If state fails, others will bail out Mono Lake

The Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve may become unbudgeted, but stakeholders will ensure that it never becomes unfriended.

Diverse factions met Thursday to explore strategies for protecting the reserve and continuing visitor services, if State Parks and Recreation should close the park.

A crowd of more than 50 people expressed the importance of keeping the park open Oct. 6. They did, however, disagree on how to manage it.

“We’ve heard from a number of perspectives [and the] county is the umbrella that can bring these entities together and come up with a solution,” said Hap Hazard, chair of the county board of supervisors.

State issues precipitated the meeting. Governor Brown approved A.B. 42 last Tuesday, creating a possible solution to the listing of the park for possible closure.

Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve has been on the chopping block at least three times recently, notably when Proposition 21 failed last November.

That proposition would have established a license plate fee to save parks statewide, according to Thomas Gunther, State Park Peace Officer Supervisor and Ranger at Bodie State Historic Park.

California Parks and Recreation, as part of a money-saving plan, subsequently generated a park closure list. Parks landed on the list based off of several criteria that focused on feasibility of a closure, park visitation and revenue.

Mono Lake landed on the list.

A.B. 42 allows 20 state parks to be managed by nonprofit organizations such as the Bodie Foundation or the Mono Lake Committee.

With the new legislation, nonprofits can now join public agencies, such as the forest service or county government, to assume management of state parks.

Hazard summarized the meeting’s public comments with an observation that the tufa state natural reserve has suffered a long history of uncertain management, funding, and law enforcement. He said the potential state closure provides an opportunity to plan strategically for the long-term protection of the economic and natural resource.
Several stakeholders proposed park management alternatives.

Forest Service Commitment
The forest service currently maintains the Mono Basin Scenic Area Visitor Center, scenic area trails, and De Chambeau Ranch, according to Mike Schlafmann of Inyo National Forest.

While the forest service is “more than willing and has some limited capacity to help with state park things like patrols, it would be very difficult for us,” Schlafmann said. “With one law enforcement person for 700 acres … it is not likely we could take over.”

“My family has used Mono Lake since the 1800s for spiritual and healing purposes and collecting food off the lake. We are also a nonprofit,” said Charlotte Lange, Mono Lake Kutzadika Pauite Tribe tribal chairperson.

She spoke with other tribes, looked into the availability of federal monies to manage the park and said they would put forth a management proposal that would include law enforcement.

“I have law enforcement experience myself, so I know what law enforcement takes,” she said.

“The Mono Lake Committee is focused, as a nonprofit group, on protecting Mono Lake, primarily in regards to DWP but also from other threats, restoring lake and tributary streams and education programs,” said Geoff McQuilken, executive director of the committee. “We’ve been speaking about the closure threat since 2009. We have been successful with many other people in keeping Bodie and the reserve open.
“State Parks and Recreation are the experts and the best people to do it,” he said.

The internationally famous park runs on more than agency manpower.

“When you invite a quarter of a million people to come to dinner, you have to have a plan. That’s where the interpretive area and volunteers come into play,” said McQuilken.

“We are all in this room because we all love Mono Lake we are privileged to live here,” said Janet Carle, volunteer coordinator.

Hazard expressed concern about the impact and destruction of tufa in “one of the most environmentally sensitive areas of the county, one of the most widely known lakes of Mono County and possibly internationally … if the tufa were not on the lake there would be no point in going out there and looking at the lake.

“Who’s going to lead the charge on Sacramento from this county is still a question,” Hazard said.