Monday, December 29, 2008

Hunting Revision Targeted by Some

A battle is brewing between ranchers and sportsmen over a new regulation that would allow the state to penalize hunters who stray onto unfenced, unposted private land.
A licensed hunter who trespasses onto even a fenced and well-posted ranch and shoots a trophy elk can be charged with criminal trespass, but the hunter is not necessarily violating state hunting rules. And the absence of a hunting rules violation would mean the Game & Fish Department wouldn't have the authority to seize the trophy — something that irks wardens, landowners and law-abiding sportsmen.
"Somebody can sneak on my property. And if they've got a tag valid for my unit, they keep their bull. They get a trespass ticket," said Dan Brooks, Game & Fish's chief of law enforcement.
The state Game Commission recently approved a change — effective April 1 — that would make such trespassing a violation of hunting rules and allow officers to confiscate ill-gotten elk.
But New Mexico Wildlife Federation executive director Jeremy Vesbach said the new regulation is too broad and also would apply to hunters who unknowingly stray onto patches of unmarked private lands that checkerboard some of the state's hunting grounds — branding those hunters as poachers in the process.
The federation and the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, which wants the regulation to remain as it is, are marshaling opposing forces for a special Game Commission meeting on the matter Jan. 10.
"We want to have the highest penalties we can for the poachers," said Vesbach. But "when Game & Fish went to fix (the rules), they made it too broad."
Caren Cowan, executive director of the cattle growers, said hunters should have the responsibility of knowing where they are at all times while in the field.
As a landowner, "posting doesn't do you a lot of good. People shoot up the signs, tear them down," Cowan said. "Private property is private property. And if someone trespasses, there's a penalty for that."
State law defines criminal trespass as "knowingly" going onto posted private property without having written permission from the landowner. To comply with the posting requirement, ranchers must post notices at access points such as roadways — and if the land is unfenced, they must post notices every 500 feet.
The new hunting regulation doesn't make any reference to posting requirements and specifies only that public-land elk licenses are not valid on private lands without written permission. Hunters breaking the rule would be committing a separate game-law violation, subjecting them to fines and confiscation of their trophies.
A similar written-permission rule has been in place for the past several years for deer hunters, Brooks said.
Vesbach said the federation wants the new regulation narrowed to include the word "knowingly" and to specify that it applies to properly posted private lands. Several other New Mexico outdoors groups back such a change.
"The idea is to protect the person who's hunting BLM or Forest Service (land) and accidentally crosses an unmarked, unfenced boundary," Vesbach said. "You can't rely on a map and know you're OK. They (maps) don't keep up with land trades."
The Game Commission during a meeting earlier this month was slated to consider a new, broader trespassing rule that includes language on posting requirements but postponed the matter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Howls of protest greet Mexican wolf reintroduction

Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, N.M.

On a cold, wind-whipped November morning, about 90 minutes south of Albuquerque, N.M., a line of people faces off against a pack of wolves. They clutch poles, nets, and lassos, props not necessarily meant for use, but to make them look bigger. A US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) official tells them not to worry, there’s little danger. But if a wolf tries to break the line, don’t go sticking out a limb.

Most of these wolves, an endangered Southwestern subspecies, were born and bred in captivity. They’re the fruit of a 25-year-old plan by the FWS to reestablish the Mexican wolf in the wild.

The captive wolves live between two hills on the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, their enclosures largely isolated from human sights, sounds, and smells as a rewilding exercise. They can’t be habituated to a human presence; without sufficient fear of people, they won’t last long in the wild. Indeed, only the most fearful will be released at all.

The animals’ alarm has been evident since the first truck came into sight up the dirt road. They lope tirelessly around the well-worn trails that line the perimeters of their enclosures. They occasionally leap up against the 12-foot-high chain link fences. Innate fear is partly responsible, explains Maggie Dwire, an assistant coordinator with the FWS’s Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. But wolves also anticipate – and presumably dread – the chase, muzzling, poking, and prodding that often accompany human visits. “That’s fine with me,” she says.

On command, the line moves forward. No wolf sedatives will be administered today. But too much frenzy, and the wolves might simply drop dead in what wildlife experts call “capture myo­pathy.” Today’s exercise is for the wolves’ own good, but the scene – a row of tool-wielding homo sapiens moving steadily toward increasingly frantic wolves – evokes the long and complicated history between the two species. Some Native American groups viewed wolves as equals of a sort, a social animal that also hunted cooperatively.

But as Europeans colonized North America with livestock in tow, wolves were systematically poisoned and hunted off the land. For much of the past century, the FWS, now charged with bringing the wolf back, headed that extermination.

The Southwestern wolf-reintroduction program has been less successful than reintroduction programs in the northern Rockies. Different socioeconomic realities and a different landscape have complicated the Mexican wolf’s comeback. Some ranchers near the recovery area, a 6,745-square-mile swath straddling the New Mexico-Arizona border, say wolves have no place there. Conservationists counter that the recovery area, 95 percent national forest, is public land and should be wild, predators included. They cite the Endangered Species Act (ESA) – the Mexican wolf is the most endangered of five subspecies in the US – and they point to evidence that top predators enhance ecosystem health.

Each camp accuses FWS of favoring the other. Conservationists say FWS has caved to ranching interests and failed in its mandate to recover the wolf. Ranchers charge it with destroying their way of life.

People may be tougher to manage than wolves

“We might have underestimated the social implications of wolf reintroduction,” says FWS Southwest Re­­gional Director Benjamin Tuggle, of the recovery plan. While some dispute this characterization – plenty of research was done on social realities, they say – it does raise a question of rising concern among “hard” scientists. Is conservation about managing nature, or people?

After wolves returned to Yellowstone in 1995, aspens, long mysteriously declining, returned. Willow stands along riverbanks grew more robust. The greater diversity of trees hosted more bird species. Scientists concluded that, during wolves’ long absence from the area, elk and deer had overgrazed willow and aspen. Now, wary of ambush, they avoid dense stands of trees.

“The elk have changed their behavior based on the risk of predation,” says ecologist William Ripple at Oregon State University, Corvallis. The insight: Predators affect ecosystems not only by direct predation, but by inspiring fear.

Smaller than its northern cousin, the Mexican wolf once ranged throughout the “sky islands” – higher elevations areas – of the US Southwest and Mexico. By 1970, poisoning and trapping had eradicated it from the US. By the late 1970s, scientists could find just five individuals in northern Mexico. All Mexican wolves today – some 300 in zoos and breeding centers across the country and 52 in the wild – descend from just seven individuals.

“Evolution never ceases, and now it’s taking place in a captive environment,” says Dave Parsons, formerly with the FWS and now with the Rewilding Institute, a conservation organization in Albuquerque. “The longer they’re in captivity, the less adaptable they’re going to be … as reintroduction stock.”

The first captive-bred Mexican wolves entered the wild 10 years ago. The goal: 102 wolves in nine years. But the population is just half that. Pro-wolfers often fault the FWS. The agency has killed or removed (to permanent captivity) 47 wolves. Poachers have taken 29.

“With one hand they’re putting them out, and with the other hand they’re taking them back,” says Michael Robinson, an advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity in Silver City, N.M. “The Fish and Wildlife Service is operating a control program masquerading as a recovery program.”

Stock losses rise 4 to 10 percent

A 2007 resolution by the American Society of Mammalogists called for suspension of all predator control until the goal of 100 wolves was reached.
But ranchers say there’s no room for wolves here.

Hugh McKeen, commissioner of Catron County, a locus of antiwolf sentiment, says some ranchers have seen yearly stock losses rise from 4 to 10 percent. Defenders of Wildlife offers compensation, but, says Mr. McKeen, the criteria are so stringent that, for every successful claim, many others go uncompensated. (Defenders has paid $106,493 for 176 domestic animals killed by wolves in the Southwest.)

The wolf “should never have been [introduced] in this area,” says McKeen. “You’ve got wolves in Canada, in Alaska, but down here, there are just too many people and too little game.”

Yet several polls show widespread public support for wolf reintroduction in both Arizona and New Mexico. Joe Saenz, a Chiricahua Apache and owner of WildHorse Outfitters in Silver City, applauds the wolf’s return. They attract customers eager to hear and see them, he says. They’ll also help restore an out-of-balance landscape. He understands ranchers’ concerns, but ranchers operate fine with wolves and grizzlies present elsewhere.

“You just have to be more vigilant,” he says. “Some teach people to kill all the snakes so you can walk around the grass. We were taught to walk carefully.”
Others raise the issue of what should happen on public lands, and who should pay for it. A 2005 Government Accountability Office report found that grazing allotments on public land cost taxpayers $115 million yearly. Ranchers pay $1.35 per cow-calf pair monthly. Grazing on private land, meanwhile, costs between $10 and $20 per pair monthly, says John Horning, executive director of WildEarth Guardians in Santa Fe, N.M. “It ends up being quite a subsidy,” he says.

No shortage of issues or complexity

Historically, the US government enticed people to the West with the promise of free predator control and cheap grazing. Modern conservationists call that “welfare.” Ranchers still see themselves as pioneers on land no one else wanted. To them, the wolf-recovery program is meddling – or worse, betrayal.

