Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee

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Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee Powered By Docstoc
					Summer 2005 News of the desert from the Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee


       Is The Lower Colorado River Doomed?

                   he Colorado River looms large in the imagination,         Federal Water Management
                   gaining its might in the snowy peaks of the Rocky              The legacy of the 20th Century on the Colorado River is a
                   Mountains, crashing downstream with force that            system of dams and re s e rvoirs that are capable of storing more than
                   c a rved the Grand Canyon, and wending its way            four times the river’s annual average flow. Such vast re s e rves have
t h ro ugh the desert all the way down to the Gulf of California. But        allowed many straws to be sunk into the river, not just to irr i g a t e
by the time it reaches the US-Mexico bord e r, the Colorado has              a g r i c u l t u re (more than 3.7 million acres in total), but also to
been tamed, looking and acting more like a regulated ditch than a            supply the swelling urban populations of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los
wild river. Gone are the huge spring floods, muddy waters, and               Angeles, San Diego, and nearly every other city in the southwest,
floodplain forests, replaced by steady year- round flows and vast            some 34 million people at last count. The Colorado River is used
i rrigated alfalfa fields. The little wildlife remaining in this altere d                                                        continued on page 15
river clings to remnants of native habitat.
     The one exception to this description lies at the river’s end. In
the delta of the Colorado, below the last dam, the river’s channel                            B Y 
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 C O Y
has narrowed after decades of little or no flow. A series of wet years
in the 1980’s and 1990’s sent floods all the way down to the delta,
and because the channel is narrow there, the banks flooded, and
                                                                                   Chromium 6
burst forth with native cottonwood and willow trees. This                     Cleanup Affects Native
phenomenon was witnessed from just south of Yuma, Arizona,                          Sacred Site
along some 25 miles of river in the United States, on into Mexico,
all the way down to where tides from the nort h e rn Gulf of
C a l i f o rn turn the delta’s waters brackish and salt cedar takes over.
              ia                                                                New information has surfaced revealing major
     Conservation groups rallied around the revival in the Colorado           cracks in the planning and implementation of the
River delta, enthralled with the prospect of saving the unique                clean up of the Chromium 6 plume near Needles.
native forests that were born in those floods. To date, govern m e n t
agencies that manage the river and the use of its water have not
been willing to commit to actions that would protect it.                                                  S E E 
                                  View From                                                   The Co-Chair

                                                             B Y E
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       Why Is The Sierra Club
      Always Suing Everyone?

                        hy is the Sierra Club always suing every o n e ?           comments were submitted in the planning process, but they were
                        A responsible community leader put this                    treated as though they didn’t exist. No lawsuits have been filed,
                        question to me and he was surprised by my                  but it would seem that we are approaching a last resort.
                        answer. His impression was that whenever
a question or obstacle came up, we sued.                                               With this issue of Desert Report, active leadership of the
   Not so! I explained that a lawsuit is always the last resort after              Desert Committee is passing to Terry Frewin. It is time for the
all other avenues have failed. Lawsuits are expensive; time                        Committee to get new leadership. Terry will do a wonderful job.
consuming, and problematical—one never knows how they will                             I have been a volunteer activist for nearly 30 years and chair of
turn out. But, lawsuits are an absolutely necessary tool.                          the Desert Committee for 10 years. I need to cut back on my
   Although I used other examples for my questioner, this issue                    volunteer activities. As I age, I find it harder to both; work for a
of Desert Report is full of examples. Under the Bush                               living, and continue to do as much volunteer work as I’ve done in
Administration no plant or animal has been listed under the                        the past.
Endangered Species Act (ESA) except as a result of a lawsuit. No
critical habitat has been designated except as a result of a lawsuit.              SUMMER 2005 IN THIS ISSUE
Look in the News Items for information on two plants in Utah
that grow in only eight tiny locations, on the edge of extinction,
                                                                                    IS THE LOWER COLORADO RIVER DOOMED? ............................................11
getting protection from two lawsuits—one to list and one to
designate critical habitat.                                                         WHY IS THE SIERRA CLUB ALWAYS SUING EVERYONE? ............................12
   Look at the article on Guzzlers in the Mojave National                           EVERYTHING IS STILL HITCHED TO EVERYTHING ELSE..............................13
Preserve. We’ve had the discussions and written the letters with
our objections, but the Deputy Secretary of Interior still
instructed the National Park Service to violate the National
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and ignore the Park Service’s
own regulations and policies. Only the threat of a lawsuit forced
the start of the NEPA process.
   Look at the News Update on page 13 on protecting the                             RESTORATION OF THE KELSO DEPOT NEARLY COMPLETE ........................14
Colorado River from leaking nuclear toxins. The decision had                        GUZZLER BATTLES CONTINUE ..................................................................15
been to just let it leak until a suit by the Sierra Club and others                 CHROMIUM 6 CLEANUP AFFECTS NATIVE SACRED SITE ..........................16
refocused the issue. Now the preferred alternative is to move the
                                                                                    WHAT FATE FOR SURPRISE CANYON? ......................................................18
uranium tailings. The cost of $400 million is non trivial, but the
health of the fish in the river and the 25 million who drink water                  THE OWYHEE – BEAUTY: ROADS, RIVER, AND SKY....................................10
from the river is also non trivial.
   Perhaps most of our suits involve the Endangered Species
Act. In this Desert Report issue Judy Anderson makes an
eloquent statement of the importance of the ESA. As shown
above, citizen lawsuits to enforce the act are also critical.
   The National Historic Preservation Act is usually ignored by
the government agencies. The Bureau of Land Management’s                            THE OWYHEE – POLITICS: THE OWYHEE/BRUNEAU CANYONLANDS..........11
West Mojave Plan ignores route selection that would impact                          ALIENS IN THE DESERT ............................................................................12
Native American Sacred Sites. The California Desert is one of                       NEWS UPDATES ........................................................................................13
the world’s great repositories of rock art and native sites. The                    OUTINGS....................................................................................................16
                                                                                    SOME THOUGHTS ON OFF-ROAD VEHICLES ..............................................18

