Voice of the Saline Preservation Association
Issue #30 Summer 2001
Timbisha Bill Passed by Congress
In late October 2000, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to suspend the House rules which required a Congressional committee review of the bill, and passed the Timbisha Shoshone Homeland Act, Senate Bill S. 2102, which had been passed by the Senate last spring. The bill was signed into law by President Clinton.
This is the bill that we asked SPA members to write letters about, opposing the provisions for co-management of Park resources and other potentially dangerous and precedent-setting measures. Copies of your letters were forwarded to key legislators representing the impacted Congressional districts and House Committees.
This last-minute passage of the Timbisha Bill came as a disappointment and shock to the SPA Board. We had been misled by all of our Congressional delegates, as well as the Chairmen of several key House Committees into believing that the bill wouldnt even be considered until after the 2000 election. As it turns out, the Bill wasnt considered by any committee. Instead it was passed by the full House on a voice vote in the waning hours of the last Congressional session after 20 minutes of debate.
While SPA has always supported the Timbishas' quest for a land base within their ancestral homeland, it is unfortunate that this worthwhile goal had to be accomplished through a bypassing of established legislative procedures, and that the bill still carried with it some unfortunate provisions that could have a damaging effect on Saline Valley and other Park resources in the future.
Many SPA members have worried that the Timbisha Bill, if passed, would mean that the Tribe would "take over" the Springs. We have been assured by the Park Service that the public will continue to have access to the Springs, and that all members of the public, including SPA, will participate in the creation of a site plan for the Springs. We hope that SPA's recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with NPS will give the Saline user community significant credibility in the framing of a site plan. (See the following article)
Ever since the passage of the Desert Protection Act in 1994, the Timbisha have had the power to request temporary closure of specific areas within the Park -- including the Springs -- for "traditional cultural and religious activities." Thus far the Tribe has not made such a request. Such a closure would be for the shortest possible period, affecting the smallest practicable area. The Park would have to give the public adequate notice of the closure and would need to provide personnel to restrict access during the closure. We will keep our members informed through the SPA website of any further developments concerning this provision.
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SPA Signs MOU with Park Service
...Now We Need Your Input!
Just before his departure from Death Valley National Park, Superintendent Dick Martin signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SPA. This document serves to define a working relationship between SPA and the National Park Service. This agreement was many years in the making. Former Board member Dave Bybee laid much of the groundwork for the discussions that resulted in the MOU.
Relevant provisions of the MOU include:
"(1) The [Park] Service will consult with and seek advice from leaders of SPA regarding matters associated with the administration and management of the Hot Springs Campground, campground facilities, access roads and bathing tubs. The Service reserves the right to take action without consulting with SPA on matters of law enforcement and issues affecting public health and safety.
"(2) The National Park Service will consult with and seek advice from the leaders of Saline Preservation Association regarding both the criteria used to select the campground host and the role and function of the host.
"(3) On or before August 1 of each year, the National Park Service will invite and meet with leaders of Saline Preservation Association for the purpose of jointly developing an annual work plan. This plan will identify work to be completed by the Association in the following calendar year. This plan will also identify conditions and standards to which work is to be completed. SPA will not attempt work on projects not approved by the Superintendent. All work is subject to inspection and final approval by the Superintendent. This plan can be added to or modified during the calendar year with the approval of the Superintendent."
As noted elsewhere in this newsletter, Death Valley National Park is now under the direction of a new Superintendent, JT Reynolds. On April 6, members of the Board of Directors of SPA met with Mr. Reynolds in Saline Valley to introduce ourselves on behalf of SPA and arrange for a future meeting to discuss the implementation of the MOU.
SPA would like to represent our members and their views at this upcoming meeting. Towards that end, we would appreciate your input. We would like to know what you think, and what you might like us to communicate.
Please let us know, by mail or email:
- what you like about the springs,
- what you don't like,
- what you would like to see stay the same, or
- what you would like to see changed.
Please tell us more than "Don't change a thing; leave it the way that it is." While this is an honest sentiment, we will be better able to speak for you if we have specifics, and can document them through your mail.
Send your comments to the return address on the back of this newsletter, or e-mail to email@example.com.
