Thursday, December 23, 2010

Obama administration restores wilderness rules undone under Bush

DENVER (AP) — The Obama administration plans to reverse a Bush-era policy and make millions of undeveloped acres of land once again eligible for federal wilderness protection, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Thursday.

The agency will replace the 2003 policy adopted under former Interior Secretary Gale Norton. That policy — derided by some as the "No More Wilderness" policy — stated that new areas could not be recommended for wilderness protection by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and it opened millions of acres to potential commercial development.

That policy "frankly never should have happened and was wrong in the first place," Salazar said Thursday.

Environmental activists have been pushing for the Obama administration to restore protections for potential wilderness areas.

Salazar said the agency will review some 220 million acres of BLM land that's not currently under wilderness protection to see which should be given a new "Wild Lands" designation — a new first step for land awaiting a wilderness decision. Congress would decide whether those lands should be permanently protected, Salazar said.

Congressional Republicans pounced on the "Wild Lands" announcement as an attempt by the Obama administration to close land to development without congressional approval.

"This backdoor approach is intended to circumvent both the people who will be directly affected and Congress," said Washington Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican tapped to lead the House Natural Resources Committee when the GOP takes control of the House in January.

The Congressional Western Caucus, an all-Republican group, also blasted the decision. "This is little more than an early Christmas present to the far left extremists who oppose the multiple use of our nation's public lands," Utah Rep. Rob Bishop said in a statement.

BLM Director Bob Abbey said it hasn't been decided how many acres are expected to be designated as "Wild Lands" and whether those acres will be off-limits to motorized recreation or commercial development while under congressional review. It's also unclear whether there will be a time limit on how long acres can be managed as "Wild Lands" before a decision is made on their future.

The BLM has six months to submit a plan for those new wilderness evaluations.

These "Wild Lands" would be separate from Wilderness Study Areas that must be authorized by Congress. Wild Lands can be designated by the BLM after a public planning process and would be managed with protective measures detailed in a land use plan.

Ranchers, oil men and others have been suspicious of federal plans to lock up land in the West, worrying that taking the BLM land out of production would kill rural economies that rely on ranchers and the oil and gas business.

Their suspicions have been heightened since memos leaked in February revealed the Obama administration was considering 14 sites in nine states for possible presidential monument declarations.

That included 2.5 million acres of northeastern Montana prairie land proposed as a possible bison range, along with sites in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon and Washington.

The 2003 policy was an out-of-court deal struck between Norton and then-Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt to remove protections for some 2.6 million acres of public land in that state.

The policy allowed drilling, mining and other commercial uses on land under consideration as wilderness areas.

Salazar's reversal doesn't affect about 8.7 million acres already designated as wilderness areas.

Conservationists praised the reversal, though there has been grumbling that it took the Obama administration nearly two years to overturn the Bush-era policy.

"Washington D.C. always takes longer than you want, but we're glad we've gotten here," said Suzanne Jones, regional director for The Wilderness Society.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Court: Wolf data exempt from disclosure

Environmental groups are not entitled to specific locations of where wolves have killed cattle, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.

In a unanimous decision, the court said the specific data sought by the organizations is exempt from disclosure under the federal Freedom of Information Act. The judge said that means the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has the information, can keep it secret.

Thursday's ruling met with disappointment from members of the groups. They said the data is needed to provide crucial information they believe ultimately would help preserve Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

The wolf was reintroduced to eastern Arizona and western New Mexico in 1998. But efforts to preserve it in the wilderness often have run headlong into the concerns of ranchers when the animals prey on their cattle. What happens, according to Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, is that wolves which are linked to cattle deaths are relocated -- or shot. He said the last census at the beginning of this year found only 42 animals in the wild, a 19 percent decline from the prior year.

Much of that, the groups argued, is because of government action.

In 2007, for example, they said 19 wolves were removed from the wild. That, they said, left a year-end population of just 52 wolves and three breeding pairs anywhere in the world.

Eva Sargent, director of southwest programs for the Defenders of Wildlife, said the data sought would help her organization work with ranchers to prevent "depredation" of cattle by wolves.

For example, she said ranchers can put extra cowboys into the field.

"Wolves are generally discouraged by humans' presence," Sargent said. She said cattle can be moved away or electric fencing can be installed.

And Sargent said there even is a way to have alarms go off when a wolf with a radio tracking collar approaches the fence to scare the animal off.

"In order to know where to center those programs, we need to know where hot spots of depredation are," Sargent said. "And they usually are hot spots, a particular ranch, a particular area."

Matt Kenna, the attorney who represented the environmental groups, said there are other uses for the information.

He pointed out that most of the losses to ranchers occurs on leased public lands and not on private property.

"When the renewals came up, or even before then, we could provide public comment on them," Kenna said. He said that could include requiring ranchers to modify their operations to reduce wolf attacks -- or even proposing that certain lands be off limits to cattle grazing.

The program run by Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, works with ranchers and others to remove or capture wolves that are causing problems.

The environmental groups sued for the specific locations, saying these federal programs are the "largest factor limiting population growth" among the wolves.

In 2006 they filed a public records request for details of the wolf-removal program. What was not released was the specific location of the removals as computed by global positioning system coordinates.

U.S. District Court Judge John Roll ruled in Tucson last year the groups were entitled to the information. But the appellate court said that conclusion was wrong.

Judge Pamela Rymer, writing for the court, judges said the Freedom of Information Act says the making information public has an exception for data that is specifically exempt from disclosure in other statutes.

And in this case, she noted, the USDA is prohibited from releasing "geospatial information" it maintains about agricultural operations.

Rymer said "agricultural operations" include livestock. The wolf-removal program falls under that, the judge said, because the information concerns "depredations that limit the ranchers' livestock production."

And Rymer said the fact that many of these sites are on public grazing lands leased by ranchers, rather than on their private property, does not change that exemption.

Monday, November 29, 2010

CALL TO ACTION: Lame duck omnibus public lands bill

Rumors are buzzing about a possible last-minute lame duck vote on an omnibus public lands bill. Last week, PLC, ASI, NCBA, and other livestock affiliates sent a letter to Interior Secretary Salazar, after his recent promise to push for an omnibus public lands bill and full funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in the lame duck session. Today, we have sent two similar letters to congressional leadership: one addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner (cc’d are House Natural Resources Committee Members Rahall, Hastings, Grijalva, and Bishop), and the other addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (cc’d are Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Members Bingaman, Murkowski, Wyden, and Barrasso.)

We ask that you contact your senators and representatives, requesting that they oppose an omnibus public lands bill and full funding to the LWCF. As you know, both could add land to the special land designations portfolio with inadequate congressional deliberation and local stakeholder input. For more information on the potential omnibus bill, see the attached letters and this editorial by Andy Rieber from Western Livestock Journal. For more on the LWCF, also see the letters and this LINK).

Also attached is a list of candidate bills for the potential omnibus lands bill. While the list may not be comprehensive, it includes nearly 260,000 acres of proposed wilderness areas across the west. A few examples:

·         Arizona’s Tumacacori Highlands (84,000 acres)
·         California’s Fort Irwin, Cady, and Soda Mountain areas (346,000 acres)
·         Colorado’s San Juan Mountains (33,000 acres)
·         Oregon’s lower John Day River (16,000 acres)
·         New Mexico’s Dona Ana County

Other states with pending wilderness legislation include Idaho, Michigan, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia.

Also up for consideration is a bill that could designate a 110,000 acre National Conservation Area in New Mexico’s Organ / Dona Ana Mountains.

Note also the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, which was mentioned in the BLM’s “Treasured Landscapes” leaked document for the purpose of federal land acquisition. Other bills mentioned in the leaked document also appear to be up for consideration in a possible omnibus bill. Please review the bills and contact your legislators accordingly.


Theodora Dowling
Manager of Legislative Affairs
Public Lands Council/National Cattlemen's Beef Association
(202) 879-9135

NM Bills Favorably Reported from Committee


Cibola National Forest Expansion (H.R. 5388) On May 25, 2010, Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) introduced legislation to expand the Cibola National Forest. The bill will add the Crest of Montezuma to the north end of the Cibola National Forest and expand the existing Manzano Wilderness in the south end of the forest by aproximately 900 acres. The bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM). The House Natural Resources Committee approved this bill on July 22, 2010.

S. 84 – El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act (Bingaman D-NM). To establish El Rio Grande Del Norte National Conservation Area in the State of New Mexico. It would designate as the Rio Grande del Norte National Conservation Area approximately 235,980 acres of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management in northern New Mexico, including two wilderness areas—the 8,000-acre Rio San Antonio Wilderness, currently administered as a Wilderness Study Area, and the 13,420-acre Cerro del Yuta Wilderness. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in an open business session on December 16, 2009, by voice vote of a quorum present, recommends that the Senate pass S. 874, if amended (Calendar No. 285). CBO estimates that implementing the bill would have no significant effect on the cost of administering the area. We further estimate that any costs to update the management plan for the property or modify existing maps and other materials would be minimal. Finally, because the affected land currently produces no income (and is not expected to do so in the future), CBO estimates that enacting the bill would not affect revenues or direct spending.

