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Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee

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he Colorado River looms large in the imagination, gaining its might in the snowy peaks of the Rocky Mountains, crashing downstream with force that c a rved the Grand Canyon, and wending its way t h rough the desert all the way down to the Gulf of California. But by the time it reaches the US-Mexico border, the Colorado has been tamed, looking and acting more like a regulated ditch than a wild river. Gone are the huge spring floods, muddy waters, and floodplain forests, replaced by steady year- round flows and vast i rrigated alfalfa fields. The little wildlife remaining in this altere d 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 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 burst forth with native cottonwood and willow trees. This phenomenon was witnessed from just south of Yuma, Arizona, 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 rnia turn the delta’s waters brackish and salt cedar takes over. Conservation groups rallied around the revival in the Colorado River delta, enthralled with the prospect of saving the unique 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. T Federal Water Management The legacy of the 20th Century on the Colorado River is a system of dams and re s e rvoirs that are capable of storing more than four times the river’s annual average flow. Such vast re s e rves have allowed many straws to be sunk into the river, not just to irrigate agriculture (more than 3.7 million acres in total), but also to supply the swelling urban populations of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, and nearly every other city in the southwest, some 34 million people at last count. The Colorado River is used Summer 2005 News of the desert from the Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee www.desertreport.org BY JENNIFER PITT BY COURTNEY ANN COYLE SEE PAGE 6 continued on page 15 Is The Lower Colorado River Doomed? Chromium 6 Cleanup Affects Native Sacred Site New information has surfaced revealing major cracks in the planning and implementation of the clean up of the Chromium 6 plume near Needles.
Page 1: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee

he Colorado River looms large in the imagination,gaining its might in the snowy peaks of the RockyMountains, crashing downstream with force thatc a rved the Grand Canyon, and wending its way

t h rough the desert all the way down to the Gulf of California. Butby the time it reaches the US-Mexico bord e r, the Colorado hasbeen tamed, looking and acting more like a regulated ditch than awild river. Gone are the huge spring floods, muddy waters, andfloodplain forests, replaced by steady year- round flows and vasti rrigated alfalfa fields. The little wildlife remaining in this altere driver clings to remnants of native habitat.

The one exception to this description lies at the river’s end. Inthe delta of the Colorado, below the last dam, the river’s channelhas narrowed after decades of little or no flow. A series of wet yearsin 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, andburst forth with native cottonwood and willow trees. This phenomenon was witnessed from just south of Yuma, Arizona,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 ofC a l i f o rnia turn the delta’s waters brackish and salt cedar takes over.

C o n s e rvation groups rallied around the revival in the ColoradoRiver delta, enthralled with the prospect of saving the uniquenative forests that were born in those floods. To date, govern m e n tagencies that manage the river and the use of its water have notbeen willing to commit to actions that would protect it.

T F e d e ral Water Management

The legacy of the 20th Century on the Colorado River is a system of dams and re s e rvoirs that are capable of storing more thanfour times the river’s annual average flow. Such vast re s e rves haveallowed many straws to be sunk into the river, not just to irr i g a t ea g r i c u l t u re (more than 3.7 million acres in total), but also to supply the swelling urban populations of Phoenix, Las Vegas, LosAngeles, San Diego, and nearly every other city in the southwest,some 34 million people at last count. The Colorado River is used

Summer 2005 News of the desert from the Sierra Club California/Nevada Desert Committee www.desertreport.org




continued on page 15

Is The Lower Colorado River Doomed?

Chromium 6 Cleanup Affects Native

Sacred Site

New information has surfaced revealing majorcracks in the planning and implementation of theclean up of the Chromium 6 plume near Needles.

Page 2: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee



hy is the Sierra Club always suing every o n e ?A responsible community leader put thisquestion to me and he was surprised by myanswer. His impression was that whenever

a question or obstacle came up, we sued.Not so! I explained that a lawsuit is always the last resort after

all other avenues have failed. Lawsuits are expensive; time consuming, and problematical—one never knows how they willturn out. But, lawsuits are an absolutely necessary tool.