“Why do you have to destroy a people to recover an animal or protect an animal?” says Jess Carey, Catron County’s wolf investigator. The ESA “wasn’t set up to destroy families, but that’s exactly what it’s doing.”

Says Parsons, “There’s no shortage of issues, and there’s no shortage of complexity.”

Defenders of Wildlife says it is restructuring its compensation program to share the costs of antiwolf measures up front – fences and extra rangers – to preempt predation rather than pay for livestock already lost.

Parsons and Horning hope to buy and retire grazing allotments, an idea that interests some ranchers, at least privately, says Parsons. The obstacle: guaranteeing that allotments won’t be reauctioned later. That depends on federal legislation that doesn’t exist yet, he says.

Tuggle thinks ranchers are integral to the program’s success. They’re natural stewards, and working ranches are bulwarks against wilderness-unfriendly development, he says. He intends to create a fund and pay for proactive antiwolf ranching practices with the interest. And, alluding to recent political shifts, Tuggle foresees an eventual revamping of the recovery program.

“The program is not going away,” he says. But “it’s absolutely critical that we do not make the mistake we made when we first started. And that is to say ‘Here is the wolf program. Here are the wolves. Deal with it.’ ”

Election alters wilderness fight outlook

LAS CRUCES — Some people are wondering how a change in New Mexico's congressional delegation will impact a proposal for designating thousands of acres in Doña Ana County as wilderness.

The proposal for an official federal wilderness designation, initially put forward in late 2005, stalled after it lost support from outgoing U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and was opposed by outgoing U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who backed a different land-use plan favored by ranchers.

But Domenici is retiring, and Pearce unsuccessfully sought election this year to Domenici's Senate seat. Replacing them are Sen.-elect Tom Udall, now a congressman from northern New Mexico, and Rep.-elect Harry Teague, both Democrats.

Teague, in a phone interview two weeks ago, said he's already spoken to some constituents about the wilderness proposal, but is still gathering information. He said he doesn't have a stance yet.

"I don't really have everything I need to have about that," Teague said.

Marissa Padilla, a spokeswoman for Udall, said the senator-elect will invite and listen to all of the various parties to build consensus on the wilderness. Udall looks forward to working with Bingaman, Teague and the members of the new delegation to take steps toward the introduction of legislation, she said.

Jude McCartin, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said that, in January, the senator will begin talks with Doña Ana County residents and the new delegation "with the intention of developing wilderness legislation."

A group backed by ranchers and off-road vehicle users, called People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, has butted heads with the Doña Ana County Wilderness Coalition over its proposal for wilderness. The pro-wilderness group includes conservationists, sportsmen and some developers.

Frank DuBois, a former agriculture secretary for New Mexico who's involved with the ranching group, said members aren't concerned about the changes in Washington, D.C.

"We look forward to working with Sen. Bingaman and new members of the congressional delegation," he said. "We think we've got a proposal that not only protects the land and has more of a public benefit for more people to enjoy."

DuBois said the group has met with Bingaman about the matter and has requested to meet with Udall and Teague.

Meanwhile, Jeff Steinborn, local director for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said the change in the congressional delegation is favorable, considering Pearce was opposed to a wilderness designation.

"It's hopeful to have people there who aren't ideologically opposed to you on ideological grounds," he said.

Steinborn said backers of wilderness have been in touch with members of the delegation, but he said he's not aware of any immediate plans for legislation.

"Having said that, clearly our delegation is now engaged in this issue, and we're very hopeful we can get legislation introduced in the next few months because it's time," he said. "We've all been at this as a community for over three years, and we've reached a high level of consensus, from our standpoint, on these areas."

The wilderness coalition is proposing that eight areas currently classed as temporary wilderness and two additional areas be turned into permanent wilderness, something only Congress can do. The total acreage of wilderness proposed is about 305,500. Also, the group has proposed a national conservation area — a less stringent designation — around the Organ Mountains that totals roughly 96,500 acres.

The wilderness designation prohibits mechanized travel in most instances.

Wilderness backers say the proposal is necessary to adequately protect sensitive areas in advance of development in the region. They argue it could boost tourism and quality of life. But ranchers say the designation, though it includes measures to grandfather in grazing, could ultimately hurt their livelihoods.

As an alternative to wilderness, ranchers have proposed creating two new federal land-use designations they say would both protect their operations and preserve open space.

Off-road vehicle user Homer Van Zandt of Las Cruces said he's in a "wait-and-see mode" with respect to the state's new congressional delegation. He pointed out that land-use issues, whether they involve wilderness or not, don't tend to be "Democrat-versus-Republican issues."

"There are people in both parties that are on both sides of the issue," he said. "I know the folks that advertise more wilderness are feeling they're in a much-stronger position in Congress, and that's probably true. But given the current state of our economy and world conditions, Congress has a whole lot more urgent things on its plate than that."

The temporary wilderness areas were studied by Congress as possibilities for wilderness. Actually creating wilderness required a second action, which Congress never took, leaving the land in a state of limbo for more than two decades. As a result, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has been treating the areas in most ways as if they were wilderness.

Domenici in 2005 drafted a bill that would have created more than 200,000 acres of wilderness, and released about 65,000 acres for sale or trade. But he never introduced the bill. He has said he dropped it after strong opposition from conservationists over his proposal.

Is there room for compromise between groups?

Steinborn said opponents to wilderness "haven't shown a shred of flexibility," but it's possible.

"We'll continue to reach out and try for compromise," he said. "I think it's very fair to say that should any legislation move forward, they will absolutely be at the table."

DuBois, answering the same question, replied: "I think our group is willing to sit down with anybody and discuss our proposal and how it could be improved."

Diana M. Alba can be reached at; (575) 541-5443

On the Web

People for Preserving Our Western Heritage:

Doña Ana County Wilderness Coalition:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What to Expect When Ken Salazar Takes the Interior

Who is Ken Salazar and what kind of a DOI chief will he be?

By Courtney Lowery, 12-19-08


Okay, Ken Salazar opposed saving the black-tailed prairie dog. But give President-elect Barack Obama’s choice to head up the Interior Department a break.

After eight years of the Bush Administration’s using Interior to enrich its friends in the energy business, obliterate huge swaths of landscape – see the Upper Green River Valley—short-change us on oil and gas royalties, endanger endangered species, and gut environmental laws, Senator Salazar (D. Colo) may well be Wyoming’s last, best hope.

Indeed, no cabinet post is more critical to Wyoming than the one to which Salazar has been appointed. If approved, the 53-year-old, fifth-generation Coloradoan will be responsible for a broad portfolio of services that bears on every aspect of Wyoming’s economy and environment. Interior encompasses the Bureau of Land Management; the National Park Service; the Bureau of Reclamation (which has been involved with the management and conservation of the state’s water resources since Teddy Roosevelt was president); Minerals and Management Services (which collects and distributes the state’s energy royalties); the Bureau of Mines; the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

So who is Ken Salazar and what kind of a DOI chief will he be?

For starters, he’s an honest-to-god westerner. This, he made evident by wearing his signature ten-gallon white Stetson and a bolo tie when introduced to the press as the new Interior appointee. His deep western roots give Salazar immediate credibility with some of the state’s political and environmental leaders.

“Senator Salazar is a neighbor who knows the issues facing the west,” Republican U.S. Senator John Barrasso, Wyoming’s junior senator told WyoFile. “As members of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator Salazar and I came together on issues important to our states. We worked on legislation that protects western resources and to ensure that certain priorities of our states are met. I look forward to discussing Senator Salazar’s views about issues important to Wyoming during the confirmation process.”

“Senator Salazar is someone who understands the West,” adds Laurie Milford, executive director of the Wyoming Outdoor Council. “He recognizes the value of a balanced energy policy, which includes responsible natural gas production on many of our public lands, while at the same time respecting local communities when they identify areas that are too special to drill.”

As one of the few people in Congress who has genuine agricultural bona fides—his older brother, Democratic Colorado Congressman John. T. Salazar, can make the same claim—Salazar is viewed as a champion of ranching and farming interests. “I’m very pleased he has a background in ranching,” says Jim Magagna, Executive Vice President of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association. “On issues such as public land grazing this can be very helpful. He’s always been supportive of public land grazing. I wouldn’t anticipate our agreeing on everything, but on this issue we clearly can relate.”

Salazar was born March 2, 1955 in Alamosa, Colorado. His ancestors helped found Santa Fe, New Mexico 400 years ago, then moved north to Colorado’s San Luis Valley where they have farmed and ranched the same land ever since.

Salazar’s parents both served in World War II: his mother, Emma M., in the War Department in Washington, DC and his father Henry (Enrique) in the U.S. Army as a staff sergeant. The war over, they returned to their remote ranch— no electricity, no phone – and produced eight kids.

Reared a Roman Catholic, Salazar attended St. Francis Seminary and Centauri High School in Conejos County, graduating in 1973. He later attended Colorado College, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1977, and received his Juris Doctor from the University of Michigan’s law school in 1981. In Alamosa, he practiced water and environmental law while he and his spouse, Hope, owned and operated several small businesses, including a radio station and Dairy Queen.

Once Salazar moved into the public sector, first as chief legal counsel for Gov. Roy Romer, then as director of the Colorado Department of National Resources and later as the state attorney general, he quickly gained the reputation of being a pragmatic and effective conservationist and administrator.

