Monday, January 18, 2016

Opposition to Monuments Based on Misinformation

A majority of Californians have expressed support for three new monuments proposed for California's desert and under consideration by the President.  Voices opposing the designation of new national monuments, however, appear to be driven by misinformation and a distorted faith in Congress to act as a responsible steward of our wildlands.  They claim that conservation has run amok, that monument designations will lock out the public, and that only Congress should decide which lands to protect.

Tyrannical Conservation Designations?
The first claim - that conservation is some oppressive land management regime that has run amok - is relatively easy to dispute.  National Parks, monuments, and wilderness areas - wildlands that are protected from most types of industrial development - account for about 4% of the total land area of the United States.  With that number in mind, consider that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of wildlife species on Earth.  This is mostly driven by habitat loss, among a host of other human impacts that - combined - have led scientists to declare that humans have pushed the planet into a new geological epochIn other words, it is a miracle that we even have the opportunity to visit the California desert and experience a landscape and ecosystem that stretches beyond the horizon.

Without permanent protection from industrial uses, this landscape will remain vulnerable. We will not be able to guarantee that future generations will share the same experience that we - and our ancestors - have enjoyed on these widlands.  Why should my daughter visit the Mojave Trails area 30 years from now if the prized section of Historic Route 66 is surrounded by a sea of solar panels and wind turbines, and the mountains have been carved open by open pit mines?  Beyond the priceless experiences that generations of humans have to gain from desert conservation, there is still the intrinsic value of a healthy ecosystem where wildflowers erupt in a riot of color in the spring and natural springs feed bighorn sheep and migrating birds.
Conservation Locking out the Public?
Desert monuments would maintain our access to public lands, not lock us out.  California's desert is a popular landscape that attracts millions of visitors each year for hiking, photography, 4x4 touring, rock climbing, camping, wildlife watching, and astronomy.  Monument status would ensure that future generations get to enjoy these same activities without the threat that some energy company will come along and bulldoze our favorite camping spot.

Most voices against desert monuments, however, fret that monument status would significantly limit vehicle access to desert wildlands.  This fear is probably encouraged by "land grab" rhetoric from the same folks that brought us the Bundy militia.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) already manages the lands within the boundary of the proposed Mojave Trails National Monument, and would continue to do so once a monument is established.  The BLM has long-favored vehicle access on lands that it manages (sometimes a bit much),  and there is nothing inherent in the monument proposal that would lead to a significant loss in vehicle access.  Some of the monument opponents may be confusing monument designations with wilderness designations, which do prohibit most vehicle access.  But the monument proposals do not include wilderness designations; wilderness would have to be established by Congress.

Others fear that other recreational activities would be prohibited.  As an example, some in the rock hound community believe they'll be shut out and not allowed to collect gems and minerals.  However, rock hounding would almost certainly still be permitted in the Mojave Trails National Monument as it is in other monuments managed by the BLM.  Just like horseback riding, ATV riding on designated routes, rock climbing, mountain biking, camping, and plenty of other outdoor activities.  The idea that monuments lock out the public is simply misinformed.

Congress or the Antiquities Act?
Finally, many argue that the President should not use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate new monuments in the desert, claiming that Congress would be a superior and more transparent way to bestow conservation designations.  I agree that it would be nice if Congress would act to protect our public lands, but there is no reason for me to believe that we could accomplish that without undue cost and sacrifice.  Representative Cook's own "compromise" legislation would open up thousands of acres in the Mojave Trails area to mining and prohibit the President from granting permanent protection status to this iconic stretch of Historic Route 66 and the surrounding desert vistas.

This Congress has moved multiple times to undermine the Endangered Species Act and has encouraged the privatization of public lands.  There is little appetite in Congress for the scale of conservation that is necessary to protect the beauty of the California desert.  How can I tell?  The California Desert Protection Act has been festering in a toxic Congress since 2010 with no movement forward.  Why should I believe that suddenly Congress has a genuine interest in protecting public lands in the desert?

Furthermore, the claim that Congress is a more transparent route to conservation is false.  Industry lobbyists have plenty of access to the halls of the Capitol building, and can negatively influence conservation provisions of the bill at various stages of the legislative process.  Legislative horse trading can occur last minute without public input before a bill is put up for a vote, so we could end up with an anti-conservation rider in a bill at the last minute.  In short, be careful of what you wish for.  Now is not a good time to give Congress an opportunity to re-write how we manage and protect our desert wildlands. 