Although I used other examples for my questioner, this issueof Desert Report is full of examples. Under the BushAdministration no plant or animal has been listed under theEndangered Species Act (ESA) except as a result of a lawsuit. Nocritical habitat has been designated except as a result of a lawsuit.Look in the News Items for information on two plants in Utahthat grow in only eight tiny locations, on the edge of extinction,getting protection from two lawsuits—one to list and one to designate critical habitat.

Look at the article on Guzzlers in the Mojave NationalPreserve. We’ve had the discussions and written the letters withour objections, but the Deputy Secre t a ry of Interior stillinstructed the National Park Service to violate the NationalEnvironmental Policy Act (NEPA) and ignore the Park Service’sown regulations and policies. Only the threat of a lawsuit forcedthe start of the NEPA process.

Look at the News Update on page 13 on protecting theColorado River from leaking nuclear toxins. The decision hadbeen to just let it leak until a suit by the Sierra Club and othersrefocused the issue. Now the preferred alternative is to move theuranium tailings. The cost of $400 million is non trivial, but thehealth of the fish in the river and the 25 million who drink waterfrom the river is also non trivial.

Perhaps most of our suits involve the Endangered SpeciesAct. In this Desert Report issue Judy Anderson makes an eloquent statement of the importance of the ESA. As shownabove, citizen lawsuits to enforce the act are also critical.

The National Historic Preservation Act is usually ignored bythe government agencies. The Bureau of Land Management’sWest Mojave Plan ignores route selection that would impactNative American Sacred Sites. The California Desert is one ofthe world’s great repositories of rock art and native sites. The

S U M M E R 2 0 0 5 I N T H I S I S S U E

The Co-ChairView From

Why Is The Sierra ClubAlways Suing Everyone?



comments were submitted in the planning process, but they weretreated as though they didn’t exist. No lawsuits have been filed,but it would seem that we are approaching a last resort.

With this issue of Desert Report, active leadership of theDesert Committee is passing to Terry Frewin. It is time for theCommittee to get new leadership. Terry will do a wonderful job.

I have been a volunteer activist for nearly 30 years and chair ofthe Desert Committee for 10 years. I need to cut back on my volunteer activities. As I age, I find it harder to both; work for aliving, and continue to do as much volunteer work as I’ve done inthe past.

IS THE LOWER COLORADO RIVER DOOMED? ............................................11

WHY IS THE SIERRA CLUB ALWAYS SUING EVERYONE? ............................12



GUZZLER BATTLES CONTINUE ..................................................................15


WHAT FATE FOR SURPRISE CANYON? ......................................................18

THE OWYHEE – BEAUTY: ROADS, RIVER, AND SKY ....................................10


ALIENS IN THE DESERT ............................................................................12

NEWS UPDATES ........................................................................................13

OUTINGS ....................................................................................................16

SOME THOUGHTS ON OFF-ROAD VEHICLES ..............................................18

Page 3: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee



he magnificent Kelso Depot,built in 1924, sits in the heartof Mojave Desert along theUnion Pacific Railroad. The

structure was nearly lost to neglect but nowthe hard work of dedicated citizens who rallied to save the building will be rewardedwhen it opens as a visitor center for MojaveNational Preserve.

Visitors to the Depot often remark onthe size and elegance of the building, andwonder why such a substantial structure islocated in “the middle of nowhere.” In fact, the building was farmore than a depot. Inside was a restaurant that served meals topassengers on trains without dining cars, similar to the famousHarvey Houses along the Santa Fe Railroad, and to train crewsand other railroad employees. Kelso lies at the bottom of thesteep Cima Grade, and in the era of steam locomotives helpercars were needed to pull trains up the hill. Track had to be maintained, water acquired, facilities maintained; Kelso soondeveloped into a town with the Depot as its hub. During WorldWar II as many as 1,500 people lived in the town.

The economic prosperity that centered around ore extractionfrom the Vulcan Mine, and the war pushed this country in a newdirection, but the closing of the mine, the end of the war, fewerchanges of train crews meant Kelso would rapidly wither. TheUnion Pacific Railroad finally closed the Depot in 1985. The railroad proposed to demolish the building, but many wereenchanted by the simple beauty of its mission revival style architecture and rallied for protection, getting UP to reverse itsdecision as its first step. Money was not available then to restorethe Depot but a campaign was initiated to have it mothballed toprotect it from vandalism. This work was a great success. WhenMojave National Preserve was created in 1994, the Kelso Depotwas quickly identified as the logical choice for a visitor center.