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                                              MOJAVE NATIONAL PRESERVE

          Restoration Of The Kelso
           Depot Nearly Complete

                he magnificent Kelso Depot,                                                                 by 43 feet and also contains a basement. A
                built in 1924, sits in the heart                                                            single-story kitchen extension with base-
                of Mojave Desert along the                                                                  ment at the rear measures 43 feet by 24 feet.
                Union Pacific Railroad. The                                                                    Adaptive restoration work began on the
structure was nearly lost to neglect but now                                                                building in the fall of 2002 after a
the hard work of dedicated citizens who                                                                     construction contract was awarded to
rallied to save the building will be rewarded                                                               Pacific General Incorporated. Demolition
when it opens as a visitor center for Mojave                                                                began with the removal of all interior paint,
National Preserve.                                                                                          plaster and lathe from the walls because of
    Visitors to the Depot often remark on                                                                   the health risks related to lead based paint
the size and elegance of the building, and                                                                  that was on the walls. This allowed for a
wonder why such a substantial structure is                                                                  more thorough evaluation of the structural
located in “the middle of nowhere.” In fact, the building was far                     aspects of the building’s framework, which revealed some
more than a depot. Inside was a restaurant that served meals to                       problems on the east exterior wall and floor under the old refrig-
passengers on trains without dining cars, similar to the famous                       erated walk-in cooler. It also revealed other surprises in the walls
Harvey Houses along the Santa Fe Railroad, and to train crews                         such as time cards from employees who worked the lunchroom
and other railroad employees. Kelso lies at the bottom of the                         and kitchen, postcards, dry-cell batteries and small wires in the
steep Cima Grade, and in the era of steam locomotives helper                          attic that powered the doorbells in the upper sleeping rooms, and
cars were needed to pull trains up the hill. Track had to be                          the signature of a carpenter who had built the stairs going to the
maintained, water acquired, facilities maintained; Kelso soon                         upper floor (G W…meyer & Sons, K..lso California).
developed into a town with the Depot as its hub. During World                                                                        continued on page 14
War II as many as 1,500 people lived in the town.
    The economic prosperity that centered around ore extraction
from the Vulcan Mine, and the war pushed this country in a new
direction, but the closing of the mine, the end of the war, fewer
changes of train crews meant Kelso would rapidly wither. The
Union Pacific Railroad finally closed the Depot in 1985.
The railroad proposed to demolish the building, but many were
enchanted by the simple beauty of its mission revival style
architecture and rallied for protection, getting UP to reverse its
decision as its first step. Money was not available then to restore
the Depot but a campaign was initiated to have it mothballed to
protect it from vandalism. This work was a great success. When
Mojave National Preserve was created in 1994, the Kelso Depot
was quickly identified as the logical choice for a visitor center.
    The Kelso Depot itself is one of the most significant cultural
resources within the Mojave National Preserve, representing the
major influence of railroads on the history of Southern
California, and is one of the few surviving examples of early rail-
road architecture in the southwest. It is two-story (appro x i m a t e l y
11,600 gross square feet floor area) mission revival style stuccoed
wood frame stru c t u re with a hipped mission style tile roof. The                   Top: The “beanery” lunch room was restored back to it’s
main two-story portion of the building is approximately 138 feet                      1940s interior. Above: Kelso Depot restored.

