Tuesday, April 29, 2008

BLM, partners honored

CARLSBAD — The Bureau of Land Management Carlsbad Field Office and its partners in the Restore New Mexico Partnership has been held up as a model conservation project.

At a ceremony in the nation's capital last week, the BLM and its partners from Eddy County were among 21 recipients nationwide of the U.S. Department of Interior's Cooperative Conservation Award.

Dorothy Morgan, BLM Carlsbad Office assistant field manager for resources, accepted the award in Washington on behalf of the Restore New Mexico Partnership. She was accompanied by Doug Berger, BLM district manager, Debbie Hughes, New Mexico Conservation Districts Association executive director, and Vicky Sanchez, representing Devon Energy.

The 21 awards recognized the work of more than 700 groups and individuals who achieved excellence in conservation through collaboration and partnerships.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, who came to Eddy County last year to tour the work of the Restore New Mexico Partnership, presented the awards.

"These outstanding partnerships and cooperative efforts represent a fundamental way in which our department provides stewardship for America with integrity and excellence," Kempthorne said in a news release announcing the winners. "They embody a broad spectrum of conservation work from restoring wetlands, rangeland and mine lands to protecting wildlife, conserving water and fighting invasive species to teaching conservation values to the next generation,"

Morgan said the partnership was among many federal agencies that submitted projects last year to the Department of Interior. She said the local BLM learned that the partnership was nominated for the award in November.

"I guess what we have done here through our partnerships, and continue doing, was considered worthy to be nominated and to receive the award," she said. "It feels good for us to be acknowledged that our work is appreciated. We hope it leads to even more successes both here in Eddy County and other parts of the state and country where similar projects can benefit the land."

Morgan said the Restore New Mexico Partnership began statewide in 2005. However, the BLM Field Office in Eddy County had a head start over other areas in meeting the program's goal because it already was working with partners from federal, state and local agencies, the ranching industry and the oil and gas industry.

"We had been working together for a number of years on grassland and riparian restoration and oilfield reclamation," she explained. "We have had a lot of success and we have been a model for other areas in showing what can be achieved through partnerships. When Secretary Kempthorne was here last year he saw first-hand what we have accomplished and he highlighted them in his speech during the award ceremony."

Morgan said that following the awards ceremony, there was a two-day workshop where the Carlsbad contingent presented a 15 minute documentary showing the conservation efforts that have been successful in Eddy County.

"The movie documentary was produced in cooperation with the Eddy County Media Group and New Mexico State University at Carlsbad," she said.

The award presented to Restore New Mexico Partnership recognized the group's initiative and leadership in achieving the vision of restored grasslands and riparian ecosystems in southeastern New Mexico including the removal of salt cedar from river corridors that allowed the natural biodiversity to return, and introduction of fire to the landscape.

Since 2005, brush control on 500,000 acres has been completed on public lands and almost 10,000 acres on private and state lands. Native riparian vegetation was re-established on 36 miles of river, replacing salt cedar that had invaded the river banks. About 800 acres of well pads, roads and power lines were reclaimed, reconnecting more than 80,000 acres of wildlife habitat.

Restore New Mexico Partnership (New Mexico) Members:

Ranching Partners: Monty Beckham, Daniel C. Berry III, Lewis Derrick, Robert Jolley, Bill Marley, Robert Mathis, Mathis Land & Cattle Inc., Mark McCloy, Stacy Mills, Kelly Myers, Alisa Ogden, Jimmy Richardson, Joe Stell

Volunteers: Stan Brisco, Howard Gebel, Larry LaPlant, Gerald Orr, Brezel Sanchez, Roy Stovall, Mack Wilemon

Bureau of Land Management: Eddie Bateson, Doug Burger, Cindy Dreps, Ron Dutton, Don Ellsworth, Dave Evans, Russell Fox, Tony Herrell, Jesse Juen, Ray Keller, Dorothy Morgan, Linda Rundell, Jim Stovall, Eddy Williams

Carlsbad Soil and Water Conservation District: Judy Bock, Nathan Jurva, Judith Ortego

Dawson Geophysical Company: Brian Freidenbloom, Steve Jumper, Ray Tobias

Devon Energy Corporation: Wyatt Abbitt, Joe Johnston, Don Mayberry, Victoria Sanchez, Steve Zink

Marathon Oil: Tom Breninger

Marbob Energy Corporation: Rand French, Johnny C. Gray, Ray Miller

Natural Resources Conservation Service: Dennis Alexander, Philip Carter, Ty Carter, Hollis Fuchs, Garth Grizzle, Tim Henry

New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts: Mary Lou Ballard, Troy Hood, Debbie Hughes, Kenneth B. Leiting, Bill See

New Mexico Dept. of Game and Fish: Dale Hall, R.J. Kirkpatrick, Bruce Thompson

New Mexico State Land Office: Jim Carr, Pat Lyons, Myra Myers
Wire thieves leave hazardous waste at Idaho campsites

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Authorities say that what looks like the ashes of burned rope at campsites in Idaho may be hazardous waste.

A sharp increase has been reported in illegal burning of wire insulation on public lands throughout the West.

The Bureau of Land Management, for example, reports four cases in the last three months in the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area south of Boise.

The agency's top official in Idaho, Loren Good, says drug addicts steal electrical wire, then burn off the insulation to get a bigger payoff from scrap meal recyclers.

The insulation is dangerous to human health as well as the environment, and removing the ashes properly can cost $500 to thousands of dollars.

Another BLM official, Steve Moore, says anyone who encounters wire insulation ashes should contact authorities.
Mountain is symbolic to many

GRANTS - Tsoodzil, Kaweshtima, Turquoise Mountain and Mount Taylor are names that have been given over the years to the dormant volcano on the horizon. The mountain represents sacred sites and the home of gods to some Native American neighbors and a place for recreation, ranching, Land Grant communities and appreciation of nature for others. Currently there has been a growing interest in resuming uranium mining on Mount Taylor, coinciding with some designations of protection by both the U.S. Forest Service and the New Mexico Cultural Properties Review Committee.

These state and federal designations have produced debate in Grants and led to allegations about how the measures would limit public activity on the mountain.

Some government leaders and the mining interests have reacted with hostility and many uninformed citizens have made dramatic, if incorrect, public statements on the situation.

At a Cibola County Commission meeting, local resident Ronnie Pynes questioned the legality of the meeting of the Cultural Properties Review Committee because it wasn't publicized in Grants, stating, “This isn't China. They want to take away our mountain, our forests, what's next?”

That statement doesn't remotely resemble what the committee has stated in respect to limitations on human activity on the mountain, although the legality of the committee's meeting is currently under investigation by Cibola County Attorney Joe Diaz.

In an editorial in the April 25 Beacon, Estevan Rael-Galvez, chairman of the committee, stated, “On publicly owned properties, any activity allowed by law or regulation continues to be allowed. However, listing in the State Register does provide a process for planning for projects or activities that might impact registered resources…so that state agencies can exercise due caution to avoid damage to cultural properties.”

He also pointed out that the designation does not affect the use of private property by the owner or his ability to sell, transfer or develop the property.

The emergency listing of Mount Taylor will be temporary for one year while the committee investigates the property and makes a determination if it should be permanently placed on the state register. The nominating parties - the Pueblos of Acoma, Zuni, Laguna, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe must spend that year documenting the importance of Mount Taylor as an archaeological site, the traditional values and the historic and prehistoric uses of the site.

The fact that that the nominating parties are all Native American has raised the question of real and imagined racism in those opposed to the measure.

Considering that the mountain was once part of Acoma aboriginal lands, this is a foreseeable reaction.

Also lost in the emotional debate is the fact that the cultural preservation area would only be located at an elevation of more than 8,000 ft. on mostly state and Bureau of Land Management land, according to Lt. Governor Mark Thompson of Acoma Pueblo.

“The pueblos don't want to shut down Mount Taylor because we hunt and recreate there too. But it is important for people to know that the mountain is sacred to us and mentioned in many of our prayers. Most importantly, we see it as a source of cultural continuity for our children.”

Thompson noted that there was some concern at the pueblo over the possibility of water contamination if uranium mining was resumed.

“I worked in the mines myself and I think we have to resume mining slowly and very carefully. We're not outright opposed to it,” Thompson said.

He pointed out that the beams in San Estevan Church at Sky City were carried by Acoma men from Mount Taylor to the church site when it was built during the Spanish Colonial era. “We take pride in our history and have suffered over the centuries, so it's important to us to keep our culture intact,” he said.

Deloris Becenti of the Navajo Nation explained the significance of the mountain to her people. “It is one of the four sacred mountains in our emergence story…the others are Blanca Peak and Mount Hesperus in Colorado and San Francisco Peaks in Arizona. Mount Taylor is mentioned in our prayers, chants, songs and stories,” she said. “Each peak has an animal totem which protects it from destruction.”

It is also the site where the mythological Monster Slayer twins killed a monster to protect the Navajo people. The monster's blood formed the lava beds, according to Navajo lore.

“Our medicine men go to Mount Taylor for medicinal and ceremonial plants. They must state their purpose and say prayers before they're led to the plants they need,” Becenti said.

She opposes any resumption of uranium mining because of the results she's seen from previous mining in the Crownpoint area where she lives. “The elders in our communities have been sickened by the polluted water and are suffering from kidney problems and cancers,” she reported.

“We really don't care that people can make money from uranium; we care about the integrity of Mount Taylor,” she concluded.

Also causing confusion in the current argument are Forest Service proposed designations regarding traditional cultural properties and travel management. These proposals will be outlined in a future Beacon story.

There will be a special Cibola County Commission meeting tonight at 6 p.m. to discuss the state Historic Preservation Committee's decision.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Protection weighed for bird in West's energy areas

The fate of basic industries across the Intermountain West — grazing, mining, energy — soon could be at least partially tied to that of a bird about the size of a chicken.

The federal government is under a judge's order to reconsider an earlier decision against listing the sage grouse as endangered, and wildlife biologists are scouring the species' customary mating grounds to see how many are left.

The species was seen as recently as 2004 over an area as large as California and Texas combined, but its habitat used to be close to twice that and research has shown that many types of human activity continue to harm it.

