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March 2007 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee


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March 2007 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee

  1. 1. March 15, 2007 News of the desert from Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee B Y R I C H A R D W. H A L S E Y THEY AREN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE Desert FiresT he recent Esperanza fire in the foothills of the San upon our homes by wildfires is not simply the fault of current or Jacinto Mountains and others in the Mojave desert past wildfire management policies, “beetle-infested” pine trees, region this last year have highlighted what may or “overgrown” native vegetation in the backcountry. While very well be one of our region’s greatest environ- some forests have unnatural levels of growth due to past fire mental challenges, the conversion of suppression, this is not the case for Southern California desert native plant communities to alien, and shrubland systems (Mortiz et al. 2004). Many homes burn weedy grasslands. These fires because they have been built within non-defensible fire corridors have also reminded us of the in a way comparable to homes built on 100-year flood plains. incredible bravery firefight- Ever since human beings entered southern California ers have shown and the thousands of years ago, fire frequencies have been increasing, risks they take to protect especially over the past century (Keeley, et al. 1999). This has not only life and property, caused more fire than many of our native ecosystems are capable but our region’s priceless of dealing with, and as a consequence these are being burned out natural resources. We owe of existence. An overwhelming hoard of alien grasses from it to them and future Eurasia and the Mediterranean region have invaded many wild- RICHARD HALSEY generations to whom we lands, introducing an unnatural source of fuel. These highly will be passing along our flammable weeds establish themselves under native shrubs and natural heritage, to take an active trees, creating a perfect source of kindling for flying embers. role in understanding what it means During wet years, especially in the lower Mojave Desert, theseto live in southern California, one of the most fire-prone envi- weeds can blanket spaces in between shrubs, forming a readyronments on earth. continued on page 15 First, it is crucial to realize that while fire plays a role in mostecosystems, not all fires are the same: the wrong kind can lead to Post-fire scene after the July, 2006 Sawtooth fire nearthe loss of a natural community. In fact, fire has become one of Yucca Valley: The fire front is 200 yards in the background.the primary threats to ecosystem health in the Mojave Desert Alien grasses directly underneath this shrub caught fire(Lovich and Bainbridge 1999). Second, the destruction brought from flying embers and spread the damage.
  2. 2. BY CRAIG DEUTSCHE FROM THE EDITOR Something NewL etters to the Desert Report will be published on-line with the next edition. Printing costs make MARCH 15, 2007 IN THIS ISSUE it impossible to include the text of letters in the regular Desert Report, but a notice of the posted Desert Fires .............................................................................................. 1letters will appear in the printed edition identifying each author From The Editor: Something New ............................................................ 2and the subject of the correspondence. Letters may be sent to the editor at the e-mail address Water Wars And The California/Nevada Dilemma .................................... 3provided in the back of Desert Report. As might be expected, it Ecological Health And Livestock Grazing .................................................. 4is necessary that letters be short, and the right to edit letters isretained by the Desert Report. It is perfectly acceptable to takeexception to points of view in published articles, but personalrespect for authors is absolutely required. Letters which provideinformation or present arguments for a position will carry moreweight than those which express only an opinion. The publica-tion of letters by the Desert Report is an experiment, and itsusefulness will be judged from the result. Let us hear from you.DESERT REPORT ONLINEDesert Report is published at three month intervals. This means, neces-sarily, that some topics are rather out of date by the time they appear in Last Of The Central Valley Grasslands ...................................................... 6the next printed issue. In an effort to be more timely, several departments The First People of Imperial Valley .......................................................... 7in Desert Report will be updated on-line between the regular printings.Both the “Outings” section and the “Current Issues” section are now Fairy Shrimp: Millions Of Years Old, But Endangered Today .................... 8updated between the regular printings. You are encouraged to consult theDesert Report website to find recently added outings and to find informa-tion on recently developing issues in desert conservation. Another feature which appears in the on-line version of Desert Reportis an index of articles and subjects published in past issues. This has beencreated by Tom Budlong who is also keeping the index current. The DesertCommittee thanks Tom for undertaking this formidable task. The web address for the Desert Report is: Friends Of Nevada Wilderness: 22 Years Of Keeping Nevada Wild ..........10 Lower Owens River: Success After Years Of Effort ..................................12DESERT COMMITTEE MEETINGS Current Issues ..........................................................................................13 County Rights And Designated Wilderness ..............................................16We have four meetings a year, usually the second weekends of February,May, August, and November. The site for the May meeting will be at the Wind Managing The Colorado River Through Dry Times....................................18Wolves Preserve in the southern San Joaquin Valley, and the August Outings......................................................................................................20meeting will be at Grandview Campground in the White Mountains. Weespecially encourage local citizens in the area to attend, as many of theitems on the agenda include local issues. Contact Tom Budlong at (310-476-1731),, to be put on the invitation list. { 2} DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  3. 3. BY GREG JAMES CONGRESSIONAL ACTION NEEDED Water Wars And The California/Nevada DilemmaC onflicts over the use of waters that cross national, probably using groundwater that has been put in place over state, local government, and private property geologic time. This is the driest region of the U.S. As population boundaries are a way of life in the West. In a growth comes to this region, particularly in Nevada, we need to sector of the Mojave Desert that spans the get a good scientific handle on the long term water supply beforeCalifornia/Nevada border, a rapidly expanding population massive pumping projects dry up all the surface flows andthreatens water and other resources. In this and other interstate springs. We still have time to get meaningful legislative protec-border areas, there are few effective limits on the interstate tions in place before the Amargosa region is sucked dry.”impacts of groundwater withdrawals, and interstate cooperationon allocation of water resources as a practical matter does not California/Nevada transborder water disputesexist. The Amargosa River dramatically illustrates this bi-state Who owns the water? How is it regulated? Can Las Vegas usewater dilemma. this water without approval from California? Can California The 125-mile long Amargosa River rises in southwestern allow development that will use groundwater resources sharedNevada, flows south into California, and then makes a dramatic with Nevada without Nevada’s approval? Does the Amargosaturn to the north to expend itself near Badwater in Death Valley River and protected wildlife in Death Valley National Park haveNational Park. The river flows mostly underground, but any rights? continued on page 14wherever its waters reach the surface, the river supports a richand diverse array of endemic and sensitive plants and animals. The Amargosa region is laced with hiking and equestriantrails, as well as great historic, geological, and palentologicalfeatures. Because of the river’s valuable and rare attributes, NEVADACongress is considering legislation to designate a 20-mile,free-flowing section of the river as the nation’s first desert Wildand Scenic River.Aquifer does not recognize borders A regional aquifer underlies portions of Death Valley, westernand central Nevada, and the Amargosa River. Although thehydrology of Amargosa system is not well understood, it isthought that perennial flow in the river is substantiallydependent on this geologically complex regional aquifer system.Expanding nearby communities in Nevada are pumpingincreasing quantities of groundwater from the aquifer to supplydomestic, agricultural, and commercial activities. The Las Vegas area, desperately searching for additionalwater supplies to meet the needs of its skyrocketing population,has obtained rights in groundwater basins linked to this aquifer.Large developments have been proposed for nearby Californiaareas, which may drain groundwater from the aquifer and furtherdeplete the already overdrafted groundwater supplies uponwhich the burgeoning community of Pahrump, Nevada depends. As Brian Brown, Resources Coordinator of the AmargosaConservancy (Desert Report, Sept. 16, 2006) and owner of an CALIFORNIAoasis of native vegetation and date palms tributary to theAmargosa), has observed, “all of us living in this region are DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 3}
