic sites within the park, including Angel Arch.

While the state argued that no "particular frequency" was required under the claim as long as there was no formal interruption of access by the federal government, the court disagreed in its Friday decision, upholding the ruling of the U.S. District Court for Utah.

"While we agree uninterrupted use is necessary, it is not alone sufficient to demonstrate the existence of a public thoroughfare for purposes of RS2477," the court said. "The intensity of public use remains a component in determining the existence of a public thoroughfare."

Important for upcoming cases

Bloch said the Salt Creek ruling helps to flesh out important case law for other road claim cases to come.

"This ruling is another piece of the puzzle in figuring out what types of claims are not sufficient," he said. "We are going to continue to scrutinize it closely and rely on it to defeat similar claims that stream bottoms and cow paths and other dirt trails are highways."

Bloch predicted that the ruling may come into play with another case in Kane County that is also on appeal before the 10th Circuit and scheduled to be heard in September.

There are only 14,000-plus more claims to go. The state has a long, hard road to hoe if they are going to continue this push.
–Steve Bloch, SUWA attorney

"There are only 14,000-plus more claims to go," he said. "The state has a long, hard road to hoe if they are going to continue this push."

Souvall, however, stands by the distinction that the state should only have to prove "available" use over a 10-year period, and frequency need not come into play in a legal claim for the right of way. However, he added, the state is developing evidence of "frequency of use" in other road cases to meet the standard.

That nuance in the argument may prompt a request for an en banc hearing by the full panel of judges to weigh the merits of the state's claims to Salt Creek Road.

Utah is in its second year of an all-out battle over access to roads or routes in 22 of its 29 counties. In 2012, the claims were consolidated into one lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior over RS2477 roads, which were part of a transportation network established via an 1866 law to foster movement in the West.

While the statute has since been repealed with the adoption of the Federal Land Management Policy Act, the state's and counties' rights of way to roads that already existed were grandfathered in.

April 28, 2014

Cadiz water project offers many benefits

Guest Commentary

By Scott Slater
San Bernardino Sun

While it is a common tactic for project opponents to distort facts and instill fear, everyone should be disappointed in recent a guest commentary by Bill Withuhn, which attacks the Cadiz Water Project and its railroad-related benefits.

Withuhn is a railroad professional, yet in his piece, he denies historical fact: Steam locomotives are firmly embedded in the history of the Mojave — not “an overheated absurdity.” Towns like Cadiz were founded by railroads as water stops for steam locomotives carrying passengers and supplies across the desert during the expansion of the West. Appreciation for steam trains carries on here today, so plans to integrate a steam train into our project are based on certainty that “if we build it they will come.”

After all, the planned steam locomotive route between Cadiz and Parker, Ariz., is centrally located to the desert’s most frequented destinations. Parker receives 750,000 visitors per year, Joshua Tree National Park has nearly two times that many, and annual visitor spending in the California deserts is $5.8 billion.

The truth fared even worse when the piece turned its attention to the water supply reliability Cadiz will offer. The project will capture and conserve groundwater that is being lost to evaporation from a vast Mojave Desert aquifer system, providing a new supply for 400,000 water users across Southern California. Because the piece aims to further the “us vs. them” fears worked up by project opponents, it stokes the familiar but false claim that Cadiz would only serve the Coast. In fact, 20 percent of project water is reserved for San Bernardino County and these local benefits cannot be denied, with Northern California and Colorado River water supplies becoming increasingly unreliable.

The piece also repeats the unfounded claim that the project has avoided environmental review. In fact, it was thoroughly reviewed under the nation’s toughest environmental law — the California Environmental Quality Act. A 6,000-page environmental impact report (EIR) found it would have no significant impacts on desert flora, fauna, water users or businesses, leading to project approval by two public agencies including San Bernardino County.

The commentary also omits that the county adopted a groundwater management plan to ensure the project’s pumping is sustainable. The plan requires data from 100 new groundwater monitoring installations be published online for public review, and gives the county independent power to shut the project down if any unexpected impact occurs.

It appears the article’s true intent is to shop for a second opinion on the project from D.C. regulators. That explains why it mischaracterizes our plans to place the project’s water conveyance pipeline within an active railroad right-of-way in order to avoid impacts to desert lands. It is commonplace in the Mojave and nationwide for railroads to lease their property to third parties for uses like water, fiber optic, gas and oil pipelines. Federal regulators have allowed railroads to do this with without their involvement. And it undeniably serves the public’s interest to tuck such infrastructure into already disturbed routes.

The project also will provide benefits to the host railroad that cannot be dismissed, including fire suppression. According to a 2013 California Public Utilities Commission report, increased crude oil movement by rail is a significant concern in the railroad industry today. Withuhn is no doubt aware of the exponential increase in movement of crude oil by railcar and the related fire risk along rail corridors, as evidenced by the 2013 oil train derailment in Canada that killed 47 people. Cadiz’s offer to provide water for remote-controlled fire suppression systems on the railroad’s wooden trestles is an investment that a railroad expert should applaud, not dismiss.

The Cadiz project was publicly reviewed and approved under the toughest environmental law, will be locally enforced and provide long-term benefits to the desert and railroad communities. To imply otherwise is the only “overheated absurdity.”

Scott Slater is president and CEO of Cadiz, Inc.

Police investigating Cliven Bundy-related threats to Harry Reid

Bureau of Land Management vehicles are seen Friday, April 11, near a corral with Bundy Ranch cattle outside Bunkerville, Nevada. (Reuters)


Federal law enforcement officials are investigating threats made against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the aftermath of his sharp-edged attacks against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, sources said Monday.

Reid has not minced words about Bundy’s battle with the Bureau of Land Management, referring to Bundy’s supporters as “domestic terrorists” and the rancher himself as a “hateful racist.” As he’s stepped up his criticism, Reid has been the subject of threats himself, prompting an increase in his own security detail in recent days, people familiar with the matter said Monday.

Shennell Antrobus, a spokesman for the U.S. Capitol Police, declined to comment on the number of security personnel assigned to Reid or the nature of the threats against the Democratic leader. But he confirmed that the police are investigating “threatening statements” made against the majority leader.

“We are currently looking into threatening statements made against Sen. Reid as part of an ongoing investigation,” Antrobus said.

Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson declined to comment.

It’s not unusual for a politician in such a position of power to be the subject of threats; federal officials routinely investigate threats made against leaders of all stripes.

But the Reid inquiry comes as other Democrats are raising security concerns over the Bundy episode.

Rep. Steven Horsford — a freshman Nevada Democrat whose district spans the region outside of Las Vegas where Bundy is battling the BLM — expressed serious concerns Sunday that out-of-state “armed militia groups” were exerting undue influence and scaring residents in Bunkerville, Nev., and the surrounding areas, about 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

In a Sunday letter to Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie, Horsford alleged that armed groups have created checkpoints requiring individuals “to prove they live in the area before being allowed to pass” and have established “a persistent presence” around highways, local schools and churches.

