Van de Hoek, a Bureau of Land Management archaeologist and leader of a natural history field trip here last Saturday, shared that vision of the Carrizo Plain Natural Area with 20 visitors during the first of monthly BLM-led hikes. "Right now it's a dream, but it will happen. Bunch grass, wildflowers, bald eagles, kit fox, pronghorns, and tule elk," he assured. All of those elements exist at the plain now, but do not predominate.
Under clear blue skies, visitors traveled the asphalt, dirt and gravel roads in the northern half of this valley stopping at a Soda Lake overview, then the lake itself, the San Andreas fault for a sack lunch at Painted Rock.
The BLM, the state Department of Fish and Game and The Nature Consevancy, a private organization, established the preserve as a mini-San Joaquin Valley for the presevation of rare and endangered plants and wildlife. The 50-mile long, 8-mile-wide Carrizo Plain lies along the San Andreas fault straddling the border of Kern and San Luis Obispo counties. It is the largest remaining tract of California's nearly extinct Central Valley grasslands, wetlands, and brushlands.
The preserve has grown to 110,000 acres. With The Nature Conservancy -- an international non-profit conservation organization that acquires environmentally sensitive land -- acting as the land purchaser and reselling the land to the government, the preserve is anticipated to reach 180,000 acres -- 280 square miles. Plans call for BLM to control 150,000 acres in the natural area, making it the largest natural area in the federal BLM system.
Van de Hoek's vision may be true. Small herds of Tule Elk and at least 200 pronghorns have been reintroduced here to their native range. ....
The only trees are an occasional imported tamarisk. Much of the countryside resembles desert with iodine bush, salt grass, and alkali golden bush. Wildflowers like alkali larkspur, goldfields, daisies, owl's-clover and poppies pop up for a three-week season in March. Three flowers, California Jewelflower, Hoover's Woolly Star, and the San Joaquin Woolly Thread, are proposed as endangered species by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
Dominating the landscape is 3,000 acre Soda Lake, a crusty, dry lake of black, sticky mud topped by a white alkali crust located at 1,900 feet. From a distance, the dry lake - the largest natural alkali wetland in California - looks like a flat, white splotch on the landscape. Closer, the ripples resemble waves and give the appearance of teeming water. The lake gets about an inch of standing water in the winter and supports only tine brine shrimp and snails.
As many as 6,500 majestic Sandhill Cranes - a quarter of California's wintering population - migrate through in January. Cranes like the lake because it offers the safety of miles of visibility from coyotes. The easily spooked cranes have reason to be wary. The tour group found fresh evidence of coyotes along an animal path on the lake.
Cranes feed on grasshoppers and beetles, grass seed and grains in plowed fields in the San Joaquin Valley at places like McKittrick. They search out wide open water holes.
The major cultural landmark is 120-foot tall Painted Rock, a foot-ball-field-sized, horseshoe-shaped (some say fertility symbol-shaped) sandstone formation used by Chumash and Yokuts Indians for 9,000 to 10,000 years. The Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is planning to excavate two sites here, van de Hoek said.
Once adorned with Chumash pictographs as befits its name, Painted Rock has little evidence of rock art left....
Visitors using their imagination and a BLM drawing as a guide can make out the sunlike in the center of th epanel that represented the highest point in this area, Mount Pinos, where the dead left for the spirit world, van de Hoek said. On the left side are painting of coyotes, which Indians called, "the trickster." On the right are pictures of grizzlies, the only animals the Chumash had to fear, he said.
The preserve is just getting started.....
A BLM campground at the KCL Ranch is slated to open in March. And The Nature Conservancy is developing a campground by the Goodwin Ranch.
The area is patrolled by a BLM ranger.
The BLM will lead free hikes January 8 to view the San Andreas fault and February 3 and March 3 for birdwatchers. Hikes are run by van de Hoek at the Caliente Resource Area office, 4301 Rosedale Highway, 861-4236.
The Nature Conservancy was also leading Audubon Society hikes this day.....
And the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History will lead a trip January 20-21.
