Local News

Tri-County Fairgrounds Win Bid to Continue Hosting High School Rodeo Finals

Last week, a trio consisting of Tri-County Fairgound’s CEO, Jen McGuire, Bishop City Mayor Jim Ellis, and Toggery Manager Justin Snyder ventured out to Plymouth, California to secure the rights to host the California High School State Rodeo Finals.

The group attended the annual Challenge of Champions Rodeo, where they subsequently plead their case to decision makers as to why Bishop is the perfect town to host the event.

At the event, Jen McGuire explained why she believes the city in the Eastern Sierra is the right place to host the contest. “Bishop is not only the best possible area for the event to take place, it’s the best possible experience.” Said the newly appointed CEO. “This town also provides visitors with an opportunity to go on a vacation.”

Decision-makers voted unanimously to approve Bishop as host of the High School Rodeo Finals until the year 2022.

The challenging city who also bid to host the event was Red Bluff, CA.

Red Bluff is a town in Tehama County with a population of 14,076. Before Bishop became the host of the contest, Red Bluff was the host city approximately ten years ago.

Death Valley National Park Gains Land and More

DEATH VALLEY, CA – The largest national park outside of Alaska just got bigger.  On March 12, President Trump signed public lands legislation that included several changes to Death Valley National Park.

The John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (Public Law 116-9) transferred approximately 35,000 acres of land from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to the National Park Service. Already nearly the size of Connecticut, Death Valley National Park increased by about 1% to 3,422,024 acres.

One part of the transfer is a 6,369-acre lollipop-shaped section of land adjacent to the Big Pine – Death Valley Road in the northern part of the park. It includes the Crater Mine, a colorful former sulfur mine.

The 28,923-acre “Bowling Alley” is a long, narrow swath of land on the northern border of Fort Irwin National Training Center. This area includes a portion of the Quail Mountains.

About 93% of the park is designated as the Death Valley National Park Wilderness, which is the sixth-largest wilderness area in the nation and the largest outside of Alaska. The Dingell Act added 87,999 acres of wilderness in North Eureka Valley, Panamint Valley, Warm Springs, Ibex, Bowling Alley, and Axe Head.

The Act designated 5.3 miles of Surprise Canyon Creek as a Wild River. The wild river designation provides further protection to this rare desert creek and adjacent Panamint City, a 1870s silver mining ghost town.

The Dingell Act authorizes the operation and maintenance of the existing microwave telecommunications infrastructure on Mormon Peak. AT&T owns this facility, which has been in legal limbo since the land it sits on was designated as wilderness in 1994. With the exception of satellite connections, the Mormon Peak facility relays all land-line telephone, cell phone, and internet connections for Death Valley residents and visitors.


History Day a Huge Success in Inyo County

Inyo County’s History Day Contest was held on March 14th, 2019. Ten posters, four websites, one research paper and eleven exhibits covering a variety of topics captured this year’s contest theme of Triumph and Tragedy.


Students were judged on the historical quality, relation to theme, clarity of presentation, and compliance with NHD rules. They also participated in interviews, explaining the process they used to create their projects. The following students will be advancing to the state competition in May:

  • Ruby Randall, Bishop Elementary
  • Cora Van Nest, Kaki Saulque and Haiden Mull (group project), Home Street Middle School
  •   Mylee Patton, Lo Inyo Elementary School
  • Sierra Kingsford and Princess Luna (group project), Lo Inyo Elementary School
  • Stephanie Valdez and Jaciel Isidro (group project), Lo Inyo Elementary School
  • Garrett WIlkinson, Damian Kingsford and Noe Rivera (group project), Lone Pine High School

Thank you to coaches Dustin Ryan, Meghan Fuchs, Nadine Harry, Bob Heist, Megan Wilkinson, Sarah Civitano and Sarah Fogarty for working with their students to prepare them for the competition. In addition, ICOE would like to thank Ilissa Twomey, Lo Lyness, Mini Doonan and Kathy Zach for judging the event.

Congratulations to all student participants!

