Nation & California

Monday, February 12, 2001
Section A


Carrizo Plain Now A National Monument, But Conflict Over Cattle Grazing Continues
Glen Martin
Chronicle Environmental Writer

Carrizo Plain National Monument, San Luis Obispo County --
A mere four-hour drive from the daunting congestion of the Bay Area, you find it obverse - a landscape so perfectly vacant that a lone coyote loping through it is as noticeable as a sailboat scudding across the sea.

But it's more than emptiness that makes the Carrizo Plain special to crowded California. At more than 2000,000 acres, it is one of the last great tracts of pristine wildland left in the central state.

It contains 17,000 acres of alkali sink wetlands - one of the continent's rarest ecosystems and a haven for uncommon birds such as long-billed curlews, mountain plovers and sandhill cranes. Tule Elk and Pronghorn Antelope roam its grassy expanse. The plain supports more endangered vertebrates than any other region in the state and in the spring, it explodes with stunning wildflower displays.

But as one of the last national monuments designated by former president Bill Clinton, it also begs some basic policy questions. Who should manage national monuments, and should they be managed? Even: What is a national monument?

In the case of Carrizo - which some environmentalists say is managed moree lilke a cattle pasture than a preserve - these are particularly pertinent issues.

While many environmentalists are gratified by Carrizo's monument status, others say the plain remains inadequately protected.

Their reason: The plain isn't administered by the National Park Service, like most national monuments. Instead, it is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, an agency that typically oversees grazing and mining on public lands.

Some conservationists say the only real change from the plain's previous status as a "natural area" managed jointly by the BLM, the California Department of Fish and Game and the California Nature Conservancy is that oil and gas drilling is banned.

Critics Say Plain's National Monument Is Just a Cattle Pasture

Of the country's 94 national monuments, 75 are administered by the National Park Service, 15 by the BLM and 4 by the U.S. Forest Service.

America's national monument s are therefore not only diverse in size and ecosystems - they're also diverse in management goals.

Irv McMillan, a rancher and conservationist who lives near Carrizo, said he thinks management policies for national monuments need to be toughened and that the National Park Service should be their sole administrator.

"Basically, the BLM is in the livestock business" said McMillan, a tall, big-boned man whose face has been etched by the wind and harsh sun of the plain.

"They're used to allowing, even encouraging grazing - not restricting it. And it needs to be restricted out here."

Of the Carrizo's 203,000 acres, said McMillan, only about 27,000 acres are off-limits to grazing. And that ratio, he said, is doing irreparable harm to Carrizo's wildlife and native plants. ...

Under BLM, Carrizo isn't a national monument," said Roy van de Hoek, the spokesman for the California Wetlands Committee of the Sierra Club and a former BLM archaeologist and biologist who worked for several years at Carrizo. "It's a grazing commons, and the grazing regimen they use favors invasive exotic grasses over native bunchgrasses and perennials."

But some biologists say Carrizo needs more cattle - not fewer. ...

"The ideal would be to have no grazing at all," said Stafford. "But the problem is you can't get back 300 years - the grasses are here to stay."

Email Glen Martin at

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
Los Angeles, California
It was a pleasant surprise to receive a phone call from Glen Martin in 2001. He wanted to ask my opinion about BLM, the new monument status, grazing issues, and my opinion as a former scientist, namely a wildlife biologist, of the U.S. Department of Interior, when I was in charge of the management of the Carrizo Plain and its biology.

Not long after being interviewed for the position of Carrizo Plain Manager by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1988, the writer of this "Afterword", Robert Roy van de Hoek, was hired by BLM (established in 1948 by President Truman), as a professional career-tenured scientist of the United States Department of Interior. The BLM, as an agency of the U.S. Department of Interior, is now over 50 years old in 2007, and soon will be approaching its 60th anniversary. In my humble opinion, this agency has now outlived its usefulness for the public. I believe it is time to transfer the BLM's public lands over to the National Park Service (NPS) because the NPS has a much better holistic land stewardship philosophy. And furthermore, I recommend and advise that as a pilot project in the dismantling of the BLM, that we begin with transferring the Carrizo Plain National Monument over to the National Park Service (NPS) or to the state of California, to be managed by the Governor's Department of Parks and Recreation (i.e. California State Parks). There would be no cost whatsoever for acquisition of land in doing this adminstrative transfer. There would be a benefit, almost immediately, in the better care and management and stewardshsip of wildlife, endangered species, wetlands, and cultural heritage sites including Painted Rock. In addition, tourists, visitors, and scientists doing research at Carrizo, will be treated better by NPS rangers than by BLM rangers. The professional managers and scientists of NPS are also much more qualified than BLM managers and scientists. The ethics, morals, spirit, and integrity of NPS employees is leaps and bounds better than BLM employees.

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.