Saturday, June 26, 2010

Call for Nominations for the New Mexico Resource Advisory Councils (Now there are 4)

[Federal Register: June 21, 2010 (Volume 75, Number 118)] [Notices] [Page 35081-35082] From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [] [DOCID:fr21jn10-111]
Bureau of Land Management
[LLNM910000 L10200000.PH0000]

Notice of Intent To Establish and Call for Nominations for the New Mexico Resource Advisory Councils

AGENCY: Bureau of Land Management, Interior.
ACTION: Notice.
SUMMARY: The BLM is publishing this notice in accordance with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) gives notice that the Secretary of the Interior is establishing four resource advisory councils in New Mexico to represent the four BLM districts in the State. This notice is also to solicit public nominations for each of the four New Mexico Resource Advisory Councils (RAC). The RACs provide advice and recommendations on land use planning and management of the public lands within their geographic area.

DATES: All nominations must be received no later than August 5, 2010.

ADDRESSES: See SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION for the address of BLM New Mexico District Offices accepting nominations.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Theresa Herrera, Public Affairs Specialist, New Mexico State Office, Bureau of Land Management, 301 Dinosaur Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87508, telephone (505) 954-2021; or e-mail

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The Federal Land Policy and Management Act
(FLPMA) (43 U.S.C. 1739) directs the Secretary of the Interior to involve the public in planning and issues related to management of lands administered by the BLM. Section 309 of FLPMA directs the Secretary to establish 10- to 15-member citizen-based advisory councils that are consistent with the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). The rules governing RACs are found at 43 CFR subpart 1784. As required by FACA, RAC membership must be balanced and representative of the various interests concerned with the management of the public lands. These include three categories:
Category One--Holders of Federal grazing permits and representatives of organizations associated with energy and mineral development, timber industry, transportation or rights-of-way, developed outdoor recreation, off-highway vehicle use, and commercial recreation;
Category Two--Representatives of nationally or regionally recognized environmental organizations; archaeological and historic organizations, dispersed recreation activities, and wild horse and burro organizations; and
Category Three--Representatives of State, county, or local elected office; representatives and employees of a State agency responsible for managing natural resources; representatives of Indian tribes within or adjacent to the area for which the council is organized;

[[Page 35082]]

representatives of academia who are employed in natural sciences; and the public-at-large.
Individuals may nominate themselves or others. Nominees must be residents of the district in which the RAC has jurisdiction. The BLM will evaluate nominees based on their education, training, experience, and knowledge of the geographical area of the RAC. Nominees should demonstrate a commitment to collaborative resource decisionmaking. The Obama Administration prohibits individuals who are currently federally registered lobbyists to serve on all FACA and non-FACA boards, committees, or councils. The following must accompany all nominations:

--Letters of reference from represented interests or organizations; --A completed background information nomination form; and --Any other information that addresses the nominee's qualifications.

Simultaneous with this notice, BLM district offices will issue press releases providing additional information for submitting nominations, with specifics about the number and categories of member positions available for each RAC in the State. Nominations for RACs should be sent to the appropriate BLM offices listed below:

Albuquerque RAC

Edwin Singleton, Albuquerque District Office, BLM, 435 Montant NE., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87107, (505) 761-8700.

Farmington RAC

Acting District Manager, Farmington District Office, BLM, 1235 La Plata Highway, Farmington, New Mexico 87401, (505) 599-8900.

Las Cruces RAC

Bill Childress, Las Cruces District Office, BLM, 1800 Marquess Street, Las Cruces, New Mexico 88005, (575) 525-4300.

Pecos RAC

Doug Burger, Pecos District Office, BLM, 1717 West Second Street, Roswell, New Mexico 88201, (575) 627-0272.

