News Article | May 19, 2017
U.S. Geological Survey biologist Jeffrey Lovich, who has monitored tortoises in and around the park for two decades, said the potentially lethal response to prolonged drought may become more common throughout the Southern California desert as temperatures rise and forage diminishes. "This is still a hypothesis," Lovich said on Monday, "but I believe these tortoises died after continuing to lay clutches of four eggs the size of ping pong balls year after year, using up vital resources they need to survive." "It was an evolutionary gamble," he said. "If it pays off, their genetic information will be passed on to a new generation of hatchlings in conditions more suitable for survival of the species." A research team led by Lovich was surveying a study area of several square miles on the northern flanks of the Orocopia Mountains when it discovered the remains of 14 female and three male tortoises, and 15 live animals, most of them males. Judging from the deterioration of the carcasses and chalkiness of the bones, Lovich concluded the animals perished over the last five to 10 years, a period including five consecutive years of drought regarded as the most severe in recorded history. The find has stepped up concerns over the fate of tortoises within the nearly 800,000-acre national park, which recent rains made into a showcase of habitat, lush with plants and flowers for the lumbering reptiles to fatten up on. But vast swaths of terrain carpeted with daisies can only do so much, biologists say, in the face of longer droughts and climate change. Despite its name, scruffy body armor and status as a symbol of the desert conservation movement, the tortoise is not well adapted to arid landscapes. It evolved thousands of years ago, when the region was cooler and dominated by lakes and marshes fringed with Joshua trees and junipers, Lovich said. Over the past three decades, the park's tortoise population has plummeted from roughly 30,000 to an all-time low of about 3,000, Michael Vamstad, a wildlife ecologist at the park, said. A federal analysis determined that a viable population of tortoises must maintain an average minimum density of about 10 adults per square mile. The average density within the park today is about nine adults per square mile, Vamstad said. "We're at a point now where we expect tortoises to disappear in certain areas because there aren't enough of them around to find a mate," he said. "But we believe there will also be pockets with the right combinations of air temperature, moisture and forage to sustain tortoises for years to come." Over the past century, desert tortoises have been decimated by habitat loss, trampling by cows and sheep, shootings, vehicle strikes, disease, collecting, relocation efforts on military bases and predation by ravens, coyotes and dogs. Now their deadliest foe is climate change, which is upsetting the delicate balance of life and death conditions for the species in an otherwise intensely managed expanse of habitat within a national park. "The recent five-year drought is a window into the future of what climate change may look like across the Southwestern United States," Cameron Barrows, a University of California, Riverside ecologist who specializes in the park's wildlife, said. "In certain study plots where we found lots of tortoises even two years ago, we didn't find any this year." Improving the odds of survival for tortoises hasn't been easy at a time when record numbers of tourists are straining park roads, campsites and services, officials said. The park had 2.5 million visitors in 2016, twice the number seen five years ago, officials said. In the midst of a spectacular wildflower bloom in March that attracted both hungry tortoises and a crush of camera-toting tourists, three tortoises were struck and killed by cars in a single week. Officials are considering roadside fencing, which is effective in reducing mortalities of tortoises and other reptiles. It is also controversial, however, because it is expensive to install and maintain, fragments habitat and is an eyesore on federal lands set aside for their natural beauty. "Climate change has no regard for traffic signs, speed limits, roadside barriers or national park boundaries," said Debra Hughson, a research biologist at the Mojave National Preserve, about 50 miles northwest of the park. It's not all bad news. Under a hot morning sun on a recent weekday, park biologist Kristen Lalumiere followed telemetry pings across a desolate arroyo edged with cholla cactus to a radio-collared female desert tortoise the size of a volleyball emerging from a burrow to bask in the sunshine, dine on flowers and, perhaps, find a mate. Lalumiere peered inside, then smiled and said, "You're looking good, girl - clear eyes, clean nose and flower stains all over your mouth." Adding a hopeful dose of anthropomorphism, she said, "Single female seeks relationship with strong male willing to fight to protect her. Must enjoy flowers, long slow walks and cuddling up in desert caves." The tortoise biologists dubbed "Salsa Verde" stared back at her, then retreated into her burrow. In a nearby burrow, a male tortoise known as "Scuter" was taking a siesta. Whether or not they produce a new generation of tortoises will not be known for 15 to 20 years because that is how long it takes hatchlings to reach maturity, even in the best of times. Explore further: California tortoises died trying to reproduce during drought
News Article | April 17, 2017
