1-11-09Modesto BeeHard work to start on San Joaquin River...Michael Doyle, Bee Washington Bureau and Mark Grossi, The Fresno Beehttp://www.modbee.com/local/v-print/story/560068.htmlWASHINGTON -- The turbulent life and times of the San Joaquin River will enter a daunting new stretch soon when the Senate passes a huge public lands bill.Then the hard work will really begin, at last.This afternoon, 20 years after a lawsuit got the ball rolling, the San Joaquin River restoration bill will almost certainly clear its last big Senate hurdle. Final approval could come by the end of next week, following today's key procedural vote."We've had our hands full," said Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority. "This is one of the largest, most complex river restorations in the West. But we think it is moving ahead appropriately."Attorney Hal Candee, who represents environmentalists, said the effort has come far despite all the odds, having won support from state and federal officials as well as urban and rural communities."It couldn't come at a better time," Candee said.But not everyone agrees."We're talking about a slow death for some farming," predicted former Friant Water Users Authority board President Kole Upton, who farms in Madera and Merced counties.The San Joaquin River restoration effort has inspired some unexpected new alli- ances and fractured some others. It has divided San Joaquin Valley lawmakers. It has sorely tested everyone's legal, political and legislative acumen. And after two decades, it's still only getting started.Farmers limit lossesThe Natural Resources Defense Council first sued in December 1988, hoping to return water flows and a viable salmon population to the long-parched river channel below Friant Dam. In September 2006, facing courtroom defeat, the Friant farmers agreed to join their longtime environmental adversaries in settling the lawsuit."We got involved in the agreement to limit our losses and get some water back from the restoration flows," said Upton, who had helped negotiate the 2006 agreement but has since soured on it.Concerns over losing irrigation water prompted the Chowchilla Water District to back out of the Friant Users Authority. Similar concerns heightened tensions between bill skeptics like Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and bill supporters like Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.No water until study doneFederal officials are now completing a big environmental study of the river restoration plan. No water can start flowing until the study is done, perhaps later this year. The timeline for the river work, under the guidance of a new "restoration administrator," extends beyond 2016.This restorative work includes building a bypass around the Mendota Pool in western Fresno and Madera counties so migrating salmon won't get hung up on their way home. Gravel pits along the river will be filled in or isolated to protect juvenile salmon. Seasonal barriers will be installed to keep fish from getting lost near Los Banos.After multiple revisions, the river restoration bill would authorize $88 million in federal funds over 10 years. The money would be combined with $200 million in state bond funds and additional federal dollars.The river bill, in turn, has been folded into a package of some 150 other public lands and environment-related measures. Weighing in at 720-plus pages, the public lands bill is opposed by some conservatives. Fresno Bee20 years of water war may endPoliticians cannot agree among each other...Michael Doyle and Mark Grossihttp://www.fresnobee.com/local/v-print/story/1120776.htmlThe turbulent life and times of the San Joaquin River will enter a daunting new stretch soon when the Senate passes a huge public lands bill.This afternoon, 20 years after a lawsuit got the ball rolling, the San Joaquin River restoration bill will almost certainly clear its last big Senate hurdle. Final approval could come by the end of the week, following today's key procedural vote. "We've had our hands full," said Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority. "This is one of the largest, most complex river restorations in the West. But we think it is moving ahead appropriately."Attorney Hal Candee, who represents environmentalists, said that the effort has come far despite all the odds, having won support from state and federal officials as well as urban and rural communities. "It couldn't come at a better time," Candee said.But not everyone thinks so."We're talking about a slow death for some farming," predicted former Friant Water Users Authority board President Kole Upton, a Madera and Merced county farmer.If signed into law as now written, the river restoration bill would authorize $88 million in federal funds over 10 years. The money would be combined with $200 million in state bond funds as well as additional federal dollars.The river bill has been folded into a package of about 150 other public lands and environment-related measures. Weighing in at 1,296 pages, the public lands bill is opposed by some conservatives including Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.Coburn authored 13 amendments to strip out provisions, including the San Joaquin River part, which he calls an overly expensive plan to "save 500 salmon." Senate Democratic leaders will allow only discussion but not votes on the amendments. So the amendments will not be made."This package represents some of the worst aspects of congressional incompetence and parochialism," Coburn said.The Senate's approval would be followed by House action, setting up the public lands bill to become one of the first to be signed by President-elect Barack Obama after his Jan. 20 inauguration.The bill's other California provisions include: Funding for a proposed Madera County water bank. The $22.5 million in federal funds would help