"What Are They Afraid Of?"
Last updated 6/21/2022 at 10:37am
What has become of California’s State Parks?
The people of California are the owners of our parks, and they care deeply about how they are managed.
Along with the millions of recreation hours enjoyed in parks, the people contribute money and many days of sweat equity to protecting the park and its many wonders. Financially, much of Anza-Borrego has been acquired through donations that have allowed for purchase of important inholdings to make the state’s largest park whole.
Over decades, Borrego Sun has had a great relationship with the dedicated park staff that have helped the public understand the daunting task of managing the huge crowds that can love the park to death, as well as caring for the unique plants and animals that make Anza-Borrego so attractive.
Suddenly, the park has gone quiet.
The issues swirl around management of beloved bighorn sheep. Due to prolonged Drought, volunteers and wildlife experts wanted to continue an effort to deliver supplemental water to the sheep.
The program began last year when Marnie Corps helicopters were used to ferry water into remote wildlife guzzlers. These huge tanks have been installed to trap rainwater that wildlife can access during hot, dry times.
The low rainfall over the past few years has not allowed the tanks to be naturally filled, and others have failed from lack of maintenance.
Danny McCamish, Anza-Borrego’s senior environmental scientist, expressed concern that such an effort annually could cost as much as $500,000 and might be supporting an artificial population of sheep.
As a steward of public funds, McCamish has a valid point. Others, such as retired park superintendent Mark Jorgensen, have a different view. Through volunteer efforts and contributions, he estimated ongoing costs to be as little as $3,000.
He’s a man who has spent his adult life working to protect these magnificent animals.
It’s an honest difference of opinion that should be debated publicly. That’s the media’s role. But we can’t talk to the park experts.
Who knows what might happen when all sides are aired publicly? As an example, the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation has already donated $25,000 to the Anza-Borrego Foundation to be used for efforts to save bighorn sheep.
Next came an announcement that the 50th annual Desert Bighorn Sheep Count would happen this year, after reduced counts during COVID.
Volunteer sheep counters were overjoyed, as were the merchants of Borrego Springs who enjoy the financial bump during lean summer months. That joy vanished when new regulations for volunteers were announced.
Those regulations for the first time require counters, many who have worked for decades, to complete exhaustive applications, undergo background checks and fingerprinting and are prohibited from speaking publicly about the count. Additionally, any photographs they take during the count become property of the state.
They are outraged and asked the park to explain. Again, their only reply was a boilerplate message from Sacramento stating, “Since the sheep count requires four days of volunteering and working with sensitive information, the volunteer service falls under the department’s long-term volunteer service agreement implemented in 2018.”
As a result, many sheep count volunteers are opting not to participate in this valuable and demanding citizen science effort.
When Borrego Sun reached out to the park staff about the management of bighorn sheep, we were told that comments would only come from Sacramento, and we were not permitted to speak to the local experts working in the park.
McCamish and Park Superintendent Ray Lennox are the experts who have boots-in-the-sand views of what’s happening in the park. Historically, both have been open and willing to talk about park issues and we applaud them for that.
Their perspective may differ from others, but they are the experts, and their perspectives should be heard.
What is troubling is that they are now being muzzled by Sacramento that apparently wants to control all information.
What is Sacramento afraid of?
Solutions can be found when there is an open exchange of information with the passionate local people who have the same goal.