Editorial: Now is your chance to speak up on Little Ash Springs

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

Five years ago the Bureau of Land Management locked the gate to Little Ash Springs north of Alamo on Highway 93 in Lincoln County, saying it would take a couple of weeks to repair a man-made soaking pool on the 1-acre popular hot springs recreation area. The closure was for public safety concerns lest the walls of the pool collapse and injure or even kill someone.

This past week the BLM released an Environmental Assessment outlining five alternatives for the site and opening a public comment period that will last through Aug. 20.

The alternatives range from an elaborate and extensive construction of amenities and facilities on the site, along with personnel to manage the crowds and collect fees, proposed by a group calling themselves Friends of Pahranagat Valley, to doing nothing and keeping the site closed and largely as is.

The BLM’s “proposed action” would include repairs to or reconstruction of the damaged soaking pool, and expanding on four acres to the north for parking, day use area, restrooms, picnic areas, shade structures, walkways, and informational kiosks. The BLM would monitor the downstream water to ensure compliance with Nevada water quality standards.

Another alternative proposes to remove the soaker pool and allow only land-based uses such as picnic areas and walkways. Still another alternative is to return the site to its original natural state and close it to any recreational uses.

Of those five alternatives the BML reported all comply with the district’s goals and objectives, except the one proposed by the Friends group.

According to the BLM assessment, the Ash Springs complex had been a local “swimming hole” for years, but the original recreational site was actually on adjacent private property now referred to as Big Ash Springs, a 13-acre tract of private land and hot springs now owned by Joe and Andrea Barker.

Big Ash Springs was once open to the public and had swimming, a water slide and RV parking. In the 1990s, when the previous owners of Big Ash closed and fenced off their private property, the BLM developed Little Ash Springs for public access, building the soaking pool around the year 2000 and installing toilets, picnic tables, trash cans, cooking grills and parking.

By the time the BLM closed Little Ash in 2013 the site had grown in popularity until on some weekends as many as 100 people would be in the tiny soaking pool at once, according to the BLM.

There were also problems with vandalism, trash, graffiti, broken glass, excessively loud music, drug and alcohol use, as well as water pollution that threatened endangered fish species downstream.

The assessment speculates that the Little Ash reopening could benefit the local economy, especially if the Barkers or others decide to develop recreational opportunities on adjacent private property.

“Should the adjacent property be developed in conjunction with the recreational use at Ash Springs, it can be expected that Alamo and the nearby communities would see an increase in visitation,” the BLM suggests. “The impacts of higher visitation could include increased spending and economic growth, increased traffic, job opportunities, and either a higher or lower sense of community pride about the springs.”

Of course, there is also the possibility the local taxpayers might have to increase spending on law enforcement.

The assessment, along with appendices, maps, photos and details about commenting on the proposal are available online at:

https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/eplanning/planAndProjectSite.do?methodName=dispatchToPatternPage&currentPageId=146050

Written comments may be sent to the BLM Caliente Field Office, P.O. Box 237, Caliente, NV 89008, Attn: 2018 Ash Springs. Comments also may be submitted electronically with the subject, “ATTN: Ash Springs” to blm_nv_ash_springs@blm.gov. Deadline is Aug. 20.

The Caliente Field Office of the BLM’s Ely District will host an open house to discuss the Environmental Assessment from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 8, in the Pahranagat Valley High School multipurpose room at 151 S. Main St. in Alamo.

The BLM is not a recreational agency and its past lack of management at Little Ash raises questions about its ability to do so in the future. The BLM is not known for its attentiveness to public input, but this is our opportunity to have a say on what will become of this site. Speak now or …

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: BLM rule change doesn’t signal wild horse slaughter

Wild horses being affected by drought. (AP pix)

Wild horse advocates are apoplectic over a change in rules for selling off wild horses recently announced by the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management, saying it could lead to the animals being sold for slaughter.

In 2013, after learning that Colorado rancher Tom Davis, a friend and neighbor of then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, had over a three-year period sold 1,800 wild horses he had purchased from the BLM for slaughter in Mexico, the BLM instituted a rule that no one could purchase more than four wild horses in a six-month period without approval of the agency’s deputy assistant director of resource and planning.

In May, the BLM issued new guidelines saying up to 25 wild horses could be sold without prior approval up the chain of command.

