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On the sun-dappled winter morning of Dec. 12, Jane Garrison—the founder and president of the nonprofit Save Oswit Canyon, Inc.—was joined by a large group of supporters at the mouth of Oswit Canyon to announce that their dream of raising $1 million in just 5 1/2 months had indeed come true.

The funds were needed to fulfill the group’s negotiated contribution to buy the Oswit Canyon development property. Over four years of engaged activism, the group’s goal has been to keep Oswit Canyon, on the southern portion of Palm Springs, as a pristine retreat—by stopping the profit-driven housing development that had threatened the dream.

During a recent phone interview, Garrison said that even though her group’s goal had been reached, supporters should not become complacent.

“It’s a big hurdle (we’ve cleared), but we’re not there yet,” she said. “I think that’s the important thing that people need to understand: It’s not a done deal. We are not the owners of the property yet, but we’ve actually (cleared) a huge hurdle.”

So what happens now?

“(Our nonprofit is) going to be opening an escrow (account) with the developer in the next month or so,” Garrison said. “But the process is pretty long over the next couple of months. Right now, the appraisal has been completed. These three steps are the biggest: the certifying of the appraisal by the (state) Department of General Services; the approval by the California Wildlife Conservation Board for their grant; and the approval by the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy of their grant. Also, we’re getting money from the federal government through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Most of the grant money we’re getting is because of the endangered species that live on that property.”

Those endangered species have become persuasive allies in the fight.

“You have the peninsular desert bighorn sheep, and you have the Casey’s June beetle,” Garrison said. “We know that the bighorn sheep live (in Oswit Canyon), but we’re not sure yet if the Casey’s June beetles are there. The property has never been adequately surveyed. So, we are receiving the grants because of the bighorn sheep.”

More than 1,000 unique donors have contributed, in amounts from $10 to $153,000. Garrison said that while some of those donations came from addresses outside of the area, the bulk came from locals.

Finding the right approach to generate the kind of enthusiasm that would motivate people to send money proved to be a formidable challenge, Garrison said.

“Back in July, when we did the press conference, also at the entrance to Oswit Canyon, announcing that the developer was willing to sell, we thought, ‘Oh, now our story is in the media, and everyone’s going to send donations,’” Garrison said. “And when we weren’t getting the amount of money that we needed to meet the deadline of Dec. 31, we went the traditional route, like most fundraising efforts do—and we started doing mailings. Those also did not bring in what we needed.

“Then I realized that people really needed to hear what we had to gain and what we had to lose with this canyon. In talking with people, I realized that if I had some time to explain (what was at stake), and if I had time to explain about the efforts that have been put in over almost four years, and how close we were, I knew they would understand. So that’s why we launched our house parties. We did 14 house parties in five weeks, as well as about a dozen speaking engagements at various clubs and organizations—and that’s how we raised much of the $1 million in five weeks, which is astonishing. But that’s how important this issue was to the community.

“It’s really exciting that the canyon is not being saved by one or two wealthy individuals. It actually is truly a community effort.”

In a best-case scenario—if the various grant-approving boards work quickly—the land buyback will close sometime between March and July. Who will own the title?

“Save Oswit Canyon, Inc., is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit land trust,” Garrison said, “and we have also been accepted as a member of the Land Trust Alliance.”

The Land Trust Alliance is a national conservation organization representing more than 1,700 land trusts across the United States.

“So since we’re set up like that, we are hoping to be the organization that holds the title and becomes the steward of that land, because we feel no one would protect that land like we would,” Garrison said. “The city (of Palm Springs) has expressed an interest in holding the title as well. But we are working with the city in hopes that they’ll agree to let us hold the title.”

During this anxious period of time, the Save Oswit Canyon leaders have a legitimate need to keep the donations flowing.

“When we take title, we will have property taxes,” Garrison said. “Eventually, we will become exempt from property taxes, because we are a nonprofit land trust, but that exemption will take 18 months—so we would have over $100,000 in property taxes. We’ll have liability insurance (costs), and a mounting legal bill, because we’ve been fighting for four years.

