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Action alert: Threat to scenic Mono Basin, letters needed by August 21

Thursday, August 15th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

August 22 update: Over 700 comment letters submitted about the proposed Tioga Inn project

The Mono Lake Committee is encouraging people who value the Mono Basin to submit a comment letter regarding the Draft SEIR for the Tioga Inn, which has “6 significant unavoidable adverse impacts”* from the proposed major addition to the gas station and restaurant known as the Mobil Mart.

The Draft SEIR for the Tioga Inn is a significant addition to the current development known as the Mobil Mart.

This is a critical moment for public input; the letter deadline is August 21, 2019 at 5:00pm.

The Draft Subsequent Environmental Impact Report (SEIR) and Specific Plan for the Tioga Inn Project has studied a developer proposal to expand the approved site footprint onto a tall bluff that overlooks Highway 395 and Mono Lake. The proposed multi-unit, two-story construction of a 100-unit/150-bedroom Workforce Housing Village will, if approved as is, fundamentally change the experience of wild natural beauty of Mono Lake and the Mono Basin. Mono Lake, Mono County, and the scenic highway and gateway to Yosemite National Park deserve better.

As currently proposed, the project will be highly visible (more…)

A 100-unit workforce housing village proposed adjacent to Lee Vining near Mono Lake and Yosemite National Park

Thursday, July 25th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

August 22 update: Over 700 comment letters submitted about the proposed Tioga Inn project

Tioga Inn public comment period open until August 13 August 21, workshop July 30

The Tioga Inn is the name for the full build-out plan for the project that is currently best known as the Mobil-mart/Whoa Nellie Deli and gas station above the intersection of Highway 120 and Highway 395 just south of Lee Vining. This project has the potential to significantly change the community of Lee Vining, and could double its population. During this open public comment period every opinion and concern matters—people who live in, visit, or know Lee Vining are all encouraged to submit a comment letter.

The existing Mobil gas station, Whoa Nellie Deli, and workforce housing that are part of the proposed Tioga Inn development project.

Project overview

Over twenty six years ago Mono County approved the Tioga Inn Specific Plan & Final Environmental Impact Report, which includes a two-story, 120-room hotel, full-service restaurant, convenience store, gas station, and ten workforce housing units. While the Mobil Mart/Whoa Nellie Deli, (more…)

Mono Lake: Surviving the Anthropocene

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Saline lakes are in steady decline around the world. Treasures on a planet of primarily freshwater lakes, saline lakes are unique, wild, and fascinating in their own right, as well as critical niche ecosystems in which birds and people live.

Mono Lake is likely the only salt lake ecosystem on earth with meaningful protection on a watershed scale. It is also a critical stop on the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds like phalaropes, seen here. Photo courtesy of Marie Read.

Because they are located in arid and semi-arid regions where evaporation loss is significant, water diversions have an increased impact on these lakes. Diversions have, in some cases, led to ecological collapse and loss of fisheries and/or critical bird habitat along with catastrophic air quality problems. Climate change is frequently blamed, but saline lakes began shrinking and disappearing decades ago as water diversions increased well ahead of global temperature rise. (more…)

A growing problem for California Gulls: Invasive weed rapidly encroaches on nesting habitat

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Last century’s water diversions from the Mono Basin greatly changed the ecosystem of Mono Lake, and that legacy continues to test successive generations of California Gulls. A falling lake level, the first emergence of the landbridge in 1979, coyotes crossing to Negit Island, and gulls abandoning their once-secure breeding colony—these were tragic events. California Gulls (Larus californicus) became one of the rallying points for saving Mono Lake, and while the colony suffered, the birds adapted and shifted nesting to the newly-emerged islets adjacent to Negit that provided refuge from coyotes because they were still surrounded by water.

By 2018, Bassia hyssopifolia had spread rapidly on the Negit Islets, significantly reducing California Gull nesting habitat. Photo courtesy of Kristie Nelson.

Challenges stack up

Because of lake level fluctuations the coyote problem never completely went away, and even (more…)

Phalaropes in focus

Monday, April 8th, 2019 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Migrating phalaropes are a summer phenomenon to behold at Mono Lake. When tens of thousands of them arrive they gather and flock—weaving like schools of aerial fish, erupting from and falling to the surface of the lake in giant tornadoes.

Phalaropes in flight over Mono Lake. Photo courtesy of Rick Kattelmann.