Certification Statement: I hereby certify that the BLM New Mexico Resource Advisory Councils are necessary and in the public interest in connection with the Secretary's responsibilities to manage the lands, resources, and facilities administered by the BLM.
Dated: June 11, 2010.
Ken Salazar,
[FR Doc. 2010-14930 Filed 6-18-10; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4310-FB-P

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

District court says Forest Service exceeded incidental take of salmonids, also finds that grazing permittees must be heard during consultation process

Oregon Natural Desert Ass’n v. Tidwell, Civil No. 07-1871-HA. Nos. 08-151-HA, 03-381-HA. 2010 WL 2246419 (D.Or., June 4, 2010.)(Haggerty, District Judge)

NATURE OF DISPUTE: Plaintiffs are non-profit environmental organizations. Plaintiffs contend that the NMFS and Forest Service have violated the ESA and National Forest Management Act (NFMA) in managing grazing on the Malheur National Forest (MNF) in ways that are alleged to harm steelhead listed as threatened under the ESA. Intervenors are ranchers permitted to graze cattle on the MNF. Intervenors allege that the NMFS and Forest Service have violated the ESA by arbitrarily limiting grazing on the MNF. Federal defendants contend that the agency actions taken in relation to grazing on the MNF were not arbitrary and capricious and have not harmed protected steelhead.

FACTUAL AND LEGAL BACKGROUND: The Malheur National Forest (MNF) (pictured above) is located in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon and includes portions of the Upper John Day, Middle Fork John Day, and North Fork John Day River watersheds. It contains designated critical habitat for Middle Columbia River (MCR) steelhead, a salmonid listed as “threatened” under the ESA… The MCR steelhead rely upon rivers and streams in the MNF for spawning, rearing, and migratory habitat. Steelhead depend upon cold clear streams and streambeds low in fine sediment, high in large woody debris, and characterized by stable overhanging banks and large pools. When not managed properly, livestock grazing can degrade salmonid habitat. The Forest Service authorizes and manages livestock grazing on allotments within the MNF through the issuance of grazing permits, allotment management plans (AMPs), grazing permit modifications (GMPs), and annual grazing authorization letters to permittee ranchers such as intervenors. The National Forest Management Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1604(g)(3)(B), directs the Forest Service to develop an integrated forest plan, or land resource management plan (LRMP) for each unit of the National Forest System. Id. § 1604(a),(f). Grazing permits, must be consistent with the controlling LRMP, which in turn must be consistent with the NFMA. Id. § 1604(i); Idaho Sporting Cong., Inc. v. Rittenhouse, 305 F.3d 957, 962 (9th Cir.2002).

EXCERPT RE: PERMITEES. Section 7(a)(3) of the ESA provides for applicant involvement during the early consultation process. The statute states that federal agencies shall “consult with the NMFS on any prospective agency action at the request of, and in cooperation with, the prospective permit or license applicant if the applicant has reason to believe that alisted speciesmay be present in the area affected by the applicant's project and that implementation of such action will likely affect such species.” 16 U.S.C. § 1536(a)(3). Section 7(a)(2), on the other hand, does not expressly provide for such applicant involvement during formal consultation. However, the implementing regulations envision some involvement, because the responsibility to provide the best scientific data available includes a requirement to “provide any applicant with the opportunity to submit information for consideration during the consultation.” 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(d). The ESA Consultation Handbook and Forest Service policies further specify that permit holders are entitled to participate as applicants during the consultation process. See NMFS AR 8351-52 (stating that “users who are party to a discrete action” qualify as applicants and discussing the applicant's role in the consultation process). Because Federal Defendants failed to, at a minimum, provide permittees with “the opportunity to submit information for consideration during the consultation,” the BiOp must be construed as arbitrary and capricious. 50 C.F.R. § 402.14(d).

EXCERPT RE: INCIDENTAL TAKE: It is likely that violations of the ITS were underreported in 2007 and 2008 due to inadequate monitoring by the Forest Service... The inordinate exceedances of the ITS conditions documented in 2007 on the Murderers Creek and Hamilton/King Allotments and in 2008 on the Fox Creek Allotment are particularly deplorable in light of the Forest Service's appraisal of those allotments as containing moderate to high potential spawning habitat and as having a high risk potential for direct take of steelhead. RP 31202-03. This court has carefully reviewed the administrative record and the extra-record materials submitted by the parties, and concludes that it is possible that take occurred on numerous allotments in both 2007 and 2008, and that it is likely take occurred in 2007 on the Murderers Creek and Hamilton/King Allotments, and on the Fox Creek Allotment in 2008, due to significant habitat degradation.