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Fee Station Planned for Highway 190
Since the creation of Death Valley National Park and the expansion of the old Monument boundaries in 1994, collection of the $10 entry fee has been haphazard, with visitors expected to go to the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek to pay their fee. Saline Valley Warm Springs is part of the Park, and technically all visitors to the Springs should pay the entrance fee. This is not practical for visitors who enter Saline Valley from the west and do not pass through Furnace Creek.
The Park is planning in the future to erect a fee station and information facility on Highway 190, approximately one mile east of the Saline Valley turnoff. This facility will not block the state highway, but will be at a pullout on the side of the road. Even though the fee station will be located past the Saline turnoff, visitors to the Springs will be expected to pay their Park fee before entering Saline Valley. We can expect increased enforcement of the fee requirement once this entry station is in place.
Frequent visitors to Saline or the Park may want to purchase a $20 annual pass to Death Valley. Seniors over 62 can buy a lifetime Golden Age Passport for $10, good for all Federal fee areas (the exact meaning of this is unclear). Other options include the $50 National Park Pass, or the $65 Golden Eagle Passport. All these will be available at the new fee station.
Entrance fees collected in Death Valley largely go to fund local Park staff and facilities.
New Superintendent Named
James T., "JT" Reynolds, a veteran National Park Service manager, was named Superintendent of Death Valley National Park in California and Nevada. JT came to Death Valley from Grand Canyon National Park where he has served as Deputy Superintendent.
Superintendent Reynolds formerly served as the Service's Superintendent at Colorado Plateau Support Office and in two capacities in its Denver office - as Associate Regional Director for Park Operations and the Regional Chief Ranger. JT has also been the Chief of Resource Management and Visitor Protection in Boston, as the Ranger Training Officer at the Park Service's Albright Training Center in Grand Canyon, as a District Ranger in Everglades National Park and in Yosemite National Park. He also served on a special patrol of newly created Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve and Wrangells St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska. His early career work was in Nachez Trace Parkway in Tupelo, Mississippi, and in National Capitol Parks in Washington, D.C.
JT has been quoted as saying, "I enjoy working with people. I am personally committed to working with partners on a federal and government to government level but also at the social and cultural, recreational and youth level".
Mr. Reynolds, an Army veteran, is a native of Galveston, Texas and a graduate of Texas A & M. His wife, "Dot", is a retired teacher who has managed a preschool business and is an active community volunteer. Their son, Jamol, is also a graduate of Texas A & M and is currently employed with Tetratech in Dallas.
SPA looks forward to working with Mr. Reynolds in the development of a site management plan for the Saline Valley Warm Springs that will help preserve as much of the unique character of the area as possible for the forseeable future.
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Death Valley General Management Plan
The revised General Management Plan (GMP) for Death Valley National Park was issued in September 2000. This document contains little detail about future plans for Saline Valley or the Springs. A site management plan is to be developed in the future with input from the general public, including users of the Springs and other interested groups. Before leaving his post as Death Valley Superintendent, Dick Martin indicated that development of this site plan will probably not begin for a year or two.
Other potentially controversial issues in the original draft of the GMP have been eliminated from the revised GMP, and will be covered later in separate site-specific plans. Besides the site plan for the Springs, these include management plans for: wilderness/backcountry; fire; roads; natural and cultural resources; grazing; and cooperative programs with the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.
We will post notices on the SPA web site as we learn of relevant actions concerning these site plans. You can also phone Bettie Blake at (760) 786-3243, and request to be placed on the mailing or email list.
Many of us who have visited the Springs in the last couple months have expressed a great deal of concern about the maintenance of the toilet facilities that the Park Service installed over a year ago. Since their installation in December 1999, these vault toilets have been pumped out only once. As of Easter, they were filled to near capacity. In fact, the single unit at Palm Spring had reached the point that it needed either pumped or closed to prevent a serious health problem.
The problem seemed to be that the Park Service didnt own a pumping truck large enough to service these facilities. The only time the units were serviced, it was done by a private contractor from Ridgecrest. Apparently the trip didnt pencil out, and that contractor is no longer interested in making the drive into the valley.
In a phone conversation with SPA, Chief Ranger Bill Blake explained that in order to alleviate the immediate problem, the Park Service brought a 300 gallon trailer-mounted pumping unit in to the valley and partially serviced the Palm Spring facility after Easter Weekend. For the long term, the Park has ordered a larger truck-mounted pumper that should allow them to keep better control of the situation. We havent received word of the delivery date of the new truck, but lets hope its soon!
