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01/03/08 Wildfires, climate change, preservation, water restoration efforts top news
As we begin a new year, the editors of Land Letter offer this sampling of some of our best and most popular stories from 2007. For the second year in a row, wildfires plagued our public lands at a level unprecedented in modern times. More than 85,500 reported blazes raged across the continent during 2007 -- destroying thousands of homes and businesses along with some 9.3 million acres of forests and grasslands. Although climate change has been an issue of scientific concern and political debate for decades, 2007 was the year that global warming became a global media obsession. The implications for public lands and resources are both complex and profound. The year saw major advances in long-term efforts to stabilize populations of certain endangered or threatened species, including the removal of bald eagles and some grey wolves from the special protections afforded by the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Such positive news was frequently overshadowed by revelations of how internal agency politics influenced resource decisions within the Bush administration. What many consider a continuing battle between science and ideology will undoubtedly continue into 2008.
See what defined the resource news agenda in 2007.

12/20/07 Fed program for restoring S.F. Bay salt ponds to begin in 2008
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. -- This is the time of year when millions of migrating birds pay a visit to San Francisco Bay. Standing alone on the rocks or floating in flocks numbering in the thousands, they can be found at scores of sites along the bay's 1,000 miles of shoreline -- resting, nesting or foraging for food in the channels and marshes of the San Francisco National Wildlife Refuge system. Over time they will have another local playground here, in the form of restored tidal wetlands created from the 15,000 acres of commercial salt ponds that state and federal agencies bought for $200 million from the Cargill Corp. in 2003. As part of a 50-year South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, three expanses of bay wetlands -- some still used for commercial salt production -- will slowly transform from managed ponds to predominantly saltwater tidal habitat.
Follow the flock.

12/20/07 Calif. communities scramble for new supplies following judge's order
Judge Oliver Wanger dropped the other shoe last week, and the impacts are still reverberating throughout California. Judge Wanger of the U.S. District Court's Eastern District in Fresno last Friday ordered state and federal water officials to limit pumping operations at the head of the California aqueduct system in order to protect what remains of the endangered delta smelt population in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. The order confirms what many communities and water users feared most: inevitable changes to pumping operations that could severely cut the amount of water flowing to Southern California. Feel flows.

12/13/07 Calif. gauges the health of its river, levee systems
On a brisk December morning, crews from the California Department of Water Resources are preparing for another day on this stretch of the Sacramento River, measuring the depth of these narrow channels. As the small research vessel "Julie Ann" pulls out from the dock, the crew is less focused on the serene late-autumn scene than on the data being collected from the river floor below.
Go fissure.

12/06/07 Choice of museums could influence Presidio's future
The Presidio, a former U.S. Army base that is undergoing a long-term transformation into a self-supporting public park and cultural institution, will soon decide whether to build a huge contemporary art museum or a more modest historical museum in the base's Main Post area. The choice, detailed in two new architectural designs released this week, could significantly influence other planned developments and alter the character of the park far into the future. But in typical San Francisco fashion, the selection of one museum idea over another might lead to an even bigger controversy about public parking in the Presidio and adjacent neighborhoods.
And in the next gallery...

11/29/07 Court affirms Calif. listing for coho
A California appeals court this month rejected attempts to nullify California Endangered Species Act protections for coho salmon, upholding the state Fish and Game Commission's listing in 2004 of Northern California Coast coho as threatened and Central California Coast coho as endangered under state law. The ruling, issued Nov. 20, affirmed a trial court's finding on the matter.
Coho-ho-ho.

11/15/07 Oil spill's larger implications come in waves The freighter Cosco Busan lays anchored in San Francisco Bay, ringed by spotlights in the turquoise evening. The ship, with a 90-foot-long gash set well above the water mark, has been impounded as investigators from three federal agency teams try to resolve the many unanswered questions about the Nov. 7 incident in which the Cosco Busan scraped a support tower of the Bay Bridge while trying to navigate through heavy fog. The collision ripped through the hull, quickly releasing some 58,000 gallons of fuel oil into the vulnerable bay ecosystem. One week after the incident, the political ramifications appear to be outweighing the actual environmental impacts. Sop up the latest.

11/08/07 Progress seen at Mount Rainier but flooding restoration could take years
One year after heavy rains caused an unprecedented six-month closure of Mount Rainier National Park in Washington state, park officials are crediting a massive volunteer effort for saving money and expediting repairs. Still, Mount Rainier officials say it could be years before restoration of all damaged roads and trails can be completed. At first, NPS estimated the damages at $36 million, but with the concerted volunteer effort and use of park personnel, that price tag has dropped to about $24 million. Budgets wash away.

11/01/07 Measure 49 splits Oregon
With less than a week before polls close on a special election, opponents of a measure to reform Oregon's controversial land-use compensation law face an uphill battle. "Our internal polls show we're down," said Dave Hunnicutt, president of Oregonians in Action and leader of the "Stop Measure 49" campaign, told Land Letter this week. Vote Yes on No.

11/01/07 NPS comes to terms with GPS geocaching
A new form of outdoor recreation, using devices that tap the Global Positioning System (GPS) to locate hidden or obscure objects in remote areas, has some public land managers and park rangers scratching their heads. The trend -- known variously as geocaching, virtual caching, letterboxing or other variations -- has blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon practiced by tens of thousands of people. Find your way.

11/01/07 Calif. adopts voluntary standards for forestry CO2 reductions
The California Air Resources Board unanimously approved the nation's first standards for forest-generated carbon dioxide reductions. The Forest Protocols, previously adopted by the California Climate Action Registry, were developed in a collaborative process over a four-year period. Manage your carbon here.