States and even some companies have made efforts to protect the sage grouse on their own, hoping to avoid a federal listing that could stretch across 11 states.

The prospect of listing the species has drawn comparisons to the northern spotted owl, whose listing as a threatened species in 1990 drew the ire of logging interests in the Northwest.

But the grouse occupies several times as much land as the owl.

"It will affect everything we do and know (as) a Western state, everything from livestock grazing to mining to development of sage brush habitat, wind energy," said Ken Mayer, director of the Nevada wildlife department.

"I don't think we have ever been in this position before."

Ranchers and the oil and gas industry dodged stiff regulations in January 2005 when the government decided the bird didn't need to be listed as an endangered species.

But in December, U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill in Boise overturned that decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, partly because it was tainted by political pressure from Assistant Interior Secretary Julie MacDonald. She resigned last May amid questions about alleged interference in dozens of other endangered species decisions.

"Her tactics included everything from editing scientific conclusions to intimidating staffers," Winmill wrote.

The agency has until December to issue a new decision. It has given wildlife agencies in 11 states until June 24 to update information on local populations, the threat the sage grouse faces and the steps being taken to conserve them.

The grouse — mottled brown, black and white — is found on sagebrush plains and high desert from Colorado to California and north into southern Canada. Their courtship rituals, where males puff up bright yellow air sacks under their neck and fan out the pointy feathers in their tails, are imitated in dances of several American Indian tribes.

The birds return each spring to breeding and nesting locations called leks — generally high desert with sagebrush, grass and wildflowers that provide both food and cover from predators.

Wildfires, development and industry have steadily cut into that habitat.

"The last 17 years, more than 16 million acres have burned in the Great Basin," Assistant Interior Secretary Stephen Allred recently told the National Association of Conservation Districts.

Allred said 75 sage grouse leks were destroyed last summer in Idaho near the Nevada line by just one set of fires.

The sage grouse now occupy about half of their original, year-round habitat. The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated in 2005 there were 100,000 to 500,000 greater sage grouse.

The birds' reproductive and survival rates are also down in states hit hard by drought and invasive plants such as cheat grass, which elbow out sage brush and native grasses after fires. West Nile virus also is taking a toll.

In Nevada, for example, the numbers of chicks per hen hit a historic low of 0.58 last fall compared to a more typical figure of 1.8 to 2.0, said Shawn Espinosa, a wildlife biologist with the Nevada Department of Wildlife.

Biologists are quick to remind that grouse populations operate in cycles, but Espinosa said "the highs and lows are getting lower and lower and the overall trend of sage grouse population is going down."

Environmentalists who have been pushing for federal protection for more than a decade are convinced its population is on a path toward extinction.

An "honest assessment" of the bird's numbers and the threats it faces will show that it must be listed, said Katie Fite, director of biodiversity for the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project, which sued the Fish and Wildlife Service over its 2005 decision.

"Unfortunately, in several Western states, efforts seem to be under way to be creative with grouse counting and mask how much numbers are down," she said. "Populations do sort of cycle, but part of the last upward trend was a result of agencies taking great pains to find and count grouse."

Pat Deibert, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist based in Wyoming and the federal coordinator of the new review, said lek counts are up in her state and others report the same in parts of Oregon and Colorado thanks to recent rainy springs and the absence of significant wildfires.

But she said those areas may be the exception.

Since last fall, Wyoming has undertaken nearly two dozen projects to help grouse, including restoring habitat, purchasing easements on ranch lands, improving livestock grazing practices and researching ways to reduce the effects of oil and gas drilling.

"A number of individual companies have done conservation actions as well. Often they move well locations voluntarily to get out of a lek," said Cheryl Sorenson, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming in Casper.

"We did not want to even consider having this animal listed," she said.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Experts fear nation's waterways need rescuing—from us

ALONG THE SANTA FE RIVER, N.M.—Rosemary Lowe scoops up a shovel of dirt and dumps it into a hole around the base of a slender cottonwood tree.

One down, thousands more to go.

Lowe and dozens of volunteers spent a recent day planting native trees along a half-mile stretch of the Santa Fe River that has been reduced to a dry, sandy wash.

"We've got to do something and this is one little place we can do it," Lowe says, wiping sweat from her brow. "And if we multiply that by thousands of other places around the world, think of what we can do."

Federal agencies, states, tribes and concerned citizens are spending millions of dollars and thousands of hours on waterway restoration projects to reverse decades of poor management and combat the mounting threats of population and climate change.

Nationally, there are more than 37,000 river restoration projects underway, costing more than $1 billion annually, according to a study released this month by Colorado College.

Andrew Fahlund, vice president for conservation for American Rivers, said every region of the country will eventually be affected either by water pollution or overconsumption.

"Look at the southeastern United States right now and you would think you were in the midst of the Colorado River basin," he said. "They're having good old fashion water wars in Georgia and most people associate Georgia with verdant hills and full streams."

The Bureau of Land Management has spent close to $15 million in the last couple of years on its Restore New Mexico program, which includes oilfield restoration as well as work on the rivers and streams that flow through BLM land.

The U.S. Forest Service spent about $500,000 on watershed work in New Mexico and Arizona last year and plans to spend just as much this year, said Penny Luehring, watershed improvement program manager for the agency's southwest region.

Just weeks ago, the agency and its partners finished planting willow trees along the Centerfire Creek in western New Mexico as part of a comprehensive plan that included removing cattle and building culverts for a road that crosses the creek.

Land managers agree that cooperation has been essential in trying to treat entire river systems rather than just a stretch at a time.

"We've been very successful in telling the story to all different kinds of groups—industry groups, conservation groups, other agencies—and they've all been very willing to join with us to try and fix some of these past mistakes," said Linda Rundell, state director for the BLM in New Mexico.

The work has resulted in more wildlife habitat, fewer invasive species, less erosion and the recharging of the aquifer in many areas. And managers say those benefits can't be realized soon enough.

Federal researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque predict that the fresh water supplies of more than half of the nations in the world will be stressed in less than 20 years, and that by 2050 three quarters of the world could face fresh water scarcity.

The U.S. is no exception, said Michael Hightower of the lab's Energy Systems Analysis Department. Groundwater pumping will likely have to be reduced in the next 5 to 10 years to prevent the depletion of many of the nation's aquifers, he said.

"We've been overpumping those aquifers for the last 50 years and it's beginning to catch up with us," Hightower said.

John Horning, the executive director of WildEarth Guardians, the environmental group sponsoring the recent Santa Fe River planting day, said that rivers throughout the Southwest need to be made resilient so they can withstand reduced flows.

"Most rivers in the Southwest have been damaged in one way or another. This one," he said, standing in the middle of the sandy Santa Fe, "has had a dam on it for over 100 years so we don't have the perennial flows that we used to have. As a result, what was once a pretty lush, rich corridor for wildlife and for humans isn't that anymore."

"It's pretty much an open wound and we're trying to heal it," he said.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

For ranchers, SW drought means cuts in herd sizes

From the rolling hills lying along the Sonoita highway, rancher Mac Donaldson says drought and climate change have slashed his cattle herd.

Across Arizona, the drought has touched dozens of public-lands ranchers such as Donaldson in the past decade.

On federal Bureau of Land Management land, the number of cattle has dropped nearly 38 percent statewide since 1998, to about 242,000 animals run monthly.
On Forest Service land, the number of cows for which ranchers paid grazing permit fees dropped nearly 32 percent statewide from 2000 to 2007, to about 287,000 head run monthly.

The drought was a prime factor knocking down cattle numbers, the agencies' officials say. Another is turnover in the ranching business, in which a rancher sells his private land to a developer or speculator, and the rancher's accompanying public land grazing permit stays vacant for a time.

"People are holding these ranches in some cases as investments rather than businesses," says Rick Gerhart, a Coronado National Forest range planner.
For Donaldson, land that used to produce 800 pounds of forage per acre now produces 400 pounds per acre. He now breaks even on his ranching where he used to earn money, he says.

Additional environmental rules have also forced down cattle herds, says Donaldson, who operates the Empire and Cienega allotments. He runs 1,000 head these days on 72,000 acres of federal land. His permit allows 1,500.

"In the old days before there was much scrutiny or regulation, people ran as much as they could," he said.

He personally believes that climate change underlies this drought, but not primarily the human-caused variety.

"I think nature is the 800-pound gorilla in this deal," says Donaldson, whose family has ranched this area 30 years.

"There's obviously a (weather) response to carbon emissions and tearing down the forests in Brazil," he continues. "But if you look at the planet, since we broke off from wherever we broke off from, molten rock, if you look at it from a geological perspective, we're seeing change. But I think it is much larger, bigger in scope, akin to the ice age."

Over in the oak woodlands west of Sonoita, rancher Richard Collins says the drought hasn't affected business yet but he expects it will — and he's preparing. Collins says his allotment got 20 inches of rain the past two summers.

Unlike Donaldson, he has little doubt that greenhouse gases are big factors in the current warm weather.

"The notion that is something new is really not true, although the degree of it might be. I think the people who are waking up to this are people who live in town and have to run their air conditioning more often," Collins says. "The people who run the land, we deal with it all the time — it's not something Al Gore showed us."
Ranchers to help with renewal of endangered species

08:42 PM MST on Monday, April 21, 2008

By Jim Edwards, Fox 11 News

The operators of two Cochise County ranches have agreed on a plan with the Fish and Wildlife Service to assist in the recovery of six endangered species on their land. The threatened species include the Beautiful Shiner, Chiricahua leopard frog, Yaqui catfish, Yaqui chub, Yaqui topminnow and the Huachuca water umbel aquatic plant.

The two ranches, the BarBoot and the 99 Bar Ranch, include over 24-thousand acres in the upper Leslie Canyon watershed downstream from the Coronado National Forest Boundary and upstream from the Leslie Canyon National Wildlife Refuge. The ranchers will work to enhance and maintain the watershed through improvements such as partial fencing, erosion control activities and other riparian and hydrologic improvements.

Comments on the draft agreement are being sought through June 10.

Go here (pdf) to view the Safe Harbor agreement.