“He excelled at everything he did each step along the way,” says Michael Chiropolos, Lands Program Director, Western Resource Advocates, Boulder, Colo. “I have nothing but good things to say about him.”

In one of his first acts as Colorado’s attorney general, Salazar showed he wouldn’t hesitate to shake up the status quo. In a move that may bode well for managing an Interior Department that’s been beset by corruption and ineptitude, Salazar had all the deputy attorneys general and department staff turn in letters of resignation. “Nobody actually got fired as I recall, but Salazar made everyone justify their existence and set goals for the next ten years,” Chiropolos says.

In 2004, Salazar won the Senate seat that had been vacated when Ben Nighthorse Campbell decided not to run for a third term. Entering Congress in the same freshman class as Barack Obama, he and his brother John both later campaigned hard for Obama in Colorado, a swing state, touting alternative energy development as a means to rejuvenate Colorado’s rural economies.

In the Senate, Salazar urged the Forest Service to boost spending to fight the bark beetle epidemic and was largely viewed as a supporter of wilderness protection, off road vehicle limits and strong water quality protection. His position on shale development has been proceed-with-caution, yet he also won praise from oil and mining interests for what they characterized as his reasoned, non-doctrinaire approach. Salazar has supported Wyoming-related legislation such as the Wyoming Range Legacy Act, a bill to withdraw from leasing certain federal land in the Wyoming Range and to retire other range leases.

At the same time, Salazar has been severely criticized by some environmental groups such as the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Department of the Interior desperately needs a strong, forward looking, reform-minded Secretary,” the group’s executive director Kieran Suckling said in a December 16 news release.

“Unfortunately, Ken Salazar is not that man.” Among Salazar’s failings, according to Suckling:

* fought federal action on global warming
* voted against increased fuel efficiency standards
* voted against the repeal of tax breaks for Exxon-Mobil
* voted for subsidies to ranches and other users of public land
* and, yes, as Colorado AG, he threatened to sue US Fish and Wildlife when its scientists determined the black-tailed prairie dog may be endangered.

“There’s been some concern voiced that Salazar is not always making decisions based on good science,” says Western Resource Advocates’ Chiropolos. “But he’s extremely well informed and quickly gets up to speed.”

Chiropolos believes Salazar’s tenure will resemble that of former Carter Administration Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt in that Salazar, like Babbitt, knows politics, uses horse sense and diplomacy to push his agendas, but remains a forceful, environmental advocate.

“Obviously, Salazar can’t please all environmental interests, but you’ve got to remember that Babbitt was met with bullhorns when he came through Boulder,” says Chiropolos. And, of course, Babbitt approaches the gold standard in terms of evaluating interior secretaries over the past few decades. The low point probably came under the infamous James Watt, a Wyomingite who served during the Reagan administration from 1981-83.

With Salazar adapting what Chiropolos calls “the Babbitt game plan,” Wyoming environmentalists are hopeful.

“In Colorado, Senator Salazar supports protection of the Roan Plateau and has worked hard to establish the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area and Wilderness,” says Laurie Milford of the Outdoor Council. “We hope these positions indicate that Secretary Salazar will help us protect equally special places in Wyoming, like Adobe Town, the Jack Morrow Hills, and the Wyoming Range where the BLM manages the minerals.”

“He’s a man who understands what ‘balance’ means between natural gas development and safeguarding the Valley’s abundant wildlife and air and water resources and protecting local communities.,” says Linda Baker of the Upper Green River Coalition. “I’ve got great hope.”

Baker concedes that, unfortunately, hope and balance may never be enough to restore the Pinedale region which is currently beset by rapidly deteriorating air quality, ground water contamination, huge wildlife losses and vast tracts of no-longer- useable land – all the result of rampant natural gas exploitation. “So much egregious stuff has been going on around here for the past eight years that much of the damage can’t be reversed,” says Baker.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ranchers Taking A Stand In Agustin Plains Water Grab

By John Larson for Mountain Mail

SOCORRO, New Mexico (STPNS) -- A group of New Mexico ranchers is spearheading an effort to convince the state Legislature to change the regulations governing the jurisdiction of the Office of the State Engineer.

At the Joint Stockman’s Convention last weekend in Albuquerque, two resolutions were passed concerning the attempt by San Agustin Ranch LLC, a New York firm owned by Italian businessman Bruno Modena, to pump the San Agustin aquifer dry in order to sell water back to state entities.

Caren Cowan, executive director of the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association, said the resolutions were voted on by representatives from the cattle growers, wool growers, Cowbelles, dairy farmers and New Mexico Federal Lands Council.

“This is where cattle growers develop their policies for the coming year,” Cowan said. “This is traditionally the largest agricultural gathering in the state. There were about 500 attendees from all over New Mexico and a few legislators.”

She said the cattle growers association alone boasts about 1,500 members.

“We’re concerned about the lack of authority the Office of the State Engineer has over deep wells,” Cowan said. “As it stands now, the drilling of deep water wells of non-potable water greater than 2,500 feet, exclusive of produced water, is presently outside the Office of the State Engineer’s jurisdiction. The San Agustin Ranch application is for 3,000 feet.”

She said the company amended its application to take it out of the State Engineer’s purview.

The company’s original application was to receive permission to “divert and consumptively use 54,000 acre-feet, or 17 billion gallons, of water yearly for domestic, livestock, irrigation, municipal, industrial and commercial uses to include providing water to the state of New Mexico to augment its capacity to meet deliveries to the state of Texas at Elephant Butte dam and offsetting effects of ground water pumping on the Rio Grande in lieu of retirement of agriculture via a pipeline to the Rio Grande.”

The original plan was to drill 37 wells with 20-inch casings about 2,000 feet deep within the exterior boundaries of Catron County, Socorro County and Augustin Plains Ranch.

The amended application requests deeper wells, 3,000 feet, and takes in a wider area that would be affected.

Cowan said the Cattle Growers resolution supports any efforts of the State Engineer to have jurisdiction over deep-water aquifers.

The second resolution passed last weekend is intended to underscore objections by the Cattle Growers and 500 residents of Catron and Socorro counties to the proposal by San Augustin Ranch LLC to drill the wells.

“We intend to convince the legislators that that this drilling effort will pose a harm to the public welfare of Catron County, as well as the public outside of Catron County and within the San Agustin Basin,” Cowan said. “Any proposed plan to extract such large volumes of water per annum will deplete the San Agustin Basin with no means of replenishing the basin once the water is gone.”

San Augustin Ranch is trying to convince officials that the plan would be in the state’s best interest. It promises to “provide water by pipeline to supplement or offset the effects of existing uses and for new uses” for central and northern New Mexico communities, including Albuquerque and Santa Fe, “in order to reduce the current stress on the water supply of the Rio Grande Basin,” according to the amended application.

“The state is allowing the water go to whoever’s got the money,” Cowan said.

Anita Hand of the San Agustin Water Coalition, based in Datil, said the San Augustin Ranch is speculating on the price of water.

“They have never actually come out here looking at the property. They’re water speculators and nothing more. They’re looking for a profit,” she said.

“If they start pumping that water, our wells are going to start drying up,” Hand said. “Most of our wells out here are two-to-three hundred feet deep and they’re wanting to go 3,000 feet deep.”

Hand said the water depletion would not only hurt the agricultural economy of the area, but also the wildlife.

“Our ranchers are providing water for wildlife,” she said. “With no water wildlife will not stay around.”

Hand said the water coalition urges all residents of the area to contact as many state legislators as possible.

“It looks like right now a big company can come in and just take the water without permission,” she said.” We have to make sure people are aware of this.”

© 2008 Mountain Mail Socorro, New Mexico. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Secretary Formally Designates Bureau of Land Management Lands as the National System of Public Lands

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has signed a Secretarial Order to officially designate the 258 million acres of lands managed for multiple-use by the Department’s Bureau of Land Management as the National System of Public Lands.

“These lands constitute an invaluable recreational, cultural, economic, and environmental legacy for the nation,” Kempthorne said. “And yet, those who own these lands – the American people – remain largely unaware of their critical importance to our quality of life, their value to present and future generations, or even the purpose for which these lands are preserved in public ownership.”

As the principal steward of the public lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is directed by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 to manage the public lands for multiple-use, including recreation, conservation, wildlife habitat and economic activities, such as livestock grazing, energy and mineral production and the development of timber and forest products.

“It’s time these great lands and resources, whose historical roots date back to the earliest days of our nation, are given their due by recognizing them officially,” BLM Director James Caswell said. “This official designation will ultimately make it easier for the public to identify these lands and more readily understand the multiple-use mission that Congress has given to the BLM.”

While providing BLM-managed lands an official designation confers no change in land status, Caswell said that it will underscore several principles that are important to the stewardship of these lands.

“Calling these lands the National System of Public Lands implies that all of our lands and resources are linked in some capacity,” Caswell said. “This linkage is at the heart of our landscape approach to land management.”

He also said that the designation will emphasize the interconnectedness and interdependence of the public lands and all who benefit from them; better convey the diversity of interests and values associated with the public lands and how these are served through balanced, comprehensive, management; and increase the critical importance of enlightened citizen stewardship to the preservation of these lands and to the success of BLM’s work on behalf of the American people.

