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Community Voices

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…
08 Mar 2016
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I shouldn’t be writing this, and you shouldn’t be reading it. Far more pressing issues face our public lands—but a vocal minority is drudging up the long-resolved question of mountain biking in wilderness. They have even drafted a bill for somebody to introduce in Congress—the Human-Powered Wildlands Travel Management Act—that would open wilderness to biking. That means we have to pause and rehash the facts. First, no legal argument supports biking in wilderness. Unambiguously, the 1964 Wilderness Act states there shall be no “form of mechanical transport” in wilderness areas. The discussion should end there, but a few claim that “mechanical transport” somehow does not include bicycles. They allege that the law unintentionally excluded an activity that emerged after it was enacted. Or they tout an early Forest Service misinterpretation of the law, which initially allowed bicycles in wilderness but was corrected more than 30 years ago. The arguments have…
12 Jan 2016
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Ammon and Ryan Bundy, sons of scofflaw Nevada rancher Clive Bundy, appear to have made an ambitious New Year’s resolution: Force the federal government, which has managed more than half of the American West’s lands for the past century, to relinquish them, at gun point if necessary, to the locals. On Jan. 2, the Bundy brothers and a group of a few dozen or so militiamen and their sympathizers took over the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon and declared it a safe haven for well-armed“patriots” who oppose federal land management. The group is demanding that the federal government release local rancher Dwight Hammond and his son, Steve, who reported to federal prison on Jan. 4 to finish serving time for intentionally setting fires in 2001 and 2006, burning up thousands of acres of public lands. They also want the government to hand over the 1.7…
12 Dec 2015
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My father’s recent death was not beautiful, and neither were any of the other deaths I’ve witnessed of late. This has left me wondering about a better path. Death is not easy, to be sure, but these were made particularly painful by medical interventions—or perhaps I witnessed the confusion between saving a life and prolonging the process of dying. So I threw a party. Or rather, I held my first Death Café—and it turned out to be a lively, invigorating affair. In Europe, there’s a tradition of gathering to discuss important subjects—a café philo, for a philosophical café, or café scientifique, a scientific café. Now there are café mortel, or death cafés. A death café isn’t an actual place; it’s a temporary event in various locations, such as my home, complete with decorations and, for example, a cake with DEATH: THE FINAL FRONTIER scrawled on top. My gathering included spunky…
08 Dec 2015
What I say will not make me a popular person, but here it is: For excellent reasons, dogs should not be—and usually aren’t—allowed in the backcountry of national parks. Dogs, being predators, bother wildlife even when they’re leashed. Then there’s canine fecal matter, which carries a number of diseases and parasites that may be passed on to wildlife. Perhaps surprisingly, a lot of dogs are not good hikers; their paws become lacerated, and since they sweat through their feet, it is easy for them to overheat. If a dog gets lost or injured, search-and-rescue volunteers may have to risk their lives to aid the animal. This year, off-leash dogs had to be rescued from Volcanoes, Acadia, Kenai Fjords and Yellowstone national parks. There seem to be many people who cannot bear to be away from their fuzzy loved one for the length of a hike in the wilderness, so they…

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