“We must respect individual constitutional liberties, but the residents of and visitors to Clark County should not be expected to live under the persistent watch of an armed militia,” Horsford said in the letter.

The increasingly tense battle stems from a conflict over grazing rights on public lands. Bundy owes $1.1 million in grazing fees after he stopped paying the Bureau of Land Management in retaliation against the government’s move to restrict grazing in an effort to protect the endangered desert tortoise. The agency, which is headed by a 35-year-old former Reid aide, Neil Kornze, who won Senate confirmation earlier this month, manages more than 260 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West.

With armed supporters protecting his herd, Bundy has battled with BLM agents seeking to seize some 500 cattle following charges by the government that his family has long been illegally grazing his cattle there. The fight has made Bundy a national celebrity with conservatives for his battles with what critics call an overreaching federal government and efforts to limit dissent in harsh ways, such as using tasers on protesters in Nevada.

But Republicans quickly abandoned Bundy last week after his remarks disparaging African Americans and questioning whether they’d be better off under slavery appeared in the New York Times.

“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he said. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Bundy later responded: “If they think I’m racist, they are totally wrong.”

April 25, 2014

Protection For East Mojave Bobcats Now In Place

Bobcat (Lynx rufus)
San Bernardino Sentinel

Efforts to protect San Bernardino County’s bobcat population have moved ahead, including the enactment of legislation last year which bans the trapping of the majestic creatures or the harvesting of their pelts in and around Joshua Tree National Park and the Big Morongo Canyon Preserve.

At present, state officials are awaiting the outcome of a survey of the entire state of California’s bobcat numbers to determine whether the Fish and Game Commission should set further restrictions on bobcat trapping permits.

Farmers and keepers of livestock have for centuries engaged in an effort to suppress the bobcat population, offering bounties on the animals, which are opportunistic predators. The bobcat (Lynx rufus) is a North American mammal of the cat family Felidae, which most often preys upon available rabbits and hares, small rodents and deer. If chickens are available, bobcats will voraciously feast upon them and will attack and kill foxes, minks, skunks,, dogs, goats and sheep. Bobcats have been credited with being responsible for roughly 11,000 sheep killings nationally every years, or 4.9% of all sheep predator deaths, though bobcat predation in this venue may be misattributed since bobcats have been known to scavenge on the remains of livestock kills by other animals.

Concern had been growing for years over human predation of bobcats. Bobcat pelts are commonly sold for $200 to $1,000 to collectors. Traders and collectors in China, Russia and Greece are particularly fond of bobcat pelts.

A common way of controlling the bobcat population consists of trapping. Trappers will monitor a bobcat’s habits and find areas they frequent. Since bobcat are territorial and mark their territory with its urine, trappers will use commercially available bobcat urine to bait a trap. They often cover the trap with sticks or brush and accentuate the baiting process with a piece of meat, mimicking the bobcat's practice of hiding away portions of larger animals it cannot finish in one sitting.

Popular nowadays are long-spring traps or coil traps, or a homesteader or rear door trap which is designed to capture the bobcat without injuring it or its pelt.

A watershed event occurred in January 2013 when Joshua Tree resident Tom O’Key found a bobcat trap on his property just outside Joshua Tree National Park. The trapper claimed he thought he had placed his device on public land.

As a result, Richard Bloom of Santa Monica sponsored Assembly Bill 1213. Which was passed into law and signed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2013. In signing the bill Brown called for a bobcat survey to determine the appropriateness of more inclusive bans.

The law went into effect on January 1, 2014, establishing a no-trapping zone around Joshua Tree National Park and within the Big Morongo Preserve, require the Department of Fish and Wildlife to amend its regulations to “prohibit the trapping of bobcats within, and adjacent to, the boundaries of a national or state park, monument or preserve, national wildlife refuge and other public or private conservation area identified by for protection.”

The bill also codified as illegal to trapping bobcats on private lands without the written consent of the property owner.

Mojave region’s public being railroaded


By Bill Withuhn
San Bernardino Sun

You want your scarce groundwater sent to Orange County and L.A.? Read on.

It’s not a desert mirage: A proposed water project stands to create irreversible damage by pumping groundwater from underneath the Mojave Desert and sending it in a new pipeline to supply the Los Angeles/Orange County region. Project proponent Cadiz Inc. has requested the Interior Department waive standard federal review.

People in desert country might applaud waiving a federal law — at first. But the Cadiz Inc. project threatens desert residents, ranchers and local businesses by putting their groundwater in jeopardy. The project would also threaten the National Chloride Company’s brine mining operation. According to a local economist, pipeline construction might benefit San Bernardino County employment, but for just four years. Here then and then gone.

The project would pump 50,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Mojave Aquifer for 50 years. Starting near the town of Cadiz, the proposed pipeline would use the right-of-way of an existing railroad for about 45 miles till reaching the Colorado River Aqueduct near Freda.

Cadiz Inc. calls the pipeline a “railroad” project rather than a water project. Really?

This sleight of hand is bizarre. Cadiz Inc. wants to piggyback on a law that helps California businesses that use freight rail. Under that law, a railroad through public lands can undertake improvements within its established right-of-way without federal review.

The claims by Cadiz are a gross distortion. Its project would irreversibly harm public lands that taxpayers have paid for decades to protect. That includes state wilderness areas and the Mojave National Preserve — the third-largest national park site in the lower 48 states. Threatened are desert springs and many rare desert species, not to mention the livelihoods of local ranchers and business owners who never use the railroad. Cadiz foresees a $1-2 billion profit over a half-century, by pumping the Mojave Aquifer into overdraft.

In 2011, the Interior Department published a review concluding that a railroad’s authority to undertake activities impacting public land is limited to projects directly affecting rail transportation.

In its attempt to claim its project furthers a “railroad purpose,” Cadiz modified its proposal to install dozens of water hydrants all along the 45 miles of track for emergencies, construct a parallel access road, and provide water for weed control and “washing rail cars.”

A suitable road along the railway already exists — a public road, also used for rail safety inspections and access for track work. Water for mixing with approved weedkiller is a minor use limited to inside the railroad’s right-of-way (so no help with tumbleweeds), and only modestly useful in desert lands. Washing rail freight cars is, frankly, absurd. Nearly all freight cars transiting the line are owned and maintained by other railroads or companies.

Fire hydrants all along a remote rail line are also absurd. They have no justification for safety and have nothing to do with a “railroad purpose.” U.S. DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) verifies that except within large railyards, no known railroad has strings of hydrants along its enroute lines. Diesel locomotives don’t need water added during trips, and firefighting or quick emergency response is done best by vehicles coming by the existing road. San Bernardino County’s fire department says the road is sufficient for the department’s rapid-response needs.

In its latest effort to mask its water-export project, Cadiz announced plans for a steam-powered tourist train, using Mojave Aquifer water. A steam engine running in this region is a further overheated absurdity.

Cadiz is unaware of the economics. From my direct experience of 40-plus years, safely maintaining a steam locomotive is about 20 times more expensive than even a 30-year-old diesel. The proposed route is extremely remote, without an adequate rail tourism market present or future. Steam trains tried in scarce-population areas have rapidly proven nonviable. That’s due to huge unavoidable costs and few paying tourist passengers to cover the bills. Cadiz proposes a cute steam excursion to burn money by the trainload.

The Interior Department owes to all Americans a review of high-risk water projects, so impacts can be vetted by those without stakes in the matter and vetted also by the affected public in the light of day.

Bill Withuhn is a former managing vice president of diesel freight-rail lines in five states. For operational steam engines, he served four years as co-chair of a U.S. DOT special committee developing today’s stricter safety standards, which have also cut operating costs. He lives in Camanche Lake, Calif.

Bundy’s idiotic remarks embarrassment to state

Rick McKee - Bundy Lone Ranger


Clark County rancher Cliven Bundy has put the Bunker in Bunkerville. As in Archie Bunker.

That might be a bit harsh — on Carroll O’Connor’s racist character from TV’s “All in the Family.” Mr. Bundy wasn’t funny last week when, in front of a New York Times reporter, he provided a moronic monologue on blacks in America, suggesting they would be better off if they were returned to slavery.

Yes, he said that.

And so, just as the country was starting to learn about the important federal land issues at the heart of Mr. Bundy’s decades-long dispute with the Bureau of Land Management, just as he was attracting broader support for the next round of fights with Washington over local land use and control, Mr. Bundy made it impossible for anyone with credibility to be sympathetic to his cause, much less advocate on his behalf.

Mr. Bundy’s standoff with the BLM over cattle grazing turned him into a conservative celebrity and made tiny Bunkerville a nationally recognized dateline this month. Now his remarks on race have embarrassed the entire state.

The comments, made Saturday, were printed in Thursday’s edition of the Times, sending his political enemies on attack and most of his allies scrambling for cover.

“‘I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,’ he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, ‘and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.

“‘And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?’ he asked. ‘They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom,’” the Times reported.

To insinuate that only blacks are on welfare is incredibly offensive and hurtful. But to suggest that blacks enjoyed more freedom and better lives as slaves is indescribably stupid. At a Thursday news conference, Mr. Bundy repeated his foolishness, saying the members of “the Negro community” who live in Las Vegas Valley public housing look like slaves.

Set aside whether Mr. Bundy’s nonpayment of some $1 million in grazing fees makes him a welfare queen — his dispute is far more complicated than that. But it’s outrageous for Mr. Bundy to claim he has been oppressed and had his rights trampled and, at the same time, essentially dismiss the worst oppression and suppression of human rights ever carried out in this country.

In case no one ever told Mr. Bundy, slavery very nearly destroyed the country he claims to love.

So now begins the opportunist campaign to tar anyone who expressed support for Mr. Bundy, or continues to support his fight against the federal government, as a racist by association. Please. The battle against Washington’s overreach, crushing regulation and iron-fisted control of most of the West is much bigger than Mr. Bundy. But he’ll only marginalize the cause if he insists on delivering more social commentary.

Even fools have rights. Parts of Mr. Bundy’s dispute with the federal government still have great merit.

His ideas on slavery and black America don’t.

April 24, 2014

At scene of Nevada ranch standoff, 'citizen soldiers' are on guard

The conflict between cattleman Cliven Bundy and the BLM has attracted scores of self-styled militiamen who tote semiautomatic guns and share his antigovernment views.

Cattleman Cliven Bundy leaves the lectern after a news conference near his ranch in Bunkerville, Nev. Bundy and the federal Bureau of Land Management have been locked in a dispute for years over grazing rights on public lands. (David Becker / Getty Images /April 24, 2014)

By John M. Glionna and Richard Simon
Los Angeles Times

BUNKERVILLE, Nev. — The first thing you see on the drive to Cliven Bundy's ranch are the American flags — tied to roadside guardrails, flapping in a hard desert wind.

At a bend in state Route 170 sits the so-called Patriot Checkpoint, evidence of the tense power play raging between the rebellious 67-year-old cattleman and the federal government.

Then there are the guns. Scores of grim citizen militiamen in combat fatigues — semiautomatic weapons slung over their shoulders, ammunition magazines at their belts — patrol from a base they call Camp Tripwire.

"State sovereignty is what we're fighting for," reads a sign strung to a fence. And another: "The West has now been won!"

Bundy's private war, a decades-long court battle with the Bureau of Land Management over his cattle grazing on public land, recently took a decidedly populist turn: When armed federal agents moved to oversee the roundup of hundreds of Bundy's cattle across half a million acres managed by the BLM, some Americans sat up wide-eyed before their televisions and computer screens.

The government says that Bundy owes $1 million in fees for letting his cattle graze in the Gold Butte area. Still, the get-tough tactic became a clarion call for those who see the federal government as arrogant and bloated. Suddenly, truck drivers, pizza deliverymen and ex-cops from as far away as New Hampshire and Georgia converged upon this unincorporated ranching town.

The self-described "citizen soldiers" arrived venting a smoldering anger and wielding AR-15 and AK-47 rifles. Days later, the government called off the roundup and released 350 of Bundy's cattle back onto public land.

Two weeks later, some Bundy supporters remain bivouacked here, celebrating what they call the Battle of Bunkerville. They're gritty, unshaven men, some with their wives, who refer to themselves as "we the people," voicing gripes about Obamacare and lax federal immigration policy.

Bundy has his critics, but to supporters, his case is a symbol of everything wrong with America. Never mind that other ranchers pay the fees Bundy says he can avoid because his ancestors settled the area before the federal government stepped in.

The face-off is reminiscent of civil disobedience popularized during the 1970s Sagebrush Rebellion, a movement that sought greater local control in 12 Western states where the federal government administers 60% of the land. In Nevada, the BLM manages 87% of the land.

At Camp Tripwire, the militia members talk of deadly antigovernment clashes at Idaho's Ruby Ridge and at Waco, Texas. "We showed up so there's no slaughter like Ruby Ridge," said a man who called himself Mark, a 60-year-old from New Mexico dressed in fatigues, with a handgun strapped to his leg.

"A blind chimp can see this is a bad situation. But we're not wackos. We're here as defenders, trying to do what's right in our hearts," he said.

Two weeks ago, he arrived at a scene that he said brought tears to his eyes: "Americans, refusing to cow to the federal government, blindly, like cattle. They were taking a stand."

In Washington, the standoff has divided lawmakers along party lines.

Harry Reid, Nevada's senior senator and the Senate majority leader, branded Bundy's militia "domestic terrorists," while the state's other senator, Republican Dean Heller, called them "patriots."

Other Republicans say Bundy highlights what they regard as federal overreach, such as presidents designating public land for national monuments without consulting local officials.

"Remember, the federal government works for the people. It doesn't feel like that out West," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "It's not just about Mr. Bundy. A lot of people can relate to what is happening, even though they probably disagree with somebody who wants to run cattle on public land without a permit."

He says many Western ranchers think Washington doesn't understand or care about them: "It isn't long before shots will be fired."

Bob Abbey, a former BLM director, said public angst goes beyond Bundy. "I do think there is a segment of our population in the United States that feels disenfranchised," he said.

But, he added, "Mr. Bundy is not a victim by any means."

Bundy's public image fell this week after his pointed comments about African Americans and social welfare, suggesting that "the Negro" was made dependent by government programs. He told the New York Times that "I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

The denunciations were immediate. Heller "completely disagrees with Bundy's appalling and racist statements and condemns them in the most strenuous way," his office said. Reid calls Bundy a hateful racist.

Bundy's wife, Carol, on Thursday defended her husband. "What he was saying is that there are lots of different forms of slavery. Welfare is one kind. It's just another way to suppress people."

The citizen cowboys protecting Bundy's ranch remain undeterred. "His statements were not a criticism of blacks. They criticized the federal government," said Brandon Rapolla, a concrete mixer from Oregon who spent eight days at the ranch. "I've met the Bundys, and that's not who they are."

In Nevada, the prolonged standoff has alienated many, including the Nevada Cattlemen's Assn., which says the matter is between Bundy and the courts. That's the advice of Patrick Shea, a former BLM director. The government, he said, should be patient, put a lien on Bundy's cattle and not "create these made-for-television dramas."

Ray Schmalz, a Colorado visitor, says Bundy is simply selfish. The roundup threatened to close a public area where Schmalz rides his all-terrain vehicle. "If he owes grazing fees, he needs to pay them. He's raping the system. And that militia with him are just rebels, showing off with their guns," he said.

Historians say Bundy's followers will eventually find a new rallying cause.

"The tea party and everyone else is tapping into the anger of people [who] feel like outsiders to a federal government they do not control," said Michael Green, a historian at the College of Southern Nevada. "After Cliven Bundy, someone else will come along. With the Internet and 24/7 news channels, there will always be something new to rally people."

The Camp Tripwire sentry covered his eyes from a wind-whipped blast of sand. A rotund man from Arizona in full military field regalia, he carried several weapons and a walkie-talkie. "Post to base," he said. "There's a visitor who wants to enter."

Given the approval, he barked: "OK. Over and out."

He turned, snapping: "Go directly to the blue tent. Do not stop to talk to anyone." Asked about his rifle propped against a chair, he softened: "The Bundys don't want us carrying them around. But I'm not supposed to tell anybody that. I'll get in trouble."

Camp commander Jerry DeLemus, who drove 41 hours from New Hampshire with a yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag, had his hands full — directing armed sentries, storing supplies, leading a morning prayer session. At 59, he's an ex-Marine, self-employed contractor, born-again Christian, Harley-Davidson motorcyclist and National Rifle Assn. member.

"All of us out here, we're Americans," he said, a .45-caliber handgun at his side. "Just like you."

He explained the post's name — Camp Tripwire. "If anyone comes here to do anything bad, they're going to trip on us," he said. "It doesn't mean we're going to stop them, but we'll slow them down."

Who knows how long he'll stay. "My wife asks the same question," he said. "People have lost jobs. But I still can't pry 'em out of here."

Nearby, at the Bundy ranch, the mood was less accommodating. "Hey, where you going?" men in fatigues shouted when a visitor tried to enter the Bundy house. "Nobody just walks in here."

Inside, Carol Bundy looked on sheepishly, later sending an apologetic text message: "We have just had an overwhelming amount of media here and the militia is getting protective."

Later, Cliven Bundy sat with supporters under a mesquite tree at the Patriot Checkpoint, with a box of pocket-sized Constitutions on a nearby table.

He spoke softly, like a leader at a prayer meeting. Since the roundup ended, he said he has refused to even open five certified letters from the BLM. "I've challenged the federal government's authority," he said. "That's why they want to kill Cliven Bundy."

Surrounded daily by guards, he admitted his rancher's life had become a fishbowl existence. "I'd hate to have this militia here for the rest of my life," he said. "But I sure do want them here today."

Guarding against overreach of the Endangered Species Act

Sue McCrum
Drovers Cattle Network

Recently there have been media reports that have highlighted the dangerous overreach of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Desert Tortoise, Delta Smelt, Sage Grouse, and the Lesser Prairie Chicken to name a few species, are being respected over the value of the human species as various actions are being taken across the United States to severely curtail or eliminate the use of land, water, timber and mineral resources in deference to these species. These resources are vital for the security and economic solvency of the United States as they provide food, fiber, shelter and energy for our people.

The situation cements the fact that American Agri-Women (AAW) urges that the existing Endangered Species Act be repealed. At the very least, AAW supports a requirement that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Critical Habitat designations be completed before restrictive regulatory action is taken. Concurrent social, economic and environmental cost/benefit analyses and compensatory adjustments for takings deemed necessary for species protection is required, and should be enforced.

AAW supports allowing a state or private property owner who is accused of an ESA violation to continue with existing farming, logging, fishing or mining practices until the suit is resolved. No fine should be assessed unless a violation is proven.

AAW opposes expansion of habitat area designations for endangered species without peer-reviewed scientific data showing the additional acres are necessary.

With an ever increasing world population that will need to be fed, clothed and sheltered land being taken out of productive use for the benefit of people will regrettably result in an endangered species listing for the human race.

Sue McCrum, President of American Agri-Women, the nation’s largest coalition of farm, ranch and agri-business women.

April 22, 2014

'Militia' groups fear infiltration by feds at Bundy Ranch

By Lauren Rozyla
KLAS-TV Las Vegas

BUNKERVILLE, Nev. -- Militia groups are still surrounding the Bundy ranch days after the BLM ended its roundup of cattle. There is concern among some of them that they have been infiltrated by undercover federal agents.

One man, among the self-described militia, says at least two federal agents went undercover to gather information and are preparing to make arrests. This latest information is causing increased tensions among those who say their goal is to protect rancher Cliven Bundy. Around 50 people remain at the ranch, many living in tents, and are prepared to stay for weeks, even months. The men say they took an oath to protect, but they are worried there is a rat in the ranks

"When you pledge your life and your fortune, you're prepared to give it up," said Bobby Bridgewater, an Oath Keeper.

An atmosphere of uncertainty now surrounds the Bundy ranch. The so-called security guards aren't sure, but they believe it's possible federal agents are among them, posing as militia.

"You don't know until you actually catch somebody," Bridgewater said. "It is always something that we're always thinking about."

The Bundy supporters gathered in Bunkerville to protect the Bundy family. Cliven Bundy has allowed his cattle to graze illegally for 20 years on public lands. The feds began rounding up the cattle about three weeks ago, but stopped after some armed supporters interfered. Those supporters took Bundy's cattle back from a federal holding pen. The militia continue to guard Bundy and the nearby hills 24 hours a day.

Former Bundy guard Frank Lindysthe says it is all very troubling.

"They are now calling for militia. They're not in dug in positions, they are sitting on top of ridges. They don't have night vision capability," he said.

Lindysthe left the ranch in the middle of the night after at least two men tried joining the guard. He said the men made him uncomfortable.

"The people that are up there, they have a certain look about them. These are military. My belief is federal agents," he said.

Lindysthe feels the alleged federal agents are there to gather information on militia members and eventually conduct a raid.

"They're dirty. They're dirty," he said.

But, despite that belief, most of the militia show no signs of leaving and many say they're ready to die fighting.

The BLM is declining any on camera interviews and there's been no talk of any arrests connected to the dispute.

Downsize National Park Service, dumping costly, unpopular sites

Washington Times

The National Park Service is waiving entrance fees to America’s national parks and historic sites during National Parks Week. The freebies continue until April 27, but taxpayers aren’t getting a bargain, considering that the swollen agency spends $2.6 billion a year.

President Obama wants to spend still more money on parks, asking Congress to approve a scheme to spend an additional $1.2 billion over the next three years. The cash would be earmarked to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial anniversary in 2016. It would fund, among other projects, an expensive youth work program and provide more muscle for the federales to wrestle land from individual property owners.

The National Park Service runs so deeply in the red because it’s too big. The agency runs 401 parks and historic sites, 23 trails and 58 rivers. For every majestic natural wonder and historic treasure, there’s a sparsely visited Park Service site of little value or significance. Many, if not most, of the Park Service’s nearly 500 properties might be better served in state, local or private hands.

Few national parks are financially self-sufficient. The rest are on the dole, requiring taxpayers to subsidize a failure to attract visitors, revenue and interest. Fees paid by park visitors fund only a nickel of every dollar devoured by the Park Service. Taxpayers fund the rest.

Playwright Eugene O’Neill’s hillside home in the San Francisco Bay is now a National Historic Site. It costs federal taxpayers $687,000 per year to keep open, though visitors trickle through at an average of just seven a day. That’s $270 for each and every visitor. In contrast, the Columbus, Miss., home of O’Neill’s contemporary, Tennessee Williams, was restored by private donors and is open to visitors at no cost to taxpayers.

Fewer than 11,000 persons visit the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in New Mexico every year, but it consumes nearly $1 million in tax dollars annually. An equally impressive fossil site in Gray, Tenn., draws nearly eight times more visitors and is funded primarily through corporate gifts and a few state grants.

Last year, Montana’s Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site attracted only 18,439 people, but taxpayers paid $1.5 million to keep it open. The cost of keeping the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River in Texas works out to $241 per visitor. The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial near Oakland is an even bigger financial draw, requiring a $329 taxpayer subsidy per visitor. The federally managed site honoring the Wild West-era town of Nicodemus, Kan., draws so few visitors that the taxpayers are out $192 per visitor.

While National Park Service leaders want national park visitors to think they’re getting something for free this week, the gesture conceals an expensive truth. The National Parks are a wonderful treasure, all but unique to America, but the Park Service sometimes wastes money and mismanages many properties. Too much of a good thing can be too much.

Congress could commemorate National Parks Week by empowering private foundations and land trusts — or even state and local governments — to own and operate hundreds of the Park Service’s less visited, less significant and financially failing sites. This would free resources to protect the most worthwhile historic sites and ensure that neglected properties get the care and attention they deserve.

Reid: Cattlemen have lost over half their rangeland in the last 30 years... 'because of climate change.'

By Susan Jones
CNS News

It may not be tomorrow, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says "something will happen" to force a Nevada rancher to obey a court order to stop grazing his cattle on federal land and pay his grazing fees.

"It's obvious that you can't just walk away from this," Reid said in an April 18 interview with a Nevada's KSNV-TV News 3 program “What’s Your Point?”

"You can't have a law that is -- we're a nation of laws, not of men and women," he said.

Reid noted that most cattlemen pay their taxes, pay their fees, and follow the law, but he said rancher Cliven Bundy didn't do any of those things.

Reid again denounced the 600 people who came to Bundy's ranch, armed with "sniper rifles" and "assault rifles," to defend the him and his family.

"So 600 people -- if there were ever an example of people who were domestic violent terrorist wannabes, these were the guys. And I think that we should call it that way."

Reid made it clear that he wasn't calling the Bundys domestic terrorists. "I said the people that came there were...And I said, if these people think they're patriots, they're not...If they're patriots, we're in trouble."

Appearing on the program with Reid, Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) called Bundy and his supporters "patriots," noting that there were veterans, Boy Scouts, even grandparents at the protest.

Heller said he was more troubled by the Bureau of Land Management "coming in with a paramilitary army" to round up the Bundy's cattle. "And to have your own government with sniper lenses on you made a lot of people very uncomfortable."

Heller is calling for congressional hearings on the standoff. He says the crux of the problem is the fact that the federal government owns 85 percent of Nevada lands, and he also expressed concern about armed wing of the government -- "200 armed men" moving on private citizens.

"I want to find out who's accountable for this," Heller said. "I hope someone at the BLM feels some accountability on exactly what happened, and I fear that there will be no answer to that question."

Heller noted that in the last 30 years, cattlemen have lost over half the rangeland on which their cattle can graze.

"That's because of climate change," Reid cut in. "We have wildfires that have decimated cowboy land."

Heller said rangeland burns precisely because cattle don't graze. Wait until the sage grouse is listed as an endangered species, Heller added. "I tell you, every cattleman here knows that...their lifespan of their occupation is short. Wait 'til the sage grouse comes."

April 21, 2014

Environmentalists pushed Bundy ranch standoff over endangered [sic] tortoises

A helicopter takes off from a staging area of BLM vehicles and other government vehicles off of Riverside Road near Bunkerville, Nevada over the weekend of April 12-13, 2014. (Reuters)

Michael Bastasch
Daily Caller

Some have speculated that the standoff between federal agents and Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is the result of a secretive deal orchestrated by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and political allies in the solar industry.

But the Bundy standoff is really the culmination of a long battle with environmentalists who want to keep federal lands off limits to economic activity. The primary vehicle used by government officials and environmentalists to advance this goal has been the desert tortoise, which was listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 1990.

The land Bundy’s family had used for cattle grazing since the late 1800s suddenly became off-limits. Bundy refused to give up his grazing rights and wound up in a prolonged court battle. The court ruled against Bundy in 1998 and ordered him to remove his cattle, or else the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would do it for him.

The BLM even had a webpage detailing the problems they saw from Bundy’s “trespass cattle” that were grazing in desert tortoise habitat. The webpage, however, was deleted. So was the cached copy after the Bundy standoff became nationwide news.

A screenshot of the deleted page from the BLM’s website shows that environmental groups were some of the main forces aligned against Bundy’s trespass cattle. Environmentalists were pushing for the disputed federal lands to be used as “offsite mitigation” for the impact of solar development. Solar development in the area is heavily supported by Nevada environmental groups.

“Non-Governmental Organizations have expressed concern that the regional mitigation strategy for the Dry Lake Solar Energy Zone utilizes Gold Butte as the location for offsite mitigation for impacts from solar development, and that those restoration activities are not durable with the presence of trespass cattle,” the BLM page says.

“The Center for Biological Diversity has demanded action to resolve trespass in designated critical desert tortoise habitat in several letters,” BLM page notes. “Western Watersheds has requested a verbal status update and later filed a Freedom of Information Act request.”

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Western Watersheds Project (WWP) have been actively pushing the government to impose heftier grazing fees on cattle ranchers for years, along with pressuring officials to close of huge areas of public lands to grazing and oil and gas development.

“While Cliven Bundy is an extreme example, WWP knows that this sense of entitlement and disregard for federal authority is not uncommon in public lands ranching,” WWP said in a statement. “Bundy’s cows are not the only livestock trampling fragile deserts, precious riparian areas, and imperiling native plants and animals. That is why WWP will continue working to end abusive public lands livestock grazing and to press for meaningful policy reform.”

“We’ve been working for the Mojave desert tortoise since 1997. Challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s grazing practices on arid public lands, we’ve helped protect millions of acres of fragile tortoise habitat,” CBD says on its website.

“It’s so blatant,” says Rob Mrowka, senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity said of Bundy’s trespass cattle in 2009. “Anyone can go out there anytime of the year and see cattle. BLM employees trying to protect sensitive plants and animals are very frustrated. It’s a problem that’s been going on and on.”

In April 2012, the BLM were preparing to remove Bundy’s cattle from federal lands, but mysteriously abandoned the operation — note that this was an election year. CBD filed an intent to sue against the BLM under the Endangered Species Act for failing to remove the Bundy’s trespass cattle that year.

CBD was also enraged when the BLM halted removing Bundy’s cattle this month during a fierce standoff between armed federal agents, Bundy supporters and militia members. The BLM returned the 400 cattle they had rounded up to Bundy, angering environmentalists.

“The BLM has both a statutory and sacred duty to manage our public lands in the public interest, to treat all users equally and fairly,” said Mrowka. “Instead it as allowing a freeloading rancher backed by armed thugs to seize hundreds of thousands of acres of the people’s land as their own fiefdom.”

“The BLM monumentally failed to remove the trespass cattle, collect fees, or protect the land for more than 20 years,” Mrowka added. “Now it backed down in the face of threats and posturing of armed so-called ‘sovereignists.’ This is absolutely pathetic and an insult to ranchers and others who hold permits and pay their required fees to use the public lands.”

The Bundy ranch is not out of the woods yet. CBD and other environmentalists have also promised to hold the BLM to its court-mandated orders to round up Bundy’s cattle.

“[I]t’s clear that the BLM has a legal duty to remove trespass cattle for the land entrusted to it by the American people,” Mrowka said. “It has a moral responsibility to not let armed thugs and threats of violence seize hundreds of thousands of acres of public land for their own. We intend to hold the BLM accountable to the American people, fair play, and to justice.”

What’s Next for the Bundys?


By David Hathaway

The federal response will definitely come. It will likely be in three areas; two of which don’t involve the Bundys specifically. First, a multi-faceted attack will be made on the Bundys; second, a broad-front regulatory response against other land users will be made for the purpose of retaliation against the whole group and as a deterrent; and third, new provocateur deployments will probably be made across the West into similar situations.

The attack on the Bundys will be planned to be large enough so as to not fail since precedents are being considered by the feds. To give an historical example, the precedent of voluntary militias forming in the nineties as a constitutional concept in lieu of standing armies was effectively derailed for twenty years when the whole movement was painted as obscene by multiple federal law enforcement agencies intensely targeting them, or anything that looked like them, while prosecuting a P.R. campaign in conjunction with the sycophant mass media in the wake of the provocateured Oklahoma City fiasco.

There is the possibility that doors will be smashed down in the darkness of early morning raids for all the Bundy family members, supporters, and ranch hands. There is the possibility that plants are feigning inside knowledge at this very moment and are seated with prosecutors scrolling through video and pointing out participants and ascribing statements or actions to them. Such violent raids on houses and places of business targeting these designated domestic terrorists represent one possibility. If that happens, it probably won’t be immediate. The following factors all affect the time-line for the response which I estimate to be in about three weeks, give or take a week or two.

The most likely first step for the violent option involves the impaneling of a grand jury that will be brought along slowly with presentations by government “experts” giving sensational overviews of generic un-American activities, terrorist groups, and right wing extremists. All of the activity involving the grand jury will be officially in “secret.” Power-point presentations will be made to the grand jury showing pipe bombs, smoking buildings, and nazi symbolism. It will be blatantly prejudicial to the eventual case presented for indictment but, there is no “other side” in this process to object. There is just a prosecutor, government agents, and the grand jury eating doughnuts in a little room. Period. The massaging of the jury’s mindset is done long before they are shown case-specific information. This process can go on for a week. It is not adversarial. It is a one-sided show. There is no defense. It is designed to paint a picture of a general evil class of people. It’s kind of like the process used to get police cadets ready to shoot people. There is no danger that the grand jurors will ever be identified by the Bundys or feel any guilt from having to face those they bravely accuse.

Next, with the extent of the balderdashing that needs to be done to the grand jury to obfuscate the truth in this case, the prosecutor will need another week of ominous head-nodding alongside the agent witnesses’ general summarizing of the evil network masterminded by the Bundys. That puts us at two weeks. Then, the grand jury would be asked to give a “true bill,” an indictment. The grand jury ALWAYS indicts if asked to do so. Always, always, always. Because if they don’t, they are dismissed and another one is impaneled until the indictment is handed down. The warrants on the indictment will then be issued by the federal magistrate by the following week.

And finally, the law enforcement agencies need a few days to draw up plans, print out Google Earth photos of all the target locations, bring in TDY support from other federal agencies, assemble for briefings, give out team assignments, and pick a date to execute search warrants and arrest warrants. So, all of that puts us at three weeks. The three weeks also gives a period of apparent peace and quiet. It will be hoped that this quiet period will cause any supporters to give up and go home. Agents from other agencies will be enticed, probably with notices going out right now, to volunteer for an all-expense paid week living on the Las Vegas strip at taxpayer expense enjoying wine, women, and song at a premier hotel. This is one of the possible approaches against the Bundys.

Another possibility will be considered by agency heads that are reviewing the news coverage, the iconic images of cowboys waving flags displaying historic “American” individualism, and the favorable reaction by much of the public to the visible stand taken by Bundy supporters. This possibility would probably begin to slowly go into effect along the same three-week time-line as the smash-and-grab scenario above. This one may involve the grand jury also but, as an “investigative tool.” While a grand jury is “investigating” a suspect or a “criminal organization,” unlimited secret subpoenas may be issued for anything. No other reason for the subpoena is needed other than the fact that the grand jury is investigating something. Anything and everything will be scarfed up. The feds will get financial information, phone information, and witnesses that will be compelled to testify or be incarcerated if they refuse to testify. There is no, “I stand on the fifth” when the grand jury asks you about something. You will be held in contempt merely for refusing to testify when in front of a grand jury. No day in court. No due process. No good time. No parole. No probation. You are locked up as a grand jury witness until you change your mind and decide to go along with the government.