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                                                NEEDLES, CALIFORNIA

         Chromium 6 Cleanup
       Affects Native Sacred Site

                      ew      information     has                                                     including wells and pipelines and the
                      surfaced revealing major                                                        adverse impacts that these are causing to
                      cracks in the planning and                                                      sacred places.
                      implementation of the clean                                                         For each of these tribes, the health of the
up of the Chromium 6 plume near Needles.                                                              River means the health of their people and
    In the last year, efforts have intensified to                                                     economies. For the Ft. Mojave, they are the
clean up Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E)                                                              River; their very name AhaMakav means the
contamination of groundwater from its                                                                 people of the River. The Tribes did not cause
Topock Compressor Station in the Needles                                                              the contaminated plume. And the clean up
a rea (see Desert Report, Winter 2004).                                                               should not come at the cost of the destruction
Beginning in 1951, PG&E disposed of a                                                                 of their sacred place.
chromium solution, used as a coolant in its natural gas plant, into                The Topock Maze is recognized as unique in North America,
the adjacent Bat Cave Wash. Later, PG&E disposed of materials                  if not the world. More o v e r, all the Colorado River Tribes hold the
t h rough evaporation ponds, a percolation bed and an unlicensed               a rea sacred. For tribal members, their journey to the next world
injection well in this area. Federal and state agencies have been              includes going through this area after one dies. Building the
assessing the plume for almost twenty years.                                   plants there is akin to building a plant at the gates of a Cathedral.
    Re-mediation efforts initiated in the last year include three                  Damage has already been done as the new treatment facility is
interim measures. The first was the drafting of a work plan that               mostly built, but it is not yet operational. Once it becomes
accompanied the installation of monitoring wells in the area. T h e            operational, additional impacts will occur, such as excessive night
second measure was the installation of pumping and then pumping                lighting. Until it is allowed to start up, or some other method is
plus onsite processing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)                      selected, the BLM facility continues to pump and truck water.
managed federal lands on a bench along the River. The treated                      During the third phase development, additional impacts have
water is hauled offsite. The third measure was the construction                occurred to sensitive cultural and biological resources: Needles
of another treatment facility upland from the bench on                         Power went outside of the right-of-way while adding an electric
Metropolitan Water District (MWD) lands transferred to PG&E                    line to power poles serving the facility causing more impacts to
in Fall 2004, and building the infrastructure to dispose of the                cultural sites and biology.
water onsite. The so-called interim measure 3 could last for 10
years. A long-term remedy remains to be selected.
    While everyone cares about the health of the River, these
recent actions were disturbing in two major ways. First, each of
the above measures was done without public environmental
review at either the federal or state levels. Second, the measures,
and particularly the last one, intrude upon the Mystic Maze, a
native sacred place that has been officially listed on the National
Register of Historic Places for over twenty-five years. This
desecration has deeply affected native peoples.

Coalition Opposes Impacts To Sacred Places
   The 5 Tribe Coalition consists of the Ft. Mojave,
Chemehuevi, CRIT (Colorado River Indian Tribes), Quechan
and Cocopah Indian Tribes. The Coalition is very concerned
about the processes that were used to allow PG&E to build the
duplicate treatment plant and its associated infrastru c t u re ,              Treatment plant intruding on Mystic Maze

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                            RARE JEWEL IN THE DEATH VALLEY REGION

          What Fate For Surprise Canyon?