establish an underground water supply on the 13,646-acre Madera Ranch, and the bill would streamline the usual approval process by declaring that "the project is feasible and no further studies or actions regarding feasibility are necessary."Establishment of the John Krebs Wilderness, covering about 69,000 acres of federally owned land in the Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks. The measure honors the former Fresno-area congressman who was instrumental in protecting the region from development, although park officials say day-to-day management will not change much.The San Joaquin River restoration effort has inspired some unexpected new alliances, and fractured some others. It has divided San Joaquin Valley lawmakers. It has sorely tested everyone's legal, political and legislative acumen.The Natural Resources Defense Council first sued in December 1988, hoping to return water flows and a viable salmon population to the long-parched river channel below Friant Dam.In September 2006, facing courtroom defeat, the Friant farmers agreed to join their longtime environmental adversaries in settling the suit."We got involved in the agreement to limit our losses and get some water back from the restoration flows," said Upton, who had helped negotiate the 2006 agreement but has since soured on it.Concerns over losing irrigation water prompted the Chowchilla Water District to back out of the Friant Users Authority.Similar concerns heightened tensions between bill skeptics like Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, and bill supporters like Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.Federal officials are now completing a big environmental study of the river restoration plan. No water can start flowing until the study is done, perhaps later this year. The timeline for the river work, under the guidance of a new "restoration administrator," extends beyond 2016.This restorative work includes building a bypass around the Mendota Pool in western Fresno and Madera counties, so migrating salmon won't get hung up on their way home. Gravel pits along the river will be filled in or isolated to protect juvenile salmon.Seasonal barriers will be installed to keep fish from getting lost near Los Banos. DERRICK Z. JACKSON: Bush strikes last blow to environmenthttp://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/wo/v-print/story/1120887.htmlWhat could possibly be left of the environment for the Bush administration to degrade on its way out the door? Leave it to the Forest Service not to see the forest or the trees.The Washington Post last week reported that the administration plans to issue yet another "midnight" ruling. This one would let timber companies pave over national forest logging roads so pine tree woods can become residential subdivisions with names like "Pine Woods."The ruling would most immediately benefit the nation's largest private landowner, 8-million-acre-owning Plum Creek Timber. The Forest Service, directed by former timber industry lobbyist Mark Rey, had long been working on a paving deal with Plum Creek behind closed doors. It has been held up by outraged local officials who were not consulted over the impact of development on resources and by environmentalists gravely concerned about wildlife endangerments. "We have 40 years of Forest Service history that has been reversed in the last three months," Patrick O'Herren, rural initiatives director for Missoula County, Montana, told the Post last July.Plum Creek is the biggest private landowner in Montana, with 1.2 million acres, much of it not far from either Missoula or Kalispell in the western part of the state.Much of that land's mountain wilderness, complete with glaciers and grizzlies, is so pristine that the Post said parts of it are "as Lewis and Clark found it."The chicanery caught the attention of Barack Obama, who campaigned in Montana in hopes of putting a reliable red state into play (he did, losing to John McCain by just 3 percentage points).Obama issued a July statement saying, "At a time when Montana's sportsmen are finding it increasingly hard to access lands, it is outrageous that the Bush administration would exacerbate the problem by encouraging prime hunting and fishing lands to be carved up and closed off. We should be working to conserve these lands permanently so that future generations of Americans can enjoy them to hunt, fish, hike and camp."In October, a Government Accountability Office examination of the proposed deal between the government and Plum Creek found that it raised many perplexing questions relating to the 1964 National Forest Roads and Trails Act, few of which the Bush administration answered adequately.The act originally was meant to allow roads and trails in lands administered by the Forest Service for timber harvesting and recreation. The GAO said the Department of Agriculture "cannot convey a greater property interest than the statute allows," and that the rule change on behalf of residential development was so broadly interpreted that it "could have a nationwide impact."The GAO was particularly critical of the backdoor dealing, saying the Bush administration's approach "deprived it of the opportunity to obtain the public's views on a matter of intense public interest."The idea of the 1964 roads act being abused to pave the way for McMansions should be overturned when Obama takes office.Bush's assault on science and the environment is his second-worst war. In his waning weeks, he has freed federal agencies from consulting with government scientists to evaluate the environmental impact of projects. In a further attack on the Endangered Species Act, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne proudly announced he would protect polar bears, but decoupled the protection from the problem -- the greenhouse gas melting of arctic ice.In