The Sad Guardian of the Carrizo Plain

One of the many lies spread about environmentalists is that they want to save wild lands, endangered species, and natural beauty because they want it exclusively for themselves. In truth, environmentalists care about these irreplaceable gifts because they care about the world around them, perhaps more than themselves. A powerful example of this can be seen in the recent suicide of Marlene Braun, the Bureau of Land Management official in charge of the Carizzo Plain, as eloquently reported by Julie Cart and Maria La Ganga in today’s L.A. Times.

"I can’t face what appears to be required to continue to live in my world," the meticulous 46-year-old wrote in May in a suicide note. "Most of all, I cannot leave Carrizo, a place where I finally found a home and a place I love dearly."

The Carrizo Plain is one of the very few native grasslands of any size remaining in the state of California, described best by John Muir in his astonishingly beautiful "Bee Pastures." (Here’s just one sentence from that classic essay: "The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth continuous bed of honey bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to another, a distance of more than four hundred miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step.")

In l996, the BLM legally promised to preserve the native grasses, Native American rock art, and other easily-lost treasures of the Carrizo. But the relentlessly mercenary Bush administration wants more grazing, regardless of the havoc it causes, and regardless of anything agreed-upon by a previous administration. Even though some cattlemen supported Braun’s efforts to protect delicate lands in the Carrizo, such as the river bottom, others insisted that her annual rulings allowing or disallowing grazing–based on surveys of the land at the beginning of the year–made it impossible to profitably raise cattle in the area. Her new boss in Bakersfield supported the ranchers, making it impossible to do the job she was obligated to do. So she killed herself.

If you’ve ever suffered from depression, and ever studied the condition, you know it is not a rational act, but an outburst, an act of anger, which can be seen in the fact that she killed her dogs before she killed herself. A crueler person might have targeted her boss instead of herself. But as Vaclav Havel once said, regarding people he knew who killed themselves rather than live under the stultifying grip of Communist USSR, it’s also an expression of the value of life. In "Disturbing the Peace," he wrote:

I have never been able to condemn suicides; instead, I tend to respect them, not only for the undoubted courage needed to commit suicide, but also because suicides place the value of life very high: they think that life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, without hope. Sometimes I wonder if suicides aren’t in fact sad guardians of the meaning of life.

Let’s give Marlene Braun’s life meaning by acting to save the Carrizo Plain. Tell the Bureau of Land Management what you think: (202) 452-5125.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

5 thoughts on “The Sad Guardian of the Carrizo Plain

  1. Please don’t forget what Marlene Braun did for the Carrizo Plain National Monument. It is more beautiful now than ever because she and her staff worked hard to make it that way. Yet we may see it become nothing but pastureland again if you don’t call BLM and register your complaints. The interim monument manager has been working at the monument a long time, but after what happened she’s unlikely to make any changes in Ron Huntsinger’s plan to undo the RMP.


  2. Not only is it spring on the Carrizo, when the land is at its most spectacular, but it is also the month that Marlene began to realize she’d be fired from her job, not for doing it badly, but for doing it too well in a way her supervisor could not stand. It will be cattle grazing time soon. Will the acting monument manager let those cattle out there according to what ranchers want and not according to best practices? My guess is yes. My prayer is no. I am sorry Marlene could not fight anymore. We’ll fight for her.


  3. On May 2, 2006 “In Memoriam” tributes will appear in several papers in California, Ohio, and other places Marlene lived to pay her tribute and express love and sympathy to her family. But I hope these memorial testiments to what a great person Marlene was leave another message too: BLM, what are you doing to right this wrong?


  4. I just read about Marlene on Journal Space in MissKT8’s journal. I used to come across the journal on google sometimes, when I would look at Carrizo sites, but then it disappeared so I went looking for it. MissKT8 had tracked who was looking at her journal and I guess it turned out BLM was one of her regulars. Now I no longer see it on google. There still is no monument manager (permanent) at Carrizo which I think but could be wrong is against the rules, because I look at USA Jobs. I think they have to advertise that. I am sort of glad they don’t, though, because Marlene will be a hard act to follow. She put her heart and soul and then her life into that place.


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