LA Times Julie Cart Wins Well-Deserved Pulitzer for series on brush fires

Julie Cart, who has been writing on environmental policy and issues as a journalist for the Los Angeles Times, and who, with Maria La Ganga wrote the August, 2005 article on Marlene Braun’s suicide, has just won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism with a colleague, Bettina Boxall. Congrats to both of them. You can link to the articles on the brush fires here. One of the great things about Julie Cart’s reporting is that is so balanced. She is among a handful of investigative journalists still trying to understand all sides of an issue.

Cronkite Alumna Wins Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting

April 20, 2009

Julie Cart, a 1980 journalism graduate of Arizona State University and member of the Cronkite School Alumni Hall of Fame, won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for a powerful Los Angeles Times series on fighting wildfires.

Cart and Bettina Boxall, both on the Times metro reporting staff, won for their five-part “Big Burn” series that explored the growth and costs of wildfires. The reporters used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain cartons of U.S. Forest Service records.

The Pulitzer board applauded Cart and Boxall for “their fresh and painstaking exploration into the cost and effectiveness of attempts to combat the growing menace of wildfires across the western United States.”

The series revealed that wildfires are growing in both intensity and expense and that firefighters are often pressured into using air tanker drops even when they will do no good because the aerial water drops – dubbed “CNN drops” by fire officials – “make good television.” The series also explained how more Americans are living in areas prone to wildfires where escape routes are inadequate and how wide swaths of sagebrush are being devastated by wildfires.

Cart, who was an intercollegiate athlete at ASU, has the university’s ninth all-time discus throw record with her 52.04-meter mark recorded in the 1980 season. She was one of the first women’s conference champions in ASU track and field history, winning the discus at the 1976 Intermountain Conference Championships. She also made the U.S. Olympics trials.

She graduated with a B.S. in journalism in 1980 and was inducted into the Cronkite Alumni Hall of Fame in 1998.

“Hooray for the L.A. Times,” Cart told the newspaper staff after the Pulitzers were announced. “It was great that we were given the amount of time to report something that is so important to our readers.”

The series took 15 months from idea to publication last summer.

“The Big Burn series is a marvelous example of the kind of important, in-depth and nuanced journalism we hope our students will be inspired by and aspire to produce,” said Cronkite Dean Christopher Callahan. “We congratulate both Julie Cart and Bettina Boxall and are proud to call Julie one of our own.”

The Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting honors “a distinguished example of explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject, demonstrating mastery of the subject, lucid writing and clear presentation.”

The Pulitzer is the 39th won by the Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest daily newspaper.

“Wildfires are part of the landscape in Southern California and we did what any serious newsgathering organization does: devote the time and the resources to tell our readers about the causes and effects of this growing menace,” Times Editor Russ Stanton said in a prepared statement. “Our team of reporters, editors, photographers, graphic artists and Web producers devoted more than a year to this project, including traveling to the other side of the globe, to deliver this terrific series. We remain committed to providing this type of in-depth coverage on topics that are important to our readers.”

Carrizo Plain National Monument Tourism

Carrizo Plain National Monument Tourism Carrizo Plain National Monument to Offer New Historic Ranch Tour
April 17, 2009

In addition to the Painted Rock Tours currently being offered by the Carrizo Plain National Monument each Saturday two new tours to the historic El Saucito Ranch will be offered this spring. Tour dates are April 19 and May 3.
Call (805) 475- 2131 for tour reservations and information.
The tours meet at the Goodwin Education Center off of Soda Lake Road at 10 a.m. and will caravan up to the ranch. Visitors should bring a sack lunch to enjoy while sitting on the ranch house veranda at the tour conclusion.
The El Saucito Ranch has the distinction of having the oldest standing historic house on the
Monument and is the only ranch on the monument to have been occupied from the pioneer period to modern time. Historic sites such as the El Saucito Ranch are special places that tell us a story about the heritage of California.
The tour includes a short hike lead by a BLM employee around the grounds of the ranch, descriptions of the facilities and the operation of the historic ranch, and stories about the way life was 100+ years ago on the Carrizo Plain.

Will a condor habitat be preserved, Mr. President? Or do you want the oil?

Will President Obama and the BLM stop oil and gas drilling on the Carrizo Plain National Monument. The following article doesn’t make clear who asked or whether the President and the BLM will respond, but the movement to stop oil and gas drilling is long overdue, according to many. Yet Ken Salazar was in California recently talking about drilling offshore. With Mike Pool, former California BLM director now in DC as acting direction of the entire BLM, it makes the politics very interesting. Will this be the Cheney plan or something new?