It is time to grant permanent protection to these desert wildlands from industrial destruction.  If Congress had shown any sincere appreciation for our public lands over the past few years these monument proposals would not even be on the President's desk for consideration. Instead of watching Congress kicking the can down the road, I hope that the President will soon establish the Mojave Trails, Sand-to-Snow and Castle Mountains National Monuments.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Armed Takeover Another Troubling Step Against Public Lands

Armed extremists occupying Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon's high desert continue to argue that our public lands be handed over to states or private interests to expand economic exploitation.  The sound bite media coverage of this occupation sometimes frames this standoff in a way that fails to convey what is at stake for you and me - the public.   The militia are attempting to rob us of our public lands using force and intimidation, threatening to fire upon any law enforcement effort to renew our access to the occupied lands.  The militia's alternative is to return to a corrupt giveaway of public lands that only leads to destruction and privatization of our natural heritage, a trend we had decided decades ago was not in our national interest. 

The militia say they are speaking for the public, but they are actually speaking for a small slice of the population that wants to do what they want with our lands without limitations or costs.  They'd like to let their cattle mow down stream side vegetation and ruin our waterways, or log our forests in a way that would leave our mountains bare. They want to drill and blast away canyons for uranium mining. They may wear jeans and cowboy hats, but their mentality is no different than Brightsource Energy or Exxon Mobil executives in suits and ties.  In the interest of profit, they would rather create a Tragedy of the Commons than propose science-based alternatives that would balance economic interests with the long-term heath of our public lands.  Nancy Langston's piece on the history of commercial exploitation and land management at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge further underscores that the militia is simply selling another brand of snake oil.

And despite the militia's complaints that land use regulations amount to "tyranny," the Bureau of Land Management still administers nearly 18,000 grazing permits on nearly 155 million acres of public lands.  The cost of grazing on public land is 93% cheaper than on private land, and receives many other taxpayer subsidies.  The Forest Service in 2014 allowed the removal of nearly 2.8 billion board feet of timber.  This is in addition to the millions of acres opened up to natural gas, coal, solar and wind.  There is no shortage of representation in Washington that caters to industry and agricultural uses of our public lands, which makes the Bundy militia's claim that public land is off limits to extractive industry all the more ironic. 

I don't always agree with how the Department of Interior manages our public lands, but there is no doubt in my mind that handing our lands over to the states or private interests - as the militia has argued - would spell doom for the spectacular natural treasures that make America special.  Some states and local jurisdictions have made it very clear that they would hand over public land to industry if given the chance,  rather than manage our beautiful wildlands for the benefit of all Americans.  To this end, organizations like ALEC have carried out legislative and legal campaigns to privatize our public lands with the help of some misguided elected officials.  Apparently they can count on the Bundy militia to be the thugs that point the guns at the public during this takeover.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Suburban Sprawl Continues Creep Across Desert

The revival of the housing market has renewed a perennial threat to desert wildlands - urban sprawl.  Developers are considering plans for large new suburban developments across the southwest, years after such large developments mostly stalled when the housing industry began to crash in 2006.  At a time when most of our efforts have been focused on protecting public lands from industrial-scale development, urban sprawl underscores the need for local efforts to protect open space under private ownership.

The NASA video above shows the extent of Las Vegas' urban sprawl since 1972.

Along the Mojave River in California, the Tapestry project could result in the destruction of nearly 9 square miles of juniper woodland and chaparral habitat in the Summit Valley to make way for at least 16,196 homes.  The area is popular for hiking, jogging, and mountain bike riding.  During environmental surveys, biologists observed or detected western pond turtles, coastal horned lizards, bobcats, mule deer, mountain lion, the endangered Arroyo toad, and over 100 species of birds.  The area also hosts many special status plant species, such as the San Bernardino Mountains owl's-clover.
The Tapestry project would build on the Victor Valley's sprawl, pushing southward toward the San Bernardino Mountains. Having grown up in the Victor Valley, I was a contributor to the area's sprawl in the 1980s, but it is also the place where I learned to appreciate the desert's beauty. As cities in the area grow and expand, I wish they would take a smarter approach to protecting these beautiful open places.
To the southeast, the La Entrada project threatens 2.8 square miles of desert habitat on the outskirts of the City of Coachella.  That project received approval from local authorities last year, and would impact desert dry wash woodlands and creosote bush scrub habitat.  Further to the east along Interstate 10, a Las Vegas-based developer is considering building the nearly 8,500 home Paradise Valley next to Joshua Tree National Park.  In the northwest Las Vegas Valley, Skye Canyon has already begun construction and will ultimately displace approximately 3 square miles of desert.