Caswell said that the BLM will minimize any costs associated with the designation by institutionalizing it over time and incorporating the identity in publications, signage and other materials in the normal course of renewing and updating such materials.

The BLM manages more land – 258 million acres – than any other Federal agency. Most of this public land is located in 12 Western States, including Alaska. The Bureau, with a budget of about $1 billion, also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM’s multiple-use mission is to sustain the health and productivity of the public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. The Bureau accomplishes this by managing such activities as outdoor recreation, livestock grazing, mineral development, and energy production, and by conserving natural, historical, cultural, and other resources on public lands.

— DOI —

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bighorn Sheep Rule Stirs Debate in West

A new policy issued by the Bush administration for managing fragile populations of bighorn sheep has angered Western environmentalists, hunters and state wildlife managers, who claim it is a move by the outgoing administration to reshape the Western landscape in favor of industry.

A new federal policy regulating how bighorn sheep are transported across state lines has drawn criticism from state officials and environmentalists in the West. They say it threatens efforts to restore the wild sheep.

Federal officials say the policy -- set out in a Memorandum of Understanding with the Forest Service -- is intended to protect bighorns from disease. But critics say it threatens their decadeslong effort to restore the wild sheep population from near-extinction.

Mark Rey, undersecretary for natural resources with the Department of Agriculture, who helped write the bighorn policy, dismissed the complaints. Officials from several Western states have sent him letters denouncing the policy as an illegal usurpation of state authority. Mr. Rey is reviewing the comments but said he sees no reason to change course.

The new policy requires that all wild bighorn be quarantined and tested for disease by federal labs before they can be moved across state lines by relocation programs designed to protect their populations. Mr. Rey says the current protocol, which leaves testing up to the states, is "hit or miss" and thus not good for the bighorn. "If everything is fine," he said, "why do we see diseases cropping up hither, thither and yon?"

But state officials worry the new policy could slow their efforts to protect the sheep. The crux of the problem, they say, is that domestic sheep too often intrude on bighorn territory -- leading to encounters that, for reasons not fully understood, are often fatal to the wild sheep.

State wildlife workers have tried to protect bighorns by relocating them as needed. They believe holding them in quarantine while federal labs perform blood analysis would slow the process and endanger the animals' health. Wild sheep get stressed easily in captivity.

"It's absolutely unworkable," said Dale Toweill, the wildlife coordinator for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The federal policy was welcomed by the ranching industry, which raises hundreds of thousands of domestic sheep for wool and meat.

Ranchers hope a new policy will slow efforts to move bighorn sheep across habitats, leaving more land open for domestic producers.

Many ranching families have grazed their sheep on federal lands for generations. In recent years, however, the U.S. Forest Service has begun to revoke some of these grazing permits, out of fear the domestic sheep transmit fatal diseases to wild bighorn. Ranchers complain that there is no scientific proof their sheep are killing the bighorn. They hope the new policy will slow efforts to move wild sheep across habitats, leaving more land open for domestic producers.

"It's finally recognizing the other side," said Stan Boyd, executive director of the Idaho Wool Growers Association. "We think it'll help."

The sheep memo follows several decisions that have angered environmental interests in the West.

Those include regulations paving the way for oil-shale exploration and increased oil and gas leasing near national parks. Some of the decisions could be reversed by the incoming Obama administration. But Mr. Rey and his critics said they don't believe sheep-testing protocols would be a priority.

The Department of Agriculture hasn't written the bighorn-testing protocol, and Mr. Rey said all decisions, including the length of any quarantine, will be open to public comment.

"This is going to be done by people with Ph.D.s in veterinary science," Mr. Rey said. "I don't see it rising to the level of political involvement."

Write to Stephanie Simon at

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Lesser prairie chicken moves up on ESA list

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The status of a bird found in a handful of Western and Midwestern states has become more dire due to the loss of its native prairie habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday announced a change in the listing priority of the lesser prairie chicken with the release of the agency's annual review of candidates for possible protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The lesser prairie chicken, a stocky ground-dwelling bird found in parts of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, has been on the candidate list for more than a decade. The Fish and Wildlife Service said new information prompted raising the bird's priority number from 8 to 2, one of the most urgent categories.

"It shows that it deserves to be looked at for Endangered Species Act protection sooner than the others," said Elizabeth Slown, a spokeswoman with the agency's Southwest Region.

Conservation groups have been pushing the federal agency to grant the lesser prairie chicken protection under the ESA for years, saying the bird has declined by more than 90 percent over the past century and is facing threats that include energy development, climate change and the loss of habitat.

Despite its status as a candidate, Slown said the lesser prairie chicken is not on the agency's work plan for this fiscal year. That means it could be next September before the agency considers doing a review to determine whether to list the bird.

The Fish and Wildlife Service along with the Bureau of Land Management, an oil and gas company and a New Mexico rancher signed conservation agreements aimed at protecting the lesser prairie chicken during a ceremony this week in Albuquerque.

Those who participate in the program voluntarily agree to conservation measures that protect and restore habitat for the bird in southeast New Mexico. In return, if the chicken is given protection under the ESA, landowners are assured they will not be required to do more than they have pledged through the conservation program.

Slown said the agency hopes more landowners and companies will join the program, resulting in a wider range of the chicken's habitat being protected.

Conservationists have been crying foul this week, saying the agreements are simply a means to avoid listing a species that clearly needs more protection to ensure its survival.

"Why is the Fish and Wildlife Service spending staff time and resources shuffling paper ... rather than proposing the species for listing?" asked Nicole Rosmarino of the Western conservation group WildEarth Guardians.

Rosmarino said the bird must be listed, "not papered over with these very uncertain conservation agreements."

According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, lesser prairie chickens in the early 20th century were common throughout their five-state range. By the 1930s, cultivation, grazing and drought started to cause the species to disappear from areas where it had been abundant.

Along with the lesser prairie chicken, 10 other species' priority numbers changed during this year's candidate review. The agency said four species are now listed as higher priorities and seven were lowered.

Two species — the Ogden mountainsnail, a mollusk species found in Utah, and the Florida indigo, a plant species native to tropical regions — were removed from the list. One was added — the Gierisch mallow, a plant species found in Arizona and Utah.

The agency now recognizes 251 species as candidates for ESA protection.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Environmentalists want new wolf recovery plan

Environmentalists say the federal government's current plan for re-establishing the Mexican gray wolf in the wild is outdated and legally invalid, and petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday to revise it.

"We're managing a very imperiled population of wolves based on planning that's over 20 years old and didn't imagine actual recovery goals — the threshold at which we can say we've done enough and we can take the animal off the (endangered species) list," said Rob Edward, director of carnivore recovery for WildEarth Guardians in Denver.

The current recovery plan was completed in 1982 — 16 years before any wolves were released into the wild in the Southwest. It focused heavily on captive breeding and said little about how to manage wolves in the wild or the process of developing a viable wild population, said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Pinos Altos.

The center, WildEarth Guardians and the Rewilding Institute petitioned Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dale Hall for clear goals and deadlines for delisting the species with attention to the wolves' genetic pool.

Amendments to the Endangered Species Act in 1988 established standards for recovery plans that were not met in the 1982 Mexican wolf plan, the groups said.

Edward said the plan should be redone before the government revises policies governing the reintroduction program.

"It's a fool's errand to base new policies on a plan that has been gathering dust for over two decades," he said.

Fish and Wildlife also wants to redo the recovery plan, said Elizabeth Slown, spokeswoman for the agency's Albuquerque regional office. But, she said, that's being held up by competing judges' orders over the larger gray wolf species elsewhere in the nation.

"Those need to be sorted out a little more carefully before we take up the recovery plan again," she said. She had no idea when that can be done.

The Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies of the gray wolf, was exterminated in the wild in the Southwest by the 1930s.

In March 1998, the government began reintroducing wolves along the Arizona-New Mexico border in a 4 million acre-plus territory interspersed with forests, private land and towns.

The wolves in Arizona and New Mexico have been designated as a "nonessential, experimental population." That gives Fish and Wildlife greater flexibility to manage them under the Endangered Species Act and allows permanent removal — by capturing or killing a wolf — after three confirmed livestock kills in a year.

The Center for Biological Diversity has sued Fish and Wildlife in the past over the wolves' management, contending orders to permanently remove or kill individual animals are compromising the species' genetic diversity.

Wednesday's petition said the lack of an adequate recovery plan and the "unsustainable rate" of removing wolves from the wild stand in the way of recovery.
The reintroduction program had predicted a self-sustaining wild population of 100 wolves by now, but there were 52 as of the last official count in January — seven fewer than in the previous year. Fish and Wildlife, which conducts one count of wild wolves each year, said the number has fluctuated since with deaths, births and removals.

The petitioners said the Mexican gray wolf is not on a trajectory toward recovery. The population has fallen far short of reintroduction goals, said Dave Parsons, former Mexican wolf recovery coordinator for Fish and Wildlife and now carnivore conservation biologist for The Rewilding Institute.

"We could lose the lobo in the wild for a second time if my former agency doesn't get serious about recovery," he said.
States blast feds' sheep rule

The Bush administration is attempting to usurp wildlife management authority from Western states through an end-of-term, under-the-radar move on bighorn sheep, state officials and wildlife advocates charge.