Search for Missing US Marine in Sierra Nevada Moves to Limited Continuous Mode

CENTRAL SIERRA NEVADA, Calif. March 16, 2019 – A massive multiagency search in the Sierra Nevada has been underway for more than a week to locate missing U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Matthew Kraft, a 24-year-old man from Washington, Conn. Kraft set out on a solo ski and hike trip on Feb. 24 with an itinerary to complete the 195-mile Sierra High Route on March 4 or 5. Beginning today the search operation will transition into a limited continuous search status until Kraft is found.
On March 4, Kraft’s father contacted Mono County Sheriff after not hearing from his son. Mono County Sheriff’s Office began checking trail heads in the Bridgeport area that day. Cell phone forensics initiated by Mono County Sheriff showed that his last phone activity was in the Independence area, in Inyo County. Inyo County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue began a search on March 5. The evening of March 8, Kraft’s vehicle was located at the Grays Meadows campground above Independence, Calif.
Backcountry snow instability and weather issues, including high winds, have been a significant challenge for search crews. Both aerial and ground searches have identified avalanche activity, cornices, and snow bridges throughout the wilderness, including along the Sierra High Route. The search zone has been determined to be larger than the state of Rhode Island and consists of the 195-mile Sierra High Route as well as multiple points of potential exit.
Aerial reconnaissance and ground teams have been deployed to the search area; however to date there have been no substantiated clues that link Kraft to any particular search area.
Additionally, aircraft with thermal and night vision imagery capabilities have been flying the route and while several points of interest have been identified – all have been investigated and determined to be animal related. Search crews also employed RECCO technology, an electronic device to find people buried in an avalanche.
Search and rescue authorities have been unable to locate evidence of Kraft’s location along his planned route.
The Marine Corps, along with the other assisting agencies, will continue to stand by and support Kraft’s family, friends, and Marines during this difficult time.
Agencies assisting throughout this search include U.S. Marine Corps, Mono County Sheriff, Mono County Search and Rescue, Inyo County Sheriff, Inyo County Search and Rescue, Madera County Sheriff, Fresno County Sheriff, Tulare County Sheriff, Los Angeles County Sheriff, Sequoia and Kings National Parks, Yosemite National Park, CHP H-80, CHP H-40, Air National Guard, Sierra Madre Search and Rescue Team, Bay Area Mountain Rescue Unit, China Lake Naval Weapons Base, and California Office of Emergency Services.
This is the final news release about this search and rescue operation, unless new information becomes available.
Beginning Monday, March 18, InciWeb, the Incident Information System being used to relay regular updates will go into inactive status, meaning updates will no longer be posted, but the page will remain accessible to anyone wanting information about this search.
For more information about this search please visit: https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/6272/
If you were in the search area on or around Feb. 23, and you think you might have seen Kraft, please call 559-565-4286.

Diane Chonto’s Wild Burro Sanctuary Owner Charged With Felony Animal Cruelty

OLANCHA, CA. March 14, 2019 – Inyo County Animal Services conducted an inspection of Diane Chonto’s Wild Burro Sanctuary on Tuesday March 5. Animal Services officers witnessed approximately 160 burros, mules, horses and other livestock suffering from varying degrees of long-term neglect. Several animals had hooves so overgrown that they curled under and continued to grow backwards toward the hind legs; many were unable to stand, and reaching food and water was difficult.
On Tuesday March 11 Inyo County Sheriff’s Investigators and Deputies executed a search and seizure warrant at the Burro Sanctuary. An arrest warrant was served on Chonto and she was taken into custody and booked for felony animal cruelty.
Workers from the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue from Texas assisted in relocating the animals to a regional care facility. Prior to transport all animals were checked by a veterinarian. The total number of relocated animals includes: nine horses, seven mules, and 150 donkeys. Additionally one cow, two mini donkeys, and one dog were relocated locally. Six burros needed to be euthanized.

Samantha Burns Places as a Finalist at State Poetry Out Loud Competition

Bishop, CA — Sophomore Samantha Burns, from Bishop Union High School, received the title of Inyo County Poetry Out Loud Champion, for the second year in a row, at the ninth annual county finals held in Bishop on February 6, 2019. The runner-up was Erik Martinez, from Owens Valley High School. Students from Bishop Union, Palisade Glacier, Owens Valley, and Keith Bright schools not only competed, but wowed the full house with their dramatic interpretations of both well-known and more obscure poetic works. ICA would like to thank these students, and their teachers, for participating in this powerful and popular program.

