Tag Archives: Politics

Sign the petition: Grijalva for Interior Secretary

Four years ago Baja Arizona’s Congressional Representative Raul Grijalva was a contender for the incoming Obama Administration’s first Interior Secretary. He was turned down in favor of Ken Salazar. Scuttlebutt has it that Grijava was rejected because he was tough enough on mineral extraction, especially offshore drilling, that he made Obama’s team uncomfortable. Apparently they feared he would place too high a priority on environmental protection, interfere with the mining and fossil fuel extraction industry, and generally make things hard for companies like BP as they drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

So Salazar got the nod instead. About 15 months later the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened, a disaster that could have been prevented had Interior aggressively enforced common-sense safety regulations.

In the meantime, those of us in the desert protection world were learning that Obama’s Interior Department was quite likely the worst threat to the California desert any Presidential administration had ever been, as a record number of acres of public land were offered up for effective privatization for renewable energy development. Salazar muzzled agencies within his Department, forbidding staff to criticize or oppose even the most egregiously destructive projects, and so industrial projects went in on the margins of National Parks with NPS staff unable to object. Fish and Wildlife staff wrote biological opinions saying no, the fact that you found a hundred times as many tortoises on the construction site as we expected doesn’t make this project a threat to the species.

And that’s not meant to imply that Interior was biased in favor of renewables on public lands. Salazar’s been a good friend to the oil and gas industries as well.

Salazar is likely to step down for Obama’s second term, and the list of possible successors — David Hayes, architect of the desert solar policy; Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal is a Big Wind cheerleader; former Washington governor Chris Gregoire is a fan of welfare ranching on sensitive wildlife habitat — is bleak.

Raul Grijalva is one of the best friends public lands have ever had in Washington. In any sane society he’d be the front-runner for Interior.

A number of grassroots public lands and anti-fracking advocates agree, and have put together a petition urging the White House to appoint Grijalva Interior Secretary. As the petition says;

The selection of the next Interior Secretary is an important moment to place renewed emphasis on some of the most critical issues of our age – climate change, the protection of endangered species and preservation of water and wild lands. As ranking member and former chair of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Rep. Grijalva has been an effective leader on conservation and land management issues. His expertise with Native Americans issues, his strong understanding of border issues, his pragmatic conservation ethic, and his wealth of experience in addressing funding challenges make him an exceptional choice. We urge you to select him as our next Interior Secretary because he embraces the urgency of this mission and practical paths toward real-world solutions.

Sign the petition and spread it around.

Protect Gold Butte

Most of you have never heard of it, but northeast of Las Vegas, in one of the least-visited parts of the continental United States, a desert treasure in Nevada needs your support.

I visited Gold Butte for the first time in 1997. I was just passing through, heading for a tiny outpost in the Arizona Strip called Pakoon Springs, which later became part of the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument. A fire there had damaged a Joshua tree forest some years before, and I wanted to take a look at the recovery so far. My old truck carried me up over the slopes of Virgin Peak and across the state line, where I took some photos that turned out to be abysmally fuzzy. Joshua tree near Pakoon Springs, AZ (The fire had burned patches of the landscape, but not all of it. Much of it looked intact. In this shot, taken facing eastward into the Arizona Strip, the long ridge in the background is the Grand Wash Cliffs escarpment. The notch in the Cliffs toward the right? That’s the downstream end of a rather famous natural landscape feature. )

My old truck was a four-cylinder 2WD, so my relief at not getting stuck in the Pakoon’s washes was considerable, and I headed back across the line into Gold Butte to explore the Whitney Pockets area for a little while. I’ve always meant to get back to Virgin Peak and do some hiking, like these folks did:

It’s one of the best places I’ve ever been. It’s wild, wide, open, and spacious. Gold Butte is a botanical, geological, and archaeological treasure. It’s priceless habitat for desert tortoise and bighorn sheep. It’s also within a couple hours’ drive from two fast-growing cities — the metastasopolis of Las Vegas, and the smaller but even more enthusiastically desert-defacing St. George, Utah — and the almost-city of Mesquite NV. As a result, those who use the desert as a blank slate across which to scratch their grubby fingernails pose a significant and increasing threat to the landscape:

And unlike the Pakoon and other adjacent lands across the Arizona line in the Parashant NM, Gold Butte is essentially unprotected.