KEITHINKING: This case also involved a procedural ruling that allowed an expansive administrative record, continuing a trend in ESA litigation. See also Wash. Toxics Coal. v. EPA, 413 F.3d 1024, 1034 (9th Cir.2007) (holding that the APA's record review provisions do not apply to claims brought pursuant to “the substantive provisions of the ESA”); Defenders of Wildlife v. Martin, 454 F.Supp.2d 1085, 1094 (E.D.Wash.2006). Ultimately, although the District Court did uphold numerous portions of the biological opinion, the administrative record still showed errors in the ESA and NFMA analysis, and the bottom line will be a remand to the agencies for more analysis. The parties were ordered to confer regarding appropriate remedies and a joint status report is due July 1, 2010.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Wildlife group threatens suit against feds to protect jaguar

A wildlife group is gearing up for a fight to force the federal government to better protect jaguars, although the big cats have virtually disappeared from the country.

The Center for Biological Diversity wants the Wildlife Services division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to stop the trapping, snaring and poisoning of nuisance predators that could result in the killing or endangering of jaguars and ocelots in the Southwest. Spokesman Michael Robinson said the group is concerned about anti-predator efforts in Arizona, New Mexico and possibly Texas.

"They're not targeting jaguars, but if they're setting up a snare for a mountain lion, there's a chance a jaguar could end up in that snare," he said.

A lawsuit could come as soon as mid-July. At the end of April, the conservation group gave the government 60 days' notice of its intent to sue. William Clay, Wildlife Services' deputy administrator, replied on May 14, saying Wildlife Services had "reviewed your comments and will take them into consideration."

The lawsuit threat comes in the wake of the death of a jaguar in Arizona. The animal, known as Macho B, was caught in southern Arizona in February 2009 during a state Game and Fish Department effort to capture and track mountain lions and bears.

A tracking collar was placed on Macho B, but he was recaptured less than two weeks later after those monitoring him thought his behavior was unusual. He was diagnosed with a kidney ailment and euthanized.

Game and Fish believed it was an inadvertent capture. However, Emil McCain of Patagonia recently pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Tucson to unlawfully luring Macho B into a snare with jaguar scat.

McCain previously had been a subcontractor for a guide service hired by Game and Fish to help with research, said Bob Miles, an agency spokesman. Miles emphasized the man was never a Game and Fish employee.

Robinson said the center's anticipated lawsuit was not strictly motivated by the Macho B episode, though the "tragic fate of Macho B is certainly a factor." The lawsuit notice alleges that Wildlife Services and the federal Fish and Wildlife Service have failed to consult on activities that would affect both the jaguar and the ocelot.

It also argues that a more than 10-year-old biological opinion on how jaguars can be affected by predator-control programs is outdated and that new scientific information shows that they need better protection.

The conservation group has a separate lawsuit pending against Game and Fish in the Macho B case. It alleges that the agency did not have the valid permit allowing it to inadvertently capture a jaguar in the bear and mountain-lion study.

The agency disagrees, Miles said. He declined to discuss the case further but said the agency cares a great deal about jaguar conservation.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lawsuit Targets Grazing Fees

Today the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Oregon Natural Desert Association sued the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to compel them to respond to a 2005 rulemaking petition that seeks to increase the fee for livestock grazing across 258 million acres of federal public land.

“The federal grazing program is as fiscally irresponsible as it is ecologically harmful,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “In responding to our petition, the government must now choose between correcting and continuing the subsidized destruction of America’s public land.”

The current grazing fee does not recover even the administrative costs of operating the program, leaving U.S. taxpayers to pay the difference. The fee also falls short of paying for the environmental problems this land use causes, and instead enables high levels of livestock grazing that harm ecosystems, degrade watersheds, and cause species decline. In 2010, the government charges just $1.35 per month to graze one cow and calf on public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which is the lowest possible rate under the current fee formula.

"Given the massive budget shortfall our country is facing, we can no longer afford to subsidize a small group of ranchers to graze public lands at public expense," said Mark Salvo, director of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign for WildEarth Guardians.

Although the Administrative Procedures Act requires the government to respond to rulemaking petitions, the Departments of Interior and Agriculture have not responded to plaintiff’s 2005 petition. Today’s lawsuit seeks that response.

“Our public lands are worth far more than cheap forage for private livestock operations,” said Great Anderson, Arizona director of the Western Watersheds Project. “The agencies should take this opportunity to set an appropriate value for livestock use of these lands, which provide habitat for plants and animals, clean our air and water, and provide recreational opportunities for millions of Americans.”