“The federal government is about to resume selling America’s cherished wild horses and burros by the truckload, sending potentially thousands of mustangs into the slaughter pipeline against the wishes of 80 percent of Americans,” fulminated Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC) in a press release this past week. “This Administration appears hellbent on destroying America’s iconic wild horse and burro herds, and this is the latest step on that path to destruction.”

Pay no heed to the fact the BLM spends 60 percent of its annual budget for handling wild horses and burros on warehousing 46,000 of them in corrals and private pastures, while there are 83,000 wild horses and burros on a range that can adequately sustain no more than 27,000. Nor to the fact that earlier this year BLM officials desperate to rid themselves of the expense of feeding all those “wild” animals were contemplating offering $1,000 incentives to anyone willing to take some off their hands.

An Interior Department inspector general report in 2015 found that Davis over three years bought truckloads of 35 horses at a time for $10 each and sold them to others who took them to Mexico for slaughter. Davis made up to $3,000 profit per truckload. The case was referred to federal and local prosecutors who declined to prosecute, criminally or civilly.

Davis told inspectors that BLM officials had to know so many horses were going to slaughter.

Congress for years has effectively banned the slaughter of horses for meat in the U.S. by denying funding for health inspectors.

The new BLM guidelines for selling wild horses say untrained animals may be sold for as little as $25 apiece, while horses trained to halter or saddle must fetch $125. Purchasers also must provide adequate feed, care and a facility, such as a corral, barn or stall.

Applicants also must swear that the animals are not intended for “slaughter or bucking stock, or for processing into commercial products …”

Though the limiting of sales to only four horses at a time appears to have not been financially conducive to either buyers or taxpayers, and despite the lessons learned from the Davis probe, AWHC’s Roy forecasts doom and gloom will result from the change in rules.

“When you’re selling horses by the truckload for $25 apiece, it provides a big incentive for slaughter,” Roy was quoted in her press release. “Since riding a horse to his first day of work, Interior Secretary Zinke has galloped down a deadly path for America’s wild horse and burro herds – from asking Congress for permission to slaughter tens of thousands of these cherished animals to promoting the mass surgical sterilization of mustangs and burros on the range. Zinke is pushing the livestock industry agenda to rid our public lands of wild horses and trampling on the wishes of American citizens in the process.”

In a recent interview, Nevada’s senior U.S. Senator Dean Heller said he has spoken with Zinke and a middle ground on this matter is being sought.

“Zinke assured me he’s looking at this issue. They’re looking at a number of different avenues how they can cull these herds without, frankly, having to remove some of these horses from the range, but they do believe they can put together a sterilization program and something that in five to 10 years can reduce the size of these herds,” Heller said. “There is a discussion out there. These discussions are being had — looking for a reasonable, reasonable answers to this, and trying to come up with a program or a process that both sides can agree on.”

When it comes to the taxpayers being on the hook to try to preserve non-native species in perpetuity, all means should be stoically explored.

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.

Editorial: BLM should fight wild horse suit this time

A recent BLM wild horse roundup. (BLM pix)

The usual suspects are at it again, filing a federal lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demanding the court halt a plan by the Bureau of Land Management to remove all the feral horses in a 40-mile radius around Caliente.

The American Wild Horse Campaign, Western Watershed Project, The Cloud Foundation and a Beatty outdoor enthusiast are suing the BLM, saying it failed to adequately document and support its roundup decision, though what would ever be adequate for them is difficult to say.

Some of the same plaintiffs brought a similar lawsuit in 2011 over a planned removal of wild horses from Jakes Wash west of Ely, but the suit was mooted when the BLM backed down rather fight the matter.

In 2009 there were only 270 wild horses in the 900,000-acre Caliente area, but a year ago there were more than 1,700, a number the BLM deems unsustainable.

Plaintiffs consider their desire to be able to see “iconic” feral horses as more important than the livelihoods of ranchers who graze 4,500 head of cattle and sheep in the area.

One of the plaintiffs explained in the lawsuit, “The members of The Cloud Foundation enjoy viewing, studying, photographing, and filming wild horses in their natural habitats, free from human interference. The Cloud Foundation’s members travel to various areas, including public lands in Nevada, specifically for the purpose of viewing wild horses.”

