Resource management is an important issue in any park, as the resources, natural or cultural, are the very justification for any park's existence. At Mojave National Preserve, the unusual features of the park gave the Resource Management team several major challenges. The park addressed natural resource management issues, including wilderness, water, animals (both native and exotic), grazing, land acquisition, and soundscape threats in efforts to maintain the integrity of the natural features of the land. The Preserve also contains a wealth of cultural resources, from rock art and an old wagon road to ranching and mining remains. Legacies of former uses of the eastern Mojave created problems in the form of abandoned mine sites and hazardous materials, all of which had to be addressed by Mojave's management. The responses of the park to these situations vividly illustrate both the challenges posed by the history of human uses of the eastern Mojave and the flexibility and innovation required of park managers at Mojave National Preserve.
Almost half of Mojave National Preserve's land base is designated as wilderness, a level of protection that requires the least intrusive management possible. Wilderness areas in the Preserve encompass a wide range of terrain, from dry lake playas to sand dunes to more traditional forested mountains. Wilderness inside the park is unusual for the number of former roads and routes it contains. San Bernardino County has attempted to claim some of these routes as traditional roads under RS-2477, which would turn their management over to the county. The park is resisting the county's claims. RS-2477 was a law passed in 1866 that granted rights-of-way across unreserved public lands for construction of highways; it was repealed in 1976. In 1988, Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel opined that RS-2477 gave states jurisdiction over even the faintest trails, as long as the trails in question existed before the act's 1976 repeal. Anti-wilderness activists inspired by the Wise Use movement have attempted to use RS-2477 as a means of disqualifying lands from wilderness status. In 1996, three Utah counties bulldozed roads into BLM and NPS wilderness areas, asserting that RS-2477 gave them the right to do so, but a federal judge ruled that they were in violation of the law. The federal judiciary's ruling is a preliminary sign that RS-2477 claims will not stand up in court, but the status of Mojave National Preserve's wilderness routes has not been formally determined. 
Management of wilderness by the park has been guided by the document "Principles for Wilderness Management in the California Desert," which was developed by Interior agencies to articulate a directive of the 1994 Transition Action Plan. The September 1995 report, along with subsequent additions, articulated basic tenets of wilderness management, including the "minimum tool" standard. The managers of federal land in the desert recognized key differences between BLM-managed wilderness and NPS-managed wilderness created by the CDPA, but pledged that they would work together to create consistent management practices. 
One of the most important tasks of the park's wilderness management program was determining final wilderness boundaries and posting signs to let users know of the boundaries' existence. The maps of wilderness included with the CDPA had wilderness boundaries drawn with heavy marker on copies of fifteen minute topographic maps. This caused some confusion (as well as flexibility) in determining the exact placement of wilderness boundaries. However, thin signs identifying areas as wilderness were posted along road corridors were placed by park rangers very early to provide users with necessary guidance. Patrolling the vast wilderness areas was no easy task. In 2002, the Preserve received a temporary detachment of horses from Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park for use in the park. The horses were kept at Kessler Springs Ranch after its acquisition by the Park Service. With proper training, rangers and other park employees could use park horses to access and patrol wilderness. This represented a tremendous improvement over the former system, which required rangers to patrol park wilderness on foot, a task complicated by the large number of wilderness areas in the Preserve and the highly arid environment.
Lack of water is the defining characteristic of deserts, including the Mojave, and concomitantly, it is one of the Preserve's most precious resources. For a desert, the eastern Mojave has a large number of water sources, which support a large variety of wildlife. During the ongoing operations of cattle ranching in the Mojave, grazers "improved" natural springs and drilled many wells, all with the goal of increasing the amount of water available for cattle. Wildlife utilized these water sources as well, and it might be surmised that populations of some species increased due to the larger amount of available water. As the Park Service received ownership of ranching lands and range improvements, control of these water sources became a park issue. Many have since been turned off or removed, with the goal of returning water levels (and dependent wildlife populations) to a "natural" level, but with nonnative species such as burros, deer, and chukar, as well as native species utilizing the scarce water, a return to pre-grazing conditions with fewer water sources may be impossible to attain. Nonetheless, ongoing removal of burros and range improvements certainly do increase riparian flora and fauna, as some early successes on former grazing lands near the Kelso Dunes can attest. 