perfect Bushspeak, Kempthorne said, "We do not believe the science is there to make the causal link."In a final decoupling from sanity itself, the administration will let people carry concealed weapons in national parks, wildlife refuges and forests, and eliminated the 100-foot buffer zone protecting rivers and streams from coal-mining waste. Now the government wants to let developers pave forest roads.Back in 1803, Lewis and Clark said their expedition of the West was to be "a tribute to general science," by collecting "the best possible information." They would be appalled at an administration that leaves as it came in eight years ago, avoiding all possible information, trashing all available science and leaving the Obama administration a toxic dump of regulations to reverse. Sacramento BeeEditorial: Hasty, high-handed actions threaten Delta rescuehttp://www.sacbee.com/opinion/v-print/story/1530651.htmlIn the world of California water, the glass is both half full and half empty at the moment.On the positive side, an increasing number of environmental groups are conceding that the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, as it is currently plumbed, cannot sustainably supply water for much of California.Several are making a good-faith effort to explore a possible canal or some other form of conveyance as part of a package to restore the health and fisheries of this estuary. One, the Nature Conservancy, has come out in support of a canal. This is important. Too often the Delta debate is framed by rhetoric about "Southern California bleeding the North dry," etc.The leadership of groups like the Nature Conservancy is needed to frame other questions: Will we ever be able to restore the Delta and its fish populations, if the state continues to pump water from the heart of this estuary? What kind of crisis will we create, if we wait for an earthquake to topple Delta levees, allowing saltwater to invade those pumps and shut down the state's main water supply?Unfortunately, these encouraging steps are being overshadowed by haste on the part of the Schwarzenegger administration. In a report released Jan. 2, the governor's Delta Vision committee, made up of five Cabinet secretaries, has called for construction on a canal to begin by 2011 with or without the consent of the Legislature.Even worse, the governor's committee wants to start canal construction before the Department of Fish and Game has developed requirements for minimum stream flows to protect tributaries of the Delta.This last part should concern every Californian, especially residents here in Sacramento who cherish the American River.A Delta restoration package that includes a canal might get some support from this region, if it is coupled with solid protections for rivers like the American that support salmon and steelhead. Without one, a canal project is a declaration of war.There's still time for the Schwarzenegger administration to recover from this miscue. To begin with, it should ensure that some of the more enlightened proposals of the Delta Vision process are incorporated into the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, a parallel effort that has received less attention than Delta Vision.A glass half full? Half empty? The administration's next steps could decide if the dream of a rescued Delta becomes reality.Editorial: Yolo helpless in casino impasse...1-10-09http://www.sacbee.com/editorials/v-print/story/1530487.htmlVeteran Yolo County Supervisor Mike McGowan is frustrated, and understandably so. He complains that his county and others in the region are "victims of intense competition between three massive casinos each vying to become the largest and most profitable."As the county's lead negotiator with tribal leaders planning a huge expansion of the Cache Creek Casino, McGowan has felt the pressure firsthand.To compete with the bigger Thunder Valley Casino in Placer County and the newer and flashier Red Hawk Casino in El Dorado County, the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians wants to triple the size of the tribe's Cache Creek Casino in Yolo County's rural Capay Valley. Under the expansion plan, the casino would add 467 hotel rooms, more than 20,000 square feet of retail, 23,000 square feet of gambling space and 2,410 parking spaces.The casino would increase in size from 414,110 square feet today to 1.2 million square feet in two years. When completed, the expansion will profoundly change the character of the Capay Valley – and local elected officials have no real power to prevent that.They cannot stop expansion because it's being done by a sovereign tribe on trust land. As a sovereign government, the tribe has power and financial resources that exceed those of the county.Under the compact the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians signed with the Schwarzenegger administration, the tribe must negotiate with the county to mitigate the impacts of its expansion. The tribe, which already pays the county $5 million a year for police, social services and other public costs its facility generates, has agreed to pay an additional $3.27 million annually when the expansion is completed.But there are significant environmental and infrastructure impacts that are more difficult to quantify or mitigate. After months of negotiations over those costs, the tribe and Yolo County officials have reached impasse. Under the terms of the compact, each side presents its last best offer. Then a private arbitrator must accept one offer or the other in total, so there is no room for compromise.As a way to make important decisions balancing competing interests, this is far from ideal.The biggest dispute centers on Highway 16, the road that leads to the casino. The county wants the tribe to pay more than $20 million to widen it, build a bypass around the town of Esparto and make