S. 1689 – Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act (Bingaman D-NM). The purpose of S. 1689 is to establish the 84,950-acre Organ Mountains National Conservation Area, the 75,550-acre Desert Peaks National Conservation Area, and to designate approximately 241,400 acres of public land in the State of New Mexico administered by the Bureau of Land Management as wilderness. The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in an open business session on July 21, 2010, by voice vote of a quorum present, recommends that the Senate pass S. 1689, as amended (Calendar No. 596). NOTE – NO REPUBLICAN VOTE FOR OR WAS PRESENT AT THIS MARK UP. The Business Meeting was scheduled despite protests of the Ranking Member. CBO estimates that any increase in federal costs to manage those lands would not exceed $500,000 in any year. S. 1689 could reduce offsetting receipts because it would no longer allow certain lands to be disposed of or leased. Therefore pay-as-you-go procedures apply to the legislation. However, based on information from BLM, CBO estimates that any reduction in offsetting receipts would be negligible over the 2010-2020 period.

S. 3452 – Valles Caldera National Preserve Management Act (Bingaman D-NM). S. 3452 would transfer administrative jurisdiction of the Valles Caldera Preserve in New Mexico from the Forest Service to the National Park Service (NPS). The Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, in open business session on July 21, 2010, by a voice vote of a quorum present, recommends that the Senate pass S. 3452, as amended (Calendar No. 604). NOTE – NO REPUBLICAN VOTE FOR OR WAS PRESENT AT THIS MARK UP. S. 3452 would increase discretionary spending by $16 million over the 2011-2015 period and by $16 million over the following five years. Enacting the legislation would not affect revenues and would have no net effect on direct spending; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.

Livestock Industry Opposes Lame Duck Omnibus Public Lands Bill

November 29, 2010
The Honorable Harry Reid
522 Hart Senate Office Bldg Washington, D.C. 20510

The Honorable Mitch McConnell
361-A Russell Senate Office Bldg
Washington, D.C. 20510

Re: Omnibus Public Lands Bill and Land & Water Conservation Fund

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

    The undersigned livestock groups are concerned with statements from the administration supporting both an omnibus public lands measure and legislation to increase funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Both measures could threaten the livelihoods of livestock producers during a nationwide economic recession. During these final days of the 111th U.S. Congress, we ask that you approach these matters using congressional oversight to promote limited federal spending, continued use of our natural resources, and local input in the decision-making process.
    We cannot support an omnibus lands bill, which could restrict access to millions of acres of federal land across the west by creating new land designations such as wilderness areas and National Conservation Areas. Although reports vary as to the number of bills that would be included (we have heard between 60 and 120 separate bills), multiple-use on those lands could be threatened. Livestock grazing, oil and gas leasing, logging, mining, and other business activities important to rural economies would be jeopardized. Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars would be spent administering the sweeping new special land designations, year after year.
    Similarly, increasing funding to the LWCF will not only add to the national debt, but could harm productivity on our federal lands as well. Between 1965 and 2002, the LWCF—even without full funding and with the requirement of authorization from Congress for every expenditure—put $8.7 billon toward federal acquisition and “conservation” of 4.5 million acres of land. It also gave around $3.5 billion to state and local projects to set aside another 2.3 million acres. We are wary of the proposal to increase funding to the LWCF by $5 billion through year 2016, while removing the requirement of congressional approval on expenditures. Such a proposal could well pave the way for federal land agencies to acquire productive private acres without local stakeholder involvement, and to make special designations on public lands without local grassroots involvement. We believe it is critical that the local stakeholders remain part of the process of land sales and potential land use designations. The federal government owns and struggles to manage nearly 650 million acres of land—almost 30% of our nation’s land area. Our country can ill afford the added costs of LWCF acquisitions, not to mention the removal of more natural resources from productive use in the rural west.
    While we may not know how many bills would be included in an omnibus measure, this we know with certainty: every public land bill is unique and deserves thoughtful congressional deliberation and local input. While some bills may have the support of local stakeholders, others could be damaging and restrictive to the people who live adjacent to and work on that land. Furthermore, although we cannot know which or how many acres the LWCF would set aside, the citizens who comprise our rural western economies and who count on the natural resources on federal lands should be given a voice in these special designation decisions. Increasing federal spending, heightening restrictions and regulations, and bundling together and forcing through Congress masses of federal lands bills are not legislative actions we deem appropriate or necessary.
    Wise, beneficial use of our public lands’ natural resources is a means of improving the lives of not only the families of the rural west, but of people across the nation and world. We appreciate your consideration of our desire to give voice to our hardworking rural citizens and ensure their continued ability to add value through responsible productivity on public lands.

American Sheep Industry Association
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Public Lands Council
Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association
California Cattlemen’s Association
California Wool Growers Association
Colorado Cattlemen’s Association
Colorado Public Lands Council
Idaho Cattle Association
Montana Stockgrowers Association
Montana Public Lands Council
Montana Association of State Grazing Districts
Nevada Cattlemen’s Association
Oregon Cattlemen’s Association
South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association
Utah Cattlemen’s Association
Washington Cattlemen’s Association
Wyoming Stock Growers Association
Cc: Senator Bingaman, Senator Murkowski, Senator Wyden, Senator Barrasso

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Outlook Dim for Lame-Duck Omnibus Lands Package

Washington - by Phil Taylor, E&E reporter

Congress may lose its best chance to pass a suite of public lands proposals that would protect more than 2 million acres of federal lands as wilderness if it fails to move an omnibus measure in the lame-duck session, conservation groups say.

But while a key Senate lawmaker last week said he was bundling several dozen public lands bills into a draft package, Democratic leadership is mum about whether such a measure could move amid a crowded Senate schedule of higher-profile issues including a continuing resolution, tax extensions and other measures.

"It is on a list of items that are possible for consideration during the lame duck," Regan LaChapelle, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said of a draft public lands proposal by New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D). "We have a long list of items that are possible and not much time to do so."

Reid is speaking with fellow Democrats and Republicans, House leaders and the Obama administration to decide what is possible over the coming weeks, LaChapelle said.

The proposal by Bingaman, who is chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, would include most of the 60-plus public lands bills his panel has passed in the 111th Congress, and none that have failed to pass, said spokesman Bill Wicker.
ALW Steve Boutcher
A proposal to add 22,000 acres of wilderness to Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and extend the Pratt River and Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River wild and scenic rivers is likely included in a draft public lands omnibus package seeking passage in the Senate. Photo courtesy of USFS/Steve Boutcher.

Bills that have passed the committee include a proposal to designate the Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico as a unit of the National Park System, a proposal to turn the Devil's Staircase in Oregon into federally protected wilderness where logging and road development would be banned, and a bill to expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in Washington and extend the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and Pratt River wild and scenic rivers.

Other bills would create new national parks, monuments, wilderness areas and wildlife sanctuaries.

"We really don't know what the prospects for a public lands bill are likely to be," said Wicker, adding that Bingaman would be talking with leadership and committee Republicans before making a decision on how to move forward. A final decision on a package could come anytime before the end of the session, Wicker said.

"Certainly the chairman would like to see all of those bills succeed," he said.

Wicker said the bill would likely be roughly one-third the size of a 2009 public lands omnibus that designated 2.1 million acres of new wilderness areas in nine states, an amount nearly equal to all the wilderness designated under the George W. Bush administration.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who voted for an earlier version of the 2009 proposal as a Democratic senator from Colorado, lauded the 2009 measure this week for formally recognizing the National Landscape Conservation System and adding 1 million acres to it (see related story).

At a summit in Las Vegas on Monday to sign an order elevating NLCS to the level of directorate, Salazar said he had to return to Washington to discuss the omnibus proposal, according to sources who attended the summit.

"He mentioned he'd like to stay. However, he needed to get back to Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings to work on an omnibus bill," said Greg Mumm, executive director of the BlueRibbon Coalition, an Idaho-based group that promotes access for off-highway vehicle users and often opposes wilderness bills.

Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff did not confirm whether Salazar had met with Senate leadership to discuss the proposal, but said the secretary felt it was important for Interior to "serve as wise stewards of the places that matter most to Americans."

"Although we don't know at this point what specifically would be in such a package, the department and its agencies have testified in support of many measures that could be included," Barkoff said.
Some bills miss the cut

While many of the public lands bills that have passed the ENR Committee contain small-scale land swaps, boundary adjustments and trail revisions, others include sizable wilderness designations and important land and lease transfers that would either facilitate or prohibit mineral development.

Bingaman's "Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Wilderness Act," S. 1689, which was passed by the committee in the summer, would protect 270,000 acres of wilderness and 110,000 acres as a national conservation area.

Omnibus prospects are dim, however, for other large public lands bills that failed to pass the committee.

Montana Sen. Jon Tester's (D) "Forest Jobs and Recreation Act," which coupled about 680,000 acres of wilderness with a pioneering mandate to mechanically treat 100,000 acres of timber over the next 15 years failed to pass the committee, despite the support of the Obama administration (Land Letter, Oct. 21).

Aaron Murphy, a spokesman for Tester, said the senator would be exploring all legislative options for passing the bill during the lame-duck session.

Also stalled in the committee is Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson's (R) "Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act," which was blocked from a committee vote by one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) (Land Letter, Sept. 30).

