Climate Accountability In An Age of Lies And Craven Self Promotion

February 18th, 2018 No comments

[Update below]

A wonderful essay by my friend Bill Neil, formerly Director of Conservation at NJ Audubon (before NJA became a corporate consulting firm) on proposed Maryland legislation to protect forests and their role in climate change prompted me to post this brief note.

Relatedly, in response to a current proposed NJ Audubon plan to log Sparta Mountain in NJ’s Highlands Preservation Area, 2 years ago I wrote: Christie DEP Highlands Logging Plans Would Reduce The Forest’s Carbon Storage Capacity and Worsen Climate Change

That post was ignored by activists and NJ media.

Since then, Eric Stiles of NJ Audubon –  who spent the last 8 years seeking private foundation, billionaire, Christie DEP and corporate funding for logging schemes in the Highlands under the false scientific justification of creating “young forest habitat” – has dodged all that accountability and is now apparently the sole media “green” spokesperson at NJ Spotlight for forests and climate change risks.

The reason? Stiles sees money for that: in the current spin cycle to get behind NJ Gov. Murphy, Stiles sees money because forest carbon sequestration funds are coming as a result of NJ rejoining RGGI. [See Update below for specific details]

NJ Spotlight recently reported:

“In the Christie era, climate science was a four-letter word,’’ argued Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. Christie pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a multistate effort to reduce pollution from power plants. New Jersey will rejoin the program, according to Murphy.

“Climate change is really the overarching issue,’’ said Eric Stiles, president and CEO of New Jersey Audubon. “When you look at the top-tier threat to humans, wildlife, and habitat of New Jersey, it’s climate change.’’


NJ Audubon not only ignored climate change in their logging schemes, they made the problem worse. As I wrote: 

It is well known that the Christie Administration is irresponsibly outright hostile to any plans or programs to address climate change, and instead has actively promoted new fossil fueled gas plants and pipelines across the state, while suing to block the Obama EPA Clean Power Plan climate initiative.

But here’s an aspect of that climate negligence that has gotten no attention: reducing the ability of NJ’s forests to store carbon.

The controversial proposed DEP logging plan for Sparta Mountain is not NJ Audubon’s or DEP’s first logging operation.

Highlands forests are under assault from the State agency directed by the Highlands Act to preserve them.

Getting virtually no attention are the facts that NJ Audubon also logs Newark watershed lands (see page 43) and DEP has proposed logging not only at Sparta Mountain but in Weldon Brook WMA and Mahlon Dickerson Reservation.

Some think that Hamburg Mountain is next in line for logging.

The cumulative effects of these logging operations – on forest health, water resources, ecosystems, wildlife habitat, recreation, or climate change – have not been considered by the DEP. Not at all. No consideration. (read the complete post)

Accountability, where the hell is it?

Stiles is now a media source and a hero – why is that?

[Update – 2/19/18 – Apologies to readers for a serious omission. The reality is actually worse than my original post above would suggest.

Specifically, when the RGGI legislation was undergoing legislative deliberation, most of the environmental community was working hard and very publicly to make RGGI as strong as possible and to prevent the bill from being hijacked by Senator Sweeney on behalf of big oil (which it ultimately was, resulting in editorial boards and most NJ environmental groups to OPPOSE the final version of RGGI, see: Lame Global Warming Bill Goes to Governor.)

But two groups, NJ Audubon and American Littoral Society were working quietly behind the scenes NOT on strengthening the RGGI bill, but on seeking special amendments to essentially earmark RGGI revenues to their organizations and pet projects. 

Specifically, NJA and ALS met quietly with NJ DEP Director of Policy & Planning Jeanne Herb to secure earmarks of RGGI funds for carbon sequestration.

DEP supported these amendments and deceptively conveyed them to the Legislature as DEP amendments – thus disguising the special interests NJA and ALS behind them and essentially laundering special interest earmarks.

Here they are: (see Section 7.b.(4))

(4) Ten percent [of RGGI revenues] shall be allocated to the department to support programs that enhance the stewardship and restoration of the State’s forests and tidal marshes that provide important opportunities to sequester or reduce greenhouse gases.

