February 28, 2017

Bridge work to force extended road closure on Route 66 in Amboy

The East Mojave desert area is subject to extreme weather conditions including summer monsoonal moisture. Flash flooding can damage bridges causing periodic road closures. In August 2014 over 40 bridges along historic Route 66 in the desert region of San Bernardino County were damaged by flash flooding. (Department of Public Works)

Desert Dispatch

San Bernardino County Public Works will be constructing two new bridges and road improvements on National Trails Highway (Route 66) at Dola Ditch (2.08 miles east of Kelbaker Road) and Lanzit Ditch (2.77 miles east of Kelbaker Road), east of the community of Amboy. The construction will include removing the existing timber bridges and constructing new timber bridges.

A portion of National Trails Highway will be closed at all times to through traffic, including emergency vehicles. Traffic will be routed around the construction on public streets and highways. The detour plan includes using Interstate 40 and Kelbaker Road.

Local residents and businesses will have access from Essex Road west to the construction site, but there will be no traffic through the construction site. Construction of the project is tentatively scheduled to start on Monday and run through mid-September. This construction project was awarded to Cushman Construction Corporation of Goleta. The funding for this project is from the Federal Highway Bridge Program and locally funded gas tax.

This project is part of a master plan to replace several of the 127 bridges along the National Trails Highway corridor over the next several years. Engineering standards have changed since the bridges were originally constructed in the late 1920s, and with the modern traffic loading on these bridges, they have become structurally deficient and functionally obsolete.

Route 66, or National Trails Highway, is significant in American history as one of the earliest and most important highways linking the Midwest and California and was once characterized as "the road of opportunity."

The designation of Route 66 in 1926 signified the nation's growing commitment to improved transportation arteries and increased influence of the automobile on American lifestyles. Route 66 had a transformative effect on the American landscape through which it passed. This landscape continues to provide a visual narrative history of America's automobile culture of the 20th century and its legacy of related commerce and architecture.

At well in excess of 250 miles, San Bernardino County has the longest stretch of Historic Route 66 than any other county in the United States.

"Replacement of these two bridges is a giant step in the continued effort to preserve the historical bridges of Route 66 in San Bernardino County," said 1st District Supervisor Robert A. Lovingood, chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors.

The Public Works website contains up-to-date information on National Trails Highway at http://cms.sbcounty.gov/dpw/Operations/Route66.aspx

February 27, 2017

Joshua trees meet very different fates in California, Arizona

The sun goes down on Joshua trees at Castle Mountains National Monument in eastern California on Feb. 1, 2016. Private land across not far from here was recently transfered to Mojave National Preserve in part to protect these iconic desert plants. (David Becker/Las Vegas Review-Journal)


It’s been an up-and-down month for Joshua trees in the region.

At Mojave National Preserve in California, thousands of the iconic desert plants recently won permanent federal protection, thanks to a land transfer that added 3,100 acres to the park 90 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, in Mohave County, Arizona, a Las Vegas businessman is defending himself from allegations of a “Joshua tree massacre” on about 100 acres of private property he’s clearing for agricultural development.

Al Barbarich, who owns the land about 95 miles southeast of Las Vegas and hopes to establish a nut and fruit orchard there, said his permit to clear the land did not require him to save any of the Joshua trees. But he said he arranged to have about 100 of them dug up and replanted at homes, a school and other locations in the area — all at no cost to those who received the plants.

“We tried to do something nice for the neighbors and the community,” he said.

Some area residents didn’t see it that way. In online posts and a Feb. 12 story in the Kingman Daily Miner newspaper, the developer was accused of wholesale Joshua tree murder.

Barbarich acknowledged that some plants were destroyed as the land was cleared, though he couldn’t say how many. He said a lot of the Joshua trees shown piled up in the photos posted by his critics were older plants with little hope of being successfully transplanted.

The negative publicity is “unfortunate,” Barbarich said, because he felt like he was trying, at his own expense, to do the responsible thing. “We wanted to preserve the trees to the extent that people wanted them,” he said.


The additional Joshua trees now under the protection of Mojave National Preserve in California were also once subject to the whims of private development.

The plants are growing on what used to be scattered pockets of private land within the boundaries of the 1.6 million acre desert preserve. Over the past decade, the nonprofit Mojave Desert Land Trust has been buying up such “private in-holdings” and selling or donating them to the National Park Service.

The latest land transfer, completed earlier this month, involved 110 scattered parcels ranging in size from 5 to 320 acres.

Frazier Haney, conservation director for the trust, said most of the land is located in Lanfair Valley near the eastern edge of the preserve, an area “really rich in Joshua trees and Mojave yucca.”

Haney said the trust purchased the property from “a variety of willing sellers” over the past nine years. The group paid a total of $1.5 million for the land and received $1.4 million from the park service in return.

That money will be used to buy other private property within the preserve and other desert parks in California, Haney said.

“Scenic views, sensitive habitat and historic resources that might otherwise be lost are now protected in perpetuity for all to appreciate and enjoy,” Greg Gress, regional realty chief for the park service, said in a written statement.

Haney said private in-holdings are not governed by the same rules and protections as the surrounding park land. Gradually eliminating the patchwork of in-holdings simplifies management of the entire preserve, he said.


But Haney stressed that the trust isn’t trying to force private landowners off their property, some of which dates to the days of homesteading in the area roughly 100 years ago. “It’s strictly willing sellers,” he said.