"CIEDRA is still a top priority for Congressman Simpson," said spokeswoman Nikki Watts. "But right now they've got a whole lot of budgetary issues they're facing."

By sticking only to measures that have passed the Senate committee, some House proposals would also miss the cut, such as Rep. Jared Polis' (D-Colo.) "Eagle and Summit County Wilderness Preservation Act" in central Colorado, which includes portions of a 342,000-acre "Hidden Gems" wilderness proposal (Land Letter, Nov. 11).

"We have a chairman and ranking member who are very respectful of committee process," said Wicker, referring to Bingaman and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Accepting bills into the package that have not passed the committee is "not a 'Pandora's Box' we care to open," he said.
A bipartisan issue?

Some wilderness advocates have stressed the need to pass public lands protections before House committees fall into the hands of Republicans, some of whom have openly criticized such bills.

"Elections matter for our public lands," said Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance executive director Scott Groene in an e-mail alert the day after the mid-term elections, according to National Parks Traveler. "Last night brought enormous change for the worse. Wilderness may be a bipartisan issue, although it fares better under one party and that party was crushed."

Indeed, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), the likely successor to chair the House Natural Resources Committee, has said he dislikes omnibus measures, preferring instead to consider individual bills on their own merits.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who is likely to lead the panel's National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee, told Land Letter that omnibus measures have succeeded in masking bad bills among good ones and sneaking by substantive policy changes.

"Having an omnibus at all means the process failed," said Bishop, who criticized the 2009 measure for formally recognizing the NLCS, which includes 16 national monuments, 21 national conservation areas, 221 wilderness areas, 545 wilderness study areas, 2,419 miles of wild and scenic rivers and 6,000 miles of national scenic and historic trails.

The system, Bishop said, "still is a redundancy."

But Paul Spitler, national wilderness campaigns associate director for the Wilderness Society, said public lands bills have successfully garnered bipartisan support regardless of which party controls Congress.

The Senate ENR Committee and others have approved 120 bills this session that affect land, water and wildlife in 30 states, he said. Many of them are bipartisan and 28 are authored by Republicans, he said. And, Spitler noted, the last time Republicans controlled the House, Congress approved 1.8 million acres of new wilderness.

"Wilderness has historically been a very bipartisan issue, it remains a bipartisan issue today," he said, adding that the 2009 omnibus package passed the Senate with 20 Republican votes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Secretary Salazar Establishes New Directorate For National Landscape Conservation System

Elevated management focus for 27 million acres of nationally significant public lands


Contact: Kendra Barkoff, DOI (202) 208-6416

LAS VEGAS, NV – Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today issued a Secretarial Order elevating the Office of the National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to the level of a directorate within BLM.

“This action reflects the growing importance of the 27-million acre National Landscape Conservation System to local economies, to the health of communities, and to the conservation of some of America’s greatest landscapes,” Salazar said at the National Landscape Conservation System Summit in Las Vegas. “The BLM plays a special role in protecting America’s great outdoors for the benefit of all Americans – for it is the national conservation lands that contain the forests and canyons that families love to explore, the backcountry where children learn to hunt and fish, and the places that tell the story of our history and our cultures. Each of these places within the National Landscape Conservation System holds special meaning to the American people and is an engine for jobs and economic growth in local communities.”

This National Landscape Conservation System was established as an integral part of the Bureau of Land Management by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, a bipartisan initiative that responded to the critical need, as the population of the West increases, to conserve open spaces that are a unique part of America’s heritage. As an integral part of the BLM’s multiple-use mission, conservation is a long-term investment that provides quality of life and economic benefits for current and future generations.

The system contains many of our Nation’s most treasured landscapes, including scientific, historic and cultural resources, wilderness and wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, national monuments, national conservation areas, and scenic and historic trails, among others.

These lands are managed as an integral part of the larger landscape, in collaboration with the neighboring landowners and surrounding communities. The management objectives are to maintain biodiversity and promote ecological connectivity and resilience in the face of climate change. When consistent with the values for which they were designated, lands in the system may allow appropriate multiple uses, such as grazing, energy development and tourism.

Managers of the system recognize the importance of a diversity of viewpoints when considering management options. These nationally important landscapes are managed from an interdisciplinary perspective, drawing upon the expertise of specialists throughout the BLM, and in coordination with the tribes, other Federal, state, and local government agencies, interested local landowners, adjacent communities, and other public and private interests.

The directorate will be called the National Landscape Conservation System and Community Partnerships. The Assistant Secretary – Land and Minerals Management is responsible for ensuring implementation of this Order within 120 days. This responsibility may be delegated, as appropriate.

The signing of the Secretarial Order followed Salazar’s remarks to a summit of the National Landscape Conservation System, attended by several hundred BLM officials and employees as well as non-government stakeholders and state and local representatives.

The Secretarial Order is available HERE.
The Secretary’s remarks are available HERE.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Oklahoma vs. the West

The biggest piece of environmental legislation in decades -- the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 -- might have been "of 2008," or been passed in various forms even earlier, were it not for Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn.

The Omnibus Act bundled 164 conservation efforts into a massive package that designated 2 million acres of new wilderness and increased the wild and scenic river system by 50 percent. It helped enable buyouts of oil and gas leases in Wyoming's Bridger-Teton National Forest and ratified wilderness deals that were negotiated on the ground in Idaho's Owyhee County and Utah's Washington County. Many Western environmentalists, ranchers, county officials and other stakeholders were involved in creating the Omnibus.

But the act itself can be blamed on Coburn, which is why it's known around Capitol Hill as "Tomnibus." "What he did was put holds on virtually every bill that came out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee," says Paul Spitler, a high-ranking Wilderness Society staffer based in Washington, D.C. Coburn blocked so many individual bills in 2008 that supporters decided to lump them together into the omnibus package in early 2009, hoping to pass all 164 measures at once. They succeeded, but not without a fight.

At Coburn's insistence, the Omnibus Act was "read (on the Senate floor) until the wee hours of the morning, which dragged out the timeline for an extra day," says Spitler. "And at that point, he said, ‘OK, you guys can go home now.' "

Coburn again drew the ire of Western environmentalists in September, by holding up passage of five popular wildlife-protection bills, one of which -- the Crane Conservation Act -- was sponsored by a fellow Republican, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo. Oregon's Sen. Jeff Merkley, California's Sen. Barbara Boxer and Washington's Sen. Maria Cantwell -- all Western Democrats -- were also among the five bills' sponsors. Probably the most popular one would have banned the "animal crush videos" that Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the United States, describes as "the vile depictions of staged scenes in which scantily clad women maim and torture animals for the sexual gratification of viewers." Coburn said those bills were a distraction at a time when the Senate should be addressing the deficit.

"One can understand Sen. Coburn's interest in fiscal restraint," Pacelle wrote in his Humane Society blog. "But in his case, it is an obsession, and it borders on a mania."

Stories like this justify Coburn's nickname, which plays off his medical degree and the name of the villain in an old James Bond movie: "Dr. No." And "No" might as well be the middle name of Oklahoma's other ultraconservative senator, James Mountain Inhofe. Both have used their Senate tenures largely for one purpose: Obstruction. They're effective advocates for the causes they believe in, slowing or stopping legislation and regulations they oppose. They've also attracted national attention by taking contrarian, often-controversial stances, and by giving a prominent voice to beliefs that are far out of the mainstream. They help give extremism credibility.

Inhofe has spent much of his career working to undermine or totally dismantle environmental protections. As chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee from 2003 to early 2007, he often held hearings that were more like kangaroo courts. In one 2003 hearing on climate change, he pitted two climate-change deniers against one scientist representing the mainstream view. That summer he held a similarly biased hearing on mercury pollution: A lone voice expressed the majority view that mercury is toxic and regulations are needed on the power plants that release 48 tons of airborne mercury every year, while two experts testified in favor of the opposite view. The Bush administration subsequently moved to dramatically weaken Clinton-era mercury regulations, a rollback later defeated in federal court.

Inhofe also opposes efforts to protect polar bears by limiting the carbon emissions that cause climate change, denouncing them as "an attack on our economy and our energy security." As a leading climate-change denier, he's worked to block any significant action on the problem, including the environmentalists' best hope -- the cap-and-trade bill that died earlier this year -- even as climate change threatens the West, contributing to drought, a forest beetle crisis and record-breaking wildfires.

Inhofe saves some of his hottest rage for the Environmental Protection Agency, which he's called "a Gestapo bureaucracy." In 2006, when EPA staffers based in Denver went into natural gas fields with infra-red cameras to detect pollution, Inhofe attacked the agency and tried to pressure the employees to back off. In 2009, he called for a criminal investigation into the EPA, charging it with suppressing evidence that climate change doesn't amount to much. "They've been cooking that science since 1998," he told Fox News.

"He seems to really have a long-term vendetta against the EPA," says Scott Thomasson, domestic policy director for the Progressive Policy Institute, a moderate left-of-center think tank. "(It's) so deeply ingrained at this point that he has a presumption of incompetence and malice about everything that they do."