Nevada environmentalists and land managers are working with local elected officials to change that. Last year Representative Shelley Berkley introduced HR 7132, a bill that would have given Gold Butte National Conservation Area status, like the Red Rock Canyon area on the other side of Las Vegas. The NCA would have covered 362,177 acres, with 200,000 more acres of BLM and Park Service lands in the area declared wilderness. The bill did not pass, and must be reintroduced in this theoretically more receptive Congress.

The Nevada Wilderness Project has an action site where you can find ways to help them protect Gold Butte, from writing letters to sharing your hard-earned cash.  The Friends of Gold Butte has a website and a companion blog where you can stay informed, and if you’re in the area, there are events listed in which you can take part.

And if you’re not a local, you can still let people know Gold Butte exists. It’s one of the last best places, a forgotten puzzle piece in the Grand Canyon biome, and it deserves protection.

At Grand Canyon, water battle rages anew

Via Lee Allison, a relatively thorough story in the Arizona Republic about the Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon Dam, and science and the environment being disregarded for considerations of political and electrical power.

Nearly a year after the federal government flooded the Grand Canyon in a test of resource restoration, questions persist about whether the agency in charge watered down the experiment to protect power providers and ignored high-level critics of the operation.

The allegations resurfaced with a January memo written by the superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, who accused his bosses of disregarding science in preparing for the flood designed to reverse some of the damaging effects of Glen Canyon Dam on the canyon and on the Colorado River. He also described the environmental review of the experiment as one of the worst he’s seen.

Conservation groups say the Interior Department tailored the experiment, a four-day flush of water from Lake Powell down the Colorado River, to appease providers whose power is generated by Glen Canyon Dam. The providers have long complained about the money lost whenever changes are made in the way water is released from the dam.

The episode further feeds a long-simmering feud between environmentalists and power interests and raises the issue yet again of whether a dam and a fragile riparian ecosystem can coexist.

Read the rest: it’s good. Then check out the Grand Canyon Trust’s website for background.

Democrats and mice

GOP Talking Point: “The Stimulus Package includes ludicrous and wasteful porkbarrel spending such as 30 million dollars to help preserve the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco Bay.”

Democratic Talking Point: “Actually, the stimulus package does not include any ludicrous and wasteful porkbarrel spending to help preserve the salt marsh harvest mouse in San Francisco Bay.”

Responses from progressive bloggers pointing out that protecting the wetland habitat of the salt marsh harvest mouse is neither ludicrous nor wasteful, but is in fact our goddamned moral obligation, are detailed below the fold.

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There’s no such thing as desertification

If you want evidence to support my increasingly frequent contention that environmentalists as a whole really don’t care about arid environments, it’s instructive to look at a bit of jargon in use over the last few decades.

The jargon is used to describe this process: People abuse a piece of land. They overgraze it. They build houses and cut down trees and pump water from wells, drawing down the water table. They use that water to irrigate crops, poisoning the land with accumulating dissolved salts. They start fires, by accident of on purpose, and the fires rage across the countryside. The soil’s protective coat of humus blows away. Animals die. The leaves that are green turn to brown.

In the jargon to which I refer, this process is called “desertification.”

Desertification. The transformation of useful, pleasant, healthy land—an agreed good—into desert, which is assumed to be bad.

What happens to a land that’s been “desertified”?  Fairly often, long-lived plants tend to die out and annual weeds, and their short-lived perennial associates, take over. Weeds are opportunists: they’ll grow in a hurry when moisture is available, set abundant seed, then die. They leave behind dry cellulose: fuel. Fuel feeds fires. Fires kill the remaining long-lived plants, the trees and rhizomatous herbs and such, clearing the soil for a new generation of weed seedlings.

Erosion gets ramped up as well. Water, when and where it makes an appearance, tends to gouge gullies in the landscape. Where a day-long gentle rain would have quietly soaked into the root-bound earth before “desertification,” now there’s nothing to hold it. The topography colects the gentle rain and turns it into flash floods. When the rain ebbs, wind carries away loose soil.

“Desertification” is a global problem, the official environmentalists tell us. It decreases the food security of the world’s most vulnerable people. “Desertification” is an important factor in the crisis in Darfur, in the collapse of the Mexican economy and consequent mass migration of displaced farmers, and a host of other global social crises.

