Newspaper column: Neighbors hope Little Ash Springs remains closed

There are two sides to every story.

Four years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo for what was described as a couple of weeks due to a crumbling wall on a manmade pool. It remains closed.

Recently, the Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told the Las Vegas newspaper, “This is exactly why the federal government needs to clean up our act. I’m not in the business of locking the public out.”

He added, “We need to work with local communities and be better neighbors …”

Speaking of neighbors, Joe and Andrea Barker own the 13-acre tract adjacent to and downstream from the 1-acre BLM-controlled Little Ash Springs. Their property is known as Big Ash Springs and has 50 springs feeding 94-degree water into meandering shallow rivulets that are home to two endangered species — the White River springfish and the Pahranagat roundtail chub, found only in the Ash Springs system.

During a recent interview in their home atop a rocky outcropping overlooking the springs, Joe Barker said, “We thought that we might be able to manage some opening of this Little Ash Springs, but I think as time has gone on we, I guess, we’d prefer that it stay closed. And I think our view is that it is the headwaters of the protected species and the government should be the one protecting them.”

He said it seems unfair that private property owners, owning the vast majority of those springs, are really the ones protecting the endangered species.

The couple recalled that one Memorial Day there were 300 people at the site, though there are only two vault toilets. He said after such use the area would be strewn with trash — including bottles, beer cans, diapers, tampons and more. Andrea Barker added, “We’ve actually watched the water go from crystal clear to murky by 10 o’clock in the morning.”

The couple said the BLM told them the agency were not in the business of running recreational facilities.

Joe Barker, an aerospace industry retiree who bought Big Ash Springs 13 years ago, said when he bought the property he had contemplated opening a cafe with the springs as a visual and recreational amenity. At one time he said he and his wife presented the BLM with a plan that included Little Ash Springs and the BLM officials discussed letting them run Little Ash as a part of their venue, but shortly after a meeting the plan was withdrawn without explanation.

A group calling itself Friends of Pahranagat Valley has called for construction on the Little Ash Springs site of four manmade “soak” pools, boardwalks and bridges, a toll booth for an entry fee, additional parking, pavilions, volleyball pit and basketball court, expanded toilet facilities and hiring two or more employees to monitor the site. The group’s website suggested that federal grants and fundraising in the community could pay for the additions, though the Interior Department is actually tightening its budget.

Joe Barker said it would be best if the water from pools where people soak could be purified of bacteria and viruses before being released downstream, but the BLM told him the agency has no water rights and thus can’t legally divert the water.

He said there is still a possibility he might try to develop some kind of recreational facility on his property but he would probably need to treat the water coming in and going out for safety safe and to make it easier to obtain liability insurance.

But there is still the hurdle of how to deal with the endangered species. “The question was, What’s good enough (protection)? And they can’t answer that question. … You get different answers at different times,” Joe Barker complained, while noting fish count has recovered since the BLM closed Little Ash Springs.

Andrea Barker said the problem in the past was that it was not properly managed. “It was overused. Sometimes you would have several hundred people up there and two vault toilets,” she said. “People understand that the water is overused and would come and pour an entire gallon of bleach in it before they go swimming.”

Additionally, there were gangs who painted graffiti on nearby buildings, blaring music, religious services with blaring horns and even voodoo rituals, after which one woman told the Barkers there were more headless chickens than she could count.

Joe Barker said the site had become so dangerous locals stopped going there.

As Zinke said, perhaps the BLM needs to be better neighbors.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

Little Ash Springs as seen through the wrought iron fence from neighboring private property. (Mitchell pix)


Is casino executive statement self-contradictory?

You might call it a self-contradictory statement.

Today’s Las Vegas newspaper reports on what knowledge the new Wynn Resorts CEO Matt Maddox had about allegations of sexual misconduct by former CEO Steve Wynn:

He (Maddox) said he was unaware of the misconduct allegations against Wynn until they were aired in numerous publications last month and that he first learned of a $7.5 million settlement payment to a Wynn employee when it surfaced in a court document in 2016.

And what did he think the $7.5 million settlement was for?

A lawsuit by a shareholder accuses the Wynn Resorts board of directors covering up Wynn’s alleged misdeeds after it learned by 2015 of a lawsuit filed by Wynn’s ex-wife Elaine Wynn. That lawsuit mentioned a “multimillion dollar payment” paid by Wynn personally due to “serious misconduct” on company property against a company employee.

A manicurist had accused Wynn of forcing her to have sex with him. It was recently brought out that suit was a described as a paternity case.