Water is also at the core of one of the largest threats to the integrity of the park. Outside the southern boundary of the Preserve, Cadiz Inc. owns land under which sits an aquifer estimated to hold more than 600 billion gallons of water. The company proposes to sell the water to the Metropolitan Water District, the agency that slakes the thirst of greater Los Angeles. The district would also pump water from the Colorado River into the aquifer at Cadiz for later use, turning the ground into an enormous subterranean storage reservoir. Little is known about the aquifer or its connections to water sources inside the Preserve, but scientists fear a lowering of the water table would dry up springs and seeps throughout the desert. In 1999, Cadiz Inc. prepared an environmental assessment that was roundly criticized by the park and other agencies. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) noted that Cadiz Inc. overestimated the aquifer's recharge rate by "five to twenty five times." The Park Service and USGS agreed the following year to a revised report that included a system of monitoring devices to make sure the pumping did no damage to park resources. An additional delay was introduced to the project when hexavalent chromium, also known as chromium 6, was discovered in the aquifer's water. Hexavalent chromium is linked to cancer risk, but there is little agreement on standards for permissible levels of the element in drinking water. It is also hugely expensive to remove from drinking water, which put a major dent in the economics of the project. On August 29, 2002, the Department of the Interior approved Cadiz Inc.'s environmental review. Opponents of the project, including Dianne Feinstein, focused their attention on the board of the Metropolitan Water District, the last agency whose approval was necessary for the project to go forward. On October 8, 2002, the water district voted, by the narrowist of margins, to halt the project. For all its problems, the project was a tremendous threat to the integrity of the park. If the Cadiz project dried up Mojave springs, all manner of plants and animals in the Preserve would have suffered the consequences. 
Mojave National Preserve harbors a tremendous array of native and exotic fauna, small and large, common and rare. In sheer numbers, the tiniest park residents, including microbes and fungi that help make up cryptogramic desert soils, are extensive but poorly understood. The same could be said for most of the park's smallest fauna, including common insects like the black widow spider and insects found nowhere else, such as a small cricket that lives only on the Kelso Dunes. The Preserve was named one of America's top Globally Important Bird Areas by the American Bird Conservancy in 2001, in recognition of the important habitat it provides. 
Of the diverse fauna found in Mojave National Preserve, no creature receives as much attention as Gopherus agassizii, the desert tortoise. In the late 1980s, scientists witnessed an alarming drop in desert tortoise populations throughout the Mojave, including in the East Mojave National Scenic Area, and obtained listing of the tortoise as a threatened species. The tortoise is extremely sensitive to changes in habitat, a fact noted in the 1994 Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan, and bioregional planning and early Mojave National Preserve planning efforts were tied in part to the need to manage the desert tortoise's habitat as a functioning ecosystem. Since the creation of Mojave National Preserve, nearly all decisions relating to the land have taken the desert tortoise into account to some extent. Superintendent Martin noted that it was not park policy to manage resources for the benefit of a single species, but the vast array of management decisions called for by the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan create a de facto situation where the needs of the tortoise seem to dominate management decisions. 
Even unconventional projects required park staff time for desert tortoise monitoring and compliance. For example, when Jonathan Mostow, director of the movie "Breakdown," wanted to film portions of his suspense movie in the park, Doug Scovill was detailed to ensure that the movie cast did not harm a single desert tortoise. "They were very cooperative, but any time they went off the road I would go and inspect the area," remembered Scovill. The crew spent three twelve-hour days filming in the Preserve, and Scovill was with them the entire time to protect the endangered tortoise. 
While the desert tortoise received complete management attention to attempt to save the species, the history of another native park species, the bighorn sheep, was more complex. Bighorn population levels were historically very low, and in the late 1800s the state of California made it illegal to hunt them. Enhanced water supplies in the desert, probably including water intended for cattle grazing but also specially-designed guzzlers intended for bighorn sheep, allowed the population to grow, especially in the area near the Old Dad Mountains. By the mid-1980s, there were enough bighorn in that area that BLM captured some of them and introduced them to other parts of the Mojave where bighorn had vanished. In 1987, California Department of Fish & Game went one step further and began to issue a very limited number of hunting permits every year for bighorn sheep. In a break with tradition, all of the bighorn tags save one are awarded by computer-generated random lottery, the reserved tag is auctioned off to the highest bidder, often for more than $100,000. 