Death Valley's Exotic Plant Removal Program
Dana York, Botanist Death Valley National Park
Throughout the nation exotic species have invaded just about every kind of habitat known. The desert is no exception. Many people believe that the desert is protected from invasive plants because of the extreme conditions such as those found in Death Valley. Although Death Valley is the driest, hottest, and lowest place in North America, it is also home to 85 naturalized exotic plants. These include species such as saltcedar, date and California fan palms, athel, puncture vine, Himalayan blackberry, Russian thistle, tree of heaven, yellow star-thistle, halogeton, Bermuda grass, rabbitsfoot grass, common dandelion, cheat grass, red brome, sow thistle, and London rocket. Cheat grass and red brome are so widespread throughout the Mojave and Great Basin deserts that eradication is impossible. There are management practices that can control the spread or densities of exotic grasses such as red brome and cheat grass, but as far as eradication is concerned, the park's current main focus is saltcedar
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(tamarisk), athel (tamarisk), palms, yellow-star thistle, puncture vine, halogeton, tree of heaven, and London rocket.
The areas of the park that are the most vulnerable to exotic plant invasions are the wetlands and riparian habitats associated with springs and streams, road shoulders, parking lots and trails, and other places that receive large numbers of visitors. The methods of exotic plant introduction into the park probably include animal scat, wind, car tires, human clothing, road maintenance equipment, grazing animals, hay, and escaped landscape plants.
Last year the park created a job position to work exclusively on eradicating exotic plants and restoring natural habitats. The park hired Tim Croissant. As my employee, Tim works closely with various experts and me to determine methods, priorities, and personnel needed to achieve our objectives. Tim has been the lead for several crews that the park has brought in to assist with the eradication program. Tim's accomplishments over the past year include removing the last of the athel debris and sprouts from Furnace Creek wash; palm and tamarisk eradication in the Nevares, Texas, and Travertine springs areas; removing saltcedar at remote springs throughout the park; removing saltcedar in Saline Valley; removing London rocket from Texas Spring Campground; and planting wetland vegetation in the Texas Springs drainage.
To protect birds, removal of exotic shrubs and trees is mostly if not entirely implemented during the non-nesting season. The small amount of saltcedar work that occurred this nesting season only proceeded after the shrubs and adjacent areas were surveyed and found lacking nesting birds. It is our intent to plant locally-collected mesquites and other native plants to replace the exotic trees and shrubs we remove from the park's wetlands. Replacing exotic plants with native species results in a net increase in biological diversity. The end product is a healthier more resilient ecosystem.
Exotic landscape plants that were obviously planted historically or in more recent times, are not targeted for removal unless they are causing a problem that justifies an action. Because these types of landscapes could be considered culturally significant due to their context or historic nature, we mostly ignore them and concentrate on natural areas. Examples of landscapes that could be considered culturally significant include Cow Creek offices and housing areas, Furnace Creek Visitors Center, Furnace Creek Ranch & Inn (which are privately held), Stovepipe Wells, and Saline Valley Warm Springs. One thing we can do at these locations is encourage the use of native plants as replacements for the exotics as they die. With the help of the folks at Saline Valley Warm Springs, this is the approach that is being taken with the palms. The palms seedlings are being removed to make room for mesquites and other native plants.
Prevention is the most important aspect of our exotic plant management program. So here are some things you can do to help Death Valley National Park:
* report sightings of exotic plants to Tim or me (760-786-3233, Tim_Croissant@nps.gov), especially if observed at remote locations of the park
* let us know if you observe nesting birds in exotic plants in the park
* don't bring seeds for planting into the park
* use only weed-free feed or pellets for stock animals used in the park--start them on their weed-free diet several days before their trip
* drive only on roads
* check and clean boots and clothing for weed seed before entering the park
* check and clean, if necessary, your pets before entering the park
* become an active member of the Eastern Sierra Weed Management Area Committee--check with the Inyo/Mono County Agricultural Commissioner for meeting times and locations
* volunteer a day or more to help us remove exotic plants
An important thing to remember about what the park is trying to achieve when managing its natural habitats, is that we are not trying to turn the clock back in time so things can look like they did hundreds of years ago, but rather we are striving to maintain biological diversity by restoring or protecting the natural functions and processes inherent to these systems.