The Kelso Depot itself is one of the most significant culturalresources within the Mojave National Preserve, representing themajor influence of railroads on the history of SouthernCalifornia, 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 y11,600 gross square feet floor area) mission revival style stuccoedwood frame stru c t u re with a hipped mission style tile roof. Themain two-story portion of the building is approximately 138 feet

by 43 feet and also contains a basement. Asingle-story kitchen extension with base-ment at the rear measures 43 feet by 24 feet.

Adaptive restoration work began on thebuilding in the fall of 2002 after a c o n s t ruction contract was awarded toPacific General Incorporated. Demolitionbegan with the removal of all interior paint,plaster and lathe from the walls because ofthe health risks related to lead based paintthat was on the walls. This allowed for amore thorough evaluation of the structural

aspects of the building’s framework, which revealed some problems on the east exterior wall and floor under the old refrig-erated walk-in cooler. It also revealed other surprises in the wallssuch as time cards from employees who worked the lunchroomand kitchen, postcards, dry-cell batteries and small wires in theattic that powered the doorbells in the upper sleeping rooms, andthe signature of a carpenter who had built the stairs going to theupper floor (G W…meyer & Sons, K..lso California).




Restoration Of The KelsoDepot Nearly Complete

Top: The “beanery” lunch room was restored back to it’s1940s interior. Above: Kelso Depot restored.

continued on page 14

Page 4: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee

Chromium 6 Cleanup Affects Native Sacred Site


ew information has s u rfaced revealing majorcracks in the planning andimplementation of the clean

up of the Chromium 6 plume near Needles.In the last year, efforts have intensified to

clean up Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E)contamination of groundwater from itsTopock Compressor Station in the Needlesa rea (see Desert Report, Winter 2004).Beginning in 1951, PG&E disposed of ac h romium solution, used as a coolant in its natural gas plant, intothe adjacent Bat Cave Wash. Later, PG&E disposed of materialst h rough evaporation ponds, a percolation bed and an unlicensedinjection well in this area. Federal and state agencies have beenassessing the plume for almost twenty years.

Re-mediation efforts initiated in the last year include threeinterim measures. The first was the drafting of a work plan thataccompanied the installation of monitoring wells in the area. T h esecond measure was the installation of pumping and then pumpingplus onsite processing on Bureau of Land Management (BLM)managed federal lands on a bench along the River. The treatedwater is hauled offsite. The third measure was the constructionof another treatment facility upland from the bench onMetropolitan Water District (MWD) lands transferred to PG&Ein Fall 2004, and building the infrastructure to dispose of thewater onsite. The so-called interim measure 3 could last for 10years. A long-term remedy remains to be selected.

While everyone cares about the health of the River, theserecent actions were disturbing in two major ways. First, each ofthe above measures was done without public environmentalreview at either the federal or state levels. Second, the measures,and particularly the last one, intrude upon the Mystic Maze, anative sacred place that has been officially listed on the NationalRegister 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), Quechanand Cocopah Indian Tribes. The Coalition is very concernedabout the processes that were used to allow PG&E to build theduplicate treatment plant and its associated infrastru c t u re ,

including wells and pipelines and theadverse impacts that these are causing tosacred places.

For each of these tribes, the health of theRiver means the health of their people andeconomies. For the Ft. Mojave, they are theRiver; their very name AhaMakav means thepeople of the River. The Tribes did not causethe contaminated plume. And the clean upshould not come at the cost of the destru c t i o nof their sacred place.

The Topock Maze is recognized as unique in North America,if not the world. More o v e r, all the Colorado River Tribes hold thea rea sacred. For tribal members, their journey to the next worldincludes going through this area after one dies. Building theplants there is akin to building a plant at the gates of a Cathedral.

Damage has already been done as the new treatment facility ismostly built, but it is not yet operational. Once it becomes operational, additional impacts will occur, such as excessive nightlighting. Until it is allowed to start up, or some other method isselected, the BLM facility continues to pump and truck water.

During the third phase development, additional impacts haveoccurred to sensitive cultural and biological resources: NeedlesPower went outside of the right-of-way while adding an electricline to power poles serving the facility causing more impacts tocultural sites and biology.