Without consulting or even notifying any state agencies, the U.S. Forest Service and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service have drafted an agreement that would, in effect, take jurisdiction over the transplantation of bighorn sheep on national forests.

That's according to documents provided to the Star-Tribune by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and the state of Wyoming.

Although the federal action was drafted sometime in September, regional wildlife agencies didn't find out about it until the third week in November, state officials said.

According to the written agreement itself, it was created out of concern for the declining bighorn sheep population in the West. But critics say the real reason for the move is to protect domestic sheep producers, at the expense of bighorns.

Representatives of the Forest Service declined to talk on the record for this story. A spokesman for the agency in Washington, D.C., last week referred the Star-Tribune to a regional office, which then referred it back to the D.C. office. Multiple phone calls to the agency last week and on Monday were not returned.

The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies is a group of 23 state and provincial wildlife management departments from the American West and Canada. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is a member.

This association, along with the state of Wyoming individually, responded sharply to the drafted agreement on Monday, because it would require that all wild sheep intended for reintroduction to national forests be tested for diseases by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, among other things.

Reintroduction of bighorns to national forests would also require approval by the Forest Service.

Scathing rebuke

In a letter sent Monday to USDA Undersecretaries Mark Rey and Bruce Knight, the wildlife agencies' association condemned the agreement for being "drafted without input from any state wildlife agency, whose statutory authority to manage resident wildlife is clearly established."

As written, the action "contravenes existing law and policy, is unworkable in day-to-day management of the states' wildlife resources and produces a host of undesirable (and perhaps unintended) consequences," the letter contends.

Member agencies of the group know of no law or regulation providing the Forest Service with the authority to require disease testing of bighorn sheep or any other native resident wildlife, the group argues.

"States have long been acknowledged as having both ownership and management authority of resident wildlife, including its capture and translocation. The general health monitoring and management of bighorn sheep is the responsibility of state wildlife agencies, except for those bighorn sheep populations protected under the Endangered Species Act, and even then, federal authority lies with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, not USDA."

APHIS, the letter continues, also has no jurisdiction over the movements of wild sheep.

"Collectively, we view this (action) as an attempt to usurp state wildlife agency jurisdiction and authority, and we will actively challenge that interference, if deemed necessary," the signatories conclude.

The federal move was also slammed in a separate letter sent to the same undersecretaries from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, signed by the agency's director and the state veterinarian.

"Neither in enabling legislation nor elsewhere in the United States Code is (the U.S. Forest Service) granted explicit authority to supplant or supersede state wildlife management authority on USFS lands," the letter asserts. "Under the auspices of disease control, USFS attempts to bestow through (this interagency agreement) preemptive wildlife management authority over the State where it legally does not exist."

Domestic vs. wild

Bighorn sheep advocates also expressed outrage over the action, citing it as another example of wild sheep losing out to domestic sheep.

"It is another attempt by Mark Rey to run roughshod over state management," said Steve Torbit, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation. "It's totally out of balance, the way this is being handled. The livestock bring the diseases in, and then wildlife has to be eliminated in deference to livestock."

Torbit called the move a "power play" by commodity producers, whom the Bush administration has habitually favored in its public land management.

"This is an insult to state authority. It's an insult to wildlife management," Torbit said.

Gray Thornton, president of the Cody-based Wild Sheep Foundation, said his group is "perplexed" by this move by the outgoing administration.

"In many ways it's federal dominance over what is a state resource. It's meddling inappropriately in state sovereignty," Thornton said. "Mr. Rey recognizes the disease risk of domestic contact with wild sheep, but the proposed (action) and other actions appear to place the blame on a valuable public wildlife resource -- wild sheep -- and not on what most agree is the real issue: domestic sheep grazing in historical and occupied wild sheep habitat."

The real problem at hand is that wild sheep become infected by diseases from domestic sheep, Thornton said, and in this regard, Rey is directing his energies toward the "wrong vector."

The federal move was ultimately made to address wild sheep-domestic sheep conflicts in Idaho, not in Wyoming, Thornton said. The issue of where it is appropriate to have bighorns and domestic sheep has been at the center of ongoing controversy and legal battles in Idaho in recent years.

Wyoming developed a successful bighorn sheep working group years ago, Thornton said, which included all interested parties, including domestic sheep grazers, wildlife managers and wild sheep advocates.

Nonetheless, the federal action still affects Wyoming because it takes some management authority away from the state, even though the state is better equipped to manage bighorns and is more knowledgeable about all of the issues related to wild and domestic sheep, he said.

Eric Keszler, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said the Cowboy State's success in managing wild sheep should be acknowledged by the federal agencies, and the state should be left alone when it comes to management decisions about bighorns.

"Additional actions by the federal government are not something that is needed here," Keszler said. "We work very well with (agricultural) producers to avoid conflicts."

Jim Magagna, executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, agreed that Wyoming has done a good job of addressing concerns about contact between domestic sheep and wild sheep.

"It's all arisen out of a pretty major dispute over in Idaho on the Payette National Forest," Magagna said. "We're fortunate in Wyoming that a number of years ago we formed a bighorn sheep working group and we developed a set of protocols to govern bighorn sheep and domestic sheep, and it has worked pretty well."

In their letter to the Bush administration, Game and Fish Department Director Steve Ferrell and State Veterinarian Walter Cook urged the federal government to continue to defer to the state on wildlife management decisions, as required by law.

"The State of Wyoming has a long-standing claim to primary jurisdiction over wildlife management throughout the State, including USFS lands within its borders," the signatories wrote. "The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that States possess broad trustee and police powers over wildlife within their jurisdictions and hold primary jurisdiction over the management of fish and wildlife on federal lands unless Congress explicitly declares otherwise."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ranchers using plan to help endangered species

Federal officials have approved a habitat conservation plan that will let a group of southwestern ranchers improve and maintain their lands while helping several species considered threatened or endangered.

The plan will enable ranchers affiliated with the Malpai Borderlands Group in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico to continue using their lands for cattle-raising activities while providing long-range benefit to plant, fish and animal species that are threatened or endangered.

And it will let them address endangered species issues in a more efficient way than on a project-by-project basis, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services spokesman Jeff Humphrey.

``It's so hard not to be reactive when you're a landowner when it involves endangered species,'' said Bill McDonald, chairman of the Malpai group, which includes more than 20 of about 30 ranching families spread across 828,000 acres in the two states.

``You seem to have to be on the defensive. It's almost as if you're breathing, you're doing something wrong. And probably, if you have an endangered species on your property, you're doing something right.''

Because members of the group wanted to be more proactive, they began working about five years ago to develop a habitat conservation plan and get Fish and Wildlife approval.

``It's taken several years to get this thing done, but we think we have something now that will stand up for a long time,'' McDonald said. ``Most of the species we have listed in the plan are not listed (as endangered) yet; they're species of concern. But they could be listed in the future.''.

He added: ``We're simply trying to get a handle on what we can do and how we can do it on these ranches so that they can remain viable livelihoods but not jeopardize the species that are either here or could come here.''

Their plan, finally approved in October, is designed to let ranchers improve grasslands and watersheds and enable them to manage their ranching functions. Fish and Wildlife has issued a permit that allows Malpai members to ``take,'' or kill, a threatened or endangered species if it is incidental to their lawful operations and if the taking will not jeopardize the population's survival.

Most of the actions spelled out in the plan are routine rancher activities, such as prescribed burns to rid grasslands of invasive brush, clearing an area for a fence or pipeline or cleaning out a stock tank filled with sediment or silt, but which also may serve as habitat for an endangered species such as the Chiricahua leopard frog.

``The Malpai Borderlands habitat conservation plan is unique in that they're trying to maintain the habitats that they have both for the species and their working animals,'' said Marty Tuegel (TEE-gull), a Fish and Wildlife scientist.

``Their whole program is designed on trying to heal the scars of the past.''

And they're trying to accomplish that by undertaking restoration through such actions as fire to kill invasive trees and shrubs, which also is helpful for watersheds, said Peter Warren, senior field representative for the Nature Conservancy.

``They're trying to keep the landscape open and wild through progressive land management and conservation,'' he said.

McDonald said he hopes the plan works as intended and that other people will follow the example. ``It will take a lot of controversy out of the endangered species issue,'' he said.

Other threatened and endangered species in the Malpai Borderlands include four fish: the Yaqui topminnow, Yaqui chub, beautiful shiner and the Yaqui catfish; the Huachuca water umbel, an aquatic plant; the New Mexico ridge-nosed rattlesnake, northern Aplomado falcon and the Mexican spotted owl.

The private, nonprofit Malpai group organized in 1994, with its member ranchers having goals of keeping their lands from being subdivided and developed, and of maintaining the productivity of the grasslands.

They've used conservation easements, a legal instrument to keep the lands open and undeveloped in perpetuity. Warren said about 12 of the ranches in the area have executed conservation easement agreements.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Settlement Reached In Lawsuit Over Lynx
Fish, Wildlife Service Will Decide If Lynx Should Be Protected In N.M.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide in two weeks whether to study if the Canada lynx should be protected in New Mexico under the Endangered Species Act.