The suit says of the Beatty resident that she “enjoys camping, hiking, birdwatching, and observing the flora and fauna. She also engages in photography and field sketching as hobbies, and particularly enjoys viewing, photographing, and sketching the wild horses that roam in the basins and on the ranges of Nevada.”

Isn’t that special?

Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, told the Las Vegas newspaper, “It’s time for the BLM to stop prioritizing ranching special interests and start honoring the wishes of Americans to ensure that our iconic mustangs are protected and humanely managed on our public lands.”

BLM officials say they can’t comment on pending litigation.

The BLM plan is to gather the horses for up to 10 years in the Caliente Herd Area Complex, which consists of nine Herd Areas — Applewhite, Blue Nose Peak, Clover Creek, Clover Mountains, Delamar Mountains, Little Mountain, Meadow Valley Mountains, Miller Flat and Mormon Mountains.

The public notice of the plan said the removal is “needed to improve watershed health and make significant progress towards achieving range health standards recommended by the BLM’s Mojave / Southern Great Basin Resource Advisory Council. The proposed gather plan would allow for an initial gather with follow-up gathers for up to 10 years from the date of the initial gather. The plan calls for transporting gathered horses to holding facilities where they would be offered for adoption.”

The agency said the Caliente Herd Area Complex is not designated for wild horses due to insufficient forage and water resources.

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land in the West. Economic activity on that land generated $75 billion in 2016 and supported more than 372,000 jobs.

But the lawsuit ignores that aspect of land use and instead claims the BLM permits grazing on the same public lands by thousands of cattle and sheep that, unlike wild horses, are not an “integral part of the natural system of the public lands,” though feral horses are not native and have few natural predators to keep the herds from overbreeding and depleting limited water and grazing resources that leads to starvation of the very animals they claim to want to protect.

The BLM should not cave in this time and fight to preserve a balanced multiple use of the land and seek to have the court assess the plaintiffs for all costs involved.

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.

How to slake the thirst of future development?

R-J graphic showing proposed land use changes.

Sometimes a story is most noteworthy for what it doesn’t say.

The morning newspaper reported on how the Southern Nevada Water Authority plans to supply water to a 39,000-acre tract of private development mostly south of Henderson should the federal government agree to release the land. The plan is to use conservation and recycling of water from Lake Mead.

Not one word was mentioned about piping groundwater from Lincoln, Nye and White Pine counties. The current plan is to pump 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year to Las Vegas at a cost of $15 billion for the infrastructure alone.

A year ago a federal judge heard arguments from proponents and opponents of the proposed project, which was first broached in 1989.

The judge refused to halt the project but ruled that the Bureau of Land Management must conduct further environmental review of the effects of the project and identify what can be done to mitigate them. According to an AP account, the judge characterized the fixes he ordered as “narrow deficiencies” in environmental impact statements.

Both sides interpreted the ruling as favorable to their side.

But today’s news story on supplying water to the proposed private development makes no mention of the groundwater from the north, even though the valley has maxed out its 300,000 acre-foot annual allotment from Lake Mead.

“The one-page document calls on far-flung developments to discourage or outright ban things like man-made lakes, water-cooled power plants and decorative turf,” the story relates. “Those developments should return their treated wastewater to Lake Mead whenever feasible or reuse enough of it on-site to ‘displace the need for SNWA water resources,’ the policy states.”

Protesters oppose Clark County taking rural Nevada groundwater.

Editorial: BLM publishes new plans to protect sage grouse

A greater sage grouse male struts for a female. (Pix by Jeannie Stafford for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Bureau of Land Management under the Trump administration has followed through on its promise to give states greater flexibility on protecting greater sage grouse. On Friday a 204-page draft management plan for Nevada and northeastern California was published in the Federal Register.

The plan specifically states that its purpose is to enhance cooperation with the states by modifying sage grouse management to better align with the plans created by Nevada and California, covering more than 45 million acres under the jurisdiction of the BLM.

Though it was determined that sage grouse did not qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act, in 2015 the Obama administration violated the law and ignored scientific evidence when it concocted a 341-page pronouncement that 10 million acres of public land in 16 Western states — nearly a third of that in Nevada — would be taken out of consideration for future mining claims, as well as oil and gas drilling near breeding grounds and that there would be additional reviews on grazing permits. The plan envisioned restrictions on grazing, resource development, solar and wind energy, and public access to public land in Nevada.

