Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Rails-to-Trails

 

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a private land owner in Wyoming, who sued to reclaim land once granted to a railroad under an 1875 law. The ruling undermines the legality of the nation’s network of public trails built on former rail right-of-way.

Lyle Denniston details the 8-1 ruling in Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States: “At considerable potential cost to the federal government, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that land swapped with, or transferred to private owners under an 1875 law became their property in full again once a railroad that ran across the property has been abandoned. The decision turned mainly upon an argument that the government had made to the Court seventy-two years ago and won — an argument that now was turned against it.” The 1942 case that enabled this week’s ruling was Great Northern Railway Co. v. United States.

According to Denniston, it’s still unclear just how much land the ruling will impact: “It is unclear just how many acres (primarily in western states) will be covered by the new ruling, although the Justice Department had told the Court that the case involved the legality of ‘thousands of miles of former rights-of-way’ that the public now uses as recreational trails or park lands.”

In a separate article, Jess Bavin addresses the impact of the ruling on efforts around the country to convert former rail rights-of-way into public trails. Bavin quotes Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the lone dissenting member of the court, who makes the point of how expensive a decision this might represent: “The Court undermines the legality of thousands of former rights of way that the public now enjoys as means of transportation and recreation…And lawsuits challenging the conversion of former rails to recreational trails alone may well cost American taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Full Story: Opinion analysis: Victory — and money — for landowners
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Amazing Animal Bridges Around the World

 

Animals bridges, which may also be known as ecoducts or wildlife crossings, are structures that allow animals to safely cross human-made barriers like highways. A wildlife crossing is the broadest term and can include: underpass tunnels, viaducts, overpasses and bridges, amphibian tunnels, fish ladders, culvets and green roofs. [Source]

Wildlife crossings are a practice in habitat conservation, allowing connections or reconnections between habitats and combating habitat fragmentation. They also assist in avoiding collisions between vehicles and animals, which in addition to killing or injuring wildlife may cause injury to humans and property damage. It has been reported that vehicle-animals collisions costs the United States a staggering $8 Billion a year.

The first wildlife crossings were constructed in France during the 1950s. European countries including the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and France have been using various crossing structures to reduce the conflict between wildlife and roads for several decades and use a variety of overpasses and underpasses to protect and reestablish wildlife such as: amphibians, badgers, ungulates, invertebrates, and other small mammals. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Humane Society of the United States reports that the more than 600 tunnels installed under major and minor roads in the Netherlands have helped to substantially increase population levels of the endangered European Badger. The longest “ecoduct” viaduct, near Crailo in the Netherlands, runs 800 meters and spans a highway, railway and golf course. [Source: Wikipedia]

Wildlife crossings are becoming increasingly common in Canada and the United States. Recognizable wildlife crossings are found in Banff National Park in Alberta, where vegetated overpasses provide safe passage over the Trans-Canada Highway for bears, moose, deer, wolves, elk, and many other species. The 24 wildlife crossings in Banff were constructed as part of a road improvement project in 1978. In the United States, thousands of wildlife crossings have been built in the past 30 years, including culverts, bridges, and overpasses. These have been used to protect Mountain Goats in Montana, Spotted Salamanders in Massachusetts, Bighorn Sheep in Colorado, Desert Tortoises in California, and endangered Florida Panthers in Florida. [Source: Wikipedia]

Below you will find a small gallery of animal bridges around the world. A few remain unidentified, if you recognize the location, please let us know in the comments below!

 

 

1. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Photograph via Izismile

 

 

 

2. The Netherlands

 

Photograph via Izismile

 

 

 

3. B38 – Birkenau, Germany

 

Photograph via h4m on Reddit

 

 

 

4. Scotch Plains, New Jersey, USA

 

Photograph via Google Maps

 

 

 

5. E314 in Belgium

 

Photograph via Jarrl on Reddit

 

 

 

6. Highway A50 in The Netherlands

 

Photograph via SenseiCAY on Reddit

 

 

 

7. Flathead Indian Reservation, Montana, USA

 

Photograph via The World Geography

 

 

 

8. The Borkeld, The Netherlands

 

Photograph via The World Geography

 

 

 

9. Interstate 78, Wachtung Reservation, New Jersey, USA

 

Photograph by Doug Kerr

 

 

 

10. Near Keechelus Lake, Washington, USA (rendering, target 2014)

 

Photograph via The World Geography

 

 

 

11. Unknown

 

Photograph via The World Geography

 

 

 

12. Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

 

Photograph by Qyd
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Metrolink Fate Up To Judge Waters

Perris Valley Metrolink Project Statistics

Perris Valley Metrolink Lawsuit

The Perris Valley Metrolink lawsuit was heard by Judge Sharon J. Waters Tuesday, January 29th. One week earlier, Judge Waters released her tentative ruling in which many of the issues we raised in the lawsuit were validated.

This gave the Riverside County Transportation Commission a week to persuade the judge to reverse her tentative ruling. Tuesday’s all day session provided lots of back and forth debate and case law cites to persuade the judge. Stay tuned for a final decision.