“The Board, however, eventually learned of the allegations of egregious misconduct involving the Company. Ms. Wynn’s lawsuit also accuses Mr. Wynn of using the Company “to fund his lavish lifestyle and personal politics” and displaying “reckless risk-taking behavior” that places the Company in jeopardy and has exposed it to legal challenges,” the recent shareholder suit states. “Thus, regardless of whether Mr. Wynn initially concealed the settlement and allegations of egregious misconduct involving the Company, the Board knew of the settlement and allegations of patently egregious misconduct involving the Company by at least 2015 and failed to act and continued to support and recommend to the stockholders Mr. Wynn’s continued leadership and compensation. The Board knowingly failed to investigate the allegations of patently egregious misconduct by the Chairman and CEO and Mr. Wynn’s suitability for his fiduciary positions and regulatory compliance and his suitability as a gaming operator. Knowing failure to act by the Board on the allegations of such egregious misconduct involving the Company constituted a knowing and intentional violation of its fiduciary duties to the Company for which the Director Defendants are liable.”

If you think Wynn settles such matters easily, check out the bit at the end of a CNN story about his legendary tantrums.

In 2006 a member of a cleaning crew at Wynn Resorts sued Wynn, saying he assaulted her by grabbing her and pulling her and yelling at her over the job a cleaning crew was doing. She filed a police report but nothing came of it, CNN reported.

In the end the woman wound up paying Wynn’s attorney fees and other costs totaling nearly $16,000. She had to file bankruptcy.

“It wasn’t about money,” her lawyer told CNN. “To my feeling, it was just vindictive. … I think he wanted to send a message to anybody that might want to challenge Wynn Resorts or Steve Wynn: It won’t end well for you.”

Is the U.S. nuclear arsenal still a deterrence?

WSJ graphic

The editorialists at the Las Vegas Sun are living in a mad, MAD world. You know: Mutually Assured Destruction. Never mind that some of the people with their fingers on nuclear triggers may well be suicidal seekers of the apocalypse.

But let’s dispel a factual error first. “There are nearly 7,000 warheads in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, deliverable across the globe at a moment’s notice by missile, aircraft and submarine,” today’s Sun editorial proclaims.

Well, not quite. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has a total of about 6,600 nuclear weapons, but 2,600 are retired and awaiting dismantling. Another 2,200 are in stockpile and about 1,800 are deployed. Russia has similar numbers, they say. Enough to make the rubble bounce, as we used to say?

The Sun quotes a Time article that hysterically declares President Trump has put the Nevada National Security Site on notice to be ready to renew testing of nuclear weapons solely for the purpose of scaring potential enemies into backing down. The Sun declares that testing is totally unneeded. (The editorial did note that Gov. Brian Sandoval says he has been assured no nuke testing will take place in Nevada.)

The Sun says the mere idea of renewed nuke tests “demonstrates an astonishing lack of understanding about the nation’s military and the world’s perception of the U.S. More than anything, it proves that Trump’s feelings of inadequacy and inferiority know no bounds.”

But is our nuclear deterrence still a deterrence?

According to a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, our ancient B-52 bombers and outdated cruise missiles are vulnerable to Russian and Chinese air defenses and we have only 20 penetrating B-2 bombers located at a few insufficiently hardened bases.

While we once had 41 ballistic-missile submarines, SSBNs, we are down to 14, the article notes, and those, too, are vulnerable.

“American ballistic-missile defense is severely underdeveloped due to ideological opposition and the misunderstanding of its purpose, which is to protect population and infrastructure as much as possible but, because many warheads will get through, primarily to shield retaliatory capacity so as to make a successful enemy first strike impossible — thus increasing stability rather than decreasing it, as its critics wrongly believe,” the writer, Mark Helprin, explains. “Starved of money and innovation, missile defense has been confined to midcourse interception, when boost-phase and terminal intercept are also needed. Merely intending this without sufficient funding is useless. As for national resilience, the U.S. long ago gave up any form of civil defense, while Russia and China have not. This reinforces their ideas of nuclear utility, weakens our deterrence, and makes the nuclear calculus that much more unstable.”

Helprin disputes the federation of scientists stats and states the Russians have 2,600 currently deployed strategic warheads compared to the U.S.’s 1,590.

Another WSJ writer points out that the U.S. has no tactical nukes, which means if confronted by another nation’s use of smaller nukes on the battlefield, the U.S.’s only ability to counter is with a full-scale nuclear exchange and a global holocaust — or to back down and lose all credibility for defense commitments.

Perhaps we should not be so fast in declaring there is no need for continued nuclear weapon development and testing. It is a mad, mad world after all.

