By Tommy Hough
Visiting a National Park shouldn't be seen as a political statement or an act of self-actualizing resistance. Ordinarily, I would never advocate for such a thing in relation to America's Best Idea, or as a means to symbolically push back against a corrupt and cruel regime – even one as vile as this administration.
But at this moment, our National Park Service (NPS) could use some love and attention. It could also use some respect – and you and I can demonstrate that respect.
Our National Parks and Wilderness areas are places where Americans can, should, and frequently do, come together without obsessing over what political stripe they identify with. Our outdoors have always been part of what binds us together as Americans, serving as a common symbol of pride and expression of humility at the foot of our nation's most remarkable landscapes.
As humans we are naturally imperfect, and therefore, we are an imperfect nation. But as a nation, we also have the capacity within our founding documents to improve upon ourselves, and rise above our egos to get things right. Jefferson called this the pursuit of "a more perfect union." Conservation policy is a marvelous expression of that ideal. The benefits to humankind and our planet in doing so are self-evident, and abundant.
But today we have a president who is a liar, a destructive fool, and a resentful braggart. He has never wanted for anything, but has never felt he had enough. He is an agent of abject and malicious cruelty, like a child who stomps on snails or tortures animals because there's no one to stop him, despite having the immense power of his office at his fingertips to be the world's greatest advocate of peace and kindness. This president is not an engaged caretaker of our special places, nor does he have any interest in being one.
It's astounding that, for a man so desperate to be loved, this president can be counted upon to make the most hateful, unpopular decision even worse by twisting his knife into groups he perceives as isolated, vulnerable, or powerless along the way. He will never make a decision that isn't utterly self-centered and based upon his most immediate need to dominate. Yet he sincerely wonders why no one likes him.
He makes absurd exaggerations and fabricates conversations, like a child, about what our mayor might have said about his border policies behind closed doors, or how many people attended his inauguration. Those who fall into his orbit are irreparably damaged, and will remain marked by their association with him for the rest of their days. That he is an insatiable, emotional black hole is transparently clear, yet so many, perhaps blinded by his alleged wealth or some other odd attraction, fail to see it.
Which brings us to today. The only way this president seems to feel he receives the respect he believes is due is by ordering the military and weapons of war to surround him like a Soviet politburo stooge. His rally saw a U.S. president break with 243 years of tradition, of resistance to indulging in empty, vain military braggadocio. Today, we have a president so emotionally insecure he can't even perceive the idea that to boast shows weakness and insecurity – two things no chief executive should ever reveal.
Whether a few tanks or a few jet flyovers, the United States – the strongest military power in the world, if that means anything – has no need to parade our might before the world in a wasteful, impotent show of force that utilizes the authoritarian May Day displays of North Korea or the Soviet Union as inspiration, even though the president argues he was inspired by Bastille Day. These displays are not, and have never been, who we are as Americans.
According to historian Michael Beschloss, who wrote a book about wartime presidents, President Eisenhower – the general who held the coalition of Western Allies together and led them to victory over Germany and Italy in World War II – had no problem reviewing military parades as a general, or reviewing formations as president when visiting military bases.
But when asked by his staff during the era of large Soviet military parades if he wanted to arrange something similar, Eisenhower said:
"To have a military parade without the end of a war or an inaugural or some big reason in Washington, D.C., that is out of our tradition."
According to Beschloss, Eisenhower also said:
"We are the preeminent power on Earth. For us, to try to imitate what the Soviets are doing in Red Square, would make us look weak."
Eisenhower also famously cut defense spending during his administration, something only a war-winning general could have done in the midst of the Cold War, and famously warned the nation about the military-industrial complex upon leaving office in January 1961.
But even shortly after taking office in 1953, as the Korean War was heading into its final, bloody months before a cease-fire, the 34th president said:
"The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people."
Those days, of course, are very much over. Today our president insists on "rebuilding our Navy," without any awareness it is no longer 1945.
Today, what interests our president isn't doing the right thing or abiding by the rational tradition observed by individuals clearly more decent and wise than he. What interests this president is the only thing that has ever motivated him – more. The question is, who does he cheat, rob, or steal from to get more.
In the case of today's display on the National Mall, where Martin Luther King gave his celebrated "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, and where Marian Anderson performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the segregated Washington, D.C., of 1939, the president spent millions in seven military flyovers, with 24 aircraft costing at least $560,000 per hour, along with a variety of "unknown costs" that the White House will probably never clarify. A Defense Department estimate for a proposed military parade last year came to $92 million, but the event was scuttled once the costs were made public.
While the "unknown costs" for the president's spectacle remain, what is known is the administration snatched $2.5 million in visitor fees from the National Park Service to fully fund the "Salute to America," even as park service officers were ordered to police the event.