Meanwhile, Coburn, a longtime friend of the National Rifle Association, used legislative trickery to make it legal to carry loaded guns in national parks, despite the strong opposition of the National Park Service. He slipped the amendment into the Credit Cardholders' Bill of Rights Act of 2009.

Earlier this year, Coburn blocked Senate approval of a $3.4 billion payment to Native Americans to settle a class-action lawsuit over the Department of Interior's longtime mismanagement of mineral royalties on tribal lands. (That case is not yet settled.) In 2009, he tried to block Senate confirmation of Hilary Tompkins, a Stanford-educated New Mexico Navajo, as the top lawyer in Obama's Interior Department. (The Senate eventually confirmed Tompkins.) In 2008, he opposed a sweeping $35 billion improvement of the Indian Health Service, even though many Western senators of both parties backed it and a total of 83 senators voted for it.

Both of the Oklahoma senators strongly support the oil and gas industry. They've repeatedly backed federal subsidies and sought to increase drilling, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while resisting tougher regulations, fuel efficiency and conservation measures. Inhofe led the fight to carve out an exemption in the Safe Drinking Water Act for "fracking" -- the high-pressure pumping of chemicals to free up natural gas in underground formations, a process many Westerners believe threatens water quality. This theme of the senators' influence is felt every day in Western states where drillers are constantly claiming more of the landscape.

According to the League of Conservation Voters, during his terms in the U.S. Senate and House, Coburn has voted against environmentalists' positions from 87 to 100 percent of the time, depending on which session you focus on. Inhofe has voted against environmentalists 96 to 100 percent of the time. That's another way the Oklahoma "nos" are heard around the West.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Enviro group sues over NM, Ariz. wolf listing

An environmental group has sued Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, seeking to force him to rule on a petition to list the Mexican gray wolf in New Mexico and Arizona as an endangered species separate from other gray wolves in North America.

The wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, Nicole Rosmarino, said the Mexican gray wolves face potential extinction in the wild.

WildEarth Guardians filed its lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in Phoenix, alleging Salazar's decision is overdue.

An Interior Department spokeswoman, Kendra Barkoff, said Thursday the agency cannot comment on pending litigation.

Another conservation group, the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a notice Wednesday of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in Washington, D.C., saying the agency failed to respond to petitions to list the wolf and three other species.

WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and The Rewilding Institute filed petitions in August 2009 for a separate listing for the Mexican gray wolf.

The Fish and Wildlife Service agreed this August to review the status of the species.

Such a positive finding triggers a one-year status review—an in-depth look to decide if the species should be listed.

But WildEarth Guardians' lawsuit contends Salazar should have decided last November whether to review the wolves' status.

Rosmarino said he had 90 days from the date the petition was filed.

The lawsuit said Salazar should have decided by Aug. 12 whether the listing was warranted.

Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said Fish and Wildlife "is placing the Mexican gray wolf and other endangered species at increased risk for extinction" by missing deadlines...

NM commission extends trapping ban in wolf area

The New Mexico Game Commission on Thursday approved changes in state rules to temporarily ban trapping throughout the Gila and Apache national forests in southwestern New Mexico. That will allow wildlife managers time to study the risks of trapping and snaring to the Mexican gray wolf.

The prohibition will begin Nov. 1 and last at least six months while the state Game and Fish Department assesses whether some methods of trapping would pose less risk for the wolves.

The changes follow an executive order issued last summer by Gov. Bill Richardson that called for a temporary ban on trapping on the New Mexico side of an area where Mexican gray wolves have been reintroduced along the New Mexico-Arizona border.

Richardson's executive order noted that traps do not differentiate between wolves and the animals for which traps were set.

His order said there have been six confirmed and three probable Mexican gray wolves trapped in New Mexico's portion of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area in the past eight years. Five wolves were injured by the traps, two severely enough to require leg amputations.

Injuries can harm wolves' ability to catch prey and could increase the risk of wolves preying on livestock instead of faster elk and deer, the order said.

Environmentalists applauded the commission's decision to adopt the trapping ban, calling it a milestone for wolves in the Southwest.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mexican gray wolf found dead in NM; 4th this year

By SUE MAJOR HOLMES / Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE - Another Mexican gray wolf has been found dead in southwestern New Mexico, dealing a further setback to a struggling program to reintroduce the endangered animals along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

The female wolf was found dead on Oct. 12 in Sierra County. It was the fourth wolf found dead since June.

A spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Albuquerque, Tom Buckley, said the wolf's body was sent to the agency's forensics laboratory in Ashland, Ore., to find out what killed the animal.

The male wolf that had been traveling with her has not been spotted, but Buckley said there's no reason to believe something happened to him.

He said there had been no mortality signal from the male wolf's radio collar. The signal is set off when an animal does not move for a set time.

The two animals, known as Morgart's Pack, were in the Gila National Forest in September, according to the program's monthly update.

Government agencies began reintroducing Mexican gray wolves into the wild in the two states in 1998. Biologists had predicted a self-sustaining wild population of 100 wolves before now, but a count early this year found 42 between the two states, down from 52 the year before.

The subspecies of the gray wolf had been exterminated in the wild by the 1930s.

Fish and Wildlife officials announced earlier this month they were postponing the release of eight wolves in Arizona's Apache National Forest until next year. The program originally expected to release the animals this fall, but managers decided it was not the right time for a successful release. The three other wolf deaths this year include two males from Hawks Nest Pack in eastern Arizona who were found shot to death this summer, and the alpha male of the San Mateo pack in New Mexico that was found dead in June from an undetermined cause.

In addition, the alpha male from the Paradise Pack in Arizona disappeared in April. Buckley said the program still doesn't know what happened. The federal agency, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the Arizona Game and Fish Department's Operation Game Thief and private groups and individuals have offered a reward of up to $58,000 for information leading to the conviction of anyone responsible for shooting deaths of Mexican gray wolves.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lawsuit Puts Federal Livestock Grazing in Doubt

By Myers Reece 10-21-10

Western agricultural groups say a June lawsuit filed by five environmental groups in U.S. District Court is threatening the livelihoods of more than 20,000 ranchers who use federal lands for livestock grazing.

But environmentalists counter that grazing is destructive to public lands and is burdensome to taxpayers. Their complaint seeks amendments to grazing fee regulations and requests that the National Environmental Policy Act be used in determining fees.

When announcing the lawsuit in June, Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns manager for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the “federal grazing program is as fiscally irresponsible as it is ecologically harmful.”

“In responding to our petition,” McKinnon said, “the government must now choose between correcting and continuing the subsidized destruction of America’s public land.”

The Montana Farm Bureau Federation announced in September that it’s one of 27 organizations, including 11 other Western farm bureaus, to intervene in the litigation. The agricultural groups are represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation.

In an op-ed column, William Perry Pendley of the Mountain States Legal Foundation wrote that, while there have been numerous challenges to federal grazing regulations, the current lawsuit is “the biggest challenge yet” from environmental groups.

“For western ranchers and their families, the communities that depend upon them, and the wide-open landscapes that they savor and save daily, much hangs in the balance,” Pendley wrote.

Jake Cummins, executive vice president of Montana’s farm bureau, said last week if the environmental groups prevail in the lawsuit, the increase in grazing fees would be “untenable” for most ranchers. Cummins notes that 30 percent of land in Montana is federal, and in other Western states it’s twice that much.

“If you take (federal grazing) out of operation, that’s going to result in a lot of people not being able to maintain their ranching business,” Cummins said. “Ranching is a marginal business anyway, and with this you’re going to see a lot of these ranches converted to subdivisions.”

The lawsuit, filed in district court in Washington D.C., is the latest shakeup in a decades-long tussle over grazing on land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM manages more public land than any federal agency at 245 million acres. Of that, nearly 160 million acres have livestock grazing. The Forest Service manages just under 200 million acres, about half of which has grazing. Combined, the agencies administer more than 25,000 grazing permits.

Federal livestock grazing policy dates back to the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act, and then later the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 and the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978. The 1978 act established a formula for determining fees on an annual basis.

Disagreements between environmentalists and ranchers over public grazing is nothing new, though the tension has been especially discernible over the last two decades dating back to the national environmental campaign “Cattle Free in ’93,” Cummins said. During that campaign, environmentalists demanded that the Clinton administration vacate all grazing permits and leases for federal lands.

While philosophies on public grazing shifted under the Clinton and Bush administrations, the fee structure remained the same. The Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to increase grazing fees in 2005. The June complaint was filed to compel federal agencies to respond to the petition.

For 2010, the BLM and Forest Service set grazing fees at $1.35 per animal unit month (AUM). But the Center for Biological Diversity asserts that fees must be between $7.64 and $12.26 per AUM to recover costs.

Cummins said the fee system has withstood numerous challenges and was reinforced by a 1986 presidential executive order because it’s both “reasonable” and “equitable.”

“It’s a process that’s proven to be successful in the West and it’s frustrating for those of us who work in the agricultural industry to deal with this never-ending attempt to demonize ranchers and drive them off land,” Cummins said.

“Maybe if you see a cow, it offends your sensibilities,” he added. “But personally, I like steak.”

Environmentalists say livestock grazing destroys habitat and imperils wildlife, while the public foots the bill through subsidies. McKinnon said last week the complaint aims to raise fees so that full costs are recovered and not passed on to taxpayers.