“Also, we will have the cost of maintenance and a cleanup. Unfortunately, over the years, people have dumped a couch and various trash. Also, we want to create some (informational materials). We don’t want visual clutter, but we do want like a big, beautiful boulder that has a plaque on it explaining how this canyon was saved by the people of Palm Springs. We will need trail signage and such. But the biggest thing is that we need a buffer. If any of these grants fall short, we won’t be able to delay the closing process. We’re going to need to have that money in the bank to fill any gaps.”

If you are interested in making a tax-deductible donation to Save Oswit Canyon, Inc., visit www.saveoswitcanyon.org. Also, Save Oswit Canyon accepts donations of stock.

“That’s a really great way for someone to contribute,” Garrison said. “Here’s something I learned: If someone has a stock, and they have a capital gain this year, if they donate that stock to a nonprofit, they don’t have to pay the capital gains (tax). So, stock donations have been very popular for us, which is great.”

As Save Oswit Canyon stands on the brink of realizing its goal, Garrison said she sees a more valuable and exciting byproduct of the campaign.

“I feel that this canyon has brought the community together like no other movement ever has in Palm Springs,” she said. “We are going to continue to protect the environment and protect open space. It’s amazing how many people care now about the environment, and they also see that they can make a difference. That is a big issue.

“So many times, especially now in our country, people feel so helpless. But this is proof that you actually can make a difference.”

Published in Environment

On this week's sold-out, standing-room-only weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World features thoughts from a bedbug; Jen Sorensen looks at generational entitlement; (Th)ink pays tribute to Toni Morrison; Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy's hurricane musings; and Red Meat talks to Earl about his new gig at the pharmacy.

Published in Comics

When I hear someone say that “our food system is broken,” it stings.

I think about my mom, who has farmed my whole life, and about my friends and the countless other farmers and ranchers who work hard every day to grow our food. The broken food-system narrative implicitly blames them for problems like environmental degradation, obesity, so-called “food deserts” and the gutting of rural communities.

But the sad truth is that our food system is working exactly how it was designed to—and right now, Congress is reconfiguring it to become even worse.

What’s broken is the 2018 House Farm Bill, which passed in June with little news coverage. This is only the second time in history that Congress has considered a farm bill while Republicans control both the executive and legislative branches. The result is a bill that serves Washington, D.C.’s fattest wallets and most powerful special interests. Its goal can be summed up as: Deregulate the rich, and police the poor.

While the national eye was focused on the bill’s punitive SNAP, or food stamp, work requirements, Agriculture Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas and other Republican leaders worked hard to attack American family farmers. By drafting a behemoth of more than 600 pages that overwhelmed even experts, the writers of this omnibus bill hid devastating legislation in plain sight.

Why is this bill so bad? The House Farm Bill—which goes to conference committee with the version passed by the Senate—is a giveaway to corporate interests at the expense of programs that improve our environment and help family farmers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which represents over 100 grassroots agriculture organizations across the country, said that the bill “undermines decades of work by farmers and advocates to advance sustainable agriculture.”

The House bill removes federal subsidy caps so that mega-farms and millionaires can collect more of our tax dollars. It eliminates the enormously popular Conservation Stewardship Program, which has helped farmers implement sustainable farming practices on more than 70 million acres of productive farm and forest land. Perhaps most troubling of all, it strays from food and agricultural policy and into a full-frontal attack on the environment by gutting key protections in the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

“They’re digging up their wish lists and trying to pass things that would be otherwise unacceptable,” said Mark Lipson, a California farmer who has worked on organic farming policy for over 30 years, and who served in President Obama’s Agriculture Department. “These provisions are a raw exercise of power to fulfill a long-term anti-environment agenda.”

The Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act are two of our most important environmental policies, and they are among the few that have legal teeth to protect individual species and their ecosystems. The House farm bill, however, allows toxic chemicals to be used even if they kill endangered species, and even if they’re dumped directly into rivers and streams. It also eliminates our right as citizens to comment on logging projects, and it does away with scientific reviews of logging proposals, no matter the potential environmental consequences.

These injurious provisions are hard to find in the voluminous House farm bill. A stand-alone bill that eviscerates the Endangered Species Act or Clean Water Act would be unlikely to pass, but there’s so much in this bloated bill that any single destructive act gets drowned out.

I grew up on a farm, operated my own farm for seven years, and work now as an agricultural researcher. I’ve gotten to know family farmers across all walks of life, from large to small, conventional to alternative, and not one of them wants to see our waters more polluted or our landscapes destroyed—all of which this bill enables.

It’s time for a different farm bill, one that redirects the nearly $200 billion of proposed non-nutrition spending (about 70 percent of farm bill funding goes toward nutrition programs; the rest funds agriculture) away from corporate agribusiness and toward family farmers who steward the land. The farm bill could help new and more diverse farmers succeed. Environmental stewardship programs could reward farmers for sequestering carbon and increasing biodiversity. We could start to value our farmland as a public good to preserve for future generations.

We don’t yet know if the final bill, a mash-up of the House and Senate versions, will be signed by President Trump before the upcoming midterm elections. Either way, there’s still time to pressure our representatives to do what’s right for farmers and the land we all depend on. So please stop saying our food system is broken, and do what you can to help fix it. Call Congress; get involved in local politics; and go vote. Our farmers and our future depend on it.

Margiana Petersen-Rockney is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She is a doctoral student studying climate change adaptation in agriculture at the University of California, Berkeley.

Published in Community Voices

Nearly a half-century ago, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act by a vote of 92-0 in the Senate, and 355-4 in the House. Republican President Richard Nixon said the legislation “provides the federal government with needed authority to protect an irreplaceable part of our national heritage, threatened wildlife. … Nothing is more priceless and worthier of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed.”

As the Trump administration continues to roll back America’s commitment to conservation, we should fear that it will succeed in turning the federal government away from its responsibility to protect species from extinction. The administration recently denied petitions to list 25 wildlife species as endangered.

As Kathleen Hartnett-White, who is a Senate-vote away from becoming the administration’s chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, put it, the Endangered Species Act is “economically harmful” and a “formidable obstacle to development.” So perhaps it should not have come as a surprise when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced he would reopen areas of sage-grouse habitat to mining, as well as oil and gas leasing. Zinke, along with the U.S. Forest Service, also plans to revisit the state-federal sage grouse conservation plans that successfully led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide not to list the grouse as threatened or endangered.

Some critics are encouraging a rewrite of the law itself, arguing that the ESA has failed, because relatively few of the already listed species have been brought to “recovery.” Many states also want more control over determining when a species should be listed, or removed, from the list, and in identifying “critical habitat” for the survival of a listed species.

The Endangered Species Act has prevented some important and iconic species from going extinct, including bald eagles, the Yellowstone grizzly and gray whales. The primary impediment to recovery has always been a lack of resources. A recent study found that most listed species with recovery plans received less than 90 percent of the amount of money needed for their recovery, and that overall funding for the act has declined since 2010. Only sufficient funding from Congress—not changes in the law itself—can fix this problem.

Critics also complain that “consultations”—the required reviews of projects that may harm listed species or their habitat—are costly and time-consuming, and that they increase uncertainty in project planning. In December, the Trump administration announced plans to change the rules governing endangered-species consultations and critical-habitat designations. Yet a recent review of all Fish and Wildlife Service consultations from January 2008 through April 2015 found that no project was stopped or extensively altered due to reviews. On average, approvals took only 14 business days. The 10 percent of consultations that required further review took 61 days. In virtually all cases, the agency acted within the time limits set by the law.

Although determining whether a species is in danger of extinction is based solely on biological grounds—as it should be—economic factors are already considered in identifying habitat that is critical for the survival of a species. In 2015, Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead, as chair of the Western Governors’ Association, launched a review of how the Endangered Species Act was working. One outcome was a Western Governors’ policy statement supporting “all reasonable management efforts to conserve species and preclude the need to list a species under the ESA.”

The 2015 Fish and Wildlife Service decision not to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered illustrates the benefit of this approach. That decision, based on state and federal land-management plans, initiatives by public-land users, and voluntary efforts by private landowners across the remaining 11-state range of the grouse, was a victory for conservation. It proved the wisdom of the authors of the act, who understood that the key to conserving imperiled species was protecting the ecosystem on which a species depended.