  4. 4. B Y G R E T A A N D E R S O N and L I S A B E L E N K Y CONFLICTING INTERESTS IN THE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIAN DESERTS Ecological Health And Livestock GrazingT he Mojave Desert portion of Disturbances such as fire cause vegetation the California Desert composition changes in the desert and limit Conservation Area (CDCA) the forage available to the tortoise. is crucial to the survival and Livestock have spread invasive non-nativerecovery of the federally-listed desert grasses or “weeds” in their coats and gutstortoise that has thrived on earth for 67 and their passage disturbs the soil so themillion years. As has been reported previ- weeds can colonize more easily. There is aously in Desert Report (Spring, 2005), in the strong relationship between livestock LISA BELENKYlast 100 years human activity has intensified concentration areas such as watering sitesin the region to the point of degrading and and weed infestations (Brooks and others,depleting desert tortoise habitat, provoking 2006). Non-native plants have been linkedlisting under the Endangered Species Act. to increased fire intensities and intervalsBetween 1978 and 1992, it was estimated (Belsky and Gelbard 2000). Fires createthat many subpopulations of the species have declined at rates more disturbance and destruction of native species and subse-ranging between 3 and 59 percent per year (Brooks 1990 in quently reduce available forage for the desert tortoise, therebyUSFWS 1994). Urban encroachment, energy and mineral devel- increasing competition pressure.opment, agricultural development, disease, off-road vehicles, and Livestock also harm tortoises by trampling eggs and young,military activities have all played a role in habitat loss for this crushing dens, and increasing predator activities in the vicinity ofspecies, but one land use in particular is worth examining: live- both stock tanks and natural seeps and springs. Livestock grazingstock grazing. breaks up soil crusts, reduces water infiltration, and promotes Deserts don’t immediately conjure up images of abundantvegetation and lush grasses for large cattle and sheep operations,but the livestock industry has been exploiting the ephemeral pro- The desert tortoise is in competition withduction of summer and winter annuals on desert landscapes sincethe west was settled. This has had serious long-term implications domestic livestock for forage. This has leftfor desert-adapted wildlife and for deserts which were not grazedprior to the introduction of domestic livestock by early European the tortoise malnourished in some areas.settlers. Livestock require large amounts of water in an area withfew water resources. If cattle are not physically excluded fromsprings and seeps with fences they will quickly destroy the soil erosion which all serve to deplete habitat, inhibit native plantstructure, banks, and native riparian vegetation (Belsky et al 1999). recruitment, and degrade water sources. With all of these adverse The desert tortoise is in direct competition with domestic impacts, livestock grazing can play a destructive role in the hotlivestock for forage. This has left the tortoise literally malnour- desert environment, and yet grazing is still permitted in theished in some areas. Tortoises show a strong preference for native CDCA and elsewhere in our desert biomes.annual forbs (Jennings 1997), but in years of low rainfall, The BLM has authorized both perennial and ephemeralnon-native species contribute a greater proportion to the overall sheep, horse, and cattle grazing in desert tortoise critical habitatbiomass (Brooks and Berry 2006). Unfortunately, annual forbs in the CDCA as well as other areas that provide significantare the preferred fodder for domestic livestock as well, and thus, habitat for the species. Generally, the BLM considers overallin years of low annual vegetation, competition for resources canbe particularly intense. Above: Unattended cattle in desert canyon in West Mojave { 4} DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  5. 5. vegetation cover as indicative of rangeland health, but areas with RENEWAL PROCESS FOR GRAZING ALLOTMENTS:high perennial cover or annual weeds are not necessarily good for PUBLIC COMMENTSthe Desert Tortoise or other native species. The tortoise relies onnative annuals, which are often what “greens up” and gives thegreen light on grazing permits. In 2007 the BLM will continue the process of preparing Environmental Although new limits on the amount of forage utilization could Assessments (EA’s) for more than 28 cattle and sheep grazing allotmentshelp ensure that tortoises have enough to eat during key seasons in the West Mojave alone. Seven of those EA’s have already beenon grazing allotments, because BLM counts both native and circulated for public review and initial comment. Some from thenon-native plant species as “available” forage, the limits can actu- Ridgecrest Resource Area ended their comment period on January 30,ally lead to increased depletion of the native annual forbs that 2007. Other allotments in the Northern and Eastern Mojave and theboth the tortoise and livestock prefer. Northern and Eastern Colorado planning areas are also up for renewal. The Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) Because grazing permits generally have a ten year lifespan and are oftenrequires that lands be “managed in a manner to protect the qual- extended on a year by year basis for many more years, it is important fority of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air an involved public to speak while the renewals are being considered.and atmospheric, water resource, and archeological values…” 42 The Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Natural ResourcesU.S.C. 1701 (a)(8). It is a fact, however, that monitoring Defense Council, the California Turtle and Tortoise Club, and Westernvegetation and managing livestock operators to ensure compli-ance with the terms of their lease is labor intensive and needs to Watersheds Project are working together to provide the agency withbe done with a frequency that appears to be economically unat- comments on the planned grazing allotment renewals throughout thetainable for BLM and other federal agencies. The records are California Desert Conservation Area.rampant with allotments which are renewed with little site The public is also encouraged to provide comments on the allotments.examination and with agency neglect when there is staff turnover A call to the Bureau of Land Management Resource Area offices, and/orand vacant positions due to staffing cut. their website will give you the critical information on deadlines, specific Given the demonstrated impacts of livestock grazing which allotments, and schedules. You can also ask to be placed on the mailingharms these resources in the Mojave Desert and the conflict list for future information concerning these allotments. Reading copies arebetween grazing and the survival and recovery of the threatened available at the California Desert District Office, 22835 Calle San Juan DeDesert Tortoise, responsible management of our public lands Los Lagos, Moreno Valley, CA 92553, (951-697-5200). To review a printedrequires that grazing must be curtailed at least in desert tortoise copy of the EA’s in the Ridgecrest Field office, contact their office at 300 Shabitat and that other threats to the species must be eliminated in Richmond Road, Ridgecrest, CA 93555, or call (760-384-5400).these areas as well. Further, in order to protect the fragile and There are a number of considerations involved in the renewal ofscarce springs, seeps, and other water resources in the desert, grazing leases. The low fees which the Federal Government chargeslivestock must be physically excluded from water resources and permit holders is one issue. Readers of Desert Report will certainly bewetland areas, and livestock numbers must be limited to ensure aware of other problems such as fouled water sources. Above all,that sufficient water is available for native wildlife and vegetation. environmental concerns must be given special weight, as grazing is one of the threats to desert tortoise survival in the West Mojave.REFERENCESFish and Wildlife Service. 