10/25/07 Blazes hit Southern Calif. with a vengeance (with Dan Berman, senior reporter)
After a three-week lull, the 2007 fire season roared back to life this week as Southern California seemingly exploded in flames from Santa Barbara to the Mexico border. By Thursday morning, state fire agency CAL FIRE reported that a dozen major fires (larger than 500 acres) had consumed nearly 450,000 acres of public and private property, destroyed well over 1,600 homes or other structures and forced the evacuation of an estimated million persons. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Sunday declared a state of emergency covering seven counties. President Bush swiftly met his request for federal assistance and was on his way to see the area on Thursday morning. State the emergency.

10/25/07 Calif. lacks adequate appraisal standards for resources, says analyst
California resource agencies have spent more than $2 billion since 2000 to acquire rights or ownership of property for parks, wildlife habitats or other conservation purposes, and voters last year approved a $1 billion bond issue for new land acquisitions. According to the state's Legislative Analyst Office, however, the agencies involved in these transactions lack standardized policies for determining the market value of such properties and are inconsistent in what they reveal to the public before approving deals.
LAO reports.

10/18/07 Will Northern Rockies wilderness designation benefit regional economy?
As Congress resurrects a sweeping plan to designate as wilderness nearly 24 million acres of public lands in five Western states, the public debate is expected to center on environmental protection issues as well as the politics of local autonomy versus "top down" federal determinations of land-use restrictions. For many proponents of H.R. 1975, however, an important underlying issue is a matter of the economic benefits associated with wilderness lands -- not lost opportunities. Born to be wild!

10/18/07 Caribou protections in British Columbia seen as first step to broad endangered species law
The British Columbia provincial government this week announced a recovery plan to restore depleting populations of mountain caribou by prohibiting logging and road building on 2.2 million hectares -- roughly 5 million acres -- of Crown lands. While the action was cheered by a coalition of environmental organizations based in both Canada and the United States, they view this as a first step toward establishing a provincial endangered species law that would afford new protections for more than 1,360 animal and plant species that are now considered "at risk" in B.C. Cross the border.

10/11/07 Calif. lawmakers sink storage bond bills; Gov. Schwarzenegger OKs flood control, ocean protections
Three weeks into a special session called by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger(R) to craft a solution to California's deepening water woes, the state Legislature has come up dry. The state Senate on Tuesday rejected a bill sponsored by its President Pro-Tem Don Perata (D-Oakland) that would have floated a $6.8 billion bond package February. The measure failed on a 23-12 vote, without gaining a single Republican vote. The Republican caucus favors some version of the governor's $9.1 billion plan for water infrastructure, levee repairs and programs meant to boost the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. The governor's plan has not yet been put to a vote, and Sacramento sources say it is increasingly unlikely there will be a deal reached, as lawmakers need to move on to healthcare issues in the special session. Impasse awaits.

10/11/07 Great Lakes sites pose diverse resource challenges
As part of its first comprehensive review of the status of parks in the Great Lakes region, the National Parks Conservation Association this week released a report highlighting challenges facing six popular lakeshore destinations that indicate both a wide variety of existing problems and common framework for meeting future challenges. While the list of issues uncovered by NPCA at the sites includes invasive species, water and ground pollution, crumbling infrastructure and diminished staffing, the potential solutions boil down to increased public awareness and more stable funding. Dip into the report.

10/11/07 Feds must reconsider endangered species status of coho, judge rules
Rejecting appeals by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Oregon state government, U.S. District Court Judge Garr King this week upheld a July ruling from a federal magistrate requiring a new science-based decision on whether to restore Endangered Species Act protections for Oregon coast coho salmon. In that decision, Stewart found that state and federal agencies ignored the best available science when deciding to delist coho. Hoho, coho.

10/04/07 Opposition mounts to aerial spraying for apple moth
California and federal officials are increasingly on the defensive regarding their efforts to eradicate the light brown apple moth before it can do serious damage to the state's $31 billion per year agriculture industry. The moth was first sighted in early February near Berkeley, but it since has been confirmed as far south as Los Angeles. The state has begun a controversial program of aerial spraying of a sexual pheromone intended to disrupt the reproductive cycle of the moths - in essence, confusing adult males and preventing them from locating females for mating. Sniff around.

10/04/07 Pacific Lumber plots land sales, 'kingdom' estates to exit bankruptcy
In a proposed plan for exiting Chapter 11 filed with a Texas bankruptcy court this week, Pacific Lumber Co. said it expects to raise nearly $1.2 billion in cash from the sale of Northern California timber lands -- including 6,600 acres in six groves of ancient redwood trees that are subject to a 50-year protection plan -- while selling an additional 22,000 acres for development as "trophy" properties. The land surrounds the Headwaters Forest, a 7,400-acre, old-growth forest that the state and federal government purchased from Pacific Lumber in 1999 for $480 million. King me.

09/27/07 Agency attorney faces dismissal over Indian trust disclosures
An Interior department attorney who gave non-public documents to a Southern California newspaper reporter to illustrate his allegations of mismanagement by agency employees, now faces possible termination for alleged violations of the Trade Secrets Act. The heart of the matter is Robert McCarthy's continuing campaign to reveal problems and failures in the administration of Indian trust duties by Bureau of Indian Affairs staff members in the Palm Springs office. According to Interior documents, McCarthy claims that continuing BIA management problems are "costing the landowners because of delays on lease agreements, overdue payments, and the failure to properly assess annual rent increases." Trust no one.

09/27/07 Snowy plover recovery plan relies on volunteer efforts
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week issued a long-delayed recovery plan for Pacific Coast populations of the Western snowy plover. The goal of the $150 million plan is to increase and maintain a population of at least 3,000 breeding adults for 10 years in six recovery units stretching from Washington state to San Diego. During the last five years of the 40-year plan, FWS also hopes to see one fledged chick per adult male. Nest along the coast.

09/20/07 Coal ash contaminating groundwater, group claims
A commonly used method to reduce acid drainage at coal mines may be causing more harm than the problem it is supposed to fix, according to a report issued this week. A review of state monitoring statistics for 15 active or abandoned mines in Pennsylvania indicates that in at least 10 instances, coal combustion waste appears to be leeching arsenic and heavy metals into nearby groundwater and streams in unsafe levels. Stop the leaks.