The Dec. 15 deadline was set in a settlement filed Monday in a lawsuit the Western Environmental Law Center filed in April on behalf of conservation groups to force the federal agency to act on their petition to protect the lynx in New Mexico.

Lynx have been reintroduced in southern Colorado, and some have wandered south into New Mexico. Although the federal government lists the elusive, furry cats as threatened in 14 states, including Colorado, they have no federal protection in New Mexico.

"We think it's very important that the species be listed, given that it's traveling into northern New Mexico," said Rob Edward of WildEarth Guardians' Denver office, who said the settlement offers hope for the lynx in the Southwest.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., complained that Fish and Wildlife failed to act on the organizations' August 2007 petition within 90 days as required by the Endangered Species Act. The law gives the agency that time to decide whether a petition provides sufficient information for the agency to then determine whether a listing may be warranted.

If Fish and Wildlife decides a study of the lynx is warranted, the agency will do a yearlong study aimed toward determining whether to list the animal or not.

The settlement "means we're no longer in legal limbo, the Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to this mandated first step, and at least we will have a decision from them whether they will take the next step toward listing," Edward said.

If the agency decides a study is not warranted, the conservation groups will have to reassess, he said. "We haven't made any firm commitment one way or the other," he said.

WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Native Ecosystems, Born Free USA, Animal Protection of New Mexico and Carson Forest Watch petitioned to extend protection to the lynx in New Mexico.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife, which has released more than 200 lynx in Colorado since 1999, tracked about 60 of the animals into New Mexico's Taos, Rio Arriba and San Juan counties between 1999 and 2006, the lawsuit said. The conservation groups said at least 14 of those animals have been killed.

"It's time to give lynx in New Mexico the same protections that they are afforded in Colorado and other parts of the range," said Josh Pollack, executive director of the Center for Native Ecosystems. "We can't be good stewards of these rare cats if we don't legally protect them wherever they roam."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Property rights guru fathered unlikely wilderness bill

Supporters of Sen. Mike Crapo's Owyhee Initiative Bill are going to have to wait at least another few months before the brainchild of Fred Grant finally comes to fruition.

Grant, an adviser to Owyhee County, had worked alongside the late Rep. Helen Chenoweth fighting federal control over public land ranchers. He worked with her husband, the late Wayne Hage, in pushing federal courts to recognize private property rights on public lands like water, fences and other improvements.

Owyhee County dodged a bullet in 2001 when President Clinton decided not to turn more than a million acres of the county's breathtaking canyonlands and valuable sagebrush steppe habitat into a national monument. but Grant knew the issue wouldn't go away.

The Western Watersheds Project headed by Jon Marvel was successfully forcing ranchers to cut back their grazing to protect endangered species and water quality in court. Even with Republicans in control of the White House and nearly in control of Congress, Grant was doubtful they could protect Owyhee County's ranchers and keep them in business.

So he persuaded Owyhee County commissioners to convene talks between willing environmental groups, cattlemen, local officials, outfitters, motorized recreationists, the Air Force and eventually the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe. He took his idea to the Idaho Congressional delegation. Only Sen. Mike Crapo answered.

Grant's plan, to bring a group together toward a land plan for the Owyhees, was exactly what Crapo wanted. To Crapo, collaborative decision-making for federal land issues is a core value.

The initiative group itself reached a basic agreement back in 2004 as Grant and environmentalists went from ranch to ranch to work out individual deals that allowed them to increase the wilderness acres and miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers that could be protected. Ranchers realized quickly that wilderness protection gave them some of what they wanted in the desolate, expansive rangelands of Owyhee County - to be left alone.

But Crapo and his staff spent countless hours trying to get the language right, so that a Republican-dominated Congress and private property and ranching lobbyists wouldn't kill the bill when it got to Washington, D.C. Sen. Larry Craig stalled the bill and it didn't pass in 2006.

Then the Democrats took over Congress. The very language Crapo had painstakingly negotiated with the Initiative partners had to be rewritten to satisfy the Democratic Energy and Natural Resources Committee leaders and staff.

Once again, Grant went back to the ranchers and, working with the committee staff, hammered out a deal they all could support.

The bill will result in a net gain of 29,000 acres of private property to the Owyhee County tax base. It also provides for range expert review of BLM decisions and release of over 300,000 acres to full multiple use.

Environmental backers get 500,000 acres as wilderness, and designation of 315 miles of Wild and Scenic rivers. The bill also would authorize a cultural site protection plan prepared by the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes to pay for tribal rangers to patrol and protect one of the largest unprotected acreages of cultural and religious sites in the lower 48 states.

But environmentalists had their critics, too, especially about the public land transfers.

The sweeping lands bill that included the Owyhees' bill was delayed until January but is expected to move quickly. When this is done, Crapo will rightfully get credit for carrying the bill to the finish line. But its father will always be Fred Grant, who turned his defense of private rights into a quest for public responsibility for a place people from both sides of a heated debate love equally if not differently.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Young Boy Recovers From Mountain Lion Attack
Family Hopes State Game Commission Will Take Action

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- A young boy was dragged away and clawed by a mountain lion. Six months later, he has recovered and his parents said they couldn't be more grateful.

The scars on Jose Salazar's head are still visible. A mountain lion dragged him by the head down a trail in the Sandia Mountains on May 17.

Jose's dad chased and caught up with the mountain lion and the big cat eventually let go and took off.

After surgeries and a stay in the hospital, Salazar's family said he is happy and healthy.

While Salazar is focusing on sports and school now, he said he still has some memories of the attack.

"I just heard a growl. I just looked back and saw it and I tried to run away, but it was too late. It just pounced on me," Salazar said.

The Salazar family went to Alamogordo in October to tell Jose's story before the State Game Commission. They said they hope it will lead to action in addressing the number of mountain lions in the Sandias.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

EPA Proposes "Cow Tax"

The Environmental Protection Agency issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking public comment on whether it is appropriate to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from automobiles under the Clean Air Act. In order to regulate automobile emissions, the EPA would first have to make a finding that all greenhouse gases endanger public health and safety and should be classified as a "pollutant."

Essentially, the EPA is ruling on whether or not GHG emissions should be classified as endangering public safety. If that finding is made, all GHGs including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide would have to be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

The problem with this approach is that once an endangerment finding is made, other provisions of the Clean Air Act are automatically triggered, creating much broader, costly regulation of other sectors of the economy, including agriculture.


Once an endangerment finding is made, Title V of the Clean Air Act requires that any entity with the potential to emit more than 100 tons per year of a regulated pollutant must obtain a permit in order to continue to operate.

For previously regulated pollutants, a threshold of 100 tons meant that only the largest of emitters were required to be permitted. For greenhouse gases, the situation is much different. Not only would power plants and factories, but also many office and apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, large churches and even large homes would be regulated. Literally hundreds of thousands of entities would be required to obtain permits.

The vast majority of livestock operations would easily meet the 100 ton threshold and fall under regulation. In fact, USDA has stated that any operation with more than 25 dairy cows, or 50 beef cattle would have to obtain permits. According to USDA statistics, this would cover about 99 percent of dairy production and over 90 percent of beef production in the United States.

As the proposal stands today, the permit fees would equate to a "tax" of $175 per dairy cow and $87.50 per beef cow.

Greenhouse gas regulation under the Clean Air Act would not only adversely impact livestock producers but all farmers. Crop production emits nitrous oxide from fertilizer and methane from rice production, and fields that emit 100 tons of carbon would also be subject to permitting requirements as well. Any Florida farm with 500 acres of corn, 250 acres of soybeans, 350 acres of potatoes or only 35 acres of rice would be forced to obtain Clean Air Act permits.

Emissions from farm machinery and energy used in production might also be added. Regulation of other economic sectors will result in increased fuel, fertilizer and energy costs for all farmers and ranchers.

Source: Florida Farm Bureau
Ranchers brace for change in Washington

The outcome of the Nov. 4 election hung like an ominous storm cloud this week as members of the Idaho Cattle Association gathered in Sun Valley for their annual convention.

Convention speakers on Monday afternoon predicted that Democrats' riding to a more powerful majority in Washington, D.C., will mean more regulation, additional listings under the federal Endangered Species Act and expansion of national monuments and wilderness areas.

For ranchers in Idaho and elsewhere in the West, the specter of change seems most tied to efforts to protect wildlife that conservationists and some federal biologists consider imperiled, such as gray wolves and greater sage grouse.

Andy Groseta, president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, predicted that the Bush administration will hand off a court-ordered review of whether to list sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the ESA to the incoming Obama administration. Such a listing, which the federal government earlier rejected, could extend across Idaho and 10 other Western states.

"This administration is not going to have this review done on their watch," Groseta said.

A December 2007 ruling by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill prompted the current review. Winmill ruled that Fish and Wildlife Service officials ignored the "best science" in rejecting petitions to list the sage grouse. The decision was appealed by Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, one of numerous conservation groups that filed a petition for ESA listing in 2003.

Though Groseta said he was "hoping during the Bush administration we'd get some things worked out" in terms of regulatory relief, he said the Obama team has indicated a willingness to provide public lands ranchers a seat at the table when decisions are made. He said his group will continue to fight for ranchers who are getting "regulated out of business."