An agency long-maligned by this administration, the park service relies upon visitor fees collected at NPS sites to cover the shortfall politicians of both parties fail to provide, year after year, for maintenance, visitor services, law enforcement, wildlife habitat and recreation access.
That this money is being "appropriated" from the NPS at a time when parks face a massive financial shortfall, including $12 billion in backlogged maintenance aggravated by the government shutdown earlier this year, and while the administration is actively undoing the sanctity of National Monuments even at a time of renewed interest in parks and an influx of visitors, is contemptible.
That today's self-congratulatory display is taking place at a time when children have been forcibly separated from their parents and kept in cages, devoid of the love and touch any child needs, and held in filthy, unsanitary concentration camps "housing" migrants legally seeking asylum, is similarly extraordinary and intolerable. This administration continues to undo the capability of our courts, our operating agencies, and remains dead set on pitting Americans against each other in order to enhance the president's power.
The rot that this administration has enabled, with the naked aid of a foreign power has, in two-and-a-half short years, radically altered the basic tenets of our republic and weakened our democracy to the breaking point.
So with the administration's theft of the park service budgetary supplement in mind, I would encourage you to make a trip this weekend to one of our nation's National Parks, and tell the rangers and employees and volunteers there thank you. Let them know you value them, and that you appreciate the unheralded work they do, day after day, maintaining and preserving our nation's natural and historical heritage. Say the same thing to U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) personnel too, and those who operate our state and regional parks.
Park professionals and volunteers work every day to not only give visitors an amazing experience, but to illustrate how our nation's legacies have affected the wild and the land. They preserve our resources, highlight moments when our nation has succeeded and faltered, and simply in being there stand as one of our nation's great success stories.
Granted, this isn't the kind of success a man like our president can comprehend or appreciate. The humility that goes into declaring a place, an ecosystem, a historic site, or a vast wilderness as off limits so as to enact preservation practices is an extraordinary feat of humanity, and one that is constantly set upon by the temptation of greed, prejudice, waste, and a desire among some to whitewash our nation's mistakes and heritage – to deny history – in order for it to conform to a curious perfection aligned with certain political desires.
When visiting a National Park Service site, consider the options before you. Instead of fighting the crowds at Muir Woods National Monument on a holiday weekend, find solace, silence and an extraordinary outdoor experience to the north at Point Reyes National Seashore. Instead of driving yourself crazy trying to find parking among the campers and fifth wheels at Yosemite Valley, explore the basin and range geologic province and ancient bristlecones of Great Basin National Park. Savor the view from our Cabrillo National Monument, or revel in the majestic natural churches of the Redwoods.
Take a stand and resist by going out into our woodlands and wilderness and heed, as John Muir would say, the "good tidings" of the mountains. Visit our parks and special places, and embrace our collective natural and historic heritage that our president sees only as an ATM to fund embarrassing, self-aggrandizing spectacles that subvert our nation's earned patriotism.
Visit our National Parks, and protect what's yours from those who would privatize it or steal it away from you in the dead of night. This land is your land.
Tommy Hough is the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.
By Tommy Hough
Thanks to everyone who joined us for our hike along the mesa tops and wooded canyon bottoms of Del Mar Mesa Preserve this past Sunday.
Enjoy the photos of our trek collected here, courtesy of long-time San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action member Renée Owens, who won our first-ever Member of the Year award in 2017.
Now threatened directly and indirectly by the construction of an 11-story office building and related office park on land surrounded on three sides by areas managed for conservation, the Del Mar Mesa Preserve is one of the best-preserved specimens of natural San Diego habitat, and home to endangered vernal pools, rare lichens, an assortment of birds from along the Pacific Flyway, and what may be the largest surviving wild Coastal scrub oak in San Diego County. It's a special, quiet place – and surprisingly wild along the canyon bottom in the tunnels of oak trees.
Special thanks to Frank Landis from the San Diego chapter of the California Native Plant Society for leading the hike, founding club member and Torrey Hills Planning Board chair Kathryn Burton for her advocacy with Protect Our Preserves, club vice president Sara Kent for organizing the outing, and Sacramento attorney and California Democratic Party Progressive Caucus chair candidate Amar Shergill for joining us.
Renée also supplied a few brief captions for each photo, numbered 1 to 26, beginning with the photo of our members on the trail:
1. Kevin Lourens, Cara Furio and Kathryn Burton (L to R)
2. Allen's hummingbird and bottlebrush
3. Black sage
4. California towhee
8. Echo blue butterfly
9. Female California quail
10. Male California quail
11. Mimilus aurantiacus
14. Nutall snapdragon
15. Raptor nest in coastal scrub oak
16. San Diego button celery (very rare)
17. Scrub jay
18. Splendid mariposa lily
19. Splendid mariposa lily
20. Star lily
21. Torrey Highlands vicinity
22. White catchalagua
23. Wild hyacinth
24. Greater roadrunner
25. Red admiral butterfly
26. Less than impressive vernal pool interpretive sign
By Cody Petterson
For the first time in 15 years, I sat down in my car and broke down sobbing. As waves of sadness, frustration, rage, and despair welled up along the side of a dirt road, surrounded by mountains, I wept.