              urprise Canyon—this rare                                                               gravel fill. The town didn’t recover.
              jewel in the Death Valley                                                                  Sometime later the falls were refilled.
              desert region—now a perma-                                                             Older desert people talk of driving to
              nent, healthy canyon-stream/                                                           Panamint City in standard passenger auto-
riparian system—what is its fate?                                                                    mobiles. Then in the early 1980’s a miner
   A little over a year ago in Desert Report                                                         named Pruit defied Surprise again, only to
I described a little of the canyon’s history                                                         suffer the same wrath of the canyon—in
and its character, and that the Bureau of                                                            1984 another flash flood took out most of
Land Management had closed Surprise to                                                               Pruit’s workings, along with the fill that cov-
extreme 4WDing in response to a lawsuit                                                              ered the granite falls.
by the Center for Biological Diversity. The                                                              Pruit didn’t come back and the canyon,
closure is to be in effect until the issue of                                                        then silent, began to heal. The roadbed
motorized access is resolved by an                                                                   mostly disappeared under new riparian
Environmental Impact Report (EIR).                                                                   growth nourished by the two springs, and
Meanwhile the May 2001 closure remains.                                                              more flooding finished the job. The hiking
Since the upper part of Surprise Canyon is                                                           community discovered Surprise Canyon.
inside Death Valley National Park, the Park                                                          They kept a use-path open, wide enough for
Service is also involved in the EIR.                                                                 a person, perhaps sticking to the old vehicle
   What will the EIR say? Will it respect                                                            path and going where easier in other places.
the canyon’s rare status, it’s solitude and                                                          The old route is a theoretical cherry-stem
beauty, or will it allow return of motorized                                                         surrounded by the Surprise Canyon
activity?                                                                                            Wilderness. It’s theoretical, since no one can
   Surprise Canyon is on people’s minds.                                                             reliably identify the extinct vehicle route’s
Publicity about the vehicle closure has                                                              exact location now.
brought a jump in foot traffic. Recently                                                                 In the early 1990s extreme 4WDing
some backpackers who had been flooded out from their plans in                 began to grow as a sport. A few of the more mechanically
Utah found their way to Surprise Canyon. The Utah land                        minded had accepted the challenge to make their machines climb
managers suggested the alternative. The hikers were ecstatic with             rocks. It’s an astounding thing to watch. They discovered the
what they found.                                                              granite falls at the bottom of Surprise Canyon. The falls are in
                                                                              Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed territory, and the
A Brief Story Of Surprise Canyon                                              BLM gave permission for the extreme 4WDers to winch, crawl,
   The gates to Surprise Canyon are rugged granite waterfalls at              and claw their machines up the falls, void of the man-made grav-
3,000 feet elevation, and lush, choking riparian growth at                    el bed, and to re-cut the undergrowth of Limekiln and Brewery,
Limekiln and Brewery Springs above the falls. At the top of                   to ‘drive’ to the old Panamint City: Birth of contro v e r s y.
Surprise, at 6,500 feet, is Panamint City, born a mad silver-rush                 But the canyon in its natural state is precious. The Panamint
boomtown in the 1870s. To replace a steep and perilous foot trail,            Mountains are the west border of bone-dry Death Valley. The
the early miners gravel-filled the falls and hacked through the               free-flowing water in the falls is a rare phenomenon in this
riparian for wagons. As if in protest, while the town was boom-               country. It supports a localized mini-economy of all manner of
ing, a flash flood swept Panamint City down to Panamint Valley                living things. This small, vibrant museum had barely withstood
and returned the falls to original condition by flushing out the              the miners, and with the help of natural flood scouring was com-

                   {   8}                             DESERT REPORT SUMMER 2005

                                            The Owyhee: The Beauty

                 Roads, River, And Sky
                                     THE ALLURE OF NEVADA SOLITUDE

              t is a forgotten corner of the west                                           springtime, but later they are a gentle refuge
              that few people have visited, and                                             from the heat. Along one branch of the
              the name, Owyhee Canyonlands,                                                 Owyhee River I found a ranch house and
              brings a puzzled look to most                                                 several fields sitting beside the water. This
faces. This is a corner that should not be                                                  was the 45-Ranch, owned now by The
forgotten, and it should not be lost. There                                                 Nature Conservancy and maintained with
are miles and miles of dusty backcountry                                                    the intention of demonstrating that
roads. River canyons cut deeply into the                                                    ranching and environmental concerns can
high lava plateaus. Ranchers, antelope, quail                                               be reconciled. R e g a rdless of the success the
and coyotes, inhabit it and it is a land of big,                                            demonstration, the yellowing willows in the
big sky. Perhaps it is this sky that is most                                                fall, the fading wild rose, the blue-green sage,
impressive of all. In evening sunlight an                                                   and the sounds of water in the late aftern o o n
entire landscape of dried grass, old farm                                                   made a picture not easily forg o t t e n .
buildings, rusty fences, sagebrush, and                                                         Perhaps the last impression one has is a
distant cliffs turn orange in a dry, dusty                                                  land of undisturbed wildlife. Although the
haze. Time seems to have no meaning at all.                                                 sounds of quail and chukkar were common,
    On a map this land is found at the corner                                               the hunters that I met admitted that they
where Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada meet.                                                       had little luck with their shooting. They had
The towns are Bruneau, Jordan Valley,                                                       really come because they loved the land. In
Duck Valley, and the even smaller                                                           a three-day period I met wild horses along a
G r a s s m e re with its one abandoned gas                                                 cliff top, antelope crossing the road ahead of
station. At the ‘One Stop’ café in Bruneau                                                  me, and bighorn sheep climbing a canyon
the waitress knows everyone who comes through the door, men           wall. Every afternoon hawks circled in a blue sky, and every night
keep their hats on while they eat, and talk is about the wind that    the sounds of coyotes came from the distance. One afternoon I
blew down trees in town last night. The greater part of this land     sat in a hot spring beside the Bruneau River and watched trout
is federal and is administered by the Bureau of Land                  jump in the colder water beyond. Four days later a dozen rabbits
Management (BLM), but this is not to say that the people there        crossed a snowy road in front of me as I drove in the early
do not feel ownership. Families have been there for generations,      evening. I met almost no humans during all this time.
and ranchers have held grazing allotments since the Taylor                This corner of the west is immense with several million acres
Grazing Act created these in 1934. The relationship between the       divided among the three states. Nearly all of the land is public. It
residents, the federal government, and outsiders who only visit is,   is significant that grazing is only minimally regulated and that
at the very least, awkward. The map is only part of the story.        almost none of the land is protected as designated wilderness.
    I have many impressions from a two-week visit last October.       Local businesses, river outfitters, hunters, ranchers, Native
First there are the roads, which seem to lead endlessly beneath a     Americans, off-road vehicle riders, and environmentalists are all
huge sky. In summer these fill with dust, in rains they become        concerned and dispute over its future. This is a remote land with
impassible quagmires, and even in September they may be               an abundance of wildlife. It is a land that deserves to be visited
blocked by snow. The roads cannot easily descend and cross the        and protected.
rocky canyons that meander through the high plateaus, and so
roads wind among fading ranches and barbed wire fences in the         Craig Deutsche is the Desert Committee Outings Chair and Desert
high country. I could only imagine their destinations. As harsh as    Report Outings Editor.
the land sometimes is, it also has its secret and softer places.
Willows, alders, grasses, and in places poison ivy color the
canyon bottoms. Here the rivers may rage between lava cliffs in       Top: River canyons cut deeply into high lava plateaus.

