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Illegal grading on Mono Lake’s shore

October 20th, 2016 by Geoff, Executive Director
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If you’ve driven by Mono Lake on Highway 395 in the past few days, you probably saw a large excavator working down by the lakeshore across from the Tioga Lodge and wondered what was going on. We did too, and knowing that it’s a sensitive, and protected, area, we checked into it. What we found was disturbing.


A newly constructed dirt road departs the Tioga Lodge property and goes well into the shoreline area, which is protected as part of the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. The excavator was at work clearing willows and vegetation from approximately three acres of protected land. Needless to say, this kind of blatant violation is unacceptable and Mono Lake Committee staff jumped on the issue immediately. 

Earlier in the summer the Tioga Lodge began work on its property to manage trees that burned in the Marina Fire. But it turns out this recently ballooned into a large grading operation, including damage to a creek, both on the private property and on adjacent State Park land—without permits. The activity garnered attention, and the Committee has been in contact with California State Parks, Mono County, the Department of Fish & Wildlife, and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board—the main agencies with roles in enforcing the rules and protections in the area.

Mono County officials posted a cease and desist notice to stop the illegal activity on Wednesday afternoon. State Park and Department of Fish & Wildlife law enforcement officers visited the site soon after. The equipment operators have stopped working, the excavator is being removed, and no further disturbance is expected.


Restoration of damaged habitat will be needed. We support the prompt action already taken, and will keep Committee members posted on the status of this surprising development.


39 Responses to “Illegal grading on Mono Lake’s shore”

  1. avatar Erik Says:

    I see the committee is hard at work cementing relationships with locals.
    But wait, they want to rid the area of locals, scruffy non ecological scum that they are…

  2. avatar Bill Wainwright Says:

    Could the Committee look into and publicize who at Tioga Lodge was behind this work? A public outing of those responsible, in addition to remediation, is necessary. It is clear that the owner-managers of Tioga Lodge are not sensitive to the need to protect their own surroundings, let alone doing what is right for the environment that is the basis for the attraction of their enterprise.

  3. avatar Tom Schweich Says:

    It will be interesting to learn in the future about why the grading was being done, and maybe understand the “grading side” of the issue. It’s possible the intent was good, while the planning/permitting failed.

    In the meantime, one thing I would like to note is that the shoreline below Tioga Lodge is a pretty interesting place. All three orchids that live in the Mono Lake basin: Epipactis gigantea Hook., the “Stream Orchid,” Platanthera dilatata (Pursh) Lindl. ex Beck var. leucostachys (Lindl.) Luer., the “Sierra Bog Orchid,” and Platanthera sparsiflora (S. Watson) Schltr., the “Sparse-Flowered Bog Orchid,” can be found growing *together* in the delta of Andy Thompson Creek. I would thank Ms. Ma for permission to cross her property to access the shoreline.

  4. avatar Paul Ashby Says:

    When habitat restoration begins will you put the call out to volunteers?

  5. avatar Bartshe Says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for checking in on this. If/when volunteer opportunities become available to help with restoration we will spread the word.


  6. avatar Bartshe Says:

    Bill Wainwright,
    Many locals and agency staff noticed what appeared to be illegal clearing activity on Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve land (from the current lakeshore up to the 1941 lake level). The activity appeared to be connected with activity on Tioga Lodge private property, above the State Reserve property.


  7. avatar Richard W. Says:

    I am heartened by the committee’s diligence. I count on you to monitor such activity. After all these years area stakeholders should realize changes to the Mono Basin must be coordinated with all interested parties. I am not opposed to fully vetted plans and projects- just pop up actions that need watching.

  8. avatar Dan Zimmermann Says:

    I am a bit confused with the first reply???!!! Thank you to the folks at the committee. It is good that this was stopped until all of the parties involved know what is going on. Then all of the stakeholders can, together, resolve the situation in a fair and intelligent way. Thanks again for being on top of these things. You are the reason people come here in the first place. Without you it would be a dried up dust bowl and the locals would have NO income!

  9. avatar Ginger Says:

    If this turns out to be illegal, then volunteers should not have to restore the land, the owners should have to pay people to do that. However, we want it done right by people who care, so perhaps the Mono Lake Committee could coordinate volunteers to do the work for pay and the money turned over to the Committee as a donation?

  10. avatar Richard Elliott Says:

    It does not matter if the diggers intent was good or bad. Everyone should know to check with local officials before any kind of digging! Now, the damage is done. Illegal activity like this is going on all over America. Especially looking to the North Dakota Access Pipeline issue. Work went ahead with out proper permits and environmental reports. THANK YOU for looking into this matter. LOVE Mono County!

  11. avatar Bob Flick Says:

    Good spotting and good luck. Need to know if this was unintentional or blatant. Could be the difference between forgiveness and jail time.

  12. avatar Jeannie McCamish Says:

    We were wondering what all the grading was for. We thought it had something to do with the fire. We thank the committee’s its due diligence on this matter. The fire was and damaging enough. The sight of the grading tragic for everyone, locals & tourists alike who pass by Mono Lake on Hwy.395. Please us informed and notify everyone when restoration begins.

  13. avatar Srihari Yamanoor Says:

    Thank you for stopping this illegal action.