In another U-turn from existing environmental policy, the Trump administration has eased the way for a controversial California desert water project that President Obama’s team had blocked. Federal directives drafted under Obama had erected a major obstacle to Cadiz Inc.’s long-standing plans to pump Mojave Desert groundwater and sell it to urban Southern California. But in a March 29 memo, an acting assistant director at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management revoked two legal guidances that underpinned the agency’s 2015 decision that Cadiz could not use an existing federal railroad right-of-way for a new water pipeline to carry supplies from the project’s proposed well field to the Colorado River Aqueduct. That meant Cadiz would have to go through federal environmental review to construct a pipeline over federal land, a lengthy and costly process that the company wants to avoid. Cadiz immediately asked the BLM to reverse what it called a flawed decision. The Obama administration declined to do so. The new administration appears sympathetic to the company’s concerns. Although the one-page order doesn’t mention Cadiz, it sets the stage for reversing the finding by BLM’s California field office, which determined that the company needed federal approval for its proposed 43-mile pipeline. The memo from the BLM, issued under Trump, also states that future right-of-way decisions will be made by the agency’s Washington office. Cadiz Chief Executive Scott Slater said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the new decision will open the way for a pipeline on the right-of-way. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a longtime opponent of the groundwater project, condemned the move. “The Trump administration has once again put corporate profits ahead of the public’s interest,” she said in a statement. Feinstein called the reversal “a blatant attempt to muscle the Cadiz water project through,” and “an effort to circumvent an environmental review that any project of this magnitude on federal land would normally undergo.” The Cadiz project was approved by San Bernardino County, and the company prevailed in several environmental lawsuits filed under state law. But Feinstein, who was instrumental in creating the nearby Mojave National Preserve, has doggedly fought Cadiz. For years she has attached a rider to congressional appropriations bills barring the BLM from spending money on the Cadiz project. The company, founded by Keith Brackpool, wants to pump enough groundwater from beneath its private Mojave holdings to supply 100,000 homes a year and sell it to urban California at prices that could, over the project's 50-year-life, reap $1 billion to $2 billion in revenue. Federal hydrologists have said Cadiz experts are overstating the natural recharge rate of the desert aquifer. And public land advocates argue the pumping could dry up springs vital to wildlife on surrounding federal land, a claim that Cadiz rejects. The company has garnered congressional support, including from Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. Bishop was one of 18 members of Congress that a month ago urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to withdraw the BLM directives — which they said threatened businesses’ ability to run power, telephone or fiber optic lines along railroad rights-of-way. “I think it has a lot to do with things other than Cadiz,” Slater said. The issue revolves around how much leeway railroads have in letting other interests use their rights-of-way. An Interior Department solicitor’s 1989 opinion concluded that the 1875 railroad law allowed railroads to authorize other uses without Interior approval. A later solicitor opinion modified that, saying other uses had to derive from or further a railroad purpose. The two rescinded memos laid out guidelines for deciding what furthered railroad purposes. And the California BLM office subsequently concluded that "conveyance of water for public consumption is not a railroad purpose.” That finding, said opposition attorney Adam Keats, can still be used against the project. “This is not an easy thing for the Trump administration to unwind,” he said. Slater is a water attorney and shareholder of the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which runs a high-profile lobbying operation in Washington. For three years Slater was co-chair, along with David Bernhardt, of the firm’s Natural Resources Department. Bernhardt, who served as Interior Department solicitor under the George W. Bush administration, is reportedly a candidate for a top-level Interior position under Trump. The department oversees the BLM. Slater said Bernhardt was not behind last week’s action. “David did not lobby for us…. I do not believe that he had anything to do with it.” Crescenta Valley water conservation status goes from yellow to blue California isn't giving up on fighting auto pollution — even with Trump in office
News Article | September 20, 2016