According to a press release put out by the BLM announcing the new plans, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval welcomed the more cooperative stance by the agency. “I look forward to reviewing the draft Environmental Impact Statement and I trust that the Department of the Interior will continue to engage with and value the opinions of the impacted western governors,” Sandoval was quoted as saying. “I am confident we can find success by working together.”

Nevada’s senior U.S. Sen. Dean Heller was quoted as saying, “The Department of the Interior’s proposed changes represent an important step toward returning power back to our local communities, and lifting the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed regulations that have put major restrictions on millions of acres of land in Nevada and stifled economic opportunities.”

Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents northern Nevada, commented, “I would like to thank the secretary for doing a much-needed revisit of the previous administration’s policies regarding sage hen habitat. I look forward to hearing back from our stakeholders in Nevada regarding the proposed changes and plan to familiarize myself with this draft and provide further input.”

The publication of the draft plan opens a public comment period. The BLM will accept comments through Aug. 2. Comments may be submitted by mail:  BLM – Greater Sage-Grouse EIS, Nevada State Office, 1340 Financial Blvd., Reno, NV 89502; or online at https://goo.gl/uz89cT.

The Nevada-California plan is posted online at: https://eplanning.blm.gov/epl-front-office/projects/lup/103343/143703/176904/NVCA_GRSG_DEIS_201805_508.pdf

The BLM also will conduct public meetings during the public comment period, which will be announced later.

The agency expects to publish a final Environmental Impact Statement and plan amendments by October.

Nevada’s BLM Associate State Director Marci Todd stated, “Two important developments have occurred since the 2015 plans were adopted. First, we’ve had two to three years to invest time and effort into improving sage grouse habitat. Second, we have received a great deal of feedback from our state partners about how the plans are working on the ground and needed changes.”

We welcome the fact that someone in the federal land bureaucracy is finally listening and recognizing the fact that people need to earn a livelihood in rural Nevada and can do so without endangering the sage grouse population.

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: Opposition to wind farm project expressed

As part of its review process to determine whether to approve an application to allow construction of wind turbines on 32,000 acres of public land in Nevada adjacent to the California border just west of Searchlight, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) conducted a series of scoping meetings to allow public input.

At a recent meeting in Las Vegas a half dozen speakers largely expressed support for renewable energy but not on the proposed site.

According to a 2012 filing with the Nevada Public Utilities Commission, Crescent Peak Renewables is proposing to erect 220 wind turbine towers standing more than 400 feet high and generating 500 megawatts of power. The proposed site is adjacent to the Mojave National Preserve and the Castle Mountain National Monument in California and the Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness and the South McCullough Wilderness in Nevada. All of the land is in Nevada.

Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness Area (Pix by Kurt Kuznicki)

Alan O’Neill, retired superintendent at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, testified there is a coalition of conservation organizations in California and Nevada that asked the BLM to hold off on issuing the notice of intent for the wind project until a supplemental resource management plan could be completed.

O’Neill also said the groups asked that the area be designated as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC).

“What we’d like the BLM to do, and I’m speaking on behalf of a number of conservation organizations, is for BLM to develop an alternative as part of this EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) process that has a ‘no wind’ alternative,   combined with establishing the Castle Mountains ACEC. We think that’s a solid alternative,” O’Neill said, noting there are 19 environmental conservation organizations plus four retired superintendents backing the proposal.

“It seems disingenuous to me that in the overall presentation you’re talking about an impact of 750 acres,” actual area cleared for pads and roads, O’Neill remarked. “It is surrounded by wilderness characteristics with basically no roads, except backcountry roads. Those roads are 10 feet wide, and you’re talking about building 93 miles of new roads 36 feet wide, in addition to 15 miles of road that they’re expanding to 36. The impacts of that are astounding. And you’re talking about a hole in the doughnut. You’re talking about this area surrounded by a protected landscape that many of us in this room have spent literally decades trying to get protected. You’re talking about putting in an industrial-sized development.”

