September 18, 2014

An old stovepipe well in Death Valley. California was the last Western state that allowed people to pump groundwater without regulation.     Photo: sprokop/Thinkstock

California to Start Regulating Groundwater

New law puts onus on local planners

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation to regulate groundwater, making California the last Western state to do so, according to a report by the Associated Press. Previously, while some local rules were in place, many landowners were entitled to pump as much water as they could. This practice was increasingly viewed as unsustainable, particularly in light of California’s ongoing drought. 

Republicans and Democrats representing agricultural areas opposed the legislation. California farms have come to rely on groundwater to cope with the drought.

Unlike other western states, the California bill does not create a statewide agency with the power to outlaw groundwater exploitation. Instead, the new legislation requires local planners to draw up plans for sustainability by 2040.


Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument rangers opened up hundreds of square miles of wilderness to the public after deeming border security strong enough to ensure visitor safety.     Photo: Koert Wilmink/Flickr

Organ Pipe Cactus Reopens After 11 Years

Drug cartels no longer barrier to enjoying "most dangerous national park"

Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument reopened all of its land to the public on September 15 following an 11-year period in which most of the area was closed due to the operations of violent drug-smuggling cartels.

After ranger Kris Eggle was shot and killed while chasing a cartel hit squad in 2002, rangers roped off nearly 70 percent of the 517-square-mile monument, 30 miles of which trace the Mexican border. According to High Country News (HCN), the monument’s managers feel that border security implemented since the closure has made the entire park sufficiently safe for visitors.

“No more armed guards,” said Sue Walter, the monument’s chief of interpretation, in an interview with HCN. “[The border] has surveillance towers, vehicle barriers, pedestrian fences. We’re educating visitors, and they can make their own decisions about whether they feel comfortable [going into the backcountry].”

Organ Pipe’s cartel trouble began in the 1990s, with urban security raids pushing human and drug trafficking to rural areas. Rangers were increasingly drawn into high-speed chases through the monument, 95 percent of which is designated wilderness, in pursuit of drug busts. According to the National Parks Conservation Association, border patrol estimated that at least 700,000 pounds of drugs entered the United States through Organ Pipe in 2000.

Officials began tightening border security after September 11, 2001. In 2005, Organ Pipe rangers seized 17,000 pounds of marijuana; in 2013, they seized at least 100,000 pounds. 

While border security has enhanced visitor safety, HCN notes that it has greatly damaged Organ Pipe’s ecosystems. Improved surveillance has left thousands of miles of vehicle tracks across the monument, breaking up fragile soil crusts and creating localized dust bowl conditions. Additionally, border barriers erected by the Department of Homeland Security did not have to comply with environmental laws.


In a protest against the federal government, five men rode their ATVs through an area of Recapture Canyon that contains archaeological artifacts.     Photo: B A Bowen Photography/Flickr

Feds Level Charges Against Illegal ATVers

Utah protestors face jail time and fines

The federal government filed charges Wednesday against five Utah men who rode their ATVs through land protected by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that contains archaeological artifacts. The men had been participating in a May 10 protest against what they saw as overreaching control of public lands by the federal government. 

The protestors rode through Recapture Canyon in San Juan County, Utah, home to 2,000-year-old Puebloan dwellings, artifacts, and burials. The BLM closed Recapture to off-road vehicles in 2007 after finding an illegally constructed ATV trail and damaged archaeological sites, but it remains open for walking, hiking, and horseback riding.

“Today’s actions by the U.S. Attorney’s Office underscore the importance of protecting culturally significant areas and holding accountable those who broke the law,” said BLM director Neil Kornze in a statement.

The five men, including San Juan county commissioner Phil Lyman, are being charged with two counts: misdemeanor conspiracy and illegally riding on public lands. They could each face up to a year in jail and fines of $100,000 for each count if convicted.

“We respect the fact that the citizens of this state have differing and deeply held views regarding the management and use of Recapture Canyon, and recognize that they have the right to express those opinions freely,” U.S. attorney Carlie Christensen said in a statement. “Nevertheless, those rights must be exercised in a lawful manner.”