1994. Desert tortoise (Mojave population)Recovery Plan. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Portland, Oregon. 73 pagesplus appendices.Belsky, A. J. and J. L. Gelbard. 2000. Livestock grazing and weed invasions inthe arid West. Oregon Natural Desert Association. Portland, OR.Belsky, A.J., A. Matzke, and S. Uselman. 1999. Survey of livestock influenceson stream and riparian ecosystems in the Western United States. Journal ofSoil and Water Conservation 54: 419-431.Brooks, M.L., J.R. Matchett, and K.H. Berry. 2006. Effects of livestockwatering sites on alien and native plants in the Mojave Desert, USA. Journalof Arid Environments 67 (2006) 125-147.Brooks, M.L. and K.H. Berry. 2006. Dominance and environmental corre-lates of alien annual plants in the Mojave Desert, USA. Journal of AridEnvironments 67 (2006) 100-124.Jennings, W. Bryan. 1997. Habitat use and food preferences of the deserttortoise, Gopherus agassizii, in the western Mojave Desert and impact of off- LISA BELENKYroad vehicles. Proceedings: Conservation, Restoration, and Management ofTortoises and Turtles - An International Conference. New Your Turtle andTortoise Society, pp. 42-45.Greta Anderson is Range Restoration Coordinator, and Lisa Belenky isStaff Attorney. Both are with the Center for Biological Diversity. Stock watering tanks overflowing The native spring in background had no visible surface flow. DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 5}
  6. 6. BY CAL FRENCH PLANNING FOR A MONUMENT Last Of The Central Valley GrasslandsO n the last Saturday of this past January, a diverse group met at the Carrisa School just north of the Carrizo Plain National Monument. On one side citizens assembled on metal chairs-some comingfrom Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Denver, others from justdown the road in California Valley-a community of abandonedhopes and ever-renewing dreams. On another side of the roomsat a row of officials from the Bureau of Land Management(BLM). Mixed in with them were a representative from theNature Conservancy and another from the CaliforniaDepartment of Fish and Game. The MAC lined the third side of the room. These were the CRAIG DEUTSCHEcitizens appointed by Interior Secretary Dirk Klempthorn torepresent segments of the population: a rancher, a NativeAmerican, supervisors from two counties, a mayor, a wildlifebiologist, and others who form the Monument AdvisoryCommittee, the MAC. The fourth side of the room was an emptystage. And it’s that empty stage that is the major player in thedrama that will play out over the months and years to come. Statement (EIS) will be prepared to replace the aborted environ- mental analysis that the Bureau of Land Management attempted To the west and south rises the Caliente to prepare over the past five or six years. They learned that “scoping hearings,” an opportunity for public comment, wouldRange that contains the Caliente Mountain be held, one perhaps in Bakersfield, one perhaps in San Luis Obispo, maybe one at the same school. Pat Veesart, a member of Wilderness Study Area. Even in the public, suggested one in Los Angeles. The group learned that a scientific review committee hadCalifornia, the Monument is a remote place. been appointed by BLM, one that included a well-known critic of grazing practices on the Monument. They learned later on The Carrizo Plain National Monument, created in the last that 8,400 California quail had been killed by market hunters atdays of the Clinton Administration, sweeps over about 250,000 one spring in the Temblor Range about a hundred years ago,acres of the largest remnant of California’s San Joaquin Valley quail that were salted down, barreled, and shipped to Sangrasslands. The San Andreas Fault displays itself near the eastern Francisco hotels. They learned that the Wilderness Society isboundary in the Temblor Range, dramatically shifting streams, proposing the Monument as a World Heritage Site, and theyand raising scarps. To the west and south rises the Caliente Range learned that the rancher on the MAC and other persons in thethat contains the Caliente Mountain Wilderness Study Area. room were skeptical or at best doubtful about that proposal. AndEven in California, the Monument is a remote place. At best one they learned from Johna Hurl, the acting manager of theor two vehicles an hour will travel along Soda Lake Road during Monument, that the entire EIS is scheduled to wrap up bythe stifling the heat of summer. November.What the community learned Setting the stage for the future The public on the north side of the room sat attentively and Leaving the BLM and the MAC to their respective east andraised questions as the day drifted on. They learned-despite continued on page 9 Above: Along Simmler Road looking easthaving known this in advance-that an Environmental Impact { 6} DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  7. 7. BY PRESTON J. ARROW-WEED The First People of Imperial ValleyI first met Preston Arrow-weed two years ago at a confer- of Narpi, raised myence dealing with off-road vehicle damage in the desert. brother, my sister, and me. All the women of myHe did not speak about economic damage, about property grandmother’s relativesrights, or about noise pollution. Instead he spoke of the were of the coyote clan.sacredness of all creatures, plants and animals, which live My aunt was known as Hippah and she tookin the desert and our spiritual obligation to protect them. good care of me, and sheTwo months ago I asked him to write for the Desert told me I would reachReport, “Would he write of the intrinsic value of the land greatness one day andand its importance to Native Americans.” she never spoiled me for that reason. This story is far, far from what I expected, and it One day her sonsays much more than I had asked for. If you read it with told us that we werean open mind, it truly does answer the question, “What taking a trip to El Centro JIM ROSE where I had never your people find in the desert?” but it answers in its On our way to El Centro,own way. – Craig Deutsche, editor when we were getting near the sand dunes, my“A land far away” or “a land long ago.” As a child I heard these phrases used by the Elders. We lived a short distance from the Colorado River on the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation. Across the riverwas Yuma, Arizona, and to the west was Winterhaven, California. cousin said we would stop by the sand. When I touched the sand, it was cool and friendly. I saw ripples on the sand made by the wind, which is the great power from the north. When I looked close I could see little tracks and other tracks, which I did not know, and I thought, “they could make tracks over the ripples,The land “far away” and “long ago” was the past, not where we this is their sand dunes.”were living at the time. I grew up in a small village, which was When we crossed over the sand dunes, I saw a whole valley ofmade up of Kamya People from Imperial Valley. I heard them land and creosote plants. I had seen the healing power of thismention that Eagle Mountain was a very important place. Today plant by the Colorado River when modern medicine could notit is called Signal Mountain. They lived in some areas near this heal an infection. In the Kamya songs there is a song of how amountain, and when they left this area, they came by the man carries a bundle of creosote and cries as he walks. Thismountain and passed through Mexicali to Algodones and across bundle is also the image of a person and very important to theto the Quechan People where they settled. people of long ago. Wherever the people lived in this valley, I was born in a small hospital on the Reservation on October someone would die and they had cremation ceremonies which2, 1940. The widow of Narpi was a first cousin of my grand- lasted four days, and everything the deceased person had wasmother, and she lived with her family a few houses from our broken or burned when the body was cremated. In ancient timeshome. Narpi was the Kamya who helped Gifford write the Kamya they re-enacted the death of the Creator by taking the heart ofof Imperial Valley. Takai, an old Kamya healer, orator, and singer the deceased and taking it to the desert and burying it. Afterlived near by also. Takai was a very important man on the cremations the people ruined themselves by burning off theirreservation, but he would talk to me almost every day. For some hair. Many things were ruined there and left there, never to bereason, I would walk through the trees of mesquite, and I felt that bothered until the people say it is time to go back, and they haveat the next clearing I would find some people living there, but all never said this. Every creature in the valley is important andI found were places where people once lived. As a baby, I was left continued on page 22with my grandmother and when she died, my aunt, the daughter Above: Preston Arrow-weed DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 7}
