Proposed 44,570-acre Weed and Toad Sanctuary
San Bernardino Forest Supervisor, Gene Zimmerman's Requested Withdrawal Area  (RWA) to create a "Refugia" of more than 44,570 acres in the northern San Bernardino Mountains, is well under way, with the publication of a 30-day notice on June 2, 2003 of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or negative impact statement. This region is already protected under existing Forest Service regulations, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFS) Critical Habitat Designation.
Impact on listed species
Upon approval, this Request would allow restriction of access to virtually twice the 44,570 acres, with the inclusion of adjacent BLM lands. Much of Johnson Valley has already been closed in the Bighorn Mountain Wilderness by the Feinstein/Boxer (S-21) Desert "Closure" Act of 1994. The EA alleges that mining and public access must be stopped to save listed endangered toads (the Arroyo toad) and weeds, including the allegedly limestone-endemic plants that "only" grow in the San Bernardino Mountains.
There are no peer-reviewed scientific papers supporting these plants as either limestone-endemic, or unique to the San Bernardino Mountains. However, there is evidence that both these plants are not limestone-endemic and that both they, and the toad, have a wide distribution, well outside the San Bernardino Mountains.
Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens has grown the two most prominent of the listed plants, oval leaf buckwheat and Parish's daisy, in sandstone, potting mix, and decomposed granite, as well as weathered limestone. It appears that they require only a granular, well-drained soil. Botanists planted these two weeds on a fresh road cut in granite more than 10 years ago; they are currently thriving and have expanded in this granite habitat.
These plants are invader species that require open space, disturbed soils and/or wildland fire for habitat expansion. We usually refer to these as weeds. Birds spread the seeds up and down the western flyways between Canada and Mexico. The SBNF botanists have only looked at the 30,000 acres of the National Forest underlain by limestone or carbonate rock. A real scientific study would require examining the remaining 790,000 acres of the SBNF underlain primarily by granite or granite-derived rocks. There is little or no known mineral resources in the remaining 790,000 acres. How convenient. to have a plant or animal that only grows on valuable mineral resources.
The real reason for withdrawal
This closure isn't just about expelling mining from the region; it is about closing roads and public access. The Wildlands Project (see www.unesco.org/mab/mabicc/1996/implemt.htm and www.sovereignty.net) identifies much of this area as a human exclusion zone. This is one of the hidden agendas behind these closures. Had it been known that the entire California Desert was placed in a U.N. Man and the Biosphere Zone (MAB) in 1974, S-21 the Feinstein/Boxer Desert "Closure" Act might well have been defeated.
Since 1860, much of Holcomb Valley has been disturbed by thousands of miners, loggers, ranchers and Boy Scouts. A recently published study by Brown (1994) debunks the alleged threat from limestone mining, documenting that only 5% of the 30,000-acre limestone terrain will be disturbed in the next 75 years. Under current reclamation laws, these 1500 acres will be restored to productive habitat.
The proposed 25-acre "playground" for mineral collectors in Holcomb Valley is an insult. Why would any claimholder give up his rights to a 20-acre mineral-bearing claim, just to play in a sandbox with no exclusive privileges? Why would any small miner/prospector give up his rights to explore with his family in a National Forest, and allow himself to be restricted to this 25-acre sandbox?
By virtue of its size alone, the proposed action is a major Federal Action that requires an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The economic impact of withdrawing millions of tons of high quality limestone and calcium carbonate from mineral entry and production would result in significant socioeconomic impact to the area of concern. This impact will occur through the loss of both new and existing jobs for the citizens of San Bernardino County. Existing mines will be allowed to deplete their current reserves, and then the local mining industry will die a slow death.
The proposed action would significantly reduce the tax base of San Bernardino County. The economic and social impacts will be felt beyond San Bernardino County.
The trucking companies that haul the limestone products from the mines to the processing plants and beyond, will feel the impact of the reduced production that would result from the implementation of this action.
The drivers of these trucks and their families will feel the impact of the proposed action.
The wholesalers of the limestone products would lose this domestic source of product, and would have to add increased transportation costs into their pricing. Each citizen consumes 1,000 pounds of high-grade limestone per year, to maintain our standard of living.
The builders and manufacturers in southern California would experience increased costs of materials as a result of this proposed action, requiring price increases reflected in the cost of services, and leaving less to support current jobs.