09/20/07 Gov. Schwarzenegger revives dam, Bay Delta hopes in special session
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) brought lawmakers back to Sacramento this week for a special session to deal with two contentious issues left undone during the regular legislative session -- health care and water. To spur what will likely be spirited negotiations with the Democratic majority on how to address water matters, Schwarzenegger proposed a $9 billion bond measure that he hopes to place on the presidential primary ballot Feb. 5. Be special.

09/13/07 Ambitious $1.4B plan for San Francisco Bay caps decades of effort
Over the past decade, federal, state and local agencies have devoted well over $370 million to acquire and begin restoration of some 36,176 acres of wetlands and shorelines around the San Francisco Bay. Now the community organization that helped start the drive over 45 years ago recommends an even deeper investment -- amounting to $1.43 billion over the next 50 years. Join the crusade.

09/13/07 Last frontier is front line for warming effects
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- A record high temperature on a late summer day in this rarely hot city might not be an accurate indication of climate change. But with each passing week, it seems that more evidence points to already substantial shifts in patterns affecting weather, water and atmospheric conditions that add up to one inescapable conclusion: Alaska is already on the front lines of change. "There's nothing subtle or non-obvious about our changes," said Deborah Williams, president of Alaska Conservation Solutions. Go north.

09/06/07 Calif. braces for cutbacks after Bay Delta ruling
Communities throughout California are taking another look at their emergency water management plans this week after a federal judge ordered state officials to prepare for reduced flows through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Bay Delta starting in December and lasting until a new federal biological opinion on protections for the endangered delta smelt can be put into effect. Feel flows.

09/06/07 Oregon joins fire emergency list
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) this week invoked that state's Conflagration Act to mobilize emergency resources related to the fast-growing GW fire, which began from a lightning strike in the Mount Washington wilderness on Aug. 31 but has since moved toward the Black Butte Ranch area. Almost immediately, the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared the fire eligible for federal assistance under the President's Disaster Relief Fund. Where there's smoke, there's FEMA.

09/06/07 Forest Service makes pot eradication a top priority
Visiting California last week, Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey had hoped to join in on a helicopter tour and raid of suspected marijuana growing operations in the Sequoia National Forest. Although bad weather grounded the operation that day, Rey signaled that the event was just part of a continuing campaign to eradicate illegal pot farms on public lands. "Without a doubt, illegal drug trafficking is the number one priority today in the U.S. Forest Service," Rey told reporters during a Fresno news conference Aug. 30. To underscore the drive, Ron Pugh, a special agent with the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region, issued a report documenting the effects of marijuana growing in national forests and offering a strategic plan for marshaling resources to halt the problem. Dig into the story.

09/06/07 Agencies log land purchases under 2000 act
Federal land agencies this week said they will spend $18 million to acquire about 9,000 acres in 19 separate parcels throughout the West. Many of the properties are located in or adjacent to federally owned parks, forests, wildlife refuges or monument areas located in seven states. The money for the purchases comes from other federal land sales authorized by the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act of 2000. Land rush.

08/23/07 Whistle Stop train expands Alaskan access
GIRDWOOD, Alaska -- The train left the station nearly on time, but since this was a special run marking the start of a new "whistle stop" service through the Chugach National Forest, the conductor seemed more concerned with the comfort of VIP passengers than with maintaining a strict schedule. Among the guests aboard the train on this misty August morning were three members of the U.S. Senate, an associate deputy chief of the Forest Service and dozens of green-uniformed federal employees buzzing with excitement. As part of the celebration of the Chugach National Forest's 100th anniversary, the Forest Service and the Alaska Railroad introduced this new service to bring a new generation of explorers closer the Alaskan interior previously unavailable to any but the hardiest of hikers. All aboard.

08/23/07 Groups seek shorter brown bear hunting season in Alaskan preserve
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In contrast with most parts of the world, Alaska boasts a healthy population of brown bears. With approximately 35,000 brown bears, also called grizzlies, the challenge for state and federal resource managers is usually less about maintaining a stable population than trying to balance competing interests that favor either hunting or expanded bear viewing opportunities for a booming ecotourism industry. The issue frequently comes to a head at the Katmai National Park and Preserve, run by the National Park Service, located about 250 miles southwest of Anchorage. Bear with us.

08/23/07 Calif. officials press for Delta solutions
If nothing else, the well-publicized problems affecting the environmental health and economic viability of California's Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta have forced state and federal government officials into a rare consensus: The delta ecosystem is in a crisis, and it would take massive amounts of money and possibly decades to achieve any kind of lasting solutions. Exactly what those solutions might be is a matter still to be resolved. Reach the summit.

08/16/07 San Francisco targets Yosemite Slough as restoration beachhead
SAN FRANCISCO -- Working from a map, it seems easy enough to access Yosemite Slough from the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood. But most streets in this heavily industrialized section of San Francisco meet with a dead end of concrete and chain-link fencing topped with razor wire. And while a greenbelt of trees and bay grasses beckon just beyond these urban borders, a visitor needs an active imagination to envision how acres of illegally dumped garbage, construction debris and other refuse can be cleaned up and transformed into a welcoming state park and shoreline recreation area. Restore the shore.

08/09/07 Forest Service says thinning limited Tahoe-area fire
The U.S. Forest Service reports that the devastating Angora wildfire, which destroyed over 250 homes in the South Lake Tahoe area this summer, could have been far worse if not for past fuel treatment efforts. The report released Aug. 3 looked into how the 3,072-acre fire spread in areas where fuel treatment programs had been conducted on Forest Service lands before the fire. Spread yourself thin.

08/02/07 Oil spill leads to habitat protections for Pacific shore birds
The sinking of the New Carissa cargo ship off the Oregon coast nearly a decade ago has led to acquisition of a new habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet and other Northwest forest species. In an agreement finalized this week, over 3,850 acres of forested land will be transferred from private timber companies to the Confederated Tribe of Siletz Indians to be managed as a habitat for murrelets. Nest by the sea.