Federation of American Scientists graphic




Editorial: Head of EPA bemoans ‘weaponization’ of his agency

EPA head Scott Pruitt tours a Nevada mine. (Elko Daily Free Press pix)

Under the Constitution the duty of the executive branch of the federal government is to enforce the laws enacted by Congress. Somewhere along the way some presidents and many of their appointed administrators of the various executive branches have lost sight of this distinction and usurped powers not accorded them.

Fortunately this trend appears to be on the decline. Take for example the recent words of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

“We are housed in the Executive Branch, and your job is to enforce the law — the only authority I have is from Congress — largely what has happened with the past administration, they made it up,” Pruitt said in a recent press interview. “The fact that Congress is dysfunctional and is not updating the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act or all of these statutes that we administer, the fact that Congress isn’t doing that doesn’t mean EPA can say, ‘We’re going to do it in your place.’”

He went on to say his agency in the past had “weaponized” its rule making authority to pick and choose winners in the economy. “Weaponized in the sense of saying we are going to favor certain outcomes in the market with respect to energy and the environment — that’s not the role of a regulator,” Pruitt said.

A few days later the head of the EPA visited mining sites in Nevada and continued his rant about the weaponization of rules to prohibit economic activity rather than meet the congressional mandate to keep the air and water clean.

“The agency that I’ve been selected to lead, the last several years has been weaponized. It’s been weaponized against certain sectors of our economy, and yours was one of them,” the Elko newspaper quoted Pruitt as telling 300 miners during a visit to Coeur Mining’s Rochester mine near Lovelock. “Think about that for a second. An agency in Washington, D.C., weaponized against its own sectors of the economy across this country. That’s not the way it should work.”

He said his agency needs to get back to stewardship of the environment rather than issuing prohibitions against certain activity.

Pruitt went on say that his agency would be cooperative with the states in taking commonsense approaches that give the state leeway in making cost-effective decisions — a refreshing return to the concept of federalism.

“We recognized that you in Nevada recognize that you care about the air that you breath, the water you drink and how you take care of your land in the state,” the Elko paper quoted Pruitt as saying. “Having a rule that was punitive, weaponized against the mining sector, was not a reason to have the rule, so we stopped the rule.”

Pruitt’s approach to looking at the facts and the law instead of vague presumptions based on unproven theories is sending the climate change acolytes into paroxysms of apoplexy.

In that earlier interview, he was quoted as saying, “There are things we know and things we don’t know. I think it’s pretty arrogant for people in 2018 to say, ‘We know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100,’” adding that the debate about proper carbon dioxide levels is important but not the most pressing matter in the near future.

We appreciate and applaud the commonsense and constitutional approach enunciated by this member of the executive branch. It is good for the economy, the environment and the country.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.

Newspaper column: Move the headquarters of federal land agencies West

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a horse in the new Bears Ears National Monument in Utah a year ago. (AP pix)

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

There has been a lot of talk since the Trump administration has taken over about where to locate the national headquarters of some of the nation’s federal land agencies. One land agency, the Bureau of Land Management, controls 11 percent of the nation’s lands, but 99 percent of that land is in the West.

Fully 85 percent of the land in Nevada is controlled by those federal land agencies, the highest percentage of any state, with 66 percent of the state lying under the purview of the BLM, while the rest of the public land is controlled by agencies such as the Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Defense and the Bureau of Reclamation.

According to several news accounts, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a native of Montana, is open to moving the headquarters of some of the agencies under his command out of the District of Colombia and into the West, specifically the BLM, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Colorado Republican Sen. Cory Gardner has a bill pending in Congress that would require moving the BLM HQ to Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington or Wyoming.

The bill states: “Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources of the Senate and the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives a strategy for relocating the headquarters of the Bureau of Land Management from Washington, DC, to a western State in a manner that will save the maximum amount of taxpayer money practicable.”

“You’re dealing with an agency that basically has no business in Washington, D.C.,” Gardner was quoted as saying by The Associated Press.

The same story quoted northern Nevada’s Republican Rep. Mark Amodei as saying, “I’m excited about the fact that they’re looking at it,” though he stopped short of endorsing the bill at this time. The AP story went on to note that Amodei said he had spoken with bureau officials in Washington who know so little about Nevada they thought the land under a highway interchange was wildlife habitat.A similar bill to Gardner’s has been introduced in the House by Colorado Republican Rep. Scott Tipton.