Monday, April 21, 2008

It's up to the voters

The Arizona Republic
Apr. 21, 2008

State trust-land reform's wobbly legs have a few more steps to travel.

With hopes of a legislative compromise fading faster than wildflowers in May, the advocates of preserving Arizona's most pristine landscapes have concluded an initiative is the only way to achieve their goal. They're preparing to collect 300,000 signatures to put the issue before voters in November.

They're looking at something less ambitious than Proposition 106, which narrowly failed two years ago, but more generous than the compromise bogged down in the Legislature. Let's hope they learned from past mistakes.

The first look is promising. This initiative is more narrowly tailored than the past attempt.

About 570,000 acres, including 5,000 acres in Scottsdale, would be set aside for immediate conservation. That's 120,000 fewer acres than in the 2006 initiative, but the land is spread into more places, including rapidly developing Pinal County, which should widen the initiative's appeal.

The proposal responds to critics in significant ways. Land set aside for conservation would remain in the state's hands rather than being given to cities or counties. Existing grazing leases would be honored, a provision that acknowledges the role ranchers played in defeating the previous effort.

As in the legislative compromise, communities would be able to buy land beyond the 570,000 acres at appraised value, without having to compete at auction against developers. The State Land Department would be able to keep a portion of auction proceeds to improve its planning and management of land.

It's a solid proposal, one that would end the uncertainty about whether some of the state's most gorgeous scenery will be paved over or saved for future generations. First, though, the proposal must win a majority of the vote.

Advocates two years ago made critical mistakes. The campaign focused on Phoenix and Tucson, ceding the rest of the state to the misinformation of the anti-preservation crowd. That's where they lost.

The wording in this initiative appears to recognize that error. It would set aside land for conservation across the state, near such places as Nogales, Douglas, Sierra Vista, Tombstone, Kingman, Lake Havasu City, Oracle, Winslow, Prescott and Wickenburg, as well as Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tucson and Flagstaff.

In the 2006 campaign, conservation advocates were slow and ineffective in responding to their opponents' charges. Home builders and ranchers more than likely will oppose the initiative again this year. Those who understand the value of trust-land reform need to be ready to respond.

Trust-land reform is vital. Preserving land for future generations is this generation's responsibility.

Just as important is giving the Land Department the tools to better manage the other 8.8 million acres of trust land. Some of the Valley's leapfrog development occurred because the department couldn't get trust land to market quickly enough.

The Legislature should have taken care of this. It failed. Now, it's up to Arizonans. The advocates of trust-land reform need to give them every reason to vote yes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Manager backs plan to let cattle graze in E. Idaho park

AMERICAN FALLS, Idaho (AP) -- The manager of a popular state park in eastern Idaho has proposed letting cattle graze there again, arguing it will make the park more like it was when it was a stop on the Oregon Trail by eliminating invasive plants and allowing native plants to return.

Kevin Lynott, manager of Massacre Rocks State Park, said cattle would churn up the ground while also fertilizing it, replicating the effect bison had before they were killed off more than a century ago.

"You can't do nothing," he said. "The land can't restore itself to a natural state without intervention. This was a grassland habitat, and a grassland habitat was here because of the natural tendencies that were here."

Ryan Walz, right of way supervisor for the Idaho Department of Transportation, opposes the plan.

"I was raised on a cattle ranch," he told the Idaho State Journal. "I can't imagine anyone wanting to go camping or hiking where there's been cattle."

The park is 10 miles west of American Falls on Interstate 86, and was named after skirmishes in August 1862 that left 10 pioneers and an unknown number of American Indians dead. There is debate over which tribe was involved.

The park was a stop on the Oregon Trail, and pioneers carved their names on some boulders in the park, including Register Rock. The park also contains about half a mile of wagon train ruts.

The boulders themselves were moved to the area by a giant flood about 14,500 years ago.

The park has a campground with electrical hookups, hot showers, and campfire programs during the summer.

Walz said allowing cattle in the park goes against why the park was created.

"The whole intent was to let the ground return to its natural state so travelers can get the idea of what pioneers saw when they first came through," Walz said. "The agreement (with the Idaho Parks Department) required they would manage it according to the intent for which it was purchased."

About 565 acres of the park is owned by the Parks Department, while the remaining 335 acres is owned by the Transportation Department and managed by the Parks Department under a scenic easement agreement.

The two agencies are meeting April 22 to discuss grazing cattle.

Lynott said the cattle grazing is in line with the park's mandate of maintaining the land like it was in pioneer days. He said nonnative species such as cheatgrass and knapweed have taken over much of the park, eliminating native perennials such as bunch grass.

That results in fires about every five years that burn up the accumulated nonnative plants, he said.

Lynott said the cattle would only be in the park during the fall and winter when few of the 70,000 to 100,000 annual visitors are in the park. He also said they would graze a small area intensively for a short time to get the desired result, and grazing wouldn't take place at campgrounds.

Lynott said he hasn't found any documentation that would prohibit grazing in the park. He said under the plan, if it goes forward, local ranchers would enter into contracts with the park to bring in cattle.
Proposed federal compensation for wolf kills

Montana Senator Jon Tester and Wyoming Senator John Barrasso are teaming up to help livestock owners whose animals are killed by wolves.

The Gray Wolf Livestock Loss Mitigation Act would create state trust funds to pay ranchers for those losses.

It would also allow federal grants for states to help lower the risk of wolf kills by improving fencing and grazing practices, using guard dogs, and other means.

The bi-partisan plan is in response to the federal government's decision in March to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act and turn over wolf management to Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

In 2007 wolves killed 75 head of cattle in Montana, up from 32 in 2006.

Sheep losses rose from 4 in 2006 to 27 in 2007.

In Wyoming it's estimated that wolves killed 100 adult cattle and 600 calves in 2007.

Sheep losses reached 100 ewes and 400 lambs last year.
Oberstar Offer To Narrow Clean Water Bill Fails To Sway Key Critics

Efforts by Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), the chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee to narrow his controversial bill defining the scope of the Clean Water Act (CWA) appear to have failed to win over the bill's Republican and conservative Democratic detractors.

At a marathon, 23-witness hearing on H.R. 2421 April 16, Oberstar agreed to narrow and clarify the types of waters and activities covered by the legislation, as recommended by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In his opening statement, Oberstar said he is open to making “adaptations” to the bill and invited Republicans and the witnesses to “offer constructive proposals.” The bill is “not an inflexible document but a starting point for discussion,” Oberstar said.

But chances for compromise between Oberstar and the bill's critics, including key committee Democrats, seem slim, and it remains unclear whether the T&I chairman still has enough votes to get the bill out of committee. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the T&I committee, appeared unmoved in his opposition to the bill. At the hearing, Rahall railed against the unintended consequences of adopting the bill, which would expand the law's scope to cover all waters not just “navigable waters.” Rep Rick Larson (D-WA) said in a written statement April 16 that the “consensus” that emerged from the hearing is that the law should remain focused on “navigable waters.”

The committee's ranking Republican, Rep. John Mica (R-FL), said the bill would be “disastrous” for land rights, agriculture and many facets of the economy.

However, Oberstar's willingness to alter the bill appears to have won over a number of other Democrats who previously opposed the bill. Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio (OR), John Salazar (CO) and Zach Space (OH), all of whom have previously raised concern over the bill, were amenable in the hearing to passing the bill given some clarification. And with alterations, two Republicans appeared willing to consider support for the bill. Rep. Thomas Petri (R-WI) asked advise for improving the legislation, and Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), while concerned about expanding the scope of the act, iterated her support for maintaining the integrity of the water act overall.

Oberstar's inability to win over the Democratic critics raises questions about the long-term prospects for the bill. John Pawlow, GOP counsel on the committee, said April 14 at a meeting of the National Water Resources Association that he has “serious doubts” Oberstar has the votes to move it out of committee, but that he may still “blindly plow ahead,” or “do some back room arm twisting.”

At the hearing, EPA water chief Ben Grumbles and Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works John Paul Woodley Jr. both expressed concern that the bill does not clearly define which activities would be exempt from jurisdiction, which could lead to additional litigation. They recommended clarifying the types of waterbodies covered and detailing the legislation's exemptions to match current regulatory exemptions, as to avoid confusion in congressional intent. Grumbles also made clear that he thinks it is a mistake to remove the term “navigable” from the water act -- a key tenant of the bill that Oberstar appeared unwilling to change.

The bill's backers say the legislation is needed to restore the integrity of the water act following recent Supreme Court decisions that muddied regulatory oversight for some marginal wetlands and other waters. But GOP and other critics are arguing that the bill would grant the federal government broad authority to regulate almost any waterbody and will do little to clarify current legal uncertainty about which waters fall under federal authority.

Grumbles, while resisting insistence that the bill would unravel 30 years of CWA precedence, said he thought it would likely expand the agency's jurisdiction, which could result in a spate of litigation. Oberstar repeatedly insisted that he does not want to expand the reach of the CWA to areas it previously did not cover.

Rep. John Boozman (R-AR), ranking member of T&I's water resources and environment subcommittee, asked Grumbles whether the removal of the word “navigable” from the CWA would result in inclusion of groundwater under CWA jurisdiction. Grumbles said, “I don't have a legal conclusion on that . . . [but] if the answer were yes, that would be a significant change in practice.”

Grumbles in his testimony also provided several other areas where the bill could be altered, including adding additional exclusions to the bill's savings clause, as well as clarifying the definition of the word “activities” to demonstrate types of waterbodies and not actions. Examples of exclusions that should be explicitly listed in the bill are “prior converted croplands” and waste treatment, activities that EPA rules currently exempt from regulation, he said. Oberstar said it was not his intent to leave out any currently practiced exclusions.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Settlement reached in rare butterfly case

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN Associated Press Writer
Article Launched: 04/15/2008

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—A settlement reached by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and environmentalists requires the agency to take the first step in determining whether a rare butterfly found only in southern New Mexico deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act.

WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity sued the federal government in January in federal court in Washington, D.C., to force the agency to make a decision on the Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly—which the federal government previously proposed as an endangered species.

The 2-inch butterfly exists only on about 2,000 acres in high-elevation meadows in the mountains near the Sacramento Mountain village of Cloudcroft. The groups contend the butterfly is being threatened by climate change, insecticides, development, off-roading and livestock grazing.