Pres. Barack Obama and the Bureau of Land Management were asked yesterday to spare the Carrizo Plain National Monument from oil and gas drilling exploration; as the site hosts the country’s unique habitats including that of the California condor, San Joaquin kit fox and pronghorn antelope among others.

The 250,000-acre Carrizo wild land which is nestled between the Caliente and Tremblor mountains is home to the greatest concentration of endangered species in California, according to Biogems Initiative, an environmental group which employs the power of citizen activism to take on and prevail over corporate interests.

Launched in 2001, the Initiative mobilizes thousands of concerned citizens to take action in defense of irreplaceable natural treasures and the wildlife that depends on them for survival. Online activists, known as BioGems Defenders bring overwhelming pressure to bear on governments and companies bent on industrializing the world’s last wild places.
At the heart of the Carrizo Plain National Monument stands majestic the Painted Rock, a 55-foot tall sacred rock formation spectacularly adorned by the prehistoric Chumash people, according to Frances Beinecke, leader of the BioGems Defenders.

Despite its designation as a national monument, this area is not safe from the ravages of oil and gas drilling as a company named Vintage Production has made plans to explore for oil reserves in the plain, using giant thumper trucks to send disruptive shock waves deep into the earth, Beinecke added.

“These trucks and their waves could run right through the habitats for the endangered kit fox and the California condor which are already considered endangered because of their limited number,” she added. “As the road building and drilling that accompany oil extraction would cause irreparable damage to the fragile plain.”

Aside from that, opening the Carrizo Plains to the Big Oil could prove disastrous for the entire historic monument where priceless cultural artifacts are still hidden in its wild grasses and ridges that date back thousands of years.
At this point, the Monument is already under pressure from climate change, habitat loss and degradation and intensive livestock grazing, Beinecke added.

BioGems high profile activists include Leonardo DiCaprio on polar bears, James Taylor on whales and Robert Redford on the American West.

For more info: Please visit –
Author: Shiela Arias

As the plan goes to a vote, the Monument shows its Glory!

There is a long article on the Carrizo Plain National Monument about the NM itself, including the flora and fauna and the dangers they face, its Resource Management Plan process, and a history of the monument. It is well worth reading the entire article. Click the link. The article also contains some beautiful photos of the monument.

Anyone reading this post who would like to help get the Department of Interior’s report on the death of Monument Manager Marlene Braun released, please go the Petition Site.
Saving the Silence

Facing Threats from Inside and Out, the Carrizo Plain National Monument Prepares for the Future
Thursday, April 16, 2009
By Matt Kettmann
[This part of the Santa Barbara Independent‘s article gives a little history]:

Soon after the monument was created in 2001, 13-year BLM veteran Marlene Braun was named manager. Having been stationed in Alaska and Nevada, the workaholic Braun finally felt at home on the Carrizo, and took intense pride in protecting it. She scaled back grazing on sensitive grasslands and began developing the monument’s first management plan, which would phase out long-term livestock permits. Every agency signed on, even the BLM’s California office. Then, in March 2004, the Bush administration—which was critical of Clinton’s last-minute monument designations—appointed Ron Huntsinger as Braun’s supervisor in BLM’s Bakersfield field office. With marching orders to favor ranching over preservation and “fix this plan,” Huntsinger and Braun became immediate enemies. The two butted heads repeatedly, so much so that in May 2005, Braun—who had also been dealing with her own psychological demons—arranged her personal affairs and wrote a few important letters about her fears for the Carrizo. She then took a .38 caliber revolver, killed her two dogs—neatly placing their bodies under a quilt—and turned the gun on herself.

Russell Orrell

Retired Cal Poly biology professor Roger Gambs is a member of Friends of the Carrizo Plain, which cares for these resources with the help of BLM staff.

Braun’s suicide shocked the region, resulted in a federal investigation, and eventually led to Huntsinger’s transfer. The management plan was the fourth casualty. “The whole process imploded. It collapsed,” explained Neil Havlik, who was named to the monument’s advisory committee when it was created in 2002. “It was finally decided that the process should start all over again.” Relations soured between the Carrizo staff and the BLM higher-ups. “That trust took time to rebuild,” said Havlik, the City of San Luis Obispo’s natural resources manager, “but it has been rebuilt.” That’s thanks in large part to the appointment of Tim Smith as the BLM field supervisor in Bakersfield, who Havlik called a “really great guy.”