As Democratic Washington Gov. Jay Inslee put it: “What is a bird without a tree to nest in? What is an Endangered Species Act without any enforcement mechanism to ensure their habitat is protected? It is nothing.”

Yet the act seems to work best when it encourages voluntary measures to protect habitat. The flexibility built into it has permitted innovative conservation measures that benefit the species, the public-land users and the private landowners who implement those measures. In many instances, federal funding and technical assistance is available to help defray landowner costs and encourage collaborative conservation efforts.

As the rate of extinctions and the loss of biodiversity accelerates, the act is essential for keeping vulnerable species alive. Unfortunately, if President Trump’s administration and Republican leaders in Congress have their way, the Endangered Species Act itself could be extinguished.

Jim Lyons is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a lecturer at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Published in Community Voices

On this fireworks-packed weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World talks to yet another Trump apologist; Jen Sorenson looks at TrumpCare rationalizations; The K Chronicles visits a juvenile-detention center; Red Meat sells some drugs; and ApocaClips tells a couple of Trump jokes.

Published in Comics

On a cold January day, Jane Garrison stood in front of Ralph’s in the Smoke Tree Village Shopping Center. Her goal: to get shoppers in the busy plaza to sign the petition to save Oswit Canyon, a popular hiking area nearby in south Palm Springs.

The rain started drizzling—but Garrison didn’t give up. Signature by signature, she rallied support to protect the alluvial fan canyon from the grip of developers.

Garrison is a member of the Save Oswit Canyon Coalition, a group of some 2,000 Palm Springs residents who are backing the initiative. She volunteered her time to stand out in the rain as part of an effort to collect 5,000 signatures. The citizens’ initiative to protect Oswit Canyon was filled with the city of Palm Springs on Nov. 14.

“My husband and I have enjoyed hiking in Oswit Canyon and the Lykken Trail for several years,” Garrison said. “I was horrified by the thought of a pristine alluvial-fan canyon being destroyed by an out-of-town developer for more houses. Our beautiful canyons are some of the many things that make Palm Springs special.”

According to Dr. Lani Miller, an environmental activist, the land in question is currently classified in the city’s general plan as a biological sensitivity/conservation area—but that would still allow for the building of up to 325 homes.

“Our initiative will amend the municipal code, Canyon South Specific Plan and City of Palm Springs General Plan in order to change the zoning to ‘environmentally sensitive area’ zoning, allowing the construction of six homes,” Miller said.

Miller said Oswit Canyon is an environmental oasis that is the home to some endangered species, including the peninsular bighorn sheep.

“I'm blessed by sights of bighorn almost every time I’ve been up there at dusk, when they forage—a breathtaking sight,” she said.

Both Garrison and Miller emphasized that they are not anti-development; rather, they are in favor of smart, ethical development in the city, and preserving sparse natural habitat for future generations.

That is the main reason the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy stepped in and tried to acquire the land in Oswit Canyon. According to Jim Karpiak, the conservancy’s executive director, discussions were short-lived.

“We never made it to the stage of making a formal offer,” Karpiak said. “After initial discussions with the owners, during which they indicated an interest in selling the land for conservation, we commissioned an appraisal of the property at the conservancy’s expense, and then shared it with the owners. They indicated that the fair market value as established by that appraisal was not acceptable to them and terminated discussions with us.”

Karpiak said his contact while negotiating with the owners of the parcels in Oswit Canyon was Mike Cole, an Orange County-based developer. Cole, a minority shareholder among the land owners, did not respond to a request from the Independent to answer questions. He initially asked that we hold our story deadline for 48 hours and promised to respond to our request via email. We extended the deadline by 48 hours, but the responses have never arrived, at least as of our press deadline.

Meanwhile, Garrison and the other Save Oswit Canyon Coalition volunteers are continuing to collect signatures of Palm Springs registered voters.

For more information on the Save Oswit Canyon Coalition, visit www.saveoswitcanyon.com.

Published in Environment

In the Black River south of Carlsbad, N.M., rare Texas hornshell mussels are trying to multiply.

It’s a bizarre and complicated process: Male mussels spit sperm into the river, where the females catch it. After brooding fertilized eggs for about a month, they chuck the larvae into the water. There, the would-be mussels hope to be eaten by certain kinds of fish—attaching to their gills and forming parasitic cysts. Then they develop into juveniles before cutting loose from the fish and wriggling to the river bottom, where they can live for up to 20 years.

Texas hornshells are native to the Pecos and Rio Grande basins of southern New Mexico and Texas, where they help maintain water quality by filtering out sediment and other particulates. They’re the only surviving species of New Mexico’s eight native mussels, and the stretch of river near Carlsbad is one of their last strongholds.

Their troubles are nothing new, though. In 1989, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classified the Texas hornshell as a candidate for the endangered species list, but had too little information about the mussel to support listing. In 2001, after studies showed that the mollusks were being harmed by low flows in rivers and water pollution, the agency decided protection was justified—but it still couldn’t list them, because too many other, higher-priority species also needed protection. Now, the mussel’s time may have finally come: In August, the agency proposed listing it as endangered.

Most species that have landed on the endangered species list in recent years got there when they did as a result of litigation by green groups, and the Texas hornshell mussel is no exception. Almost no one is happy with this pattern, though.

“(If) the service is simply responding to lawsuits, it’s not being very strategic,” or necessarily focusing on the plants and animals in greatest need, says Ya-Wei Li, an endangered species expert with Defenders of Wildlife. So Fish and Wildlife is now working to reform its process for listing species.

It has proposed prohibiting so-called “mega-petitions,” where environmental groups ask the agency to protect up to hundreds of species at a time, and it recently finalized a new five-tier system for prioritizing decisions on petitions. First in line are species that data clearly show are critically imperiled. Lower down are species for which states are already developing conservation plans, as well as species on which the agency lacks data.

The agency simply can’t keep up with all the petitions it gets to list species, says Fish and Wildlife spokesman Brian Hires. Environmentalists filed petitions on behalf of 1,230 species between 2007 and 2010, enough to almost double the number protected by the Endangered Species Act over the previous 30 years. The overwhelmed agency rarely meets its own deadlines for responding, so environmentalists often sue in response.

The mussel is one of 757 species included in a 2011 legal settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity, in which the agency agreed to deadlines for clearing its considerable backlog. “The states have been frustrated, because we feel like litigation shouldn’t drive conservation,” says Nick Wiley, vice president of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Wiley says states—the feds’ main partners in endangered species work—are generally pleased with the planned reforms, which they hope will help them prioritize their own data collection and conservation work.

Some environmental groups are also supportive. “This is a very good move for the service to take control of its own destiny,” says Li.

But others argue that the reforms could consign at-risk wildlife to bureaucratic purgatory. “It creates excuses for ongoing delays in decisions on whether species should be protected,” says Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. She fears that lower-priority species will slip closer to extinction while they wait for conservation plans or studies that could bump them up in line.

The system also “biases decisions towards popular and well-studied species,” she says, mainly birds and mammals. But some of the most imperiled groups are also the least studied—freshwater mollusks, for instance. The fact that we understand the outlines of the Texas hornshell’s lifecycle makes it fairly unusual among mollusks, Curry notes: For many of the creatures, basic population data doesn’t even exist.

Mussels, snails and insects may well get shortchanged under the new system, Li says. In a perfect world, Fish and Wildlife would be flush with funding, and wouldn’t need to prioritize.

“Nobody likes to make those judgment calls,” he says. But relative to the number of species it’s charged with saving, the agency’s funding is decreasing, not increasing, he points out. One way or another, “there are going to be species that come out ahead, and some that fall behind.”

This piece originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Environment

On warm fall days on the California coast, it’s not uncommon to see the iconic monarch butterfly flitting through the sky. In some places, so many butterflies are present that it makes an impressive display.

“The air is filled with orange,” says Samantha Marcum, the monarch butterfly coordinator for the Pacific Southwest region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Marcum, who also works on the Western Monarch and Milkweed Habitat Suitability Model Project, is based near the Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz, one of the groves where thousands of monarchs come each winter to escape chilly Western winters. On windy, cooler days, the monarchs can be seen up in the Monterey cypress and eucalyptus trees, clinging to the branches with thread-like legs, stained-glass wings winking in the daylight.

In 1997, an estimated 70,000 monarchs came to the grove. At the last count in 2015, that number was down to 12,000. Lighthouse Field State Beach is one of 50 grove sites recently studied by the Xerces Society in a report published in July, State of the Monarch Overwintering Sites in California, and funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The authors hoped to illuminate the lives of Western monarchs, an understudied population of the species.

The study and the project represent a two-pronged effort by conservationists and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to study and restore the regions where significant parts of the migratory monarch lifecycle take place. By restoring these lifelines, they hope to head off an Endangered Species Act listing. Monarchs were proposed for listing in 2014, and the Fish and Wildlife Service has promised a decision in 2019.

The latest study tapped into two decades of data gathered during the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count, an annual assessment of overwintering monarchs on the California coast. The study found a 74 percent drop in Western monarch numbers over the years, the first time that a definitive number has been placed on decline of Western monarchs. What used to be an arriving cloud of 1.2 million butterflies in 1997 to the coast has dwindled to a wisp of 292,674 in 2015.

Monarchs are perhaps best known for their massive migration from the eastern United States to the oyamel forests of Mexico, where many millions of butterflies cling to the trees like a strange form of lichen. The Western monarchs are a smaller, genetically similar population, which breeds west of the Rocky Mountains and overwinter primarily in California, as well as some parts of Mexico.

But the Western monarchs are far less studied than their eastern counterparts, which endangered species conservation biologist and lead author Emma Pelton says is due to their smaller numbers and the geography of the West.

“So much of the West is so sparsely populated, like the Great Basin, western Montana, eastern Oregon and Washington, and those just aren’t areas with a lot of humans out there watching them,” Pelton says.

To understand what is causing the decline of the Western monarch, Marcum says they need more information about where the butterfly’s actual habitat is. While the recent study illuminates exactly how much the Western monarch populations have declined, the precise location of their feeding and breeding grounds is still unknown, as well as how many generations of butterflies it takes to get from their feeding grounds to the overwintering sites in California. Researchers have found that eastern populations with overwintering sites in Mexico take three or four generations of monarchs to get back to the northern United States and Canada. The Western migration is shorter, but much is still unknown about it.

That’s why the Fish and Wildlife Service, in collaboration with the Xerces Society, is carrying out the Western Monarch and Milkweed Suitability Habitat Project, which will identify key breeding and migratory sites. The project will provide that information to land managers in Western states to either proactively protect the sites, or begin restoration projects on degraded habitat, which most often includes planting native species of milkweed, the singular plant on which monarch caterpillars feast.

They’ll also have to contend with a conundrum: The monarch butterfly is widespread and well known, despite its precipitous decline. Since it’s not rare to see one, Pelton says, it can be hard to get the message across that the species is in trouble.

It’s also difficult to easily sum up what the problem is, since many factors are likely driving their disappearance—less habitat, more pesticides, monoculture practices, and climate change all may contribute, Pelton says.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts for monarchs,” she says.

This piece originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Environment

When it comes to conservation, energy and many other issues, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has been a lot of hat and not much cattle. But his son, Donald Trump Jr., recently offered some insights into what his father’s natural-resources policies might look like.

While speaking at June a media summit organized by the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Fort Collins, Colo., Trump Jr., an avid hunter and angler, defended keeping federal lands managed by the government and open to the public. He also reiterated his father’s strong support for U.S. energy development, proposed corporate sponsorships in national parks, questioned humans’ role in climate change, and criticized Hillary Clinton for “pandering” to hunters with “phoniness.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-California, spoke for Clinton’s campaign at the summit a day later, providing plenty of contrast between the presidential candidates.

Trump Jr. has served as an adviser to his father on natural-resources issues and has even joked with family that, should his father win, he’d like to be secretary of the interior, overseeing national parks and millions of acres of federal public lands. In Fort Collins, he said he’s not “the policy guy,” but repeated his frequent pledge to be a “loud voice” for preserving public lands access for sportsmen.

Trump Jr. also mocked some gun-control measures, such as ammunition limits, boasting, “I have a thousand rounds of ammunition in my vehicle almost at all times because it’s called two bricks of .22 … You know, I’ll blow … through that with my kids on a weekend.”

Trump, the presumptive Republican candidate, partly distinguished himself among other GOP candidates during primary season—not that that was a problem for the New York real-estate developer—by balking at the transfer of federal public lands to states or counties. While Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and others expressed support for public-land transfers, kowtowing to some Western conservatives, Trump rejected the idea. Speaking to Field & Stream in January, Trump said: “I don’t like the idea, because I want to keep the lands great, and you don’t know what the state is going to do. I mean, are they going to sell if they get into a little bit of trouble? And I don’t think it’s something that should be sold. We have to be great stewards of this land. This is magnificent land.”

Trump Jr. reaffirmed that stance—but also supported more input for states as long as those efforts don’t jeopardize public access.

Trump, however, did attack the Bureau of Land Management and its “draconian rule,” writing in an op-ed in the Reno Gazette-Journal, also in January: “The BLM controls over 85 percent of the land in Nevada. In the rural areas, those who for decades have had access to public lands for ranching, mining, logging and energy development are forced to deal with arbitrary and capricious rules that are influenced by special interests that profit from the D.C. rule-making and who fill the campaign coffers of Washington politicians.”

Rep. Thompson called Trump’s somewhat muddled stance of federal land management a “dangerous position to take,” saying Clinton unequivocally opposes public-land transfers. As far as Clinton’s sporting cred, Thompson said the Democratic candidate doesn’t pretend to be a hook-and-bullet enthusiast, but “she gets it” when it comes to access issues.

During a campaign loud with proclamations yet nearly vacant of substantive policies, the most in-depth view into Trump’s resource agenda came during his May speech at a North Dakota petroleum conference. Trump pledged to “save the coal industry,” approve the Keystone XL gas pipeline, roll back federal controls limiting energy development on some public lands, and withdraw the U.S. from the Paris global climate agreement. A Republican National Committee spokesman recently said more details on Trump’s energy and environmental policies should be coming soon. His son reiterated the campaign’s “very pro-U.S. energy” position, although he did say agencies should have some role in regulating energy development on public lands, referring to the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed fracking rule that was recently rejected by a federal judge.

On climate change, Trump Jr. said U.S. and global policies shouldn’t penalize industries, and while acknowledging the strong scientific consensus on climate change and its causes, he added that humans’ and industries’ roles in global warming have “yet to be shown to me.”

Trump Jr. also offered mild support for the Endangered Species Act, saying it had achieved some successes, but argued the law has served as a “Trojan horse” to entirely prohibit development in some cases. He also suggested national-parks management and budgets could benefit from increased corporate partnerships. Trump’s son declared his own affinity for the backcountry and described national parks as being “a little bit too ‘tourist-ized’ for myself,” but he said, “I think there are ways you can do (corporate sponsorship) in a way that is beneficial” without installing flashing logos on natural features or commercializing the parks.

Clinton has shared several detailed policies on the environment and energy so far, including a white paper on land management and conservation that lays out support for a national park management fund and increased renewable energy development on public lands. Those proposals signal Clinton will “double down” on protecting public lands and preserving access, Thompson said.

Thompson also lauded Clinton for taking “a risky public position” on energy development—referring to her previous statement that she will put lots of coal mines “out of business”—and said “she hasn’t backed away from it. She understands there are better ways to generate the energy resources that we need.”

This piece originally appeared in High Country News.

Published in Environment

Stormy weather! We squished our way through wild spring winds and swirling rain, grateful that traffic on “The 10,” as we call it, held steady and accident-free on Friday night, March 11. But arriving at the theater, we were immediately transported to a calm, lovely evening in New York’s Central Park … and people with storms inside them.

Tony Padilla, always bursting with creativity, directs his own play Endangered Species at the Desert Ensemble Theatre Company. It plays only this weekend and next, so if you are committed to supporting original local theater, hurry over to the Palm Springs Woman’s Club to see it in the Pearl McManus Theater. It’s a one-act play which has been produced in Italy, and, amazingly, that translation won the International Medal at the Schegge d’Autore playwriting festival in Rome, in 2009. Go Tony!

It’s easy to like the one-act format. Like a short story, it embraces one-ness: a single setting, one plot line, a small cast, one theme and atmosphere, and a streamlined journey to the climax and conclusion. These plays are generally clean, neat, brief and easy to follow. What’s not to like? Here, the stage is appropriately dressed with just a single park bench and one trashcan (marked NYC!). Simplicity personified.

The four-member cast consists of Bonnie Gilgallon (my Independent colleague) with Alan Berry in the first scene, and Yo Younger with Denise Strand in the second. In a nutshell, the plot consists of these people finding an abandoned baby in a park trashcan, and their reactions to it.

Unthinkable! That’s the genius theme of Padilla’s play—ordinary people tossed into an unimaginable situation that has the power to change lives completely. Screenwriters call it the “inciting incident.” It’s the defining moment of a story … and how do the characters react to it? How would you?

Scene One. Enter: tourists from “outside Chicago,” a longtime married couple (Gilgallon and Berry) enjoying the view and weather, and reminiscing about previous Big Apple visits. Through their conversation, we learn about their backstories and personalities. Then they discover this baby. What to do? Ignore it, or get involved? What is the right action? What’s legal? How does each really feel? What does this event dredge up from the past? What do their moral compasses dictate?

Scene Two. Enter: two casually-dressed ladies, tourists—we never find out from where—but they immediately let us know they have lived together for 10 of 11 years. Lesbians? We watch attentively for clues. I won’t ruin it for you by revealing all … but now they find the baby, and the ensuing discussion and conflict tells us much more about them. Stress will always reveal the weak spots in any relationship.

One of my most influential theater instructors once demanded of me, “What is the most important thing you can learn about a person?” (I gave the wrong answer. Well … I was young.) But the right answer is: their work. It determines schedule, income, dress code, address—everything. True! Point being, in this play, we don’t learn this. Strand’s character turns out to be a teacher, and Gilgallon’s became a frustrated housewife. But ... more info, please? This is important—and very easy to fix.

The play is a talky one, with zero opportunity for action. The direction compensates for this by moving the characters around their little space a great deal. Too much? Well, not if and when the actor is motivated to move. Some of the actors here should re-think their gestures, and cut out any that make pointless circles or drop with a plop. But our largest discomfort was watching Alan Berry walk backward several times—something nobody does, and certainly not a middle-aged man in an unfamiliar/dangerous location. Alas, we are made overly conscious of every actor’s move because of the unfortunate hollow space underneath the stage, creating a distracting drum-like boom with every step—worst with high heels. And speaking of shoes: I once wore an ivory suit with ivory shoes onstage, and an internationally famous actress in the audience later raked me over the coals for it, proclaiming that white shoes must NEVER be worn onstage, as they draw the eye (and also can make feet look unduly huge). Enough said. There are other colors that scream “summer.” Another small problem with this theater: The extreme overhead lighting can create shadows, and blank out the eyes of any actress wearing heavy bangs … and the eyes are the most important tool an actor owns.

These little glitches aside, the acting is lovely, with admirable pacing and variety in delivery. The emotional arc is pleasingly handled through the rising tension in both scenes.

What we liked best: Gilgallon’s exquisite diction. (Hey, she’s been in radio for years.) Learning about the characters through their arguments. The emphasis on sharing in a relationship. The line “the luxury of your compassion.” How pretty Strand and Younger looked together onstage. The debates about fate. The moment when we are emotionally moved. The endlessly interesting discussions about the choice of having children, or not … and when is the timing right? When is the money enough? The question: Do morals change with the times, or are they forever?

Tony Padilla has forced each of us to confront our own answers to these questions. We are all involved, just by realizing our own positions for or against each character’s beliefs in this play. Isn’t this the most important task of theater—to make the audience THINK?

It’s not an easy task for a playwright, but with Endangered Species he has done it … beautifully.

Endangered Species, a production of the Desert Ensemble Theatre Company, is performed at 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, March 20, at Pearl McManus Theater at the Palm Springs Woman’s Club, 314 S. Cahuilla Road, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $20. For tickets or more information, call 760-565-2476, or visit www.detctheatre.org.

Published in Theater and Dance

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