Desert grasslands in the western Mojave, like the example above in the Antelope Valley, predominantly fall under private ownership and are at risk of falling to urban sprawl and energy development.
For folks that are interested in protecting these wildlands lands that happen to exist on privately-owned land, multi-species habitat conservation plans (MSHCP) assembled by local governments offer an opportunity to identify and protect some of the most critical remaining habitat.  They establish a mechanism to purchase and protect some habitat on private lands.  The Coachella Valley has a plan in place, and the town of Apple Valley is developing one, for example.  However, you can generally count on these habitat conservation plans only setting aside the minimum land necessary to satisfy mitigation requirements and facilitating as much development as possible. 

Aside from organized conservation plans, the non-profit sector can purchase the land or purchase conservation easements on the land to protect the habitat, but aggregating meaningful amounts of habitat can take a lot of time and money.  Various land trusts and conservancies are involved in this type of work throughout the southwest, although funds for their work sometimes come from mitigation requirements for destructive projects.  So there is often still a trade-off involved - destroy these acres and protect these.

Over the past few years many of us have mobilized to speak up in favor of protecting our favorite desert places on public lands.  But land ownership is not in harmony with the beautiful continuity of desert valleys and washes, and some spectacular wildlands exist on privately-held lands.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Final Plans for Public Lands Portion of DRECP Introduce Ambiguity

The Department of Interior on Tuesday released the final environmental impact statement for the first phase of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), which significantly alters the land use planning for public lands administered by Interior in the California desert.  Although the final version expands conservation designations that were popular in the draft DRECP,  it also seems to introduce uncertainty for nearly 802,000 acres of "unallocated" lands that are neither part of conservation nor a development designation.  The public has 30 days to submit any concerns regarding the final draft before it is made official by a Record of Decision.

Subtle Change Has Significant Impacts

If you looked at the draft DRECP released for public comment late last year you probably paid attention to where large-scale energy development would be allowed, and where it would not.  After all, it is the added threat posed by utility-scale energy development to public lands that prompted the plan in the first place.  You probably looked at the maps showing where Development Focus Areas and variance lands would streamline renewable energy development.  Under the draft DRECP these were the only places where new utility-scale power plants could be built. Other areas - public lands with conservation designations and lands considered "non-designated" - would not allow new large-scale renewable energy generation (see below, page II.3-426 of the draft DRECP).

So it was a surprise to find that the final DRECP opened those "non-designated" lands to renewable energy development.  The final DRECP now calls these lands "unallocated" and they cover 802,000 acres of desert wildlands.  This subtle change nearly doubles the amount of acreage vulnerable to utility-scale energy development, adding to the 428,000 acres of development focus areas and variance lands designated for streamlined renewable energy development.

The final DRECP suggests that renewable energy projects on unallocated lands will not benefit from the streamlining features of the development focus areas, but experience over the past couple of years indicates that energy developers are willing to move forward with project proposals outside of designated development zones.  Some management prescriptions included in the final DRECP could be used to deny industrial development on unallocated lands, but they appear to be written vaguely enough to give wide discretion to permit substantial energy development outside of the development focus areas.  Interior has not signaled how it intends to screen projects proposed on these lands.  Please see the map below for the locations of unallocated lands in the final DRECP.

The resulting combination of development focus areas, variance lands, and unallocated lands provides more acreage to energy development than the California portion of the Solar Programmatic EIS.  In some cases, areas identified as solar energy exclusion areas under the Programmatic EIS could now be re-opened to energy companies.  For example, the former site of the proposed Calico Solar power project south of the Cady Mountains - identified as an exclusion area under the Programmatic EIS - appears to be among the unallocated lands potentially available to solar energy development.

Conservation Lands Given Some Durability

The final DRECP does try to clarify concerns the public expressed after release of the draft regarding the durability of the National Conservation Lands designation (NCL, also known as the National Landscape Conservation System or NLCS).  Interior clarified that they considered the NCL designations established in the final DRECP to be permanent.  However, the final DRECP indicates that Interior will always exercise the discretion to change how the National Conservation Lands are managed.