Laura Cunningham, a member of the environmental group Basin and Range Watch, stated, “I would recommend going to this area, like the Castle Mountains in Nevada, and hiking, because I think what’s not being said here is how absolutely beautiful this place is. It is really pristine. There are hardly any roads there.”

Cunningham added, “So, this is a really wild, remote area, really biologically diverse. My group, Basin and Range Watch, we’re going to have a ‘bioblitz’ April 28th and 29th.”

Her group’s website explains that the bioblitz, which is defined as a biological survey in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area, is part of an effort to persuade the BLM to designate roughly 38,000 acres of Nevada desert — which includes the proposed wind farm — as an ACEC.

“I was just hiking there a couple of weeks ago and it’s got a unique, rare Sonoran Desert grassland with Joshua trees and yuccas,” she said. “You get up on some of those low ridges, they don’t look like much on a map, but when you’re there it looks like you’re in East Africa or Namibia. You just don’t see anything — no transmission lines, maybe there’s one road way off in the distance, a dirt road.”

Jose Witt, who said he belongs to the Friends of Nevada Wilderness, said that, while there is a need to replace fossil fuel power generation with renewable energy, there also is a need to protect view sheds and wildlife habitat.

“If we put this type of development in the middle of all these protected lands, it ruins the integrity and conservation values of all this area. We fragment the habitat and essentially lose islands of protection, or become islands, because there is no continuity,” Witt said.

Shannon Salter said the Joshua trees in the area need to be protected. “Some of them are over 30 feet tall and they are approximately 900 years old. We need them protected. The name of their forest is the Wee Thump Joshua forest. That word Wee Thump is a Paiute Indian word, which means ancient one,” Slater said.

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.

 

Editorial: Wild horse issue needs a compromise solution

Let the caterwauling continue.

The headline over a press release by a group calling itself the American Wild Horse Campaign reads, “80+ Organizations Oppose Trump Administration Plan to Slaughter America’s Mustangs.”

The trigger for the press release — more a fundraising appeal than legitimate polemic — was the release of the Interior Department’s FY2019 budget.

The budget includes this language: “The 2019 budget continues to propose the elimination of appropriations language restricting BLM’s use of all of the management options authorized in the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act. This change will provide BLM with the full suite of tools to manage the unsustainable growth of wild horse and burro herds.”

Similar language was in the FY2018 budget, which has yet to be approved.

Wild horses being warehoused at Palomino Valley near Reno. (Jo Mitchell pix)

You see, the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act states: “The Secretary shall cause additional excess wild free-roaming horses and burros for which an adoption demand by qualified individuals does not exist to be destroyed in the most humane and cost efficient manner possible.”

But every federal budget since 2009, has stated, “Appropriations herein made shall not be available for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of the Bureau or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.”

Suzanne Roy, executive director of the American Wild Horse Campaign, was quoted as saying in the press release: “Americans want our wild horses and burros protected, not brutally killed and slaughtered.”

Roy was further quoted as saying the horse advocacy groups support a humane and scientific path for wild horse management.

Yet when the Elko district of the Bureau of Land Management submitted a plan to control the wild horse population with fertility control and gathers without ever mentioning euthanizing excess horses, one of those advocacy groups sued saying such action upset the “social organization, band integrity, and expression of a natural behavior repertoire.”

Though wild horses are dying of starvation and thirst on the depleted and drought-stricken range, the self-styled advocates offer only litigation and wild claims. Letting the status quo continue is hardly humane.

When this issue came up in the House Appropriations Committee a year ago Nevada Republican Rep. Mark Amodei, who supported a return to the language in the 1971 law, said during debate, “First let me say I hate this issue and I think everybody here hates this issue. The reality is we have a problem. We have to face it and we have to deal with it. … You think you’re being kind to horses? You’re not. Letting them starve out on the range? … Nobody’s adopting these things — these horses. Not very many people anyway.”

According to the BLM, if nothing is done, by 2020 there will be 130,000 wild horses and burros on BLM-controlled lands, though the range can sustain only 27,000.

That doesn’t count the 45,000 formerly wild horses and burros currently being kept in off-range pens and pastures at a cost of $50 million a year.

In is unlikely Congress will ever approve the wholesale slaughter of wild horses, but there should be a middle ground compromise that handles horses humanely, saves taxpayers money and protects the range, wildlife and agricultural interests.

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.