Last updateFri, 16 Sep 2016 12pm

Community Voices

18 Oct 2016
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The “breaking news” TV flash disrupted a peaceful Saturday afternoon at my home in Palm Springs. Three cops had been shot while responding to a domestic disturbance just a couple of miles away. I started feeling uneasy and tense—like I used to feel in my hometown of Sarajevo. I turned the TV off. Within minutes, my editor called and left me a message, asking me if I was available to cover the shootings. I didn’t respond. I’ve done my share of violent breaking-news stories all around the globe. No more. Later, my editor texted me, saying that two of the three officers—Jose “Gil” Vega, 63, and Lesley Zerebny, 27—had died. I’ve seen many senseless killings, as a war reporter in Romania and what was once Yugoslavia. When I lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro, every morning would start with the gruesome front-page murder-scene photos of butchered bodies. Rio is…
30 Sep 2016
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As we stagger through this year’s presidential campaign, it might help to look back at the election of 1856, when, for the first time, the West yielded a presidential candidate. His name was John Charles Frémont, and he was a big name in his day. He still is: From Colorado to California, we have rivers and mountains named after Fremont, as well as towns, counties, parks and streets. Besides being famous, he was daring—and not unlike today’s presidential candidates, deeply flawed. Frémont led four expeditions to the West in the 1840s. He had married well, partnering with Jessie Benton, the daughter of Missouri Sen. Thomas Hart Benton, who ballyhooed westward expansion. Boosted by his father-in-law’s influence, Frémont in 1842 launched his first expedition with mountain-man Kit Carson as a guide. It was a partnership based on ambition: Carson needed Frémont to make him famous, a favor he returned by keeping…
16 Sep 2016
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For most of us, birthdays are happy occasions, when friends and family pay fond attention, lavishing us with gifts to prove that we are loved and valued. For one day, our foibles are accepted with a smile—or at least diplomatically ignored. The National Park Service’s 100th birthday this August has been less joyful. In fact, anyone paying attention to the news might think that the proud agency, which oversees 412 units across more than 80 million acres, has had its centennial celebration ruined by a series of uncomfortable revelations. In January, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report detailing two decades of sexual harassment by boatmen in the Grand Canyon’s river district and the failure of senior officials to adequately respond. In March, the agency abolished the river district and announced that it would increase sexual-harassment training and conduct an agency-wide survey to ascertain how widespread the…
09 Sep 2016
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Soldiers Organized Services, known to locals as SOS, has provided free airport transportation for more than 100,000 of America’s heroes since 2007—saving active-duty military personnel, as well as their loved ones, in excess of $15 million. The mission is funded through the generous donations of corporations, philanthropic organizations and patriotic individuals from all over the Coachella Valley. Explosive growth has created new challenges for this Palm Desert nonprofit—and its new Veterans Communications Center is playing a key role in the expansion. SOS plans to offer free transportation for area veterans to the Veterans Affairs Hospital at Loma Linda, and help with that mission came from Desert Adventures, operators of the popular Red Jeep Tours, which was about to retire a 1994 Dodge Ram minivan. It had some good years left, so with the help of local businesses and donors, it has been restored and donated to SOS. “The van needed…
29 Jul 2016
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The more things change, the more those changes echo on into the future. Today, we need to listen more carefully than ever to a voice from the mid-20th century—that of writer and Western historian Bernard DeVoto. At the recent Republican National Convention, the party faithful approved a platform that directs Congress to give “certain” public lands to the states. It’s an old strategy, trotted out like a broken-down show horse at a county fair. In the mid-1940s, Western policymakers, mainly Republicans, sought to eliminate the federal Bureau of Land Management, remove grazing areas from Forest Service control, and put public land on the path to state control and private ownership. One privatization bill passed the House in 1946, and even enjoyed the support of Interior Secretary Julius Krug, a Democrat. Sounding the alarm against these terrible proposals came DeVoto’s prescient voice from his “The Easy Chair” column in Harper’s magazine.…