  8. 8. BY KATHY SHARUM TOUGH CRITTERS ON THE CARRIZO PLAIN Millions Of Years Old, But Endangered TodayT o many, the protection of antennae used to attract and clasp females BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT animals conjures up pictures during reproduction. Furthermore, the of something warm and males of each species look quite different fuzzy, cute and furry. While from each other, while the females of differ-these species certainly strike a chord that ent species look very similar. So determiningwas played during childhood-holding a which kind of shrimp you have requires thatbaby kitten or cuddling a favorite stuffed you get a good look at an adult male.animal-there are many species in our midst There are at least 25 known species ofthat are not considered adorable and are not fairy shrimp in California, five of which canfuzzy in the least. Yet they are unique and be found in different areas within themarvelous in their own right. Fairy shrimp Carrizo Plain National Monument, alongare tiny crustaceans that for the most part, with one additional species of brine shrimp.go unnoticed. They are not found in oceans One of these shrimps, the longhorn fairybut in ephemeral pools and ponds, sometimes no larger than a shrimp (Branchinecta longiantenna) is one of California’s rarestpuddle formed in a tire rut. fairy shrimp and is listed as endangered. Another, the vernal pool So, what are these little shrimp? As the name implies, fairy fairy shrimp (Branchinecta lynchi), is listed as threatened. In ashrimp are related to the kind of shrimp people are used to eat- state where land is much sought after for development and agri-ing, lobsters and crabs. These shrimp however, are quite ancient culture, it is fortunate that their homes lie within the protectedand primitive. Though fairy shrimp are crustaceans, they bear boundaries of the Monument. Their presence adds to the beautylittle resemblance to those with which we are most familiar. The and diversity found on the Carrizo Plain.largest species in California is nearly six inches long with the The Carrizo Plain for much of the year is considered veryothers ranging from only 10 to 40 mm. Most found on the desert-like. An environment that receives on average only sevenCarrizo Plain are less than one inch in length. Quite delicate in to ten inches of rain per year would make for a tough existence ifappearance, fairy shrimp swim on their backs, using feathery- you rely on water, as is the case with fairy shrimp. That’s whatlooking pairs of feet which sway and pulsate in the water to aid in makes these animals so unique. If a puddle or pond in themovement and to filter in food. Males and females, in most cases, Monument has been filled by winter rains and lasts for longerlook quite different. Males have specialized and elaborate-looking than two weeks before drying, chances are good that there will be fairy shrimp in it. Shrimp eggs (referred to as cysts) lie dormant in the dry sediment of such puddles and ponds until they fill with SUPER CYSTS water and the water remains for some time. In a place where drought is common, the cysts can lie dormant for many years, Many of the secrets to the survival of fairy shrimp lie in their cysts. Cysts waiting for the water they need to hatch out. What’s more are not just eggs that have been deposited by the female but are amazing is that the genetic makeup of the shrimp results in some actually tiny embryos covered in protective layers or shells. While the cysts hatching out and developing while others will not. This embryos remain in an arrested state of development, the covering helps to insure the survival of the species in case conditions start layers, along with other factors, protect them from dry temperatures out perfectly but the puddle or pond dries up before the new greater than 150 degrees F., from water temperatures that can reach adults have a chance to reproduce. Once hatched however, the near boiling, from freezing, and even from the digestive systems of continued on page 11 other animals! Above: Fairy Shrimp: small, hardy, and seldom noticed { 8} DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  9. 9. Last Of The Central Valley Grasslandscontinued from page 6 BAKERSFIELD SAN LUISwest sides, let us turn to the empty stage on the south in the direc- OBISPOtion of the Monument. From the many issues that will take uppages in the eventual EIS, grazing will occupy a key position. Inthe Presidential Proclamation creating the monument and in thecurrent management plan for the Monument-now eight years ofage-there are clear statements that the preservation of nativespecies and the elimination of feral and invasive species are partof the goal. A basic question sits like a large gray animal with a long noseand tusks: What is the evidence that grazing will help restorenative plants and animals to the Monument? The ranchermember of the MAC said that despite everything that hashappened within the past century, the threatened and endangeredspecies have survived. Several members on the north side cringedshortly thereafter. As the reports and comments proceeded, the curtain behindthe stage failed to mute completely the youthful voices fromfarther south, coming from the dining hall that also shared thebuilding. These were the voices of the children from the school, SANTAwho were helping prepare lunch for their visitors. The stage BARBARAactually had two sides, one to the north and one to the south witha curtain in between. What will the future bring for these children and the place BE A PART OF THE PROCESSwhere they live? Will this become some major tourist attractionwith its “gateway cities” and tour buses, guides, and rest stops Contact Geary Hund at ghund@tws.orgcompleting the process? Will ranching disappear and elk andpronghorn take the place of cattle on the Monument? For the next Monitor the following Web sites:ten years or more the plan adopted as part of the Environmental BLM Carrizo Plain WebsiteImpact Statement will partially guide this future. The Wilderness SocietyCal French is a resident near Paso Robles, a long time visitor to Carrizo Plain, and Chair of the Sierra Club’s California/NevadaRegional Conservation Committee. He has organized and led manyservice outings to the Carrizo Plain, removing and/ormodifying barbed wire fencing to aid in the recoveryof the resident pronghorn antelope herd. CRAIG DEUTSCHEGoodwin Ranch in the foreground with the central plain beyond DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 9}