“That’s why these groups have intervened, because this threatens a massive public subsidy,” McKinnon said. “There’s a whole host of costs shouldered by the public for the livestock industry using public lands.”

But Cummins said the only federal land he knows of in the Montana vicinity to be damaged by overgrazing is Yellowstone National Park, and the culprits are bison.

“Why are bison better than cattle?” he said. “That’s something that escapes me. Why is that better than having managed grazing? I challenge you to drive around the state and show me where there’s been real harm done.”

He added: “These people filing the lawsuits aren’t from Montana; they’re filing them from offices somewhere else.”

None of the five environmental groups have headquarters in Montana. The Center for Biological Diversity is based out of Tucson, Ariz., but has “250,000 members and online activists” with offices across the country.

Occasional property disputes arise when livestock are allowed to roam on federal lands. Gordon Brimhall, who owns 24 acres in the Trego area, said his neighbors have federal grazing permits and their cattle spend substantial time on his property.

Brimhall said he’s been told he should build a fence, but he said it’s not his responsibility to fork out money for a fence, adding that he’s disabled. He said he’s spoken to the cattle owners and the proper authorities but nothing’s been done.

“The other neighbors are angry too, but they’ve given up,” Brimhall said. “I’m to my wit’s end.”

Cummins said property disputes are inevitable but added that the federal agencies and lease holders work hard to prevent such problems.

“To suggest that there’s never a dispute between people who have adjoining properties – it happens but it’s generally resolved,” Cummins said.

The permits, Cummins said, “aren’t just issued willy nilly,” and the qualifying ranchers make necessary improvements to the land, including water and fences. Public lands maintained for grazing, Cummins added, often benefit wildlife as well.

Lillian Ostendorf, a rancher in southeastern Montana, said many BLM lands were initially bypassed by homesteaders because of their poor habitat. She said the only reason the BLM land that her family runs cattle on today is suitable for use – including by wildlife – is because they provide water and take care of it.

“We maintain the fences, pay for watering improvements,” Ostendorf said. “We foot the bill for that and those costs have gone up too. It’s just a poor time to be adding costs to farmers’ and ranchers’ bottom lines.”

Ostendorf said, if grazing fees are increased, the effect will be even more damaging to some of her neighbors who have far more BLM-leased land.

“It could be devastating to their operations,” she said. “This is an important issue.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Guy Idaho Ranchers Love to Hate

Jon Marvel sees two ways to get cows and sheep to stop grazing on public lands: Politics and litigation. He chooses the latter.

By Dennis Higman, 10-14-10

“If we weren’t getting to them, they’d brush us off like a fly. After all, we’re just a little organization with 14 or 15 people, but they act like what we do is the end of the world.” Photo courtesy of Boise State.
“If we weren’t getting to them, they’d brush us off like a fly. After all, we’re just a little organization with 14 or 15 people, but they act like what we do is the end of the world.” Photo courtesy of Boise State.

There are two topics you don’t want to bring up with most Idaho ranchers: wolves and Jon Marvel, the white-haired, 63-year-old founder and executive director of the Western Watersheds Project.

Exactly what is it about this guy who looks more like a college professor than an environmental activist worthy of nstant, visceral, angry reactions from ranchers, that include “he’s an asshole” to “I hate that bastard” to “he’s an abusive guy” and other not-suitable-for-work quotations?

As it turns out, Marvel, a history graduate from the University of Chicago who founded WWP in 1993, is not at all mild-mannered unless it serves his purpose. In reality, he’s is an intense, combative man who does not believe in compromise. “You don’t influence change without directly taking on the people who oppose that change,” he says in a recent interview. “Collaboration simply gets you marginalized.”

He’s also a man who harbors a long-standing grudge with roots in an incident many, many years ago at his family cabin in Stanley, Idaho. “One day I found this rancher cutting across my land without permission, taking salt blocks to his stock. I told him to go around, go back the same way he came in and you know what he said? ‘Where did you come from?’ It was like he felt he was somehow entitled to use my private property as he saw fit.”

That initial contact led Marvel to take a closer look at what his ranching neighbors thought they were entitled to do on surrounding public land where they grazed their stock in the summer under longterm, subsidized leases (currently, it’s $1.35 for a cow or calf compared to $17 to $22 on private land). He was appalled by the activity supervised by the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the state. He saw it as the long-standing, irresponsible, wanton destruction of the land and its resources---fish, wildlife, plants and water---by cattle and sheep. He surmised this destruction was aided and abetted by complacent, complicit government agencies charged with regulation and oversight of grazing on millions of acres in the public interest.

That was a defining moment for him and the beginning of what became Western Watersheds Project---which is the second reason most Idaho ranchers hate Jon Marvel. Although the mission of WWP, headquartered in Hailey, is to “protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation,” its goal is to do this by getting domestic livestock off public land in the West. And while its methods certainly include some education and policy initiatives, the organization’s MO consists primarily of filing lawsuit after lawsuit, using every environmental law on the books, ranging from the Endangered Species Act to the Clean Water Act and the Federal Land Policy Management Act, among many others.

Jon Marvel, WWP staff and officials with the Forest Serveice survey cattle damage on Pine Creek in the Little Lost River Watershed. Photo by John Carter.

Jon Marvel, WWP staff and officials with the Forest Serveice survey cattle damage on Pine Creek in the Little Lost River Watershed. Photo by John Carter.

“Marvel’s nothing but a pot-smoking trust-funder who came out here from back East to change the world. He’s got millions of dollars behind him,” complains one angry Idaho rancher who wouldn’t allow his name to be printed. “If I say anything on the record, I’m just inviting one of his damn lawsuits and I can’t afford it, he said, continuing, “He’s not interested in improving the resource; he just wants people like me out of business. It’s hard enough to make any money in cattle these days.”

That kind of reaction does not displease Jon Marvel. Public lands in the West and livestock are not a viable combination and never have been, he says. It doesn’t make any sense economically or environmentally to use this arid land for grazing and he says he can prove it with reams of data and statistics: It’s too dry, harsh and fragile, only 3 percent of cattle are raised on public land anyway (most are raised on private land in East Texas and Florida), and ranching is, at best, a marginal economic activity in Idaho.

Half the ranchers who use public land for grazing are “hobbyists,” in Marvel’s view, who don’t depend on ranch income. Of the other half who do, half of those are “corporate ranchers,” he says.

“They know I’m right about this,” Marvel says. “If we weren’t getting to them, they’d brush us off like a fly. After all, we’re just a little organization with 14 or 15 people, but they act like what we do is the end of the world.”

Here, Marvel is being somewhat disingenuous. Western Watersheds has offices in nine Western states, a million-dollar budget and a formidable advisory board and staff of doctors (the academic type---botanists, biologists, ecologists), as well as an aggressive, highly effective team of public interest lawyers in Boise, Advocates for the West.

Typical is John Carter, a long-time board member and the director of WWP’s Utah Office until he recently resigned to spend more time developing his 900-acre wildlife and research preserve in southeast Idaho. Carter, a soft-spoken Southern farm boy with a degree in mechanical engineering, a Master’s in business administration and a Ph.D. in biology/ecology, started several successful engineering businesses and consulting firms involved in studies of watersheds, oil shale development and hazardous waste management before devoting his full time to authoring numerous scientific papers on range conditions in the West and becoming an expert witness for Western Watersheds.

“You know, people like to zero-in on Jon Marvel,” says Carter, whose accent and courtly manner mask a passionate, aggressive dedication to the cause, “but he’s not alone. There are a lot of highly qualified people all over the West, pushing for and dedicated to reform just like he is.

“What we’re up against is a broken, corrupt regulatory system,” Carter continues. “The environmental damage caused by livestock grazing on Western public land is irrefutable. This land needs more than a few years off. The fact is, it needs a century of rest!”

Idaho ranchers who graze livestock on public land during the summer most emphatically do not agree with any of this. “Jon Marvel’s an environmental obstructionist,” insists Carl Elsworth, Idaho Cattle Association (ICA) President. “His goal is not to help the environment or help local economies. He holds up good projects like improvement of salmon and bull trout habitat on technicalities because all he really wants to do is get cattle off public land.”

Charles Lyon, incoming ICA President, agrees. “There is no middle ground here, not as far I’m concerned. Marvel’s trying to nail us to a wall with all his lawsuits. He wants to put us out of business and we have to stand together.”

“These people (WWP) have never worked the ground a day in their life,” he says, “and if they get their way, a lot of struggling little rural communities are going to be hurt economically. There’s a good system in place, using public range in the summer and private land in the winter. You take away the public land, it will overload private land, damage its resources and a lot of small operators will get squeezed out.”

The Idaho Rangeland Resource Commission (IRRC), a state agency dedicated to providing “scientifically-based educational materials to Idaho teachers” and whose goals are, among others, “to promote public support for sustainable livestock grazing” and “responsible range stewardship,” declined to comment on Marvel and WWP, or suggest people who would.

“The IRRC works on positive stories and stays away from controversy as much as possible,” Executive Director Gretchen Hyde said in an e-mail, “and we don’t want to put anyone at risk of dealing with lawsuits (frivolous or not).”

