Membership is not required to view the catalog, but only SDMG members may use the reference library.

BLM RESOURCES FOR ROCKHOUNDS

  

 

 

The DRECP comment period ended
February 23, 2015
What's next?
February 28, 2015
by Lisbet Thoresen

 

SDMG's comment letter was informed by constructive input from many sources, so on behalf of our rockhound community, we would like to express our thanks first and foremost to the 177 individuals who took our survey, and also to:

  • Randy Banis, Sundance Media
  • David Garmon, President, Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy
  • Shaun Gonzales
  • Shirley Leeson, President, American Lands Access Association (ALAA) and SDMG board member
  • Bob Howells, Alliance for Desert Preservation
  • Lori Paul, Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy
  • Lisbet Thoresen, SDMG member and editor
  • Terry Weiner, Projects and Conservation Coordinator, Desert Protective Council
  • John Zemanek, Alliance for Desert Preservation

There is no way to know how many people from the rockhound/gem-mineral community submitted comments directly to the DRECP, but quite a few people helped broadcast the survey and letter-writing calls to action.  Without their efforts, the number of comments will have been far fewer, so SDMG is deeply grateful for their support of our community:

  • Pamela Birge
  • Emily Brooks (Sierra Club CA/Nevada combined Desert and Wilderness Committee meetings)
  • Laura Cunningham, Basin and Range Watch
  • Friends of Mineralogy
  • David Garmon, Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy
  • John Garsow, dealer (Tucson show)
  • Bert and Lee Grisham, San Gorgonio Mineral & Gem Society, Cabazon (Indio show)
  • Andrew Hoekstra, editor, Delvers Gem & Mineral Society
  • David Hughes, editor of the Pala newsletters
  • Bill Larson, President, Pala International, who published short articles twice in his gem and mineral newsletters
  • Patricia McClain, Tucson Gem & Mineral Society
  • Richard Mueller
  • Jim Parrish, SDMG board member (Tucson show)
  • Gene Reynolds
  • Anne Schafer, SDMG board member
  • Lorrie Steely, Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative (Apple Valley and Indio show)
  • Jeff Swanger (Tucson show)
  • Lisbet Thoresen, SDMG member and editor
  • Marty Zinn (Tucson show)
  • Justin Zzyzx (Tucson show)

 

Who's fighting the good fight?
– a model of effectiveness
– useful information

Alliance for Desert Preservation (A4DP)
Effective comment letters to DRECP. Concerned with Lucerne Valley, primarily, but everyone who cares about the California desert stands to win if A4DP prevails.

Tubb Canyon Desert Conservancy (TCDC)
Sponsored a petition to ask DRECP to consider a distributed energy alternative plan to the DRECP's five utility-scale plans that threaten to industrialize the California desert.  Thank you, if you were one of the 12,000 signatories to the petition.

mojavedesertblog.com
Thoughtful wildlife and conservation-focused blogger.  Great information.  (Helped SDMG write our proposed revisions to land use designations to protect rock-collecting areas.)

Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative
Co-wrote terrifically effective comment letter to DRECP (with Alliance for Desert Preservation).  Supportive of rockhounds.

Basin and Range Watch
SDMG signed on to BRW's letter to DRECP for its proposed alternative energy plan.  Daily factual reporting of what is going on in the California desert.

Desert Protective Council

Chris Clarke
Natural history writer and environmental journalist based in Joshua Tree.  Investigative reporting on the DRECP.

 

SDMG's Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) campaign.  Many individuals and organizations worked tirelessly to review the voluminous DRECP document* published on September 26, 2014, so they could prepare cogent comment letters by the February 23, 2015 deadline.  To be able to comment on the whole document, one had to have read 70 pages per day of dense language with supporting references arranged in chapters and subchapters within the DRECP (this cumbersome structure makes fact-checking difficult).  Since reviewing the whole document was a monumental task, most of us tackled the parts of the document that affected the specific interests of our communities.  Shirley Leeson took a leading role to rally the rockhounds, from whom the BLM had heard very little during the comment period.  She prepared a rockhound survey, which SDMG sponsored and publicized with a grassroots campaign of hitting the grapevine and distributing brochures and posters at the shows in Tucson, and the Riverside County Fair in Indio, the Sierra Club CA/Nevada combined Desert and Wilderness Committee meetings, and elswhere.  SDMG's intention was to include the survey results in our comment letter.

Getting rockhounds on record.  To our knowledge, no study has ever been performed to characterize amateur rock collecting as a recreational activity on public lands in California – how many rockhounds are in the desert at any one time, what local services they use, their specific destinations, routes of access to those destinations, or how frequently they visit, how long they stay, how many miles they travel, etc.  We felt that the changes we proposed to the DRECP would be bolstered by the survey information.  In 11 weeks, 177 individual respondents took the survey.  SDMG's letter included specific requests that BLM apply land use designations to protect 19 "at risk" collecting areas and ensure vehicular access to them through adjacent lands.

On February 23rd, SDMG's comment letter on the DRECP was submitted to the DRECP, and also to the commissioner and directors of the relevant agencies – California Energy Commission (CEC), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California Dept of Fish and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service.  Copies were also sent to California state Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and California 50th District Representative Duncan Hunter.