"There's a lot of stress that this butterfly faces despite the fact that it does occupy such a small corner of the earth," Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said Tuesday. "This butterfly is perched on the brink of extinction."

Under the settlement, the Fish and Wildlife Service has until late November to review a petition filed by the groups that seeks listing of the subspecies as either endangered or threatened, said Elizabeth Slown, a spokeswoman for the agency's regional office in Albuquerque.

If the agency determines the petition is valid, it will have until August 2009 to study the butterfly and decide whether it should be protected.

Noah Greenwald, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the settlement means the butterfly will get another chance at federal protection. The Fish and Wildlife Service in September 2001 had proposed listing the butterfly as endangered, but he said the agency never finalized that decision and withdrew it in December 2004.

The agency said at the time that threats were diminishing and the butterfly didn't need endangered species protection. But the groups renewed their push last summer after the Forest Service and the village of Cloudcroft approved plans to spray a chemical over thousands of acres to combat an infestation of looper caterpillars.

"Even though the Forest Service and the village backed off and agreed to spray later, it just really highlighted to us that this species is clearly imperiled and does need protection," Greenwald said.

Slown said the fact that the butterfly has been through the review process before will help biologists as they consider the groups' most recent petition.

The Sacramento Mountains checkerspot butterfly is one of many across the nation that are facing threats to their survival, said Scott Hoffman Black, executive director of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation in Portland, Ore. In fact, the group has 54 butterflies ranging from Oregon to North Dakota that are on its "red list."

Black admitted that butterflies are small and often overlooked, but he said the role they play in the ecosystem is much bigger than their size.

"Many of them pollinate plants, and without our pollinators—including butterflies and bees—we're not going to have all of the fruits on the plants that feed all of the birds and the mammals. They're really the backbone of these ecosystems," he said.

Black said one key to ensuring the survival of imperiled butterflies is cooperation with land managers, including federal agencies, local governments and private landowners.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Owyhee Canyonlands protections back before Congress
With Democrats in control, Crapo's bill could pass

Sen. Mike Crapo on Thursday introduced a new version of his bill to protect wilderness, wild rivers and ranchers in the Owyhee Canyonlands.

The bill includes new ways to compensate ranchers and removes provisions Senate Democrats had said would prevent them from supporting it. A hearing is scheduled for April 22.

"Without this hearing, we would not be able to move the Owyhee Initiative legislation this year," said Crapo, R-Idaho.

The original bill was first shaped by a panel of environmentalists, ranchers, outfitters, local officials, motorcyclists and snowmobilers brought together by Owyhee County commissioners. Crapo has been working with the county on the bill since 2002.

Republicans, who controlled Congress in 2006 when Crapo introduced the bill, held a hearing on it, but it went nowhere. The new bill was rewritten this year with help from Democrats - now in the majority - on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

"Finally, we have a bill I think that has real possibility of succeeding," said Fred Grant, the Owyhee County adviser who has championed the collaborative talks that led to the bill.

Grant, a longtime champion of ranchers' rights, acknowledged he had to make painful compromises to get Democrats on board. But he still thinks the bill is good for ranchers and Owyhee County. "I'm satisfied (that) the way this bill is now can make the Owyhee Initiative agreement work," he said.

The Owyhee Public Land Management Act of 2008 would still protect 517,000 acres of prime sagebrush habitat as wilderness, where motorized use is not allowed. It also would designate 315 miles of Wild and Scenic Rivers that run through the desolate area's deep, verdant canyons, which are carved into spires, benches and colorful chasms.

The bill would release more than 200,000 acres of wilderness study areas back to multiple-use management.

In addition, several thousand acres of public lands managed by the BLM would be traded for ranch lands adjacent to wilderness areas. The federal government would buy other lands outright.

Concerns about those proposed land transfers and acquisitions were, in part, what derailed the bill in 2006.

Katie Fite of Western Watersheds Project, who considers grazing on public lands destructive, said the land trades and sale were the worst part of a bad bill. "That is a terrible thing for the public and public lands, sage grouse, pygmy rabbits and everything," Fite said.

Like the 2006 version, the latest bill offers compensation for ranchers who would give up their rights to graze on the protected lands.


Crapo said a visit to Owyhee County last summer by the staffers for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee was critical to finding a way to make the bill work.

To win approval from the committee's Democrats, several provisions were changed to ensure they meet the requirements of the Federal Land Management and Policy Act of 1976. These provisions would:

Set up a science review center to examine grazing decisions. The scientific review will be done as a part of existing coordination with Owyhee County, instead of having a separate policy for evaluating grazing decisions made by the Bureau of Land Management.

Call for a trails and transportation plan for motorized users.

Approve the Shoshone-Paiute Tribe's plan to protect its cultural resources.

Overall the bill would cost taxpayers up to $12 million, mostly for buying ranch lands. Seven million dollars of fences, grazing rights, water rights and other parts of ranch estates would be paid for privately by environmental groups or foundations.

Crapo said he was confident he could get Congress to approve the funding. He said he has received a commitment from Republican Sen. Larry Craig to help get the money and move the bill through the Senate. Craig's support is important because the Senate won't move a wilderness bill forward without the support of both of the state's senators.

Craig has had a policy not to talk to the Idaho Statesman since his arrest in a Minneapolis airport became public in August. Will Hart, his press secretary, said Thursday the policy has not changed.

Craig Gehrke, Idaho representative of the Wilderness Society, a national environmental group that helped write the bill, said it is easier to support now.

"Our hard choices were made some time ago," Gehrke said.

Sandra Mitchell, executive director of the Idaho Snowmobile Association, who represented motorized users in the talks but later opposed the bill, said she had not seen the latest version.

Rocky Barker: 377-6484

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Open space district awards grazing lease for San Mateo property

By Lisa M. Krieger
Mercury News

Reversing a no-cow trend, the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is awarding a five-year grazing lease for its Tunitas Creek property to San Mateo Coastside rancher Doug Edwards.

This is the second grazing lease awarded by the district in the past year. Last December, a five-year grazing lease was awarded to rancher Vince Fontana for the former Big Dipper Ranch at Skyline Ridge Open Space Preserve.

The old paradigm was to kick cattle off property when acquired by conservation groups. Overgrazed, eroded and trampled pastures had alarmed the region's environmentalists. But further research brought a turnaround in thinking. Removing cattle from San Jose's Silver Creek Hills in the 1990s, for instance, led to depletion of wildflowers that are food for the endangered bay checkerspot butterfly.

Inspired by successful grazing on San Jose's Coyote Ridge, district managers seek to reduce wildfire risk in an area that is too big to mow and too dangerous to burn - and fend off the encroachment of forest.

The district's adoption of "conservation grazing" - the use of livestock to boost the diversity of native plants and animals, control the spread of invasive non-native plants and prevent fire - may eventually reintroduce cattle to 5,000 grassy acres in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Both Edwards and Fontana are longtime ranchers in the region.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Wilderness proposal brings back bad memories

By Dolly June Moore Young/For the Sun-News

It is time for me to say something about the Doña Ana wilderness proposal. I am a child of the '30s and '40s and I am a child of a family displaced for what was then thought to be the higher and better use of Doña Ana County land. My father, William E. Moore, had a little filling station and mining properties on the east side of the Organs and we were forced from those lands by the Army in 1951.

My family existed on those properties along with a herd of goats and a flock of turkeys. We had not been the original settlers. That had been my grandfather, William S. Moore, who had settled in the area prior to 1900. Our home was the sanctuary that a child could relate to as being "home." Years had made us part of the land. We were part of that community of scattered ranchers and miners. We all were "home."

When we were forced from the land, my memories of reactions are mixed. I think people of my parents' generation were less likely to express emotion. They were too close to earlier times when hardship was not just a memory. It was part of life itself. We left. We were not paid outright for the lands and possessions. As I remember, my father was paid an ongoing payment of $200 per year, and then it stopped. I don't remember when it stopped. I know little about the details because those details were not shared with us. My father, like most fathers of that era, was tight lipped. At the time the final events occurred I had left home to begin my own life. My folks eventually settled just north of Organ. I know it wasn't easy. They struggled. They existed on my mother's Gold Star Mother certificate payment from the loss of my older brother in the war and from odd jobs that my dad was able to get. They had no recourse. The government made the decision for them.

Today, the United States is again contemplating what is best for more Doña Ana lands. There are representatives among us who are doing the work that Congress will eventually decide upon, much like what was done when my family was moved off our land and from our home. The greater good is being contemplated again.

I have empathy for the ranchers who face this. From my own experience, it is a tragic occurrence of events that are not fully manifested for years, and, maybe never. What a tragedy the removal of people off the face of the Tularosa Basin was. Yes, there have been jobs that were created, but there is a loss that can never be quantified or expressed. It is every bit as egregious as anything any body of people has faced in the history of this country. There is a corollary, though. I retired from NMSU some years ago. I worked in the Animal Science Department, and I have thought about what was occurring in the Gila during the years of my professional life. We had kids in our department from that area and we generally were aware of the course of events of the ranchers and the wilderness. In contemplating my history and that of the Gila, I think there are stunning similarities. In both cases, the government unilaterally made lasting decisions that benefited the government and or those who had the authority or influence within or outside of the government to affect those decisions. There was never a single decision that was made that benefited an individual no matter what argument was made. He was minimized or made villainous.

If you rush forward in dealing with this Doña Ana wilderness issue with an agenda that is based on who is contributing to you, you will join a long list of your predecessors who forgot why they were elected. It is easy to join the throng and appear to do something special. It is harder to find the right answer that ". . . prevents misconstruction and abuse of its (your) powers ... (and) insure the beneficent ends of its (the Constitution's) institution; ..." Our families who were forced off those lands could never have prevailed in a popular vote of the decision concerning our demise. The people of the Gila couldn't either ... and the ranchers who face this can't either, but not in a single case was it, nor will it be, right or just. Do history a favor. Look at the draft legislation to make human existence part of the land designation. It would be a momentous occasion to consider ordinary citizens in a government action.