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                                 Aliens In The Desert

                he extraordinary rains during the winter of 2004-              deserts is undergoing a very rapid (from an historic standpoint)
                2005 produced a great wildflower show in the                   evolutionary change. Introduced by human activities, these very
                Colorado and Mojave Deserts. These rains also,                 competitive non-native plants are in the process of changing our
                and more importantly, provided a tremendous                    deserts permanently. As recently as thirty or forty years ago the
opportunity for aliens – alien plants. The non-native grasses and              Colorado and Mojave Deserts were considered to be relatively
other plants, particularly those of the mustard family, have                   immune to the danger of wildfire. There just wasn’t enough fine
proliferated as never before.                                                  fuel in the way of dry grasses to carry fire over large areas. This
    The annual grasses red brome (Bromus madritensis rubens),                  is no longer the case because Red brome and Mediterranean split
Mediterranean split grass (Schismus barbatus), and cheat grass                 grass (extremely flammable when dry) now occur on every square
(Bromus tectorum) have been a significant part of the desert flora             foot over vast areas. These plants will completely dominate in a
for many years, however, the heavy and prolonged rains of the                  post-fire environment since they are adapted to fire, unlike most
past winter provided near perfect conditions for these grasses. It             of our native plants.
seems like every single grass seed, which has accumulated in the                   The aggressive non-natives mentioned above pose a major
soil from past years, germinated and grew into a robust plant.                 threat to both the flora and fauna native to our deserts. They
These invasive grasses occupy many areas that in a typical winter              grow early in the season and rapidly deplete soil moisture, and
would be occupied mostly by perennial shrubs and                               they will simply crowd out many of our native wildflowers.
annual wildflowers.                                                            Animals will also be negatively impacted. Desert tortoises will be
    What is really dramatic is the explosive growth of several dif-                                                           continued on page 15
ferent non-native members of the mustard family. Some of these,
such as the London rocket (Sisymbrium irio) and its close rela-
tives Sisymbrium orientale and Sisymbrium loeselii have been
around for years in disturbed places but are now occupying vir-
gin desert as well. Sahara or Moroccan mustard (Brassica tourne-
fortii), a particularly aggressive and obnoxious member of the
mustard family has expanded almost beyond belief. This plant,
unknown to most observers just a few years ago, has spread along
our roads and highways and is expanding out from there. It is
particularly adaptable, thriving both in disturbed places and in
virgin desert. It is large (up to three feet tall and almost as wide)
and forms a very stiff straw when it dries out. The dry plants
often break off at the base and tumble in the wind spreading their
seeds for miles. This plant is not to be confused with tumble
mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum) that is also appearing where it’s
never been noticeable before.
    Other less obvious mustard family members which this year
cover thousands of acres in the northern and eastern Mojave
D e s e rt are African mustard (Malcomia africana) and blue
mustard (Chorispora tenella). These plants only grow a few inch-
es tall and have small flowers so they may not be noticeable to the
casual observer but they have formed dense mats over thousands
of acres and will likely become an important part of the desert
flora in years to come.
    The significance of what we are seeing is that the flora of our            Sahara Mustard