“Moving BLM’s headquarters West is a commonsense solution that Coloradans from across the political spectrum support,” Sen. Gardner said in a statement. “Ninety-nine percent of the nearly 250 million acres of land managed by BLM is West of the Mississippi River, and having the decision-makers present in the communities they impact will lead to better policy. Coloradans want more Colorado common sense from Washington and this proposal accomplishes that goal.”

Federal bureaucrats sheltered inside the Beltway have little appreciation of what lies in the vast open spaces of the West besides the beasts, bugs, birds and weeds that self-styled environmentalist claim need protection from devastation by ranchers, farmers, miners, lumberjacks and oil and gas explorers, who depend for their livelihoods on access to the land.

According to employee notes of a meeting between Zinke and executives of the U.S. Geological Survey this past summer in Denver that were leaked to Energy & Environment News, the Interior secretary reportedly said Denver “will probably” become headquarters to some of his land agencies by as early as 2019.

Another advantage of moving federal land bureaucrats out West is that it would require them to live in states and communities unable to assess property taxes on those federal lands in order to build schools, roads and hospitals and pay for police and fire protection.

Perhaps they would come to realize how paltry those Payment in Lieu of Taxes checks really are. Perhaps their neighbors can tell them how those PILT checks amount to only 5 percent of the $8.8 billion the Interior Department collects each year from commercial activities, such as oil and gas leases, livestock grazing and timber harvesting on federal lands that is sent to Washington.

When your own ox is being gored it gets your attention.

Head ’em up, move ’em out.

A version of this column appeared this week in many of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel and the Lincoln County Record — and the Elko Daily Free Press.

We are still waiting for the voice of Nevada voters to be heard — 22 years and counting

Facebook has this algorithm that pops up something you’ve shared online in the past and asks if you’d like to repost it. It might a cute pix of your dog or a vacation remembrance.

This time it turned out to be a reminder that the will of the voters of Nevada had been ignored for 16 years. It was a link to a blog based on a column that appeared in the Battle Born Media newspapers. Oh yes, it was first posted in February 2012, six years ago, so now the will of the Nevada voters has been ignored for 22 years.

Here is the column appeared in the newspapers but has long since disappeared into the ether:

By Thomas Mitchell

This is not federalism. It is feudalism.

As most Nevadans know, the federal government holds sway over somewhere between 83 and 92 percent of the land in this state, depending on which official government source you cite. That is the highest percentage of any state in the union, including Alaska.

This is the result of something known as a Disclaimer Clause included in the statehood act admitting Nevada as a state. As a condition of entry into the union, the state was required to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within said territory, and that the same shall be and remain at the sole and entire disposition of the United States.”

The federal government, not the state, controls the land known as Mount Wilson. (Pix by Jo Mitchell)

Putting aside the extortionate nature of the demand and that it was agreed to under duress and that it encumbered generations not yet born, nowhere in the Constitution is the federal government granted an enumerated power to deny any state sovereignty over its own lands. Even sharecroppers have more rights than that.

Over the years it has been unsuccessfully argued that the Disclaimer Clause violates the spirit and letter of the Equal Footing Doctrine under which every new state admitted to the union does so under the same conditions as the 13 original states.

On Oct. 31, 1864, the president proclaimed:

“Now, therefore, be it known, that I, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, in accordance with the duty imposed upon me by the act of congress aforesaid, do hereby declare and proclaim that the said State of Nevada is admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original states.”

In fact, in 1911 the U.S. Supreme Court in Coyle v. Smith opined, “No prior decision of this court sanctions the claim that Congress, in admitting a new State, can impose conditions in the enabling act, the acceptance whereof will deprive the State when admitted of any attribute of power essential to its equality with the other States.”

That seems clear enough, but it has been roundly ignored.

Grazing rights are routinely canceled for arbitrary reasons. Roads are closed in order to protect some minnow or bug no matter how much it inconveniences the residents. Permission to obtain rights of way and mining permits languish for decades in the federal bureaucracy. All should be responsibilities of the state of Nevada.

It is estimated that 13 Western states forgo $4.2 billion a year in property taxes due to the vast holdings of untaxed land by the federal government.

In 1993 Nye County Commissioner Dick Carver wrote a lengthy letter to the governor and the various heads of the federal agencies controlling public land in the state. He convincingly argued:

“The people of the Nevada Territory had no authority to pass this act. Research has shown that first, the people of the Territory of Nevada had to give up all their ‘interest’ in the unappropriated lands of the Nevada territory to the Congress of the United States so Congress could pass said lands to the State of Nevada upon acceptance of Nevada into the Union. Then Nevada would become a free sovereign state as the original thirteen states relating to land.”