I'd spent the day planting and watering seedlings, which I've been doing for half a decade. We own 300 acres on the north slope of Volcan Mountain, between Julian and Warner Springs, in an area that was hit by the Pines Fire in 2002 in which two-thirds of the native conifers were killed.
I grew up hiking in nearby Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, long before the fires that destroyed the forest there in 2003, and I got it into my mind to restore the conifer forest that had been lost on our property. It took me months to figure out what was what, heading up to the mountain once a week, taking photos, coming home and trying to identify all the species, reading late into the night about botany, forestry, and silviculture. Over time, I collected thousands of cones.
I learned how to get seeds out of the cones and how to stratify, germinate, and pot them, and before long I was growing seedlings in my backyard. I put together a working group with the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Cal Fire, and the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, and ultimately collected and sent 30 bushels of fresh cones to the Forest Service nursery in Placerville in El Dorado County. I eventually got a thousand seedlings from those seeds.
I planted the seedlings every which way I could, learning something new each time, year after year. The first year I planted in the open. The seedlings baked. Next year I tired in the shade. They baked again. I learned to water every two or three weeks, which isn't easy across 300 acres of steeply-sloped terrain.
The pocket gophers ate them from below. I caged the bottoms. Rabbits severed them at the base. I caged them above ground. Rodents climbed up and down into the cages and defoliated the needles. I caged the tops. The rodents ate the needles on all the branches that protruded from the cage, and the hardware cloth cages heated up in the sun and the metal killed all the branches and needles that were in contact with it.
Aall that time, the relentless heat and dryness killed any seedling left without water for more than two or three weeks. Winter rains are good, but there's no snowmelt anymore, and a winter rain doesn't help a seedling survive by October when there hasn't been a drop of rain in eight months (the second half of 2017 was the driest on record here). And in spite of the thousands of hours of thought, worry, work, and care, I've lost about 650 of the 700 seedlings I've raised from seed and planted with my own two hands over the last five years.
So that day, after a long, dirty, hot day of planting, I walked to one of my favorite spots – a ring of granite boulders sheltered by a huge, gnarled Canyon Live Oak. There, lying shattered and rotting in the middle of the ring, was half of the 60-foot tall tree. The other half was still standing, but covered in the telltale, tiny D-shaped holes of Gold-spotted Oak Borer (GSOB), a beetle that gets into the phloem, xylem, and cambium of our native oaks and quickly kills them.
GSOB arrived in San Diego County on firewood from southeast Arizona about 15 years ago, and has been slowly advancing north, laying waste to our native oaks in the process. So far it's killed around 80,000 trees. I wandered around to a dozen nearby trees, all big, ancient oaks, and the trunks of every one were spotted with GSOB holes. I stood there stunned. As far as the eye could see, the whole millenia-old forest was dying. I wandered back to my truck, numb. I sat down in the driver's seat, staring out the window at the oaks dying en masse.
In addition to the oaks, there's the stately, 100-foot tall Big Cone Douglas Fir, which towers above the oak canopy in our San Diego County forests. Depending on their size, each Big Cone drops about 200 to 1,000 cones every three to five years. Each cone has around 100 viable seeds in it, adding up to about 40,000 seeds on average, per tree, every few years. Multiply that by a few hundred trees and you have around a million seeds falling each year onto our stretch of mountain. And yet, despite the number, there's no more than a dozen saplings growing naturally on our 300 acres of property.
I sat there thinking that day about what it meant, year after year, with a million seeds dropped onto the forest floor but only one or two surviving, and only those on the dampest, darkest portions of the mountain. I thought about what it meant.
It meant the days of the Big Cone Douglas fir are over in San Diego County.
I sat thinking about the thousands of oaks on all those slopes, ridges, and hills. Dying. I thought of the Shot Hole Borer, working its way up through our canyons, killing all San Diego's Coast Live Oak, willow, sycamore, and cottonwood. I thought of the Big Cone pushing their way up through the oak canopy, the last of their kind. I thought of all my seedlings. The hundreds I've planted over the years, and the hundreds filling my patio and yard. I've lost too many to count, but I can somehow remember the moment I first saw each one had dried out, or been pulled under by gophers, or stripped bare by rodents, or gnawed by rabbits, or trampled by cattle from the neighboring reservation.
I'd thought about it all a thousand times. I've lain in bed so many nights trying to wrestle with it. I don't know why, but that afternoon something in my mind buckled under the weight of it. I thought, "How do I tell my kids?" and started to cry. They've grown up with me storing seeds and acorns in the refrigerator, germinating seeds, potting seedlings, watering them, 500 at any given time in the backyard, working in the greenhouses, unloading all my dusty tools and empty water bottles from the truck when I get back in the evening from the mountain. Their dad working in any spare moment on reforesting is all they've ever known.