  10. 10. B Y J U D Y A N D E R S O N with input from B R I A N B E F F O R T Friends Of Nevada Wilderness 22 Years Of Keeping Nevada WildW ild landscapes are dis- public lands from expanding development, appearing, as Robert off-road vehicles, energy exploration and Marshall said, “ development, and even well-meaning hikers. a snowbank on a Friends of Nevada Wilderness began as a ROGER SCHOLLsouth-facing slope on a warm June day.” small corps of dedicated activists. It is now aSo in 1984, while large intact areas still growing statewide organization with 1,200existed in Nevada, Friends of Nevada members, seven staff, and offices in Reno, LasWilderness, a nonprofit grassroots organi- Vegas, and Ely. Friends, although relativelyzation, was established to work for their new, has a historic perspective since itspreservation. founding board members have been active inIn the intervening years the organization has had a number of every Congressional bill to designate wilderness, including thesignificant accomplishments. The potential for preserving Wilderness Act itself.additional wilderness is still enormous, as Nevada is home to Nevada’s Congressional delegation led by Senator Harry Reidmore public land than any state outside Alaska. The high forests, (D) has publicly committed to designating wilderness on a coun-deep canyons, and sagebrush steppes of her 300 named mountain ty-by-county basis. Friends of Nevada Wilderness is dedicated toranges are home to at least 3800 plant and animal species and a having Congress designate Nevada’s last remaining wild places aslifetime of opportunities to pursue beauty and adventure on your wilderness - the highest protection land can enjoy. Chary of thepublic lands. fickle political winds, Friends will be making a concerted effort to This opportunity is also matched by enormous challenges. move these proposals forward before the “snowbanks” disappear.Nevada is the fastest-growing state in the Union, its population Other aspects of the Friends program are to establish volun-has doubled to 2.4 million since 1990, and is expected to hit 4.4 teer wilderness monitoring and restoration programs as soon asmillion by 2026. More population means more pressures on the continued on page 22 “We are successful because deep inside, Nevada Wilderness: 2.8 Million Acres everyone loves wild places and wants to see Wilderness Act 1964 Lincoln County them conserved into the future. We seek Nevada Wilderness Wilderness 2004 this common ground as we work with other USFS 1989 concerned citizens, elected officials at all levels, and land management agencies, California Desert (Death Valley) 1994providing reliable information about wilder- Clark County ness and seeking on-the-ground results.” Wilderness 2002 Black Rock Desert Wilderness 2000 { 10 } DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  11. 11. Millions Of Years Old, But Endangeredareas are designated so that the areas remain wild. Brian Beffort,who as associate director of Friends prepared most of this article,is certain the organization has the necessary commitment. “Weare successful because deep inside, everyone loves wild places andwants to see them conserved into the future. We seek thiscommon ground as we work with other concerned citizens, elect-ed officials at all levels, and land management agencies, provid-ing reliable information about wilderness and seeking on-the-ground results.” The organization is still looking for help. AsBrian says, “We can be more successful with your support.” CRAIG DEUTSCHETo find out more about Friends of Nevada Wilderness and what you cando, visit the website,; visit their stewardshipblog,; call (775) 324-7667 or (702) 650-6542; or email this article was written an additional 545,000 acres of wilderness Ephemeral pond in the Carrizo Plain: a tough homehave been created in White Pine County. See the “Current Issues” for tough creaturessection in this issue. Ed continued from page 8 NEVADA WILDERNESS STATISTICS: (NOV, 2006) shrimp quickly develop into adults, male and female shrimp reproduce, and with a little luck, the cysts will develop completely and be deposited by the female, beginning the life Total acres in Nevada: 71 million cycle all over again. All of this takes place in a manner of weeks Acres of federally-owned public land: 61 million acres on the Plain. Acres of wilderness: 2.8 million Not all puddles and ponds are home to fairy shrimp. Each Percentage of land designated as wilderness: 4% (15% in CA) species is uniquely adapted to the specifics of each pool type. Number of wilderness areas: 56 Differences in temperature, depth, and water chemistry are Number of wilderness study areas: 72 known to determine what species of fairy shrimp live in each, Acres of Forest Service inventoried roadless areas in NV: 3 million and yet there are still many uncertainties as to the requirements of these little animals. A number of puddles and ponds on the Nevada Wilderness Designated by: Carrizo Plain are also home to spadefoot toads or other Wilderness act of 1964: 65,000 (Jarbidge) amphibians. Some ponds have plants that are associated with Nevada Wilderness Protection Act of 1989: 733,400 the unique soils that make up the edges of the pond basin. California Desert Protection Act of 1994: 44,000 Others seem to benefit from dissolved solids that get (Death Valley Triangle) introduced by other animals using the pond. All of these things Black Rock Desert-High Rock Canyon Emigrant Trails may play an important role in the ecology of these miniature National Conservation Area Act of 2000: 751,844 ecosystems. Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Management of lands that harbor fairy shrimp can be some- Resources Act of 2002: 452,000 what of a challenge. Within the boundaries of the Monument, Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and Development puddles and ponds are protected from destruction. Currently, Act of 2004: 768,300 monitoring and collecting pond data to further understanding of the ecology of the puddles and ponds are areas of focus. It is our goal to ensure that these little shrimp will continue to fill the puddles and ponds across the landscape to the delight and amazement of all those that happen to discover them. Without their presence, our world would surely be diminished. Information taken from: “Fairy Shrimps of California’s Puddles, Pools and Playas” by Clyde Eriksen and Denton Belk, 1999 Mad River Press, Inc. Eureka, CA BRIAN BEFFORT Kathy Sharum is the principal wildlife biologist for BLM at the Carrizo Plain National Monument. Although her work address is listed as the Bakersfield BLM office, her home for the past ten years Black Rock-High Rock National Conservation Area has been at the monument itself. DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 11 }
  12. 12. BY MIKE PRATHER SUCCESS AFTER YEARS OF EFFORT A River Does Run Through It JANET WESTBROOKW ater is finally back willow and cottonwood. These seeds are into 62 miles of the viable only for a few days and must fly or float Lower Owens River to a muddy surface for germination. This after more than 90 snowmelt habitat flow will also raise flowsyears! Three and half years behind sched- into side channels and benches and spreadule, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Inyo County nutrients that will help widen the riparian habitat band. The widerSupervisor Susan Cash together flipped the switch that opened a the habitat the more diversity of species can be possible.gate allowing water to flow from the Los Angeles Aqueduct into Permanent photo points for recording the changes in the riverthe thirsty river bed. More than 200 people attending the event over time are in place. Three years of bird data along permanentat the Intake near Aberdeen listened to words of thanks and transects have been collected and will continue. Vegetation andencouragement for the future from local conservation leaders channel structure have been mapped. Local Owens Valley schooland officials from Inyo County and Los Angeles. science classes have been collecting data of all kinds along the Everyone anticipates, with excitement, the return of a rich river and will continue to do so. Nature herself will be the primeriparian habitat of willow and cottonwood with its associated architect along the river. When necessary, a human handprintwildlife populations. Riparian habitat is the richest habitat on will appear and help out if a goal for the project is not being Sacaton bunchgrass and salt grass alkaline meadows will All of us can start to visit and watch the river and its life return tobecome ground cover, wild roses and wild grapes will make up the valley. It is easily accessed on foot or horse, and numerousthe under-story. Desert olive and reeds will form a mid-story and dirt tracks allow vehicle touring, although be careful of roadwillow and cottonwood will create the upper canopy of the conditions (sand, mud, high centers) when driving. Pack yourriparian community. Each layer of habitat supports its own picnic, grab your camera and binoculars and get out there.wildlife. Neo-tropical songbirds (blue grosbeaks, orioles,warblers), game birds (dove and quail), elk, bobcat and swallow- Mike Prather has been an activist in the Lower Owens Valley for manytail butterflies will benefit from such a large addition of habitat to years. He is a member of the Owens Valley Committee, the Easternthe Owens Valley. Species that disappeared in the Owens Valley Sierra Audubon, and the Sierra Club.will have the opportunity to return. Visitors eager to fish lookforward to bass, catfish, bluegill, bullfrogs and crawdads.Stretches of water will allow canoeing, however expect a slowglide due to the valley’s gentle gradient. A California heritage willreappear in the Owens Valley landscape. New fencing is being constructed to protect the emergingriparian plant community along the banks of the river. Youngwillow and cottonwood need a helping hand to protect them-selves from hungry cows that look at them as “ice cream”. Once MIKE PRATHERthe habitat is far enough along limited grazing (which prescribesseason of use, duration of use and number of animals) can takeplace that will not damage under story plants and soils and thusmeet the wildlife goals of the Lower Owens River Project. A mimicked snowmelt runoff (habitat flow), five times larger Top: Mike Prather and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as gatesthan the regular base flow of the river, will take place in late May are opened to rewater the Lower Owens River. Above: A visitor early June and will be timed with the fuzzy seed production of to the revived Owens River. { 12 } DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  13. 