The final DRECP bestows conservation designations to many of the public lands in the California desert through NCL designations and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).  The vast majority of public comments on the draft DRECP released last year expressed a desire to extend these designations to more of the desert.  Although Interior expanded some NCL designations in the final DRECP, it still seems that Interior was conservative in designating NCL status.  Vast tracts of public lands in the western Mojave are left out of the National Landscape Conservation System.

The most notable changes in the final DRECP include the removal of the potential development area in the Silurian Valley and the extension of NCL status to more wildlands in the Cadiz Valley and around Iron Mountain.  Although ACEC designations are extended to other areas of the desert and limit industrial-scale development, ACEC's can be rolled back during future administrative revisions of the land use plan.
The Silurian Valley has been designated as National Conservation Lands after Interior discarded a proposed development area here. Avawatz Mountains in the distance.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Solar Power Tower Developers Attempt to Dismiss Shortfalls

Solar power tower developers have chided critical press coverage of their massive facilities as letting perfect be the enemy of good.  But we have learned enough about this technology to know that power tower projects do not even qualify as "good" clean energy projects.  Far superior alternatives exist in terms of life-cycle carbon emissions and sustainable siting.

Solar power towers have earned a bad reputation, and their developers are desperate to restore the green halo that they enjoyed a few years ago.  NRG - the current owner of the Ivanpah Solar project in California - and Solar Reserve - owner of the Crescent Dunes project in Nevada - have long been on the defensive with inaccurate and misleading public relations efforts.  But they have stepped up their PR efforts after new reports on their natural gas use and impacts on wildlife. Although developers promise to eventually deliver energy storage benefits, other technologies allow us to do so without burning birds in mid-air or natural gas.

The Ivanpah Solar project destroyed 5.6 square miles of intact desert habitat, displaced or killed over 150 desert tortoises, burns birds in mid-air, and burns natural gas at night to keep its boilers warm.  But the project's owner, NRG, would like you to believe that it is a good "clean" energy project.
Dissecting the PR Campaign
You'll hear that the power tower projects' natural gas use is trivial, or that the projects have found a way to avoid all bird deaths.  Or that they have only been built on already-disturbed lands. These claims are misleading and dismiss significant deficiencies in sustainability that do not deserve to be part of our renewable energy portfolio.

Natural Gas
The latest fact to irk the solar power tower industry is that the Ivanpah Solar project uses natural gas to keep its giant boilers warm at night, and emitting nearly 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.  A Las Vegas Sun editorial favorable to NRG - a corporate behemoth that also operates coal and oil burning power plants - suggested that concerns over Ivanpah's natural gas usage is tantamount to criticizing the fuel usage of a hybrid Toyota Prius.  This is an erroneous comparison.  It would be more accurate to say that Ivanpah Solar is a Tesla electric vehicle that secretly burns fossil fuels when it is sitting in the garage at night and not even being used.  Or, at best, Ivanpah is like a Volkswagen Jetta that we thought had a certain level of efficiency, but later found out to guzzle a lot more fossil fuels.

We were told that Ivanpah is a solar power project that generates energy from the sun, but apparently it cannot do so without burning natural gas.  And the Ivanpah project's developers increased the amount of natural gas usage after the public environmental review process.  Are we making perfect the enemy of good?  No, because "good" clean energy projects don't actively burn fossil fuels to generate said "clean" energy.   Other renewable energy technologies have matured beyond the need for fossil fuel training wheels.  We're not going to applaud NRG for taking us back to the fossil fuel era.

Crescent Dunes does not use natural gas like its cousin in Ivanpah, but from a life-cycle perspective its power tower is still a monument to fossil fuels.  The project's tower is composed of approximately 130,000 cubic yards of concrete, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  Every cubic yard of concrete is responsible for nearly 400lbs of carbon emissions (low estimate). So the Crescent Dunes project alone is responsible for at least 23,000 metric tons of carbon emissions.  Other solar technologies (and especially rooftop solar) do not require as much carbon-intensive material as power tower construction.

Bird Deaths
The industry has deployed two opposite, but misleading responses to the problem of bird mortality at power tower projects - that they have solved the bird mortality problem (not true), and that other human activities kill more birds than power towers so therefore we should not be concerned with mortality at power towers (a classic red herring).