07/26/07 Western line could be first test for federal siting powers
The rejection by regulators of the Arizona portion of a planned high-voltage transmission line into Southern California may become the first test case of federal "back stop" power-line siting authority, as established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Multiple factors dictate if and when project applicant Southern California Edison might be able to bring a case to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for possible approval of the 500-kilovolt Devers-Palo Verde No. 2 (DPV2) project as part of a Western National Interest Energy Transmission Corridor. Check the project's pulse.

07/26/07 Activists deliver another bundle of ESA petitions
For the second time in less than a month, a Southwestern environmental organization has delivered a multi-species petition to federal officials pressuring action on possible Endangered Species Act listings for hundreds of plants and animals found in the Rocky Mountain region. Bundle up.

07/19/07 Marijuana eradication campaign yields a quarter-million plants
So far this month, a joint effort by federal, state and local law enforcement agencies has uncovered as many as 40 plots of land within North California's Shasta-Trinity National Forest and other public lands being used to grow marijuana. Two arrests have been announced, and officials say they have eradicated nearly 225,000 pot plants, with a street value approaching $900 million. Join the cartel.

07/19/07 Schwarzenegger orders emergency actions for delta; pushes dams, canal Faced with an increasingly dire situation regarding a deepening drought in the southern half of the state, water supply constraints in the north, and continued threats to the environmental health and economic viability of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger this week ordered water officials to take immediate actions to fix problems in the delta. At the same time, the Republican governor used every opportunity to promote a proposed $5.9 billion issue of state bonds that would pay for construction of dams, reservoirs and underground water storage. Stand with Arnold.

07/12/07 Feds promote geothermal on public lands
According to conventional wisdom, about 90 percent of potential geothermal energy resources are located beneath federal lands, mainly in California and Nevada. Many in the energy industry have lamented the fact that bringing geothermal power plants into operation takes many years -- in large part because of the slow bureaucracy of obtaining leases and permits from federal lands agencies. Now, impelled by external forces and pushed by provisions of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service exhibit new support for geothermal development on public lands. Steam ahead.

07/05/07 Base buffer program effective defense against encroachments
Amassing 1 million acres of land in a continuous swath, parcel by parcel, would be a daunting challenge for any real estate mogul, especially along the coastal plains of Florida. For the Department of Defense, it is an example of how to successfully leverage partnerships among many land conservation interests in order to create adequate buffers from development around key operating military facilities. Secure the buffer.

07/05/07 Ninth Circuit halts Idaho Panhandle timber sales
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a lower court's approval of a Forest Service plan for selective logging in the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, remanding the case for issuance of an injunction against the proposed timber harvest. The Mission Brush Project, approved by an April 2006 record of decision by Supervisor Ranotta McNair, would have allowed logging of 3,829 acres of Forest Service lands about 16 miles north of Bonner's Ferry, plus construction or upgrading of associated roads and improvements to recreational facilities in the area. The project also targets about 277 acres of old-growth forest. Log in.

06/28/07 Green groups want more protection for second-growth Ore. forest
More than 55 years after a series of wildfires burned through much of what is now known as Oregon's Tillamook State Forest, Northwest environmental groups are hoping to persuade state managers -- and private land owners -- to apply more conservation-oriented practices in order to maintain a more diverse habitat for hundreds of animals and plant species of concern. And to highlight the drive, this month they joined with other groups in a formal petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the dusky tree vole under the Endangered Species Act. Get dusky.

06/21/07 Control over roads in parks, wilderness increasingly a court issue
Two cases in California appear to be the next front for local attempts to assert broad rights-of-way on roads that lie within the boundaries of federal lands. In the latest action, a federal judge ruled last week that a group of environmental advocates must be allowed to intervene in a case brought against the National Park Service by California's Inyo County. The county's suit is seeking "quiet title" to four roads within federal lands near Death Valley National Park. In another case, San Bernardino County officials are similarly seeking access and control over 14 roads and spurs, covering about 240 miles in the Mojave National Preserve. Park it here.

06/21/07 Spaceport threatens historic trail in N.M., critics say
A stretch of the El Camino Real, an early trade route that once linked Mexico City to Santa Fe, N.M., is threatened by a commercial spaceport to be built near the trail, landing New Mexico's segment of the Camino Real on a historic preservation group's list of the nation's top 11 most endangered historic places. The $225 million spaceport, would lie within three miles of the trail, the earliest Euro-American trade route. Also appearing on the 2007 endangered list are numerous sites of Civil War engagements that could be affected by the recent designation by the Department of Energy of a broad swath of Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states as part of the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors. A joint report with SW correspondent April Reese continues here.

06/14/07 Ill. considers swapping public grasslands for resort development
Illinois lawmakers have given a first round of approval to a plan that would trade as much as one quarter of Pyramid State Park -- the state's largest park and considered an important habitat for migrating birds -- to a real-estate development firm that envisions a premium golf resort and bicycle racing complex as a precursor to a musical heritage theme park on the site. Fly over the fracas.

06/14/07 Defense report details environmental protection, cleanup activities
Over the past 10 years, the U.S. Department of Defense and its military branches spent over $42.4 billion for environmental programs that range from pollution prevention to cleanup of contaminated facilities. Of $4.14 billion requested for fiscal 2008, roughly 40 percent, or $1.7 billion, will be spent on compliance with various federal, state or local environmental laws and ordinances. The figures come as part of DOD's annual report to Congress on environmental programs. With over 30 million acres of land at more than 3,700 locations, DOD is, in effect, the nation's biggest environmental agency. Maneuver to the DoD report.

06/14/07 Utah offers many possibilities for Wild & Scenic designation
Until now, the state of Utah has not had a single stretch of free-flowing waterway given the "wild and scenic" designation by Congress. That is likely to change in the next few years, as the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are currently in the process of preparing the environmental documentation to make recommendations to lawmakers sometime next year. The two agencies have evaluated thousands of miles of rivers and creeks that flow though their lands, winnowing down the list of river segments that meet eligibility criteria to nearly 230 river segments totaling over 2,000 miles. Go wild in Utah.