Wilson’s and Red-necked phalaropes are shorebirds that rely on alkali fly larvae at Mono Lake in order to molt and double their weight in preparation for migration to South America. These graceful (more…)

Mono Lake Committee objects to Inyo National Forest Plan elements

Thursday, October 25th, 2018 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

On August 3 the Inyo National Forest released its revised land management plan and draft record of decision.

According to the Committee’s analysis, Mono Lake’s tributary streams are eligible for Wild & Scenic River designation. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

Also known as the Inyo National Forest Land Management Plan, this new plan, when final, will replace the 1988 plan that the Inyo has been following. Once the new plan is approved it will provide management guidance for the Inyo’s two million acres over the next two decades.

Since 2014 the Mono Lake Committee has been involved in the public plan revision process, attending meetings, analyzing information, and commenting on the plan revision. Specifically, the Committee has evaluated (more…)

Restoration work begins next to Mono Lake and Tioga Lodge

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

If you have driven by Mono Lake in the last week, you might have seen trucks and heavy equipment working just east of Highway 395 below the Tioga Lodge.

Restoration work has begun just east of Highway 395 below the Tioga Lodge, on a site that was damaged by illegal work in October 2016. Photo by Elin Ljung.

Restoration work has started to rehabilitate the site from damage caused by illegal grading and rerouting a stream from its original channel in October 2016. (more…)

Lee Vining weather almanac: A new water year

Monday, December 18th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

A new water year began on October 1, and it follows the record water year of 2017 when 27.7″ of precipitation fell in Lee Vining. Given the increasing variability of California precipitation, a repeat performance of a wet year is unlikely. October 2017 concluded with 0.08″ of rain, well below the 0.83-inch 30-year average. Average temperatures ran very close to average for daily highs with overnight lows falling slightly below average.

Warm November view from Mono Lake.

Average low temperatures in November 2017 stayed above freezing for the first time on record. Photo by Robbie Di Paolo.

November left a more notable wake in the Lee Vining weather annals. Temperatures soared well above average and the month concluded as the second-warmest November overall, a small 0.8°F difference behind November 1995. The real measure of warmth was in terms of increasing overnight low temperatures. Average low temperatures in November eclipsed the 30-year record by over 2°F and averaged above freezing (34°F) for the first time. (more…)

An extreme runoff year from the top down

Friday, May 26th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Tioga Pass is closed, but there is a lot activity in the Mono Basin as the peak runoff season is soon to arrive. Streamflows will soon reach levels not seen in decades as 206% of average runoff—the May 1 forecast—comes rushing down in the Mono Basin.

The May 1, 2017 runoff forecast is 206% of normal for the Mono Basin.

(Click to enlarge.) A 180-degree view from Mono Lake to Lundy Canyon and points south from a local peak on May 24, 2017. Photo by Geoff McQuilkin.

This much water is an inspiration to witness, especially after five years of brutal drought conditions. Water is moving down some drainages and steep canyons that rarely, if ever, transport water during the runoff season. Creeks are already flowing at dangerously high levels and attempting to cross Mono Basin streams along fallen logs or other unusual crossing sites during peak flows could be a life or death decision—use extreme caution.

This is a benchmark year, and there is a lot of work for Mono Lake Committee staff documenting stream flows, coordinating critical information with Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, Southern California Edison, stream scientists, and other authorities to make sure that everyone can anticipate the challenges and changes ahead for Mono Lake and its tributary streams. Stay tuned—we plan on sharing as much information and as many images as possible here on the Mono-logue, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We have not forgotten the drought years, but forgive us if we temporarily revel in amnesia.

Mono Lake is for the birds … and free bird walks

Wednesday, May 24th, 2017 by Bartshé, Eastern Sierra Policy Director

Water is everywhere, cottonwoods are throwing cotton, flowers are blooming, and birds are singing. With warming temperatures and longer days birds are becoming more active at Mono Lake, and you can see and hear the birds with a guide, twice weekly at Mono Lake County Park beginning now through the summer.

Brilliant blue Lazuli Buntings are one of the species you could spot during a Friday or Sunday morning bird walk at Mono Lake County Park. Photo by Santiago Escruceria.

County Park offers a diverse habitat for a variety of birds from lakeshore to wetland to towering cottonwoods. Bird walks are free and begin at 8:00am every Friday and Sunday morning through September 3, 2017. Meet at the parking lot and bring sunscreen, water, hat, and binoculars (if you have them). Whether you have a passing interest in birds, or you are a beginning birder, or an advanced birder, there are feathers, songs, and festive color for all.

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