Ex-parte orders would be obtained to obtain IRS records for all involved. Asset forfeiture orders for substitute assets could be obtained that would identify Bundy or supporter assets and forfeit those assets to the government in lieu of supposed specific losses sustained by the government from unpaid grazing fees or other claimed damages or from an estimated value of the illegal proceeds of the criminal activity (ranching). These designated substitute assets may have no identifiable connection to the asset classes designated as losses or as illegal income by the government. Money laundering charges could be filed for “conversion” of “illegally obtained” assets or income.

Archived call data or live “pen registers” may be obtained to make conspiracy connections within the “criminal organization.” Wiretaps may be initiated although this would be more time consuming and would lead to jury- sympathetic recorded conversations with fewer co-conspirator and criminal hierarchy connections than those which could be manufactured by experts analyzing the call data with link charts to be shown to a jury.

This alternate slower attack against the Bundys would be the nickel-and-dime approach that would result in service of seizure orders to banks and persons. Seizure notices would be posted on residential or business property accompanied by lis pendens filings recorded at the county courthouse against those properties. Notices would be mailed out. Administrative or judicial forfeiture action would commence against personal assets depending on value thresholds. Bank accounts would be frozen and then drained. Persons would be detained individually when they went shopping away from their homes to avoid video clips of militarized feds attacking the houses of ordinary Americans in military operations. Businesses and vehicles would be seized over time. Cars would be grabbed when driven away from home when the owners were alone in their vehicles so as to not precipitate a defensive response from supporters.

Both of these types of attacks on the Bundys would likely involve the task force concept where multiple agencies would be brought in to confer and participate in either the slow or fast take-down of the Bundys and their livelihood. The other three-letter agencies would likely be tapped to lend equipment, manpower, administrative authority, or proprietary investigative techniques to wage the good fight against the hard-working American cowboys and their loyal families.

The most likely response will involve the above techniques in a hybrid operation with the Sheriff’s Office or Nevada State authorities. Up to half of current federal agency prosecutions are done through county prosecutor offices or state attorney generals’ offices. The federal prosecutors don’t object since their resources haven’t always kept up with the expansion of federal law enforcement agencies. They are all too happy to see a federal law enforcement agency prosecute a case, or parts of a case, through state and county channels when similar laws exist on the federal and state side. Charging the core case via the county or state would be somewhat complex in this situation, however, since the base charges are primarily federal in nature regarding lands that the feds have proclaimed off-limits to various citizen and resident uses. That wouldn’t be a stopper though.

Cliven Bundy has indicated that he would surrender or submit to justice if the Sheriff was the one making the request on behalf of the county or state. It is likely that the feds will approach the Sheriff and suggest that he be part of the face of leviathan when Bundy is approached with a combination of charges. The feds will pressure the county and state authorities to come up with a few token charges that could be dovetailed with the federal charges so that a county warrant, summons, writ, or subpoena could be presented by a local officer tacitly or overtly working with the feds. Local officers are quite often deputized with federal authority for the duration of a certain case or longer. Once the Bundy case is in the state system, criminally or civilly, the state charges could then be dropped or held in abeyance while county authorities defer to federal prosecutors awaiting the outcome of the federal case.

Aside from the Bundy family, all other ranchers will likely be punished by the feds via enhanced regulatory interventions in response to the actions on display in Nevada. This is common fare as a mechanism to teach the public to not mimic others who are standing up for themselves. USFS and BLM staff will be told at the headquarters level to crack down on ranchers in general and to give no quarter when dealing with “grazing permits” and “grazing fees.” The continual downward trend for the number of cattle allowed on historical grazing lands, i.e. “federal allotments,” will be announced to ranchers during their recurring annual grazing permit meetings with the feds. The continually reduced allotments will be enforced with vigor to teach the rancher scum a lesson. My family has had to deal for generations with perpetually reduced livestock “allowances” on grazing lands in Arizona along with the more recent “endangered species” excuse to stomp on the land and water rights of ranchers who willingly maintain infrastructure that benefits both livestock and wildlife at no taxpayer expense. This happens, and will continue to happen, on both private deeded ranching land and on historical grazing “permit” lands used by ranchers for generations that were beyond the acreage amounts permitted for official deeded homesteading claims. [By the way, these grazing “permits” on specific land parcels with their documented historical homestead linkages convey and are bought and sold just like other real estate.]

The final likely type of general response by the feds will be a chaotic, unpredictable deployment of provocateurs throughout the West trying to simulate the crisis presented in this trendy new visible law enforcement category. More visible crises are needed to allow Fox News and CNN to delineate between the good guys (the police state) and the bad guys (ranchers). Attempts will be made to catch evil ranchers operating their ranches while scheming, in recorded conversations, to keep operating their ranches despite growing opposition by the feds to the presence of ranchers. That won’t work since cowboys are wary and hard to trap, so provocateurs will try to find a bozo in a cowboy hat and suggest to him, after he consumes a 12-pack purchased by the provocateur, that the drunk pretend cowboy and his new found friend should have some fun and smash some turtles out in the desert. The feds would then save us from that fate just on the cusp of it occurring with federal planning, financing, and taxpayer purchased plastic turtle props. It would be made clear in press releases that no real turtles were harmed, lest we worry. The federal press releases for this activity would be glorious and be seen by most being read verbatim by a horrified network newsreader tossing her hair incredulously while sports scores scroll underneath the screen. A hammer over a turtle outline could be the graphic floating next to the newsreader’s head.

Or, attempts may be made to paint a rancher as evil by trying to compile statistics of drug loads arriving in the interior of the U.S. that federal experts would suggest must have traversed the rancher’s land; proving unequivocally, that the rancher can’t manage the grazing land as effectively as armed federal bureaucrats who will keep us safe from beef cattle on that land and other productive uses. These actions will all increase to prove that the feds will not be dictated to.

Although I cheer for the Bundys and applaud the courage of their sweet family, my heart would much rather see them running now and hiding out in a freer country like Mexico as opposed to becoming a decimated family of martyrs ravaged by the state.

April 20, 2014

Drought -- and neighbors -- press Las Vegas to conserve water

Lake Mead, the reservoir that supplies 90% of Las Vegas' water, is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain.

Lake Mead - An ongoing drought and the Colorado River's stunted flow have shrunk Lake Mead to its lowest level in generations. (Michael Robinson Chavez)

By John M. Glionna
Los Angeles Times

LAS VEGAS — Deep beneath Lake Mead, a 23-foot-tall tunnel-boring machine grinds through stubborn bedrock in a billion-dollar effort to make sure water continues flowing to this thirsty resort city.

For six years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has been building an intake straw below the reservoir's two existing pipes. Due for completion in fall 2015, critics say it may not provide a long-term solution.