The conservation organizations are represented by attorney Marc Fink of the Center for Biological Diversity and attorney Matt Kenna of Durango, Colorado.

To see a copy of today’s complaint, click here.
To see a copy of the Center’s report on assessing the full cost of public-lands livestock grazing click here.


Livestock grazing is one of the most ubiquitous and destructive uses of public land. It is also a contributing factor to the imperilment of numerous threatened and endangered species. Those species include the desert tortoise, Mexican spotted owl, southwestern willow flycatcher, least Bell’s vireo, Mexican gray wolf, Oregon spotted frog, Chiricahua leopard frog, and dozens of other species of imperiled mammals, fish, amphibians, and spring snails that occur on western public land. Public lands livestock grazing is also a primary factor contributing to unnaturally severe western wildfires, watershed degradation, soil loss, and the spread of invasive plants — as well as annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 705,342 passenger vehicles.

Grazing fees apply to livestock grazing across 258 million acres of western public land administered by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management — 81 percent of the land administered by the two agencies in the 11 western states. There are approximately 23,600 public-lands ranchers, representing about 6 percent of all livestock producers west of the Mississippi River.

The low federal grazing fee contributes to the adverse impacts caused by livestock grazing on public lands for two primary reasons: (1) the below-fair-market-value fee encourages annual grazing on even the most marginal lands and allows for increased grazing on other areas; and (2) since a percentage of the funds collected is required to be used on range mitigation and restoration, the low fee equates to less funds for environmental mitigation and restoration of the impacted lands.

A 2005 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service grazing receipts fail to recover even 15 percent of administrative costs and are much lower than fees charged by the other federal agencies, states, and private ranchers. The U.S. Government Accountability Office found that the Bureau and Forest Service grazing fee decreased by 40 percent from 1980 to 2004, while grazing fees charged by private ranchers increased by 78 percent for the same period. To recover expenditures, the Bureau and Forest Service would have had to charge $7.64 and $12.26 per animal unit month, respectively.

Cowboy Down: Rob Krentz's Family Talks About the Life and Death of the Murdered Arizona Rancher

By Paul Rubin
published: June 10, 2010

Sue Krentz answered the phone about 6 p.m.

It was March 27, a Saturday, and she was in Phoenix, tending to her aged parents as a sister attended a conference.

Sue usually doesn't stray from her family's venerable cattle ranch in Cochise County for too long at a stretch. But she was planning on staying through the weekend, as another sister was coming into town for a visit.

She and Rob, her husband of 32 years, hadn't been on a vacation in years, what with endless tasks on the ranch, about 35 miles northeast of Douglas, Arizona, near the borders of New Mexico and Mexico.

The call was from her 27-year-old son, Frank, who also works on Krentz Ranch.

"We can't find Daddy," he told his mother.

Sue last had spoken to Rob early that morning. He had told her he planned to check on some water lines on the sprawling property, an everyday responsibility to preserve the ranch's lifeblood.

Sue packed her bags, jumped into her car, gassed up, and headed for home, trying not to panic.

"We'd been shouting for years about the Mexican drug smugglers coming through our land," she tells New Times, the first time she has spoken publicly about that day.

"Things are dangerous for ranchers and other residents. But I tried to convince myself that no one would ever hurt Rob, who was the kindest person you'd ever hope to meet."

Sue got home just before midnight.

Home is at Krentz Ranch headquarters, five bumpy miles up a dirt road off State Route 80, the major north-south route east of Douglas.

She and Rob raised their three children in their modest adobe-and-plaster home, built around the turn of the 20th Century and where Rob himself was raised.

Sue stepped outside into the chilly night to gather herself. The moon was nearly full, and the sky was flush with stars.

A helicopter soon came into view, maybe ten miles away on the south side of Route 80. It circled around briefly before descending.

Dread overwhelmed Sue.

Within minutes, family members and friends sped up the road in their all-terrain vehicles with grim news.

"Rob was dead, and someone had shot our dog Blue too," Sue says. "Blue was alive, but they had to put him down. He was a real good dog. How can I say this? There was evil out there that day."

Word of Rob Krentz's murder — the first of an Arizona border rancher in anyone's memory — flew around Cochise County within hours.

Within a day or two, the entire nation knew about it.

Krentz became an unlikely martyr, his violent death symbolizing to many everything that's wrong at the border. To them, he surely was the victim of an illegal, drug-smuggling alien.