other improvements. The tribe has said it will pay only its fair share, and those costs would be determined by Caltrans.Other important issues remain unresolved. How will the tribe dispose of the additional sewage generated by its expanded operations? Is there enough groundwater to accommodate the massive casino and its neighbors?Given such questions, it's hard to imagine that this project would ever get off the ground if it were proposed by a private business.Casino officials argue that the expansion is a boon to Yolo. It will generate 1,000 jobs and pump $90 million into the economy.It will also profoundly change the rural character of Yolo County in myriad ways. Those elected to protect the interest of Yolo residents, people like Supervisor McGowan, have little power to do anything about it. San Francisco ChronicleCalifornia must preserve its higher-ed mission...Editorialhttp://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/01/11/INKH154IM2.DTL&type=printableThanks to California's chronic budget shortages, there isn't any room for Californians in state prisons, on state highways or within the state's medical insurance programs. So why shouldn't there be less room for Californians within the state's most prestigious university system?Recently, some UC officials suggested that increasing the number of out-of-state and international students could help close deficits within the university system. (In a meeting with The Chronicle editorial board on Friday, UC President Mark Yudof said there are 11,000 undergraduates for whom the UC system gets no state money, putting it $125 million in the hole.) There is a sound economic reasoning behind this strategy: Students from other states and countries annually pay many thousands of dollars more than in-state students. They are also often better students because they are generally held to higher admissions standards. And there's plenty of room, and precedent, for the UC system to adopt this strategy. Only about 6 percent of UC undergraduates are non-Californians. Prestigious state universities in Michigan and Virginia, meanwhile, regularly enroll more than 30 percent of their freshman classes from out-of-state students. To quote Yudof, the UC system is "leaving money on the table." (Yudof also said that while he is "leaving all options on the table" as far as increasing revenues, "there is no plan" to increase out-of-state enrollment, and that he "couldn't imagine a worse time to do it.")UC should resist adopting this strategy. One consideration is that it would be radioactive politically and could result in even less state funding for UC. But in our opinion that's not even the most important consideration. California taxpayers have been happy to disinvest from public education for decades now, despite the heavy impact it's had on our state's communities and the impact it will have on our future economic growth. The UC system is already suffering from their stinginess - why should it make all of its revenue decisions based on a source of funding that continues to diminish every year? (Even flat funding, as in the current budget plan, equals diminished purchasing power thanks to inflation and increasing enrollments.) The real reason UC should resist has to do with the university's own integrity. The 1862 charter that established California's state university system calls for each college to be as accessible as possible to the people of California - even to the point of having partial courses for "any resident of California, from the age of fourteen years or upwards, of approved moral character." Clearly, the university has tweaked the requirements a little in the intervening decades, but it has also struggled mightily to keep courses open to as many Californians as possible. To abandon this principle now would mean an unfortunate reversal of the university's mission.Some may argue that offering more out-of-state students the opportunity for a UC education would make them more likely to stay, work, and pay taxes in our state. It's true that so many of California's success stories in the last several decades - from Yahoo to Google - were about outsiders who came here for an education, then decided to stay. These are wonderful, inspiring stories. But there's a flip side to them, and it's that the state just isn't educating its own students well enough for them to be the savvy entrepreneurs who bring the state into the future. The Public Policy Institute of California explored this gloomy reality in a recent study pointing out that, in recent years, the state of California has been depending on college-educated workers to migrate in. That trend, the study concluded, is unlikely to continue.The UC system remains an opportunity for California to turn that trend around - as long as it can stay funded well enough to educate our state's best and brightest. The university must stay the course when it comes to focusing on the education of California residents. In turn, California residents must wake up about the importance of funding UC.CounterPunch.comUnholy Alliance Nature Conservancy Backs Schwarzenegger's Big Ditch...DAN BACHER...1-9-09 http://www.counterpunch.com/bacher01092009.htmlThe Nature Conservancy, a group infamous in conservation circles for trading environmental principles for the acquisition of land throughout the world, on Wednesday joined Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign to build a peripheral canal to divert water from the Sacramento River around the California Delta to subsidized corporate agribusiness in the San Joaquin Valley. The organization's announcement came five days after the Governor's hand picked Delta Vision Committee released its plan to break ground on a peripheral canal by 2011 - without the approval of the Legislature or voters. In spite of the fact that the state of California is facing