NJ Audubon was the ONLY group in NJ doing “forest stewardship and restoration”.

ALS was the only group working on “tidal marsh” restoration.

This 10% was an earmark to those groups.

Now that RGGI will be restored, NJA and ALS will receive those funds – which amount to about $4.5 million per year.

Keep in mind that these same to two groups did nothing to make RGGI better, but cynically and opportunistically merely used it as a funding vehicle for their own organizations.

Since then, both groups have done virtually nothing on climate change – Audubon’s logging actually made things worse – while both groups received funding and worked cooperatively with the Christie Administration to provide political cover to DEP rollbacks.

I found it outrageous and totally unacceptable that they now will milk even more public funds from a Democratic administration.


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Forty Policy Questions For Gov. Murphy’s DEP Commissioner’s Senate Confirmation Hearing

February 8th, 2018 No comments

While I don’t know if the Senate Judiciary Committee has set a date yet, Gov. Murphy’s nominee for DEP Commissioner, Catherine McCabe, soon will face a Senate confirmation hearing.

In an effort to educate Committee members and inform the public debate, today I post this open letter as a list of suggested questions.

In fairness, I just gave a heads up to Ms. McCabe via email:

Dear Commissioner McCabe – We have not met, but I thought you might appreciate a heads up on some questions I suggested for your confirmation hearing. See the list below.

FYI, when Brad Campbell took the DEP reins, he hired me and tasked me with preparing what he called an “honest baseline” Report. The objective of that effort was to get all the skeletons out. He directed each Assistant Commissioner to prepare a “vulnerability assessment” of their programs that I was to use as the basis for the Report. (e.g. look at this “vulnerability assessment” on the toxic site cleanup program provided by former Assistant Commissioner Susan Boyle.]

You might want to consider a similar initiative.


Dear Members of the Judiciary Committee:

I write to you as a longtime environmental professional and former 13 year DEP veteran in order to suggest focused policy questions you may wish to pose to Acting DEP Commissioner McCabe during confirmation hearings.

Acting Commissioner McCabe faces huge challenges after 8 years of rollbacks and DEP institutional erosion under the Christie administration’s “regulatory relief” and “red tape” policies. I was faced with addressing very similar issues in my capacity as policy advisor to former DEP Commissioner Bradley Campbell, after 8 years of Gov. Whitman’s “Open For Business” policies and DEP budget cuts.

I urge your consideration of the following questions:

1. In May 2010, the NJ DEP issued a Report that found over 500 unregulated chemicals in NJ water supply & that granular activated carbon (GAC) treatment was cost effective. I wrote:

DEP scientists presented a Report to the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute on May 7, 2010.

The Report, entitled “Investigations Related to a ‘Treatment-Based’ Regulatory Approach to Address Unregulated Contaminants in Drinking Water  found over 500 unregulated chemicals are present in NJ drinking water.

It recommended that public water supply systems install treatment to reduce the health risks of these chemicals.

DEP has known about these risks since 1997 – but has failed to act to protect public health.

We are petitioning DEP to develop regulations that require public water supply systems to install treatment systems, monitor for these chemicals, and disclose these risks to consumers.

The DEP denied our petition.

So, will the Murphy DEP continue the ineffective chemical specific risk assessment approach to developing drinking water MCL’s or shift to a Treatment Based Approach, as recommended by DEP scientists almost a decade ago?

[Note: supporting data and technical basis can be found in NJ DEP science and NJ DEP’s “Source Water Assessment Program”,  which provides “susceptibility” and “vulnerability assessments” and pollution threats to drinking water sources for every municipality in NJ. Hit the link and look up your town’s threats. You would be shocked by what you find hidden in plain sight and ignored by DEP regulators.]

2. Will the Murphy DEP adopt regulations to quantify and enforce Natural Resource Damage (NRD) injuries in order to fix legal and technical defects found by NJ Court decisions and vulnerabilities that Gov. Christie’s AG found weakened the State’s litigation hand and used as a rationale to settle not further litigate (i.e. Exxon et al)?

3. Will the Murphy DEP repeal Christie DEP rollbacks of stream encroachment (C1 protections), CAFRA (and not just the public access provisions), WQMP, & Highlands regulatory protections?