Prior to the election, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association sat down with both the Obama and McCain campaigns and "spoon-fed" them information pertinent to the nation's ranching industry, Groseta said. He said the association had endorsed George W. Bush for president, but decided against doing the same for either candidate this time.

"We didn't want to go down that road again," he said without elaborating.

He predicted that the Obama administration will place more emphasis on food safety and public lands issues.

"They're up in the forefront with the Obama administration," he said. "There's going to be more regulations coming down the pike."...

Ranchers should also fear an increasingly powerful animal rights lobby, Groseta said. Well-financed, these activists' primary mission is to destroy the country's cattle industry, he claimed.

"They want to take cattle off the land and beef off the plate," he said. "These folks are for real. They want to put us out of business."

Groseta extolled his fellow ranchers to join their local and national cattle associations. He said fewer than 10 percent of ranchers belong to such organizations, leaving them far outgunned on the financial front by groups like the National Humane Society.

"We need the firepower. We need to fight these people."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Environmentalists' hysteria loses

David Stirling and Steven Gieseler

Last Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court overturned a 9th U.S. Circuit injunction prohibiting certain Navy training exercises in the Pacific Ocean. The decision was a big win for the Navy and for America´s national security interests.

The court's ruling was an ever bigger victory for the role of common sense in the realm of environmental regulation. After 30 years of the federal courts acting as a rubber stamp for the fear mongering of environmentalist groups, the high court has finally restore a modicum of balance to the law.

As Chief Justice John Roberts explained in the court's opinion, enemies of the United States possess hundreds of nearly silent diesel-electric submarines. These subs are capable - it is their reason for being - of getting deadly weapons within striking distance of their targets without those targets seeing or hearing them.

Cognizant of this threat, the president ordered the military to train to detect these stealth submarines using high-tech sonar. These exercises were going according to plan until a lawsuit filed by several environmentalist groups sought to stop them, alleging that the sonar might harm whales and dolphins in the Pacific. These groups showed no evidence of such harm, but only that it might occur if the sonar training continued.

Amazingly, a federal judge agreed and issued an injunction prohibiting the Navy from continuing to train as it had for some 40 years. The exercises were constrained in scope and duration. In the face of a known and dire threat, a crucial part of national security policy was, for practical purposes until last week, being written by radical environmental interest groups.

This travesty had its roots at the intersection of environmental law and the legal rules governing injunctions. Those rules are old and generally uniform; a party seeking to enjoin some activity must show that the harm from not stopping the activity would be greater than the harm of stopping it. Those asking for injunctions also must show a court that the injunction is in the public's interest.

But in 1978, the Supreme Court tilted the playing field in environmental cases. Where certain threatened species were potentially at risk, the court said in the infamous TVA vs. Hill, protection of these species must take precedence "above all else." Thus, federal courts were given license to issue injunctions regardless of the social or economic value of the activity being prohibited.

For the next three decades, the Endangered Species Act was a virtual super-statute, lording over all other federal and state laws. Using the language of the TVA case, the federal courts would forgo the traditional balancing and public interest tests in injunction cases, signing off on injunctions at the mere invocation of the words "endangered species."

This policy has resulted in several situations rightly called disasters. When the federal government, fearing the catastrophic effects of storm surge from a major hurricane, sought to fortify Louisiana's coastline in the 1970s, environmentalists quickly shut down the project. Claiming the coastal barriers would alter the habitat of local marine life, a group called Save Our Wetlands got a federal court to stop the project. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina exposed the folly of this decision.

Similarly, firefighters in the Pacific Northwest for years have been prohibited from using effective flame retardants to combat deadly forest fires. Environmentalists asked for, and a federal court granted, an injunction against the use of these chemicals, using the "species above all else" ethos to deny the firefighters tools that could save not just property threatened by wildfires, but also the firefighters' very lives.

These cases are vivid examples of an environmental law system entirely out of whack. Tens of thousands of property owners unable to build a home on their own land due to trumped-up environmental concerns, for example, have suffered from this bias toward extreme environmentalism.

With the Supreme Court's sonar decision, a long overdue balance has been restored. The justices signaled an end to the automatic-environmental-injunction mindset that has prevailed for 30 years.

The court treated the case like it would any other involving an injunction, carefully weighing the competing interests without placing a heavy thumb on the scale on the side of the environmentalists.

And with the playing field finally leveled, the Navy won. So, too, did common sense.

M. David Stirling is vice president and Steven Geoffrey Gieseler is a lawyer at the Pacific Legal Foundation, the nation's oldest public interest law group focused on fighting overzealous environmental regulation The foundation filed a brief in the sonar case in support of the Navy. Mr. Stirling is also the author of the new book, "Green Gone Wild: Elevating Nature Above Human Rights" (Merrill Press).

From: Fred Kelly Grant, Chairman Owyhee Initiative Work Group
Jerry Hoagland, Chairman Owyhee County, Idaho Commissioners
Sent: Monday, 11/17/08 6:13 pm
To: Fred Kelly Grant (

It appears clear that the Owyhee Initiative Bill will not be voted on in the lame duck session of Congress, but will be re-introduced by Senator Crapo in January in the new Congress. Since being recommended for passage by a unanimous vote in the Energy-Natural Resources committee, the committee and Senate leadership packaged it into the Omnibus Public Lands Bill with 149 other bills.

Just prior to the pre-election recess of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that the lands package would be called to the floor for a vote during the lame duck session which began today. Last Friday, a spokesman for Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the press that the Omnibus Lands Bill will not be voted on during this session.

Today, Owyhee County Commissioners and the Chairman of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group have confirmed with several sources in DC that the bill will not be voted on during the lame duck session. The sources, Eastern, Mid-Western and Western Senators-key staff members-and special interest representatives on the Hill have relayed their belief that the bill will not be brought forward for vote. They also confirm that Senator Reid has assured the sponsors of the 150 bills that the delay does not diminish in any way his commitment to lead the bill to a vote when the new Congress convenes in January, 2009.

Senate sources say that the bill is being delayed because of Senator Coburn’s (R-OK) threatened filibuster of the bill, which could tie the Senate up for a good full three days. With all the funding problems facing the Senate during the economic crisis, leadership does not believe that the three days can be wasted in the short lame duck session. Senate Coburn has opposed the bills in the package because of expenditures of $4 billion over a period of years, and because so many acres of public land will be removed from energy. 60 Senators would be needed to stop the filibuster. Senator Reid said that with the new Democrats coming in for the January session, there will be far less trouble getting the 60 necessary votes for cloture.

So, the Owyhee Initiative Bill will have to wait also until the new Congress convenes. The Owyhee Work Group, a broad base coalition, has worked on the Owyhee Agreement and the implementing bill for nearly 8 years. The sponsor, Senator Mike Crapo, has praised the efforts of ranchers, county officials, conservation groups and recreation groups to put together a local solution to local land use problems.

The bill will result in a net gain of 29,000 acres of private property to the Owyhee County tax base. It also provides for range expert review of BLM decisions, release of over 300,000 acres to full multiple use, reservation of about 500,000 acres as wilderness, and designation of wild and scenic rivers---all in an attempt to resolve land use disputes raging for three decades. The bill also provides for a travel management plan to implement challenging trail systems for use by recreational vehicles and to protect private property.

The Owyhee Bill features authorization to fund a cultural site protection plan prepared by the Shoshone Paiute Tribes of Nevada and Idaho. Tribal rangers to patrol and protect one of the largest unprotected acreages of cultural and religious sites in the lower 48 states will be authorized by the bill. The Tribes joined with Owyhee County Commissioners in presenting the Owyhee Initiative Agreement to Senator Crapo for legislative action.

Dr. Chad Gibson, representative of the Owyhee Cattleman’s Association on the Owyhee Work Group, said today that “we haven’t given up on the Owyhee bill. The agreement we crafted is historic, and we must keep after it until the bill gets passed.”

Tim Lowry, president and representative of the Owyhee County Farm Bureau on the Work Group agreed with Gibson, “Our bill is critical for protection of the economic stability of our ranchers.”

Grant Simonds, executive director of the Outfitters and Guides Association, looks forward to the January session and “finally getting to a vote the product of our long years of work to craft a bill that serves all multiple users of the public lands in Owyhee County.”

Jerry Hoagland, Chairman of the Owyhee County Board of Commissioners thanked Senator Crapo and his staff for the strong effort they have made to gain passage of the bill which represents solutions fashioned by local citizens and interests. “We know that Senator Crapo will move strongly for passage early in the new Congress, and he will be working with the support of the full Idaho delegation. We have been assured that Senator Risch (newly elected R-Id), and Representatives Simpson (R-Id) and Minnick (newly elected D-Id) will support the bill and Senator Crapo’s efforts for passage.”

Fred Kelly Grant, chairman of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group, thanked the American Land Rights Association, Stewards of the Range and the American Land Foundation for their statements favorable to the Owyhee bill.

Grant said “Chuck Cushman, a long time friend of Owyhee County, has lead a strong fight against the Omnibus lands package, but has said that the Owyhee bill is an example of a good bill which should be supported if it were by itself.”

He also pointed out that Stewards of the Range and American Land Foundation “also friends of Owyhee County citizens, opposed the lands package in a letter to each Senator, but singled out the Owyhee bill as a private property bill which deserved passage if standing alone.” Grant said “the County Commissioners and I appreciate the positive statements about our specific bill. We have worked hard to gain confidence of all interest groups in the value of our bill.”