Since it was founded in Joshua Tree, California, in 2007, the conservation group has donated more parcels of land to the park service than any other trust in the country, Haney said.

Mojave National Preserve has gained more than 30,000 acres — and countless Joshua trees — through the trust’s efforts.

Haney said more than 1,300 private parcels remain within the boundaries of the preserve, though, “so we’ve still got a ways to go.”

February 15, 2017

Nonprofit land trust turns over 3,000 acres to Mojave National Preserve

An entrance to Mojave National Preserve on Zzyzx Road near Baker, Calif. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Associated Press
Los Angeles Times

A nonprofit group has donated more than 3,000 acres of desert land to the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Desert Land Trust announced Wednesday that it had handed over ecologically and historically significant land to the park. The 110 parcels already are surrounded by the national preserve. They include juniper and yucca stands and a century-old homestead site.

The trust has an ongoing program to buy up private land that survived within the boundaries of the Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park.

“Development of this private land can degrade neighboring park resources, impact public access and cause management problems for park staff,” a trust statement said.

Over the past decade, the trust has conveyed about 23,000 acres of land to the National Park Service.

“Our great desert parks are immeasurably enhanced” by the work, Greg Gress, regional realty chief for the National Park Service, said in a statement. “Scenic views, sensitive habit and historic resources that might otherwise be lost are now protected in perpetuity for all to appreciate and enjoy.”

February 3, 2017

Utah Legislature votes to shed Bears Ears monument designation

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An indignant Utah Senate voted 22-6 Friday to urge the unraveling of the Bears Ears National Monument designation in San Juan County, bristling at the process used under the Antiquities Act and what they say was indifference to a majority of statewide sentiment.

Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, the Senate sponsor of HCR11, said if a monument designation had been made for the Bears Ears region via congressional legislation subsequently signed by the U.S. president, he wouldn't be arguing against the new monument.

"It's absolutely wrong," the Senate president said, asserting the legislative process was circumvented with one person's pen via presidential proclamation.

The 1.35 million-acre monument was created in late December by former President Barack Obama in the waning days of his administration and was largely seen as a poke in Utah's eye.

Obama was vacationing in Hawaii with his family over the holidays when the White House made the announcement on Dec. 28.

"I find it insulting that President Obama couldn't even interrupt his golfing in Hawaii" for the monument designation, said Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

Democratic opponents to the resolution, which had already passed in the House and was signed Friday night by Gov. Gary Herbert, pointed to the failure of the Public Lands Initiative to gain any traction as the impetus for the monument's creation.

The massive public lands bill carried by Republican Utah Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz proposed land uses covering 18 million acres in eastern Utah, including the Bears Ears region.

Instead of a monument designation, however, the bill called for two national conservation areas in the Bears Ears area that would have still allowed for multiple uses in a less restrictive land management strategy.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said the proposal turned into a game of politics and was never a sincere attempt by Bishop or others in Utah's congressional delegation to answer Native Americans' concerns in the region.

"The process fell apart and got all political," Dabakis said, earlier emphasizing the anti-Bears Ears resolution as a "dumb bill."

Niederhauser, joined by other colleagues, defended the initiative and said the legislation, while a messy exercise in compromise, is the right way to protect land.

"You say the process broke down and it did not get through Congress. That is not an argument," Niederhauser said. "It is not supposed to be easy."

"Two wrongs don't make a right," emphasized Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan.

But Senate Minority Whip Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said the majority of people in her district — the hunters, the campers and the anglers — support the Bears Ears monument.

Mayne added that the only "stream" in her district is a canal, and outdoor spaces are valued.

"We have no place to go," she said. "It's hard for us."

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, the only Republican member of the Senate to vote against the resolution, said he had hoped for a compromise solution that stopped short of upending the entire designation.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, stressed that he supports monuments but said the rescission of the designation would allow parties to "reset the clock" and start a better process.

Friday's vote came after the Senate voted to suspend the rules and move the resolution to the front of the line. Its passage followed twin hearings before Senate committees on Thursday and passage in the House earlier this week in a fast-tracked process designed to deliver a strong message to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the White House.

Both HCR11 and a resolution to shrink the boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were requested for consideration before the Legislature by Utah's congressional delegation, who will wave the document as a flag in the war on federal "overreach."

Pro-monument group Utah Dine Bikeyah board members are marching out their own paperwork with a letter to Interior Secretary nominee Ryan Zinke, imploring him to accompany them on a field trip to Bears Ears and attend a community meeting before making any decision.

"Grass-roots people who depend on this landscape every day would like the opportunity to explain why we have worked so hard and so long to create this first-ever Native American national monument that honors our history and points toward our future," the letter reads.

The organization invited Zinke to attend a Monument Valley community meeting and meet with tribal leaders to discuss the designation.

"We do not want any action that will change the boundary, deny the role of traditional knowledge, develop these lands, undermine local voices or disgrace our ancestors who still reside there. To truly appreciate what is at stake, you must see the landscape and you must hear the wisdom of elders for yourself," the letter states.

Utah Dine Bikeyah says it developed the monument proposal seven years ago at the request of local elders, and their input in the Public Lands Initiative process and other land management planning was either ignored or shut out.

Critics of the Native American tribal "movement" behind the Bears Ears campaign say that support was co-opted by environmental and conservation organizations that reasoned there was a better chance for a monument if it came gift wrapped with a distinct cultural bow.

Both sides in the monument debate claim support from local tribal members or grass-roots people.