4. Will the Murphy DEP rescind, strengthen, and replace the Christie DEP Water Supply Plan(after holding public hearings throughout the state)?

5. Will the Murphy DEP reverse Christie DEP Clean Water Act TMDL policy for Barnegat Bay & trigger a watershed-wide TMDL for the entire Bay? (DEP’s water quality monitoring, assessment, and TMDL programs need major overhauls after 8 years of Martin’s neglect and politicization of science).

6. Will the Murphy DEP mandate the statistical 500 year event in all DEP water resource & infrastructure programs to reflect climate change impacts?

7. Will the Murphy DEP act on DEP scientists’ recommendations in a DEP Report to upgrade several streams to Category One status & otherwise expand the C1 program that was stalled by the Christie DEP?

8. Will the Murphy DEP rescind and replace the Christie DEP “Nutrient Criteria Enhancement Plan” & enforce nutrient criteria Surface Water Quality Standards in land use permitting and mandate nutrient removal treatment in NJPDES POTW permits? (POTW = sewage treatment plants)

9. Will the Murphy administration develop a regional land use regulatory planning scheme to protect water resources of the ecologically exceptional, highly vulnerable, and badly neglected Delaware Bayshore? (along the lines of Pinelands and Highlands)

10. Will Gov. Murphy repeal Gov. Christie’s Executive Orders #2 (regulatory relief, federal consistency, pre-proposal review) and Executive Order #3 (Red Tape)?

11. Will Gov. Murphy & DEP incorporate climate change reviews, backed by enforceable standards, retrofit requirements, and offsets, to meet the emission reduction goals of the Global Warming Response Act in all land use, infrastructure, air quality, and water resource permits?

12. Will Gov. Murphy – like NY Gov. Cuomo – direct DEP to deny all fossil infrastructure permits based on Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality certification?

13. Will Gov. Murphy reverse Gov. Christie’s water resource infrastructure, State lands, & State Parks privatization policies and rescind Christie privatization Executive Orders (see EO17)?

14. Will the Murphy DEP reverse the Christie DEP State Public Lands logging policies and plans (i.e. Sparta Mountain WMA “Forest Management Plan”, stop privatizing planning for management of state lands and parks by so called conservation groups like NJ Audubon and NJ Future, and revise all similar “Stewardship” initiatives”, et al))

15. Will the Murphy DEP repeal current policy to rely on “BMP’s” and instead enforce NJ Surface Water Quality Standards on forestry, agricultural practices and in freshwater wetlands and land use permits?

16. Will Gov. Murphy issue Executive Orders to expand public involvement in DEP regulatory & permit decisions and develop  Urban environmental quality and environmental justice policies, including mandatory Environmental Justice reviews in designated EJ communities?

17. Will the Murphy DEP close many loopholes and gaps in DEP’s site remediation program to protect groundwater resources & water supplies?

18. Will the Murphy DEP abolish the Science Advisory Board, which has gross conflicts of interest and has become a vehicle for undue industry access, politicization of science, and attacks on regulatory public health and environmental protections?

19. Will the Murphy DEP stop issuing new and revoke hundreds of existing DEP approved “Classification Exception Areas” that waive compliance with groundwater quality standards and instead mandate permanent cleanup of groundwater at high risk contaminated sites?

20. Will the Murphy DEP adopt long overdue NJ DEP derived “eco-flow goals” in water allocation regulations, backed by enforceable numeric standards?

21. Will the Murphy DEP begin to enforce exceedences of current water allocation permit limits?

22. Will the Murphy DEP revoke and strengthen DEP’s “Vapor Intrusion Guidance” to eliminate the “phased approach” and instead take a precautionary approach to protect people in their homes from toxic pollution vapors? (e.g. sample indoor air early on).

23. Will the Murphy DEP revive and adopt drinking water MCL for perchlorate proposed by the Corzine DEP and killed by the Christie DEP, as well as 14 other hazardous drinking water contaminants previously recommended by the Drinking Water Quality Institute?

24. Will the Murphy DEP begin to collect market based lease and easement revenues for private use of state lands and natural resources?