06/07/07 Bison return to Yellowstone as Montana worries about brucellosis
Montana officials have relented from their threat to kill a herd of some 300 bison that repeatedly roamed outside the northwestern boundaries of Yellowstone National Park looking for forage this spring. After several attempts, the recalcitrant herd was hazed back to several miles within the park and appears to be finding enough food to remain in the Cougar Meadows area, Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash told Land Letter this week. Meanwhile, Montana officials are continuing to investigate an outbreak of brucellosis north of Yellowstone. Get the latest.

06/07/07 Dearth of delta smelt shuts Calif. pumps
Citing the continued precipitous decline in the numbers of a tiny fish used as an indicator of ecosystem health, the California Department of Water Resources has declared an emergency shut down of massive pumps used to push water along the state aqueduct to Southern California. Pump it up.

05/31/07 Northwest plan sets new targets for fish survival but keeps dams
As difficult as it is for Pacific Northwest salmon to complete their round trip journey from the upper reaches of the Columbia River and Snake River systems to the Pacific Ocean and back to spawn a next generation, it is proving nearly as hard for federal agencies to establish a consensus plan to protect the iconic fish from depletion. Swim upstream.

05/31/07 Oneida Tribes cannot retake N.Y. lands but may seek more money
A federal judge this month ruled that three tribal groups representing descendants of the Oneida Tribes may press for economic redress for land sales made under duress as far back as 212 years ago. But, citing previous higher court rulings involving similar types of claims, U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence Kahn determined that the tribes cannot repossess about 250,000 acres in upper New York state. Seek redress.

05/31/07 Calif. counties fret about possible loss of funding
As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) sorted through options for a revised $104 billion state budget proposal this month, several previously sacrosanct programs were nicked and pared in order to build a surplus reserve. And possibly lost in the shuffle was a $39.1 million allocation to compensate local governments for reduced property taxes paid by farmers and other landowners who agree to keep their property in ag production or open space for 10 years. Act naturally.

05/24/07 Yosemite tries, tries again on Merced River plan
If it sometimes appears that Yosemite National Park is engaged in an endless feedback loop of planning, public meetings and litigation, that's because it is. Park officials this month began a series of public workshops on their third version since 2000 of the Merced Wild and Scenic River Comprehensive Management Plan. "We're under a court order to do this," explained park planner Linda Dahl during a sparsely attended workshop in San Francisco on May 17. "But every time we do one of these processes, we do it a little better." Plan for the future here.

05/24/07 Report on Esperanza blaze finds 'risky decisions' led to deaths
A five-member team of U.S. Forest Service firefighters died last October as a result of misjudgments about the severity of the Esperanza fire in Southern California and "risky decisions," including attempts to save a vacant residential building despite being in a "non-defensible" position. All five were fatally burned by a sudden, intense fire run up a steep drainage below their location, according to a report issued Tuesday by the Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Read the findings.

05/24/07 BLM decision favors Atlantic Rim development
The Bureau of Land Management this week gave the go-ahead for the drilling of about 2,000 new wells in the 270,000-acre Atlantic Rim section of the Green River Basin in Carbon County, Wyo. As many as 1,800 of the wells sought by development companies would be for coalbed methane extraction while the other 200 would be traditional natural gas wells. Well, well, well.

05/24/07 Lawsuit tries to prevent Sierra logging
A coalition of California-based environmental groups this week asked a federal district court to issue an injunction against logging in the Sierra National Forest meant to reduce risks of wildfires. The complaint filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Forest Legacy, the Sierra Club and the California Native Plant Society, seeks to halt the Kings River Project on the grounds that aggressive logging will further imperil the Pacific fisher. Cut through the brush.

05/17/07 Even success breeds controversy for ESA listings
The American bald eagle is not only an icon of the nation, it is also a symbol of the success of the Endangered Species Act in helping restore sustainable populations of once seriously threatened animals and plants. In preparation for removing the bald eagle from the endangered list later this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this month released its latest national survey of the eagle, finding 9,789 breeding pairs in the lower 48 states, compared to a low figure of 417 recorded in 1963. Not everyone agrees with FWS's measures of success; see why.

05/17/07 Okefenokee refuge fire poses double trouble
Firefighters from across the nation have joined the effort to control several large fires centered in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. Although crews are apparently making headway in containing the Sweat Farm Road/Big Turnaround complex fire that began in mid-April, an even larger blaze is posing a significant threat to public lands and private structures. Get fired up.

05/17/07 Sides drawn on Mount St. Helens-area copper mine lease
The Bureau of Land Management has received over 9,000 mostly opposing comments regarding a proposed lease agreement and preliminary environmental assessment (EA) for a potential copper mine on lands adjacent to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington state. The lease application from Spokane-based Idaho General Mines Inc. contemplates an initial hard rock mining lease on 219 acres, called the Margaret deposit, for which the company claims a 50 percent reserved mineral interest. Potentially, the lease area could be expanded to 900 acres. Dig into the issue here.

05/10/07 Calif. diversion project benefits from compromise, community outreach
As water district officials from Sacramento and Oakland turned shovels of dirt this week during a groundbreaking ceremony for the $900 million Freeport Regional Water Project, they were also burying a dispute over water rights that stretches back 35 years. Along the way, litigation turned to compromise and community buy-in, allowing something of a consensus to guide development of the state's largest water diversion projects in decades. Even the environmental analysis documentation has been hailed as a national model for its clarity and thoroughness in exploring alternatives, while laying the foundation for future agreements that could involve novel groundwater banking programs as fresh water supplies become even more precious. Feel flows here.

05/10/07 Indictments won't derail effort to control new pipeline terms, Alaska officials say
The state Capitol building was still reeling this week from the news that FBI agents had arrested and indicted three Republican politicians last Friday -- and by the subsequent guilty pleas by two oil company executives accused of bribing lawmakers regarding an oil tax and pipeline legislation last year. Nonetheless, the administration of Gov. Sarah Palin (R) continues to express confidence that lawmakers will be able to finalize a measure to hold a competitive bidding process for construction of a $20 billion to $30 billion natural gas pipeline that could run from Prudhoe Bay all the way to markets in the Midwest. Do the perp walk in Juneau.

05/03/07 Western transmission area's effects unclear as region moves ahead with projects The Department of Energy's proposed designation of a national interest electric transmission corridor through Southern California and parts of Nevada and western Arizona may have a limited effect on the region's plans for power grid upgrades because several of the most significant transmission projects are expected to be approved and construction begun well before formal designation takes place. California and its neighbors have been working on system upgrades and improvements steadily since the end of the 2001 energy crisis. Walk the corridors of power.

05/03/07 Environmentalists see politics behind spotted owl recovery plan
Prodded by litigation from both sides of the issue, the Fish and Wildlife Service last week finally released a draft recovery plan for the northern spotted owl. Much to the chagrin of environmental groups, the plan sets no specific population target and would allow federal land managers to choose what habitats to protect. Get tree'd.

05/03/07 Record Ga. blaze moves into Okefenokee Swamp; agencies see summer risks
A difficult-to-control wildfire that has closed parts of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is part of a record-setting complex of blazes currently being fought in southeast Georgia. Two large fires that began last month near Waycross, Ga., burned through more than 90,000 acres. Started after a tree fell across high-voltage electric wires on April 16, the blazes comprise the largest wildfire ever recorded in the state. Swampfire burns.

04/26/07 IG report critical of private use of NPS, BLM facilities
More than two decades after initial criticisms of the practice, the National Park Service continues to allow private individuals or exclusive clubs to monopolize desirable locations on federal lands near major metropolitan areas to the exclusion of the general public, says a recent report from the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General. In addition, the April 10 report "Private Use of Public Lands" said NPS has retained at least $2.6 million in special-use permit fees that should have been turned over to the U.S. Treasury. Investigate further.

04/26/07 N.J. proposes strict limits to river developments
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection this week proposed sweeping limits on development near rivers and reservoirs that supply drinking water and fishing opportunities. The plan would apply "Category One" status to more than 900 miles of waterways and some 1,300 acres of reservoirs in 11 counties, said DEP Commissioner Lisa Jackson. Category One is the state's highest level of water-quality protection and entails a near total ban on development. See what's at stake.

04/19/07 Nevada refuge plan would cull herds by 90 percent
Saying that free-roaming mustangs and burros are destroying the ecosystem of the Sheldon National Wildlife Refuge in northwestern Nevada, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week released a draft environmental assessment for a management plan that would cut the number of animals from over 1,600 to between 100 and 200. However, wild horse advocates question FWS's population counts and assumptions about the nature of overpopulation in the 500,000 acre wildlife refuge. They claim the agency is simply trying to eradicate the animals over time. Ride over here.

04/19/07 Calif. creates 29 ocean refuges
With a unanimous vote, the California Fish and Game Commission on April 13 adopted a plan to create 29 marine protection areas along the Pacific Ocean coastline. The new sanctuaries represent 204 square miles, 18 percent of state waters, with 85 square miles of that designated as "no-take" zones where commercial fishing will be prohibited or severely restricted. Dive in to the details.

04/12/07 Calif. tries to prevent delta pump shutdown
California water officials headed back to court this week, trying to convince Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch not to finalize an order that could result in shuttering operations of a major pumping facility on the State Water Project. The judge on March 23 ruled that the state Department of Water Resources was in violation of the California Endangered Species Act because the vulnerable delta smelt and salmon were being killed by operations of the Harvey O. Banks pumping station, near Tracy. Get briefed.

04/12/07 Colorado Gov. Ritter seeks state process for roadless areas
Expressing doubts about how future court decisions will guide federal forest management practices, Colorado's Gov. Bill Ritter (D) yesterday asked the federal government for an "insurance policy" to protect Colorado's 4.1 million acres of forested roadless areas from development. While generally endorsing a petition previously sent by ex-Gov. Bill Owens (R) last November, Ritter asked for a "state-specific" rulemaking and four modifications to the plan endorsed by his predecessor. Pursue a vehicle for off-road reform.

04/12/07 Native Americans defend Medicine Lake decision
SAN FRANCISCO -- Standing in a prayer circle in the courtyard of the federal office building here Friday, a group of about 50 Native Americans and supporters urged the U.S. government to drop continued attempts to develop geothermal energy projects on land around Medicine Lake, in Shasta County. On Nov. 6, 2006, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a district court's determination that the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service had properly extended leases for geothermal project exploration and development at Fourmile Hill in the Medicine Lake highlands near Mount Shasta (Land Letter, Nov. 16, 2006). In February, the Department of Justice, on behalf of the agencies, filed for reconsideration of the ruling. The circle forms here.

04/05/07 New plan offered in Ore.'s Measure 37 fracas
Hoping to quell growing public concern about the potential for rampant development represented by thousands of claims for land-use restriction waivers under Measure 37, a legislative working group last week proposed a new framework for reform of the controversial law. In several respects, the proposal reflects principles previously espoused by Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) in proposing an "express lane" process for limited development plans. But it no longer calls for a six-month moratorium on the processing of some 3,300 claims for waivers or compensation that were filed before a Dec. 4, 2006, deadline. Go behind closed doors.

03/29/07 Calif. resource officials offer $6B Salton Sea alternative
The California Resources Agency this week unveiled a new preferred alternative design for restoration of the Salton Sea in Southern California that will try to combine many of the most desired elements of several plans that had been under consideration. Not only would the new plan try to preserve a recreation-oriented marine sea at the northern end of the Salton Sea, it would also greatly increase the size of a salt-water wildlife habitat on the south end to accommodate migrating birds that use the sea as a stopping point along the Pacific Flyway. Stop over at the sea.

03/29/07 Calif. project at risk from court ruling on fish kills
In a preliminary decision issued March 22, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that operations at a critical water pumping facility on the California State Water Project system are killing chinook salmon and delta smelt in violation of the California Endangered Species Act. He declared that the Department of Water Resource has never obtained an incidental take permit covering the affected species. The judge gave DWR 60 days to obtain such a permit from the Department of Fish and Game or to otherwise make a showing that it is in compliance with the law, or risk shutting down the Harvey O. Banks pumping station, near Tracy. Such a move could jeopardize state water exports to millions of people, farms and business in Central and Southern California. Pump it up.

03/22/07 Tongass management plan would bring wasteful logging
As the U.S. Forest Service completes its latest round of collecting public comments on a revised land management plan for the Tongass National Forest, environmental groups are again taking issue with projections for timber from the southeastern Alaskan forest. According to the Wilderness Society, a revised timber demand forecast recently issued by the Forest Service repeats errors and assumptions used in a flawed 1997 projection. Look for the debate.

03/22/07 Rockies population reached 1,300 in 2006
An annual count of gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain area shows that there are now about 1,300 wolves in at least 173 packs living in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. The 2006 report, released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on March 16, documents the continued population increases since wolves were formally reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and environs a decade ago. Start counting.

03/22/07 Court denies emergency appeal by Army Corps for Alaskan project
In a harshly written ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has maintained an injunction against further construction work at the planned Kensington Gold Mine on Lower Slate Lake in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska. The court on March 16 issued a preliminary ruling that rejects an emergency motion from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would have allowed mine owner Coeur Alaska to build a diversion ditch to protect a temporary dam that it built last summer. The court also signaled its intention to vacate permits that had been issued for the overall project. See what the judges had to say.

03/15/07 Costly Reclamation plan would retire 194,000 farming acres in Calif.
The Bureau of Reclamation this month signed off on a $2.5 billion plan to control salt- and selenium-laden agricultural runoff in California's San Joaquin Valley that would involve the purchase and retirement of more than 194,000 acres of prime farmland, as well as a 20-year project to build evaporation ponds, treatment plants and other facilities. Even as Reclamation officials tallied up the costs for the San Luis Drainage Feature re-evaluation project, they are working on a separate agreement that could involve transferring ownership -- and much of the cost for cleanup -- to local water districts. Check it out.

03/15/07 Elwha River a living laboratory for dam removal, restoration
The issuance this month of a critical Washington state water quality permit means that the National Park Service is on track to begin removing the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams beginning in 2009. The project, considered the largest and most important dam removal operation in the United States, is being closely watched internationally as well. "This is a major stepping stone toward dam removal," said Rob Masonis, senior director for American Rivers Northwest office in Seattle. "We need to clear several regulatory hurdles and this was a major permit." The Undammed.

03/15/07 Management plan released for Yellowstone grizzly bears
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week released several key documents in its ongoing effort to delist the grizzly bear as an endangered species in the Yellowstone ecosystem. Besides revised methodologies for estimating and monitoring sustainable populations, the agency issued a final conservation strategy that includes three state management plans that will guide the recovery effort in the future. Bear with it.

03/08/07 Despite gains in science, origins of Sudden Oak Death still a mystery
After years of investigation, forest biologists have developed a deeper understanding of the cause and effects of "Sudden Oak Death." Still, they cannot fully explain how a fungal pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum, developed into such a fatal agent, responsible for killing as many as 1 million oak trees in California and infecting an equal number with no hope of preventing their eventual mortality. During a symposium this week devoted to the latest research into Sudden Oak Death, researchers offered more information about the extent of the problem, but few potential solutions beyond continued quarantines of host plants and mixed success in attempts to eradicate the problem at the local level. Look for the latest.

03/08/07 Calif. mulls electric transmission corridors
Not waiting for the federal government to designate National Interest Energy Corridors for high-voltage electric power lines in the West, the California Energy Commission this week began a process for establishing transmission corridors within the state. During a workshop in Sacramento on Monday, state officials and utility representatives differentiated the two corridor proceedings by emphasizing that the state level action derives from a bill enacted last year, S.B. 1059, seeking to improve system reliability and access to potential renewable resources. Flow here.

03/08/07 Air Force responsible for lands cleanup, court rules
Asbestos removal at the site of the former Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado is the responsibility of the federal government, a U.S. claims judge ruled Feb. 22. While damages were not specified in the order, homebuilders that conducted removal work -- after the government refused to do so -- say they spent over $9 million in order to complete housing developments. Get briefed.

03/01/07 Coast Guard wants to transfer historic lighthouses to GGNRA
The U.S. Coast Guard and National Park Service are considering making a transfer of five historic lighthouses, including the popular station at Alcatraz Island, to become part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Although still in use as visual landmarks in and around often-foggy San Francisco Bay, the lighthouses have been supplanted by global positioning satellites and other modern technology that are much better suited to providing navigational guides for shipping. Light the way.

03/01/07 Eminent domain restrictions spread through nation
Reactions to the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. City of New London continue to reverberate across the nation, as legislatures in every state have taken up some form of a bill to restrict or refine the limits of eminent domain actions. According to the latest tally from the National Conference of State Legislatures, eminent domain legislation has been raised in 39 states so far this year. "Each of 16 states that did not pass Kelo-related bills or a ballot measure during 2005 or 2006 is considering legislation this year," said Larry Morandi, director of state policy research for NCSL. Find out the big issues.

02/22/07Altamont wind ops trimmed to cut raptor kills Over the past month, scores of windmills along Altamont Pass Road have been taken out of commission, their blades dismantled and generator boxes removed. And even though there is a sufficient breeze on this unusually warm February afternoon to generate electricity for sale to utility customers, at least half of the still-operating turbines here at the Altamont wind farms are off line. These operational changes come as a result of settlements between wind companies and environmental groups, seeking to minimize the large-scale killing of birds that has plagued Altamont's wind industry. Fly with the eagles and hawks.