Here’s a photo of “desertified” land.

desertified land in Australia

Here’s another:

desertified land in Central Asia

And another:

desertified land in Darfur

Pretty bleak stuff.

Way bleaker than most actual deserts. Here’s a desert landscape:

Arthur J. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park

Here’s another:

Christmas Tree Pass 7

And another:

Tucson Mountain Park

There is a difference between land that has been “desertified” and an actual desert. 

You may point out that I’ve deliberately sought out beautiful, lush photos to represent deserts, to contrast them unfairly with the trashed land currently referred to as “desertified.” Fair enough. Here’s a lush, beautiful photo of some bonafide “desertified” land, in the long-overgrazed Rio Puerco drainage in Arizona:


Gorgeous, lush compared to some actual desert landscapes, nice pronghorn ready for his close-up. And “desertified” rather than a desert. The Rio Puerco basin gets enough precipitation to be considered steppe rather than desert, and yet look at the monoculture of invasive grass there. There is no diversity to speak of in this shot, except for the pronghorn who can trot off to a more diverse landscape 50 miles away and get there in an hour.

Some people working on “desertification” are beginning to point out this difference between “desertified” lands and deserts, pointing out that deserts are actually diverse and more or less stable habitats with their own values to wildlife and to people, but those same activists tend to call deserts something other than deserts. “Drylands” is common. The fact is, it’s “desertification” that should be called something else. Badlandification. Dustification. Parkinglotification. Burningmanification. If we could actually turn land into desert, there’d be a lot less argument over the sites of things like massive corporate solar concentrating facilities in creosote-tortoise habitat. I’d be thrilled if we could truly desertify some of the land around Bakersfield, for instance, to take the worn-out, selenium-poisoned, groundwater overdrafted subsidized cotton fields there and grow cryptobiotic soil crusts on them, get some rabbitbrush growing and some barrel cacti and some Mojave ground squirrels established.

The problem is that actual deserts are the lands most threatened by what environmentalists call “desertification”: invasive weeds are raging through the deserts like the wildfires they spawn, water diversions cause subsidence and old tree death, and dust storms are more common in the Mojave now than they were during the Dust Bowl. To call this sterilizing of land “desertification” is to reinforce the notion that deserts are worthless, damaged things to be avoided, mended or improved upon, and certainly not places worth preserving when the alternative is cozying up to Big Green Energy.

Most chillingly, the remedy for “desertified” lands is usually referred to as “reclamation.” “Reclaiming the desert,” they call it.

Here is a photo of a reclaimed desert landscape:

waterskiier on Lake Powell

Here’s another:

Phoenix, Arizona

And another:

Bellagio and Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada

Ken Salazar gets off to a good start

From the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance:

More than 100,000 acres of Utah wilderness will be protected from oil and gas drilling after the Department of Interior announced today that it will cancel 77 leases issued under the Bush administration. This is among the first actions taken by the Obama administration to protect America’s wild lands. Since December, a coalition of environmental groups led by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Earthjustice, and the Wilderness Society have been working to protect these public lands. In December, the coalition filed suit to stop the leasing, and, in January, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of the U.S. District Court granted a temporary restraining order preventing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from moving forward with these leases.

Things Environmentalists Get Wrong

In the spirit of self-criticism, here’s a non-exhaustive list of things people on the green side of the fence say, with all good intent, that are demonstrably wrong.

“We can protect the environment without jeopardizing economic growth.”
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
“Population is not a problem. We have enough food to feed everyone well. It’s merely our current economic system, which distributes food inequitably, that is responsible for hunger. If we distribute food equably there will be enough to go around.”
“As Chief Seattle said, ‘How can you buy or sell the sky?’ [or] ‘This we know; the earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  All things are connected.’  [or] ‘Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it.’ [or]  ‘I have seen a thousand rotting buffaloes on the prairie, left by the white man who shot them from a passing train.’ [or insert lyrical poetical environmental sentiment here.] ”
“Man [sic] is the only animal that hunts for sport.” (Alt: “…kills for pleasure.”)
“If the world were a village of 100 people: 6 of them would possess 59% of the wealth… (etc)”

Rebuttals are below the fold. Suggest your own in comments! This may turn into a sporadic series.

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