Dolly June Moore Young is a graduate of Las Cruces Union High School who has lived in Doña Ana County for most of her life.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Ranching for sage grouse

Star-Tribune staff writer

A light snow falls, dusting the sage brush with a coat of white. With cattle to feed and several heifers about to have their first calves, it's a typical busy day for Stacey Scott on the Eagle Ridge Ranch outside Casper.

During his lunch break he gazes out the window of his ranch house watching the falling snow swirl in the wind.

"It's a good sign," says the 60-year-old rancher who's hopeful that this winter's good precipitation may bring some relief from years of drought.

The Scott family has been ranching for more than 50 years on the Eagle Ridge Ranch near the North Platte River at Bessemer Bend and since the early 1970s on the Two-Bar Ranch at Bate's Hole.

The Two-Bar is one of the greatest strongholds of the West for the sage grouse, a bird that's in peril throughout much of its historic range. The birds and their strutting areas, called leks, are plentiful on the ranch's open spaces. Year after year they mate, nest and raise their young undisturbed on the Two-Bar.

Scott is an avid birdwatcher. Birding is in his blood. His father, Dr. Oliver Scott, founded the first Wyoming Audubon Society chapter in the 1950s. Like his father and brothers, Stacey Scott is a sage grouse enthusiast.

"They are just fascinating birds. They really should be the state emblem, not the bucking cowboy," he says. "They're so unique. What other bird gains weight during winter just eating sagebrush? They're just fascinating. I like all birds, but the sage grouse is just very special to me. To some extent they're a symbol of the health of the range."

As a rancher and bird expert he knows as well as anyone how the fates of the ranching industry and the sage grouse are linked. The failure of one could spell doom for the other.

"Ranchers can do an awful lot for the sage grouse. Probably the biggest thing they do is just provide the open space," Scott says. "About 75 percent of the sage grouse are on private lands. The best lands were homesteaded. Those are also the best lands for the sage grouse."

Saving sage grouse -- and preventing an Endangered Species Act listing for the bird -- may be up to ranchers like the Scott family who can provide the vast tracts of sagebrush habitat the birds need to survive.

Scott is chairman of the Bate's Hole/Shirley Basin Sage Grouse Working Group, one of several regional task forces in the state comprised of government representatives and private citizens who are trying to find ways to conserve habitat for the troubled species.

While sage grouse remain fairly numerous in Wyoming, the birds are growing dangerously scarce in surrounding states. The federal government is currently reviewing whether the greater sage grouse warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Sage grouse have been called the "spotted owl of the Interior West" for the fearful changes an endangered species listing could bring to energy and agricultural interests. A listing would require designating critical habitat across several states for the plump bird of the prairie that's known for its showy springtime courtship displays during the mating season. A federal listing could severely limit human activities in the birds' habitat, potentially impacting oil and gas drilling, urban development, recreation and ranching.

Sage grouse require several miles of relatively undisturbed habitat of sagebrush, nesting cover, leafy forbs and insects for their chicks to eat during their first few fragile weeks of life. The birds tend to disappear from areas where cities and roads are sprawling out and from lands that are fragmented by oil and gas developments.

A big part of saving the sage grouse rests on the shoulders of landowners who raise livestock on the huge ranches of Wyoming, Scott says. The open spaces they provide may be the last hope for the imperiled bird.

For every ranch that fails and is sold off to build subdivisions and "ranchettes," that's one more nail in the coffin for the sage grouse -- potential habitat that is lost forever.

No silver bullet

When the bald eagle was listed as an endangered species, authorities banned the pesticide DDT and the birds began to recover. There is no single approach like that known to science for recovering sage grouse, Scott says.

They're a complex bird and scientists are still figuring out what the best ways are to recover their habitat. The loss of sagebrush ecosystems is mostly to blame for the birds' demise. How to bring back the birds' habitat is up for debate.

"There are a lot of unknowns about the grouse. There's more to grouse than you might think," Scott says.

An Endangered Species Act listing would not only be disastrous for ranchers, it could also worsen matters for the species itself, he says.

An ESA listing could give the federal government sweeping powers to dictate what land users can and can't do in sage grouse habitat. The problem with that, Scott says, is that there is no real consensus among scientists and land managers on what's best for restoring the bird.

"If everybody did the same thing, what happens if we're wrong?"

For example, he says, a knee-jerk reaction among environmental groups is that livestock grazing is bad for sage grouse.

"Everybody has a theory but they don't have the data to back it up. Some people say grazing is why there's no sage grouse. I'll show you leks that have disappeared because there was no grazing."

On the Two-Bar Ranch, the Scotts have found that intense, short-term grazing actually helps the birds. The number of sage grouse are up on the ranch since they've begun a rotational grazing system, in which their livestock vigorously feed and trample a certain area for a few weeks a year. The activity stimulates the growth of forbs which attract insects that the birds' chicks need to eat for survival, he says.

Scott admits that there is no scientific data yet to prove rotational grazing always works, but as a rancher who's on the land day after day he's seen its success. The birds are flourishing on the Two-Bar.

"Anybody can shoot holes in the data. But the only places in the last 20 years that have had the most sage grouse in the country are on private lands on ranches in Evanston and Bate's Hole. Both have rotational grazing."

More grazing or less grazing, burning or not burning to restore sage brush, more grasses for nesting cover or more forbs for insects -- debates over what's best for sage grouse are seemingly endless. That's why now is not the time for an ESA listing, he says.

"Every ranch and situation may be different. More research is needed on what habitat the birds need and what land users can do. There's no one out there who has the right answer."

Searching for answers

The Shirley Basin/Bate's Hole Sage Grouse Working Group is one of several local groups in the state that provide funding for research and habitat-improvement projects for sage grouse.

"We have more sage grouse in Wyoming than any other state. We have more habitat than any other state. The answer is going to come from here," Scott says.

Instead of one sweeping approach, the kind an ESA listing could bring, "hundreds of little projects" are needed over several years to improve sage grouse habitat in the West and find definitive answers for what's best for the bird, he says.

"There's no silver bullet. Rangeland things take a very long time. It took 30 years to get the grouse down where they are now. It's going to take 30 years to bring them back."

Meanwhile years of drought, lagging beef prices and other pressures threaten the West's ranching industry as it struggles to survive. Ranchers must stay in business, Scott says, if the sage grouse is going to make it.

"The bottom line is keeping open spaces is more important than anything we can do. Putting in houses and roads you remove the sage grouse and that's permanent.

You've got to keep the open spaces."
A Decade After Reintroduction of the Wolf, Environmentalists, Ranchers Continue to Play Tug of War Over Program

By Rene Romo

Copyright © 2008 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Southern Bureau