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell commemorated the National Park Service’s 100 birthday in a speech late Thursday, calling their creation “one of the nation’s most revolutionary ideas — that these lands, our iconic historic sites and our culturally significant places should belong to every American.” Standing on a stage erected near the Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner, Mont., Jewell said, “I can think of no better place to commemorate this milestone than here, at America’s first national park, under a big sky, on a crisp night, in the shadows of beautiful mountains and on the shoulders of conservation giants who came before us.” About 6,000 people gathered to hear country bands play and numerous speakers, including a Theodore Roosevelt impersonator who introduced Jewell. Roosevelt has gone down in history as a titan of conservation, but it was President Woodrow Wilson who created the service in 1916 that now oversees more than 410 parks, monuments and historic sites on 85 million acres in the 50 states and territories. But there was concern in the night air even as Jewell spoke about the future of the parks. Will the Park Service survive a second century? [What will reshape national parks most in their new century? Climate change, the director says.] The natural beauty of the parks is unquestioned, but the human touches that make them accessible aren’t all pretty. The system faces a $12 billion maintenance shortfall that has left infrastructure as big as bridges and small as restrooms in disrepair. Yellowstone’s backlog alone is $603 million, facing crumbling roads, buildings and wastewater systems. Congress has declined to provide funding needed for fixes that have lingered for more than a decade. Another looming challenge lies in who comes to the parks. The average age of its visitors is as high as 63 years old at some sites, and the Park Service is unsure how to entice younger people away from cities and the Internet. Climate change is making matters worse. Before attending the celebration at Yellowstone, Jewell scaled a summit at Glacier National Park in Montana and met with scientists to discuss how rising temperatures have caused Grinnell Glacier, the most accessible one in North America, to virtually disappear. Rising temperatures and and sea-level rise are grinding away at the Assateague Island National Seashore. A decrease in snow and rain has stunted the growth of vegetation in several parks, including Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona and Mojave National Preserve in California, leaving bighorn sheep with little to eat. [Graphic: Your essential guide to all 59 U.S. national parks] It is projected to be a banner year for the Park Service, with attendance topping 330 million for the first time — a 23 million increase over last year. The top national park draws are Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee, with 10.7 million visitors in 2015; Grand Canyon, with 5.5 million visitors; and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Yosemite National Park in California, both with about 4.15 million visitors. The most stalwart park visitors are disappearing, though, because of aging and death. The question of how to draw more young people and minorities who were historically alienated from parks is unsolved. Jewell wants to diversify the visitors and ensure that “the service is relevant to all Americans and engaging the next generation,” according to an announcement of Thursday’s events. The splendor of the parks is tough to oversell. Visiting national parks, Americans sometimes find themselves face to face with bison and within shouting distance of bears. They walk across earth charred by lava and watch it flow down cliffs into the Pacific Ocean. There are also pulsing geysers, eye-popping views from cliffs, canyons the size of big cities, and rich animal diversity. Many of the millions of people who visit the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site are unaware that they’re all maintained by the Park Service. [America’s most accessible glacier is melting down to nothing] More visitors add to the numbers of people who encounter problems. “Restroom facilities have been closed, trails have not been maintained because there’s no money so visitors can’t take hikes,” said Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive of the National Parks Conservation Association. “Sometimes campgrounds and services are lacking,” all while more people are coming to parks, Pierno said. “It’s a very serious issue.” For years, Congress has declined to increase the Park Service’s appropriation above about $3 billion. Republican members instead called on the Government Accountability Office to investigate whether the Park Service was collecting enough visitor fees and membership dues to address the problem on its own. In a December report, the GAO concluded that Congress’s $3.1 billion appropriation over about a decade amounted to an 8 percent funding drop when adjusted for inflation. Lawmakers who called on the service to create a higher revenue stream overlooked one major obstacle: Congress. It virtually barred the agency from increasing rates and must pass a law to change that. But even if the Park Service could increase fees, will there be enough visitors to pay them a few decades from now? Many park visitors are older than 65, and at that age, entrance is free. The bulk of paying visitors are between 50 and 60, paving the way for a revenue crash in the next decade. The Park Service desperately needs new visitors as it moves into its new century. [The Park Service wants to pull more youngsters into parks. But first, they must defeat Madden NFL and Pokemon.] That’s where Sangita Chari comes in. As the program manager for the Office of Relevancy, Diversity and Inclusion, her job is to increase the number of African American, Latino, Native American and Asian employees. The hope is that they, with the help of a five-year-old recruitment program for more diverse visitation, will become a beacon for minorities. It’s been a hard slog, Chari said. “The issue we have with our minority employees is our turnover rates mirror our recruitment rates,” she said, meaning that they lose as many as they recruit. Traditionally, “it’s expected that to move up, you move from park to park,” Chari said, and postings in remote locations may make minorities feel particularly isolated. “We also have a challenge retaining millennials,” Chari said. “Unless we stem our retention issues … build a more inclusive environment, we will continue to remain stable.” At Yosemite, John Jackson, a park ranger who is black, said he goes out of his way to make members of underrepresented groups feel welcome when they show up at the park. “If you like reading a book, I tell them you can sit by the river. It could be a good place to take a nap,” he said. “I let them know the park is an open space for many different activities. But don’t try to do too much. If you have one day or one hour, just do one thing.” [Without $250 million in repairs, Washington’s Memorial Bridge will only be safe for walkers.] Jackson visited Yosemite while living in Los Angeles in 1978 and fell in love. He worked there off and on for a few years before joining the staff permanently eight years ago. “If I see a horse, I want to ride it. If I see water, I want to swim. If I see snow shoes, I want to use them,” he said. Not everyone shares his sense of adventure. “People come here and say I’m scared of bears … how are they going to enjoy the place if they think there’s a bear around every corner?” Fear, he said, can be overcome, but he said the Park Service as yet isn’t doing enough to lure people to its wide-open spaces for that to happen. He said the Park Service doesn’t do enough to tell the story of how people who weren’t white helped to build Yosemite and other parks. Yosemite dwells too much on the contributions of John Muir, whose love for the Sierra Nevada led to the creation of the park in 1890. “We keep talking about him,” Jackson said. “If we spent more time talking about American Indian contributions, maybe we would get them. If we talked about African Americans, maybe we would get more. The Chinese built roads here. “We know John Muir,” he said. “Multiple groups made this place famous historically, not just one group.”
News Article | November 1, 2016
Otis College of Art and Design and Joshua Tree National Park recently launched the Joshua Tree Art Innovation Laboratory (JT Lab), an initiative which will explore ways that artists can contribute to the National Park Service’s mission and strengthen the role artists play in the National Park Service (NPS). Moving beyond artists solely as image makers, the initiative enlists artists as “creative thinkers, problem-solvers, and communicators.” A National Endowment for the Arts "Imagine Your Parks" project, JT Lab takes NPS’s 2016 Centennial and “Arts Afire” initiative as an opportunity to explore a progressive approach to park management while providing new opportunities for artists. As part of JT Lab, artists and NPS staff will develop innovative programs and projects that contribute to park sites and visitor experiences—both at Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve. Additional partners in this initiative include Copper Mountain College, the Mojave Desert Land Trust, and BoxoPROJECTS. “The JT Lab initiative positions artists and designers as creative partners and problem solvers in service to larger public goals. This expanded role is embedded within the programs of Otis College and we are excited to see this project thrive,” said Bruce W. Ferguson, president of Otis College of Art and Design. JT Lab is led by Rebecca Lowry, a Los Angeles-based artist and lecturer at Otis College. Lowry, whose conceptually driven work has been seen at Grand Canyon National Park, will work closely with senior park staff as an embedded art professional within Joshua Tree. "Working with the National Park Service, artists have the potential to spark the imaginations of new and more diverse audiences,” said Lowry. “By making people aware of the importance and relevance of parks and revealing new perspectives, we will contribute directly to the preservation of these special places." The project also features a volunteer artist program, led by Joshua Tree-based artist Jenny Kane and an art internship program targeting underserved rural and urban youth, hosted by Copper Mountain College (CMC). For more information on the project and for a listing of its upcoming public events visit http://www.jtlab.info. ABOUT OTIS COLLEGE OF ART AND DESIGN Established in 1918, Otis College of Art and Design offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in a wide variety of visual and applied arts, media, and design. Core programs in liberal arts, business practices, and community-driven projects support the College’s mission to prepare diverse students to enrich the world through their creativity, skill, and vision. Joshua Tree National Park is a 793,000-acre park located two hours southeast of Los Angeles. Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in this diverse landscape. Dark night skies, a wide variety of plants and animals, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in Southern California. ABOUT NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS: IMAGINE YOUR PARKS The National Endowment For the Arts is partnering with The National Park Service is on a special arts grant initiative that jointly celebrates the 50th anniversary of the NEA in 2015 and the centennial anniversary of the NPS in 2016. The initiative, entitled "Imagine Your Parks," unites the missions of the two agencies to promote and protect the nation's cultural and natural treasures. "Imagine Your Parks"—a national centennial program—is providing grant funding through the NEA Art Works grant category to NPS external partners or organizations that use the arts, in all forms, to connect people with the National Park System and its programs.
Hughson D.L.,Mojave National Preserve |
Darby N.,Mojave National Preserve |
Dungan J.D.,Mojave National Preserve
California Fish and Game | Year: 2010
Motion-triggered cameras are useful in wildlife investigations but quantitative metrics derived from photographs potentially include substantial error. We compared six models of cameras placed sideby-side at a small spring in Mojave National Preserve, California, for 63 days in the spring of 2006, and for 40 days in the fall of 2007. Total number of different species detected varied by camera from 2 to 14 in the first trial and from 1 to 6 in the second. Total number of wildlife photographs taken by each camera ranged from 18 to 348 in the first trial and from 0 to 95 in the second. Photographic rates of a single species, mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), differed by as much as 100% between two units of the same camera model. We did find, however, that the distribution of time intervals between photographs of mule deer was similar for different cameras. These results indicate that photographic rates and number of species detected by motion-triggered cameras can vary significantly even for identical models placed side by side, and have important implications regarding the interpretation of such data across areas.
Dekker F.J.,Mojave National Preserve |
Hughson D.L.,Mojave National Preserve
Journal of Arid Environments | Year: 2014
Small springs in mountainous areas provide the only source of water for numerous wildlife species over a broad expanse of the Mojave Desert. A comprehensive inventory and annual surveys over nine years indicated that many such springs occur in canyons and ravines along the slopes and near the base of mountain ranges associated with small, locally recharged, perched aquifers and are drought ephemeral. Within the 643,112ha study area 135 spring systems consisting of 238 distinct surface water expressions were monitored. Reliability of available surface water was correlated with watershed catchment area and spring brook length. Geologic field mapping of a subset of 39 springs indicated that the area of colluvial sediment above barriers was correlated with persistence of surface water from year to year, but the area of phreatophyte vegetation supported by spring discharge and hydraulic conductivity of the sediment surface were not. Reliable spring discharge through several years of sustained drought depends upon sufficient groundwater storage. Watershed catchment area, spring brook length, and area of colluvial sediment appear to be predictors of discharge persistence during drought for certain types of montane springs. © 2014.
News Article | February 14, 2016
President Barack Obama has designated three California desert areas made up of some 1.8 million acres as national monuments, roughly doubling the amount of protected public land during his presidency. All three scenic desert areas lie east of Los Angeles, with two, namely Mojave Trails and Castle Mountains, are situated near the Californian border with Nevada. With the protection of the sections of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts, the federal government remains the owner of the land but will be prohibited from selling it, constructing new roads or allowing further development that is not aligned with ecological protection, recreation or flood control measures. “The California desert is a cherished and irreplaceable resource for the people of Southern California,” said interior secretary Sally Jewell last Friday. According to a White House statement, the new national monuments will link lands that are already protected, including the Mojave National Preserve, Joshua Tree National Park, and 15 wilderness areas. The move, they added, will permanently protect “key wildlife corridors” and offer animals and plants “the space and elevation range that they will need in order to adapt to the impacts of climate change.” Of the three new monuments, the Mojave Trails is the largest at 1.6 million acres and features rugged mountains and stunning sand dunes. It is considered a reteller of the American story with its historic trading routes, a transcontinental rail line and the country’s most famous highway, Route 66. The Sand to Snow National Monument boasts Southern California’s tallest mountain and showcases 154,000 acres of diverse terrain, while the Castle Mountains is the smallest at 20,920 acres yet home to awe-inspiring wildlife including golden eagles and mountain lions. In less than two years, this is the second time that the executive power acted to protect California wilderness areas after a stalled case in Congress – a disagreement stemming from partisan politics. In 2014, the president endowed the same protection on a 540-square mile portion of the San Gabriel Mountains after Representative Judy Chu’s attempt to win protection approval in the House. The White House said that President Obama has now protected over 265 million acres of water and land, which is more than any other U.S. presidency’s action.