For further comment or information, CONTACT Fred Kelly Grant, Chairman of the Owyhee Initiative Work Group---; or Staci

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Threat of filibuster endangers lands bill
Legislators say time wasted could hamper priorities of auto bailout, economic crisis

By Staff and wire reports

November 15, 2008

A massive lands bill that would have created two new wilderness areas in southwest Oregon appears to be dead for the year, a victim of a filibuster threat and the need to focus on the nation's growing economic woes.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat strongly supports the lands package, but his first priorities in a lame-duck session next week are a planned rescue for the auto industry and extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has threatened to filibuster the lands bill over what he calls its excessive spending — nearly $4 billion over five years — and the removal of millions of acres of federal property from oil and gas development.

"The outlook for this legislation does not look real good," said Bill Wicker, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "The two big problems right now are the clock and the economy."

Coburn's threat meant the Senate could have spent up to three days debating the lands package — time that Reid and other Senate leaders say should be devoted to the auto bailout and other legislation responding to the country's economic crisis.

However, 20 Senators from both sides of the aisle, including Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, and Republican Gordon Smith, signed a letter sent to Reid on Friday, urging him to pass the measure.

The bill includes creation of the roughly 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in the mountains east of Ashland and the 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness in the Elk River drainage near Port Orford.

The Soda Mountain Wilderness would be on the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District. The proposed Copper Salmon Wilderness area is on the western edge of the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The bill would also expand wilderness areas around Oregon's Mount Hood and created a vast new wilderness in Idaho's Owyhee canyons as well as carve out areas in California, Colorado and New Mexico.

The Mount Hood bill, which includes the Copper Salmon and the Soda Mountain proposals, was co-sponsored by Wyden and Smith.

Wyden's chief of staff, Josh Kardon, said Friday that Wyden was among many senators in both parties frustrated by Coburn's refusal to allow the lands package to move though the Senate.

"These are bills that moved unanimously through committee with Republican and Democratic support," Kardon said, adding that Wyden was particularly disappointed "that Senator Smith won't be allowed the honor he deserves in enacting a Wyden-Smith Mount Hood wilderness legislation."

Smith was defeated in his bid for re-election earlier this month.

The bill includes creation of the roughly 23,000-acre Soda Mountain Wilderness in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in the mountains east of Ashland and the 13,700-acre Copper Salmon Wilderness in the Elk River drainage near Port Orford.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Property Rights Group Asks Members to Fight Crapo's Owyhee Bill

A national private property rights group is urging its members to "deluge" Republican Sen. Mike Crapo's office with calls and e-mails asking him to back off of the Senate bill that would protect wilderness and public land ranchers in Owyhee County.

But Fred Grant, president of another national private property group and one of the leaders of the collaborative group that negotiated Crapo's bill, says the American Land Rights Association's claims that Crapo has sold out private property rights "is not right or truthful."

The association sent out an alert Monday urging its members to target Crapo for his efforts to gain votes for the Omnibus Public Lands Bill, a collection of 150 bills, including more than a half-dozen wilderness measures to protect more than 900,000 acres of wild land in Oregon, Idaho, Colorado, Virginia and West Virginia.

The bill includes Crapo's Owyhees legislation, which has finally come to the floor after six years of talks by the coalition of ranchers and environmentalists. The legislation would protect 517,000 acres as wilderness, another 315 miles of rivers as wild and scenic, and help ranchers with a series of land transfers, buyouts and the establishment of a science center.

The lands group calls the omnibus bill a land grab and focused its opposition on the provision codifying the National Landscape Conservation System, 26 million acres of lands with special protection, including national monuments, managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

"It will add dozens of new National Heritage Areas and Wilderness Areas that will eventually be a land-use control noose around the necks of local people and rural America," the lands group said in its alert.

Grant, president of Stewards of the Range, which has fought for private property rights in and around federal lands in court, was the man who first proposed talks between ranchers and environmentalists as a way to keep ranchers on the land in Owyhee County. The Owyhees bill is the first bill that specifically protects private property rights to make it to the floor in 16 years, Grant said.

"For eight years, the ranchers and land owners in Owyhee County, many of whom have fought a lonely fight through the years, without noticeable support from the private property organizations now attacking Sen. Crapo, have worked to craft a bill that will add private land to the tax base of the county, protect their ranching rights and gain the largest comparable release of wilderness study area acres ever seen in any bill to reach a vote," Grant said.

The lands group targeted Crapo because he is working with Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid to gather the 60 votes needed to allow the bill to go to a vote in the lame duck session scheduled next week.

"It appears you cannot trust Sen. Mike Crapo's heart to protect your private property and access and use of Federal lands," the group said in its alert.

Grant said he wasn't challenging the lands group's right to oppose the bill.

"But it is not right, or truthful, to claim that Sen. Crapo has sold out private property interests," Grant said. "He has sponsored and supported the interests of, and the bill crafted by, landowners in Owyhee County."

Passing omnibus land bills is a bad way to legislate, said Charles Cushman, executive director of the lands association. If the bill passes, then more will come and the public will pay more in costs and in unwanted regulations.

"If we allow these omnibus federal land bills to go forward, every senator will get one project and the result is we'll get lots of bad bills," Cushman said.

Cushman has worked with Grant in the past and talked to him after they exchanged e-mails. But he didn't comment on what they said.

"I support the Owyhee legislation, but that doesn't change things or let Crapo off the hook," Cushman said. "We won't ever stop hammering him if this bill passes."

The American Land Rights Association, one of the largest grass-roots property rights groups in the country, was one of few groups that stood by U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, after his conviction on charges related to his arrest in a Minneapolis Airport bathroom. The group urged its members to boycott the Minneapolis Airport in response.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484
Dorgan says Forest Service to scrub grassbank plan

Sen. Byron Dorgan says the chief of the U.S. Forest Service has assured him the agency will scrub plans to manage a scenic badlands ranch in western North Dakota as a forage reserve without traditional grazing.

Dorgan said Wednesday that he spoke with Forest Service Chief Abigail Kimbell, who told him that grazing rights on the Billings County land would continue.

The Forest Service proposed last month that the 5,200-acre ranch and 18,000 acres of nearby federal grasslands be managed as a "grassbank" for area ranchers to use during times of drought, grass fires or when their own ranch lands need a rest.

The Forest Service's Dakota Prairie Grasslands supervisor, Dave Pieper, said Wednesday that the agency will continue to take public comment on its grassbank plan until Nov. 24. He said he had not been ordered by agency bosses to halt the plan.

"We're going to follow the law," Pieper said. "We are moving forward with the public process. It's just a proposal at this stage."

Wayde Schafer, a North Dakota spokesman for the Sierra Club, said that under Dorgan's plan, the management of the badlands ranch would deviate from how other public-owned grasslands are managed in the U.S.

"It's unprecedented that the public will not be a part of the management decision in this one area, and that ranchers themselves will decide how much grazing there will be and when," Schafer said.

Rancher Jim Arthaud, a county commissioner and member of the Medora Grazing Association, said it was clear in the negotiations over the purchase of the ranch that the grazing rights involved would be divided among area ranchers.

The Forest Service purchased the ranch, next to Theodore Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch site, from brothers Kenneth, Allan and Dennis Eberts and their families last year. It cost $5.3 million, with $4.8 million coming from the federal government and $500,000 from conservation groups.

As part of the deal, the Forest Service promised to sell an equal number of acres in North Dakota to balance the acquisition of the former Blacktail Creek Ranch, and to continue grazing and other activities, including oil and gas development.

Dorgan said the purchase agreement allows the grazing association to allocate leases as it has traditionally done and he said using the land as a grassbank would violate that agreement. He has accused Pieper of acting as a "one-man band."

"We've got some folks in the Forest Service who want to try and skirt the law," Dorgan said. "They did not follow the agreement we made."

Pieper called it a complex situation. Dorgan found it fairly straightforward.

"It's not complicated at all — the law is the law, and federal agencies are not above the law," Dorgan said. "I do expect the Forest Service to follow the law, and if they don't, there will be consequences."

Schafer said the Forest Service manages millions of acres of grasslands in the U.S., including 1.2 million acres in North Dakota.

"Of all the grasslands in the U.S., none would be set up the way Sen. Dorgan wants this to be managed," Schafer said.

The Sierra Club strongly supports the idea of a grassbank, which Schafer called "an insurance policy" for ranchers.

"It would benefit all ranchers in need, rather than just two or three who would be able to increase their cattle herds," Schafer said.

Arthaud said locals always have been critical of the federal government's purchase of the ranch, fearing the valuable grasslands would be off limits to ranchers. He said about half a dozen area ranchers would benefit by allocating leases in the traditional way, and he hopes the Forest Service will back off its grassbank proposal now that Dorgan has intervened.

"The deal was made, they agreed to it, and then they lied to us," Arthaud said of the Forest Service. "The issue here is that they want to take 23,000 acres out of production."

Those acres are enough to support about 500 cows, he said.

"The Forest Service doesn't know how to manage cows and the Sierra Club doesn't like cows, period," Arthaud said.