Community News

Death Valley Prepares for Annual Bird Count

Death Valley National Park invites the public to a fun day outdoors counting birds on Saturday, December 21. All skill levels are welcome for this opportunity to meet new people and learn about birds while contributing to a citizen-science effort continuing for over a hundred years.

The Christmas Bird Count will begin at 7 a.m. on Saturday, December 21 at Furnace Creek Golf Course parking lot in the Oasis at Death Valley. No experience is necessary! This is a great opportunity to learn about birds, get identification tips, and meet others interested in birding. Participants should dress in layers and wear sturdy shoes. Bring a hat, sunscreen, water, and snacks. Binoculars are recommended. Participants do not need to commit to the entire day, but must be there at 7 a.m. Contact Carol Fields at 760-786-3252 or carol_fields@nps.gov to sign up for the count.

This event is part of the nation-wide National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year will be the 120th year of the national Christmas Bird Count, making it one of the longest-running citizen science events in the world. Death Valley National Park has been collecting CBC data since 1957. The data collected helps demonstrate the important role national parks serve for migratory and overwintering bird populations.

The data collected by CBC participants documents the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other bird surveys, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed over the past 120 years. The long-term perspective made possible by the Christmas Bird Count is vital for conservationists. It helps guide strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well. Each year, the CBC mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations. Results from past counts can be viewed at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

Jorge Romero Espitia Officially Sentenced to 25 Years in Prison

PRESS RELEASE FROM THE MONO COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE:

On December 10, 2019, Mammoth Lakes resident Jorge Espitia was sentenced to 25 years in the state prison after being convicted of 12 felonies. Most of convictions were for sexual abuse of children and providing methamphetamine to children.

The Mono County District Attorney’s Office, in conjunction with the Mammoth Lakes Police Department, had been investigating Mr. Espitia for nearly two years before his arrest. There were rampant rumors that Mr. Espitia would invite children to his home, provide them methamphetamine, and ultimately sexually abuse them. Unfortunately, there was no corroborating evidence available at the time

Early this year, one brave victim came forward to the District Attorney’s Office and detailed the abuse he had suffered for years beginning at the age of 12 by Mr. Espitia. The investigation intensified and ultimately five victims were identified, two of whom were sexually abused, and all five minor victims were provided methamphetamine, most on multiple occasions. The investigation revealed likely additional victims, though there was not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Justice could not have been received for these victims without the bravery of the victims and the help of the community. One of the top priorities of the District Attorney is protecting children, especially from sexual abuse. If you know of sexual abuse against children, it is imperative you contact law enforcement immediately.

This case was investigated by the Mono County District Attorney and Mammoth Lakes Police Department and prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney David Anderson.

Laura Smith Elected as Bishop Mayor for Fourth Time

There’s a new mayor in town… sort of. Mayor Pro Tem, Laura Smith, who has previously served as the Bishop Mayor three times was unanimously voted in to the position Monday evening.

Smith has been on the Bishop City Council for nearly ten years. She is currently the longest tenured member of the council.

The retired registered nurse presented outgoing Mayor, Jim Ellis with a commemorative gavel containing the two previous dates he served as the Bishop Mayor.

After receiving the award, Ellis spoke to attendees about how much he enjoyed being the Mayor this past year. “It has been an honor to serve the people of Bishop, and I look forward to continue to serve the citizens of the city.” Ellis said.

As far as the position of mayor pro tem, Councilman, Chris Costello was nominated by his peers for the position. Costello, who is also a pastor in Bishop will serve as mayor pro tem for the first time after being appointed to serve in the city council last year.

Though unanimously approved by the City of Bishop, it appeared as though that was not going to be the case for Costello. Council-member Stephen Muchovej initially nominated Karen Schwartz for the position citing the fact that Costello was up for re-election next year. However, after some discussion between the board, Muchovej decided to change his stance and vote for Mr. Costello.

State Representatives Recognize NIHD’s District of Year Designation

Inyo County’s representatives, State Senator Andreas Borgeas and Assemblyman Devon Mathis, recently recognized Northern Inyo Healthcare District for its designation as the Healthcare District of the Year by the Association of California Healthcare Districts.