25. Will Gov. Murphy support, work with Senator Smith, and sign legislation to eliminate the current$50 million cap on liability for spills?

26. Will Gov. Murphy support and work with Senator Smith to enact water user and development or impervious surface impact fees to fund the multi-billion dollar water infrastructure deficit?

27. Will the Murphy DEP end current DEP policy to rely on “shelter in place” responses to chemical spills and catastrophic releases and begin to develop protective policies for those who live in mapped “off site consequence” areas under NJ State TCPP and federal Clean Air Act ARP programs? (Paulsboro train derailment et al).

28. Will Gov. Murphy use his powers to block “bomb trains” and other unsafe toxic rail and truck shipments through NJ to protect vulnerable communities? How will the administration address these unacceptable risks?

29. What will the Gov. and the Murphy DEP do to promulgate enforceable requirements for reducing risks identified in NJ’s federally mandated Hazard Mitigation Plan?

30. Will the Murphy DEP revoke and reissue the Christie DEP stormwater and CSO permits to include enforceable timetables and technical requirements?

31. Will the Murphy DEP adopt new rules to mandate risk assessment – based on cumulative risk to the most vulnerable populations – and more stringent “advances in the art” (NJ’s legal standard) air pollution controls for Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs)

32. Will Gov. Murphy support and work with the legislature to ban importation and disposal of fracking wastewater? Will the DEP use all regulatory tools to restrict such practices?

33. Will the Murphy DEP restore the Commissioner’s Office that conducts department-wide policy, planning, and regulation, while applying DEP’s scientists recommendations? This Office was abolished by the Christie DEP.

34. Will the Murphy DEP eliminate Christie DEP initiatives, programs, and Offices designed to serve corporate interests over protection of public health and the environment, including “culture change”, “customer service”, economic development, dispute resolution, sustainable towns and business, et al?

35. Will the Murphy DEP re-open Bulls Island State Park?

36. Will the Murphy DEP sever all relationships, State funding, and pending projects with NJ Audubon Society?

37. Will the Murphy Administration terminate funding and support of “Sustainable NJ” and stop outsourcing of climate adaptation policies to private groups and deluging responsibility to local governments (without the resources or legal power under NJ Municipal Land Use Law to act)?

38. Will Murphy terminate Christie plans to develop and/or privatize Liberty State Park and terminate all State funding and support for NJ Future, who worked with the Christie DEP in secret?

39. What are the Murphy Administration’s specific plans to get the Pinelands Commission and Highlands Council back on track?

40. Given NJ’s experience with Superstorm Sandy and Gov. Christie’s “Rebuild Madness”, will Gov. Murphy support and sign legislation to:

a) establish a Coastal Commission to conduct regional climate adaptation and land use planning and environmental management?

b) repeal the “right to rebuild” storm damaged properties in CAFRA and the Flood Hazard Control Act?


Respectfully submitted,

Bill Wolfe

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Murphy DEP Commissioner McCabe Makes Her First Move – A Mis-Step

February 8th, 2018 No comments

Deb Mans is a politically safe follower, not an aggressive environmental leader

For Mans to provide cover for the Christie DEP is an outrage

Debbie Mans joins Christie DEP Assistant Commissioner Siekerka, a notorious political hack now head of NJ Chamber of Commerce

Debbie Mans joins Christie DEP Assistant Commissioner Siekerka, a notorious political hack now head of NJ Business and Industry Association

My mom told me to judge people by the people they surround themselves with.

By that standard, NJ Gov. Murphy’s Acting DEP Commissioner Catherine McCabe has not shown strength of character.

McCabe made her first management move on Monday, naming Debbie Mans Deputy Commissioner. Mans is formerly head of NY/NJ Baykeeper – read DEP press release.

There were more qualified, more accomplished, and more aggressive environmental advocate candidates that were bypassed in favor of Ms. Mans.

McCabe’s move has generated favorable – and highly misleading by error, spin and omission – press coverage and cheerleading from the usual suspects in the environmental community, see: Appointment of veteran environmentalist marks shift at New Jersey DEP.