LAS CRUCES— Ten years into a federal-led effort to reintroduce the endangered Mexican gray wolf into its former territory in the Southwest, the divide between the program's supporters and critics seems as wide as ever.
And the recovery effort has made fitful progress, at best, since March 29, 1998, when biologists opened three holding pens in the mountains of southeast Arizona and released the first 11 wolves into the wild.
Last month, the Albuquerque-based Wilderness Alliance and the Las Cruces-based Southwest Environmental Center, two groups supportive of the Mexican gray wolf recovery effort, sponsored trips to wolf country for groups of middle school and college students. They hoped to hear wolf howls, find paw prints or even catch a glimpse of one of the 23 wolves in New Mexico.
Meanwhile, the Reserve public school district, in response to concerns about the safety of children, has installed one, and plans to install several more, wolf-proof shelters to protect school kids at bus stops in rural Catron County after wolf-stalking scares.
The deep and often bitter divide between supporters and opponents of the wolf project is a big obstacle to its success, observers say.
"The conflict is real, and until we have either better federal leadership or better local leadership, the prospects for wolves are not going to improve greatly," said John Horning of Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, formerly Forest Guardians.
"And right now the prospects for wolf recovery are not great," Horning said.
"It's kind of depressing to read all these comments that things are going to hell in a handbasket," said Laura Schneberger, head of the Gila Livestock Growers Association and a staunch opponent of the wolf reintroduction effort.
"It's just not true," Schneberger said. "There are a lot of uncollared wolves out there."
As the wolf reintroduction program struggles into its second decade in the Southwest, environmentalists are pushing for more aggressive steps to expand the endangered species in the wild. Many residents continue to object to the program's presence in their backyards. And federal and state officials continue to manage a program, underwritten by the federal Endangered Species Act, that is as much hated by some as it is believed in by others.
Differing views
According to a 1996 environmental impact statement preceding the 1998 release of the wolves, the wolf population was expected to grow to 100 wolves by the end of 2006 in the 4.4 million-acre Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, which encompasses U.S. forests in southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico.
But the Mexican gray wolf count at the end of 2007 was 52 wolves— a 12-percent decline from the previous year. By January, the total shrank to 50 with the deaths of two pups in Arizona.
In southwest New Mexico, at last count, a total of 23 wolves remained in the Gila National Forest.
"Do we want to have the only lobo left in New Mexico be a bronze statue at UNM?" asked Wilderness Alliance spokesman Nathan Newcomer.
John Morgart, wolf recovery program coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said, "Obviously, we're disappointed" that the number of Mexican gray wolves in the wild declined from 2006 to 2007.
But Morgart also said, "By no stretch of the imagination has (the recovery program) failed. Biologically, the program has proven to be a huge success."
Morgart noted that wolves in the wild have mated and produced pups year after year.
John Oakleaf, the Alpine, Az.-based field projects coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that the entire breeding stock for the Mexican gray wolf was once down to seven wolves in captivity. Today, besides the 50 Mexican gray wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, there are about 350 in breeding facilities across the U.S.
Schneberger said federal officials have probably undercounted the wolves. But, in any case, the wolf population has reached the limit that can be supported by the recovery area, she said.
"The truth is, the population is pretty stable and is doing pretty good, despite all these removals," Schneberger said, referring to the removal of 22 wolves from the wild in 2007, mostly for preying on livestock.
Environmentalists contend the recovery effort has been hamstrung by overly restrictive protocols.
Among those requirements, they say, is the controversial Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) 13, which calls for the permanent removal from the wild of wolves tied to three cattle depredations in one year.
Since wolves were first reintroduced to Arizona in 1998, about 34 have been permanently removed from the wild, including 11 that were shot to death.
The number of breeding pairs in the wild declined from seven at the end of 2006 to four at the end of 2007.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said the program's management under the Bush administration will ensure "the second extinction of the Mexican wolf in the wild."
Better in the Rockies
If supporters of the Mexican gray wolf program want to imagine how the wolves' prospects might be under different circumstances, they need only look to the success of the reintroduction of gray wolves in the northern Rockies.
Since 41 wolves were introduced inside Yellowstone National Park over three years starting in 1995, the wolf population has grown to more than 1,500 in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Starting in 1998, 50 Mexican gray wolves were released into Arizona and New Mexico in the first three years of the recovery effort launched under the Endangered Species Act. Ten years after the program's start, the number of wolves in the wild is about the same.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials said there are critical differences between the wolf reintroduction programs in Yellowstone and the one on the Arizona-New Mexico border.
One crucial difference, Oakleaf said, is that wolves introduced in Yellowstone were captured wild in Canada and then relocated to the U.S.— "From wild to wild."
The first Mexican gray wolves released into the wild in the southwestern U.S. were born and raised in captivity, and the rate at which they successfully produce pups in the wild is less than half that of the wild-born wolves relocated to Yellowstone, Oakleaf said.
Wolves introduced in Yellowstone were not confined to the national park and were allowed to disperse. Wolves released in Arizona or New Mexico are captured if they stray outside the recovery area boundaries.
Morgart noted that the 2.2-million-acre Yellowstone National Park is devoid of cattle, like other nearby swaths of land in Idaho and Montana, so conflicts with ranchers are reduced.
In the Gila National Forest— where Mexican gray wolves on the New Mexico end of the recovery project roam— ranchers are authorized to graze roughly 25,000 head of cattle on 126 active grazing allotments.
Horning noted that cattle grazing in national forests of the Southwest goes on year-round, unlike the northern Rockies.
The Fish and Wildlife Service in February announced its plan to delist the northern Rockies gray wolf as an endangered species, leaving management of the population to Wyoming, Idaho and Montana effective as of March 28. But environmental groups, fearing wolf numbers will plummet under state control, are challenging the delisting in federal court.
A rough 2007
In the Arizona-New Mexico recovery area, cattle make up only a small percentage of the wolves' diet, which is primarily elk. In 2007, the 52 wolves were confirmed as the cause of 22 livestock depredations in the area.
Nonetheless, the mix of wolves and cattle has generated enormous political pressure on state and federal officials managing the wolf recovery program in Arizona and New Mexico.
Last year, that pressure increased, particularly in New Mexico's Catron County, where opposition has been fierce all along.
New Mexico ranchers sued unsuccessfully to halt the recovery program when it began. In July 2005, after a governor's task force was set up to try to address concerns of people opposed to the wolf recovery project, the Catron County Commission approved a list of "non-negotiable" items, including a halt to new wolf releases in New Mexico and the construction of fenced "wolf reserves."
In a paper titled "What is needed for acceptance and toleration of wolves as neighbors in New Mexico?" the plan called for relocating wolves into the fenced reserves "after one confirmed livestock or domestic animal attack or kill, or after one human encounter, regardless of where these attacks, kills or encounters occur."
Ranchers and Catron County officials say the wolves are taking a heavy toll on livestock, for which ranchers are not adequately compensated.
They also say wolves have attacked pets and horses and stalked hunters, people on horseback, and rural families, including children.
In February 2007, the Catron County commission passed an ordinance that would allow it to order the removal of wolves deemed habituated to humans— wolves that frequent residential areas and show no fear of humans.
Two environmental groups, including WildEarth Guardians, filed suit in federal court to void the wolf removal ordinance. A March 10 settlement conference with a federal magistrate in Albuquerque failed to yield an agreement between the two sides.
Last June, Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., sponsored an amendment that would have halted the use of federal funds for the continued operation of the Mexican wolf recovery program. The amendment was defeated, while Pearce warned, "... It's a matter of time until a wolf catches one of these children."
Supporters of the recovery program have pushed back against efforts to kill it.
In July, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson called on the program's managers to suspend SOP 13, which had led to the decision to kill an alpha female wolf for preying on livestock weeks after she whelped a litter of pups.
In December, Bruce Thompson, director of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, wrote the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to urge program rule changes, such as expanding the boundaries of the wolf recovery area and allowing initial releases of Mexican gray wolves into New Mexico, rather than just Arizona.
Rules governing the recovery program, Thompson wrote, contain "substantive shortcomings that impose hardships on the citizens of New Mexico, limit management flexibility, and result in unsustainable losses in the wolf population."
Kevin Bixby, director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces, said that finding common ground to help the wolf recovery effort succeed is difficult, but he is hopeful.
"I am absolutely confident that we can find a reasonable solution to wolf-livestock conflicts that is fair to both wolves and ranchers, but it's going to require that everybody is willing to compromise," Bixby said.
But Bixby made it clear that his side in dispute is unyielding on at least one point.
"The bottom line is we cannot allow the wolf to go extinct from the wild a second time," Bixby said. "That is non-negotiable."

Friday, April 4, 2008

New Mexico Federal Lands News

By Mike Casabonne

Congress has passed an extension to the current Farm Bill to allow more time for the House to come to agreement with the Administration on ag spending levels. Inaction on farm bill legislation is usually cause for great consternation in Midwestern farm states because commodity support programs for corn, wheat and soybeans are extremely important to their states’ economies. This year there is not as much concern because these three commodities are at record high prices. Agricultural publications all talk about record farm income, the improved financial health of the ag sector of the economy and what great times these are for farmers.

The livestock industry has had a pretty long run of good prices too but not like feed grains. Anyone who has had to buy feed this winter knows what grain prices have done to the cost of production of range livestock. Feed and fuel costs have skyrocketed over the last several months adding to increased operating expenses. These cost increases will also take a toll on feeder livestock prices and soak up a big part of the financial gains ranchers hoped to make from this period of good prices.

A major reason for this is the increased political influence of the global warming nuts even as they lose ground in the scientific community. Congress passed an energy bill that has dramatically increased the amount of feed grains that go to biofuel production especially corn for ethanol. Legislators could point to global warming and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as reasons for their misguided votes.

Eventually the global warming hoax will be debunked. Many scientists see evidence that the warming cycle is already over and we are entering a period of global cooling. This winter has been the coldest since 2001. Many if not most climate scientists never believed global temperature changes are significantly influenced by human activity anyway.

Even the environmentalist whacko’s now realize that turning the world’s feedgrains into ethanol is not good for anyone except Midwestern farmers and their congressional delegations. Some say there is a worldwide food crisis coming that will make the energy crisis seem insignificant. But the political and bureaucratic inertia behind the movement may take awhile to slow down. Meanwhile Al Gore admires his Nobel Prize on the mantle in his lavish home that uses 20 times more energy than yours or mine.

Northern wolves were slated for delisting the end of March. The states involved have wolf management plans in place. They mostly treat wolves as predator big game species and will allow hunting as with bears and cougars. The wolf lovers have promised to sue to keep the states from managing wolves. Meanwhile, livestock predations are on the rise. Hunters and outfitters complain that the increasing wolves are decimating moose, deer and elk populations.

Mexican wolves continue causing problems for western NM ranchers. A new documentary film has been released that chronicles the damage done to rural residents by the wolf program. DVD copies of “Undue Burden” may be purchased through a link on the Wolf Crossing website http://wolfcrossing.org/.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has been a big part of the problem with the wolf program. The Game Department has opposed dealing with problem wolves and has been responsible for some of the conflict between the program and local residents. Game Department Director Bruce Thompson was recently convicted of killing a deer on private land without permission and fined $500 and placed on 182 days of probation. Although anyone can make a mistake, which is what Director Thompson says happened, this is another example of the kind of leadership the Department has.

The National Landscape Conservation Act, HR 2016, has been introduced in the House by Representative Grijalva from Arizona. This piece of legislation would add special protection status to many places across the west. Areas to be included in the system include National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, National Scenic Trails, National Wild and Scenic Rivers, and any part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. New Mexico has several places that fit in these categories totaling almost 1.5 million acres.

This concept was proposed by the administration. Senator Bingaman is the original sponsor for the Senate version. Tom Udall and Heather Wilson are both cosponsors of the House bill. In Committee mark-up Steve Pearce offered amendments to protect grazing rights and other private property rights held by individuals in these areas. His amendments were voted down. This legislation will give the BLM the regulatory tools it needs to take a Wilderness Study Area for example and make its use as restrictive as a National Park. No more multiple use for these areas. If you don’t believe the BLM needs this kind of authority, let your legislators know.

One of the results of the mismanagement of forest lands has been increasingly severe fire seasons across the west. The effects have also been magnified by drought and the increased number of homes and other structures in and around forested land. Fire fighting costs are out of control and now take almost half the FS budget. Congressional Democrats want to establish a new fund outside the FS budget to handle catastrophic fire costs. Last year the FS and BLM overspent their fire budgets by almost $1 billion.

Montana fire officials want the FS to pay even more. They say that FS has refused to fight some fires because of cost or danger and left local departments to protect homes and other structures on some fires. They want the FS to pay for fires that are the result of its mismanagement. Mark Rey, USDA Undersecretary thinks that the states supporting roadless areas that make it harder to fight fires should pay the increased cost of firefighting in roadless forests. It would be so much easier and more cost-effective to manage forests so we don’t have so many of these catastrophic fires.

Frank Dubois has started a blog for the New Mexico Federal Lands Council. The blog has links to articles and information of interest to federal land ranchers. There are links to Forest Service and BLM manuals and handbooks that can be valuable to ranchers who need to know their rights and the limits on the authority of federal land managers in grazing decisions. The website is a great resource for federal land ranchers with a wealth of information that will make them better able to deal with federal land agencies as well as keep up with news that affects their business. The web address is http://nmflc.blogspot.com/. Frank also maintains The Westerner blog that tracks a wider range of issues that is also a great source of information. That address is http://thewesterner.blogspot.com/.