                   {   12 }                             DESERT REPORT SUMMER 2005
Kelso Depot                                                             Owyhee/Bruneau
continued from page 4
    The majority of the existing wood trim, doors and doorframes
were salvaged. Existing window frames were removed and taken
back to a shop where they were carefully restored. The beautiful
wooden stairs and handrails were stripped of the old enamel paint
to reveal beautiful wood underneath, as was the original half of
the lunchroom counter that remained. The jewel of this building
is the “beanery” lunch room that was restored back to the 1940s,
featuring dark, varnished wood trim on the walls, the
white-topped counter, dark wood counter and pie case. The
heavy plaster texture of the walls was restored, as was the original
paint color on the walls, which presents a striking image when
you first enter the building. Space west of the lunchroom has
been modified for the installation of pending interpretive and
educational displays.
    The conductor and ticket offices and the baggage room, all
located on the west end of the building, were completely
restored. The main floor now has a new theater in the former
kitchen area; the space will be used to show visitors a park movie
or present ranger programs.
    The basement has new restrooms, a multipurpose room and             Bruneau canyon is a separate watershed which follows a
storage rooms. An elevator was installed in the building to             dramatic canyon from Nevada to the Snake river in Idaho.
provide disabled visitors access to each floor. The lamp posts
along the tracks in front of the building, typical of the 1940s, have   continued from page 11
been replaced and the brick walkways leading to the tracks were         and the Boise office of The Wilderness Society. Part of the agree-
also restored. A new building constructed near the planned park-        ment has been to designate about 500,000 acres of wilderness of
ing lot contains additional restroom facilities for visitors. The old   the approximate 750,000 BLM WSA’s. (Previously, a coalition of
coal shed on the north side of the depot has been restored back         Idaho environmentalists had identified about 1.6 million acres as
to a better condition, adding to the historic setting.                  having wilderness potential). In late December of 2004, Senator
    The work on the structure is now complete, waiting for the          Crapo’s office issued an initial draft of the legislation that is cited
next phase of contracts including the installation of exhibits and      as the “Owyhee Initiative Implementation Act”
displays. The parking lot and landscape work are expected to be             Included in this draft legislation are; the designation of
completed this summer. When it opens, the Depot will be the             wilderness and wild and scenic rivers, release of WSA’s, and a
primary point of contact for the more than 600,000 annual               transportation plan. In its first 2 pages the legislation, in addition
visitors to the park. Plans for a grand opening are currently           to citing the Owyhee Initiative, legislates the review process and
underway. Make sure you plan a trip to the Mojave to view this          the Board of Directors, who developed the agreement. The
desert treasure when it opens.                                          Owyhee Initiative Agreement, with all its provisions and validation
                                                                        in the legislation, has the potential for undermining the wilderness
James Woolsey is on the staff of the Mojave National Preserve.          it creates and serves as a pernicious precedent for future public land
                                                                        bills. Those representing environmental interests in this agree-
                                                                        ment believe that the wilderness designation and other provisions
                                                                        in this bill are more than worth the trade off and they do not see
                                 the Owyhee Initiative agreement as a threat. The Sierra Club
                                                                        position on the agreement, established by the Conservation
                                                                        Governance Committee on January 22, 2005, was to not sign on
                                                                        to the agreement but to remain at the table in hopes of improv-
                                                                        ing the legislation.
                                                                            Senator Crapo has stated his intention to introduce the bill in
                                                                        2005. Two websites give information:
                                                                        (in favor of) and (against the initiative)
                                                                            If you would like an annotated copy of the agreement, the
                                                                        draft legislation or more information e-mail Mike McCurry of
                                                                        the Toiyabe Chapter

                                                                        Mike McCurry is a desert activist in the Sierra Club, Toiyabe Chapter.

                    {   14 }                             DESERT REPORT SUMMER 2005
California/Nevada Conservation Committee
Desert Committee

The CNCC Desert Committees purpose is to work for the protection, preservation, and conservation of the California/Nevada desert; support the same
objectives in all desert areas of the Southwest; monitor and work with governments and agencies to promote preservation of our arid lands;
sponsor educational and work trips; encourage and support others to work for the same objectives; maintain, share and publish information about
the desert.
    All Desert Committee activities, unless stated otherwise, are suitable for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Special physical conditioning is not
necessary. The average car or high clearance vehicle will be adequate for most trips; however, many of the roads used are dirt and, as with all desert
travel, you should come prepared. For a good guide to desert travel we recommend the Sierra Club book Adventuring in the California Desert by Lynn Foster.
    We want you to enjoy our study trips and work parties. They are designed to help you see the desert in a way you have not seen it before. We
usually have a campfire in the evenings with lots of food (potluck) and camaraderie.
    For a complete listing of CNCC Desert Committee trips, send a large SASE with 60 cents postage to: Craig Deutsche, 2231 Kelton Ave, Los Angeles,
CA 90064. Trips may also be received via e-mail from
    Like nearly all organizations that sponsor outdoor travel, the Sierra Club is obliged to require participants to sign a standard liability waiver at
the beginning of each trip. If you would like to read the Liability Waiver before you choose to participate on an outing, please go to:, or contact the Outings Department at (415) 977-5528 for a printed version.