The Forest Service, one of the primary regulatory agencies that oversee livestock grazing on public lands in Idaho and other Western States---and a constant target of Jon Marvel’s lawsuits and ire---is also gun shy. A local Idaho district ranger in that vast bureaucratic organization now needs permission from Washington, D.C., to talk to the press, and that permission was not forthcoming in time for this article.

It does pay to be wary of Marvel and the Western Watersheds Project, of course. Lawsuits to protect wolves, sage grouse, pigmy rabbits, bull trout and bighorn sheep have all been filed by WWP over the years, plus a host of other litigation, and they’ve won some significant victories.

Early on, Marvel tried to buy leases on state land in order to halt grazing on the theory that if he paid to have the land retired instead of grazed, the state was better off financially and environmentally. When his high bids were rebuffed, he took it to the Idaho Supreme Court and won. And when the State Land Board still refused to go along, he won a subsequent case in federal court using a civil rights law.

In 2005, WWP won a federal court injunction removing livestock from 800,000 acres of BLM-managed land in Idaho. And in 2007, WWP’s litigation strategy paid off in a big way when it was able to overturn Bush-era grazing regulations on 160 million acres of BLM land in 11 states.

They were also recently involved (with other parties) in a lawsuit that put wolves back on the Endangered Species list, at least temporarily, and won a case which stopped domestic sheep grazing on 65 percent of the Payette National Forest on the grounds they carried a disease that was killing Bighorn Sheep. WWP has also successfully forced the Washington State Department of Fish and Game to stop using two large tracts of its wildlife lands for cattle grazing.

Excluding revolution, there are basically two ways to initiate the kind of sweeping change Marvel is seeking: politics or litigation---and he has clearly opted for the latter. In a one-party state like Idaho, there’s little choice, he says. Lawsuits may not be the ultimate answer, Marvel concedes, but they are an effective way to focus public attention on an environmental problem, bring about change and, equally important, increase the cost of noncompliance for violators. “There just aren’t any significant examples of environmental laws being enforced without litigation or threat of litigation,” he says

More recently, however, Western Watersheds tried an alternate approach by making an agreement with the El Paso Corp. not to challenge its proposed pipeline from Wyoming to Oregon in exchange for a $15-million fund to be used for conservation easements, land purchases and a voluntary retirement of grazing permits. Ironically, a group of counties have challenged this agreement on the grounds it’s harmful to ranchers because, among other reasons, they will be pressured into selling their grazing rights by WWP lawsuits.

Not true, Marvel says: Ranchers will sell voluntarily because it’s in their best interest to sell. A WWP spokesman is quoted in the Idaho Statesman as saying it isn’t a coercive fund at all, but then goes on to note that WWP does go to court to enforce the nation’s environmental laws and “we’re holding the enforcement of existing laws over their head.”

The resistance of these county officials may be more a matter of culture than economics, John Freeman, senior fellow at the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State, said in this same article. “Culture matters.”
By culture, he explained in a subsequent interview, he means a way of life and community values. This may help to explain why the angry reaction and resistance to Jon Marvel and the Western Watersheds program goes well beyond ranchers in many rural Idaho communities.

Marvel likes to talk about “the myth of the West,” the deeply ingrained glorification of cowboys and cows, noble, independent ranchers and echoes of “Home on the Range” that has obscured the destructive reality of this bogus culture for a century. “That myth is dying fast,” he claims. “Nobody makes Westerns any more. Young people today could care less. I know change is coming.”

And to bolster his point, he cites a survey that claims being a cowboy today is considered to be the worst job in the United States. The only two Idaho cowboys this reporter knows, however, apparently didn’t take part.

These are proud, independent, hard-working, self sufficient people who clearly love what they do, and when I complained to one about how hard it was to make a living these days, he replied there were plenty of jobs out there. Like what? I challenged him. “Like this one,” he laughed.

In the final analysis, it appears that the battle lines between Jon Marvel, Western Watersheds and the ranching community have been drawn. There is precious little room for compromise on the issues, and probably no room at all for politically bipartisan solutions on the land issues he champions.

Although Hailey, Idaho, where Marvel lives and works (and where Western Watersheds was just given the “Environmental Advocate of the Year” award by that city and the surrounding communities of Ketchum and Sun Valley), might be classified as a liberal community, Idaho remains a conservative Republican state. Ranchers retain a solid base of political power here and the current governor, a rancher himself, once boasted he would be the first in line to shoot a wolf when it became legal.

Nor is the national political outlook any more promising with the current Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, who has authority over the regulatory agencies that oversee federal public lands, is also a rancher by profession. “I’m deeply disappointed in the Obama administration,” Marvel concedes.

“There’s no change in behavior from Bush; it’s all extremely negative. I expected more, a lot more. I foolishly believed it was going to be different, but all we got were Clinton retreads. Ken Salazar has closed the door on change of any kind; it’s more of the same, an accommodation of vested interests.”

That, and the fact that upcoming November elections will, in all likelihood, make it look even darker on Marvel’s horizon, almost guarantees there will be only more contentious lawsuits and animosity ahead. The real winners look to be only one group---lawyers---who surely must rank somewhere not far below the cowboys on Jon Marvel’s survey, among the least-admired of any profession.

Resigned to Living With Wolves, More Ranchers Are Giving Deterrence Projects a Try

SPRINGERVILLE, Ariz. -- On a luminous fall afternoon, a couple of Carey Dobson's sheep graze in a pasture stretching across a high valley edged with ponderosa pines. A wire fence keeps them from wandering into the adjacent road.

But this is no ordinary fence. All along its length, long slips of magenta plastic flagging wave in the wind, like streamers on a parade float. No one knows exactly why, but wolves typically stay clear of these decorated fences. Dobson put up the "fladry" and electrified the fence about three years ago after losing nine sheep to wolves in one year.

So far, the combination of visual repellent and electric shock seems to be working.

"From the time we started doing that in 2007 up to now, we've had zero wolf depredations," Dobson said, sitting at the kitchen table of his family's spacious log home on a private inholding surrounded by the Apache National Forest. "I think the fence has a lot to do with it."

A few miles away, rancher Sydney Maddock and Eddie Lee, her ranch manager, have hired a range rider -- a cowboy or cowgirl who monitors the herd -- to make sure her cattle stay safe. They have also started allowing calves to grow bigger before turning them out onto their federal grazing allotment so that they are less vulnerable to depredation.

Wolves tend to prey on young, old or weak livestock, although they do sometimes kill healthy adults.

"I don't know if it's going to work out or not," Lee said, standing around a late afternoon campfire at his camp near a cattle and horse corral. "But it's been two years, and it seems to be working."

Meanwhile, on the New Mexico side of the Mexican wolf reintroduction area, about 70 miles to the east, rancher Alan Tackman is putting up a fence to keep his cattle from wandering up the mountain toward a known wolf den.

"They're not smart enough to remember, 'A wolf ate my baby here,'" said Pat Morrison, district ranger for the Glenwood District of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico, where Tackman's fence is being erected.

An elk calving area lies between the den and the fence line, and the hope is that the wolves will eat the elk calves -- typically their preferred prey -- and leave the cattle alone, Morrison said.

'Something everyone can get behind'

Such deterrence projects are slowly gaining favor with ranchers living in wolf country, and they reflect a new, more collaborative way of dealing with Mexican wolves, which the Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced to Arizona and New Mexico in 1998.

For most of the Mexican wolf program's history, the focus has been on removing "problem" wolves that prey on livestock, either by killing the animals, relocating them in the wild, or retiring them to a holding facility. But wildlife officials and some ranchers say it is better for both livestock and wolves to prevent conflicts from happening in the first place.

"Nothing is as divisive as this," Chris Bagnoli, Mexican wolf interagency team leader for Arizona, said of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program. "But some folks have come to understand that they're here, and there are ways to live with it."

About 15 ranchers in Arizona and about a dozen in New Mexico have tried wolf deterrent strategies over the past several years, and many of them -- particularly in Arizona, where grazing is for the most part seasonal instead of year-round -- have seen some benefit.

"One of the most effective things you can do is separate cattle and wolves," said John Oakleaf, a senior Fish and Wildlife Service biologist with the Mexican wolf program. "Reducing wolf depredations -- that's a common goal for sure. That's something wolf biologists and ranchers and everyone can all get behind."

That does not mean, however, that ranchers have come to embrace having wolves in their midst.

"If they were to take the wolves out tomorrow, I'd be happy," said Barbara Mack, who has worked closely with Bagnoli to keep her 110 cattle and two dogs away from the local Blue Stem wolf pack in the Apache National Forest's rugged Alpine District. "But they are here, and we have to work with everybody to try to get along and to survive."

Antipathy toward the program is still strong, however, and some ranchers who are working with agencies and advocacy groups on deterrence projects have experienced a backlash -- even from family members.

"I got flak from my father, my neighbors," Dobson said. "But I want to stay here. I'm a fourth-generation rancher. The wolves are on us, so what are we going to do?"

But it took several years for Dobson to warm to the idea of taking a proactive approach to reducing wolf-livestock conflicts. Ten years ago, he was a vocal critic of the Mexican wolf reintroduction program.