02/22/07 9th Circuit weighs in on NW logging and salvage projects
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued two rulings last week against federal agencies' planned logging and fire salvage operations in the Pacific Northwest. While the two unrelated cases presented a mixed bag of legal findings, their net effect was to at least temporarily halt two controversial timber harvests. See here.

02/15/07 Minn. lawmakers advance multi-state water management compact
Minnesota is expected to become the first state to enact provisions of the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact following action in the state Senate this week to pass S.F. 38. Earlier this month, the House passed its version of the measure, H.F. 110, setting the matter up for quick approval by Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who has already endorsed the compact, along with seven other governors and the heads of two Canadian provinces. Dive into the details.

02/08/07 Report urges fresh thinking to solve Calif. delta problems
A fundamental change is needed in thinking about policies to restore the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, a California think-tank declared this week. Instead of trying to forge incremental, consensus-based solutions to what have proven to be intractable problems, the state should consider giving up on its long-held belief that the delta should be managed as a freshwater resource devoted to agriculture and drinking water exports to Southern California. Dip into the report.

02/08/07 Compromise seen for Ore.'s Measure 37
The recent flood of claims for financial compensation or waivers of land-use restrictions under Oregon's controversial Measure 37 has brought a backlash of unfavorable public opinion and new proposals for legislative reform. As a special joint legislative committee meets this week to consider a bill offered by Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) that would severely limit development under many of the newly filed claims, parties indicated that some compromise might be possible. A Dec. 4, 2006, deadline for filing Measure 37 claims under less restrictive rules resulted in more-than doubling the number of filings, overwhelming government planning offices' ability to process them in a timely manner. See what's at stake.

02/08/07 Montana takes Yellowstone River allocation dispute to Supreme Court
Fed up with having its requests ignored for a full allocation of water under a 1950 agreement, Montana officials this week petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in its dispute with the state of Wyoming. At issue are water supplies from the Tongue and Powder rivers, which are shared by the two states as part of the Yellowstone River Compact, signed along with North Dakota 57 years ago. Get the brief.

02/01/07 Calif. vows to protect Headwaters deal from Pacific Lumber bankruptcy
The state of California has intervened in the bankruptcy case recently filed by Pacific Lumber Co. and affiliates, with the intent of ensuring continued adherence to a controversial deal covering hundreds of thousands of acres of Northern California forest lands. The Headwaters Agreement preserved old-growth redwood forests in Humboldt County, Calif., while applying special environmental protections and strict harvest limits on more than 200,000 acres of commercial timber lands held by Pacific Lumber and its corporate parent Maxxam. Find out more.

01/25/07 Calif. officials struggle to rid Lake Davis of stubborn pike
Ten years and $20 million later, California fish and game officials are once again planning to inject a powerful poison into Lake Davis and kill off all fishlife there in an attempt to eradicate the invasive northern pike before it spreads into key waterways. A similar effort in 1997 not only ended in failure but also raised significant community opposition to the complete poisoning of the lake, which is part of a reservoir system on U.S. Forest Service land in Plumas County. Cast your net for the story.

01/18/07 Meetings on Black Mesa Project turn fractious
Opponents of continued coal mining operations at the Black Mesa and Kayenta mines in northeast Arizona tried to press their concerns during a series of public meetings sponsored by the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM). But the groups, including environmental organizations and Native American tribal factions, report being frustrated by limitations to the format of a dozen meetings held this month in various Arizona locations. The meetings were to take public comment on the adequacy of a draft environmental impact statement for the Black Mesa Project. Find more.

01/18/07 Federal court upholds favorable tax ruling for habitat easements
A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a Michigan couple that claimed tax deductions for two conservation easements negotiated with a local land trust. Initially, the Internal Revenue Service cited the couple, Charles and Sharon Glass, with a tax deficiency notice for more than $116,000 over a four-year period from 1992 through 1995, claiming that two of three easements did not qualify as being "exclusively for conservation purposes." Although a tax court sided with the Glass family in the matter, the IRS Commissioner appealed the ruling. See what the judge said.

01/11/07 Calif. governor wants new storage projects
Though he barely mentioned it during his "state of the state" speech Tuesday night, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has proposed spending nearly $6 billion for new water storage facilities, water conservation and habitat restoration programs as part of a new $40 billion "Strategic Growth Plan" revealed this week. "We must invest in public safety, water supply, courts, education and transportation," the governor said in his speech, after alluding to a projected 30 percent growth in population in the next few decades. "Building California is not a burden; it's not a chore; it's a privilege." Find the rest of the story.

01/11/07 Whitewater enthusiasts test the waters of the Upper Chattooga
For the first time in 30 years, a group of kayakers was allowed to experience a run down the upper reaches of the Chattooga River this week. They were taking part in a unique Forest Service study on whether to remove a long-standing ban on boaters along the portion of the river, imposed when a 57-mile stretch of the Chattooga flowing through parts of North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia was granted "wild and scenic river" status in 1976. Run the river.

01/04/07 Ariz. utility resorts to eminent domain to secure supply for power plant
An Arizona judge has scheduled a July trial date for a case in which Arizona Public Service Co. is trying to acquire through condemnation some 7,000 acres of land from the Aztec Land and Cattle Co. While the undeveloped property itself has a relatively modest value, the real issue is APS's attempt to secure groundwater for its Cholla coal-fired power plant near Joseph City. Check out the dispute.

01/04/07 Year in Review: Drilling, water, fires and invasive species top news As we make way for a new year, the editors of Land Letter offer this sampling of some of our best and most important stories from 2006. Land Letter puts a spotlight on original reporting of stories about wildlife protections and how our public lands are used and managed -- whether for recreation or commercial applications such as mining, timber harvesting or oil and gas drilling. Revisit the year.

Above articles are Copyright 2007 E&E Publishing, Inc.

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