This is just one crock of shit in the superficial media coverage:

A longtime clean water advocate, Mans often battled the DEP under Christie, with efforts including a crusade by her organization to establish an oyster reef to clean polluted water in places like the Hackensack River.

Hello! Funding your organization through largely ineffective window dressing feel good projects like oyster restoration is hardly the profile of a “clean water advocate”.

While the DEP Deputy Commissioner position is more of a prestige than a policymaking position – the real DEP management team policy appointments are the Assistant Commissioners, especially the Ac’s for Environmental Regulation and Enforcement – still, it is important to note what the Mans selection signals for McCabe’s judgment and the direction of the Murphy DEP.

So today, we flesh out the details that the media ignored and DEP press releases omitted or spun.

Debbie Mans can hardly be described as a “veteran environmentalist”. She has had little statewide Trenton based legislative and regulatory experience as an “environmentalist”, has virtually no Statewide accomplishments, leadership, or policy victories, and has taken few personal or professional risks, in terms of speaking truth to power or advocating for significant or controversial policy reforms (or opposing bad things like privatization of the DEP’s toxic sites cleanup program, a policy dictated  by her boss Gov. Corzine – or privatizing NJ’s drinking water and sewer systems).

Mans’ few statewide efforts have either been faux grassroots projects manufactured by Foundations like Dodge (e.g. toothless CSO permits, and “urban water infrastructure” (cover for privatization, developer subsidies, and gentrification). These diversions allowed Mans to do NOTHING to oppose privatization of NJ water and sewer systems) or strategic blunders and abject failures (e.g. public access lawsuit attacking DEP’s regulatory powers).

The Bergen Record cites Mans’ efforts in the Passaic River Superfund cleanup.

Mans also was a force in getting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to approve a $1.4 billion cleanup of the Passaic River despite a strong lobbying effort by dozens of polluters for a cheaper alternative.

But exactly the opposite is true. Mans supported the cheaper and less protective cleanup alternative!

Mans compromised and supported a low cost partial cleanup – a cap – instead of a permanent cleanup and dredging and complete removal of contaminated river sediments, the remedial alternative advocated by community and environmental groups, like Sierra Club. 

The Record misleadingly cites a $1.4 billion cleanup as huge, but ignores the facts that:

1) The EPA Superfund Record of Decision (ROD) considered and developed a cost estimate for a complete cleanup alternative. EPA rejected the far more costly complete cleanup in favor of a less costly and less protective cap. Mans supported that sell out by EPA. (caps are ridiculed by community and environmental advocates as “pave and wave”. The “environmental” position on cleanups is almost always in support of complete removal, known in regulatory jargon as a “permanent remedy”).

2) Mans caved, despite the fact that a Judge had previously ruled: Occidental Must Cover $4B River Cleanup, Judge Says

Law360, New York (July 26, 2011, 7:31 PM EDT) — A New Jersey judge ruled last week that Occidental Chemical Corp. was liable for as much as $4 billion in costs related to the cleanup of highly toxic chemical pollution in the lower Passaic River.

Mans also has proven adept at ingratiating political stunts like this (that’s EPA Region 2 Administrator Enck – at a time then EPA Region 2 was funding her organization):


Even as NY/NJ Baykeeper, Mans played political games, like failing to challenge a Billionaire’s – and major Democratic donor – scheme to fill and develop the Hudson River, known as Pier 55

“I find it astonishing,” says Peter Silverstein “that Riverkeeper [AND NY/NJ Baykeeper] has failed to take action against this project.”

Her Trenton experience is primarily political, a former Corzine political appointment who was ineffective as a policy advisor to Gov. Corzine.

Mans knows how to work not only the Foundations, but the Democratic political operatives and donors, in political projects like this:

The Passaic River Patrol is a joint venture between the two long-time partners, with financial support from the Neu Family Foundation. …

The Patrol also has the backing of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Authority and Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr.

Not one of the real clean water advocates I’ve worked with in Trenton for over 30 years was ever praised by sewage treatment plant operators. These advocates were the folks whose leadership brought real clean water protections from real laws and regulations with teeth, like the Clean Water Enforcement Act, the Highlands Act, and the Category One Waters stream buffer protection program.