New Mexico’s weather has been split north to south this year. Northern NM has had heavier than normal snowpack but Southern NM is slipping back into drought. The current La Nina event is predicted to last through the summer and into the fall. Even during abnormally dry periods there can be occasional good rains. We can pray that will be the case. Until next time may God bless us all.
Authorities ask for help in finding those responsible for shooting windmills

April 4, 2008

Authorities are asking for help in finding the people responsible for $14,000 worth of damage to two windmills in Pawnee National Grassland.

The vandalism occurred when "irresponsible" shooters hit the two windmills that are used to power water tanks that aid cattle that graze on the land, according to a release. The incident, which occurred earlier this week, can carry a felony charge.

Those with information about the vandalism are encouraged to call (970) 498-2507.

Authorities with the Forest Service also are asking that residents adhere to the rules when shooting on public land.

The rules for this legal activity include the provisions that residents cannot cause property damage or shoot within 150 yards of a building, residence, campsite, recreation site or occupied area and cannot shoot across or on a Forest Development road or body of water. Those not following these rules can receive up to a $5,000 fine and/or up to six years in jail.
Rare mouse could affect grazing on Lincoln land

By Karl Anderson, Staff Writer
Alamogordo Daily News

Legislative protection for a species of mouse that prefers living in livestock enclosures or beaver habitat could have a significant impact on ranchers who graze their cattle on Lincoln National Forest lands.

The WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group, sent a letter to the Forest Service March 19, demanding that immediate steps be taken to prevent the

New Mexico meadow jumping mouse's extinction.

But the Forest Service said ranchers shouldn't get too worried just yet.

"We have been looking at this species for some time now, and it is on our sensitive species list," said Sacramento Ranger District Biologist Rene Guaderrama. "I don't feel it is going to affect any new grazing activity at this time."

The group alleges that cattle grazing, climate change, drought and beaver removal are the leading threats to the mouse.

Given the recent designation of the jumping mouse as a formal candidate for Endangered Species Act protection, WildEarth is calling on the Forest Service to review all of its current and future plans for potential impacts, particularly cattle grazing permits.

"This rare mouse is barely hanging on," said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for the group.

"The Forest Service needs to step up and protect the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse from cattle grazing on our public lands."

Rosmarino alleges the Forest Service is allowing streamside habitats to be grazed to the bone.

"This is pushing the jumping mouse to the brink of extinction," she said. "It is also harming the majority of Western wildlife, as 75 percent of the region's wildlife depend on streamside areas to survive."

This past December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse (Zapus hudsonius luteus) as a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act. It also listed threats to the species, which include habitat destruction due to grazing pressure, water use and management, highway reconstruction, development and recreation.

Fish and Wildlife said it believes the mouse is facing high-magnitude, imminent threats to its survival and therefore placed it in the highest priority category for Endangered Species Act protection.

Rosmarino said grazing must be adjusted on the Carson, Santa Fe and Lincoln national forests in order to prevent the jumping mouse's further decline.

The Guardians allege that grasses, the jumping mouse's principal food source and hiding cover, are currently managed for a target height that is eight times shorter than what the mouse needs.

"Plants average 33 inches in height where jumping mice have been found, while the Forest Service often allows cattle to graze plants down to a mere 4 inches," Rosmarino said.

But the Forest Service said that is not an accurate statement.

"Four inches is a range standard," Guaderrama said. "But that applies to uplands and key areas, which are typically located in meadows at least a quarter mile away from any water source. Those are not inclusive of riparian areas where the mouse prefers to live."

Where the mouse has been captured recently, Forest Service biologists have found the mean vertical cover to be 24.4 inches tall.

Other actions that WildEarth urged the Forest Service to take include limiting off-road vehicles.

In early April, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish released a draft recovery plan for the mouse, which specifies the need to protect jumping mouse habitat, including the use of fencing to exclude cattle from mouse habitat.

In addition, the state plan discusses how beavers can create suitable jumping mouse habitat, and how beaver removal poses a threat to the mouse.

Rosmarino said WildEarth Guardians encourages state involvement in efforts to save the mouse, but maintains that federal protection is the ultimate key.

"Federal protection is required, given the mouse's extreme imperilment and to ensure habitat protection and funding for mouse recovery," she said.

Guaderrama said there are areas in the Lincoln National Forest already closed off for riparian habitat enhancement that benefits the mouse.

"Most of these are areas that were previously used for grazing cattle," he said. "But that is not something new. I do not believe ranchers need to worry about any further areas affecting grazing any time in the near future."

Guaderrama said habitat requirements of the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse shows it is found in riparian areas with permanent running water and moist to wet soils, adjacent to tall and dense vegetation.

"The drought we have been in for the past 10 to 15 years has taken a toll on running water, which appears to have declined on the district here since 1988," he said.

The jumping mouse is a species the Forest Service analyzes for all projects.

"It has been on the Regional Foresters Region 3 Sensitive Species List for quite some time," Guaderrama said. "It was on the sensitive species list since 1999 and was also included on the 2007 sensitive species list."

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Group offers rancher compensation in Wyoming

A conservation group is hoping to entice more Wyoming stockgrowers to participate in its compensation program for livestock killed by wolves if stockgrowers undertake measures to help prevent conflicts between the two animals.

"Not all ranchers just want to kill a bunch of wolves," Suzanne Stone, regional representative of Defenders of Wildlife, said. "A lot of ranchers are working hard to make sure they can coexist with wolves. We want to help support those ranchers."

The compensation program will be similar to the one the Defenders of Wildlife administered before wolves in the Northern Rockies were removed from the federal endangered species list.

Since last week's delisting, Wyoming has taken over management of the wolves living within its borders.

Gray wolves in the extreme northwest of the state are now classified as trophy game animals, and they can be lawfully killed only with state approval. Wolves in the rest of the state can be shot on sight.

Under state law, ranchers inside the trophy game zone can now seek compensation for losses to wolves from the state Game and Fish Department. But no government compensation program is in place for ranchers outside the trophy area.

To be eligible for compensation under the post-delisting Defenders program, stockgrowers must try to employ nonlethal methods of avoiding conflicts with the canines, Stone said. Those include removing dead or dying animals from grazing areas in a timely manner, doing more range riding when possible and corralling the livestock at night when practical.

Jim Magagna, rancher and executive vice president of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, said even with the compensation program, many ranchers will still have more incentive to remove wolves that are attacking their livestock than to try to coexist with them.

But Truman Julian, a Kemmerer-area rancher and chairman of the Lincoln County predator management board, said he believes most ranchers outside the wolf trophy game zone will be interested in trying to work with compensation program.

"I think some ranchers will take Defenders up on this offer," Julian said. "I know I will."

As a general practice, he already employs all of the conflict-minimization actions that the Defenders of Wildlife organization asks ranchers to do.

"The problem is confirmation," Julian said. "You have to have them confirmed. Sometimes it's very hard, and then you only get a fraction of what you actually lose."

Julian said he believes Defenders of Wildlife is sincere in its desire to compensate wolf kills, but it is often impossible to get to the dead animals quickly enough to make the confirmations.

Since 1987, Defenders of Wildlife has paid out more than $1 million in livestock compensation to ranchers throughout the West. Wyoming stockgrowers have received more money over the years _ $331,642 _ than stockgrowers in any other state.
Cody rancher receives first ‘kill' permit

The Game and Fish Department has issued a wolf kill permit to a landowner near Cody inside the new wolf trophy game zone.

The agency will issue a similar permit to a rancher near Dubois.

“We have issued a lethal take permit to a landowner to take four wolves on the South Fork of the Shoshone River,” spokesman Eric Keszler said. “He's having trouble with wolves harassing his cattle.”

The second permit will be issued to a rancher near Dubois for two wolves in response to cattle depredation, Keszler said.

The state took control of management of the wolves on March 28 when the animal was removed from protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Inside the trophy game zone - with its borders running through Cody and Meeteetse and outside Dubois, Jackson and Pinedale - ranchers aren't allowed to kill a wolf on sight, but instead must enlist G&F's help or obtain take permits.

Outside that zone, wolves may be shot on sight by anyone with no limits.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New Mexico faces possibility of new wilderness designation

March 31, 2008

It is the first day of spring 2008 and New Mexico rancher Tom Mobley has yet to push a blade of sediment from the dry earthen stock pond on his Dona Ana County ranch.

“I started the request to clean this tank in October 2007 and I still don’t have the approval to do a thing,” he said, as he thumbed through a 16-page document he had received from the Las Cruces, NM, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office detailing the procedure he would have to follow upon receiving final approval for the work.

The tank that Mobley is worried about happens to be located in one of a number of Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) scattered across part of the 2,400,000 acres of Dona Ana County. Because the location is in the WSA, the allowance to clean it does not follow normal BLM procedures for maintenance of such structures. Mobley must wait for the process, which includes interested party comments, to conclude.

“This is one reason why ranching under wilderness designation in this country won’t work!” he concluded as he throws his hands up and heads out the door.

Miles south of Mobley’s ranch in the Potrillo Mountains, rancher Dudley Williams is out early checking windmills before the wind comes up.

“Can you imagine our dilemma trying to maintain these mills without having unrestricted access to them?” Dudley shakes his head. The Williams Ranch spreads over some 345 sections of country that runs nearly to the Mexican border on its southern extension. The ranch has over 95 miles of pipelines, 200 miles of fence, and 175 miles of roads. It also has a 150,000-acre WSA footprint overlaying it.

“It’d pretty much put me out of business,” Dudley had related several months earlier in a video produced by the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau that related the story that has the local community so up in arms and divided.

William’s comments refer to the proposed creation of over 300,000 acres of wilderness in this southern New Mexico county. Part of the proposal spans lands that were included in a record of decision signed by then Secretary of Interior Manuel Lujan in 1991 that recommended 181,110 acres within the county be studied for wilderness designation. A lot has changed since 1991.