13. CURRENT ISSUESMercury Pollution From White Pine CountyNevada Mining Wilderness Legislation During the past nine months there has been progress in the effort to On December 20, 2006, legislation establishing 558,000 acres of newcurb the vast mercury emissions from Nevada’s gold and silver mines. wilderness in White Pine County, Nevada, was signed into law by President(See Desert Report, Summer, 2006) A bill is being introduced in the Nevada Bush after passage by the House and Senate. New wilderness areasLegislature to cap mercury emissions, increase monitoring and reporting include 70,000 acres at Mt. Grafton, 69,000 acres at Highland Ridge, andof mercury emissions in and around mines, as well as measure mercury 121,000 acres in the High mine workers’ bodies. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Sheila In early 2000, only 840,000 acres of wilderness had been establishedLeslie, will be an important step to determining the full scope of the problem. in the silver state, but with subsequent legislation including this most A report on mercury levels in the air around mines, information on the recent bill, the total number of wilderness acres in Nevada is now 3.37underreporting of mercury emissions by mines, and on the need for full million acres. Approximately three-fourths of this wilderness is managedstudy of mercury in fish in northeastern Nevada, as well as ways to assist by the Bureau of Land Management. Wilderness activists in Nevada arethis effort, can all be found at working with their Congressional delegation for a possible additional wilderness designation in this session of Congress.The Desert Is NotA Dump Sunrise Powerlink An open-air Sludge composting facility planned near Barstow, Threatens StateCalifornia, is still moving forward against strong local opposition. (See WildernessDesert Report, Dec. 15, 2006.) The San Bernardino County Planning In an atmosphere reminiscent of the Desert Protection Act campaign,Commission voted 4-0 to approve the facility late last year. The Center for 400 concerned citizens converged on the February 8 California State ParksBiological Diversity; Desert Communities against Pollution; Center for Commission meeting in Borrego Springs to oppose SDG&E/SempraRace, Poverty and the Environment; and have joined Energy’s Sunrise Powerlink. This massive power line would run from thetogether to appeal the decision to the San Bernardino Board of Imperial Valley, and across Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to San Diego.Supervisors. The five Supervisors will hold the fate of this project in their Despite SDG&E’s greenwashing of the line as a conveyor of (as yethands when they vote at a public hearing on February 27th. Local nonexistent) solar energy, environmental groups such as the Sierra Club,residents have started a “1000 letters to the Supervisors” campaign and the Center for Biological Diversity and the Desert Protective Council believeplan to travel to the hearing in buses paid for by Erin Brockovich. Waste it is really just one link in the company’s plan to connect its fossil fueldisposal will become increasingly difficult as our population grows, but power plants in Mexicali with the huge market in Los Angeles.transporting toxic material 100’s of miles to the desert and dumping it on At stake is the sanctity of Anza-Borrego’s state-designated wilderness,the ground without safeguards to air and water is not a solution. 73 acres of which would be “dedesignated,” setting a dangerous precedent for wilderness everywhere. Even with alternative routes that avoid Anza-Borrego, large swaths of desert in Imperial County, and muchBeatty Area Land Release of San Diego’s scenic backcountry, would be impacted by the line.Put On Hold The next steps are an EIR/EIS review, scheduled (very optimistically) to Until recently, the Tonopah Office of the Nevada BLM was pushing be completed by the end of this year. Should the California Public Utilitiesforward with a plan to release for auction over 5,400 acres of public land Commission choose SDG&E’s preferred route, the Parks Commissionnear Beatty, Nevada. The area included the riparian strip known as oasis would then vote on the dedesignation of wilderness. Meanwhile, Parksvalley north of Beatty, the headwaters for the Amargosa River, and critical Commission Chairman Bobby Shriver recommends that we contact ourhabitat for the threatened Amargosa Toad, Bufo nelsoni. The potential state elected representatives to voice our concerns. To find out more, godisposal of this public land, which was called for in the 1997 Tonopah to Management Plan (RMP), was of great concern to some localcitizens, the conservation community, and several state and federalagencies charged with safeguarding the toad and its habitat. Had theproposed land release, scheduled for 2008, gone forward, it would have the conservation agreement and plan meaningless. Recently, the BLM acknowledged that the 1997 RMP was out of date WHEN YOU JOIN the Sierra Club you will have the satisfaction of knowingand that a revision would be done. This revision will require a full environ- that you are helping to preserve irreplaceable wildlands, save endangeredmental review, and so will allow opportunities for public comments. It will and threatened wildlife, and protect this fragile environment we call important that the conservation community in both California and You can be sure that your voice will be heard through congressionalNevada follow the progress carefully and be active in the process. lobbying and grassroots action on the environmental issues that matter to you most. DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 13 }
  14. 14. Water Wars And The CA/NV Dilemmacontinued from page 3 Nevada and California apply different rules to the use of water. groundwater use in Nevada, the State Engineer found that thereIn Nevada, water use-except for domestic wells-is regulated by the was sufficient unused water to enable him to grant rights to aNevada State Engineer. In California, a state agency, the State water company to export groundwater from the Nevada portionWater Resources Control Board, has authority to regulate the use of Sandy Valley-an area that straddles the state line to the west ofof surface water-but not groundwater. No water right permit is Las Vegas. In granting the water rights, the Engineer overlookedrequired in California in order to pump water from the ground. the fact that the entire groundwater basin underlying Sandy In Nevada, the basic water law of the West, the prior Valley is severely overdrafted as a result of groundwater pumpingappropriation doctrine, governs the use of both surface and on the California side to irrigate sod farms that ironically supplygroundwater. Under this doctrine, a person may use an allotted grass for lawns in thirsty Las Vegas.amount of water, but the use of the water is subject to the rule of In California there is little opportunity for any consideration“first in time, first in right.” Thus, during a water shortage, a of the cross-border impacts of groundwater pumping. Theperson may find himself without any water because it is being impacts of groundwater pumping in California on Nevada’sused by someone who established an earlier right. In California, resources are not assessed unless a project is governed by theboth the prior appropriation doctrine and the riparian right California Environmental Quality Act, or unless the groundwaterdoctrine apply to water rights and water use. (A riparian right is pumping is governed by a regulation enacted by a local govern-the right to use water from a natural watercourse on property mental entity.that abuts the watercourse). Unlike the harsh “first in time, first Consequently, in the Charleston View area of California thein right rule,” riparian rights holders share the water that is existing owners of parcels