Administrative History
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The Dollar Budget

More than any other single factor aside from the California Desert Protection Act itself, the so-called "Dollar Budget" crisis of fiscal year 1996 indelibly changed the institutional culture of Mojave National Preserve. At the heart of the conflict was an ideologically and economically based fundamental disagreement over the best use of the land of the eastern Mojave. Generally, those who opposed the California Desert Protection Act were in favor of the Dollar Budget. They sought to return the park to BLM control, or at the very least to require the NPS to manage the park for multiple use in the spirit of the BLM mandate. This perspective most often focused on fewer restrictions for off-highway vehicles, mining, and ranching. Anti-park forces suggested that the National Park Service managed its holdings too intrusively, in the process trampling the rights of users of the area.

The issue that upset anti-park forces most was the creation of wilderness by the California Desert Protection Act. Four-wheel-drive vehicle users had long used their machines to explore the desert, following mining roads and jeep trails to obscure sites. One practical reason for the development of a vehicle-based exploration pattern was the lack of water in the area - a hiker cannot carry enough water for a major cross-country hike, but a vehicle can carry all that is needed. Wilderness designation precluded the use of motorized or mechanized vehicles, prohibiting the unfettered access to which some users had grown accustomed. In most cases, the wilderness boundaries in the Mojave were drawn with "cherry stems," non-wilderness access corridors to provide vehicular access into wilderness areas. Despite these concessions to access, wilderness designation for Mojave lands was heavily criticized by anti-park forces. Opponents often framed the issue as a question of the "public's" right to access "public" lands. In their formulation, the Wilderness Act, the CDPA, and even FLPMA "locked up" the public lands, prohibiting use by all but a small elite of healthy backpackers and environmentalists. Most also asserted that the wilderness areas set aside by Congress in the CDPA did not qualify as wilderness. The Wilderness Act of 1964 calls for areas to be roadless and free of human influence, but the Mojave lands were crisscrossed by paths, trails, routes, and even bladed roads, and contained range structures and sites of mining activity. As a result, wilderness designation closed some roads in the desert. Some opponents initially feared that all roads were closed, although the actual mileage figure remained small. Nonetheless, the closure of even a small portion of a road affects the other parts if no detour is available, and anti-wilderness advocates seized upon this issue. In some cases, these closures effectively cut off trails which volunteers had established with invested time and money, leaving them angry and upset over not being consulted. In other cases, the closures made it difficult for ranchers and wildlife enthusiasts to access and maintain water improvements. Locals also blamed the Park Service for the closures and demanded NPS action to reopen the areas, unaware that both the closures and any future boundary changes were the responsibility of Congress.

Initial actions of the Park Service did little to allay fears of residents. The initial law enforcement SET team moved quickly to secure park resources, but alienated many residents with what locals perceived as a heavy-handed style. The placement of signs prohibiting commercial traffic through the park was perceived by hypersensitive locals as a land grab, and a move intended to force them out of the park. Prohibition of driving in desert washes seemed a clear case of environmental overzealousness to residents accustomed to the practice. The closure of wilderness was one of the thorniest issues, but due to a lack of staff and good wilderness boundary maps, misinformation was rampant. In short, local residents were extraordinarily angry, and the few Mojave staffers were focused on the process of starting a park, not on community relations.

NPS employees also had reason to fear local backlash. Anti-federal rhetoric escalated steadily throughout the early 1990s, spurred particularly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation raids on Idaho separatist Randy Weaver in 1992 and the Branch Davidians at Waco in 1993. In October 1993, a bomb tossed on the roof of the BLM state offices in Reno caused over $100,000 worth of damage. A Forest Service office in Carson City, Nevada was partially destroyed by a bomb on March 30, 1995, after a vault toilet at a Forest Service campground near Elko was bombed the previous day. The bombings reached a new level on April 19, 1995, when 168 men, women, and children were killed in the truckbombing of the Oklahoma City federal building. Regional tension reached a fever pitch in Carson City in August 1995, when the same Forest Service employee whose office was bombed saw his van destroyed by a bomb blast outside his home, which shattered windows in his house and terrified his wife and two daughters inside. [148] When homes and vehicles of NPS employees were vandalized in Barstow, the Park Service was justifiably concerned that it might be part of the anti-federal backlash trend. Jensen's car and home were tagged with graffiti, and Martin's home was burglarized twice. At first, employees were concerned that the Park Service was being targeted. Jensen later came to a different conclusion:

The more we looked into it, other houses in our vicinity had gotten hit also. We finally deduced it had nothing to do with the Preserve ... it was gang type stuff. [149]