What many have forgotten is that in 1996 the citizens of Nevada voted to change the Nevada Constitution and strike the Disclaimer Clause. It passed with more than 56 percent of the votes.

Ballot Question 4 read simply: “Shall the Territorial Ordinance of the Nevada Constitution be amended to remove the disclaimer of the state’s interest in the unappropriated public land?” Yes or no.

Nearly 16 long years later, the state Constitution still contains a footnote explaining that the amendment was “proposed and passed by the 1993 legislature; agreed to and passed by the 1995 legislature; and approved and ratified by the people at the 1996 general election, effective on the date Congress consents to amendment or a legal determination is made that such consent is not necessary.”

Congress has not consented. There has been no legal determination.

Speaking of feudalism, the right to petition for redress of grievances was first embodied in the Magna Carta in 1215.

The Founders thought this so fundamental they included it in the First Amendment as one of five key rights delineated there.

For the voters of Nevada, this right has not been denied, just simply ignored.

In the subsequent blog I noted that I had emailed the office of Gov. Brian Sandoval and asked what he would do, if anything, to address the vote of the citizens of Nevada taken nearly 16 years earlier, but roundly ignored ever since.

I wrote, “I’ve had no reply yet. Just like the voters. I wonder if I will still be waiting 16 years hence.”

Well, it has been six years, only 10 more to go.

YouTube video posted with the blog six years ago:



Editorial: Suit to block feral horse plan is frivolous

‘Wild’ horses being held in pens. (BLM pix)

As sure as hogs wallow in slop, one month after the Bureau of Land Management announced a plan to properly control the population of feral horses on a nearly 4 million-acre tract of land 50 miles southeast of Elko, a New York nonprofit group calling itself Friends of Animals filed a federal lawsuit. (Friends of Animals suit)

The lawsuit claims the BLM gave “no opportunity for the public to review or comment on its decision” and thus violated its own procedures and requirements of federal law. Actually, the suit merely tries to throw overheated rhetoric at a decision with which the Friends of Animals disagree.

In December the BLM outlined a 10-year plan to control the population of mustangs in the Antelope, Antelope Valley, Goshute, Maverick-Medicine, Spruce-Pequop and Triple B Herd Management Areas, plus another million acres onto which the horses have spread. The area currently has 9,500 horses, 11 times more than the low estimate for what the forage and water can support, about 900 horses.

The plan is to gather and remove some excess horses and control the remaining population with castration of some males and chemical fertility control of some females. The goal is to establish stable herds of about 60 percent male and 40 percent female.

There are already about 45,000 “wild” horses being held in storage pens across the West at a cost of $50 million a year.

The Friends suit claims an Environmental Impact Statement is required for all “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”

But the “Decision Record” signed by Elko District BLM Manager Jill Silvey clearly states that following “public review” she found the plan “will not have a significant impact to the human environment, and that the Environmental Impact Statement is not required.” This is backed up by a 361-page Environmental Assessment and a four-page Finding of No Significant Impact.

Though the federal lawsuit claims there was a lack of public overview, it states there were 4,940 comments submitted to the BLM during a public comment period.

Silvey’s decision notes, “The BLM received over 4,940 comment submissions during the public comment period; the majority of those submissions (more than 4,780 or 97%) were form letters. Form letters are generated from a singular website from a non-governmental organization, such as an animal advocacy group. Comments identified on form letters were considered along with the rest of the comments received, but as one collective letter. … Letters and e-mails were received both in support of and in opposition to the gather.”

The lawsuit wonders all over the legal rangeland, ruminating about the impact of sterilization on social behavior in herds.

It spouts such pseudo-scientific folderol as this: “A potential disadvantage of both surgical and chemical castration is loss of testosterone and consequent reduction in or complete loss of male-type behaviors necessary for maintenance of social organization, band integrity, and expression of a natural behavior repertoire.”

But the lawsuit fails to ever address the fact the feral horses are currently starving and dying of thirst due to their excess numbers, much less their impact on wildlife, ranching and recreation.

The suit demands that the court block the population control plan, and, of course, seeks for themselves “reasonable costs, litigation expenses, and attorneys’ fees.”

Meanwhile, the BLM argues, “A gather of wild horses from the area is also necessary to prevent continued degradation of rangeland resources, and the unnecessary death or suffering of individual wild horses that are being currently impacted by a lack of water and forage. The BLM is required to manage multiple uses to avoid continued degradation of the rangeland, and reduce the potential for catastrophic loss of animals.”

The courts should let the BLM try its management plan for a couple of years and hear the horse huggers’ suit later if it is not working. Doing nothing while the litigation languishes is not an option.

A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel,  Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.