Treatment plant intruding on Mystic Maze


Page 5: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee


urprise Canyon—this rarejewel in the Death Va l l e ydesert region—now a perma-nent, healthy canyon-stream/

riparian system—what is its fate?A little over a year ago in Desert Report

I described a little of the canyon’s historyand its character, and that the Bureau ofLand Management had closed Surprise toextreme 4WDing in response to a lawsuitby the Center for Biological Diversity. Theclosure is to be in effect until the issue ofmotorized access is resolved by anE n v i ronmental Impact Report (EIR).Meanwhile the May 2001 closure remains.Since the upper part of Surprise Canyon isinside Death Valley National Park, the ParkService is also involved in the EIR.

What will the EIR say? Will it respectthe canyon’s rare status, it’s solitude andbeauty, or will it allow return of motorizedactivity?

Surprise Canyon is on people’s minds.Publicity about the vehicle closure hasbrought a jump in foot traffic. Recentlysome backpackers who had been flooded out from their plans inUtah found their way to Surprise Canyon. The Utah land managers suggested the alternative. The hikers were ecstatic withwhat they found.

A Brief Story Of Surprise Canyon

The gates to Surprise Canyon are rugged granite waterfalls at3,000 feet elevation, and lush, choking riparian growth atLimekiln and Brewery Springs above the falls. At the top ofSurprise, at 6,500 feet, is Panamint City, born a mad silver-rushboomtown in the 1870s. To replace a steep and perilous foot trail,the early miners gravel-filled the falls and hacked through theriparian for wagons. As if in protest, while the town was boom-ing, a flash flood swept Panamint City down to Panamint Valleyand returned the falls to original condition by flushing out the

gravel fill. The town didn’t recover.Sometime later the falls were refilled.

Older desert people talk of driving toPanamint City in standard passenger auto-mobiles. Then in the early 1980’s a minernamed Pruit defied Surprise again, only tosuffer the same wrath of the canyon—in1984 another flash flood took out most ofPruit’s workings, along with the fill that cov-ered the granite falls.

Pruit didn’t come back and the canyon,then silent, began to heal. The roadbedmostly disappeared under new ripariangrowth nourished by the two springs, andmore flooding finished the job. The hikingcommunity discovered Surprise Canyon.They kept a use-path open, wide enough fora person, perhaps sticking to the old vehiclepath and going where easier in other places.The old route is a theoretical cherry-stems u rrounded by the Surprise CanyonWilderness. It’s theoretical, since no one canreliably identify the extinct vehicle route’sexact location now.

In the early 1990s extreme 4WDingbegan to grow as a sport. A few of the more mechanically minded had accepted the challenge to make their machines climbrocks. It’s an astounding thing to watch. They discovered thegranite falls at the bottom of Surprise Canyon. The falls are inBureau of Land Management (BLM)-managed territory, and theBLM gave permission for the extreme 4WDers to winch, crawl,and claw their machines up the falls, void of the man-made grav-el bed, and to re-cut the undergrowth of Limekiln and B re w e ry,to ‘drive’ to the old Panamint City: Birth of contro v e r s y.

But the canyon in its natural state is precious. The PanamintMountains are the west border of bone-dry Death Valley. Thefree-flowing water in the falls is a rare phenomenon in this country. It supports a localized mini-economy of all manner ofliving things. This small, vibrant museum had barely withstoodthe miners, and with the help of natural flood scouring was com-




What Fate For Surprise Canyon?

Page 6: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee



t is a forgotten corner of the westthat few people have visited, andthe name, Owyhee Canyonlands,brings a puzzled look to most

faces. This is a corner that should not beforgotten, and it should not be lost. Thereare miles and miles of dusty backcountryroads. River canyons cut deeply into thehigh lava plateaus. Ranchers, antelope, quailand coyotes, inhabit it and it is a land of big,big sky. Perhaps it is this sky that is mostimpressive of all. In evening sunlight anentire landscape of dried grass, old farmbuildings, rusty fences, sagebrush, and distant cliffs turn orange in a dry, dustyhaze. Time seems to have no meaning at all.