Threats to Preserve employees passed, but political opposition to the park remained high. Congressman Jerry Lewis represented the area covered by the Preserve. He fought ardently against the passage of the CDPA, and was instrumental in changing the CDPA to reduce the status of Mojave from a "park" to a "preserve." Once the CDPA bill became law, he worked vigorously to stymie the Park Service at Mojave. In April 1995, Lewis succeeded in blocking the transfer of $312,000 from BLM budgets that had been used to run the EMNSA, leaving the park with a total budget of $660,000 for the 1995 fiscal year. [150]

The accidental death of thirty eight bighorn sheep provided a catalyst for further anti-park action. On August 25, 1995, California Department of Fish & Game received radio collar transmissions indicating that several dead sheep were in the Old Dad Mountains. Investigation revealed that thirteen sheep had fallen into the water tank of a wildlife guzzler, drowned, and poisoned the water with botulism, which killed another twenty five sheep who drank the infected liquid. Accounts differ as to how the sheep ended up in the water in the first place: some reports say that the sheep jumped onto a brittle fiberglass tank, which broke through, others suggest that the sheep accidentally kicked open an access door on the top of the tank and drowned while trying to get a drink. The California Department of Fish & Game blamed the Park Service for not allowing them helicopter access to a wilderness area to conduct radio capturing. Jensen countered with the assertion that the walk from the nearest cherry stem road was only approximately a mile and a half, certainly a manageable distance. CDF&G claimed that it would have discovered the problem with the tank if it had been permitted access to the site. Either way, the incident was accidental, but anti-park forces, including Lewis, seized on the drownings as proof that the Park Service was not capable of managing the Mojave. Lewis even called for a federal investigation of the event. "The tragedy was very real, but that which occurred as a result of mismanagement has given us an opportunity in the House and we're trying to take advantage of it," noted Lewis in a speech to supporters. [151]

Bill and Nita Claypool, longtime residents of Needles and staunch park opponents, suggested to Lewis that the Preserve should be given a budget of one dollar, with the rest of the money going to the Bureau of Land Management for administration of the area. [152] Lewis, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, inserted language to that effect in the House Appropriations Bill in June. His task was easy; the House was under control of Rep. Newt Gingrich and other conservative Republicans who were swept to power in the 1994 elections, and the leadership favored anti-environment proposals. The Appropriations Bill was passed by the House with several anti-environment riders, including Lewis's Dollar Budget for Mojave National Preserve. The Park Service and park staff did not regard the threat with genuine gravity. The Senate passed a version with park funding intact, and the presumption was widespread that the conference committee would maintain the park's funding when it met in September to determine the final bill. With the super-conservative first-year Representatives leading the charge, more moderate Senate Republicans followed the conservative revival that seemed to be sweeping the nation. Lewis, one of the longest-serving Republican congressmen, applied political muscle to Republican members of the committee to retain his Dollar Budget provision, which proved easy given the anti-environment sentiments of conservative leadership. The appropriations bill passed out of conference on September 19, 1995, granting the Park Service one dollar to administer Mojave National Preserve.

The action was a major shock to Preserve employees. Superintendent Jensen immediately flew to Washington D.C., to see what could be done to mitigate the impacts of the budget. Deputy Superintendent Martin, acting on a "gut feeling," called in a Critical Incident Stress Team from Washington D.C., to help Mojave employees cope with the blow. The team stayed for three days, helping staffers find jobs at other parks and deal with the confusion and trauma. The Dollar Budget added tremendous uncertainty to the already fluid situation surrounding the start of the new park. Dave Paulissen signed papers for a new house the day before the Dollar Budget passed out of committee. In the wake of the cut, he had to buy his way out of the contract. All employees received a letter, informing them that they needed to look for jobs at other parks. Adding insult to injury, the initial round of public scoping meetings for the planning process took place that week, and park employees had to endure the abuse of many members of the public, most of whom were upset about the same access and control issues that motivated Lewis. [153]

Scathing editorials in major urban newspapers labeled Lewis's move a "guerrilla campaign," "pure political mischief," and a "personal vendetta fought in the name of miners, ranchers, hunters, and four-wheel drive enthusiasts." Others reminded President Bill Clinton, in California for a fundraiser, that Californians were very much in favor of the Desert Protection Act, and suggested that "signing the bill would not earn much credit in a state that has 54 electoral votes." Later that day, the White House declared that Clinton would veto the bill when it reached his desk, citing the Mojave cut as one of six specific examples of measures intended to cause environmental havoc that were contained in the bill. A continuing resolution, authorizing expenditures based on the previous year's budget, kept the park and other government offices open, but that measure expired in mid-November. Congress passed another continuing resolution as a stopgap measure, but attached the full text of the disputed budget bill as a rider. Clinton vetoed the continuing resolution, and the government entered a six-day shutdown on November 14, 1995. [154]

At that point, it was clear to everyone at Mojave that the park's future might not be promising. Superintendent Jensen and the rest of the staff scaled back operations. Jensen described the employee meeting where he told the staff that some people would have to leave:

"We decided that we had to pull some of the staff back out. And I am sitting around the table there in our offices in the Mercado Mall and there are people there with tears in their eyes. ... it was a real emotional bombshell." [155]

Seasonal employees were among the first to be reassigned, most leaving in November 1995. The visitor's center at Hole-in-the-Wall was closed, and interpreter Ruby Newton was moved to park headquarters to provide administrative support. Half of the space at Mercado Mall leased by NPS was abandoned, with the help of a farsighted clause in the terms of the rental lease. The same month, Chief Ranger Bill Blake and his wife Bettie, administrative assistant for the Preserve, volunteered to transfer, in part as a result of family issues and the fact that Blake's old position at New River Gorge NRA was available. Jensen prepared a reorganization plan that cut back the top-heavy structure of Mojave's administration.

"I just felt that we'd be better off shrinking the superintendent's office and pulling what money we could get in the next couple / three years, and putting it in field staff. So I made the decision that I would move on, leave Mary as the superintendent, and that we would move Frank as well." [156]

The plan called for Jensen himself to transfer to Yellowstone, and for assistant superintendent Frank Buono to go to Death Valley. Deputy Superintendent Mary Martin would lead the park, effective December 10, 1995. The last ranger left the same day. [157] Doug Scovill was temporarily reassigned to Death Valley National Park, but was able to continue his work at the Preserve:

"[T]hey were just going to keep a skeleton's crew on ... and I was transferred to Death Valley. And the superintendent of Death Valley just so happened to be by coincidence the husband of the superintendent of Mojave, Mary Martin. ... I called Dick [Martin] up and I said 'Dick, what do you want me to do for you?' and he says, 'talk to my wife.' I stayed at Mojave and continued my work as a cultural resource specialist." [158]

Despite the stress of the Dollar Budget crisis, managers and employees tried to maintain the camaraderie that had formed among members of the small staff in the park's infancy. When it became clear that much of the staff would have to leave, Superintendent Jensen organized an all-employee four-wheel drive trip and campout in the Preserve. Park staffers and their families enjoyed the weekend, despite the sense of looming change. [159]

Meanwhile, the battle between the Republican-controlled Congress and the Democratic White House continued to rage. The six-day shutdown of federal offices was lifted on November 20, when Clinton signed a continuing resolution that expired December 15, with the hope that the budgetary battles could be solved by that time. The Interior spending bill passed by Congress for Clinton's signature in December still called for a variety of environmentally destructive measures. In the final December bill, BLM was still allocated $600,000 to manage the Preserve, but the Park Service was given $1.1 million as well, plus $500,000 for planning. This amount was less than the $2.7 million requested by Clinton, but more than Lewis's original dollar budget. Language in the bill required the Park Service to manage the Preserve under the BLM's multiple-use regulations until a long-term management plan was completed. Additionally, that management plan had to be approved by the Appropriations Committees of the House and Senate before the Preserve would receive any more funding. Lewis, by virtue of his Appropriations Committee seat, would get to reject the plan and any funding for the Preserve until the Park Service agreed to his demands. The continuing resolution expired, and the government shut down again, sending NPS employees home nationwide. Frank Wheat, a Sierra Club activist who was instrumental in the passage of the CDPA, personally talked to White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta to ensure that Clinton fully backed Mojave National Preserve. On the basis of the Mojave issue and many others, Clinton vetoed the bill the following Monday, December 18. [160]

This second shutdown lasted for three weeks, including Christmas and New Year's. No park staff was on duty, but some visitors were camped at Mid Hills and Hole-in-the-Wall. Martin and her daughter and Gordon Reetz and his wife traveled to the Preserve at various times during the shutdown and emptied the trash. [161] Dennis and Marcia Schramm used the break to travel to several other parks on their own, looking for a dual transfer. The funding uncertainty weighed heavily on their family; Dennis's position was funded with planning money, which was not part of the funding struggle, but after the plan was done he would join Marcia as part of the regular staff. At Grand Canyon National Park, they found two suitable positions. Back in California, Dennis Schramm talked to Martin and presented his family's dilemma:

"I said, 'we need to make a decision - we want to buy a house, so we need to know whether or not we're going to have jobs here in the future or not.' And she said 'go buy a house.' So... we went out over Christmas that year and bought a house. It was a pretty traumatic time." [162]

On January 6, 1996, Clinton and Congress passed a continuing resolution to allow the Park Service to resume work while the two sides hammered out a budget agreement. Until the final budget was passed in April 1996, the Preserve operated under a series of continuing agreements, all of which essentially carried the previous year's funding level forward, which prevented the skeleton crew at Mojave from expanding. After Clinton's December veto, Lewis floated a proposal to turn the Preserve over to the BLM and charge an entrance fee, but that plan did not make it into the next bill sent to the President. [163]

Angry over urban media portrayals of Jerry Lewis as out-of-touch with his constituents and pursuing an illogical vendetta out of personal spite, a group of anti-park activists held a "Support Lewis Rally" on February 17, 1996. The East Mojave Property Owner's Association officially sponsored the barbecue and rally hosted by Dennis Casebier at the Goffs Schoolhouse property. One pro-Lewis source reported more than 700 people in attendance. Congressman Lewis and other dignitaries gave speeches, shook hands, and socialized. Characterized as a great success by pro-Lewis forces, the rally was dismissed by the National Parks Conservation Association as being "organized by a small group of opponents of the park who are trying to undermine the Park Service's efforts with distortions and misrepresentations." [164]

The terms of the fight had changed since the passage of the California Desert Protection Act, and the Clinton administration took an active role to protect the Preserve. Clinton's heavy use of the veto and willingness to let the Republicans shut down the government to avoid compromising the environment was a very different approach from the CDPA passage effort, where the White House maintained a friendly but clearly hands-off stance. As negotiations between Congressional leaders and the White House continued into April, the ultimate status of Mojave National Preserve was one of the final points of contention. The GOP-backed bill provided $1.1 million in funding for the Preserve, but required that it be managed according to BLM multiple-use guidelines. Lewis vowed to fight to the end for the provision, but Republican leaders Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey indicated that they might have to compromise on the Mojave issue to get the bill past a threatened veto. [165]

That compromise on the part of the Republicans did ultimately become necessary. Rather than delete the "multiple use management" and "Congressional approval of the management plan" provisions entirely, a new codicil was added to the bill, allowing President Clinton to waive the first two requirements. With that safeguard and other anti-environment measures deleted or neutralized, Clinton signed the final Interior appropriations bill into law on April 25, 1996, and promptly exempted Mojave from the odious directives. Mojave National Preserve received a $1.1 million budget and with it, a measure of stability for the first time in months. [166]

The era of the Dollar Budget came to an emphatic end in early June 1996, when Lewis publicly announced that he would not renew his funding attacks on the Preserve. His new stance was likely made necessary by the Republicans' failure to control the budget outcome, but it may have also been a positive response to increased NPS community relations efforts. Although he was still opposed to the park, Lewis's moderated stance toward park management removed much of the threat from the rhetoric of anti-park activists, and enabled staff to focus once again on park concerns. [167]

The Dollar Budget Days were a crucial formative moment in the short history of Mojave. The incident decimated staff levels, and created a survivor's "esprit de corp" among those who remained. The emotional response of those park staffers interviewed about the subject, almost seven years later, was intense. Several choked back tears. Subsequent staff heard about the event, and as time passed, the details became fuzzy and the episode passed into lore. The event remains a vivid illustration of the force of local resistance combined with access to political power.

It would not be inaccurate to describe the Park Service as having "won" the Dollar Budget battle, but that simple analysis obscures some of the lessons of the experience. The most crucial factor in the Preserve's survival was Park Service efforts to improve community relations. Accidentally or otherwise, some stridently pro-regulation park employees left Mojave during the crisis. Those who remained, especially Superintendent Mary Martin, emphasized public relations as a way to defuse some of the tension and ease the integration of the Park Service into the eastern Mojave desert. Education of park opponents, especially through public meetings in the planning process and through personal meetings with individuals, reaped tremendous rewards. By showing that the Park Service was receptive to the public's concerns, Mojave staff eliminated much of the perceived need for major management changes. The political climate also changed, leaving radical plans like Lewis' without support. After the Republican defeat in the budget battle with the Clinton White House, passage of "anti-environment" policies like Lewis' anti-park proposal became much less politically feasible. Bill Clinton's victory in the 1996 presidential election reaffirmed the popularity of his pro-environment stance with voters, and helped solidify the future existence of the park.

Survival of Mojave National Preserve as a national park unit should also be credited to a fortunate political alignment. President Clinton took a major stand in support of the environment, and was able to portray the Republican opposition as venal and petty. Public opinion was largely on Clinton's side, which made a definitive stand politically feasible. In the end, Republican negotiators were willing to concede ideological positions such as that of Lewis in exchange for larger budget cut concessions by Clinton.

After April 1996, Mojave National Preserve became a fixture in the desert. The effort to create a comprehensive long-term management plan was never entirely suspended during the crisis, but the planners were affected much like the rest of the staff. Once the long-term longevity of the park was assured, planning for the future seemed much less like the futile enterprise it once appeared to be. After the Dollar Budget Days passed, Mojave clearly had a future of some sort; it was up to the planning team to determine the shape of that future.

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Last Updated: 05-Apr-2004