I thought of a photo we took a couple of years ago, sitting in front of our hundreds of seedlings. So happy. How do I tell them now that I don't know what to do with the 600 seedlings in the backyard? That if I keep them potted they'll get root-bound and slowly die, and if I try to outplant them on the mountain, they'll die even faster? Hoe do I tell them that there's no place left in the world for these trees they've grown up with?
And then there was the question that was there the whole time, waiting to surface: How do I tell myself? I think of all the love I've put into saving that forest. All the years. All the thousands of hours. All the thought, worry, hope, and faith. How do I tell myself it's all going to die? I've spent so much time among these trees, but it's not like trees you visit in a park. I don't go to a different trail or campground or mountain every week. I go to the same mountain, every time. I know every corner of those 300 acres. I can see the whole forest when I close my eyes. Those trees are like friends to me. I know their peculiarities and their personalities. I can identify some of those trees by their acorns alone. It's honestly too much to know they're all doomed.
And if my forest is dying, the same thing is happening everywhere else on earth. My mind leapt back 20 years to when I was doing fieldwork in Kenai, Alaska. I remembered driving past hundreds of miles of conifers dying from Spruce Bark Beetle, which had exploded without the cold winters to keep its population in check. I must have blocked it out for 20 years, but it was right there, just below the surface of my consciousness, foreshadowing.
The sadness, the fear, the despair comes over me in waves when I think about it. The whole biosphere, 66 million years of adaptation and speciation, is dying. I took personal responsibility for repairing, conserving, stewarding my half-mile square of it, and it finally hit me – what I'd been wrestling with unconsciously for a long time – that I can't save it. No amount of wisdom, sacrifice, or heroism is going to change the outcome. It's been wearing on me for years, but when you're raised on Star Wars and unconditional positive regard, you believe that no matter how long the odds, you're somehow going to pull off the impossible. It's been years of working, day-in, day-out, against odds that were unimaginably long. Only they weren't long. They were impossible.
And at the crescendo of sobbing and loss, the saddest thought I've ever had came to me: I wish I didn't know. What else can you say, when faced with a catastrophe of such vastness, with the unravelling of the entire fabric of life on earth? We need to fight to save what we can, but the web of life as we know it is done.
All the beautiful things we saw as kids on the Discovery Channel. The forests I grew up in. The mountain lions, the horned owls, and the scat and the tracks in the washes. We're so early in this curve, and the changes that are already baked in will be so profound. I don't think humans are headed for extinction. We'll survive, though many of us will suffer and die. But so much of this life with which we've shared the planet won't make it. I wish I didn't know. I wish I didn't know those ancient trees dying up there on the mountain. I wish I'd never hiked through Cuyamaca before the fires. I wish I'd never looked beneath rocks for lizards in the canyons before the bulldozers came. Or heard the frogs singing.
Some of us have seen what's coming. Some of us feel, deeply, the oneness of all life, feel its fabric fraying. On the first of April, 2019, just after 3 o'clock, some faith – some fantasy inside me – died as I felt despair for the world I've known and loved. We will not save what was. The world, the systems, the interrelationships, the densely-woven tapestry, the totality we were raised to love will collapse.
My responsibility now is to my children – to all our children – and the world that will remain to them. To rescue as much as we can from that global conflagration, from the catastrophes of famine, and flood, and fire, and conflict, and exodus, and extinctions that await. To end our dependence on fossil fuels, immediately. To dramatically change our food production, our transportation, our land use. Our way of life. To defeat anyone and anything that opposes or hampers that work.
If there were ever a truly holy war, this struggle – to save the whole of life from ourselves – is it. There can be no compromise. No increments. No quarter. There is nothing left, but to go forth with the grief, desperation, and granite-hard determination and transform the world. Utterly. Immediately.
Earth Day, 2019
Volcan Mountain photo by Tommy Hough
Cody and family photo by Tala Petterson
By Tommy Hough
Any fan of the outdoors in Southern California worth their salt knows the harsh landscape of the desert also has a soft side, whether it's the gentle, sandy slopes of the Cadiz Dunes, the coat of a wild desert kit fox, or the visual splendor and riot of color of the spring wildflower bloom.
Our deserts are some of our nation's last truly wild places and sources of needed elbow room. And with five new wilderness areas having been established by the recent public lands bill signed into law last month, more of our Southern California deserts are being managed for conservation than ever before.
Curiously, the desert has another resource some in Washington, and here in California, are eager to tap into: water.
An area called the Fenner Basin in the Mojave Desert is home to a massive, crescent-shaped underground aquifer that holds trillions of gallons of groundwater, and feeds at least five springs in the eastern Mojave that are critical for area wildlife and regional ecosystems. The age of the aquifer is also significant, with some estimates placing it at around 10,000 years old. Its presence ensures the region will never be entirely baked into oblivion by punishing summertime temperatures, or by our warming climate.
The northern end of the aquifer was first protected when Fenner Basin was drawn into the original boundaries of Mojave National Preserve, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton as part of the Desert Protection Act of 1994.
In 2016, after years of galvanizing public support for wilderness initiatives, desert advocates scored another victory for American conservation when President Obama established Mojave Trails National Monument along wild portions of old U.S. Route 66, incorporating the southern portion of the Fenner Basin aquifer.
Unfortunately, shortly after the arrival of the Trump administration, the Interior Department unveiled a plan to reduce the boundaries of over 20 National Monuments, mostly in the west. Mojave Trails was included on that chopping block, and while Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, both located in Utah, had their boundaries shrunk, at this point the same fate has not befallen Mojave Trails. Not yet.
The Trump administration's move to shrink National Monument boundaries is unprecedented, and in the case of Mojave Trails, it's clear the point is to facilitate the pumping of the Fenner Basin aquifer for commercial purposes. The only company interested in doing so is Cadiz, a Los Angeles-based conglomerate with significant ties to the Trump administration and Interior Secretary nominee David Bernhardt, whose lobbying firm has represented Cadiz on this matter in the past. Cadiz owns property within the National Monument and wants to tap into the aquifer beneath its inholding.
Cadiz claims its wells can pump at least 16 billion gallons of water each year from the aquifer for 50 years without harming any springs, wildlife or plants on the surface. The company claims the aquifer receives about two-thirds of the amount of water they plan to draw out annually from rain and snow, but the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service say no.
According to those agencies, the Cadiz project would pump up to 25 times more water than the aquifer receives each year, lowering the water table and drying up local springs – thus harming the desert wildlife that has relied on those springs for centuries. The Cadiz Project will aggravate desertification, and decimate a cross section of Mojave Desert wildlife and ecology as it tries to steal and sell groundwater from one of the driest places in the United States.
Curiously, in the Trump administration's haste in re-writing federal railroad right-of-way laws into order to facilitate the Cadiz plan, they missed the fact that any pipeline from the Cadiz inholding in Mojave Trails must cross state land. While the state lands commission has the final say on how a pipeline may be placed and utilized on land that belongs to California taxpayers, there have been recent moves in the legislature to head the problem off with bills that would have prevented Cadiz and the Trump administration from draining the aquifer.
Unfortunately, the bills were killed in committee in the State Senate, and the critical policy affecting the aquifer never implemented. So conservationists are once again going to bat, this time for SB 307, introduced by State Senator Richard Roth (D–Riverside). The bill would enable the protection of the Fenner Basin aquifer beneath Mojave Trails, and at last, put an end to the destructive Cadiz proposal. If passed by the State Senate, Assembly passage would be likely.
The bill is up for a vote in the California Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, after Cadiz asked for more time to formulate a response. SB 307 needs a resounding yes from the committee as the bill heads to the full State Senate. One of the votes SB 307 needs is Senator Ben Hueso, whose 40th Senate District includes much of southern San Diego County and Imperial County.
As a Californian, outdoorsman, and co-founder and first president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, I'd like to ask Sen. Hueso to consider the science, the proud conservation heritage of our state, the need to preserve our natural aquifers and water resources, and the need to resist the environmentally destructive Trump agenda – and vote yes on SB 307 in the Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Photos by Michael Gordon and Tommy Hough.
By Tommy Hough
The sweeping public lands bill signed into law by President Trump on Tuesday is the kind of idiot-proof bill of decades past, when Democrats and Republicans worked across the aisle to score wins for their home states and districts, and passed sensible, popular policy the public was in favor of.
The passage of the Natural Resources Management Act of 2019 is a huge win for the environment, for wildlife, ecosystems, and American conservation – made possible by decades of work by thousands of tireless activists whose names may be never be known, but who worked year after year on local projects important to their communities. Given the anti-science, anti-environmental era we live in, this victory is a moment of sweet irony and an environmental milestone. It is worth savoring, and celebrating.
From 1954 to 1994, the practice of passing sensible, popular policy was largely the norm in Congress. There were stark exceptions, of course, but those four decades of responsible – progressive, even – effort has come to be seen as a kind of congressional Golden Age.
But since the nationalization of midterm elections by an activist GOP in 1994, enabled by the rise of right-wing media in the wake of President Reagan's clueless "let the market decide" abdication of the Fairness Doctrine on public airwaves in 1987, bipartisanship became a dirty word as a radicalized GOP sought to cement the conservative gains of the Reagan era into, as Karl Rove called it, a "permanent Republican majority."
In doing so, the GOP's flirtation with dog whistles and idiocracy led not only to the Trump administration, but the flight of reason and reality from one of the nation's two major political parties. In its careless wake, the GOP created an amped-up, anger-driven, straw man-fed, resentment-fueled "movement" that eschews science, evidence and responsible inquiry – and continues to cite snowballs in winter as proof our global Climate Crisis is a hoax.
Over the last 10 years, an evermore gerrymandered Congress became a place where Wilderness and National Park bills went to die, and where effective conservation policy of decades past like the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and the Wilderness Act have not just come under attack, but are being rolled back as fast as possible by the Trump administration, whose job as the executive branch is to enforce those laws passed by that earlier, Golden Age of idealized congressional wisdom and compromise.
A decade ago, when Democrats last controlled Congress and the White House, President Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. Despite that bill's uninspiring name, the legislation was a needed boost for conservation efforts in the wake of the Bush administration, and ultimately added two million acres of designated Wilderness nationwide – the gold standard of federal conservation protection – plus miles of newly-recognized National Wild and Scenic Rivers.
It was a big win, but environmentalists knew it would be the last decent public lands bill for some time. And like nails in a coffin, the Tea Party election of 2010 ensured it would be so. Since then, Wilderness and other public lands packages accumulated into a legislative backlog in Washington, as the GOP Congress dismissed conservation bills out of hand while looking for excuses to shut down the government.
Congress even allowed the popular and effective 1965 Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which utilizes offshore oil drilling revenue to fund everything from trail maintenance projects to grants for little leagues, to expire on its 50th anniversary in 2015. Congressman Rob Bishop of Utah, then-chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, shamelessly referred to the LWCF as a slush fund.
But by the summer of 2018, things began to change as the congressional GOP could no longer ignore the rising tide of the Blue Wave – like water racing out to sea ahead of a tsunami. As word from panicked district offices reached Washington that the Blue Wave was real, Congressman Bishop, recognizing his state's love and enjoyment of the outdoors, made peace with his Tea Party roots and began work with Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva to craft an agreement on the Land and Water Conservation Fund that would become the backbone upon which the 2019 public lands bill was built.
The election of a Democratic House in November provided the needed sea change, and began to loosen up the conservation front in the Senate. Since the new year, some GOP politicians have even dared to address the Climate Crisis, and Senate Democrats who ordinarily may have looked elsewhere for actionable policy took the lead on introducing new public lands legislation. With some gentle nudges from the conservation movement, the backlog of bills found new sponsors and bipartisan eagerness, and things began to move forward. The public lands bill passed the Senate on Feb. 13, and the House on Feb. 26. President Trump signed it on Tuesday.
Now, don't be fooled. The bad old days of shrinking National Monument boundaries and warping the mission of agencies like the Department of the Interior and the EPA into destructive tools benefiting polluters by the Trump administration are still with us. But the package of public lands bills signed by the president is so thorough and so far-reaching it not only preserves 400,000 acres of federal public land in California in National Park additions and new Wilderness areas, it permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. That, in of itself, is epochal good news in this age of environmental rollbacks.
But for our environmental advocates who brought these initiatives and bills over the finish line, whose hours of sacrifice and time away from families made this possible – they will be back at it tomorrow. Because preservation doesn't end with one success. We must play defense on one hand and continue to preserve the bounty of Redwoods, Sequoias, wild beaches, canyons, mountaintops, glaciers and grassland passed on to us from previous generations. And there is so much yet to preserve in our nation and elsewhere for ourselves, for others, and those who will come after us.
The Natural Resources Management Act of 2019 is a worthy addition to America's conservation heritage. Now lace up your boots, grab a map, and explore our public lands.
Natural Resources Management Act of 2019 (Senate Bill 47)
What a prize this package is for conservation. In the Golden State alone, the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act expands Death Valley National Park by 35,292 acres, and Joshua Tree National Park by 4,543 acres. The seldom-visited but must-be-experienced Mojave National Preserve receives a comparatively smaller addition of 25 acres, while 87,999 acres (!) will be added to Death Valley National Park to be managed as Wilderness by the National Park Service.
As my friend David Lamfrom, California desert and national wildlife director with the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), explained on my Treehuggers International show at the time of the rollout of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's California Desert Protection Act of 2010, the preservation of our desert wilderness not only retains intact ecosystems, but ensures continuity of wildlife corridors and the "very best of what remains."
The act establishes five new Wilderness areas on BLM-managed public land, totaling 207,300 acres:
The act also expands five existing Wilderness areas on U.S. Forest Service and BLM-managed lands by a total of 81,011 acres, including the legendary high country of the San Bernardino Mountains in the San Gorgonio Wilderness, one of the original Wilderness areas established by the Wilderness Act of 1964:
Over 77 miles of newly-protected National Wild and Scenic Rivers are included in the newly-signed package, including Surprise Canyon Creek just west of Death Valley and Deep Creek in the high country of the San Bernardino Mountains:
In addition, the California Desert Protection and Recreation Act establishes the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in the Owens Valley. A popular camping destination and frequent filming location for Hollywood westerns and car commercials at the base of the eastern Sierra Nevada, the Alabama Hills are made up of strangely-shaped, windblown rock formations, and are plainly seen from U.S. 395 just west of Lone Pine and Independence in Inyo County. The area has been in need of greater ecological protection and recreation management for decades.
Also established is the long-awaited Desert Tortoise Conservation Center, which will most likely be located along the border of California and Nevada in the midst of desert tortoise habitat. The center will provide care to the long-living but threatened species, especially tortoises rescued or collected from development or renewable energy sites on federal land. The center will also support rehabilitation efforts and continued research on the tortoises' tragic condition of inheriting a virus during human contact that prevents them from safely returning to the wild.
Here in San Diego County, the bill transfers 934 acres of BLM-managed land to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, already the largest state park in California, to be managed as Wilderness under state guidelines.
Not only is the sanctity of wildlife corridors between large conservation areas like Wilderness or National Parks ensured with the passage of this public lands bill, but it also requires the BLM to assess the impacts of habitat fragmentation, and establish policies and procedures to ensure the preservation of wildlife corridors within two years.
It Doesn't End Here
Despite signing the Natural Resources Management Act of 2019 into law, the 45th president is, of course, no friend of the environment. From undoing National Monuments to ending required fuel efficiency standards for cars to enabling polluters to dump poison and toxins into America's rivers and waterways, the Trump administration has a great deal to answer for in this life, and the next. The damage and utter subversion Ryan Zinke and Scott Pruitt let loose upon their respective agencies at the Interior Department and EPA at the behest of polluters and the resource extraction industry should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted by Congress.
And as if to provide a reminder his administration is the most virulently anti-conservation, anti-environmental in U.S. history, and as if to remind Americans that he cannot bear to sign desired and effective policy into law that literally brought together a historically divided Congress without some kind of pointlessly self-serving last word, Trump announced during the signing ceremony he had removed nearly all the money from the Natural Resources Management Act's most popular component – the restoration of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Of course, Congress has the last say on that. So let your elected officials know the LWCF needs to be funded and utilized now.
Photo by Tommy Hough.
By Fred Rogers
With only a few days to go before the California Democratic Party returns to San Diego for its annual convention for the first time since 2012, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action were thrilled to welcome Senate Pro Tem Kevin De León for a special club meeting at the Machinists Hall in Kearny Mesa.
We were also happy to welcome back San Diego City Councilmember Georgette Gómez, who was our endorsed candidate in the 2016 San Diego City Council D-9 race, and who introduced Sen. De León. And not only is the newly-minted U.S. Senate candidate a big supporter of the environment, Kevin De León is also a San Diego native. Thanks to everyone for their photo submissions.
With that, this blog marks my final entry as acting president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action, as the club officially welcomes a new president to take over from co-founder and original president Tommy Hough, who is now the club's endorsed candidate in the San Diego City Council D-6 race.
Please welcome new San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action president Cody Petterson, V.P. for programs and outreach Sara Kent, fundraiser Micah Perlin and board member at-large Joe LaCava as part of our line-up of new club officers:
Cody Petterson, president
Sara Kent, vice president for programs and outreach
Fred Rogers, vice president for political action
Brian Elliott, vice president for policy
Alex Kiwan, membership
Brett Fisher, treasurer
Micah Perlin, fundraising
Cara Furio, secretary
Richard Ram, communications
Joe LaCava, board member at-large
Tommy Hough, ex-oficio (immediate past president)
By Fred Rogers
Thanks once again to all of our club members for taking time out of their weekend to join us at the IAM Local 1125 Machinists Hall in Kearny Mesa to help us selected another outstanding group of newly-endorsed environmental Democrats. Congratulations go to:
A big thanks once again to Council of Clubs pesident John Loughlin for providing the club with photos of candidates and meeting attendees from throughout the day.
By Fred Rogers
Congratulations to incumbent Assemblymember and AB-805 hero Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (AD-80), and candidates Sunday Gover (AD-77), Ammar Campa-Najjar (CA-50) and Marggie Castellano (SD-36) on winning club endorsements at the San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action endorsement meeting at the Machinists Hall in Kearny Mesa on Jan 6.
Jordan Beane, Dr. Jennifer Campbell and Bryan Pease were rated Acceptable by club members in the San Diego City Council District 2 (D-2) race. No endorsement was issued in Assembly District 76 (AD-76) between Tasha Boerner Horvath, Michelle Cassel Gomez and Elizabeth Warren.
A big thanks once again to Council of Clubs president John Loughlin for providing the club with photos of candidates and meeting attendees from throughout the day.
By Tommy Hough
When I entered the race for San Diego City Council District 6 in October, I knew I would have to step down as president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action because of the time needed to run an effective campaign, and to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. It is appropriate to do so.
I am so proud to have co-founded this club three-and-a-half years ago, and I did so with immeasurable help from friends and fellow board members Fred Rogers and Cara Furio, and our two other original board members, Lori Kern and Kathleen Connell. In that time we've welcomed aboard Brian Elliott, Brett Fisher, Richard Ram and Alex Kiwan to our executive board.
I'm thankful to have met and welcomed so many great Democrats, environmentalists, community leaders and engaged San Diegans – and I'm excited to see where this club goes and what happens next.
This is a great opportunity for San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action to fulfill what I believe is its role as a clearinghouse for environmental issues within the San Diego County Democratic Party, and to serve a cross between a political action entity and an environmental non-profit.
I've always been a Democrat, and as long as I can remember – going back to my days first experiencing the wild in the Laurel Highlands of Western Pennsylvania and the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia – I've always been an environmentalist. I've had a variety of personal and professional environmental endeavors, from Surfrider to Oregon Wild to my Treehuggers International show, but serving as president of this club has been the most rewarding and satisfying of any of those experiences. I'm so proud of what this club has been able to achieve and what we've accomplished. And there's so much ahead of us.
We've gone from 20 original members in a hot and stuffy room at the county party office to over 370 members today – one of the biggest affinity clubs in the county party, and the only affinity club in any county Democratic party in the state focused solely on the environment other than Sacramento County.
Today, our candidates and elected officials don't mention the environment anymore out of a sense of obligation – they mention it because we are here, because we have carved out and staked a claim for our planet in our party – and you a part of that. You're part of something very special in San Diego, and every person here tonight has had a role in our club's success and what it can continue to do.
I see an incredible opportunity with the new club members and e-board members we've ushered into the fold tonight, and I know we are well-equipped to go to the next level. We're just getting started.
So tonight, I am stepping down as president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. I didn't plan on stepping down so soon, but I will always have the Enviro. Dems.' back and consider this my home club, and I'm pleased to announce that my wife Cory and I are the club's newest patron members.
And no matter how awful the news is today – and it's bad – with the administration's abandonment of the Paris Climate Accord, yearlong wildfires and rising sea levels, our National Monuments defiled and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge threatened, I tell you, THIS is not the end of the story. The end has yet to be written, and it's up to us, and you, to visualize and take the action in our club's name to make that happen.
Here's to soaring Redwoods and Sequoias, clean water, energy choice and saving our planet's climate and old-growth from ourselves.
Here's to the hope that all animals will live lives free of burden and cruelty, from the snail to the eagle, and that our wildlife truly have the room they need to roam and be free.
Here's to wilderness for all, from desert basins to the summits of the Sierras to our miles of coast. And here's to ridges and meadows ripe for wandering, room to explore, and time to connect with each other and the better vibrations of our home planet.
My friends, we will write the ending. Thank you for the last three-and-a-half years of allowing me to serve as your president.
I am, as always, environmentally yours.
Resolution in Opposition to Proposed Admission Fee Increases at National Parks and National Park Service Sites
Submitted by Tommy Hough, president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action
Adopted by San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action on 12/13/17.
WHEREAS, the U.S. Department of the Interior, at the behest of the Trump Administration, has suddenly and without any precedent or public input proposed raising admission rates for National Parks and National Park Service (NPS) sites as high as $70 per vehicle to ostensibly pay for decades of negligently deferred maintenance and planned improvements to parks instead of making any effort to access the general fund or utilize other appropriate funding avenues, and with the burden of the higher rates falling on working Americans
WHEREAS, National Parks and other NPS sites are intended to be accessible to Americans of all economic levels so they may see, enjoy and come to understand the nation's most extraordinary natural formations and locales in their most wild, primitive state in which man is only a visitor, and gain an appreciation for conservation and the value of America's natural heritage in the process
WHEREAS, the Interior Department is already working in tandem with resource extraction interests and fossil fuel corporations in subverting the integrity of National Monuments, many of which are managed by the NPS, in order to roll back boundaries to enable mining, drilling and fracking, thereby weakening America's heritage of conservation and protection of wilderness, special places and important cultural sites
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action strongly supports keeping admission fees for National Parks at current levels so parks do not suffer from lost attendance and become a playground for the rich only, thereby giving the Trump administration fodder to further erode the standard of protection National Parks and related NPS sites extend to America's special places, protected over the course of a century for the good of the American psyche and in the best interests of recreation and ecological conservation.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this resolution shall be distributed to all of San Diego County's U.S. congressional representatives and California's two U.S. senators, so that they may pressure the Trump administration, in conjunction with their congressional colleagues, to keep entrance rates at reasonable levels and to utilize alternate and available sources for funding the NPS and addressing decades of backlogged maintenance in our federal parks.
Submit your comment to the National Park Service here.
Download a document of the resolution here.
Photo by Tommy Hough
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.