a huge deficit and the Legislature and Governor have failed to reach an accord on the state budget, Schwarzenegger continues to push for the canal and two new reservoirs as part of a water bond that would cost an estimated $12 billion to $24 billion. The Conservancy is supporting the Governor's ecologically devastating plan, with a few conditions included. The Nature Conservancy's backing for the canal is featured in its "Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta Conservation Strategy," a report that supposedly "provides recommendations for restoring key habitats and species in the Delta." The organization, in the atrocious eco-babble that normally accompanies its green washing schemes, touted the canal as part of "strategy" to "restore" the Delta when in fact it would do the opposite, diverting water badly needed for imperiled populations of chinook salmon, steelhead, delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and juvenile striped bass, away from the estuary. "The Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast, is widely acknowledged to be on the verge of collapse, with through-Delta conveyance being a key contributor to the system’s decline," according to the Conservancy. "The Conservancy’s plan calls for restoration of more natural water flows in the Delta. It recognizes that a peripheral canal, designed and operated to promote a healthy Delta ecosystem, must be part of a comprehensive Delta solution. The plan also recommends improving governance to manage the Delta’s resources in an ecologically sustainable manner." “If we don’t take steps to repair some of the Delta’s natural ecological functions, we have no hope of saving the species that depend on this delicate ecosystem,” claimed Mike Sweeney, executive director for The Nature Conservancy's California Program. “The Nature Conservancy’s analysis led us to the conclusion that, short of ending water exports from the Delta, a peripheral canal is an essential component to restoring the conditions that Delta species need to survive.” “Existing water operations in the Delta are incompatible with ecosystem health,” added Anthony Saracino, water program director for the Conservancy’s California Program. “Plants and animals in the Delta didn’t evolve to live in a freshwater lake, but that’s exactly what much of the Delta has become.” The organization describes itself as "a science-based conservation organization working and managing land in the Delta," and touts its participation in the Governor's controversial Bay Delta Conservation Plan and Delta Vision planning processes. However, it is apparent from its position on the peripheral canal that the only "science" the Nature Conservancy supports is "political science." The group's Delta "conservation strategy" is supposedly "designed to protect habitats and species whose survival is critical to the overall health of the Delta." The conservation targets include brackish tidal wetlands, freshwater tidal wetlands, riparian/floodplain habitat and northern clay pan vernal pools, native resident and anadromous fishes, migratory waterfowl, shorebirds and water birds. Conservation strategies identified in the report include wetlands restoration, improvements to floodplain habitat and bypass facilities, reducing development that impacts critical habitat and increases flood risk and improvements to in-Delta flows, support for a comprehensive science program and the establishment of a "new, independent governance structure." “The key to success lies in the governance structure,” contended Saracino. “History has shown that the existing process for managing and regulating the Delta does not work. We are in critical need of a new, independent form of governance if we hope to meet the multiple objectives for the Delta, and we cannot afford to wait another year for this to happen." "The Nature Conservancy will be actively engaged in the efforts outlined in the Delta Conservation Strategy, working closely with state and federal resources agencies and local partners,” Saracino gushed. “Saving the Delta’s biological diversity is no doubt a daunting task, and success will require years of commitment from all stakeholders. But, by working together, we can find solutions to this crisis.” However, it is clear that "working together" with the stakeholders, as Sacacino claimed, doesn't extend to residents of the Delta or the people most impacted by the Governor's proposed "big ditch." Restore the Delta, a Delta-based coalition including Delta farmers, environmentalists, everyday citizens, fishermen, business leaders, the faith community, and recreation enthusiasts, strongly challenged the statement made by the Nature Conservancy supporting the construction of the peripheral canal. Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Restore the Delta Campaign Director, noted that the Conservancy does not work with or represent the interests of Delta locals. "The Nature Conservancy does not meet with and communicate regularly with local environmental activists, fishermen, or a broad association of Delta farmers, and, thus, does not understand the water needs of Delta communities," she said. "In fact, the Nature Conservancy is so focused on acquiring land that it has forgotten that fisheries need unimpeded fresh water flows in order to flourish." The Nature Conservancy, staffed by various former Department of Water Resources employees, "simply does not understand the hydrodynamics of the estuary," according to John Herrick General Manager of the South Delta Water Agency. "If they concur with DWR's assessment that diverting fresh water from entering the Delta and allowing salt water to intrude into historically fresh water areas will have a positive impact on restoring Delta smelt or salmon populations, they have not done their homework." Parrilla said the peripheral canal would "deal the final death blow" to Delta fisheries. "First and foremost, fish need water," she emphasized. "A peripheral canal will not make more water for fisheries or for the people of California. It will simply ship California's water from north to south, destroying the Delta's farming and fishing economies in the process." Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, also blasted the Conservancy for its support of the peripheral canal - and depicted the group as the Judas of the environmental community. "Judas only got 40 pieces of silver for his betrayal," said Jennings. "In contrast, the Conservancy will reap millions from their support of the canal." He quipped, "There is so much interchange between the personnel of the Nature Conservancy and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) that they are a defacto subsidiary of DWR." Jennings emphasized that the canal would do nothing to solve the California Water Resources Control Board's over allocation of "paper water." While the total outflow of water from Central Valley watersheds into the Delta is an average of 29,000,000 acre feet of water annually, the Board has allocated "water rights" of 245,000,000 acre feet of water to subsidized agricultural diverters and other users! The Nature Conservancy's dark, unholy alliance with Schwarzenegger occurs at a time when California's fisheries are in the greatest crisis ever. The Governor has presided over the collapse of the Delta's pelagic species, including Delta smelt, longfin smelt, threadfin shad and juvenile striped bass, and Central Valley chinook populations. Massive water exports out of the Delta, combined with declining water quality, toxic chemicals and invasive species, are the key factors behind these unprecedented fisheries disasters. The peripheral canal, in spite of all of the Conservancy's eco-babble, will exacerbate the deplorable state of California and West Coast fish populations and the group must be exposed for being a willing partner in the estuary's destruction. A series of articles in the Washington Post, "Big Green: Inside the Nature Conservancy," document the organization's history of paying exorbitant salaries to its top staff, conflict of interest in its "restoration" programs, and collaboration with global corporations in one green washing scheme after another. For more information about the crisis in Delta fisheries and what your can do about it, go to www.restorethedelta.org, www.calsport.org and www.water4fish.org. Financial Times (UK)US investor buys Sudanese warlord’s land...Javier Blas and William Wallis in London...1-9-09http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a4cbe81e-de84-11dd-9464-000077b07658.htmlA US businessman backed by former CIA and state department officials says he has secured a vast tract of fertile land in south Sudan from the family of a notorious warlord, in post-colonial Africa’s biggest private land deal. Philippe Heilberg, a former Wall Street banker and chairman of New York-based Jarch Capital, told the Financial Times he had gained leasehold rights to 400,000 hectares of land – an area the size of Dubai – by taking a majority stake in a company controlled by the son of Paulino Matip. Mr Matip fought on both sides in Sudan’s lengthy civil war but became deputy commander of the army in the autonomous southern region after a 2005 peace agreement.The deal, between Mr Heilberg’s affiliate company in the Virgin Islands and Gabriel Matip, is a striking example of how the recent spike in global commodity food prices has encouraged foreign investors and governments to scramble for control of arable land in Africa, even in its remotest parts. In contrast to land deals between foreign investors and governments, Mr Heilberg is gambling on a warlord’s continuing control of a region where his militia operated in the civil war between Khartoum and south Sudan. “You have to go to the guns, this is Africa,” Mr Heilberg said by phone from New York. He refused to disclose how much he had paid for the lease.Jarch Management Group is linked to Jarch Capital, a US investment company that counts on its board former US state department and intelligence officials, including Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and expert on Africa, who acts as vice-chairman; and Gwyneth Todd, who was an adviser on Middle Eastern and North African affairs at the Pentagon and under former president Bill Clinton at the White House. Laws on land ownership in south Sudan remain vague, and have yet to be clarified in a planned land act. For this reason, some foreign experts on Sudan as well as officials in the regional government, speaking on condition of anonymity, doubted Mr Heilberg could assert legal rights over such a vast tract of land. The deal is second only in size to the recent lease of 1.3m hectares by South Korea’s Daewoo from the government of Madagascar.Mr Heilberg is unconcerned. He believes that several African states, Sudan included, but possibly also Nigeria, Ethiopia and Somalia, are likely to break apart in the next few years, and that the political and legal risks he is taking will be amply rewarded. “If you bet right on the shifting of sovereignty then you are on the ground floor. I am constantly looking at the map and looking if there is any value,” he said, adding that he was also in contact with rebels in Sudan’s western region of Darfur, dissidents in Ethiopia and the government of the breakaway state of Somaliland, among others. The company was embroiled in a dispute with the south Sudan government over its claims to exploration rights for oil. Mr Heilberg said Jarch had no expertise in agricultural development but would be seeking joint venture partners to cultivate the land, which is in one of the remotest parts of Sudan, in a region bordering the Nile river but with no tarred roads.