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation, administered statewide by the California Arts Council, and locally by Inyo Council for the Arts, Poetry Out Loud encourages high school students to learn about poetry through memorization, performance, and competition. Participants master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Performances are judged on criteria including presence, evidence of understanding, dramatic performance, and accuracy. California’s Poetry Out Loud is the largest event of its kind in the U.S. and has grown steadily since its inception. The 2019 competition series encompasses 53 counties, 305 schools, and 730 teachers, reaching nearly 60,600 students statewide.

Burns proudly represented Inyo County at the California State Finals in Sacramento March 10th and 11th, making it to the final round of competition. She said, “I really loved being at the Poetry Out Loud State Competition. One of my favorite parts was listening to all the poems presented by the 51 other County champions. They were so inspiring and beautiful. I also liked meeting the other competitors and I made some new friends. We all supported each other. The hotel was very nice and so close to the Capital so we walked everyplace. A new activity was the group presentation of a poem we practiced to present to parents and teachers inside the Senate Chambers. We each had a seat in the Senate Chambers which was a rare opportunity. The entire event was so well organized and I was surprised at the amount of details and the amount of people to make this event happen. Dana Gioia, founder of Poetry Out Loud, was there and recited one of his poems, Pity the Beautiful, which I loved. It was wonderful being with such dedicated and talented people. I learned that it is difficult, frightening, and intense to recite poetry in front of judges and so many people but at the same time so thrilling and exciting.”

Lily Bogas of Tamalpais High School in Marin County took the title of California State Champion. Bogas, a devout drama student, explained the connection she feels between Poetry Out Loud and her love of the theater: “I find this opportunity of poetry recitation a really beautiful practice to just come back to yourself,
and speak from your soul, because in the end being sincere and true to yourself is really what people in the theater—and everywhere—crave to see in a performance,” she said.

Penny DellaPelle, a sophomore at San Luis Obispo High School in San Luis Obispo County, was runner-up and will represent California in the national finals in the event Bogas is unable to attend. Jackson Dean, a senior at Palm Valley School and repeat Riverside County champion, took third place.

Sonoma County champion Zoya Ahmed took first place in the newly added creative writing contest portion of the program, Poetry Ourselves. Included in the Poetry Out Loud contest on the national level since 2016, this year marks the first time California offered students the chance to submit original written works at the state level. Ahmed, a 16-year-old sophomore from Maria Carrillo High School in Sonoma County, delivered a rousing recitation of her original poem, “A Concerto of Spice.” County champions Ceiba Cummings of Yreka High School in Siskiyou County and Georgia Schreiner of Villanova Preparatory School in Ventura County tied as runners-up for their original works, “I Was Your World” and “Alphabet Soup.”

Bogas will go on to represent the state of California at the national finals in April in Washington, D.C. For more information about how to follow this exciting national competition, visit www.poetryoutloud.org



Alabama Hills National Scenic Area Signed Into Law

Lone Pine, CA (March 12, 2019) – The Alabama Hills Stewardship Group, along with dozens of area stakeholders and the community of Lone Pine are celebrating the passage of a congressional measure that will create the first ever “Alabama Hills National Scenic Area”!

All these years of community input has helped improve and strengthen both our stewardship efforts and this important legislation; as well as our coalition of support” stated Kevin Mazzu, board member of the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group (AHSG). “The heavy lifting was done early in the process; with several final enhancements – based on stakeholder feedback – helping the legislation reach the perfect balance between conservation and access”.

The Inyo County Board of Supervisors have also been enthusiastic in their support behind the bill, voting unanimously to endorse the legislation and traveling repeatedly to Washington DC to lobby for its passage. “We are excited to see the cooperation and
hard work of local stakeholders finally coming to fruition.” Matt Kingsley, 5th District – Inyo County Supervisor said.

The legislation states: “The purpose of the National Scenic Area is to conserve, protect, and enhance for the benefit, use, and enjoyment of present and futures generations the nationally significant scenic, cultural, geological, educational, biological, historical, recreational, cinematographic, and scientific resources”…With current recreational activities in the Alabama Hills allowed to continue: “including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, sightseeing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and appropriate authorized motorized vehicle use”.

Friends of the Inyo, a local public lands advocacy group, has been a critical partner in this legislative journey, beginning with AHSG founding board member and current secretary for the FOI, Mike Prather. Mike wrote the initial legislation before handing it off to federal legislators, with most of his initial draft making it into the final legislation.