Mathis, representing California’s 26th Assembly District, visited the District to present the NIHD Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer Kevin S. Flanigan, MD MBA, with a framed Assembly Resolution. Borgeas, representing California’s 8th Senate District, had an approved State Senate Certificate delivered by Field Representative Dana Jorgensen.

In October, Northern Inyo Healthcare District’s success with its Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program garnered the District top honors from the Association of California Healthcare Districts (ACHD) as it named NIHD California’s Healthcare District of the Year for 2019.

Earlier this year, NIHD began a MAT program with grant and other funding, which the District runs in collaboration with other stakeholders for coordination of care. During the preceding three years, the District and others began to review opioid use. They identified a trend in the escalation of overdoses, deaths, criminal cases, and medical issues associated with opioid use, misuse, and abuse.

NIHD applied for and was one of 31 named recipients for the Bridge Grant. This action allowed for the creation of the MAT program, which is now expanding into other areas of Behavioral Health treatment. Since the implementation of the program:

NIHD has seen more than 92 enrolled patients in eleven months.

Every NIHD Emergency Department physician has earned special certification to prescribe the highly controlled anti-addiction medication; and,

 More than a half dozen patients have been treated with the life-saving medication, Narcan, by police, first responders, or private citizens outside of the hospital.

State Health officials have also asked the program’s coordinators to share their path of success and growing expertise with other healthcare agencies in hopes of launching similar programs in other areas of California.

Senator Borgeas’ certificate noted that the District’s MAT program has “broken barriers to treat patients dealing with behavioral health issues and is improving their quality of life.” It goes on to commend the entire NIHD staff for the program’s “creative efforts (that) will truly save lives.”

Assemblyman Mathis’ resolution, read into the Assembly’s official record on Nov. 14, made note of the “vital and interdependent” relationship between communities and their nonprofit health care organizations, the resulting positive health outcomes, and “the spirit of ongoing community engagement” fostered through charitable activities.

Mathis’ resolution goes on to note that in keeping with the District’s vision, “NIHD has stood firm to its core value of compassion and integrity; aspirational values of quality, excellence, and innovation, and permissive values of safety and team-based partnerships with its professional staff.” Mathis then went on to congratulate the District as ACHD’s Healthcare District of the Year and commended the Board of Trustees, leadership, and staff for continually providing outstanding healthcare services to the residents of Northern Inyo County.

BLM Conducting Pile Burns in Mono County

BRIDGEPORT, Calif. – Wildland fire crews from the Bureau of Land Management Bishop Field Office are planning winter pile burning operations with interagency partners for south of Bridgeport, Mono County, when weather and air quality conditions permit.

 

Slash piles, composed of limbs, branches and trees will be burned on approximately 270-acres of BLM-managed public lands at several locations in the Mormon Meadows and Bridgeport Canyon areas. Prescribed burning helps to reduce hazardous fuels, moderate the potential negative effects of wildland fire and increase firefighter and public safety.

 

During burn operations, smoke may be visible from Bridgeport, Conway Summit, Conway Ranch Estates, June Mountain, Lee Vining, Mono City, U.S. Route 395 and Virginia Lakes Road. The BLM is requesting the public to avoid congregating on or near roadways, which can obstruct fire equipment and emergency vehicles.

 

The BLM is committed to keeping public landscapes healthy and productive. These prescribed burns are part of a larger strategy to improve sagebrush habitat conditions throughout the Bodie Hills. Trees have been cut and piled in historically open sagebrush areas to increase ecosystem resiliency and restore habitat for several species, including sage grouse and migratory mule deer. All prescribed fire operations are conducted in close coordination with the Great Basin Unified Air Pollution Control District.

 

For more information, please call Heather Stone at the Bishop Field Office, 760-872-5000.

IMACA Appoint New Executive Director

The IMACA Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Robert (Bob) Hughes has been appointed as IMACA’s new Executive Director beginning December 2, 2019. He will succeed Charles Broten, who is retiring after 5 ½ years with the Agency.

Mr. Hughes has professional experience in banking and was the President/CEO of the Thrift/Pan America Bank and Beneficial State Bank in Porterville CA. One of his key accomplishments there was developing relationships with auto and furniture dealers that required fair treatment of customers in order to participate in lending programs. He also adapted a business model to effectively serve low income and Spanish speaking communities.

Recently, Hughes worked as AmeriCorps Statewide Volunteer Infrastructure Project Leader in Napa Ca. He led a group of 130 + volunteers serving dozens of non-profit agencies in the State. He completed a 1700 hour service year with CalServes/AmeriCorps.

Carolyn Balliet, IMACA Chairperson, says, “IMACA has been extremely fortunate to have had Charlie Broten in recent years, working successfully to implement the goals of our Mission Statement and assist the managers to maximize their talents in serving the low income people in our Counties. We look forward to working with Bob Hughes to continue increasing the impact IMACA has in our community.”

Hiker Missing in Death Valley

HUNTER CANYON, CA. December 4, 2019 – On November 27 (evening), Inyo County Sheriff’s Office received notification by Death Valley National Park of a missing hiker, Rolin Bruno, a 76-year old man from Arrowbear, CA. Bruno planned on hiking up Hunter Canyon out of Saline Valley to cache water for a future hike in the Spring, prior to meeting family members at Saline Valley Hot Springs on November 27. When Bruno did not arrive, family members notified the campground host. Bruno was hiking alone. (It is unclear whether Bruno’s hike occurred on Monday November 25 or Tuesday November 26.)

 

On Thursday November 28 a severe winter storm impeded search efforts. Aerial reconnaissance was requested for Friday November 29; CHP Inland Division Air Operations initially responded, however a fog layer made flying impossible in the morning. China Lake Naval Air Station was requested to provide aerial support once the fog layer lifted; Inyo Search and Rescue (SAR) members were on board providing additional assistance.

 

Saturday November 30, 11 Inyo SAR members conducted extensive search assignments in the area. Aerial searching was provided by CHP Inland Division Air Operations. A drone was deployed in order to reach more remote areas and provide additional search information to the team.  Due to extremely icy conditions on Saline Valley’s “South Pass”, the team was almost unable to drive out of the search area.  Sunday December 1, winter weather disallowed flying or driving into the search area.

 

On Monday Dec 2, as weather cleared, two Inyo SAR members were hoisted from CHP H-80 into more remote areas high in the search zone to check structures and mining ruins. Additional aerial searching was provided by CHP Inland Division Air Operations with Inyo SAR members on board.

 

Tuesday December 3, six Inyo SAR members were inserted into the search area by Kern County Air Operations.  SAR members from China Lake Mountain Rescue Group drove into the search zone and combed lower segments of the area. Inyo Sheriff’s Office deputies also drove to the sight and conducted investigations at the vehicle and searched nearby mining cabins.

 

Today winter weather has hampered search efforts.  Overhead planning teams are working on the next phase of the search operation. If anyone from the public has seen Bruno you are encouraged to contact Inyo Sheriff at 760-878-0383 option 4. Bruno is 5’11”, 170lbs, white male, long grey hair, grey beard, brown eyes, possibly wearing a flannel or denim shirt and blue jeans.

 

Aerial assistance has been provided by: CHP Inland Division Air Operations H-80, China Lake Naval Air Station VX-31, and Kern County Air Operations Air 5. Ground searching has been provided by: Inyo SAR, Kern County SAR, and China Lake Mountain Rescue Group. Additional support has been provided by Death Valley National Park and CalOES.

 

Winter Storm Causes Multiple Accidents Over Thanksgiving Weekend

The California Highway Patrol conducted its annual Maximum Enforcement Period for the Thanksgiving holiday between November 27 to December 1.

During this time, there were quite a few reported collisions in both Bishop and Bridgeport CHP’s jurisdiction. The combined amount of total crashes in the four day period was twenty-three.

The Bishop Area CHP reported thirteen total accidents, with three of them involving injury. Out of the thirteen total crashes, eight of them were non-injury collisions. Additionally, nearly every reported accident was weather related.

The California Highway Patrol in the Bishop area also documented three DUI arrests during the MEP, with one DUI crash occurring.

As for the Bridgeport Area CHP, their office reports that during their Maximum Enforcement Period, they had ten accidents. Surprisingly enough with all the inclement weather in the Eastern Sierra, none of the reported accidents involved injury.

Although there were only three DUI arrests through the Thanksgiving holiday period in the Eastern Sierra, that number skyrockets when looking at the statewide statistics. In the first thirty hours of the MEP, there were a reported 314 arrests involving impaired driving. Additionally, eight people died in collisions because of driving under the influence during the four days.

Bishop Union Win Third CIF Championship in School History

Photos by Gary Young

Defense wins championships. However cliché it sounds, the Bishop Bronco’s defense is what won them the championship against the Orosi Cardinals on Saturday night.

Midway through the first quarter, the Broncos forced their first turnover of the game, when Jaydan Braithwaite stole Orosi Quarterback, Evan Lara’s screen pass, which was intended for star running back, Dominic Martinez inside the red zone. Braithwaite knew the ball was going to be thrown to Martinez before Lara could even react.

Later on, Orosi had another opportunity to score inside the red zone. Lara tried to throw a ball off of his back foot. The wayward throw was intercepted in the middle of the field by Darren Dondero, who recorded his fourth interception of the season.

Right before halftime, it appeared as though Orosi would score some much needed points trailing 13-0. Dominic Martinez received the hand off, shifted to the left and headed toward the goal line. That’s when a host of Bronco defenders stormed toward Martinez, who was on the one yard line and fumbled before scoring.

The ball looked like it had a mind of its own, inexplicably shooting out of the hands of the junior tailback toward the touchdown marker as defenders closed in on Martinez. The officials determined the Orosi Cardinal did not cross the goal line, therefore the Broncos would take possession on their 20 yard line.

Later on in the game, Lara would fumble the ball for the team’s fourth turnover on the night near midfield.

Turnovers weren’t the only facet of the game in which Ricky Beal’s defense thrived. Sophomore, Kennedy Bachelder led the team with ten tackles and two sacks. Cornerback, Joe Weaver had five pass breakups along with two tackles, and Tristan Valle recorded seven tackles and one sack.

Although Bishop’s defense is it’s strength, the Broncos offense isn’t too shabby either. Led by Luke McClean and Steven Paco, James Ferrell’s offense has scored fifty-five total touchdowns this season. Five of those touchdowns were scored in the championship.

Going into the second quarter, the game was tied 0-0. Steven Paco turned the tide in favor of Bishop with a one yard scamper into the end zone, making it 7-0. The first score of the game was Paco’s 14th rushing touchdown of the year.

Later on in the second quarter, Luke McClean found Johnny Torres, affectionately known now as “Johnny Playoffs” for his stellar performances in the post season for a twenty yard reception, which put the Broncos at the one yard line. McClean finished off the drive with a one yard rushing touchdown.

With 10:30 to go in the third quarter, McClean hooked up with the player of the game, Joe Weaver for a twenty yard touchdown pass over the middle. Bishop converted the two-point attempt to give them a three score lead against Orosi.

Luke McClean would get his second touchdown of the game when he kept the ball for a three yard touchdown right before the fourth quarter began. The rush was the star quarterback’s eighteenth touchdown on the ground this season.

Bishop’s offense would finish off the night with a twenty yard sweep to “Johnny Playoffs.” Torres went in motion from the right side, took the ball up the left, and blew past the Cardinal defenders. The game would finish 34-7.

The CIF title is the first for Head Coach, Arnie Palu and the third in school history. The team’s last championship came in 2010. Before that, Bishop had to wait fifty-three years to see a title, which happened in 1957.

Salt Creek Boardwalk and All Campgrounds Open

DEATH VALLEY, CA – Salt Creek Boardwalk and all campgrounds are now open in Death Valley National Park. However, visitors should be aware of severe winter weather forecasted for Thanksgiving week.

Salt Creek Boardwalk, which has been closed for months due to safety hazards, recently reopened. Park employees and volunteers from Apple replaced over one hundred broken or sagging boards.
Death Valley generally welcomes a large number of visitors during the week of Thanksgiving. However, travelers this year should be cautious of winter storms that might bring snow as low as 3,200 feet in the park.

All park campgrounds are now open. However, Mahogany Flat Campground (elevation 8,200’) and Thorndike Campground (elevation 7,400’) will close if snow makes them inaccessible.