According to the statement by the U.S. District Attorney’s Office in Utah, Lyman and the other men used social media, video interviews, newspaper articles, and a public meeting to promote the protest, despite BLM state director Juan Palma warning them that the ride could damage historical cultural sites. In all, about 50 people participated in the illegal protest. The first court hearing is scheduled for October 17. 


Jordy Smith celebrates his win at 2014 Hurley Pro at Trestles.     Photo: ASP

Jordy Smith Wins Hurley Pro Trestles

Kelly Slater closes (some) of gap to tour-leading Gabriel Medina

South African Jordy Smith, 26, beat Hawaiian John John Florence, 21, to win the Hurley Pro Trestles in San Clemente, California. Smith opened the wind-swept final with a 9.33 (out of a possible 10), but each surfer’s top two waves are scored, and Smith struggled to find another good wave for the remainder of the 30-minute heat. Meanwhile, Florence put together a string of mid-range scores to take the lead as time ran out. But, with only two minutes remaining, Smith found a 7.17 to claim his first win of the season. "I knew I had to get on a bigger wave, do some turns and link it all the way to the inside," Smith said. "I just stuck to what I know." The win bumps him up to 11th in the world.

Current world number one, Gabriel Medina, 20, was knocked out in the quarterfinals, allowing Kelly Slater, 42, to narrow the (still substantial) gap in the world title race to 6,500 points (first place at each event gets 10,000 points, second 8,000, third 6,500, and so on). The next event on the ASP World Tour is the Quiksilver Pro France, beginning September 25th.

On the women's side, five-time-world champion Stephanie Gilmore, 26, beat fellow Australian Sally Fitzgibbons, 24, for her second win of the year. The Women's World Tour also heads to france, starting September 23.


A Japanese whaling vessel crosses the bow of a ship belonging to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in December 2008.     Photo: guano/Flickr

Japan to Restart Whaling in the Antarctic

Whalers insist their work is scientific, flouting international consensus

Japan says it will move forward with plans to resume whaling in the Antarctic in 2015, ignoring a resolution adopted by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that the country should respect a court’s ruling that the program is illegal.

As reported by the Associated Press, at a Thursday meeting of the IWC in Portoroz, Slovenia, member governments voted against Japan’s plans to resume whaling in the Antarctic by a vote of 35 to 20. While Japan’s delegation has argued that whaling activities meet the definition of “scientific research hunts” by providing a database for the resumption of sustainable whaling, numerous critics insist that Japan’s whaling is for commercial purposes.

In March, the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to revoke whaling permits in the Antarctic and stop granting new ones, asserting that the country’s whale research program, JARPA II, had failed to fulfill its scientific purpose (download PDF). Between 2005 and 2013, Japan published only two peer-reviewed papers on the subject. 

“In light of the fact that JARPA II has been going on since 2005 and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales,” the court wrote, “the scientific output to date appears limited.”

Despite the IWC resolution, Japan appears ready to proceed. 

“We will be providing and submitting a new research plan in the Antarctic Ocean so that we implement research activities starting from 2015,” Joji Morishita, head of Japan’s delegation, told the conference attendees, adding that whalers would be meeting the strict conditions of scientific whaling set by a UN court. 

Animal protection groups condemned Japan’s plans.

“Additional action is needed to encourage and persuade the government of Japan to reconcile itself to the emerging global consensus for whale conservation, instead of whale killing, in the name of science in the 21st century,” Patrick Ramage, director of the whales program for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told the Associated Press.


Sponsor Trek announced that Jens Voigt broke the hour record on Twitter.     Photo: Trek Factory Racing/Twitter

Jens Voigt Smashes the Hour Record

Rides 205 laps, 31.76 miles

With 39,000 people watching the live-stream, 42-year-old Jens Voigt covered 51.115 kilometers in 60 minutes, breaking the hour record—a measure of how far a cyclist can ride in 60 minutes. The distance to beat was 49.7 kilometers (30.882 miles), a record which was set in 2005 by Czech rider Ondrej Sosenka. But unlike every rider who’s competed since 2000, Voigt rode in a modern pursuit position and with aero gear thanks to a UCI rule change in May.

Voigt's attempt is likely to renew interest in the hour record, which lost much of its relevance and luster in 2000 when the UCI limited the positions and equipment cyclists could use in the race.