  14. avatar Harold Thomas Says:

    When I was the enforcement lawyer with DFG (now DFW) we prosecuted a number of these type of violations in Mono County as illegal grading in the lakebed are both Fish and Game Code misdemeanors (5650/1602) as well as CWA criminal violations (WC 13387). They also can be prosecuted as civil violations requiring restoration (FGC 12015). There are no lack of remedies or civil sanctions. What is typically missing is the will to enforce these laws although Mono County has been good over the years I was active in enforcement. Let us hope both the Community and the DFW wardens refer the violation to the County DA and as necessary the AG (as backup). Let us hope the elected DA has enough of a light touch to prosecute and seek a remedy that is both a punishment and fair to those who were perhaps culpable but mistaken. To those who were culpable and informed there are laws for that situation as well. Good Luck

  15. avatar Virginia Arthur, Author Says:

    My question is how could they be so daft not to realize…? Is any one surprised here? Maybe you can get in touch with these folks and educate them, invite them to a few events? It’s kind of amazing they were doing this at all…and nothing would happen?

  16. avatar peter beckmann Says:

    thanks to all our friends on the Mono Lake Committee and in Lee Vining for guarding this precious basin!

  17. avatar Georgette Theotig Says:

    Thank you Mono Lake Committee for taking action on behalf of Mono Lake. I so appreciate the diligence and professional work by Mono Lake Committee staff and volunteers in protecting the integrity of the lake environment. Hopefully, this won’t happen again due to the attention this incident will get.

  18. avatar Peter Ralston Says:

    Thank you for promptly responding to the illegal grading. Whatever the intent of the property owners, their own business well-being is dependent upon the integrity of the lake and its surroundings. They should know better.

  19. avatar Nubra Floyd Says:

    Thanks for your diligence and verification of lack of permits to stop this action. I am glad to be a member!

  20. avatar Mary Louise Says:

    Thank you for unrelenting diligence in protecting Mono Lake!

  21. avatar Carol Sinsheimer Says:

    I like what Dan Zimmerman said. I look forward to hearing more of the story in due time.n Thank you MLC for keeping on saving mono lake!

  22. avatar Evan Sugden Says:

    Bravo for upholding the spirit of conservation and the law. MLC still walking the right talk after 40 years! What would we have left if it were not for such actions?

  23. avatar Kevin K Says:

    So to summarize: public fire fighting agencies, at significant cost and risk, put out a large fire, likely save the Tioga lodge from burning — and this is how the Tioga lodge repays the public?

  24. avatar Paco Says:


    This is one of the main reasons to support MLC.

    Thanks for getting on top of this before it got any worse.

  25. avatar Allen Says:

    Erik, that is exactly the kind of rhetoric that nobody needs. Try thinking and educating yourself before you speak, especially when it involves general statements about the entire community.

  26. avatar Carl Hall Says:

    We gave the owner of the Tioga lodge a original letter from surveyor and original owner with the shore line bondries so she had entitled that it was clearly her land and the new boundaries are off without a bound adjust made or filed legally…so it may very well be that the grading is being done correctly.

  27. avatar Dorothy M-K Says:

    Since first visiting Mono Lake in 1970 I have held it and the Owens Valley close to my heart. Thank you, MLC, for being my eyes and ears and for your quick response when you noticed that something was amiss. Let us hope that Tioga Lodge will find itself informed on issues relating to the Lake and its environs, and that restoration can move forward in a good way.

  28. avatar Warren Whittier Says:

    Bravo, MLC; Carry On! An amazing act in broad daylight by folks that, by any stretch of imagination, should have known better. Thoughtless and selfish come to mind, but are hardly adequate descriptors. Thanks for your prompt intervention.

  29. avatar Donna Says:

    Wow, what a great example of how that other energy that wants to keep pushing towards dominating the land rather than cohabitation for the good of all. It just won’t ever quit. So Thank you for all of you were vigilant, and willingness to speak out. Truth is ” all that needs to happen for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.. Thanks to all who were unwilling to do nothing.

  30. avatar bob gregg Says:

    Richard compares this to the North Dakota access pipeline problem?????

  31. avatar Richard Elliott Says:

    Bob Gregg, Yes, of course I compare this to the ND pipeline issue. Because in that case, many things are being done illegally, with out proper permits from BLM, the Army Corps of Engineering, etc. People are acting illegally all over America and on our precious lands, and not fully checking out if it is okay do do as they want.

  32. avatar Hartmut & Marcia Wisch Says:

    We’re shocked, though glad to read about immediate intervention. We hope to read about remedial action, that is careful restoration.
    Question: Why should Tioga Lodge be able to claim, as they do on their website, that among the services for “Discerning Clients” is “Private Access to Shorelines of Mono Lake” , if protected as part of the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve?
    What discerning clients would that be anyway?

  33. avatar David Says:

    Thanks MLC, if it wasn’t for you all working so hard over the years, the lake would either be as others have said a dry dust bowl or surrounded by estates for the wealthy.

  34. avatar Fred Beck Says:

    Thank you MLC for your diligence in discovering and tracking down what happened. Legal or illegal, there seems to be a mantra these days to ignore any impact on neighbor or the environment. Whatever happened to our collective ethics? I trust the resolution will be acceptable to MLC, the environment, visitors, and Tioga Lodge.

  35. avatar Michael Chordas Says:

    It is understandable the hardship Tioga Lodge is experiencing do to Marina fire do to erosion and possible landslides, but even impacting the creek on private land requires a process especially adjacent to protected public land. Hope for the best for everybody involved

  36. avatar Louise Russell Says:

    Thank you Mono Lake Committee for being there and taking action to stop the excavation and hold the lodge and excavators accountable

  37. avatar Tyson Kamp Says:

    Nice work! I agree with the sentiment not to jump to any conclusions and follow through with finding out who, why, intentions, ignorance or dereliction, etc. I drive up to that area as often as I can and try to treat it legally, respectfully and above all leave no trace that I was there. Thanks again to the committee.

  38. avatar Liliane Gersh Says:

    I found this shocking! How could they not know that that area is park? Thank you for being so alert.

  39. avatar Bill Azevedo Says:

    Thank you!