In the winter of 2000, Dobson suspected that wolves "chewed up" the leg of a newborn stud colt. But after wildlife officials assured him there were no wolves in the area, he concluded that his guard dogs had attacked the colt and reluctantly put the dogs down. Soon after, he spotted a FWS agent in the area and was told a wolf had been shot, confirming his earlier suspicion.

"I lost a colt, two guard dogs, and I'd been lied to," he said. "I was so upset."

At the time, Dobson was so angry that he refused compensation from Defenders of Wildlife, which had set up a program to pay for confirmed wolf depredations of livestock.

But around 2006, after a spate of wolf depredations, he changed his mind and began collecting compensation while also working with Defenders and state and federal agencies on new deterrent strategies. He now receives weekly calls from FWS and the Arizona Game and Fish Department with updates on wolf activity in his area.

"I just got to the point where I'd had enough," he said. "It wasn't the wolf's fault. The wolf's an animal. It was the way things were being managed. I said, 'We need to come together and figure out what we're going to do.'"

Changes in funding

Money to fund prevention projects comes from a mix of private and government sources.

For more than a decade, Defenders of Wildlife paid ranchers for their losses and helped fund deterrence projects, but the group phased out its compensation program last month after the federal government established its own program, which will pay ranchers for livestock depredations and support conflict prevention projects.

The money for the federal interdiction fund comes from a $1 million outlay authorized under the 2009 Omnibus Public Land Management Act and issued last April to Arizona, New Mexico and eight other Western states to help support non-lethal programs to prevent wolf-livestock conflicts (Land Letter, April 1). Arizona and New Mexico each received $140,000 to fund such efforts.

The states will add matching funds, either by direct cash payments or through in-kind payments of labor, supplies and other supports. Craig Miller, who ran Defenders of Wildlife's compensation program for the past several years, said the group contributed about $45,000 to help establish the federal interdiction fund, but will now shift focus to its own conflict prevention program. The Mexican Wolf Fund, a non-advocacy group that funds wolf deterrent projects, will also contribute to the interdiction fund.

Both Defenders and ranchers say the new federally administered program should bring some advantages. A livestock compensation board made up of a range of stakeholders, including both ranchers and wildlife advocates, will decide what types of losses and deterrence projects merit funding.

Dobson and other ranchers hope the new system will allow compensation not only for the loss of livestock, but associated losses such as lower animal weights due to stress or fewer calves resulting from the loss of a cow that would have borne offspring over the course of her life.

"It allows people to feel they have some say in what's going on," Bagnoli said.

'Everyone's getting a little smarter'

Stakeholder groups will also likely benefit from several years of trial and error in implementing conflict prevention projects. Patrick Valentino, director of the Mexican Wolf Fund, said that agency officials, funders and ranchers now have a better understanding of what works and what does not.

"Given the experience over the past few years, I think everyone's getting a little smarter, maybe combining a couple of things, like fencing with feed, or feed with range riders," said Valentino, whose organization has funded conflict prevention projects since 2006. "These programs can work well together sometimes."

Variations in livestock operations, topography and behavior of both the livestock and the wolves also need to be considered when determining which method, or combination of methods, are likely to work best, added Bagnoli.

Relocation of cattle, use of fladry, range riders, fencing and radio-alarmed guard boxes, or "RAG boxes," that emit loud noises and flashing lights have all been used in the northern Rockies as well to deter wolves, with some success (Land Letter, March 18).

In the Great Lakes region, researchers are experimenting with "howl boxes," which play digital recordings of wolf howls in the rendezvous areas of five wolf packs. The goal is to trick the wolves into believing that another pack has claimed the same territory, in hopes that they will move to other areas (Land Letter, July 29).

These deterrent strategies are essential to the recovery of Mexican wolves in the Southwest, where after 12 years, there are only about 42 wolves -- 27 in Arizona and 15 in New Mexico -- those involved with the program say.

"I think in order for wolves to achieve recovery in ecologically meaningful levels, tolerance from landowners, from people using the landscape, is the most important component," Miller of Defenders of Wildlife said. "This isn't a biological problem, it's a social problem. The real challenge is in helping humans accept wolves as part of the landscape."

Yet Miller acknowledges that deterrence projects do not always work. In some cases, wolves have lost their fear of the deterrent, or ranchers lose interest in continuing the projects, which they typically contribute some funding or labor to.

But with more than two-thirds of the Blue Range Mexican wolf recovery area permitted for grazing, they are worth a try, agency officials say. "We're trying to make both the wolf and the grazing permittees viable here," said Morrison of the Gila National Forest's Glenwood District in New Mexico.

At the same time, even some ranchers who are trying deterrence projects still actively oppose the reintroduction program.

Tackman, for instance, is named as one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in August by Catron and Otero counties and other New Mexico ranchers over changes to the program that they say have resulted in fewer removals of wolves that attack livestock. Tackman did not return calls seeking an interview for this story.

While some ranchers remain highly skeptical of conflict prevention projects, Dobson and others say the lack of depredations in areas where they have been tried demonstrates that wolves and livestock can co-exist.

Yet he wonders what will happen as wolf populations increase. FWS biologists set an informal target of 100 wolves on the landscape when the program first began, and a forthcoming update to the Mexican wolf recovery plan is likely to call for at least that many and possibly more (Land Letter, July 22).

"It can always come back and bite me on the rear. ... Everything could be taken away from ranchers," Dobson said. "But at least I know I've tried."

Reese writes from Santa Fe, N.M.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

NM pushes changes to outstanding waters proposal

The New Mexico Environment Department and conservation groups presented a compromise Tuesday to state regulators who are considering a proposal that would protect hundreds of miles of headwater streams, more than two dozen lakes and numerous wetlands in federal wilderness areas around New Mexico.

The department first petitioned the Water Quality Control Commission to designate headwaters in a dozen federal wilderness areas around the state as outstanding water sources, which would protect streams, lakes and wetlands by prohibiting any activities that would degrade water quality.

Under the compromise, temporary degradation of water quality would be allowed only in limited circumstances, such as during restoration or maintenance projects.

Supporters said the compromise better defines protections for outstanding waters and keeps in place the state's strict anti-degradation policy. But it immediately drew criticism from a ranchers' group that has been fighting the department's effort to designate the waterways as "outstanding national resources waters."

Dan Dolan, an attorney representing the New Mexico Cattle Growers' Association, said suggesting changes to the proposal during the hearing process does not give ranchers or others who are concerned enough time to review and present their cases.

"We have the agency changing its proposal to be something that it never was in the first place and that the public never got notice of," he said. "It's just another example of an environmental agency that does not really care what the public's input is."

State officials said they have tried to address the public's concerns and that development of the initial proposal included extensive public participation.

The hearing before the commission in Santa Fe is a continuation of a proceeding that started last month. Some groups involved in the case have been negotiating changes to the proposal's language over the last three weeks, but the ranchers contend that they were left out.

The hearing was scheduled to last through Friday. It will be up to the commission to approve, modify or reject the proposal. It could be December before the commission makes a final decision in the case.

"The cattle growers are just slowing the process down and stalling it as much as they can," said Bryan Bird of WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that negotiated the compromise. "The bottom line is that a handful of public lands ranchers are holding the entire state's clean water hostage. I think that's inappropriate."

Pointing to citizens' signatures and support from municipalities and sportsmen's groups, Bird said protecting New Mexico's headwaters will help the state prepare for growing pressure on its limited water resources.

The Richardson administration began pushing an outstanding waters designation in 2008.

After dozens of public meetings, the environment department changed its proposal a few times to address the concerns of ranchers, water associations and others. It wasn't until May that the state presented its final petition to the commission.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Energy, environment rules may roll back with new governor

Neither of New Mexico's gubernatorial candidates — Democrat Diane Denish and Republican Susana Martinez — are likely to put environmental issues quite as high on their agenda as Gov. Bill Richardson.

They've already indicated they might overturn or weaken some environmental rules Richardson's administration has put in place, such as the pit rule for wastes from oil and gas production and the greenhouse gas emissions cap.

A governor can do a lot to upend or change environmental rules and orders approved under a predecessor. She can appoint her own people to commissions, direct those commissions to revisit rules and direct staff to ignore existing rules.

"There could be rollbacks of environmental regulations after the elections happen," said Jim Norton, director of the environmental protection division at the New Mexico Environment Department.

Denish at least has environment and energy listed as issues on her campaign website and provides a list of "six environmental principles to lead by" on her site and promotes the creation of "sustainable jobs."

Environment, water and energy were not "issues" topics listed on Martinez's official campaign website.

Follow the money

Thus far, oil and gas companies have been top industry donors to the Martinez campaign, giving her $481,125. Also among her major financial supporters are homebuilders ($462,801) and conservative issue groups ($250,000), according to Texas homebuilder Bob J. Perry, who funded the Swiftboat ad campaign against unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, gave her $350,000 in May.

Denish also has received money from the oil and gas industry ($71,400), much of it from companies in her hometown of Hobbs, in an area sometimes referred to as "Little Texas." Her biggest financial support has come from lawyers and lobbyists ($444,651) including labor unions, followed by real estate donors ($340,185).