comprising a portion of 17,000 acres ofavailable during times of shortage. privately-owned land could conceivably drill wells on their prop- Nevada has established several important protections that per- erties and begin pumping groundwater. This could occur despitetain to groundwater and the resources dependent upon it. For the fact that Charleston View shares an already overdraftedinstance, before the State Engineer can grant a water right, he groundwater basin with Pahrump, Nevada, and regardless of themust first find that there is sufficient unused water available for fact that pumping in Nevada has already caused large springs tothe requested use and that the granting of the right would be in cease flowing and the ground surface to subside, leading tothe public interest. Further, if a right for an interbasin transfer of damage to roads, buildings, and other property.groundwater is sought, the State Engineer must find that One would think that if the two states don’t consider thetransfer is environmentally sound. These provisions have been trans-border impacts, the federal government would be involved;used by the State Engineer to deny permits to pump however, the federal government plays only a limited role. Whilegroundwater for irrigation from the already overdrafted ground- the federal government has both riparian and “reserved” waterwater basin underlying the Amargosa Desert and to deny permits rights in the desert area, federal policies and guidelinesto pump groundwater in order to protect Devil’s Hole-a section encourage federal agencies to look to state law to obtain andof Death Valley National Park located in Nevada which has a quantify such water rights. Thus, unless there is state ordeep, water filled cavern and is home for an endangered pupfish. Congressional legislative action, the cross border water issues will remain largely unaddressed.Cross border water issues will remain unaddressed without A template for Congressional action may be offered by thelegislative action Lincoln County, Nevada, Conservation, Recreation, and While Nevada water law can be used to protect Nevada’s Development Act which became federal law in 2004. In responsenatural resources, it is uncertain to what extent, if at all, the State to a plan by the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump andEngineer will consider the cross-border impacts of groundwater export groundwater from basins in eastern Nevada that couldpumping. For instance, in a recent case based on an analysis of affect the water resources of Utah, Congress required that prior to the implementation of such a project in Nevada, the states of Nevada and Utah are required to enter into an agreement concerning the allocation of the water resources. Using that template, draft legislation has been formulated in the hope of taking a first step toward addressing California/Nevada interstate groundwater issues. Once all concerned have had an opportunity to review the proposal and consensus can be reached, it is antici- pated that a solution could be adopted by Congress. CRAIG DEUTSCHE Greg James has lived in Bishop, California, since 1977. He has served as legal counsel for the County of Inyo and as manager for the Inyo County Water Department, which is charged with the environmentally sound management of the water resources of Owens Valley. Since retiring from the Water Department at the end of 2004, he has workedSaratogo Spring in Southern Death Valley: as a private attorney and has continued to represent the County andSharing Water with Nevada others on water-related and environmental issues. { 14 } DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  15. 15. Desert Fires: They Ain’t What They Used To Be What can be done? The first step is education. After every wildfire there is typically a round of finger pointing and rein- forcement of misconceptions that focus primarily on wildland vegetation. Native plant communities are easy targets because they do not have strong economic interests protecting them. In addition, placing the emphasis on native plants takes attention away from community planning decisions that allow develop- ment in high fire-risk areas. The best way to formulate creative solutions that will help us reduce wildfire risks as well as protect desert ecosystems is by making a sincere effort to understand the environment in which we live, realizing wildfires are controlled by many different variables, and accepting responsibility for where and how we place our homes. Every ecosystem has its own, unique fire regime. Many of those regimes are changing in a way that threatens the wild spaces we value. We need to correct widely held misconceptions about wildfire by helping others understand that the threat to most natural systems in southern California today is too much fire rather than not enough, especially in desert and chaparral plant communities (Keeley 2004). And we need to support efforts to prevent further spread of alien weeds. Native systems compromised by these rapidly spreading invaders are much more flammable than those without. Both the Sawtooth fire near Yucca Valley and the Esperanza fire in 2006 were heavily influ- enced by the presence of alien grasses. Once the public and government leaders understand that RICHARD HALSEY wildfires are extremely complex events and that each native plant community has its own specialized fire regime, demand will grow for fire management plans specifically designed to protect scarce natural resources. This will give fragile places like the desert a better chance to continue enriching our lives and inspire a muchPinyon pine near Pioneertown after the Sawtooth fire: As it needed reconnection with the natural world.will not resprout, this lone soldier is lost. REFERENCES Brooks, M.L., and D.A. Pyke. 2001. Invasive plants and fire in the deserts of North America. Pages 1-14 in K.E.M. Galley and T.P. Wilson (eds.).continued from page 1 Proceedings of the Invasive Species Workshop: the Role of Fire in thepathway for flames to rapidly cross the desert floor (Brooks and Control and Spread of Invasive Species. Fire Conference 2000: the FirstPyke 2001). National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management. In the past, low elevation desert fires ignited by lightning were Miscellaneous Publication No. 11, Tall Timbers Research Station,typically small and self-contained due to the lack of fuel. Alien Tallahassee, FL.weeds have changed all that. With low humidity and high winds, Keeley, J.E. 2004. Invasive plants and fire management in Californiawildfires can now consume tens of thousands of acres, Mediterranean-climate ecosystems. In M. Arianoutsou and Papanastasispotentially changing the desert landscape for generations to (eds.) 10th MEDECOS - International Conference on Ecology Proceedings,come. Since these alien grasses are annuals, they can create Conservation and Management. Rhodes Island, Greece. Millpress, Rotterdam.enough fuel for a fire to burn every year. As a result, it is quitepossible keystone species, such as the Joshua tree and Saguaro Keeley, J.E., C.J. Fotheringham, M.Morais. 1999. Reexaming fire suppres- sion impacts on brushland fire regimes. Science 284: 1829-1832.cactus, will be eliminated in many of our favorite landscapeswithin our lifetimes. Continued climatic change may accelerate Lovich, J. E., and D. Bainbridge. 1999. Anthropogenic degradation of thesuch fire-induced changes. southern California desert ecosystem and prospects for natural recovery and restoration. Environmental Management. 24:309-326. Could native desert shrubs and annuals create conditions inwhich flames could cover large areas? After rare wet years, Mortiz, M.A., J.E. Keeley, E.A. Johnson, and A.A. Schaffner. 2004. Testing a basic assumption of shrubland fire management: how important is fuel age?natives may produce localized concentrations of fuel, but they Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 2: 67-72.can not be blamed for the huge, frequent fires spawned by aliengrasses we are experiencing today. The poor or complete absence Richard W. Halsey is the director of the California Chaparral Instituteof fire-related adaptations in most desert plant communities, and is the author of the recently published book, “Fire, Chaparral, andsuch as blackbrush and pinyon pine, tells us such frequent fires Survival in Southern California.”are not a natural part of these systems. DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 15 }
