Sunday, January 25, 2004


Pact for maintaining Forest Service fleet facing opposition Van Auken said Californians could lose the mechanics' collective experience, which enables firefighters to save homes, protect property and extinguish flames. When vehicles break down at fires, Van Auken and his fellow mechanics travel to the scene to repair them. Serco Group PLC, a $2.5 billion company based in the United Kingdom that employs 37,000 workers worldwide, could save taxpayers $2 million under a U.S. Forest Service contract that it won Jan. 7. Beginning in July, Serco will begin maintaining and repairing more than 400 federal fire vehicles at 18 national forests in California. About 60 mechanics, including Van Auken, will have to find work elsewhere if they don't get and accept job offers from Serco, he said....Firefighters faced power dilemma Shortly after the Grand Prix Fire broke out Oct. 21 in Fontana, the pilot of one of the largest firefighting helicopters available believed he had a shot at dousing what later grew into a devastating blaze. But pilot Mike Gilpin said he never got a chance to dump his payload of about 1,750 gallons of water. He said he was ordered to abandon the water drop for safety reasons. He couldn't communicate with ground crews because their radios were operating on different frequencies, Gilpin said in a telephone interview Saturday. So Gilpin dropped his water on a hillside and flew the helicopter back to San Bernardino International Airport to work out the radio-frequency problem, he said. At that point, he estimated, the fire appeared to be covering fewer than 10 acres....Devastating Fire Ignites Flurry of Research at Forest Lab Throughout its 70-year history, the San Dimas Experimental Forest has taught researchers many valuable lessons. The 17,000-acre tract, part of the larger Angeles National Forest set aside in 1933, has provided fertile ground for experiments in hydrology, soil science and botany. It has yielded important clues about how water and fire can transform the landscape around us. Now, in its death and phoenix-like rebirth, the Experimental Forest has new wisdom to impart. It has been more than a year since the Williams fire inhaled 38,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains, leaving behind scorched hillsides, the charred carcasses of trees and the smoldering ruins of the Experimental Forest....PROPOSED HORSE TRAILS OUTLINED AT MEETINGS The proposal is to designate certain bridle paths as horse trails, and to restrict horseback riders to those trails only. The watersheds are for Lusk Creek, Upper Bay Creek, Eagle Creek and Big Grand Pierre Creek. It may sound simple, but the topic inflames emotions to fever pitch and pits horseback enthusiasts against environmentalists -- and often both against the Forest Service. Environmentalists say the horse riders are destroying the forest, and the horse riders say the environmentalists want to keep them out of the forest and off trails they have been using for years....Forest stewardship method sparks debate The Bureau of Land Management is receiving mixed reviews about its recently released guidelines for "stewardship contracting," which agency officials say allows for greater forest restoration and fire prevention. Officials have heralded the contracting method as a way for land managers to combine many restoration projects into one and auction those projects off to private interests. The contracting is one of the changes implemented under President Bush's Healthy Forests Initiative, and some of the projects are planned for Central Oregon....Potlatch celebrates 100 years of operation When Frederick Weyerhaeuser died in 1914, his wealth rivaled the Rockefellers. Yet outside lumber towns, few people knew his name. The Weyerhaeusers have always been quiet about their wealth, says Keith Petersen, author of the book, “Company Town: Potlatch, Idaho and the Potlatch Lumber Co.” In the early 1900s, Weyerhaeuser, his relatives and friends founded three lumber companies in the West. One is the company based in Tacoma with the family name. Another evolved to become Boise Cascade. The third, and the one the Weyerhaeusers believed would prosper most, Petersen said, was at Potlatch, Idaho....New Predator in Yellowstone Reshapes Park's Entire Ecosystem Nine years have elapsed since the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service imported 15 gray wolves from Canada to colonize Yellowstone, wolfless since 1926, when hunters finished exterminating them as unwelcome pests and dangerous predators. Today, the park has 250 to 300 wolves, too many to track them all with radio collars. They are no longer classified as an endangered species, but are now "threatened," and, if a dispute between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of Wyoming is resolved, they may soon be "delisted" altogether, allowing carefully controlled hunting. But, for scientists, this triumph is only the beginning. Wolves, it turns out, constitute a "keystone species" that is reshaping an entire ecosystem in ways not foreseen when researchers began a crossed-fingers experiment in wildlife preservation. Today, America's most famous stretch of wilderness has become an ecologist's bonanza. It appears to be evolving in reverse -- returning to a time when flora and fauna were in a balance dictated exclusively by forces of nature, not by humans: "For the first time in 70 years, the park has a complete suite of predators and prey," Ripple said in an interview from his Corvallis, Ore., office. "This is a grand experiment."....Saving endangered species ---- luxury or necessity? Questions over how far to go in saving endangered species started long before the county's current $1 billion habitat-conservation plan. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, discovery of the Stephens kangaroo rat halted development all around Riverside County. More recently, the Quino checkerspot butterfly delayed the construction of Vista Murrieta High School for several years. And just this month federal officials advised Lake Elsinore school officials they could not move forward with plans to build a new elementary school in Wildomar, again because of the checkerspot butterfly and the California gnatcatcher. The finding of two endangered songbirds also halted the realignment of Newport Road in Menifee. Other examples abound of endangered or threatened species holding up development or adding millions to the price tags, rekindling debate over the whether such protections are necessary for the preservation of a fragile ecosystem, or just environmentalism run amok....Merced campus shrimp ruling favorable The University of California, Merced, has escaped another potential environmental snare, as the Bush administration has decided not to protect a small wetlands-loving crustacean under the Endangered Species Act. In a decision to be formally announced Monday, the Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the midvalley fairy shrimp shouldn't be designated as endangered or threatened....U.S. Billed for Lost Water During the California drought of the early 1990s, the federal government cut back water deliveries to Central Valley irrigation districts to protect two rare fish species, the threatened delta smelt and the endangered chinook salmon. Now, the bill is due. In a case that legal experts say could hobble aquatic protections under the Endangered Species Act, a federal claims court judge ruled recently that the U.S. government must give the irrigators $14 million for the water they never received. The payment — which could grow to more than $25 million with the addition of interest and legal fees — stems from an earlier decision by the same judge that the water cutback amounted, under the U.S. Constitution, to a property taking. The case has become a major beachhead for the property rights movement, which is pressing similar claims elsewhere. "There's no free water, just as there's no free lunch. The costs are going to be borne somewhere along the line," said Roger Marzulla, a Washington, D.C., property rights attorney who represents the water districts. "The plaintiffs have a recognized property right under state law. The federal government took it, and the federal government has to pay for it." Government and environmental lawyers say that, if the decision by federal Claims Court Judge John Paul Wiese stands and other courts embrace it, the Endangered Species Act could become too expensive to enforce. "It's an enormously important case," said Richard Frank, a chief deputy in the California attorney general's office....FINAL EIS FOR PACIFIC SALMON FISHERIES MANAGEMENT RELEASED NOAA Fisheries has released for public review its "Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (FPEIS) for Pacific Salmon Fisheries Management off the Coasts of Southeast Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, and in the Columbia River Basin." The FPEIS is an annual review of salmon management that describes the effects of human actions on the biological environment. Because anadromous stocks of salmon and steelhead are listed under the federal Endangered Species Act as threatened or endangered, the FPEIS concentrates broadly on those ESUs and the variety of activities, laws and agreements that govern the stocks....Groups challenge feds' allowing development in panther areas Environmental groups monitoring the destruction of Florida panther habitat in Lee, Collier and Hendry counties released a report this week that suggests federal permitting agencies used faulty science for more than a decade to allow development in areas that were critical to the survival of one of the world's rarest and most endangered mammals. The National Wildlife Federation, along with the Florida Panther Society and other groups, released a report titled Discrediting a Decade of Panther Science this week. Based on a government-funded peer review of panther literature released in December, the report says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers knowingly used bad panther science to appease development interests in Southwest Florida....Experts disagree about potential threat of cougars When David Baron's book, "The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature," was released in November, it had been 12 years since a mountain lion killed an 18-year-old Colorado man the author used as a focus for the book. But only two months after the release, a cyclist was killed by a lion in Southern California. Baron predicted attacks like the one that left the cyclist dead and another hospitalized will increase as more people recreate outdoors and as development eats up wildlife habitat. "I thought someone was playing a sick practical joke," Baron said of the call he took from a reporter after the Jan. 8 attack in California. In early December, Baron was on a book tour in Southern California. Some locals tried to dismiss the book, arguing that Baron was needlessly striking fear into the population. But things have changed. "This one terrible tragedy and now everyone thinks I am a prophet," Baron said from his home in Boston. In his book, Baron explains that an increase in mountain lion/human encounters in the past 20 years is due to shrinking rural areas as people continue to push into wildlife habitat. At the same time, some wildlife populations are at their highest levels ever. David Stoner says many people wrongly conclude that incidents such as the one in California earlier this month means the area is home to many mountain lions. Stoner, a graduate research assistant at Utah State University, helps track the migration patterns of cats that have been outfitted with radio callers. He said that in most cases of cougar/human conflict, the animal is a young transient animal searching for territory to call home or an older animal no longer able to drag down its main prey - deer....U.S. opens 1st site dedicated to Mexican war The 3,400-acre Palo Alto Battlefield is where U.S. and Mexican soldiers fought a key battle that eventually led to Mexico losing half its territory and the United States gaining claim to the Southwest. On Saturday, more than a century after the fight, the National Park Service opened a visitors' center at the battlefield, the agency's first site dedicated to the U.S.-Mexican War. Displays and narration, provided in English and Spanish, reflect both U.S. and Mexican perspectives on the war in hopes of attracting visitors from each side of the border.... Bighorns hit with new disease The herd of up to 100 sheep, which lives in the Silverbell Mountains north of Tucson, was infected in late fall with a bacterium carried by goats that escaped from the nearby La Osa Ranch. To date, 30 sheep have gone blind, and seven of them have died of complications related to the blindness. Now, wildlife officials are finding another ailment, most likely linked to the goats: a viral infection of the sheep's faces and skin. Fourteen sheep have showed up with the lesions. Although not deadly, the infection could cause ewes to refuse to nurse their young if the lambs develop the irritating sores. And that could further destabilize the herd, which up until this fall had been disease-free....Opponents of Nevada's Burning Man launch Internet campaign Opponents of the annual Burning Man counterculture festival on the Nevada desert have launched an Internet campaign against event organizers and federal land managers. Opponents maintain the weeklong gathering on the Black Rock Desert leading up to Labor Day harms a unique desert landscape and results in ineffective cleanup efforts....Wilderness tag is sought for highlands near Nogales A swath of land in southern Arizona that encompasses grasslands and jaguar habitat is being eyed for wilderness designation, the first in Arizona in 14 years. The Tumacacori Highlands are spread over 84,500 acres northwest of Nogales, within the confines of the Coronado National Forest. A coalition of southern Arizona businesses, conservation groups and individuals is hoping to sell Congress on making the highlands a wilderness area.... Cabin-site sales begin paying off A federal-state board is ready to begin spending some $200,000 for new recreational access sites along the Upper Missouri River, and it's inviting proposals at a meeting Tuesday. The money is generated by $13 million paid to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust from sales over the past two years of most of 265 cabin sites at the north end of Canyon Ferry Reservoir. The sites were owned by the federal Bureau of Reclamation but for decades were leased to private parties, many of whom built homes and other improvements on them. The federal legislation authorizing the sales required that the bulk of the proceeds be put into the trust. Those funds are to be used to develop hunting, fishing and sporting access in Montana....Cattle drive helps tired, stressed workers relax After riding through some treacherous terrain near the Franklin Mountains, insurance broker David Caballero petted his horse Midnight and smiled. "This is a very very exciting and relaxing experience for those people stressed out from working too hard," said Caballero, 33, of Clint. Caballero was one of more than 100 riders and their horses at Saturday's cattle drive to begin the 75th Southwestern International Livestock Show and Rodeo, organizers said. The cattle drive, featuring more than 100 longhorn cattle, stretched for more than 10 miles through the desert and hilly terrain on Bowen Ranch near Northeast El Paso....Lovers of quarter horses gathering at WestWorld Quarter horse owners and trainers from across the nation are gathering this week at WestWorld for the world's largest quarter horse circuit. The Arizona Sun Country Circuit Quarter Horse Show, now in its 31st year, features five arenas of competition from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily through Saturday. It's an informal show where spectators can wander among arenas, see horses up close, talk to the owners and shop for everything from saddles to Western art. The show draws world-champion riders and amateurs. Organizers expect more than 1,600 horses this year and 17,000 entries. Many horses compete in multiple events....Column: The Western Hero Returns With guns blazing and horses kicking up dust, the Western hero has returned. "Open Range," released on DVD and video last week, offers the best recent example of the Western hero, a man thought to be obsolete in an age of cynicism and despair – but now riding proudly into the sunrise. The Western hero is the affirmation of a universe with meaning and free will, one in which individuals shape their destiny through their moral choices. The Western hero doesn’t always survive, but by his deeds he wins the ultimate battle.... Legal fight begins in Nevada over use of Mustang Ranch name A couple have sued two fellow northern Nevada brothel owners to launch a legal fight over use of the name of the state's most storied bordello. In their U.S. District Court suit filed earlier this month, David and Ingrid Burgess claim they're the exclusive licensee of rights in the Mustang Ranch trademark. The couple, who renamed their Old Bridge Ranch just east of Reno the Mustang Ranch last April, are asking a jury to find against Wild Horse Canyon Ranch owner Lance Gilman and Moonlite Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof....

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