Friends of the Inyo worked closely with our local community [Alabama Hills Stewardship Group] to bring protection to the geologic wonder of the Alabama Hills”, said Mike Prather with Friends of the Inyo, “We saw that the future required more effective management in order to head off a slow decline in the area’s beauty.”

The Alabama Hills are the birthplace of the American Western film genre and the Act will also allow the continuation of commercial filming and still photography, as well as grazing on two BLM allotments; and recreational prospecting/rock hounding in the historic mining area. These were all “must haves” expressed by key stakeholders in the designation study process.

In addition, as a part of this Act there will be a corresponding land transfer between the Inyo National Forest, BLM and the local Lone Pine Paiute – Shoshone Reservation of 132 acres of culturally sensitive land, a portion of which will be within the NSA.: “After years of discussions with all interested parties, we are confident that a National Scenic Area is the best way to protect the Alabama Hills. Our Tribe is very excited about the landmark land transfer included in the legislation.” said Kathy Bancroft, AHSG President and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Lone Pine Paiute – Shoshone Reservation. “This is the first time since 1939 that the Tribe has acquired any land, and we will finally take ownership of our own cemetery.”

Mike Johnston, President of the Eastern Sierra 4WD Club who have participated in several restoration projects in the Alabama Hills, adds: “It is important that the public has access to the many beautiful areas that Mother Nature provides us, such as the Alabama Hills. And it is just as important, that the public knows how to protect the land, as they enjoy it. This new designation should help provide a means to move in that direction, and we look forward to the implementation of this National Scenic Area.

Finally, the development of a comprehensive plan for the long-term management of the National Scenic Area shall be in consultation “with appropriate State, tribal, and local governmental entities, and members of the public” including all our key stakeholders.

The current bill is the culmination of a collaborative 10-year process led by the Alabama Hills Stewardship Group that gathered input from over 30 stakeholder and 40 different user groups. Feedback was received from a diversity of groups ranging from local government, conservation, chambers of commerce, local cattle ranchers, rock climbers and ATV riders.

This input helped direct the effort to explore a federally legislated designation and led to a final recommendation to designate 18,610 acres in the Alabama Hills, a National Scenic Area under the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), which will be the first-of-its-kind designation managed by the Bureau of Land Management. National Conservation Lands are the nation’s newest class of protected lands, established in 2000 to “conserve, protect, and restore…nationally significant landscapes that have outstanding cultural, ecological, and scientific values for the benefit of the public”. The BLM has been a supportive partner with the AHSG, the local Tribe and the Lone Pine community throughout their 12-year relationship. This designation will protect both the spectacular landscape and the various user groups’ access to the Alabama Hills.

Chris Langley, past president of the AHSG and current Inyo County Film Commissioner states “The Alabama Hills Stewardship Group appreciates Congressman Cook’s passion and commitment to serving his constituency in Inyo County. He has proven he can listen, learn and lead on issues that are important to conservation and our local economy. In addition, we are thankful that Senator Dianne Feinstein, has been an ardent sponsor of our legislation, since the beginning of our grassroots effort.”


LADWP Announces Plans to Spread Water In Long Valley During Spring Runoff

BISHOP, CA – Earlier this evening, the Inyo Mono Alpine Cattlemen’s Association’s Spring Tour Dinner Meeting was held at the Talman Pavillion. The meeting included updates on information relevant to ranching interests at the local, regional, state, and federal levels. Staff members from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) were in attendance and announced that LADWP plans to spread 30,000 acre-feet of water in Long Valley starting this coming May 2019.

In a statement shared by LADWP staff at the dinner, LADWP Senior Assistant General Manager of Water System Rich Harasick said, “It has been a great year for rain and snowfall in California – after recent storms the Eastern Sierra snowpack is 188% of normal as of March 8th. LADWP continues to work on its operational plans and is preparing for the upcoming spring runoff. Efforts are already underway with water spreading started in Inyo County.”

Consistent with past practices, LADWP plans to provide water to its lessees based on LADWP operational needs. In prior years when the Eastern Sierra runoff exceeded the capacity of the aqueduct system, LADWP spread water to its leased lands in the southern Mono area. This was the case during the 2017 record precipitation, when as much water was spread as the land could handle.

LADWP is evaluating this year’s anticipated runoff while also considering the demands of the overall water system, which include customer needs, environmental commitments and hydroelectric generation. Taking these factors into account, LADWP is committed to maximizing the beneficial use of runoff water to the fullest extent and working with its lessees and ranching community to use water efficiently. In order to keep residents and partners of the Eastern Sierra informed of the steps being taken to manage runoff, LADWP will continue to issue additional updates as conditions and operations progress.

Samantha Burns set to Compete in Poetry Out Loud State Finals in Sacramento

The Poetry Out Loud State Championships start this weekend on Sunday, and Inyo County’s local champion is competing in Sacramento. Samantha Burns, a student at Bishop Union High School will be competing against students from fifty-two other counties in California.

If Samantha were to place in the top eight of the Poetry Out Loud contest, she would have the opportunity to attend the national contest in Washington DC.

As far as the competition is concerned, there are two heats occurring at the Stanley Mosk Library in Sacramento on Sunday. The northern counties for California will start the proceedings at 9:00 AM. Afterwards, students from the southern counties will read their poetry beginning at 2:00 P.M. Inyo County is apart of the southern groupings.

There are two poems which students must recite. The contestants are judged by accuracy, eye contact and delivery. Several judges determine who they believe were the best performers and the finalists will have to recite their third poems in the State Capitol Senate Chamber on Monday. Afterward, a winner will be selected by the judges.

Inyo County’s finalist, Samantha Burns two poems she will recite are Bleeding Heart and Blade Unplugged. Bleeding Heart is a poem written by Carmen Giménez Smith, a poet based in New York City, who has been awarded the Juniper Prize for Poetry. The second poem is Blade Unplugged, written by Tim Seibles, who is a poet and a professor of English and creative writing at Old Dominion University.

“I am so proud of Samantha qualifying for this event.” Samatha’s mother Sandy said. “She worked extremely hard for this opportunity, and being apart of this event just goes to show how much love and appreciation she has for poetry.”

Sierra Snowpack Report Improving Each Month

A water-rich snowpack has blessed the Sierra Nevada thus far this year and indicators are that Californians should expect even more rain and snow this year.

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) conducted its third manual 2019 Phillips Station snow survey on Thursday and found 113 inches of snow depth and a snow water equivalent (SWE) of 43.5 inches. The SWE on January 31 at Phillips Station was 18 inches; this time last year the SWE at the same location was just 1.5 inches. SWE is the depth of water that theoretically would result if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously.

Statewide, the Sierra Nevada snowpack is 153 percent of average for this date, thanks to multiple atmospheric river storms during February. DWR Director Karla Nemeth noted the increase in this year’s snowpack saying, “This winter’s snowpack gets better each month and it looks like California storms aren’t done giving yet. This is shaping up to be an excellent water year.”

Nemeth’s reference to “storms aren’t done giving yet” is in part due to the National Weather Service officially confirming on February 14 that the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing weak El Niño conditions. Due to these above-average sea surface temperatures, California is likely to experience more precipitation in the next two months.

As witnessed in Northern California this week when an atmospheric storm blasted the region, flooding is and will be an ongoing concern in certain areas. These include any low-lying areas, water-laden hillsides and the state’s multiple burn areas. This week’s storm made islands out of Guerneville and Monte Rio when the Russian River which topped 46 feet. The river was responsible for the flooding of some 2,000 homes, businesses and other structures.

“Along with the water supply benefits of the heavy rain and snow, there is also increased flood risk,” said John Paasch, DWR Chief of Flood Operations. “We’ve activated the Flood Operations Center, a joint effort between DWR and the National Weather Service, to closely monitor weather, reservoir, river, and flood conditions. Our goal is to share timely and accurate information about changing conditions to help people and communities respond to flood events and stay safe.”

Current statistics for the state’s largest reservoirs range from Oroville’s 84 percent and 137 percent New Melones versus their historical averages for this date. California’s largest surface reservoir, Lake Shasta, is at 112 percent of its historical average.

The Sierra Nevada snowpack provides about 30 percent of California’s water needs. The on-going winter measurements of the snowpack is an important tool for water managers across the state to estimate anticipated spring runoff.

Thursdays manual snowpack measurement at Phillips Station augments the electronic readings from nearly 100 snow pillows in the Sierra Nevada providing a current snapshot of the water content in the snowpack. Additional manual measurements of the Sierra Nevada will occur in late March/early April and possibly again in early May at Phillips Station just off Highway 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe.