Newsletter Archive

Overlooking the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, Utah                                                            Mike Painter

April 2, 2011

Dear CalUWild friends –

April Fool’s Day is just past, but I hope we can still get away with sending out the March Update today.

There was no Update for February, as I was in Washington, DC at the end of last month with the Utah Wilderness Coalition, in advance of the reintroduction of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. See item 1.

Congress has been spending a lot of its time on budget issues, but rather than pass a complete bill, it has settled for stopgap measures (continuing resolutions) to avoid a government shutdown. Things seem to have reached an impasse, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the next week or so. So far, many anti-environmental amendments have been proposed in the House, but for the most part the Senate has eliminated them in the final versions. The Republicans aren’t giving up, however, in the budget process or in the stand-alone legislation they are proposing. At least one example is below.

On the administrative side of things, a big “Thank You” goes to everyone who contributed to our Annual Appeal. If you didn’t get around to it, though, you can still make a contribution, as we are always in need of funding help. Tax-deductible contributions should be made payable to “Resource Renewal Institute,” our fiscal sponsor. Contributions payable to “CalUWild” may be used for lobbying and are NOT tax-deductible. Either way, please mail your check to CalUWild, P.O. Box 210474, San Francisco, CA 94121-0474.

Thank you for your interest and support,

1. America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act Reintroduction
          (ACTION ITEM)
2. BLM Approves Potash Mining on Sevier Dry Lakebed

3. Bodie Hills Update
4. Pt. Reyes Oyster Farm Update

5. Other Public Lands Bills Introduced
6. America’s Great Outdoors Report
7. Wild Lands Policy

8. Tom Wharton: A Fat Man’s Defense of Wilderness
9. Brooke Williams: Why Do We Need Wilderness?


1. America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act Reintroduction
          (ACTION ITEM)

In the next couple of weeks, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) will reintroduce America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. First introduced in 1989, the bill is a comprehensive approach to protecting the remaining wildlands of Utah.

Some California representatives have already signed on as cosponsors of the bill:

          Lynn Woolsey (D-CA06)
          George Miller (D-CA07)
          Jerry McNerney (D-CA11)
          Pete Stark (D-CA13)
          Mike Honda (D-CA15)
          Sam Farr (D-CA17)
          Lois Capps (D-CA23)
          Howard Berman (D-CA28)
          Laura Richardson (D-CA37)
          Grace Napolitano (D-38)
          Bob Filner (D-51)

If you live in their districts, please give them a phone call or send them an email of thanks. Contact information can be found at the members’ web pages at

Previous cosponsors are:

          Mike Thompson (D-1)
          Doris Matsui (D-5)
          Barbara Lee (D-9)
          John Garamendi (D-10)
          Jackie Speier (D-12)
          Anna Eshoo (D-14)
          Zoe Lofgren (D-16)
          Brad Sherman (D-27)
          Adam Schiff (D-29)
          Henry Waxman (D-30)
          Xavier Becerra (D-31)
          Judy Chu (D-32)
          Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-34)
          Maxine Waters (D-35), though not in the last Congress
          Jane Harman (D-36)
          Laura Richardson (D-37)
          Linda Sanchez (D-39)
          Loretta Sanchez (D-47)
          Susan Davis (D-53)

Karen Bass (D-33), a new member, replaced Diane Watson, who was a previous cosponsor that retired last year.

Jim Costa (D-20) is a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, but has never been a cosponsor. He, Dennis Cardoza (D-18), and Joe Baca (D-43) have said that they prefer to focus on local issues.

Wilderness has traditionally been a non-partisan issue. In recent years, unfortunately, it’s become a more polarized-and polarizing-issue. Only a few of the Republican members of California’s delegation seem to see expanding wilderness as anything positive, and those that do think that local interest and support trump all other considerations, so there are currently no cosponsors among GOP members from California.

Regardless of whether they can be convinced, it’s still important that representatives know your views.

2. BLM Approves Potash Mining on Sevier Dry Lakebed

The Utah BLM State Office approved a plan to open Sevier Dry Lakebed, southwest of Delta, to potash mining. The move was not unexpected, since it was the “preferred alternative” in the EIS it released last year. See the October Interim Update.

It’s not clear whether conservationists will appeal the decision, since there are concerns about dust, groundwater supplies, and the impact on migratory birds during wet years.

An area of 126,0000 acres will be opened, and the project will be active for about 8-1/2 years.

3. Bodie Hills Update

In January’s Update, we wrote about a then-upcoming February meeting in Bridgeport where the Cougar Gold Company was making a public presentation of its proposal for a gold mine in the Bodie Hills. It continued to push for release of the Bodie Wilderness Study Area (WSA), telling the Board of Supervisors that it would not continue with its plans if the WSA remained in place. The company refused to give any details as to its plans, however, and dismissed questions from concerned citizens. (When asked about potential pollution in Rough Creek, the representative wondered why there was concern, since it flowed to Nevada anyway and wouldn’t affect Bridgeport.)

No vote was taken at the meeting, and people left with more questions that had been answered.

As a follow-up to that meeting, Supervisor Hap Hazard, the deciding vote on the 5-member board, decided to put forth a compromise proposal that would split the Bodie WSA, releasing half of it for the mining development. At a meeting earlier this month, no one was happy with Mr. Hazard’s proposal, either on its merits or because of the way it was handled. The supervisors took no vote on the matter, and it seems that at the local level at least, the issue of WSA release has been put to rest for the short term.

There has been no further word from the gold mining company.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-25), the local congressman, has not reintroduced his bill from the last Congress to release the Bodie WSA. (But see Item 5a for a late-breaking, related issue.) The potential bill mentioned there would have the same effect as Rep. McKeon’s stand-alone bill of last year, since the Bodie WSA is “not recommended” for wilderness status by the BLM. It’s likely that the Supervisors will be asked to support this legislation, instead.

Conservationists are working on outreach to Bodie Hills stakeholders, in the hopes that a long-term vision and plan for protection of the area can be developed. Such a process should involve the local communities, and other interested citizens and groups around the state and country. We’ll keep you posted.

4. Pt. Reyes Oyster Farm Update

We’ve reported in the past on the ongoing controversy at Pt. Reyes National Seashore and the potential extension of the commercial oyster farm’s operating permit.

BRIEF SUMMARY: Pt. Reyes NS was created in 1962. The dairy ranches and oyster farm within its boundaries were allowed to continue operations. In 1972, the Seashore’s general management plan was completed, and the oyster farm was given a 40-year use permit. In 1976, Congress designated the Philip Burton Wilderness. The area where the oyster farm is located was designated “potential wilderness,” meaning that it would become fully wilderness when the non-conforming use (the oyster farm) was removed. This was expected to occur in 2012, at the expiration of the use permit.

The oyster farm changed hands in 2005, and the new owner knew that the permit would expire in 2012. In the last couple of years he’s been pushing for an extension. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) attached a rider to an appropriations bill authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to extend the permit if he wished. Last Fall, the Park Service began the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS), analyzing the possible 10-year renewal of the permit.

The Park Service recently completed the scoping process and has released the preliminary results and its analysis of the comments received.

2,769 comments supported the “no action” alternative (i.e., the permit should not be extended), while 813 supported granting an extension. 64% of the comments came from outside of California, reflecting a national interest in the issue. The Park will now use this information to develop a range of alternatives addressing the issues raised during scoping. It will issue a draft EIS with a “preferred alternative” and an analysis of each alternative. That draft will be available for public comment, and we’ll let you know when it comes out.

Point Reyes NS has posted a web page with links to the report and its sections here. The summary of comments and concerns may be found here.

CalUWild believes that Congress made its intent clear when it designated the wilderness area in 1976 that the oyster farm not be permanent. In the absence of any subsequent full re-examination of the issue by Congress, the Park Service should rely on that intent and not grant a renewal of the use permit.

Some people, however, find that that the issue is complicated by an ongoing controversy over the environmental impacts of the oyster farm’s operations. The Park Service has been studying the oyster farm for several years, trying to determine its impact on harbor seals that have a breeding colony nearby and on eelgrass growing in the estuary. Charges of scientific misconduct were leveled against the Park Service, leading to an investigation by the Inspector General (IG) of the Interior Department. Just last week, the IG issued its report, which you can download here.

The report found that although the Park Service scientists were selective in their use and release of data, it didn’t amount to “scientific misconduct” because it didn’t appear to be intentional, though they seemed unwilling to leave their personal biases aside. For a more detailed discussion, read this recent article on the controversy in the New York Times here.

If there are in fact negative environmental impacts from the oyster farm, they should factor into the Park’s decision, but policy considerations alone should be sufficient to reject the extension.

