Imagine if the tap was turned off to California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Arizona. We aren’t there yet, but the situation inched a bit closer in August when the Bureau of Reclamation announced they would be reducing releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead to historically low levels. Take a look at the astonishing photos on the Weather.Com website, especially photos 14 and 15 in the slide show series, if you want to understand the magnitude of the situation.
We had a severe drought last in 2002; back then researchers were starting to understand that the West has seen mega-droughts before. If you believe that history can illuminate the present, you might want to read Craig Child’s book, House of Rain, as he takes us on a journey through pre-history on the Colorado plateau to explore some possible answers to the fate of the people who lived here before us and how long-term droughts changed their lives forever. It’s a sobering story.
A few Sundays ago I was approached by a young girl who wanted to do a science fair project. She thought maybe she could test the water in the creak near her house. She was going to look at the water under a microscope and compare what she saw to tap water. I suggested a few refinements, including expanding her testing beyond critters in the water to some water chemistry, like temperature and pH, and observing the biological and physical environment of the creek.
In that moment, I saw a future creek monitor. I imagined this energetic girl, who had already had success raising money to purchase and preserve 8 acres of wildlands near her house, as the leader of a cadre of young volunteers, keeping track of the health of the forest and streams above her neighborhood.
I imagined her in a life of volunteerism. I volunteered as a young girl, too, doing good, taking care of my world. And maybe that is why I am an optimist and lifelong volunteer who works to make things better. Volunteering reverses the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that plague us as we grow from youth to adulthood. It gives people a sense that they make their own communities. Volunteers are no longer passive receivers of the “government” but citizens. In this way, we make our communities whole. In this way, we keep our governments honest. In this way, we chose our future.
Could one of the most densely populated areas in the US see national park rangers in its recreation areas someday? For the last six years, the National Park Service has been studying just that question, and today they released the Draft San Gabriel Watershed and Mountains Special Resources Study and Environmental Assessment, a long name for a long process. The NPS started this study in 2005 after passage in 2003 of a bill by Representative Hilda Solis (companion bill by Senator Boxer).
Now we have the findings of the study:
First, the natural and cultural resources of the San Gabriel Mountains and Puente-Chino Hills are nationally significant.
Second, the study area is suitable for inclusion in the national park system because it represents natural and cultural resource types that are not already adequately represented in the national park system or protected by another land managing entity.
Third, the NPS determined that a collaborative partnership-based park unit would be a feasible addition to the national park system. A large traditional national park unit, owned and operated solely by the National Park Service, is not feasible.
And finally, NPS management in partnership with existing agencies and organizations is the best option for enhancing protection of significant resources, for improving access to recreational opportunities in the region, and for providing coordinated interpretation and education about significant resources.
How would this be implemented? The NPS looked at four alternatives and this is the one they liked best (quoting from the report): “Alternative D: San Gabriel Region National Recreation Area (A Partnership Linking Significant Resources and Recreation). In this alternative, Congress would designate a larger scale national recreation area that would recognize and protect the significant resources associated with the San Gabriel Mountains and Puente-Chino Hills, explore opportunities to protect and enhance interconnected ecosystems, provide important open space connections for recreation, and offer new educational and interpretive opportunities. … The NPS would take a lead role in management of the partnership, particularly in the area of interpretation and education.”
What are the next steps? The NPS is holding a comment period through December 16, 2011 with public meetings around the region. Then it will be up to us – and Congress – as to whether any of the recommendations in the study get implemented.
The feds were here this week to listen to us about America’s Great Outdoors, an initiative of President Obama’s to launch a national dialogue about conservation in American and learn about some of the smart, creative ways American’s are conserving outdoor spaces. The public listening session, originally to be a one day affair in Los Angeles, stretched to two and a half days with events at Compton Creek and Whittier Narrows on July 7, Los Angeles on July 8, and concluding in the Santa Monica Mountains on July 9.
I was honored to be a part of the planning team for the Los Angeles event on July 8, working with some of our great public servants in City of LA government, such as Paula Daniels (Board of Public Works Commissioner) and Romel Pascual (interim Deputy Mayor for the Environment). We developed our messages and strategized on how to deliver them, producing talking points and deploying teams to the breakout sessions. I’m not sure all of our work was needed – everyone was so on-point and articulate – but I appreciated the way we came together in such a short time to put on a good event. I have to say that Occidental College really shined with a thoroughly professional and yet down to earth presentation of the campus and the themes (disclaimer – my husband and I are both Oxy alumni). Oh, and the weather was great too!
This is the first of several parts on my thoughts and impressions of the day and about America’s Great Outdoors.