Nearly four years after Braun’s suicide, the current plan reflects her vision. “I am very happy with the plan,” said Havlik, who’s spent much of his last 13 years at the City of S.L.O. protecting open space. “It is setting policies that are progressive, that are going to be responsive to scientific recommendations and input.” Specifically, the plan addresses grazing, mineral extraction, cultural resource protection, wilderness designation, and roads, and has proposed three alternatives that range from more hands-off management to intense involvement. The BLM staff’s preferred alternative is number two, which blends the two more extreme alternatives, encourages a “moderate” expansion of wilderness zones (where no motorized vehicles are allowed), reduces the redundant roadways, only allows grazing for “vegetation management,” stabilizes historic sites, and makes Painted Rock accessible only by permit or tour.

Since BLM is an agency that traditionally allows extractive industries, the management plan does not affect the “valid and existing” mineral rights that cover about 100,000 acres of the monument, including four active wells in the Caliente Range. Any attempt to eliminate those surely would have led to a massive fight, but if a recent response to an oil-drilling proposal is any indication, the monument is in good hands.

What do you think about the Carrizo Plain National Monument? BLM wants to know…

The Wilderness Society is sending out reminders to get in your comments in about the Carrizo Plain National Monument Resource Management Plan into the BLM, c/o Johna Hurl, Monument Manager, 3801 Pegasus Drive
Bakersfield, CA 93308, If you can’t write a letter, the Wilderness Society has a recommended form letter on their site:
Just fill in your name and address and send away!
BLM must receive written comments on the draft RMP/EIS by April 23 at the latest.

Solar Power and our National Landscape
I have posted the comment section as well, since it is rather enlightening about public opinion.

Bob Cuddy: Solar has got to go in someone’s backyard
Bob Cuddy –
Comments (30) | Recommend (5)

“Hey, we don’t like it, either. You think we want to louse up the view out there? You think we spend every waking hour figuring ways to make life difficult for the blunt-nosed leopard lizard?

“Here’s the bottom line: This stuff has to go someplace. And Carrizo Plain beats the alternatives, in terms of disrupting lives, human or otherwise. We’ll try to do as little damage as possible, and we’ll stay away from the national monument, but you have to make way for solar plants.”

I find myself wondering — again — just how badly the solar power people, who want to move forward, feel like saying “put a sock in it” to the yapping of those who want to halt forward progress.

I’m rolling one sentence in particular around on my tongue: “This stuff has to go someplace.”

That’s a reality that the people who oppose everything everywhere simply refuse to accept.

Opponents are saying the proposed solar plants will “destroy” the area. But that’s what every resident of anyplace says when they don’t want something built.

This county in particular has a cabinet full of “don’t destroy” files. The most recent, but by no means the first, is the now-faltering effort to extract oil from the Huasna Valley in South County.

Residents there went so far as to chew through decades of the personal history of the project’s proponents, like worms noshing on a tasty cadaver.

In general, I salute the civic-mindedness of folks like this. They are vigilant stewards of their backyards (as in “Not In My”).

But solar power is different, as are wind turbines. We are talking about the future of the country and, if you want to get melodramatic, the planet.

How long have we known about global warming? It seems like forever. We all know in our heart of hearts that we have to get away from fossil fuels.

Dinosaur remains as an energy source are eventually going to go the way of, well, dinosaurs. It will be a slow death, because the people who take gazillions of dollars from oil production are not going to give that up without a ferocious fight.

But they’re going to lose. Just as an example, the Obama administration has blocked the Bush administration’s 11th hour scheme to open up offshore oil drilling. The San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors this week is likely to formally oppose offshore drilling, as has the Board of Supervisors in the county just below ours.

The state is getting on board as well. California has rules that require 33 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2020. If the three proposed solar farms on Carrizo Plain are not built, that goal will remain unmet.

If they are built, it could help. What is being proposed on the plain could generate enough energy to power 800,000 homes.

Taking the long view, these individual political and environmental struggles are skirmishes in a long war. When the battle is done a few decades from now, we will be receiving our energy from the sun and the wind and the sea.

But first, we must build structures to make that happen. Sorry to repeat myself, but they have to go someplace.

It’s time to accept the downside to that and let these solar plants move forward.
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Comments: 30 Showing:

* [@Nyx.AdditionalAuthorInfo@]
ABC123 wrote on 04/13/2009 10:04:36 AM:

Concerning Large Scale Solar vs. Roof Top installations:

Ya, you pick up some efficiencies in the installation of LSS, but that is offset (or perhaps more than offset) by the cost to improve your grid to move that power where you need it. The grid upgrade cost is avoided with rooftop solar.

Even if other conditions are less than optimal (less sunlight, higher land costs), a LSS closer to your load center (S.F., L.A. etc) can make sense due to the reduction in grid upgrade costs.
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pveesart wrote on 04/13/2009 10:01:12 AM:

First, stop using so much electricity. We (both home and industrial users) waste too much power on non-essentials. Unplug your dryer and string up a clothesline. Second, site new solar facilities over parking lots or on rooftops – not in critical habitat. They belong in Bob Cuddy’s backyard, not on the Carrizo. When we have dramatically reduced our energy demand and all the Wal-mart parking lots and freeways are covered with solar panels, then we’ll talk.
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kenfield wrote on 04/12/2009 10:28:15 PM:

Whew — Fox News has trained SLORider to say “far left liberals” in every sentence. That subliminal overscan subcarrier works a little too well on folks who sit that close to the tube. One can only wonder what else Roger Ailes may have programmed him to do, ala “The Manchurian Candidate.”
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kenfield wrote on 04/12/2009 10:15:39 PM:

California’s peak load is about 50,000MW in the summer. The three proposed solar plants total 977MW while covering 8740 acres. Can solar plants like this be scaled up to a significant portion of peak load? (I don’t know – I’m asking.) Germany puts solar panels along highways, etc. — even if home rooftops aren’t always practical, there are plenty of other in-town sites for solar arrays.

When they figure out how to convert dark energy into an unlimited source of power using a collector that fits inside an iPhone, is the Tribune going to admit it was a good thing we didn’t cover the countryside with so many solar panels that it looks like the freakin’ Death Star? Unlikely. At least this newspaper is saving the extra juice it would require to write a nuanced analysis of this issue — probably enough to chill Cuddy’s sixpack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and power his daily viewing of “Wheel of Fortune” (on an 11″ B&W with rabbit ears and a government-issue digital converter box).
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SLORider wrote on 04/12/2009 10:13:42 PM:

Well said, stuck_in_the_mud. When are the far left liberals going to act responsibly? The far left liberals have MANDATED renewable energy and this is the result of their incompetence. To say that distributed solar is cheaper is laughable! Anyone knows that a large-scale factory is cheaper and more efficient than thousands of small installations. Rooftop solar is by no means a poor idea, but you cannot just install it without regard. Weight and wind load calculations must be done, possible structural upgrades, aesthetics, electrical, and not to mention that San Luis Obispo does not get the same solar profile that Carrizo does. The far left extremists are not arguing fact. They are arguing one-sided views.
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Terri wrote on 04/12/2009 09:18:11 PM:

Bob I see you had all the coments taken off!!!! Afraid of the truth!
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jdchem wrote on 04/12/2009 09:09:44 PM:

We should get Jerry Springer to mediate this discussion.
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LPaso wrote on 04/12/2009 08:31:10 PM:

There is no doubt that these projects will have impacts and clearly the proponents of the projects get that and are trying to reduce impacts. However, opponents to the projects, as NIMBYs usually do, exagerate the impacts, twist the facts and end up proposing solutions in someone else’s backyard. In my opinion, the impacts of not doing these projects is greater than doing them. How long can we go go war to preserve our energy supplies? If you think that these projects will “destroy” the plains, you have never been to a strip coal mine in Virginia or Tennessee. Bob makes some good points.
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CarrisaBelle wrote on 04/12/2009 07:37:11 PM:

Smaller print is right…we need an energy plan for THIS county. The projects on the plains have nothing to do with creating a sustainable energy supply for our county. All that power heads to the valley. These plants are being promoted on feel good PR, something like .. let these go in (just forget about how environmentally sensitive the plains are) and then we can all feel good about how green SLO County is…. but the truth is all we’re doing is nothing, passing the buck and we are no greener for it. What a horrible example we’re setting. We’re spending our natural resources with nothing to show for it. So instead of those folks over in the valley thinking about how to create there own supply of sustainable energy…or the dreaded concept of Conserving Energy…they get a free pass cause we donated our critical kit fox habitat so they don’t have to give it a second thought. Let’s be a better example, preserve our natural resources and set an example by creating our own susta
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CalPolyCity wrote on 04/12/2009 06:51:31 PM:

Hello Dennis,
Is the government going to go ahead with plans which allow new nuclear power sites?
I wonder how many are in a planning stage now? Anyone know the position of the Obama administration on the issue of reprocessing spent fuel rods?