Telescope Peak (11,049 ft.)                                                     signs. Sunday is reserved for a long hike along Bright Star Creek
June 11-12; Saturday-Sunday                                                     from 7000 ft in the Sequoia National Forest to the ‘Burning
Climb the highest peak in Death Valley with spectacular views of                Moscow Mine’ at 4000 ft within the wilderness. The ponderosa
the highest point (Mt. Whitney) and the lowest point (Badwater)                 forest and chaparral should provide a delightful diversion in the
in the contiguous US. 14 mi rt, 3000’ gain, moderate/slow pace,                 late summer. Ldr: Craig Deutsche, deutsche@eart h l i n k . n e t ,
no tigers, but must be well conditioned. Hike Sat followed by                   (310-477-6670). CNCC Desert Com.
potluck and campfire. Group size strictly limited. Send $5 per
person (Sierra Club), 2 sase, H&W phones, email, rideshare info                 Bristlecone Pines and Barcroft Lab
to Ldr: Lygeia Gerard, 1550 N. Verdugo Rd. #40, Glendale, CA                    August 6-7; Saturday-Sunday
91208, (818-242-7053). Co-Ldr: Bill Spreng; (760-951-4520).                     Come with us to the beautiful White Mts. to hike the Ancient
Crescenta Valley/CNRCC Desert Com.                                              Bristlecone Pine Forest on Sat, followed by Happy Hour, potluck
                                                                                and campfire. On Sun, the only day of the year it is open to the
White Mountain (14,246 ft.) Carcamp and Hike                                    public, we’ll tour the Univ. of CA’s Barcroft Lab at 12,500’,
June 24-26; Fri (eve)-Sunday                                                    followed by an easy hike to Mt. Barcroft (13,040’). Group size
Climb one of California’s fourteeners, third highest point in the               strictly limited. Send $5 per person (Sierra Club), 2 sase, H&W
state. 15 mi rt, 3300 ft vertical gain. Moderate/slow pace, no                  phones, email, rideshare info to Ldr: Lygeia Gerard, 1550 N.
tigers, but should be in good condition. The trail offers spectac-              Verdugo Rd. #40, Glendale, CA 91208, (818-242-7053).
ular views in all directions. Meet at Grandview Campground                      Co-Ldr: Bill Spreng; (760-951-4520). Crescenta Valley/CNCC
(dry) Friday night. Early on Saturday morning we carpool to the                 Desert Com.
trailhead. Lunch at the top and then return. Saturday night
happy hour pot luck. Sunday we will explore the two Bristlecone                 Desert View Backpack
Pine Forests as time permits. Bring enough water for weekend,                   August 11-15; Thursday-Monday
comfortable hiking shoes and clothes and a dish to share for                    Arriving Aug. 10 for early start next day. Backpack. Kennedy
happy hour. Liability/waiver required. For more information                     Meadows to 0lancha Pass. 0ptional 0lancha Peak (12,123’) day
contact Ldr: Kate Allen;, (661-944-4056).                      hike. This is a 36 mile r/t hike, 2 additional miles for the peak.
Antelope Valley Group/CNCC Desert Com.                                          Actual miles with backpack will be around 32 miles. Numerous
                                                                                meadows and streams, including the Kern River and Monache
Bright Star Service and Hike                                                    Meadow which is unusually large. Views of the Mojave Desert,
July 16-17; Saturday-Sunday                                                     Mt. Whitney, and Mt. Langley. Recommend bear containers for
The Bright Star Wilderness Area, north of Ridgecrest, has been                  food storage. To get on the trip, send $20 refundable fee made to
impacted by both trash and by illegal ORV trespass. On Saturday                 ‘Sierra Club’ to David Hardy, Box 99, Blue Diamond, NV 89004,
our group will assist BLM Wilderness Resource Specialist Marty        , (702-875-4549). Toiyabe Chap/CNCC
Dickes putting up barriers, concealing illegal routes, and placing              Desert Com.

                    {   16 }                               DESERT REPORT SUMMER 2005
                                                           B Y 
 T O M 
 B U

                                                       A COMMENTARY

           Some Thoughts On Off-Road Vehicles

                  he ORV invasion is here and                                                       studied or measured to determine the char-
                  it’s not going away. The issue                                                    acter of the inevitable bell curve. Until we
                  is control.                                                                       find out, my preference is to believe the
                     Pictures of ORVs running                                                       best, that most are innocently ignorant of
roughshod over virgin country inflame                                                               the parameters. There is reason for this.
passions of environmentalists and give the                                                              The environmental community likes to
i m p ression that all the participants are                                                         believe it is acutely aware of the totality of
all-bad. I am not ready to subscribe to that..                                                      the land around us, yet we too make
    Instead, I would like to believe that the                                                       mistakes. What do we expect of the ORV
ORV-oriented population is no diff e re n t                                                         community? The same? Better? Worse?
than any other group, be it grocery store                                                           The attitude, passion and commitment
clerks, CEOs, nudists or hermits. Some are                                                          levels may be the same but directed in a dif-
very bad. Some are very good. And most are                                                          ferent direction. Can we expect the same
in the middle. Education and regulation then become the major                  level of knowledge? Do we understand their sport as well as we
consideration, not law enforcement and invective.                              understand our activities? After all, most desert activists also
    We can take lessons from ourselves. Until thirty years ago, to             drive a vehicle which can be used off-road.
climb Mt. Whitney you drove to the portal and started walking.                    And, the situation is complex. Most ORV-violated lands are
As the walkers grew so did the impact. In time permits were                    BLM and Forest Service—a mix of designated wilderness,
required, then quotas, then a lottery for coveted climbing slots.              limited use areas, open areas, off-limit areas, Areas of critical
Now we can’t camp just anywhere and we must haul out our                       Environment Concern (ACEC)s, sanctuaries, each with compli-
human waste. The place looks good, at the cost of some personal                cated boundaries and extensive signage requirements with signs
f reedom. Most of the rest of the Sierras are under less restrictive           that don’t survive long. Butt these against private property and
quotas. We have witnessed land managers doing their job.                       Park Service lands with different rules and we can see that
    And we have forbidden places. Sections of the Sierras and the              confusion comes easy. Add peer pressure from riding groups, and
Santa Rosas are off limits in certain seasons, in respect of bighorn           the tempting sight of a fresh illegal trail.
lambing. Other locations are birds-only at certain times of the                   The era of limits must eventually come to the ORVers, and
year, and the condor sanctuary north of Fillmore has been full-                with it the opportunity for education of the participants.
time off-limits for 60 years.                                                     Driver training for cars covers mostly rules of the road,
    Do we see a similar situation emerging with the ORV                        whereas driver training for ORVs involves mostly safety and the
situation? Yes. Emerging, but not matured. The Bureau of Land                  mechanics of the machinery. We should think of expanding it to
management (BLM) has been charging fees for such places as the                 include more ‘ORV Rules of the Road’ schooling. Where Green
Dumont Dunes and the Imperial Sand Dunes (the Algodones),                      Stickers are required for use of an area it could be a greater
mostly to cover management costs. A quota has not been                         vehicle for education. Permits and quotas for heavy demand
implemented. And in the Rand Mountain area near California                     areas, as with the hiking community, may become necessary to
City the BLM was forced into the ‘nuclear option’ due to exces-                reduce impact, along with additional opportunities for education,
sive ORV damage—it has been closed, to allow recovery and time                 and the positive implication of the value of a permit. Such
to develop an effective management plan.                                       systems would be an opportunity for the land managers to
    In a large number of other places ORVs commit illegal and                  explain, and would remove the “I didn’t know” excuse.
d e s t ructive incursions into designated wilderness areas and                   The ORV outdoor flood is following the human-powered
violate designated-route controls. These violations—are they                   outdoor flood by a few tens of years. One can learn from the
committed by outlaws in deliberate defiance because they curtail               experience of the other.
absolute freedom of the outdoors? Or are they innocent viola-
tions, in ignorance of the rules? The answer must be some of                   Tom Budlong is a desert activist on the CNCC Desert Committee.
each – again some bad, some good, but with lots in the middle.
But we don’t know the extents—the situation has not been                       Top: Rider, Kiavah Wilderness

                   {   18 }                            DESERT REPORT SUMMER 2005
                                                                                                                        U.S. Postage
                  published by
                  California/Nevada Desert Committee                                                                    Los Angeles, CA
                  of the Sierra Club                                                                                    Permit No.
                  3435 Wilshire Boulevard #320                                                                          36438
                  Los Angeles, CA 90010-1904


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