Bighorn embody the kind of awkward management dilemmas found in the Mojave National Preserve: removing guzzlers would create more natural conditions in the park but would probably lead to the decline of the bighorn population, which the park is obliged to protect at natural and healthy levels. However, the loss of the surplus bighorn would likely emphasize hunting impacts on those left and might create a situation where the sheep need to be protected from hunting again. This analysis seems ironic in light of the fact that in the opinion of some CDPA activists, bighorn hunting, rather than deer or game bird hunting, was the real reason behind Mojave's "preserve" designation. 
Bighorn have been at the center of several management complications for Mojave staff. The most serious incident took place in 1995, when thirty eight bighorn drowned in a freak accident at a guzzler.  Jerry Lewis and anti-park forces called the tragedy a result of Park Service mismanagement, and used the incident as justification for the Dollar Budget. Lambing protections for bighorn in the Clark Mountain area may put the park at odds with a vocal group of rock climbers, who consider Clark Mountain extremely good climbing terrain. "Discovered" in 1992 by rock climber Randy Leavitt, who later published a guidebook to climbing the area, Clark Mountain was described by a national rock climbing magazine as "one of the most awe-inspiring and intimidating sport cliffs in America." Prior to the CDPA's designation of the area as wilderness, some climbing bolts were installed in the rock, but no new installations have been allowed since then. 
Most of Mojave National Preserve faces a four-hoofed problem that has its roots in the human history of the area and will remain a headache for the park because of legislated sentiment for the Old West. Burros, a descendant of the Sumerian ass, are hearty, easy to train creatures, features which made them attractive to desert prospectors. Modern wild burros are the descendants of animals who broke free or were turned loose in the desert by miners unable to pay for feed. Burros pose a considerable challenge to other desert dwellers: they will take control of water sources and prevent other animals, such as cattle and bighorn sheep, from using them, and consume a tremendous amount of forage that other animals, including the desert tortoise, depend upon. As recently as the late 1960s, ranchers kept the burro population under control by shooting animals that threatened their cattle's water or forage supply. 
Animal humane societies, worried about a decline of sightings of wild horses, pushed for Congress to protect the invasive animals on public lands as a reminder of the Old Western past. In 1971, Congress passed the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act, which formally mandated the continuing existence of such animals on BLM land where they already were present. BLM took over management of the issue from ranchers, but was reluctant to kill the burros because of pressure from animal rights groups. Burros are as concupiscent as rabbits - herd growth rates approach 20% annually - and the population exploded under BLM management.
The Park Service was under no obligation to allow burros to remain in the park, as the agency is exempt from the Wild Horse and Burro Act. NPS regulations require the park to act as a functioning ecosystem, and the impacts of burros were both negative and substantial. Accordingly, the Preserve made the burro control program one of its top priorities. One statistic illustrates the size of the burro problem: BLM estimated that 130 burros constituted the maximum-sized herd that could exist in the eastern Mojave without ecosystem damage, but a NPS burro census conducted in October 1996 found over 1,500 animals in the park. Managers were so alarmed by the burro problem that the park used $100,000 of base budget money in 1997 and again in 1998 to initiate the burro removal program. Doug Scovill, promoted to chief of resources after the Dollar Budget crisis had passed, hired Chris Stubbs to tackle the burro problem. The park applied for Natural Resources Preservation Program money, and received $900,000 over three years to continue the program through FY01. Beginning in 1997, the Preserve utilized a combination of water trapping and helicopter roundups to capture burros, snaring 3,000 animals over five years. BLM budgets $1,000 per burro to remove the animals from lands it controls, but Mojave National Preserve accomplished the task for about $300 per burro, largely because of the success of relatively inexpensive water trapping facilitated by Mojave's extensive ranching infrastructure. Wholesale slaughter of the animals was not a politically feasible option. BLM agreed to take a limited number into its adoption program, and the park was able to place 1998's group of captured burros with a private agency which agreed to sell them to the public. Beginning in 1998, Mojave National Preserve entered into an agreement with the Fund for Animals, which operated the Black Beauty Ranch, a haven for unwanted animals. Cleveland Amory, president and founder of the Fund, agreed that the ranch would take up to 300 burros per year from the Preserve at no charge - the Park Service was only obligated to pay for transportation to Texas and a one-time veterinary check. The agreement to adopt Mojave burros was remarkable, as Amory generally took an adversarial stance toward the National Park Service. 
Despite extensive Park Service efforts, the burro problem has not been entirely eliminated. In the Clark Mountain area, burros from a BLM-managed herd stray into park lands. After grazing in the area is retired, the Park Service will likely fence the boundary to prevent burros from entering. Such a fence would be constructed with special gates that would permit jumping animals, such as deer and bighorn sheep, to pass through, but prevent non-jumping animals like burros from gaining access. Other parts of the Preserve, including the "keyholes" in the Mescal Range and near Castle Mountain Mine as well as the southwest part of the park near the Bristol Mountains, are adjacent to BLM lands that support burro populations not considered part of a managed herd. The boundary in these areas will likely have to be fenced to allow total removal of burros from the Preserve. 
While most attention has focused on removal of non-native ungulates such as burros and cattle to promote the health of the desert, the park also began investigating the possible return of a once-native species to the area. Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that pronghorn antelope once lived in the Preserve. More research would be necessary to determine if a reintroduction program can be justified, but park managers are cautiously supportive of the idea. At least one wolf has been found in the eastern Mojave in the twentieth century, but more research would be necessary to determine if the creatures were ever present in the area in numbers that would justify reintroduction. 
In most of the park, managers are making efforts to move ecosystems to a more sustainable state, with less human intervention necessary in the survival of any and all park flora and fauna. This is not the case at Zzyzx, where a population of endangered Mojave tui chub are maintained in the artificial ponds at the site. The Mojave tui chub is the only fish native to the Mojave River. Sometime before the 1930s, a population of the fish came to live in holes at Soda Springs, likely during one of the Mojave River's periodic inundations of Soda Lake. In the 1930s, a related non-native chub was introduced to the Mojave River, and over time, hybridized with the native fish, merging so completely that by 1970 no genetically original tui chub were thought to exist. In 1970, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed the tui chub as an endangered species, when the fish in ponds at Zzyzx were discovered to be genetically distinct, native Mojave tui chub. Since that time, the fish population has been maintained by BLM and the Park Service. To provide appropriate habitat, the ponds they inhabit must be cleaned of cattails and dredged once a decade. In 2001, the Park Service issued a finding of no significant impact on an environmental assessment that described the dredging process. A cofferdam would be constructed to divide Lake Tuendae, then all of the fish in the western half would be captured and moved to the other side before most of the cattails were cut away and the pond dredged to a depth of six feet, a significant improvement of habitat for the tui chub population. 
The long-term benefits of ecosystem restoration motivated NPS participation in the AT&T's removal of an underground telecommunications cable from park lands. The cable, known as the "P140 system," was constructed in the mid-1960s to be impervious to nuclear assault. The system consisted of the cable itself as well as repeater huts, manholes, and an access road with signage. By 1996, AT&T decided that the burdens of maintenance on the outdated equipment and patrols to prevent vandalism were not justified by the obsolete system. The NPS welcomed the opportunity to remove the manmade structures and receive the right-of-way back from AT&T, and agreed to lead the federal side of the development of an EIS for the project. Public scoping meetings were held in June 1997, and the Draft EIS was available for public comment from late December 1997 until March 1998. A final EIS was issued in May 1998, and the Record of Decision, confirming the preferred alternative of the EIS, was issued August 17, 1998. After some delays related to the Special Use Permit process, AT&T removed the cable then restored the right-of-way, and finished by mid-November 1999.  The land associated with the right-of-way occupied by the AT&T cable was valuable, but the removal of structures and restoration of the right-of-way was of greatest importance for the future of park resources.
For Mojave National Preserve, grazing is a controversial and important issue that cannot be ignored. Widespread political and cultural overtones help make grazing a sensitive issue for everyone involved. As such, park management tread carefully but deliberately in the arena of grazing management. The Park Service has long viewed grazing as antithetical to its mission, permitting the activity in certain parks only when political circumstances absolutely required it. Park Service culture and policy have historically limited grazing in national parks, initially to differentiate itself from the Forest Service, and in later years to help maintain ecosystems. The long history of grazing in Mojave National Preserve and permission for its continuation in perpetuity by legislative action complicates natural resource decisions, making the goal of a functioning pre-grazing ecosystem frustratingly difficult to achieve.
At the time Mojave National Preserve was established, all or part of eleven BLM grazing allotments, established under the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, were included within the park. Superintendent Marvin Jensen brought a background in range conservation with him and established a friendly management tone toward grazers. All existing operations were issued NPS permits to continue with their ranching activity, and management of the range did not differ substantially from BLM activity.
The Park Service also took concrete steps toward limiting grazing when possible, providing that the situation was politically feasible. The portion of the Piute allotment within the park was for ephemeral forage only and was in desert tortoise habitat. Management decided that any ephemeral forage must, at behest of the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan, be used by the desert tortoise, so a permit to graze ephemeral forage would never be issued. A second allotment, Crescent Peak, was owned by a conservation group, who had purchased it as part of a move to eliminate grazing in southern Nevada. Since no active grazing was taking place, the permit was retired. Not long after the creation of the Preserve, the rancher who held the Clark Mountain grazing allotment passed away, and Park Service regulations forbid the issue of a permit for renewed operations there. Irene Ausmus held the Round Valley allotment, just large enough for her to keep her two pet cows in feed, but not so big as to cause significant resource issues for the park.
Major cattle operations in Mojave National Preserve were essentially controlled by three groups. The Overson family was responsible for the largest share of the acreage, with the OX and Kessler Springs ranches owned by Gary and Linda Overson, and the Granite Mountains ranch owned by their son, Clay Overson. Next in size were the Valley View and Valley Wells allotments, both owned by Richard Blincoe, an Idaho agriculturalist, and managed by Tim Overson. The Blair family operated the 7IL Ranch on the Colton Hills and Gold Valley allotments. During the CDPA debate, the Blairs worked to preserve their ranching way of life, and an original clause that specified a twenty five year sunset on Mojave ranching was removed from the bill largely as a result of their efforts. In 2001, the park concluded an arrangement begun in 1998 where the 40 acres of park land that included the 7IL Ranch headquarters were swapped to the Blairs for 40 acres of undisturbed land in critical desert tortoise habitat owned by the ranching family. Touted as a "win-win" situation for the Blairs and the Park Service, the deal also showed locals that the government was not out to destroy family ranchers in the Preserve. 
Ranch lands are identified in the California Desert Protection Act as top priorities for acquisitions. In contrast to the Blairs' opposition to the CDPA, Gary Overson specifically requested that his ranchlands be included in the park, to guarantee an acceptable purchase price should he decide to sell his property. Beginning in 1995, Deputy Superintendent Mary Martin worked to coordinate the sale of Overson's ranch to the National Parks Conservation Fund, but after years of contract negotiations, the deal fell through at least in part as a result of strict timelines and reluctance on the part of BLM. Undaunted, Martin sought another donor, but Overson doubted the ability of the Park Service to complete a buyout, as a result of the earlier failed experiment. Overson looked for another private buyer for his ranch, but the park made it clear to the buyer that issuance of a new grazing permit "is not certain" and that "the application process ... is subject to lengthy and potentially costly delays and complex administrative and legal procedures and challenges."  As a trial run, Mojave National Preserve and the National Park Foundation worked to move the Granite Mountains Ranch, owned by Overson's son, to NPS control. The deal was completed in April 2000, and set the stage for the park's successful acquisition of Gary Overson's holdings in January 2001. In 2002, Blincoe also agreed to sell his ranches to the park. 
The effect of the Overson and Blincoe allotment acquisitions cannot be overstated. Total grazing in the Mojave National Preserve was reduced from some 37,000 Animal Unit Months (AUMs) to approximately 4,000 AUMs, leaving the 7IL as the only major cattle ranch in the Preserve.  The elimination of grazing will move the formerly grazed lands closer toward a goal of a more naturally functioning ecosystem. The Park Service also gained control of a tremendous number and variety of structures associated with cattle ranching in the eastern Mojave desert. In 2002, a consultant produced a National Register district nomination for the Overson properties, signifying their historic importance to the east Mojave; future plans may include interpretive programs and utilizing some structures for NPS employee housing. The ranches acquired by Mojave National Preserve included some private lands among the holdings, but the most valuable assets to the park were the grazing permits and the ranchers' water rights. 
Other parties owned most of the private land in the Preserve. About half of that land was owned by individuals, a legacy of homesteading days, but the other half - some 87,000 acres was under control of the Catellus Corporation. The Catellus holdings, made up of checkerboard sections across much of the park, were originally granted to the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1864 by the federal government, as incentive to build the line that is today's Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Catellus wanted to gain maximum value for stockholders, and was interested in disposing of its desert lands if possible. In 1996, a $36 million deal partially fell through, because the federal government's decision to spend $380 million on 7,000 acres of old-growth forest in northern California left the Catellus deal short of funds. The company put pressure on the government by sending teams to survey their desert lands for mineral and development opportunities, and put up large "For Sale" signs along roads near the Preserve. The Wildlands Conservancy, a non-profit group, stepped in to help negotiate a deal. In 1998 and 1999, the non-profit group and Catellus came to an agreement that would transfer 487,000 acres of land to the federal government for $54.6 million, of which $18.6 million would come from the private group and the rest from the federal government. Rep. Jerry Lewis and other Republicans blocked part of the money - that which would purchase Catellus lands inside the Preserve - until a deal to allow expansion of Ft. Irwin was consummated. On July 27, 2000, the government took control of Catellus lands within Mojave National Preserve. Of the $20 million received by Catellus for the 184,000 acres of lands in and near the park, $15 million was raised by the Wildlands Conservancy, and the federal government paid the rest. 
Development, land use, and urban sprawl are some of the biggest threats to the Mojave National Preserve. Citing statistics that indicate that McCarran Airport will reach capacity by 2014, airport planners have long cast their eye on the northern part of the Ivanpah Valley, between Jean and Primm, as ideal for an additional airport to serve the Las Vegas area. The valley already had easy transportation access to the metropolis because both the Union Pacific Railroad and a recently-widened Interstate 15 run through it. In 1998, Nevada representatives introduced legislation in Congress to allow Clark County to purchase more than 6,000 acres from BLM to build the airport. Opposition focused largely on impacts that the airport would have on the Preserve, the boundary of which is less than 15 miles from the proposed site. The airport would destroy the park's sense of natural quiet, adversely impact air quality and nighttime darkness, and bring urban sprawl to the Mojave's doorstep. In the House, the measure was defeated along with a large number of other measures in an omnibus anti-environment bill; the Senate version languished in committee. In April 1999, the National Parks Conservation Association listed Mojave as one of the ten most endangered parks because of the airport threat. In May, Nevada's Congressional delegates again introduced legislation to transfer land for the airport, but added some weak protections against environmental damage as well. Again, the legislation was delayed in committee in the Senate, where Dianne Feinstein and others expressed their concerns over the impacts to Mojave National Preserve. After consultation with environmental groups added language stipulating that a full EIS would be completed prior to construction and that the land would revert back to BLM if the airport was not built in 20 years, the House overwhelmingly passed the airport legislation in early March 2000. In July, Senator Harry Reid added several amendments in order to get the stalled bill out of committee. Most crucially, one amendment required that "any actions ... shall specifically address any impacts on the purposes for which the Mojave National Preserve was created." The full Senate approved Reid's bill in early October, and President Clinton inked his approval on October 28, 2000. 
After passage of the airport land legislation, Mojave National Preserve instituted a program to document the natural soundscape to better demonstrate that the airport would harm park resources. In a series of remote locations throughout the Preserve, park staff have set up monitoring stations with sensitive microphones that constantly record the decibel level of ambient sound to a computer log file. If a noise above a certain threshold is experienced for more than a certain length of time, the computer saves the sound itself as an electronic file. The park is also encouraging research on the effect airplane sounds would have on bighorn sheep lambing and on the desert tortoise. Dennis Schramm summarized the park's airport strategy:
Last Updated: 05-Apr-2004