When the sewage treatment plants and local political machine hacks like Essex County’s  Joe D. are praising your work, its because you are a bought and paid for chump, working on diversions and window dressing, not real clean water protections (which cost money!).

Yes, Mans sure knows how to shake the funding tree – she even took money from Chris Christie! Mans objected to me talking publicly about this $1 million sweetheart deal she benefitted from:

CRI administered $1 million in funding for an oyster restoration project in the Raritan Bay which was provided under a civil settlement with Chevron U.S.A., Inc. and the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. The settlement arose from a February 2006 oil spill in the Arthur Kill, the strait separating Staten Island from New Jersey.

From 2007 – 2014, this funding was used on NY/NJ Baykeeper’s Oyster Restoration in the Raritan Estuary Initiative. It funded the first stages of restoring oysters to the Raritan Bay including research and experiments that have shown that oysters can be restored to this area. Through their work in New York City and New Jersey, Baykeeper is showing that oysters can play a fundamental role helping filter pollutants and restore ecosystem function to the Raritan Bay and Hudson River Estuary.

These types of civil settlements are quite common at the Federal level. Realizing this, CRI met with the US Attorney’s office in 2007 after they announced a big settlement in New Jersey that was to be awarded to NFWF, which, in-turn, was going to grant it to other non-profit conservation organizations in New Jersey. We met with the US Attorney in order to determine whether or not a local non-profit could play the role that NFWF typically plays in administering these funds. The US Attorney’s office could not provide an answer to us and it still remains unclear whether NFWF has a monopoly on this type of federal funding. 

Mans has also been funded by NJ DEP (she used her personal contacts to secure that money) and US EPA. (links forthcoming on that)

I would describe Mans as a follower – not a leader – a loyal Democratic supporter, and a politically safe appointment.

She began her NJ career at the Stonybrook Watershed. Former Watershed Director George Hawkins set the tone for that organization. Hawkins was widely criticized as a notorious opportunist, who put fundraising and political cover (for Gov. Whitman) above policy and principle, a fundamental flaw that Ms. Mans epitomizes.

Mans got tons of press about her “oyster restoration” project – now rehashed in praise by the Bergen Record but belied by the facts – look at photo below and news coverage. The Record is just flat out wrong in printing this half truth, which amounts to a lie:

Mans often battled the DEP under Christie, with efforts including a crusade by her organization to establish an oyster reef to clean polluted water

After the initial fight, Mans ended up SUPPORTING the Christie DEP. And even worse than providing Christie DEP cover, in defending her organizations pet project and funding source, Mans ignored the real water pollution threats and DEP regulatory failures, and instead used that press to create a faux image as an aggressive advocate and critic of the Christie administration – but LOOK AT THIS:

Debbie Mans joins Christie DEP Assistant Commissioner Siekerka, a notorious political hack now head of NJ Chamber of Commerce

Debbie Mans joins Christie DEP Assistant Commissioner Siekerka, a notorious political hack now head of NJ Business and Industry Association

Michele Siekerka, assistant commissioner of water resource management at the DEP, was on hand to show the state’s support of the work.”Today is really about successful partnership,” she said, saying the effort between the Navy, Baykeeper and the DEP showed a joint mission in environmental stewardship, quality of life and public safety – “safe waters and sound science.”

Shortly after that political photo-op, Ms. Siekerka spun the revolving door and rejoined her corporate friends as President of NJ BIA. For Mans to provide cover for Siekerka and the Christie DEP is an outrage.

More recently, Mans has joined a corporate, politically moderate, and financially well endowed elite conservation faction that is led by Mike Catania of the Duke Foundation. That faction has formed other interlocking astroturf groups like the Keep It Green Coalition and the NJ League of Conservation Voters. These people are NOT activists or aggressive activists, nor are their organizations. They focus on funding their organizations and pet projects. Period.

Basically, the purpose of this foundation funding driven KIG – NJ LCV project is to get Jeff Tittel and the “Trenton radicals” out of leadership and control of the political strategy and media message  of the NJ environmental movement.

Mans is at the heart of that “counter-revolution”.