Another possiblity of a subsitute land manager for the Carrizo Plain is the California State Parks (CSP), also known as the California Department of Parks and Recreation (CDPR), under our California governor and state legislature. The NPS and CSP (CDPR) also work together beautifully in other parts of California from the Redwood country of our coast ranges to the Santa Monica Mountains to the deserts of our great state of California. The state of California's agency, CSP (CDPR) can play a tremendoulsy more wonderful stewardship role of caring delicately for the Carrizo Plain than BLM ever will be able to do for the Carrizo Plain. The possibility of transfer the Carrizo Plain over to the state of California by BLM has many precedents. For example, just to name two places that BLM turned over to California to become parks, we have Redrock Canyon State Park and Anza Borrego Desert State Park. I can see no other way to eliminate hunting and poaching of elk, antelope, eagles, falcons, owls, foxes, cranes, coyotes, badgers, and other wildlife at Carrizo, than to eliminate BLM and its close partner, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) from the Carrizo Plain region. Only NPS and CSP (CDPR) are capable of eliminating hunting and poaching on the Carrizo Plain.
While employed as a scientist and manager for the Carrizo Plain by BLM, one of my main assignments was to give tours to the Carrizo Plain, not only for the public, but also to provide orientation and logistics for researchers and scientists, and for environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and California Native Plant Society. I also led tours for historical societies and rock art organizations interested in the ancient Native American Indian sacred paintings. I also enjoyed giving tours for geologists and geographers to the San Andreas Fault.
The article reprinted above, Hope Springs Eternal from the Bakersfield Californian was one of the first news articles, aside from an article in Sunset Magazine, to cover my new public tours of the Carrizo Plain. There are two photographs and a map that accompanied Jim Carnal's excellent article for the Bakerfield Californian. He also took the photographs that grace this wonderful article. One of Jim's photographs showed me leading the 17 people on the walking trail to Painted Rock. Another photograph by Jim Carnal shows our group on the shore of the wetland at Soda Lake. The word "Soda" for this wetland comes from the high alkaline and saline chemistry of this vast wetland ecosystem. A map of the Carrizo Plain by Mike Manion of the Bakersfield Californian, was also included in the newspaper article. This article is archived at the Ballona Institute in Los Angeles, California. The Carrizo Plain with its wetlands and prairies, has a lot to tell us and teach us about the wetlands and prairies of Los Angeles and Ballona Plain and Ballona Valley, now greatly endangered and virtually extinct. And yet, there is a very good chance now to restore and recover some of the Ballona Plain and Ballona Prairie because this area is now owned by the state of California and also because "hope springs eternal."
Another important part of my professional employment was to investigate, research, and write environmental evaluations on the Carrizo Plain, which guided management of endangered species, wetlands, wildflower prairies, and wildlife such as the Pronghorn Antelope and Tule Elk. In addition, I wrote cultural resource reports that evaluated historic ranches and prehistoric archaeological sites. I was also asked to write and compile brochures, pamphlets, and articles about the Carrizo Plain. I completed the first checklists for birds, mammals, wildflowers, reptiles, and amphibians. I prepared a guide to the San Andreas Fault, another for Soda Lake, and a pamphlet about Painted Rock.
It did not take long for conflict to arise with the BLM because I advocated and advised for a wildlife hunting ban, prohibition of guns, fence removal, livestock removal, and tree removal, so that the ecological function of the wetlands and wildflower prairies would excel. I knew that the endangered species and rare wildlife, particularly "prairie raptors" including severla kinds of owls, hawks, eagles, falcons, and the California Condor, along with "prairie songbirds" such as shrikes, various sparrows, and "larks" would benefit by removal of cattle, sheep, dogs, exotic trees, and human hunters (aka gunners).
These bold and courageous recommendations were summarily dismissed by my supervisors at the BLM. Interestingly, however, less than 10 years after my employment with BLM, beginning in about 2003, the BLM finally recognized that fences and trees need to be removed, and at least they have reduced cattle and sheep grazing. In fact, the BLM actively recruits environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to come on "working" field trips, where barbed wire fences is removed. I visited one of these Sierra Club groups at the Carrizo Plain to witness first hand the removal of fences, and I removed some fencing too, as a symbolic event. Some of these fences were previously approved and constructed by me 10 years earlier as BLM directed me to build fences as part of my work assignment.