22 Jun 2016
Gun safety is, and has always been, an LGBT-rights issue. Granted, some of the most prominent cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes have not involved guns; the deaths of Matthew Shepard and Sakia Gunn were not due to firearms. Even so, the LGBT community is plagued by gun violence. On May 13, 1988, Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner were shot while hiking the Appalachian Trail, because their murderer was enraged by their lesbianism. Wight died from her wounds. On Oct. 15, 1999, Sissy “Charles” Boden was shot dead in Savannah, Ga., for being gay. On July 23, 2003, Nireah Johnson and Brandie Coleman were shot to death in Indianapolis after their assailant learned Nireah was transgender. On Feb. 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot twice by a classmate in Oxnard because of his sexual orientation. He later died. Gun safety has always been an issue with the LGBT community.…
08 Jun 2016
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He was one of nature’s biggest gifts, and the country owes him thanks. —Charles M. Russell, 1925 The bald eagle has been the national symbol since 1782, but the Western artist Charlie Russell was right: The buffalo was far more important to the story of the American West. Congress agrees on very little these days, but this May, it successfully passed a bill that was quickly signed by President Obama. The National Bison Legacy Act designates the American bison, most often called the buffalo, as our first national mammal. What’s more, the bill enjoyed the support of a wide array of ranchers, environmentalists, zoos, outdoorsmen and Native Americans. As the Wildlife Conservation Society put it, the animal “is an icon that represents the highest ideals of America.” The story of the buffalo, once roaming in immense herds, also touches on some of the lowest points in American history. As settlers…
06 May 2016
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"It never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way." —John Steinbeck, East of Eden California’s State Water Resources Control Board recently indicated that mandatory water restrictions could be lowered in some parts of the state later this spring. Such a move would come just one year after the wise decision that encouraged residents to save water in the midst of a severe, multi-year drought. Regardless of the board’s decision, Californians need to shift permanently toward water conservation and efficiency. In fact, that’s not a bad idea for all Americans. There’s no denying it: There was a lot more rain and snowfall in California this past winter than we’ve seen in recent years, especially the last five. Unfortunately, when it comes to the drought, a closer look…
12 Apr 2016
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Editor’s Note: On March 8, the Independent published an opinion piece titled “Community Voices: It’s a Terrible Waste of Time to Argue for Bikes in Wilderness.” Here’s a piece that takes the opposite viewpoint. It hasn’t happened yet, but one day, bicycles and baby strollers will be welcome in wilderness. That’s the goal of the nonprofit Sustainable Trails Coalition, which seeks to permit forms of human-powered trail travel—beyond walking—in wilderness areas. Congress never prohibited biking or pushing a baby carriage in wilderness. Both are banned by outmoded decisions that federal agencies made in the 1970s and 1980s. Over time, those decisions became frozen into place by lethargy and inertia. It is true that the Wilderness Act forbids “mechanical transport.” By this, however, Congress meant people being moved around by machines, not people moving themselves with mechanical assistance. Now that wilderness acreage is larger than California and Maryland combined—vastly larger than…
12 Mar 2016
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Last month, California’s Mojave and Colorado Deserts, along with the neighboring San Bernardino Mountains, became home to three new national monuments—Castle Mountains, Mojave Trails and Sand to Snow—thanks to President Barack Obama’s use of the Antiquities Act. Together, these new monuments protect 1.8 million acres of desert and mountains. These new monuments will help preserve the ecological integrity of a region under tremendous pressure from two of the country’s fastest-growing urban regions, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. By connecting existing protected areas, plants and animals will have a better chance to move to cooler and wetter climates as our deserts become hotter and drier due to climate change. These new monuments will help to ensure that California’s magnificent deserts and neighboring mountains are healthy and whole for years to come. The monuments also protect a region that’s brimming with stories of the diverse people who’ve made their homes here. Castle…

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