Mans is on NJ LCV Board. NJ LCV endorsed Murphy for Gov. [and spent $335,000 to help elect Murphy]. Her appointment creates the appearance of a quid pro quo – in NJ, that’s a violation of the State Ethics law’s “appearance” standard.

DEP Commissioner McCabe worked for RA Enck at EPA Region 2 in NY. She has to be familiar with all this.

Given all that, I see the Mans selection as another cynical move by this Administration to garner “green cover” and favorable media.

This does not bode well for the much needed real substantive policy reforms, see:  NJ Gov. Murphy Faces A Huge Challenge Reversing Christie Environmental Dismantling And Restoring DEP Integrity and Leadership.

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Bear Canyon, Coronado National Forest – Miller Peak Wilderness

February 7th, 2018 No comments


[Updates below]

I’ve spent the last week basically looking at that lovely mountain range (photo above) and exploring cool desert canyons, while camping in a place called Bear Canyon, just about 6 miles southwest of Montezuma’s Pass in Coronado National Forest, Arizona.

I also managed an exhausting hike up a spectacular canyon below Miller Peak, part of Miller Peak Wilderness. I was heading back into town after a week in Bear Canyon when I noticed a USFS trailhead sign along FS Road #61. So, I parked and hiked in. After about 2 miles and 500 feet of elevation gain, in a bowl surrounded on three sides by 1,000 foot cliffs, I finally came to the trailhead. After another half mile, I hit the wilderness boundary. Shortly thereafter I saw the trail sign which said “Miller Peak 6 miles” (and at least another 1,500 feet elevation!). Tired, with no water or food, I sat down for a rest and then reluctantly headed back to the van. But, on the way back, we had a fun surprise: we found an old miner’s tin shack.

Bear Canyon was one of only 2 canyon’s I’ve hiked or driven across in hundreds of square miles of desert that had a flowing creek, so I wanted to explore it. I assume the creek is called Bear Canyon Creek.

I immediately came across a sign about a Bear Canyon Watershed Restoration Project by US Forest Service and Arizona Game and Fish.

Just below the sign were a series of spectacular cold deep pools carved out of the rock –


The water was cold – must be great in summer desert heat, but way too cold to take a plunge on a mild winter day. Since it hadn’t rained or snowed in a long time, I assumed the creek’s base flow was from groundwater.

[Note – not sure that assumption is valid. Now reading  this US FWS study of the headwaters of the Sant Cruz River. Confused by terminology – never heard of a “tinaja”:

Beyond the old dam at Sycamore Reservoir, Bear Canyon narrows to a bedrock canyon and there is sporadic perennial water located in pools created by depressions in the bedrock. These tinajas are created and destroyed due to the large amount of sediment that continues to move through the drainage as a result of the 2003 Aspen fire.  (at page 10-65) ~~~ end Note]

But upon closer look I noticed tons of algae – everywhere! Damn, way out here in the wild Arizona desert, there are streams that look like they are suffering more severe eutrophication (impairment) than in densely populated NJ! Look:


So, I hiked upstream to see if I could find the source of the nutrient problem. I didn’t have to go far to see all the cow pies and cattle grazing along the canyon’s hillsides.

[Note: I know virtually nothing about western desert stream ecology. Reading this paper now – BIOGEOCHEMISTRY OF NITROGEN IN SONORAN DESERT STREAMS – apparently, desert streams are nitrogen limited (eastern are phosphorus) and there are natural and atmospheric sources of nitrogen in addition to cattle.]


Cattle grazing was destroying the water quality in the creek – and likely lots of native vegetation, while causing erosion too.

[Note: there’s good research to learn from, see this on the Sonoran desert (located northwest of Coronado, which is in the Chihuanhuan desert):

THE IMPACTS OF LIVESTOCK GRAZING IN THE SONORAN DESERT: A LITERATURE REVIEW AND SYNTHESIS and this general overview by the Center for Biological Diversity ~~~ end Note]

So, when I got back into town and library (been staying mostly in funky Bisbee “Like Mayberry On Acid” is the local bumpersticker) I looked into the Watershed Restoration Project and noted that it didn’t even mention water quality or severe damage from grazing. Here are the goals of that project:

The project has three goals, to remove ecologically detrimental non-native invasive plants, to increase native plant diversity to benefit wildlife and pollinators, and to protect work which has been completed downstream on private land to enhance watershed function.  As a result, wildfire risk will be reduced and wildlife habitats improved.

Sounds like NJ Audubon style work and DEP fish and game engineering!

By far the most scarce, ecologically and economically valuable, and threatened natural resource in the west is water. It is incomprehensible that a watershed restoration plan fails to include water resource protection.

Sounds like the same sounds like science “restoration” scams parading under pretty slogans like “stewardship” and “riparian mitigation” and “watershed planning” in New Jersey! Could there possible be as corrupt mendacity and dealmaking?

US Forest Service and Arizona Game and Fish probably rely on pliable “conservation” “partners”, just like they do in NJ too!

Here’s how USFWS describes things:

The project will be an addition to accomplishments of the Sky Island Restoration Cooperative, a bi-national community-based collaboration of government and non-governmental organizations, private landowners, ranchers, students, volunteers, scientists and restoration practitioners, of which the Coronado National Forest  is a contributing member and a beneficiary of work completed on Forest land.

Real watershed restoration would: 1) end grazing and get the the cattle out of the watershed, 2) remove thousands of cow pies, 3) remove water diversion to supply the (at least 10,000 gallon?) water storage tank to serve cattle in the headwaters, and 4) close the road to motorized vehicles.

At only 10-20 inches of precipitation annually, it will take a LONG time to naturally flush all those nutrients out of the watershed.

But you’ll never get those kinds of restoration projects with the “partners” in charge.

[Update: Wow. I thought NJ’s Passaic River was bad in terms of dominance of flow of wastewater discharge.

But check out the Santa Cruz River – the USFWS Report (p. 10-65) cavalierly finds an egregious violation of the Clean Water Act (existing and designed uses must be maintained).

Perennial flow is provided by several municipal wastewater treatment plant outflow pipes at Sweetwater and Roger Roads. This portion of the river is perennial due to discharges of treated effluent from several treatment plants located along the river. This treated effluent’s water quality is very poor for aquatic species survival due to high levels of ammonia and low levels of dissolved oxygen (Pima County 2002; Walker et al undated).

How did they get away with avoiding upgrades to those POTW permits? Where the hell are EPA and Arizona DEP water quality people?

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Here’s How To Fix The Broken DEP C1 “Anti-Degradation” Program For “Exceptional” Quality Waters

February 6th, 2018 No comments

Memo to Gov. Murphy’s Nominated DEP Commissioner McCabe

A NJ friend and local activist who has done great work on enforcing the C1 stream buffer protections just asked me a great question:

My initial question probably would be better posed asking how the C1 regs could be given back the teeth they were intended.

Here is my answer – I hope NJ environmentalists can read this and act accordingly:

At least 4 specific regulatory actions are needed by the Murphy DEP:

In addition, the Legislature can still legislatively veto the Christie rollbacks in the Flood Hazard (stream encroachment rules) like they did the Highlands septic density standard.

1. Withdraw C1 and related rollbacks in the Christie/Martin DEP adopted stream encroachment rules.

2. withdraw the C1 related changes in designation methodology adopted by the Corzine/Jackson DEP that narrowed the scope of the technical basis for and imposed onerous scientific burdens on C1 regulatory designations, and instead re-propose and adopt the original C1 methodology adopted by DEP back in 2002-2003 in the original round of designations.

3. Propose the list of Christie/Martin DEP staff recommended C1 upgrades issued in a DEP Report that evaluated the C1 program and recommended several new C1 upgrades.

4. Revoke the current C1 Guidance provisions in the stormwater rules. That Guidance document is part of the problem in field evaluation and mapping analysis of C1 streams and their associated buffers.

Replace the Guidance with a stricter technical approach.

I’ve written about all of this and there are links to the DEP documents mentioned above on

Politically, these kind of commitments should have been part of the endorsement and transition Report process, but werent.

Now, the next chance to engage them is during DEP Commissioner nominee McCabe’s upcoming Senate Confirmation hearings.

Peace out!

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