An ongoing drought and the Colorado River's stunted flow have shrunk Lake Mead to its lowest level in generations. The reservoir, which supplies 90% of Las Vegas' water, is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain. By mid-April, Lake Mead's water level measured just 48 feet above the system's topmost intake straw.

Future droughts and a warming climate change could spell trouble for the city's 2 million residents — and its 40 million annual visitors. Those people "better hope nothing goes wrong with the last intake," said water authority spokesman J.C. Davis.

"But if something does go wrong," he added, "we're in the business of making contingency plans."

For officials here, the scenario signifies a formidable job: providing water for the nation's driest city. Las Vegas uses more water per capita than most communities in America — 219 gallons of water per person every day — and charges less for it than many communities.

Summer temperatures top 115 degrees in a scorched environment that in a banner year receives a paltry four inches of rain. The inhospitable conditions have pushed officials to develop water conservation programs considered models worldwide.

Although this spring's snowmelt could temporarily replenish Lake Mead, the city's future still looks drier than ever, a prospect that has prompted the water authority to eye such long-term plans as a desalinization plant in California and a $15-billion pipeline to move water here from other parts of the state.

Environmentalists blast the proposed pipeline from central Nevada as irresponsible, calling it a resource grab comparable to William Mulholland's move that created an aqueduct to transport water south from California's Owens Valley to help expand Los Angeles a century ago.

They say the city has been cavalier about looming water shortages, pointing to projects such as Lake Las Vegas, a 320-acre artificial oasis built with man-made rivers and waterfalls amid the high-end homes and luxury resorts.

But water use — and how to curtail it — poses a complex puzzle, officials say. Take the casinos.

John Entsminger, the water authority's new general manager, says such seemingly careless spectacles as the elaborate fountains at the Bellagio resort feature recycled water. "The Strip uses only 3% of the region's water but supplies 70% of its economy," he said. "That's not a bad bargain."

Officials say they have prepared for myriad possible scenarios, including an emergency slashing of Las Vegas' annual water allotment. "It's important to remember that this would happen over a period of years, not months and not weeks," Davis said of such a cutback. "You don't wake up one morning and ask, 'Where did all the water go?'"

Still, water officials here acknowledge that their challenge is to keep Las Vegas livable while reining in several older neighborhoods that have resisted taking out lawns and other conservation measures. The authority has already achieved a remarkable feat: In recent years, Las Vegas and its suburbs have cut water use by one-third while adding 400,000 residents.

It was done in part with a $200-million fund to provide rebates for replacing grass with desert landscapes. Las Vegas also recycles all water that goes down the drain from dishwashers, sinks, showers and even toilets, and after reprocessing, it is pumped back into Lake Mead. With each gallon returned to the reservoir, the city gets to take another out.

The water authority plans to cut per-capita water use even further to 199 gallons a day by 2035, a rate still higher than California's present average of 182 gallons.

The Colorado River provides water for 40 million people across the Southwest — the majority of them in cities such as Las Vegas. The region's population is expected to almost double by 2060. In that time, Las Vegas will gain 1 million residents, forecasters say.

Many water experts say Las Vegas needs to immediately take a series of no-nonsense steps to help control its water shortage: Cut indoor as well as outdoor use; charge much more for water and punish abusers with precipitously higher rates; and start disclosing the rate of a neighbor's water use in residential bills to create more social pressure to conserve.

"At some point, you have to live within your means, but that doesn't fit with the image of Las Vegas," said Steve Erickson, Utah coordinator for the Great Basin Water Network, an advocacy group. "These people need to remember that it's a city built upon an inhospitable desert. What were they thinking?"

When it comes to water, this city has long been at a disadvantage: A 1922 Colorado River water-sharing agreement among seven Western states — one still in effect nearly a century later — gives Southern Nevada the smallest allotment of all: just 300,000 acre-feet a year. An acre-foot can supply two average homes for one year.

Worse, unlike such cities as Phoenix and Los Angeles, Las Vegas has just one major water source — Lake Mead — putting it most at risk during a prolonged drought and dwindling lake water reserves. The city receives a scant 10% of its water from underground local aquifers.

Officials say Las Vegas uses only 80% of its Colorado River allotment and is banking the rest for the future. But critics say that even if the city taps all of its entitled water, that amount would still not be enough to meet its needs in a prolonged drought. And after years of recession, building is starting to come back here, leaving many to ask: Where are all these new residents going to get their water?

"How foolish can you be? It's the same fatal error being repeated all over the Southwest — there is no new water," said Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and coauthor of two reports about dwindling Western water resources. His research concluded that without massive cutbacks in water use, Lake Mead had a 50% chance of deteriorating to "dead pool" by 2036. That's the level at which the reservoir's surface drops beneath Las Vegas' lowest water intake.

Yet casinos and developers continue to push growth, and critics say lawmakers often seem to lack the willpower to draw the line. "Will Las Vegas remain a boom town in the 21st century? The city wants to appear confident but it's a place built on illusion and luck," said Emily Green, an environmental journalist who writes about water issues on her blog, Chance of Rain.

"When it comes to water," she added, "those aren't very good guiding principles."

The real water hog is not people, many say, but grass: About 70% of Las Vegas water goes to lawns, public parks and golf courses. A rebate program has already ripped out 168 million square feet of grass, enough to lay an 18-inch-wide roll of sod about 85% of the way around the Earth.

But is Las Vegas ready to ban grass entirely? "Well, at that point you're seriously impacting quality of life. We're not being complacent. We're just not ready for draconian cuts," said Davis, the spokesman for the water authority.

Barnett argues that's precisely the wake-up call people need. "All these people assume this water thing will just work itself out. Well, suppose we're looking at a change in our basic climate, where scarce water is only going to get more scarce. That's the alternative you need to plan for — and no one's doing it."

Many ask why Las Vegas continues to allow projects such as Lake Las Vegas. The lake is filled with 3 billion gallons of Colorado River water, enough to supply 18,000 residences for a year. And 1.4 billion gallons must be added annually to stop the lake from receding.

Davis said the project was conceived well before the current water crisis. "Would we build another man-made lake today? Clearly not. But stop supplying water there and values will plummet. How many lawsuits do you want to wade through regarding people's quality of life?"

The water authority is pushing forward with a plan for a 300-mile pipeline to import water from the state's agricultural heartland. The project has touched off such old Nevada grudges as north versus south and claims about urbanites enriching themselves as the expense of rural dwellers.

Environmentalists are challenging in court the right-of-way permits already secured by the water authority, and are promising a long legal battle.

Entsminger, the head of the water authority, believes the American Southwest must fight its water crisis together. He said the seven states drawing water from the Colorado River collectively form the world's fifth-largest economy — just behind Germany but ahead of France and Britain.

Southern Nevada, he insists, will do its part. And a big part of that, he said, will mean turning off the lawn sprinklers. He acknowledged he's a culprit.

His front yard features a small patch of ornamental grass planted by the previous homeowners. "I know I should take it out," the water czar said with a grimace. "It's on my list."