  16. 16. BY JON MARVEL OWYHEE COUNTY IDAHO County Rights And Designated Wilderness OREGON IDAHOO wyhee County is located Owyhee County has many spectacular south of the Snake River in public landscapes including the second the southwest corner of largest rhyolite canyon complex in the Idaho bordering Nevada world (the largest is in Mozambique) inand Oregon. In land area it is the second which several of the most remote andlargest county in Idaho and is larger than NEVADA beautiful desert wilderness rivers in theseveral eastern states. The county received lower 48 are found. Those rivers include theits name for a small group of Hawaiian Bruneau and its West Fork; the Jarbidge; thetrappers and explorers who disappeared in South and East Forks of the Owyhee Riverthe early 1800s never to be seen again. The and, after their confluence, the Owyheecounty is a high sage-steppe cold desert with some areas of west- River mainstem as well as Big and Little Jacks Creeks.ern juniper forest with precipitation limited to between 3 and 15 The BLM lands in Owyhee County include over 750,000inches per year on elevations ranging from 2,200 to 10,000 feet acres of Wilderness Study Areas (WSA’s) and two major conflictsabove sea level. over use of the public lands: livestock grazing and all-terrain Home to about 11,000 residents who are concentrated in the vehicles. At this time there is no gas or oil exploratory leasing insmall towns of Marsing and Homedale along the Snake River, the the County.county has about 1.5 residents per square mile of area, one of the The most recent effort at resolving those conflicts wasleast densely populated areas in the western United States. The proposed in the summer of 2006 in legislation entitled “Thecounty seat, Murphy, has a permanent population of about 30 Owyhee Initiative (OI)” by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, apeople. The county has several ghost towns from its mining hey- Republican well known for his efforts to water down theday in the 1860s including Silver City known as the Queen of Endangered Species Act. The OI would have designated overIdaho’s Ghosts: ( 500,000 acres of wilderness, several hundred miles of wild andvercityold.jpg ) ! While mining was historically important in the scenic rivers, released 250,000 acres of WSA’s, established a fed-county, there are no active major mining operations there today. erally funded high desert research program, statutorily created an Even by Idaho standards Owyhee County is poor with per Owyhee County run oversight board for BLM management ascapita annual income of $20,000, only 70% of the Idaho state well as a science review panel to review all BLM decisionsaverage and 56% of the national average. One fifth of all thehousing in the county is mobile homes, and the Owyhee Countyhamlet of Grandview, has the highest per capita levels of variouscancers in the state perhaps due to constant aerial spraying oflocal farm fields in the summers. More than half of countyworkers are employed in adjacent Idaho counties especially Adaand Canyon Counties where Boise, Nampa and Caldwell, Idaho’sfast-growing cities, are located. Recent growth in population inOwyhee County has come primarily from legal and illegalimmigrant workers from Mexico seeking low-cost housing. 76% of the county land area, or more than 3.7 million acres, KATIE FITE, WWPis public land administered by the Bureau of Land Management(BLM). Almost all of that area is leased to fewer than 100ranchers for livestock grazing. Only 390 farmers and ranchers inthe county have farming and/or ranching as their primary sourceof income, and they own over 800,000 acres of private landmaking them among the wealthy few in the county. Grazed and not grazed - a dramatic difference { 16 } DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007
  17. 17. concerning livestock grazing. The OI also proposed the sale orexchange of up to 75,000 acres of public lands to ranchers in a SOME TRUTHS ABOUT THE OWYHEEcomplex process that would have ranchers set the value of any INITIATIVE BILLpublic land purchase or exchange without independent appraisalof land values. 1. Because of its exclusionary nature, the process by which The The OI was originally an idea proposed by property rights and Owyhee Initiative Bill developed was flawed from the beginning. Thecounty control advocate attorney Fred Grant ( who has Idaho Wildlife Federation, Western Watersheds Project, and The Committeebeen active with Stewards of the Range, a group started by the For Idaho’s High Desert, although they had a long and well documentedlate infamous Nevada rancher Wayne Hage. That idea was to history of on-the-ground involvement with the Owyhee Canyon lands,trade designated wilderness for county control over BLM were openly excluded from the so-called collaborative process.decisions affecting Owyhee County ranchers who use publiclands. It is similar in concept to other recent wilderness designa-tion efforts at Steens Mountain in eastern Oregon and the 2. A handful of ranchers in Owyhee County, Idaho, receive theLincoln and White Pine County Wilderness Bills in Nevada. benefit of federally legislated protection of their occupation. One of The catalyst for the OI effort was a series of legal victories in the stated purposes of the bill is to “provide for economic stability byfederal court won by Western Watersheds Project that restricted preserving livestock grazing as an economically viable use”; (Sec.2and placed much greater scrutiny on public lands ranching acrossthe BLM managed landscape in Owyhee County where Findings; Purpose, page 4, lines 1 & 2)traditionally the 80 ranchers who use public lands have not beensubject to much BLM oversight. 3. Although this bill designates 517,000 acres of wilderness, it con- Three conservation groups, The Wilderness Society, the tains numerous exceptions to the Wilderness act in section 203,Idaho Conservation League, and the Nature Conservancy chose undermining the very wilderness it designates. Although proponents ofto immediately accept offers from the Owyhee CountyCommissioners to participate in the OI process. Later the local this bill point to the designation of 55,000 of these acres becomingSierra Club group also joined the process. The OI specifically livestock free, this involves at least four separate areas and would requiredenied participation to the three groups most active in fencing to keep out the livestock. Many of the allotments in these areasinfluencing the management of Owyhee County public lands: are on marginally grazable land. This legislation would compensate theWestern Watersheds Project, the Idaho Wildlife Federation, andthe Committee For The High Desert. The process of reaching ranchers for retiring their agreement on legislation took over five years, and thenow-failed result would have created some remarkable changes in 4. This bill establishes 384 miles of Wild & Scenic rivers butmany aspects of wilderness and wild and scenic river the boundary extends only to the high water mark essentiallymanagement. (Please see sidebar). establishing a wild and scenic riverbed. In the course of the whole OI process, conservation groupswere divided on the merits of the final document. Some claimedthat growing ATV use was the single most destructive impact on 5. The Owyhee Initiative (OI) Agreement for which this bill providespublic lands in Owyhee County although livestock grazing implementation, (Findings, Purpose, page 3, lines 18-20) createsnegatively impacts far more land area in the county. (See photos unprecedented layers of oversight of federal land by a handful ofof livestock impacts). With the failure of the OI legislation to be passed in the selected local interests.December 2006 lame-duck Congress, the outcome of theNovember 2006 election, and the defeat of former House 6. To gain conservation and other easements and/or to acquireResource Committee Chair Richard Pombo (R-CA-11) the OI is scattered private lands totaling 2600 acres, up to 75,000 acres ofsignificantly delayed as Idaho representatives sort out their public land could be sacrificed to ranchers. No independent appraisalsproblems with the provisions. Meanwhile, its legacy is a lot ofbruised relationships among Idaho conservation groups which are required and ranchers have specified grossly inflated values of theirmay take years to heal. land that would be acquired with federal funds.Jon Marvel, a 38 year resident of Idaho and a licensed architect, is the 7. Proponents of this legislation cite the motorized travel plan itexecutive director of Western Watersheds Project. He lives in Hailey, would implement, but travel plans for the region are either alreadyIdaho. completed or being completed by the BLM. The legislation does not consider the motorized vehicle damage caused by ranching activity but FOR MORE INFORMATION rather allows for the possibility of its continuance. Prepared with assistance from Mike McCurry DESERT REPORT MARCH 15, 2007 { 17 }