5. Other Public Lands Bills Introduced

a. Just the other day we learned of a proposed bill by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA22 and House Majority Whip) that would release all Wilderness Study Areas that have been recommended by the BLM as “not suitable” for final designation. The bill would also repeal Interior Secretary Salazar’s Wild Lands Policy (Order 3310) of last December. Finally it would release all inventoried roadless areas on national forest lands also not recommended by the Forest Service for final designation.

In other words, the bill strips the two land management agencies of their ability to protect wilderness values on the lands under their jurisdiction. Rep. McCarthy’s bill reflects wilderness opponents’ misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of these administrative categories and Secty. Salazar’s order. If lands can’t be managed to preserve their wild character, then it’s likely that they won’t qualify for designation by the time Congress gets around to looking at them.

There is no word on a companion bill in the Senate, and of course, the bill would have to pass there and be signed by the president before becoming law.

b. Sacramento River National Recreation Area Act, S.173, reintroduced in the Senate by Sen. Boxer, it would create a National Recreation Area of 17,000 acres, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

c. Chimney Rock National Monument in Colorado, S.508, reintroduced in the Senate would preserve a unique Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) archaeological area.

6. America’s Great Outdoors Report

The White House has finally released its America’s Great Outdoors Report. It was the result of a series of public meetings held across the country last year and from comments received on its website.

Among its recommendations is full and dedicated funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund, which provides funding to buy parklands and wildlife habitat. It also proposes looking at other public/private partnerships to provide funding for projects. It also has a focus on urban parks, bring nature loser to those living in cities.

The report proposes a youth service program, the Conservation Service Corps, to provide training in land and water conservation. It also recommends a National Recreation Blueways Trails Initiative, to make rivers an important focus of recreation and conservation.

The report and can be read at and downloaded here.

People interested in these issues will need to keep the pressure on the administration so that it implements these recommendations, rather than collecting dust.

The New York Times ran an editorial in favor of the report, which you can read here.

7. Wild Lands Policy

Though there is widespread editorial support for Secty. Ken Salazar’s Wild Lands policy, the backlash continues from many conservative Western legislators and “access” organizations.

Much of the opposition stems from the claim that only Congress can designate wilderness. Of course, this is true, but the order doesn’t give the BLM the power to designate wilderness, only to inventory lands for wilderness character and then to manage those areas to preserve that wild character until Congress acts. The Federal Lands Policy & Management Act requires the BLM to maintain a current inventory of the resources under its jurisdiction and then prepare and implement resource management plans, which are in effect for 10-15 years, and which are open to public comment during their preparation. It’s important to note that RMPs are not permanent and that they can be amended at any time through a public process, undermining the opponents’ claims.

Opponents also claim it’s a “land grab” by the federal government. Of course, the lands that the policy applies to are already federal, owned by all the citizens of the US, managed by the government.

The Utah Association of Counties and Uintah County in Utah have filed suit against the Interior Department and the Wild Lands Policy, arguing that it violates BLM’s obligation to mange its lands for multiple use. But one can’t have every imaginable use on every acre of land, and some uses obviously conflict with others. BLM and the other agencies develop their planning documents in order to sort out these competing uses and decide which are most appropriate for which areas. Wilderness is one simply of those competing uses.

House Republicans have decided to hold “oversight” hearings on various topics, including the Wild Lands Policy. Judging by the lineup of witnesses, these have been mainly for show rather than true information-gathering. For example, on March 1, the House Natural Resources Committee held such a hearing, and only 2 witnesses out of 10 were called to testify in favor of the policy. And in a breach of protocol, BLM Director Bob Abbey was the very last witness, meaning that many members of the committee, the audience members, and the press had long left. But Abbey was lucky: it wasn’t even clear until the day before the hearing that anyone from the administration would be testifying at all.

This Natural Resources Committee page contains links to video feeds of the testimony, as well as prepared testimony from the various witnesses.

The Denver Post published an op-ed piece on the BLM wild lands policy.

We’ll see where the policy winds up, and we’ll keep you informed.


The New York Times has unfortunately instituted a paid subscription program for its website, but we’ll continue to post links to articles of interest here. If you’re unable to access an article, please let me know.

8. Tom Wharton: A Fat Man’ Defense of Wilderness

9. Brooke Williams: Why Do We Need Wilderness? A New Way of Valuing Land