Each spring now, for three consecutive years, Sierra Club members have come from all over the United States to work and take tours of the Carrizo landscape as barbed wire fences are cut, rolled up, and taken away on BLM trucks. In addition, these Sierra Club volunteers have removed exotic trees that have invaded the arroyos of Carrizo and the margins of the wetlands at Soda Lake on the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The Carrizo Plain is beginning to look more like a wilder plain and natural prairie with fewer fences and fewer trees. I am proud to have initiated with courage from my heart, spirit and soul, these positive stewardship ventures today. I suppose it could be said that I was a "seer" while employed at the BLM and even more so, after leaving BLM after 5 years employment there. The BLM did not realize, nor did it recognize the vision of its own scientist and naturalist in its own ranks, until 10 years after firing him as a whistleblower. My direct job assignment and justification for hiring me in the first place, was to be the Carrizo Plain Project Manager, and this job I did well from 1989 to 1993 before being fired for whistleblowing on the BLM and is poor management of Carrizo Plain, Owens Valley, Coast Ranges, and San Joaquin Valley. I consider it a badge of "honor" to have been a public servant and a publicly recognized whistleblower in the United States Department of Interior.
To bring this story full circle, now I am 50 years old in 2006, and I am donating my professional scientific knowledge and years of public employment experience to assist birders, wildflower defenders, wetlands advocates, citizens, conservationists, and environmentalists in their efforts to protect wild places with endangered species, such as at wetlands, prairies, estuaries, rivers, and sand dunes. The experience gained of being a federal whistleblower against the BLM, and also pointing out the mismanagement by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) at the Carrizo Plain, has allowed me see to see through the "smoke and mirrors" of such entities as the Wrigley Family and its subversive environmental front group known as the Catalina Island Conservancy. I have also been able to effectively criticize real-estate developers and speculators (Playa Vista and Playa Capital) and elected city officials which are destroying open spaces at the Ballona Wetlands in Los Angeles County.
One of my highlights of working for the BLM was the discovery of a rare tree in the Sierra Nevada Mountains within a federally designated wilderness area known as the Domeland Wilderness. Even now, 15 years after my initial discovery in 1990, I still am excited to have discovered a new population of a rare tree in California. It is a highlight of my life and career as a scientist, educator, conservationist, and naturalist, and my dedication to a 22 year-long career (1983-2006) as a public employee in several levels of government from local to state to national government. All in all, I have worked for two different federal agencies in two Departments (Agriculture and Interior), as well as for three state of California agencies, and lastly, with a local regional government entity, namely the County of Los Angeles. In addition, I have had working stints at education which has included university lecturing, and professorships at five Community Colleges, as well as a one year assignment in primary and secondary schools of the Los Angeles Unified School District. I have also had stints working in the private sector in ecotourism and for several environmental non-profit corporations.
Lastly, as a citizen of the United States, who is an immigrant from Nederland (born in Amsterdam, Holland), I have come to believe that citizenship needs to be extended to the large sentient beings of the earth, particularly, whales, dolphins, elephants, wolves, bears, primates, seals, eagles, condors, hawks, owls, and the Great Blue Heron, for starters. It was Henry David Thoreau, publicly stated during the 1850s, that he supported civil rights for African Americans and supported the Abolitionist movement and that he was opposed to paying taxes for a war that the U.S. was conducting in Mexico, including an invasion of that country. He was arrested for not paying his taxes and placed in jail. However, much less well known, is the fact that Thoreau also wrote in the 1850s about the justification for citizenship of the Great Blue Heron. And by inference, I believe he also considered many other animals worthy of citizenship. Of course, the Endangered Species Act, Bald Eagle Act, and Marine Mammal Protection Act, has brought nearly virtual citizenship to many thousands of animals. There has been one example, in a case in Los Angeles regarding the Ballona wetlands, where a Brown Pelican was brought into the courtroom. The name of that federal case was "Brown Pelican vs. United States Army Corps of Engineers in the federal courtroom of the Honorable Ronald Lew. Wouldn't it be interesting in the future to bring one of our largest mammals of earth into courtroom, perhaps an elephant or a whale in a water tank, into a courtroom as a "defacto" citizen under trial for its civil rights, namely its right to vote for its right to exist on earth as a free and wild animal in its natural habitat in its own "geography of hope." We now know through scientific studies of the natural history of elephants and whales that they live in complex societies in the wild and practice civility and great respect for their elders which have abundant wisdom, knowledge, heart, and soul.