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Perris Valley Line Dispute Headed For Trial

BY DUG BEGLEY

STAFF WRITER

dbegley@pe.com

Published: 12 April 2012 05:33 PM

An extension of Metrolink service to Perris is delayed as the battle over an environmental report goes to trial

A dispute by a Riverside environmental group and transportation planners appears headed for the courtroom, potentially delaying a long-sought extension of Metrolink service to Perris.

In a statement, the Riverside County Transportation Commission said Thursday that negotiations between the agency and Friends of Riverside Hills over the environmental report for the Perris Valley Line had ceased. The project would extend Metrolink service from downtown Riverside to Perris via a 24-mile section of track owned by the transportation commission.

Friends of Riverside Hills filed a lawsuit in August challenging the environmental report for the rail project, saying officials did not adequately detail the noise and pollution impacts of excavating dirt around the tracks and other aspects of construction.

Richard Block, a Riverside Hills member, said concerns ranging from the tons of dirt that will be hauled away from the project to the squealing of train wheels are unresolved.

“The evidence presented in the environmental process clearly shows the project will have negative impacts,” Block said. “And they are either incompetent to them or ignoring them.”

He also said officials are grossly overestimating the line’s ridership, noting that the 4,300 daily riders estimated in the report would exceed the ridership of existing Metrolink service in Riverside County. Ridership along the entire 91 Line from Riverside to Union Station in Los Angeles was 5,161 in June, according to Metrolink.

Officials stand by the environmental assessment and claim the mitigations they have detailed are satisfactory, said John Standiford, the commission’s deputy executive director.

Block and Standiford both said they could not detail specifics of the negotiations. But in a news release, transportation officials confirmed the dispute was destined for trial, delaying construction.

“The Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension will provide an environmentally friendly commute option by utilizing an existing rail track that has been in the area for more than a century, thus avoiding significant environmental impacts,” Supervisor John Benoit said, in the news release.

Officials have said the cars the project will take off I-215 cause far more pollution than the rail line extension.

Litigation would further delay the project which was initially supposed to start construction in late spring, based on estimates last year. Now the work will wait until the lawsuit is resolved. Standiford said officials would hope a court decision could come by late fall. Officials would have to wait on other approvals and award a contract for the construction, probably in early 2013.

Based on estimates, service on the line would start about 18 months after construction begins. Transportation officials say the project would create more than 4,000 jobs.

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Our Extinction

The sixth extinction

Somewhere on Earth, every 20 minutes, one animal species dies out. At this rate, we will lose 50% of all species by the end of the century. Time is running out to turn the tide.

November 30, 2009|By Jeff Corwin

There is a holocaust happening. Right now. And it’s not confined to one nation or even one region. It is a global crisis.

Species are going extinct en masse.

Every 20 minutes we lose an animal species. If this rate continues, by century’s end, 50% of all living species will be gone. It is a phenomenon known as the sixth extinction. The fifth extinction took place 65 million years ago when a meteor smashed into the Earth, killing off the dinosaurs and many other species and opening the door for the rise of mammals. Currently, the sixth extinction is on track to dwarf the fifth.

What — or more correctly — who is to blame this time? As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

The causes of this mass die-off are many: overpopulation, loss of habitat, global warming, species exploitation (the black market for rare animal parts is the third-largest illegal trade in the world, outranked only by weapons and drugs). The list goes on, but it all points to us.

Over the last 15 years, in the course of producing television documentaries and writing about wildlife, I have traveled the globe, and I have witnessed the grim carnage firsthand. I’ve observed the same story playing out in different locales.

In South Africa, off the coast of Cape Horn, lives one of the most feared predators of all — the great white shark. Yet this awesome creature is powerless before the mindless killing spree that is decimating its species at the jaw-dropping rate of 100 million sharks a year. Many are captured so that their dorsal fins can be chopped off (for shark fin soup). Then, still alive, they are dropped back into the sea, where they die a slow and painful death.

Further east, in Indonesia, I witnessed the mass destruction of rain forests to make way for palm oil plantations. Indonesia is now the world’s leading producer of palm oil — a product used in many packaged foods and cosmetic goods — and the victims are the Sumatran elephant and orangutan. These beautiful creatures are on the brink of extinction as their habitats go up in smoke, further warming our planet in the process.

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Competition To Create Wildlife Highway Overpasses

Landscape Architects Compete to Create Highway Overpasses for Wildlife That Allow for Safer, Free Roaming Across Habitats.

By STEPHANIE SIMON

Landscape architect Robert Rock takes pride in talking to his clients to understand just how they’ll be using the green spaces he designs. In his most recent assignment, however, he hit a roadblock.

“You can’t ask elk what they’d like for dinner,” Mr. Rock said ruefully.

The Olin StudioA design from the Olin Studio in Philadelphia would cost about $12 million and span a six-lane highway.

BRIDGE.SUB

BRIDGE.SUB

Nor can you ask them what would induce them to nibble that dinner while strolling across a lushly planted footbridge spanning a six-lane highway.

Getting elk to cross highways safely—and encouraging lynx, bear, deer and bighorn sheep to follow suit—was the key challenge in an unusual global contest that concluded this month.

The ARC International Wildlife Crossing Infrastructure Design Competition asked engineers, ecologists and landscape architects to come up with an overpass bridge for pedestrians of the furry sort. The goal: to encourage wildlife to roam freely across their habitat—even when that habitat is bisected by a highway.

The five finalists, unveiled last week in Denver, designed multimillion-dollar bridges that aimed to tempt animals across with tasty foliage, green valleys, gentle streams and curved walls to block out noise and vibrations from the traffic below.

Critter Crossings

The Olin Studios

Mr. Rock, who is with Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates in New York, came up with a very wide bridge planted with strips of differing vegetation giving each species its own lane to cross in: pine-tree forest for wildlife that like privacy, such as deer; a section of meadow for animals that prefer more wide-open views.

For his part, David Rubin, a partner at the Olin Studio in Philadelphia, even included a wildlife playground of sorts, made up of toppled tree trunks, to attract the American marten, a beady-eyed weasel with a penchant for scampering among dead wood.

Designing animal crossings is not a new art; in the last decade, they have become common across the U.S. But nearly all the existing crossings are underpasses—tunnels and culverts built underneath roads and out of sight.

Florida, for instance, has built a network of concrete underpasses to ferry panthers safely across roadways. Glacier National Park in Montana boasts a tree-lined underpass for mountain goats. There are tortoise tunnels in California. And the town of Amherst, Mass., guides spotted salamanders, in their annual trek from burrows to breeding ground, through special culverts that protect them from getting squashed.

But though these projects have been successful, some animals, such as elk and deer, find underpasses dark and scary and won’t use them with any regularity, ecologists say.

Janel Rosenberg & AssociatesA bridge design extends to the forest on both sides of the highway

BRIDGE.2

BRIDGE.2

Meanwhile, car-critter collisions in the U.S. are on the rise, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Last year, 182 motorists were killed. The Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University puts the annual cost of such collisions at about $8 billion in medical and repair bills.

Seeking a solution, the institute invited designers from around the world to work up plans for a wildlife overpass bridge—common in Europe but rare in the U.S. Entrants were asked to design for a specific site, across Interstate 70 near Vail, Colo.

In truth, Colorado has no money to build a high-concept wildlife bridge. And the Vail location isn’t a priority for animal crossings, according to Russell George, executive director of the state Department of Transportation. Organizers picked the site, rather, for its thorny engineering challenges—rough mountain terrain, heavy snow, six lanes of traffic plus bike lanes. Any design that would work there could be easily modified for other sites, they figured.

Organizers envision wildlife bridges built across prominent highways throughout the nation. Contest manager Rob Ament says the striking structures could become instant icons, symbols of the need for man to share the landscape with animals.

The trouble is, iconic bridges are pricey. One team that made it into the final round has estimated its span would cost $12 million. Another said it hoped to keep construction costs under $10 million. By contrast, a run-of-the-mill underpass might cost anywhere from $100,000 to a few million, depending on size and complexity.

The contest winner, who will earn a $40,000 prize, will be announced in January at a national meeting of transportation officials.

Trisha White, a director of the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife, says those officials must do more than ooh and aah over the entries; she would like them to work on keeping highways out of habitat in the first place.

Wildlife bridges are fine where habitat is irreversibly fragmented, Ms. White says, but “the bigger issue is those future roads….Can we please make better decisions on where to put them?”

Write to Stephanie Simon at stephanie.simon@wsj.com

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Habitat Peril

The Press Enterprise made a strong case for keeping the Riverside County Multi Species Habitat Conservation Plan in tact despite some cities reconsidering their agreement.

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March JPA Settles Lawsuit With Friends Of Hills

A little sunshine from the Press Enterprise:

The March Joint Powers Authority commission voted Wednesday at the agency’s study session meeting to settle a lawsuit filed against it by the Friends of Riverside’s Hills.

The group fought the approval of a specific plan amendment to the Meridian business park that would have allowed future tenants there to add rail cars to the nearby rail track.

The group claimed more environmental studies were necessary to look at the effect more rail traffic might have on nearby neighborhoods.

The settlement would do away with any rail-related approvals in the specific plan. If LNR, the master developer of the business park, wants to seek approval for rail-related used in the future, it will require a separate environmental study, according to the settlement’s terms. LNR will also pay $16,000 to the Friends of Riverside’s Hills for group’s legal costs and fees.

For a little background read Meridian Plan Approved But Not Without Rail Reservations.

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Habitat Vs. Development

Cutting Wildlife Corridor To Sycamore Canyon Park

Cutting Wildlife Corridor To Sycamore Canyon Park

Back in the 1990’s, business leaders, county officials and environmentalists spent months working out future development guidelines for Riverside County and it’s generous open spaces.

One of the results was a map of  ‘cells’ encompassing the entire county. Some of these were designated ‘MSHCP’, Multi Species Habitat Conservation Protection. These were the cells where no development was to occur.

Fast forward a decade and it’s as if all the hours of discussion, examination and good will never happened if we’re to believe the story in the Press Enterprise covering the March Air Reserve Base and the last hope of connecting Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park to linked MSHCP cells critical for the biological viability of the park and surrounding cells.

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