Violation of SMARA and FLPMA
This withdrawal is a clear violation of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in that it ignores the requirement to implement state mineral zoning under the state Surface Mine and Reclamation Act (SMARA). The state has classified and zoned mineral deposits in the proposed closure area as important economic deposits, to preclude them from incompatible land use that would exclude mining. The proposed action requires congressional approval, and is substantial, and has far-reaching effects on the human environment, thus requiring an EIS under NEPA.
The BLM is working with the SBNF to make the closure even bigger. It may wind up being a de facto 160,000-acre closure with the BLM lands included. Under the Federal Land Management Policy Act (FLPMA), any withdrawal of more than 5,000 acres must be approved by Congress.
RS-2477 was part of the 1866 mining law. If they get rid of prospectors and mining claims, they can close the roads.
Something the SBNF doesn't want us to know is that most, if not all, the withdrawal on the north side of the San Bernardino Mountains, inside the SBNF, didn't become part of the San Bernardino National Forest until President Calvin Coolidge made it so in 1925, by an executive order. This means that the basic RS-2477 road network existed in this area before it became a National Forest in 1925, and cannot be closed.
We urge San Bernardino County Supervisors, Postmus and Hansberger, whose districts are affected, to continue to claim RS-2477 rights-of-way (www.rs2477.com) in the areas of USFS and BLM closure areas. The County of San Bernardino also must oppose, not only this, but also any future USFS and BLM land, and RS-2477 closures.
Because of the Feinstein/Boxer Desert Wilderness Bill's restriction of mining and OHV use in the California desert, the population has dropped by almost 2,000 persons in Lucerne Valley alone ; this represents a loss of one-fourth to 1-third of the town's population. The SBNF/BLM's proposed closure would have even more adverse impact on the larger community.
We don't need this protection
This closure and withdrawal wouldn't be needed, even if the plants and toads were truly endangered, because overlaying this area is an "official critical habitat" to "protect" this toad and alleged limestone-or-carbonate-endemic vegetation . Reading between the lines, it appears that even if all the listed plants or animals were delisted, we would be stuck with a "Refugia," or de facto national park, or a USFS Scenic Area, similar to the one Zimmerman helped to create in the Mt. Hood National Forest along the Columbia Gorge in Oregon and Washington (see Ron Arnold's Trashing the Economy, p. 218).
$92,000,000 taken out of the economy
A SBNF plan, approved several years ago, brags about USFS generating about $8,000,000 (eight million dollars) per year to the local economy. However, it fails to consider that limestone mining in the SBNF generates on the order of $300,000,000 (three hundred million dollars) per year to that same local economy. For each mining job, 27 "downstream" jobs are created in the local economy. With these jobs, there is more than $1,000,000,000 (one billion dollars) per year added to the regional economy.
At a time when California is carrying a deficit of some $38,000,000,000 (thirty-eight billion dollars), taking these jobs, as well as the corporate tax income, from the economy just doesn't make sense.
We recommend the NO-ACTION ALTERNATIVE outlined in the RWA. Contact you local Supervisors, Postmus (14011 Park Avenue, Suite 430, Victorville, CA 92392, (760) 843-2760) and Hansberger (385 North Arrowhead Avenue, Fifth Floor, San Bernardino, CA 92415-0110 (909) 387-4855 Fax: (909) 387-3018) as well as your state and federal representatives.
To find your federal representatives, go and enter your zip code in the box.
To find your California legislators go to www.assembly.ca.gov/acs/acsframeset7text.htm for your Assembly member; and www.calvoter.org/legguide/senateroster.html for your State Senator.
Don Fife may be reached at (714) 544-8406; Fax: (714) 731-3745.
1 A copy of Zimmerman's EA for this RWA can be obtained by calling the SBNF Mountain Top Ranger Station in Fawnskin (909) 866-3437. Wildland Conservation Biologist/Botanist Scott Eliason is in charge of the closure.
2 This document is available at Joshua Tree, and Death Valley National Parks.
3 SBNF's Carbonate Habitat Management Strategy (CHMS), Appendix D, April 29, 2003 admits there is no threat from mining, and confirms Brown's 1994 figures.
4 Ernie Gommel, Lucerne Valley Chamber of Commerce
5 See Mr. Fife's article, "Law Gone Loco" posted at and
also published in the Lucerne Valley Leader.
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