Greenhouse gas cap

On some environmental issues, such as a proposed cap on greenhouse gas emissions, Martinez and Denish appear to have a similar stance at first glance. But while both oppose a state greenhouse gas cap and trade rule — they do so for different reasons.

Denish believes climate change is occurring, but that any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be global and national, not state-by-state.

Martinez adheres to the climate change naysayer line, saying an emissions cap is anti-business, would increase taxes and isn't based on sound science.

The New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board held two weeks of heated hearings regarding a controversial greenhouse gas emissions rule. The New Mexico Environment Department and the nonprofit New Energy Economy have proposed separate regulations that would cap and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Any rule, if approved, would take effect in 2012. The EIB is scheduled to vote on the Environment Department petition on Election Day, Nov. 2.

The state petition seeks to require power plants, oil refineries and gas treatment facilities that produce more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide gas annually to reduce emissions by 2 percent a year from 2012 levels and allow industries to trade carbon credits within a Western states exchange.

Pit rule

In 2008, the state Oil Conservation Commission approved a rule to intended to reduce contamination of shallow groundwater aquifers from unlined pits that hold waste from oil and gas production.

The rule — proposed by a task force of oil and gas representatives, environmentalists, ranchers and local government representatives — requires producers to line pits used for temporarily storing production waste and later to haul the waste to a licensed disposal center.

Denish says "one size doesn't fit all" when it come to governmental rules and thinks the rule should be "revisited." In addition, she wants to adopt a process to make rulemaking more predictable and fair.

Martinez claims the pit rule has driven the cost per well up by "as much as" $250,000. But according to testimony by well producers during the pit rule hearing, the costs under the new rule run an extra $35,000 and $150,000, depending on the depth of the well. The $250,000 figure is the cost of cleaning up old "legacy pits" constructed before the pit rule.

Martinez also says New Mexico was the only state to see a drop in gas production in 2009 because the pit rule chased away producers. But Kansas also saw a decline in gas production. And the sharp drop in oil and gas prices was the major cause of reduced production in 2008 and 2009, according to a report on the Economic Impact of the Oil and Gas Industry by New Mexico State University economist C. Meghan Starbuck.

Oil and gas prices dropped by 70 percent or more in the last half of 2008 and remained depressed into 2009. Oil production in New Mexico actually increased in 2008 while natural gas production has seen a decline since two years before the pit rule.

This year, oil and gas leases in New Mexico brought in a record amount of money, according to the federal Bureau of Land Management.

"The idea that we're running industry out doesn't hold water," said petroleum engineer and attorney Mark Fesmire, head of the state's Oil Conservation Division.

Before the rule, field staff from the Oil Conservation Division found 800 cases of groundwater contamination due to oil and gas wastes. Since the final version of the rule was adopted, staff have found no contamination at pit sites.

Water realities

Neither candidate, in answering a specific question about the slow progress of adjudicating water rights, proposed a specific idea to help move those cases through the courts faster.

The snail's pace of water adjudications in the last century — establishing who owns what legal rights to water resources — remains a weak link in the New Mexico's ability to manage its water for the future while protecting senior water rights.

State Engineer John D'Antonio said additional funding and the lifting of a hiring freeze would help finish adjudications more quickly. But he doesn't expect that to happen during the state's current economic doldrums.

His office is involved in a dozen active adjudications involving 72,000 water-rights holders. He said his office has 50 vacancies and the litigation division has seen a 30 percent reduction in staff. "We have a bare-bones staff for adjudications," D'Antonio said. "Our goal is to finish these adjudications before starting new ones."

The largest, potentially most volatile water rights adjudication — the Middle Rio Grande area including Albuquerque — has yet to go to court.

The Republican candidate was targeted by an unattributed video posted on YouTube that accused the El Paso native of wanting to "send New Mexico's water to Texas." The video was taken down shortly after a few newspapers and bloggers wrote about it.

Martinez would have no power to send extra water to Texas if she became New Mexico's governor, even if that was her desire. Water shares from both the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers that flow through New Mexico into Texas are governed by interstate stream compacts and multi-state commissions.

Contact Staci Matlock at 986-3055 or

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Wendy Van Asselt and her friends made 26 million acres disappear

By: Ron Arnold
Examiner Columnist
September 28, 2010

Environmental activist Wendy Van Asselt was at the World Resources Institute in 2003 when officials from the Wilderness Society made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

They wanted her to lead a huge project to remove 26 million acres of federal land in the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS) from oil and gas production, grazing, timber harvesting, mining for strategic minerals, off-road recreation, and providing rural jobs.

Van Asselt was a logical choice for the job since she had shown in her position at WRI — and previously at the Mineral Policy Center, with its shrill “No Dirty Gold” campaign — that she had a decided preference for stopping natural resource development, especially on federal lands.

The Wyss Foundation would fund the new project, thanks to a Wilderness Society board member, Hansjorg Wyss, a Swiss entrepreneur whose net worth was estimated at $6 billion. The Hewlett Foundation would also give $1 million to the project.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which managed the NLCS, would be cooperative, too, since stopping all those productive activities would require real authority for the system, authority that would give it a real budget, and it didn’t have either of them. The BLM would need help in persuading Congress to go along.

That was because Bruce Babbitt, President Clinton’s secretary of interior, had created the NLCS in 2000 by bureaucratic decree without first getting congressional approval. His “system” was really just a bureaucratic name for more than 800 existing BLM areas, each authorized separately, all created for various purposes, at various times, under various laws, with various budgets.

So, Van Asselt’s new job would be to get Congress to authorize Babbitt’s NCLS and give it a real budget. The graduate of Smith College (economics) and Harvard (master’s in public policy) would soon prove very much up to the challenge.

By the end of 2004, Van Asselt had organized a coalition of 50 anti-development groups to cover the NCLS’ far-flung units. She had also tapped a former colleague to help wangle the National Trust for Historic Preservation into putting the entire NLCS on its popular “Most Endangered Places” report card. That in turn prompted an invitation from the National Academy of Sciences to co-author an article for its main publication.

Since 2005 was the fifth “birthday” of NLCS, Van Asselt used it for a celebratory blitz and a forum to keep up her finely tuned attack on developers who opposed stopping development on the 26 million acres Van Asselt was eyeing. She clearly understood the game and made things happen.

It was a classic Washington iron triangle: The TWS folks loved her; the funders loved her, and the BLM loved her. Soon, some key members of Congress would love Van Asselt, too.

The BLM’s Elena Daly, director of the NLCS, began working closely with Van Asselt. Daly’s official appointment book includes multiple entries indicating she and Van Asselt regularly shared lunch and other meetings.

By 2006, BLM, TWS, and the funders (who ultimately poured more than $5 million into the campaign) knew Van Asselt was a political whiz kid. With Van Asselt’s close ties to the BLM, she could do what BLM couldn’t, which was informally tell Congress what the agency sought for NCLS. It had to be done discreetly, however, because few congressmen were likely to vote for the kind of NCLS that Van Asselt and her allies at BLM really wanted.

Multiple congressional sources point to creation of the NLCS Caucus in Congress in 2006 as the key development in Van Asselt’s campaign, convinced that it was suggested by her to Arizona Democrat Rep. Raul Grijalva, the ultra-green chairman of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Grijalva, who was Van Asselt’s most important congressional ally, convened the bipartisan caucus, selected three co-chairmen — Reps. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Rep. Rick Renzi, R-Ariz. — and grew the caucus into an instrument of power.

Regardless who suggested the caucus, Van Asselt was clearly counting votes on the Hill, as shown in a June 27, 2006, e-mail from her to Daly in which she gleefully reported that Rep. Sue Kelly, R-N.Y., had just joined the newly formed caucus.

“Bring on the Rs!” Van Asselt crowed. “Keep ‘em coming!”

Then, on April 4, 2007, Van Asselt left TWS to work for House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., as a member of the panel’s Democratic legislative staff. It was the perfect position from which Van Asselt could guide NCLS across the finish line, because the job put her at the coordinating center of the iron triangle pushing for the project.

Shortly after Van Asselt was hired by Rahall, Grijalva introduced the first NLCS bill, which was barely a page long, with only a vague paragraph authorizing the new system, and listing Bureau of Land Management areas to be included.

Republican legislators were horrified. “This bill goes well beyond a codification of what already exists,” their bill report said. “The [NLCS] is to be managed “in a manner that protects the values for which the components of the system were designated. The term `values’ is a wholly new concept to the BLM,” plucked from a national parks bill “to purposefully mandate broad and vague new management practices” with “this nebulous, malleable term.”

The National Park Service enforces things like “viewscapes,” “soundscapes,” and “smellscapes” — indefinable concepts inappropriate for productive BLM lands.

“For us to pass legislation to enforce legislatively undefined ‘values’ on a vast, resource rich part of the country is an unacceptable abdication of our responsibility as the policy setting branch of the government,” the Republicans concluded.

Grijalva’s 2007 bill went nowhere, but Van Asselt’s work as a Rahall legislative staffer in keeping information flowing to the interested parties within and without government paid off two years later.

In January 2009, Grijalva’s NLCS bill was lumped into the grab bag Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which passed Congress and was signed into law March 30, 2009, by President Obama.

Read more at the Washington Examiner: