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Roseville man heads up effort to save Mono Lake

By: ToLewis, The Press Tribune
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One Roseville resident has played a major role in saving what he calls one of the most amazing and fragile ecosystems in the world. On May 13, 70 California State Parks were doomed for closure by July 1 of next year due to the ongoing state budget deficit. Among those parks was the Mono Lake State Tufa Reserve. Roseville resident Robert Hanna said he spent every summer of his youth at his family’s cabin in the Eastern Sierra Nevada, a family tradition dating all the way back to his great-great-grandfather John Muir. When Hanna saw the Mono Lake Tufa Reserve, located along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada mountains east of Yosemite National Park, on the list of state parks to be closed, he said he felt compelled to do something about it. “I didn’t know what I was going to do, I didn’t even know what to do, but I just knew that I had to do something,” Hanna said. “I was going to protect it at all costs.” After speaking with hundreds of park supporters on the steps of the capitol in Sacramento around the beginning of summer, Hanna contacted the elected leaders appropriate for that district — Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Roseville, and Assemblywoman Kristin Olson. He then convinced both Gaines and Olson, in two separate instances, to visit the park for themselves and take a kayak tour of the lake. “I knew that if I could get any person out there to see it, there’s no way they could walk away from knowing what not to do,” Hanna said. Hanna worked closely with the Mono Lake Committee, an organization that has been working to protect the lake since 1978, to put together a proposal and sent it to the capitol for review. “It was just kind of a waiting game from there,” Hanna said. California State Parks announced that the Mono Lakes Tufa Reserve was taken off of the state parks closure list on Dec. 8. Jerry Emory, director of communications for the California State Parks Foundation, said Hanna was a key figure, along with the Mono Lake Committee, in getting the park taken off of the list. The California State Parks Foundation works as an advocate for the state parks and played an advisory roll in creating the proposal to remove the park from the list. Emory said it is the organization’s primary focus right now to get all parks slated for closure taken off of the list. “Our mission is to protect, enhance and make available state parks to all Californians and anyone from around the world to come and visit them,” Emory said. Gaines described Mono Lake as a very beautiful and serene lake with unique biodiversity, and credited the constituents of his district with influencing the decision making process. “(The lake) has a lot of interests on a lot of different levels,” Gaines said. “Whether you are someone who is fascinated with science, or you just want to recreate there and enjoy the natural environment.” Mono Lake is known for its Tufas, which are natural towering structures made of limestone protruding from the lake that, according to Hanna, are unlike any other landscape structure in the world. Hanna said the lake’s fragile ecosystem provides a habitat and resting ground for millions of birds each year, including the California seagull. “It’s really like an international gas station for birds,” Hanna said. “The brine shrimp and the flies provide kind of like an all-you-can-eat buffet for all of the birds.” Hanna said that both Gaines and Olson were very receptive on the tour and he enjoyed working with them because they took the time to go out and see what was going on first hand. “That really meant a lot to me, and in the end, they helped out a lot,” Hanna said. “It amazes me that these unbelievably beautiful places are continually threatened. I think that it sends the message that we are going to fight for these places at all costs.” Now that the Mono Lake Tufa Reserve has been taken off the list, Hanna said he is shifting his focus to the remaining parks on the closure list. “I’m trying to deliver the message that we are not OK with shutting down our parks,” Hanna said. “Not even in the Great Depression did California’s leaders shut down our state parks. We’re just not going to accept it.” Toby Lewis can be reached at tobyl@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TobyLewis_RsvPT.