On a map this land is found at the cornerwhere Idaho, Oregon, and Nevada meet.The towns are Bruneau, Jordan Va l l e y,Duck Va l l e y, and the even smallerG r a s s m e re with its one abandoned gas station. At the ‘One Stop’ café in Bruneauthe waitress knows everyone who comes through the door, menkeep their hats on while they eat, and talk is about the wind thatblew down trees in town last night. The greater part of this landis federal and is administered by the Bureau of LandManagement (BLM), but this is not to say that the people theredo not feel ownership. Families have been there for generations,and ranchers have held grazing allotments since the TaylorGrazing Act created these in 1934. The relationship between theresidents, the federal government, and outsiders who only visit is,at the very least, awkward. The map is only part of the story.

I have many impressions from a two-week visit last October.First there are the roads, which seem to lead endlessly beneath ahuge sky. In summer these fill with dust, in rains they becomeimpassible quagmires, and even in September they may beblocked by snow. The roads cannot easily descend and cross therocky canyons that meander through the high plateaus, and soroads wind among fading ranches and barbed wire fences in thehigh country. I could only imagine their destinations. As harsh asthe land sometimes is, it also has its secret and softer places.Willows, alders, grasses, and in places poison ivy color thecanyon bottoms. Here the rivers may rage between lava cliffs in

springtime, but later they are a gentle refugefrom the heat. Along one branch of theOwyhee River I found a ranch house andseveral fields sitting beside the water. Thiswas the 45-Ranch, owned now by TheNature Conservancy and maintained withthe intention of demonstrating that ranching and environmental concerns canbe reconciled. R e g a rdless of the success thedemonstration, the yellowing willows in thefall, the fading wild rose, the blue-green sage,and the sounds of water in the late aftern o o nmade a picture not easily forg o t t e n .

Perhaps the last impression one has is aland of undisturbed wildlife. Although thesounds of quail and chukkar were common,the hunters that I met admitted that theyhad little luck with their shooting. They hadreally come because they loved the land. Ina three-day period I met wild horses along acliff top, antelope crossing the road ahead ofme, and bighorn sheep climbing a canyon

wall. Every afternoon hawks circled in a blue sky, and every nightthe sounds of coyotes came from the distance. One afternoon Isat in a hot spring beside the Bruneau River and watched troutjump in the colder water beyond. Four days later a dozen rabbitscrossed a snowy road in front of me as I drove in the earlyevening. I met almost no humans during all this time.

This corner of the west is immense with several million acresdivided among the three states. Nearly all of the land is public. Itis significant that grazing is only minimally regulated and thatalmost none of the land is protected as designated wilderness.Local businesses, river outfitters, hunters, ranchers, NativeAmericans, off-road vehicle riders, and environmentalists are allconcerned and dispute over its future. This is a remote land withan abundance of wildlife. It is a land that deserves to be visitedand protected.

Craig Deutsche is the Desert Committee Outings Chair and DesertReport Outings Editor.



Top: River canyons cut deeply into high lava plateaus.

Roads, River, And Sky


The Owyhee: The Beauty

Page 7: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee



he extraordinary rains during the winter of 2004-2005 produced a great wildflower show in theColorado and Mojave Deserts. These rains also,and more importantly, provided a tremendous

opportunity for aliens – alien plants. The non-native grasses andother plants, particularly those of the mustard family, have proliferated as never before.

The annual grasses red brome (Bromus madritensis rubens),Mediterranean split grass (Schismus barbatus), and cheat grass(Bromus tectorum) have been a significant part of the desert florafor many years, however, the heavy and prolonged rains of thepast winter provided near perfect conditions for these grasses. Itseems like every single grass seed, which has accumulated in thesoil from past years, germinated and grew into a robust plant.These invasive grasses occupy many areas that in a typical winterwould be occupied mostly by perennial shrubs and annual wildflowers.

What is really dramatic is the explosive growth of several dif-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 beenaround 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 themustard family has expanded almost beyond belief. This plant,unknown to most observers just a few years ago, has spread alongour roads and highways and is expanding out from there. It isparticularly adaptable, thriving both in disturbed places and invirgin 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 plantsoften break off at the base and tumble in the wind spreading theirseeds for miles. This plant is not to be confused with tumblemustard (Sisymbrium altissimum) that is also appearing where it’snever been noticeable before.

Other less obvious mustard family members which this yearcover thousands of acres in the northern and eastern MojaveD 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 thecasual observer but they have formed dense mats over thousandsof acres and will likely become an important part of the desertflora in years to come.

The significance of what we are seeing is that the flora of our

deserts is undergoing a very rapid (from an historic standpoint)evolutionary change. Introduced by human activities, these verycompetitive non-native plants are in the process of changing ourdeserts permanently. As recently as thirty or forty years ago theColorado and Mojave Deserts were considered to be relativelyimmune to the danger of wildfire. There just wasn’t enough finefuel in the way of dry grasses to carry fire over large areas. Thisis no longer the case because Red brome and Mediterranean splitgrass (extremely flammable when dry) now occur on every squarefoot over vast areas. These plants will completely dominate in apost-fire environment since they are adapted to fire, unlike mostof our native plants.

The aggressive non-natives mentioned above pose a majorthreat to both the flora and fauna native to our deserts. Theygrow early in the season and rapidly deplete soil moisture, andthey will simply crowd out many of our native wildflowers.Animals will also be negatively impacted. Desert tortoises will be



Sahara Mustard

Aliens In The Desert

continued on page 15

Page 8: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee


Owyhee/BruneauKelso Depotcontinued from page 4

and the Boise office of The Wilderness Society. Part of the agree-ment has been to designate about 500,000 acres of wilderness ofthe approximate 750,000 BLM WSA’s. (Previously, a coalition ofIdaho environmentalists had identified about 1.6 million acres ashaving wilderness potential). In late December of 2004, SenatorCrapo’s office issued an initial draft of the legislation that is citedas the “Owyhee Initiative Implementation Act”

Included in this draft legislation are; the designation of wilderness and wild and scenic rivers, release of WSA’s, and atransportation plan. In its first 2 pages the legislation, in additionto citing the Owyhee Initiative, legislates the review process andthe Board of Directors, who developed the agreement. T h eOwyhee Initiative Agreement, with all its provisions and validationin the legislation, has the potential for undermining the wildern e s sit creates and serves as a pernicious precedent for future public landbills. Those representing environmental interests in this agree-ment believe that the wilderness designation and other provisionsin this bill are more than worth the trade off and they do not seethe Owyhee Initiative agreement as a threat. The Sierra Clubposition on the agreement, established by the ConservationGovernance Committee on January 22, 2005, was to not sign onto 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 in2005. Two websites give information: www.owyheeinitiative.org(in favor of) and www.owyheeinitiative.com (against the initiative)

If you would like an annotated copy of the agreement, thedraft legislation or more information e-mail Mike McCurry ofthe Toiyabe Chapter [email protected].

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

Bruneau canyon is a separate watershed which follows adramatic canyon from Nevada to the Snake river in Idaho.

continued from page 11

The majority of the existing wood trim, doors and doorframeswere salvaged. Existing window frames were removed and takenback to a shop where they were carefully restored. The beautifulwooden stairs and handrails were stripped of the old enamel paintto reveal beautiful wood underneath, as was the original half ofthe lunchroom counter that remained. The jewel of this buildingis 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. Theheavy plaster texture of the walls was restored, as was the originalpaint color on the walls, which presents a striking image whenyou first enter the building. Space west of the lunchroom hasbeen modified for the installation of pending interpretive andeducational displays.

The conductor and ticket offices and the baggage room, alllocated on the west end of the building, were completelyrestored. The main floor now has a new theater in the formerkitchen area; the space will be used to show visitors a park movieor present ranger programs.

The basement has new restrooms, a multipurpose room andstorage rooms. An elevator was installed in the building to provide disabled visitors access to each floor. The lamp postsalong the tracks in front of the building, typical of the 1940s, havebeen replaced and the brick walkways leading to the tracks werealso restored. A new building constructed near the planned park-ing lot contains additional restroom facilities for visitors. The oldcoal shed on the north side of the depot has been restored backto a better condition, adding to the historic setting.

The work on the structure is now complete, waiting for thenext phase of contracts including the installation of exhibits anddisplays. The parking lot and landscape work are expected to becompleted this summer. When it opens, the Depot will be theprimary point of contact for the more than 600,000 annual visitors to the park. Plans for a grand opening are currentlyunderway. Make sure you plan a trip to the Mojave to view thisdesert treasure when it opens.

James Woolsey is on the staff of the Mojave National Preserve.


Page 9: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee

California/Nevada Conservation CommitteeDesert 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

t r av e l , you should come prepared. For a good guide to desert travel we recommend the Sierra Club book Adventuring in the California Desert by Lynn Fo s t e r.

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 [email protected].

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:

www.sierraclub.org/outings/chapter/forms, or contact the Outings Department at (415) 977-5528 for a printed version.

Telescope Peak (11,049 ft.)June 11-12; Saturday-Sunday

Climb the highest peak in Death Valley with spectacular views ofthe highest point (Mt. Whitney) and the lowest point (Badwater)in the contiguous US. 14 mi rt, 3000’ gain, moderate/slow pace,no tigers, but must be well conditioned. Hike Sat followed bypotluck and campfire. Group size strictly limited. Send $5 perperson (Sierra Club), 2 sase, H&W phones, email, rideshare infoto Ldr: Lygeia Gerard, 1550 N. Verdugo Rd. #40, Glendale, CA91208, (818-242-7053). Co-Ldr: Bill Spreng; (760-951-4520).Crescenta Valley/CNRCC Desert Com.

White Mountain (14,246 ft.) Carcamp and HikeJune 24-26; Fri (eve)-Sunday

Climb one of California’s fourteeners, third highest point in thestate. 15 mi rt, 3300 ft vertical gain. Moderate/slow pace, notigers, but should be in good condition. The trail offers spectac-ular views in all directions. Meet at Grandview Campground(dry) Friday night. Early on Saturday morning we carpool to thetrailhead. Lunch at the top and then return. Saturday nighthappy hour pot luck. Sunday we will explore the two BristleconePine Forests as time permits. Bring enough water for weekend,comfortable hiking shoes and clothes and a dish to share forhappy hour. Liability/waiver required. For more informationcontact Ldr: Kate Allen; [email protected], (661-944-4056).Antelope Valley Group/CNCC Desert Com.

Bright Star Service and HikeJuly 16-17; Saturday-Sunday

The Bright Star Wilderness Area, north of Ridgecrest, has beenimpacted by both trash and by illegal ORV trespass. On Saturdayour group will assist BLM Wilderness Resource Specialist MartyDickes putting up barriers, concealing illegal routes, and placing

signs. Sunday is reserved for a long hike along Bright Star Creekfrom 7000 ft in the Sequoia National Forest to the ‘BurningMoscow Mine’ at 4000 ft within the wilderness. The ponderosaforest and chaparral should provide a delightful diversion in thelate summer. Ldr: Craig Deutsche, deutsche@eart h l i n k . n e t ,(310-477-6670). CNCC Desert Com.

Bristlecone Pines and Barcroft LabAugust 6-7; Saturday-Sunday

Come with us to the beautiful White Mts. to hike the AncientBristlecone Pine Forest on Sat, followed by Happy Hour, potluckand campfire. On Sun, the only day of the year it is open to thepublic, we’ll tour the Univ. of CA’s Barcroft Lab at 12,500’, followed by an easy hike to Mt. Barcroft (13,040’). Group sizestrictly limited. Send $5 per person (Sierra Club), 2 sase, H&Wphones, email, rideshare info to Ldr: Lygeia Gerard, 1550 N.Ve rdugo Rd. #40, Glendale, CA 91208, (818-242-7053). Co-Ldr: Bill Spreng; (760-951-4520). Crescenta Valley/CNCCDesert Com.

Desert View BackpackAugust 11-15; Thursday-MondayArriving Aug. 10 for early start next day. Backpack. KennedyMeadows to 0lancha Pass. 0ptional 0lancha Peak (12,123’) dayhike. This is a 36 mile r/t hike, 2 additional miles for the peak.Actual miles with backpack will be around 32 miles. Numerousmeadows and streams, including the Kern River and MonacheMeadow which is unusually large. Views of the Mojave Desert,Mt. Whitney, and Mt. Langley. Recommend bear containers forfood storage. To get on the trip, send $20 refundable fee made to‘Sierra Club’ to David Hardy, Box 99, Blue Diamond, NV 89004,[email protected], (702-875-4549). Toiyabe Chap/CNCCDesert Com.


Page 10: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee



he ORV invasion is here andit’s not going away. The issueis control.

Pictures of ORVs runningroughshod over virgin country inflame passions of environmentalists and give thei m p ression that all the participants are all-bad. I am not ready to subscribe to that..

Instead, I would like to believe that theO RV-oriented population is no diff e re n tthan any other group, be it grocery storeclerks, CEOs, nudists or hermits. Some arevery bad. Some are very good. And most arein the middle. Education and regulation then become the majorconsideration, not law enforcement and invective.

We can take lessons from ourselves. Until thirty years ago, toclimb Mt. Whitney you drove to the portal and started walking.As the walkers grew so did the impact. In time permits wererequired, then quotas, then a lottery for coveted climbing slots.Now we can’t camp just anywhere and we must haul out ourhuman waste. The place looks good, at the cost of some personalf reedom. Most of the rest of the Sierras are under less re s t r i c t i v equotas. We have witnessed land managers doing their job.

And we have forbidden places. Sections of the Sierras and theSanta Rosas are off limits in certain seasons, in respect of bighornlambing. Other locations are birds-only at certain times of theyear, and the condor sanctuary north of Fillmore has been full-time off-limits for 60 years.

Do we see a similar situation emerging with the ORVsituation? Yes. Emerging, but not matured. The Bureau of Land management (BLM) has been charging fees for such places as theDumont Dunes and the Imperial Sand Dunes (the Algodones),mostly to cover management costs. A quota has not been implemented. And in the Rand Mountain area near CaliforniaCity the BLM was forced into the ‘nuclear option’ due to exces-sive ORV damage—it has been closed, to allow recovery and timeto develop an effective management plan.

In a large number of other places ORVs commit illegal andd e s t ructive incursions into designated wilderness areas and violate designated-route controls. These violations—are theycommitted by outlaws in deliberate defiance because they curtailabsolute freedom of the outdoors? Or are they innocent viola-tions, in ignorance of the rules? The answer must be some ofeach – again some bad, some good, but with lots in the middle.But we don’t know the extents—the situation has not been

studied or measured to determine the char-acter of the inevitable bell curve. Until wefind out, my preference is to believe thebest, that most are innocently ignorant ofthe parameters. There is reason for this.

The environmental community likes tobelieve it is acutely aware of the totality ofthe land around us, yet we too make mistakes. What do we expect of the ORVcommunity? The same? Better? Wo r s e ?The attitude, passion and commitment levels may be the same but directed in a dif-ferent direction. Can we expect the same

level of knowledge? Do we understand their sport as well as weunderstand our activities? After all, most desert activists alsodrive a vehicle which can be used off-road.

And, the situation is complex. Most ORV-violated lands areBLM and Forest Service—a mix of designated wilderness, limited use areas, open areas, off-limit areas, Areas of criticalEnvironment Concern (ACEC)s, sanctuaries, each with compli-cated boundaries and extensive signage requirements with signsthat don’t survive long. Butt these against private property andPark Service lands with different rules and we can see that confusion comes easy. Add peer pressure from riding groups, andthe tempting sight of a fresh illegal trail.

The era of limits must eventually come to the ORVers, andwith it the opportunity for education of the participants.

Driver training for cars covers mostly rules of the road,whereas driver training for ORVs involves mostly safety and themechanics of the machinery. We should think of expanding it toinclude more ‘ORV Rules of the Road’ schooling. Where GreenStickers are required for use of an area it could be a greater vehicle for education. Permits and quotas for heavy demandareas, as with the hiking community, may become necessary toreduce impact, along with additional opportunities for education,and the positive implication of the value of a permit. Such systems would be an opportunity for the land managers toexplain, and would remove the “I didn’t know” excuse.

The ORV outdoor flood is following the human-poweredoutdoor flood by a few tens of years. One can learn from theexperience of the other.

Tom Budlong is a desert activist on the CNCC Desert Committee.


Top: Rider, Kiavah Wilderness

Some Thoughts On Off-Road VehiclesA COMMENTARY

Page 11: Summer 2005 Desert Report, CNCC Desert Committee

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