Wildlife biologists have attempted to study bird deaths at the Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes projects, but the sheer size of the projects pose many challenge.  Finding dead birds among fields of mirrors that can span several square miles is not easy, and scavengers can pick up the dead birds before biologists have a chance to find them.

In the case of the Crescent Dunes project, the solar flux generated by the field of mirrors in stand-by mode may be so intense that the birds are incinerated in mid-air, leaving little for biologists to find on the ground.  Solar Reserve erroneously claims that simply putting the mirrors in a different stand-by position will reduce bird deaths at the project to zero. This is a nonsensical claim because bird deaths at power tower projects are not only caused when mirrors are in a stand-by position.  Focusing the mirrors in many different positions may reduce the intensity of the solar flux during stand-by, but birds can still sustain life-threatening heat stress in the elevated heat above the mirror field.  And when the mirrors are focused on the power tower, the intense heat closest to the power tower still burns birds' feathers. 

Solar Reserve counters that the brightly-lit tower will "deter" birds.  This is another absurd claim because we know that the brightly-lit tower at Ivanpah still kills birds.  If anything, the intense light may attract swarms of insects that attract the birds.  A video (see below) recently obtained by Basin & Range Watch also shows what are likely horned larks flying into the solar flux zones immediately adjacent to the brightly-lit tower at Crescent Dunes.  All evidence indicates that solar power towers kill birds, whether they are in operation or in stand-by mode.  Industry cannot simply wish away a problem and expect us to accept their unscientific claims.

Studies based on early mortality reports estimate that the Ivanpah Solar project may kill as many as 28,000 birds each year.  NRG executives have told the press that those numbers are "inflated," and then deploy the "cat" excuse - cats kill millions of birds each year, so it's not worth worrying about power tower impacts on birds.   ReWire excellently tackles this faulty comparison in-depth.  Simply put, two wrongs do not make a right.  We need to reduce all sources of avian mortality, and especially avoid introducing new sources of mortality in the heart of our desert wildlands.

Definition of "Disturbed" Lands
Utility-scale energy developers that bulldoze wildlands will find any reason to label wildlands as worthy of destruction.  An NRG executive wrote an op-ed chiding coverage of the Ivanpah plant's use of natural gas, but also claims that:
"[I]t is important to note that the plant was not built on undisturbed land, as stated in the article. The land had been previously used for cattle grazing and off-road vehicle use, and was littered with abandoned vehicles and crisscrossed with transmission lines and is within walking distance of a 36-hole golf course, an Interstate, a casino and a shopping mall." -David Knox, NRG.
This is a ridiculous statement and shows NRG's ignorance of geographic scale and conservation biology.  For starters, NRG doesn't know where it's own project is located.  NRG's website depicts the location of Ivanpah as being located north of Tecopa, over 50 miles away from the actual location.  In the Ivanpah Valley, where the project is actually located, the company mowed down nearly 5.6 square miles of intact desert wildlands.  For comparison, you could fit 12  Disneyland & California Adventure theme parks within the perimeter of the Ivanpah Solar project.

A screenshot taken from NRG's website on November 8, 2015.  NRG depicts the Ivanpah Solar project location as north of Tecopa, California.  It is actually located southwest of Primm Nevada, over 50 miles away.
It is true that a highway splits the Ivanpah Valley, and the relatively small outpost of Primm has some hotels, gas stations, and a golf course.  But Ivanpah Solar is still more than three times larger than all of that development combined.  And the habitat that Ivanpah destroyed was not in an abused state as NRG claims - it was vibrant enough to host rare plant species and over 150 threatened desert tortoises.  Once again, NRG would like us to believe that previous human impacts are an excuse for the company to do more damage.
A construction marker on intact desert habitat before crews mowed down 5.6 square miles of creosote and yucca scrub habitat.  The video below shows crews mowing vegetation to make way for the Ivanpah Solar project.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Southern Nevada Wildlands Get Temporary Reprieve

A Federal judge recently ruled against the Bureau of Land Management's approval of the Searchlight Wind project because the BLM did not adequately analyze potential impacts on golden eagles, bats and desert tortoises, according to Basin & Range Watch.  The BLM initially approved of the Searchlight Wind project in 2013 based on poor quality wildlife surveys paid for by the developer.  The original impact analysis considered only three golden eagle nests within a ten-mile radius of the wind project, even though a separate study funded by the BLM found as many as ten nests.