Dona Ana County lies just north of El Paso, TX, in the southern end of New Mexico. It shares borders with Texas and the Mexican state of Chihuahua. It is characterized by Chihuahuan grasslands with rainfall averaging just less than nine inches annually. Las Cruces, NM, the county seat and second largest city in New Mexico, is the center of commerce and government. It has become a regional medical center. It is the site of New Mexico State University (NMSU). The largest collective employer is the federal government through the many and varied activities of the Department of Defense, NASA and many contractors and support businesses. It has also become much less affected by agriculture and the heritage of nearly 400 years of written history. Although there remain 65 BLM ranching permits and over 90,000 acres of farm land within the county, it is a town that has fewer and fewer ties to the land and its stewards. Like so many towns across the West, it has found itself in a trend of parallel universes of those who have pragmatic issues of continuing their existence in a natural competitive setting and those who live in a world of academia, of the environment, and of progressive politics. In short, it could be viewed as being ripe for a wilderness assault, and, in fact, it has become ground zero in the first strike of such an attempt on New Mexico’s southern border.

A group of Dona Ana County ranchers and loyal allies mobilized and formed a group they call People for Preserving Our Western Heritage (PFPOWH). Their effort is aimed at countering the efforts of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance (NMWA), which had positioned three paid staffers within the community, along with an extended organization that is tied to major environmental entities, for the purposes of securing their ideas of wilderness within the county. Initially, PFPOWH viewed its efforts as simple self preservation. Dona Ana County is within a two-hour drive from the Gila Wilderness, America’s first designated wilderness, and the wilderness model ranchers and others have grown to fear from first hand knowledge and experience.

In 1960, there were 24 active grazing allotments in the Gila Wilderness proper or directly adjacent to that wilderness core. By the late 1990s, the 12 core allotments had been fully destocked and the adjacent allotments had recorded cattle numbers reduced by a whopping 87 percent. There has not been a cow legally in the wilderness itself since the 1970s. An NMSU study had demonstrated that the reductions could not be tied to any drought or market indicator. Wilderness and the restrictive management thereof was the factor in the reduction of those cattle numbers. PFPOWH has reason to fear wilderness, as do many other groups and individuals who care about access and beneficial use of these areas and their resources.

By the time PFPOWH began to counter the onslaught, NMWA had made compelling and passionate pleas to all of the local governing bodies of the county and had met with Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and Pete Domenici, R-NM. They gained support and resolutions supporting wilderness from local governing bodies including the Village of Hatch Board of Trustees, the Las Cruces City Council, the Town of Mesilla Board of Trustees, the Sunland Park City Council, and the Dona Ana County Board of County Commissioners. Thinking that their efforts were truly an effort to minimize their losses, PFPOWH drafted a plan to deal with the most important aspect of the proposal, the Organ Mountains, with the hope that the remaining areas would be allowed to continue under multiple use management. They presented the plan to Congressman Steve Pearce, R-NM, and the first crack in the wilderness onslaught was at hand. Pearce rejected the plan and told them that he expected his constituents to fight for what they believed in, not what they thought they would have to accept! From that point, the attack broadened. The approach became more objective with the realization that the creation of wilderness in Dona Ana County could not stand on a passionate plea from either side for simply saving the land. It was an issue that had much broader ramifications that affect the well being of all the people in the community.

Several key letters came into the hands of the congressional delegations including a letter from Richard Hays, chief of Air Operations, United States Border Patrol (retired). Hays called attention to the difficulty of Border Patrol activities in designated wilderness areas already established on the Arizona border with Mexico. He also warned against the actions of the environmental groups following wilderness designation by suing the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Border Patrol for overflight in those areas. Another letter came from William L. Rice, deputy chief, United States Forest Service (USFS) (retired). Rice’s letter described what a nightmare wilderness administration had become for USFS, how it had altered the USFS budget in litigation and legal costs, and how it has driven a wedge between USFS and stakeholders. Two letters came from respected, retired NMSU administrators, Dr. Gerald Thomas and Dr. Bobby Rankin, who warned against the creation of wilderness in arid Dona Ana County lands from the standpoint of stewardship limitations. These letters collectively had impact that made it very clear to Domenici and Pearce that the rush to create wilderness needed additional input.

The National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers stepped into the fight in September 2007 and took the debate to a national level. In a guest column in the Las Cruces Sun News, the chairman of that organization, Ken Lundgren, made it known that the creation of wilderness along the Mexican border is not just a local issue. It is a national security issue.

“Our southern border is today more vulnerable to terrorist activities than at any other time in our national history. This is not the time to consider addiadditional designations as wilderness,” he wrote in a cover letter introducing his column. He also broke the silence on who was really pushing the effort from the environmental side of the issue in both Arizona and New Mexico.

“This effort to create a wilderness designation for a large portion of our southern border did not originate from citizens of New Mexico and Arizona. It originated from the NMWA and Sky Island Alliance,” he wrote in the column.

These points had impact within the community and leaders started reconsidering their actions. The village of Hatch, NM, and its mayoral and trustee leadership reconsidered its previous action and rescinded the resolution supporting wilderness creation. They replaced it with a strongly worded resolution calling for congressional leadership to support the concept of protecting lands, but within a different framework. That body very much recognized the homeland security pitfalls that border wilderness designation would create within their county.

Elephant Butte Irrigation District stepped up and created a similar resolution to consider their need and that of the community to access watershed areas that would be within the wilderness boundaries. Their point was that they intended to extend water and flood control structures and monitoring measures to extend their ability to manage their scarce water resources.

The board of the 800-member Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce debated the issues and came forth with the decision to not support the efforts of the wilderness movement, but the pragmatic needs of the community. They endorsed the efforts of PFPOWH.

But what about the greater, unifying issues of this debate? From the perspective of PFPOWH, the preservation of open space is a common theme both sides should agree upon. Wilderness itself is something both sides of the debate might also agree upon if the criteria were met for its designation and adherence to the original intent of the law. But, something else has occurred, too. The need for special protective measures for certain lands may not be best served by that designation. The federal wilderness designation has become much like the only tool a craftsman has in his pouch. He keeps carrying it around trying to find something that it fits. In Dona Ana County, it simply doesn’t fit by the standards set forth by the Wilderness Act of 1964. Dona Ana County and the West need a new tool that is more adaptive, considers heritage and local conditions, and elevates rather than diminishes the role of human stewardship and conservation.

In draft legislation presented to the New Mexico congressional delegations in December 2007, PFPOWH introduced the concept of Rangeland Preservation Area(s) (RPA). This designation would elevate similar protective measures as wilderness, but also allow local conditions to be honored and considered. For example, if open space is the only issue of the debate, the land can simply be withdrawn from disposal. As such, it can never be sold or traded. If local conditions make it necessary to protect against mining or mineral leasing activities, the lands can be withdrawn from the mining and mineral leasing laws. If, however, view shed is the primary issue and mining or mineral leasing remain vital to the economy of the area, RPA legislation can be written to accommodate those circumstances.

The RPA also recognizes that federal lands do have impact on the local economy. In Dona Ana County, the limited private lands against a backdrop of federal lands has contributed to spiraling land values. This has created conditions of high attrition of farming operations due to the sale of farm lands for development. A method to help mitigate that trend was factored into the discussion and included in the greater concept for issues specific to Dona Ana County.

For too long, there has been a need to realistically assess and pursue opportunities for enhancement of wildlife and rangeland health. The Dona Ana County RPA proposal was constructed so that this was included in the draft legislation. The opportunity to make substantive improvements in water, vegetation management, brush control, and other conditions that affect rangeland and wildlife health and which would not be possible in wilderness, are critical concerns.

Those who would argue that RPAs would not provide adequate protection need only to consider the measures taken to protect the Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico. It was hailed as a major achievement by environmental groups when the land gifted to the U.S. was subsequently withdrawn from disposal. U.S. Reps. Tom Udall, D-NM, Heather Wilson, R-NM, and Pearce, and Sens. Bingaman and Domenici supported the legislation and share that success. New Mexico’s delegation should recognize and embrace the protection that RPAs can similarly bring to Dona Ana County lands and lands across the West. The West needs a measure that recognizes the past as well as the future in land protective measures without isolating or putting any stakeholder at risk.

Sara Cox Hopkins ranches on what has become the focal point of the Dona Ana debate, the Organ Mountains. Perhaps it would be most simple to remove her, designate the Organs wilderness, and everybody go happily away. She represents, however, the heart of why this whole debate needs to be rerouted and modified. Hopkin’s grandparents came to New Mexico before 1900 and ranched in the Tularosa Basin. Like the other ranchers in that area, they were removed for the war effort during the 1940s with the establishment of what is now White Sands Missile Range. They had no alternative, and the voices of her family and others were simply lost in time and space. They were victims of a government that forgot that this country, which individuals finance and defend, is predicated on the rights of those same individuals. The Cox family has earned a right to be present on those mountains. They have perfected methods and an approach to stewardship of the lands that needs to be emulated and passed along. Their understanding of cattle and wildlife patterns and needs is as important as any archived university study.

The chairperson of PFPOWH, Tom Cooper, is on record saying that this group has no intention of pursuing any action that would threaten the existence or take anything from anybody. That fundamental attitude and logic has prompted nearly 700 businesses and organizations to step forward to join a coalition in support of this effort in Dona Ana County. What is even more important, though, is that this effort will not end in Dona Ana County. It is simply a stage that is being set that will determine the future management of similar lands across the West.

Open space, realistic needs for economic and population growth, prevention of unlawful use of off-highway vehicles, access to law enforcement and all segments of the public, perpetuation of historical ranching operations, allowances for water projects and flood control, rangeland health improvements, and a true fidelity to historical wilderness concepts and law have been cornerstones of the draft PFPOWH legislation, the Dona Ana County Planned Growth, Open Space and Rangeland Preservation Act.

In the case of Dona Ana County, though, the argument for border security probably trumps all other issues. It is a huge factor and the presence of large areas of land with only conditional access for Border Patrol should give pause to any sensible leader advocating border wilderness designation. Americans will obey the laws, but few expect drug runners and illegal traffickers to adhere to the same philosophical underpinnings. As Zack Taylor, National Association of Former Border Patrol Officers, asked recently on a national radio program, “Is any senator or congressman really willing to put his name on the line guaranteeing that wilderness on the border does not run the risk of increasing crime and violence and national security risks to the United States of America and the American people?” The Dona Ana County debate will eventually answer that question. For more information about the Dona Ana County Planned Growth, Open Space and Rangeland Preservation Act or PFPOWH, please visit the group’s Web site at www.peopleforwesternheritage.com. — Steve Wilmeth, People for Preserving Our Western Heritage