SPA's Treasurer's Report
Michelle Hamilton, SPA Treasurer
SPA is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to reporting news to the Saline Valley user community, as well as promoting communication with administrative public agencies. We exist only by your continued vote of confidence in the form of donations to support our volunteer activities. There are no "dues" required to receive our newsletter. We have about 1,450 active members on our mailing list, and about150 people who have chosen to receive this newsletter via the internet. The cost of postage is nearly $450, including foreign addresses. Printing cost is approximately $175. Our remaining bank balance will be about $3,882 after paying for this newsletter. All money is kept in an interest earning checking account. If you would like to support our efforts, please send your donation to SPA's post office box on the back of this newsletter. A special thanks to all of those who have supported SPA in the past -- not only monetarily, but also by volunteering your labor to SPA projects or writing letters to various agencies and representatives.
NPS Concerned About Dogs
Death Valley Chief Ranger Bill Blake has expressed serious concerns about non-compliance with the Park's Leash Law by visitors to Saline Valley. Blake reminds everyone that all dogs must be on a leash at all times while visiting any National Park. The Saline Valley Warm Springs Camping Area is no exception to this rule.
Although from personal observation, I have seen an increase in compliance with this law in the past year, there are still those who seem to believe that they and their dogs are somehow exempt. Blake believes that as soon as the ranger leaves, the dogs are turned loose. As evidence, he offers two instances of dog bites that were serious enough to require investigation by the NPS rangers in the last year. Such investigations are expensive and time consuming, especially if medical treatment is required.
The Chief Ranger warned that if visitors don't adhere to the rules clearly posted around camp, the NPS might be left with no choice but to prohibit all dogs from the camping area, and to start citing pet owners who are in violation.
The choice is clear: "Leash them or Lose them." If you enjoy bringing your pet to the Springs, be responsible and keep it on a leash. Politely advise your neighbors to do the same. Otherwise we may have no choice in the matter.
After an eventful winter that saw both North and South Passes closed by snow, all roads in the Valley are now passable, although rough and sometimes muddy. As always, be prepared for the worst, as conditions change rapidly with the weather. An excellent source of timely information about road conditions is DEVA's Morning Report, available on the internet.
The URL is as follows: http://www.nps.gov/deva/Morning.htm
It's updated daily, and is probably the best source of accurate information about weather and road conditions in and around Death Valley National Park.
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SPA's Publicity Policy
In keeping with SPA's published policy of "Publicity Containment," we have recently turned down several requests to link our web page with others. SPA's web presence exists solely to keep you, our members, informed of developments concerning the Springs. It is not and never was intended as a resource for anyone not already on our membership list. For that reason, we will continue to refuse to knowingly be linked to any other site or web page. We'd also ask our members not to publish our web address on any newsgroups, listservers, or e-mail lists that can be accessed by people who are not already on our membership list.
SPA realizes that there are already dozens of web sites devoted to the Valley, and we certainly support the concept of the free exchange of information. However, we also are also aware of our commitment to our membership as specified in our by-laws, and for that reason will not allow our site to be used by others as a reference for people looking for a new place to spend a weekend.
People will find the Springs on their own as they have for years. We believe that anyone who undertakes the trip over the Valley roads to reach the Springs should be welcomed, just as we all were on our first visits. Chances are, anyone who makes the effort to find the place on their own is someone we'd like to have as a member anyway. We simply choose not to make it any easier for them the first time.
Our Camp Host, Lizard Lee reports that during the summer months, the NPS installed vault toilets can get quite "fragrant." The only thing he's found that helps alleviate the problem is Pine-Sol cleaner with pine oil. Apparently, the pine oil floats on top of the water in the tank and prevents the majority of the odors from escaping. In order to make the camp more bearable this year, Lee will gladly accept donations of Pine-Sol from concerned visitors. Remember, it will make your stay nicer, too!
If anyone has a source for pure pine oil, please let Lee or a SPA Board Member know.
One of the prices we all must pay for the good friends we make at the Springs is having to say goodbye. SPA offers our condolences and sympathy to the friends and families of those members who have passed away recently. They include Byron Threlkeld (a.k.a."Pious Pete") who passed away in Keeler, CA on Jan. 8th, Johan Beyers, who left us on Mar 24th, Tony Liu, who departed on Nov. 30th, and Alan Steidley, who died on Nov. 9th.