Apex Clean Energy - the project developer - and the BLM may decide to redo some of the environmental analysis that the court found to be lacking.  However, it would be wiser if Nevada and its neighbors focused investments on energy efficiency, and implemented policies that encourage distributed, locally-controlled renewable energy generation and battery storage.

Spirit Mountain at dusk. This photo was taken from within the footprint of the proposed Searchlight Wind project site
This stretch of southern Nevada is relatively uninterrupted by large-scale human development, providing opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation.  Once off U.S. Route 95, it is easy to find solitude in the vastness of the Piute Valley and Searchlight Hills, and witness a vibrant and diverse desert ecosystem.  The area is home critical habitat for the desert tortoise, the scenic Wee Thump Wilderness area, and Spirit Mountain, a location of significance to Native American tribes. 

If Apex Clean Energy insists on moving forward with the original project proposal, the area will be transformed by 87 wind turbines - each taller than the Statue of Liberty - and connected by over 35 miles of new roads and 16 miles of new transmission lines.  Apex Clean Energy's proposal further demonstrates that an industry-driven response to climate change lacks a conservation ethic or a concern for sustainability, and underscores the need for a community-focused clean energy path.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Supervisor Lovingood Lays Out Hollow Case Against Monuments

San Bernardino County Supervisor Robert Lovingood traveled to Washington last week to testify against the potential establishment of national monuments in the California desert, but his concerns rang hollow.  His most concrete complaints centered on the prospects of a long-shuttered gold mine located over 70 miles from the nearest San Bernardino County city and owned by a Canadian company.  Lovingood's testimony reveals that his opposition to the monuments is politically motivated, rather than practically rooted and that he is out of touch with his constituents.

Lovingood Picks a Battle Over Castle Mountains

Most San Bernardino County residents would fall in love with the Castle Mountains if they saw them.  But Supervisor Lovingood's testimony suggests he has a different vision for this remote stretch of the county.  Lovingood expressed concern to officials in Washington that the nearby Castle Mountain gold mine may have difficulty operating if a desert monument is established around this portion of Joshua tree-studded wildlands.  The monument proposal would not impede mine operations, according to the Senate, but Lovingood worries that the monument would scare away the mine's international investors and a chance at 300 jobs and $250 million in tax revenue.  Lovingood failed to mention that the tax revenue would be unreliable and that the jobs would probably go to Nevada, not San Bernardino County residents.

Joshua trees frame the Castle Mountains in the eastern Mojave Desert, San Bernardino County, California.  A Canadian mining firm has won County Supervisor Robert Lovingood's support to revive a gold mine here, over 70 miles from the nearest County town, and next to a national park. Photo by David Lamfrom.
Mining has been a centerpiece of both Lovingood's and Congressman Paul Cook's opposition to the desert monuments, yet San Bernardino County acknowledges that mining jobs accounted for approximately a tenth of one percent of the county's employment in 2014.  And even if the Castle Mountain mine's Canadian owners can wrangle the millions of dollars it needs from investors to resume operations, its remote location probably will draw workers from Nevada, not California.   The mine is located between the Nevada town of Primm and the California town of Needles.  Needles has a population of less than 5,000 people and is located over 70 miles from the mine.  The next nearest California city is Barstow, over 130 miles away.  You'll spend the money you earn at the mine on the gas it takes to get there.

The gold mine's proponents seem to be chasing a quick buck.  Gold prices are just now rising but could drop yet again, leaving the mine closed and workers out of a job.  Lovingood is pinning up the mine as some economic hope when it is barely more than a mirage. Nonetheless, the Senate has worked with the mining company to ensure that the monument proposal would not affect its operations.  The mine could begin operations today, if it so desired.  And even if it does, I bet most of the workers will be from Nevada, and most of the money will flow to Toronto.

Passing the Buck on Road Repairs

Passing the buck for his own leadership failures, Lovingood stated that the monument proposals would make it difficult to repair county roads and that the Department of Interior has a long list of deferred maintenance that impacts county transportation.

The stretch of Route 66 in San Bernardino County represents one of the most pristine segments of this historic road, coursing through desert wildlands that are preserved as earlier generations experienced them early last century.  The route courses through an area rich with history, from Native American cultural sites, the experiences of economic refugees in the Great Depression, and where Patton trained his troops for World War II.
Lovingood indicated that a monument designation would make it more difficult to repair Route 66 because the county would not be able to mine raw materials immediately adjacent to the road.  This seems like a ridiculous argument.  How often do road repair crews ask to mine your front yard for raw materials needed to fix the road?  Even if this were a valid argument, Lovingood has no excuse for the fact that the county has closed a significant portion of Route 66 for over a year because of damage caused by a rain storm in 2014.

The County is responsible for repairs to Route 66, but has failed to do so for over a year on a 30+ mile portion of the Mother Road.  County Supervisor Lovingood has no excuse for this failure. Image from San Bernardino County.
The county's closure of Route 66 is significant because tourists from all over America and the world travel to see this pristine stretch of Route 66, only to be turned around by bright orange traffic signs.  The last time I went camping in the desert I had to turn around and find an alternate site, turned back by the road closures.  Lovingood is busy spending county money on travel to Washington to oppose a monument, but he can't find the money to repair this road and advance the county's tourism economy?  Mojave Trails National Monument would protect a stretch of American heritage along this historic route.  It's time that the County also act as a good steward of this national treasure and repair Route 66.

Lovingood also complains that the Federal government has not been able to pay for maintainance on roads and infrastructure within existing national parks.  This is indeed a problem, but Lovingood seems to forget that Congress controls Federal spending.  He could have spent his time in Washington asking Congress to properly fund the Department of Interior.  Cutting a fraction of tax loopholes that allow corporations to do their banking in the Cayman Islands would quickly fill any funding shortfalls for our national parks, and much more.

Time for Leadership

It is time for San Bernardino County's leaders to shepherd the economy into a sustainable future and not drag it into an outdated past.  Mining is a big part of San Bernardino County's history, but it is not a big part of our modern economy.  San Bernardino County's website contains images of mining activities and the most recent image on the website (below) is from 1919.  Even if the county posted more recent photos, its own reports acknowledge that mining now constitutes a mere fraction of one percent of the county's employment.

A photo of miners from 1919. Image from San Bernardino County website.
San Bernardino County is home to some of the most beautiful, pristine landscapes in the nation. Tourists travel across the world to see our national parks and county residents enjoy spending weekends under starry night skies, or riding down a 4x4 route in the desert for rejuvenation or solitude.  But the county has done little to recognize these treasures.  I mentioned earlier that a portion of Historic Route 66 has been closed for over a year.  County Supervisor Lovingood has also not shown any leadership in pressing Washington to fund our national parks or to encourage tourism.  Instead, he is flying to Washington to protest his own constituents' efforts to protect our public lands from destruction.

It is not too late for Lovingood to step up to the plate and represent his District.  It should not be difficult. Nature has blessed San Bernardino County with an increasingly rare treasure - peaceful, pristine open space.  Let's manage this space responsibly for future generations.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

What are you doing on Tuesday?

Now is our moment to protect public access to desert wildlands for future generations to enjoy.   Tuesday is an important opportunity to tell government officials that we cherish the vast open landscapes that the California desert has to offer.  Our presence will send a message that we are tired of losing public lands to private, for-profit destruction.  At stake will be the White House's consideration of the Mojave Trails, Castle Mountains and Sand-to-Snow National Monuments.  Without these monuments, our desert will transition from a humbling, natural landscape to an industrial checkerboard. 

The desert that early inhabitants experienced was a lot more expansive than the desert we know today, and if we don't take action now, our grandchildren will inherit a landscape unrecognizable to us and preserved only in our photographs.  Since 2009, dozens of square miles of our desert wildlands have been bulldozed and converted into energy projects and subdivisions. The alternative to these monuments is to continue bleeding away our wildlands through a thousand cuts.  Allowing mining here, transmission lines there, and more energy projects over there.  Soon enough, the sense of solitude and the vistas that we cherished will be gone.

Please show your support for our desert public lands on Tuesday, October 13, 1:00PM at the Whitewater Preserve.  Government officials will be on hand to hear comments about our desert wildlands and discuss the monument proposals.  For more details and to RSVP, please visit the following link: October 13 Public Meeting

The map below shows the solar and wind energy projects proposed as of 2008, at the height of the renewable energy rush on wildlands.  It is illustrative of the extent of destruction that is possible if we do not take steps to protect our public lands.  At least 24 of the proposed projects fall within the proposed boundaries of the monuments, and the map does not depict other destructive proposals, including pipelines and mines.  Without monument status, these lands may be unrecognizable in another 30 years.