More than 12,000 comment letters were logged to the DRECP on the last day of the comment period.  It may take some time before the DRECP has docketed all the comment letters.  A January 21st article in The Desert Sun stated that the final plan may be ready by the end of this year at the earliest.  But, based on the number and quality of defects called out in comment letters docketed to date, we hope that the public can look forward to seeing significant revisions made to the plan.  If that proves to be true, would it not be procedurally (and ethically) correct to have another round of public review before a final plan is published?

While there is strong political pressure to push through the DRECP in Sacramento as quickly as possible, in January the CEC extended for the third time its contract with Aspen Environmental Group, a private firm that has performed extensive consulting work on the plan.  The latest extension runs through May 31, 2016.  Of course, that speaks only to timelines and not to process, which has been consistently opaque to public scrutiny, notwithstanding the perpetual criticism leveled at the DRECP's administrative agencies.  It remains to be seen how the next phase will unfold. 

Other forces are now in play.  On February 9, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the California Desert Conservation and Recreation Act of 2015.  This bill, which is co-sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer, is an updating of the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 and purports to "protect additional land and help manage California's desert resources by carefully balancing conservation, recreation and renewable energy development."  It seems clear that the proposed bill complicates the glide path for the DRECP.

The EPA's comment letter is critical of significant features of the DRECP, including the energy calculator used to estimate energy needs in California and the changing complexion of distributed energy generation in different parts of the state over time, the lack of including a distributed energy alternative plan and the need for better coordination with the seven counties within the DRECP boundaries.  The EPA gave the DRECP its rating: "Environmental Concerns – Insufficient Information (EC-2)," citing problems related to water, dust, Silurian Valley's designation, BLM and other federal agencies' ability to maintain or monitor utility-scale facilities.

The comment letter submitted jointed by Alliance for Desert Preservation and the Mojave Communities Conservation Collaborative not only identifies defects in the DRECP, but also questions its scope and constraints.  A critical reading of the plan also cites many serious procedural flaws and other problems in various sections of the plan, ranging from land use designations to water resources.  The defects cited include omission of critical corroborative documentation, missing environmental assessments, undesignated funding sources or accountability mechanisms and many internal inconsistencies throughout the document.  It appears almost certain that the DRECP is headed for a showdown in the courts.

The most significant charges leveled at the DRECP speak to its sweeping restructuring of BLM's authority to apply land use designations and to permit development projects on discretionary and subjective criteria within and without the DRECP's boundaries.  Further, the DRECP has been called out for empowering the BLM to exercise discretion in permitting projects and executing land swap deals for virtually any type of activity it deems reasonable under a loosely defined standard.  The clear implication is that many of the designations designed to protect conservation and recreation values (that's us, folks) may be subject to revision in the future.  BLM is given broad discretion to "resolve" competing values of different designations, thus the new recreational designations (ERMA/SRMA), may be modified if they conflict with economic goals enshrined in other designations.  Indeed, the BLM's purview under the renewable energy plan will not be limited to renewable energy projects.

As frustrating as it is to rockhounds that many interest groups are working hard to get National Lands Conservation System (NLCS) designations applied to as many areas as they can, it should not be difficult to see why.  No, they're not intent on making rockhounds unhappy – NLCS is one of the few tools available to ensure that the BLM cannot give over an area to development in the future.

There is much more to be said about the DRECP.  We need the concerns of the rockhound community to be incorporated into the Feinstein-Boxer bill.  Certainly, we'll be weighing in over the weeks and months ahead.  The DRECP is shaping up to be a monumental brawl over the biggest land use amendment proposal in California in the past 30 years.  We'll need to galvanize a whole lot more constructive effort from our community stakeholders.  According to Shirley Leeson, there are over 52,000 organized (club-affiliated) rockhounds in the United States, with 10,000 rockhound members of gem-mineral societies in California and Nevada.  This time around, a few people cannot do everything for everyone else – the strength of numbers is needed.

Getting our priorities straight.  Just as important as making our voices heard is modulating our tone and message, so that we're effective.  It is imperative to be mutually supportive of other groups that share the same over-arching goal where the DRECP is concerned (preserving public lands for the public trust), notwithstanding values that sometimes conflict.  Respecting the values of other groups focused on viewsheds, water resources, flora and fauna very well may save our collecting areas.  To date, other groups have been much more effective than our community has been in communicating the values that are important to them.

Several individuals and organizations representing some of these other values were incredibly generous in helping us analyze the DRECP maps.  They helped SDMG write a cogent comment letter to protect YOUR rockhound interests.  When they understood that the NLCS designations as they are applied currently shut out rockhounds from collecting areas, they were amenable to adjusting the language to make exceptions for rock collecting.

If we don't pull together to change the DRECP, we'll all be together on the losing side when it all shakes out.  Let's focus on the task at hand – working toward our common goal of revising the DRECP. 

* Different figures for the length of the document have been reported ranging from 8,000+ to 12,000.

  Copyright © 2012–2018 San Diego Mineral & Gem Society, Inc. - All Rights Reserved