He became the face of then-pending Senate Bill 1070, the madly controversial legislation whose point is to identify, arrest, and deport illegal aliens from Arizona.

To the crusty, close community of southern Arizona's border ranchers, Krentz was just "good old Rob," the co-patriarch, with younger brother Phil, of his family's more-than-a-century-old cattle spread.

By every account — except for unsubstantiated, anonymous comments on the internet — Rob Krentz was an old-school cowboy with no known enemies and a big heart.

The Krentz brothers seemed to come from another time and place, strapping men who performed their cattle-ranching chores without complaint, battling droughts, economic malaise, endless government regulations, and, since the mid-1990s, an onslaught of Mexican drug smugglers on their land.

It was incomprehensible to those who knew Rob Krentz that someone would murder the 58-year-old grandfather as he sat in his Polaris four-wheeler in a remote pasture.

"All we wanted was to be able to live in safety on our own land," his widow says. "We don't want anyone on our property who isn't invited — drug smugglers, Minutemen, anyone. I guess that was too much to ask."

Some details of what transpired on March 27 have emerged over time. But critical facts, including the most important one — the identity of Rob's murderer — have not.

Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever held a news conference in Bisbee on the Monday after Krentz's body was found.

The somber sheriff, who liked and respected Krentz, provided details of the case, with New Times adding others from additional sources:

Rob and Phil Krentz were working on different parts of the expansive ranch that Saturday morning.

Rob called Phil on a hand-held radio (cell-phone service is spotty there) between 10 and 10:30.

Sheriff Dever tells New Times that Rob told Phil he had just seen an undocumented alien near a water well on the property. The alien appeared to be "in need of help," the sheriff recounts, and Rob asked his brother to contact Border Patrol.

Later, sheriff's investigators spoke with two ranchers who share a radio frequency with the Krentzes and other neighbors.

One of the ranchers, Fred Edington, said he was listening to the ranch radio when Rob called Phil about being out there "with one illegal or several illegals. He could not remember [how many] but remembers hearing [Rob] say an illegal was hurt and to contact Douglas Border Patrol."

Edington heard Phil respond that he couldn't hear Rob too well.

The second rancher listening in was Wendy Glenn, a lifelong Cochise County resident who lives on Malpai Ranch with her husband, Warner.

"There was no urgency in Rob's voice when he spoke with Phil," she tells New Times. "He said he had seen an illegal that looked like he might need help and that Phil should call Border Patrol. That kind of thing happens quite often here. That's right when he went missing."

The brothers were supposed to meet somewhere on the ranch about noon, but Rob didn't show and wasn't responding to Phil's repeated calls.

Phil Krentz notified other family members and friends, who cast out on their ATVs around Krentz Ranch, which covers about 65 square miles, an area about the size of Glendale, Arizona.

Time slipped away.

Dever tells New Times that he learned Rob was missing after a rancher called him at 6:15 p.m.

That is approximately when Frank Krentz called his mother in Phoenix.

The sheriff says he immediately contacted his agency's search-and-rescue team, which was training in the Cochise Stronghold area, about 90 minutes away.

Cochise County deployed six police cars and two ATVs to Krentz Ranch. The Border Patrol and other federal law enforcement agencies also responded.

It was dark by then.

Five long hours would pass before a pilot in an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter spotted Rob Krentz's ATV south of Highway 80, still running and with its lights on.

Rob was the victim of a gunshot wound to his left side that, according to sheriff's officials, proved fatal within minutes.

His rifle and a pistol were tethered in a scabbard and holster on the ATV, unused.

Blue, his loyal 8-year-old heeler, was lying in the rear of the small vehicle, also shot. The dog was alive but mortally wounded.

The killer had about a 14-hour head start on the cops, plenty of time to get over the Mexican border, about eight miles south.

Following tire tracks, county investigators traced the ATV back about 300 yards to where Rob and the dog apparently had been shot.

There, they found three expended bullet shells — Sheriff Dever wouldn't reveal the caliber to the media. An agent from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement identified the dusty footprints of one individual at the scene.

Trackers from several agencies followed the footprints south, toward the Mexico line, where the trail ended.

"There is absolutely no reason this had to happen," Dever concluded at his news conference, "other than the bad intentions of one sick, sorry individual whom we hope to be able to catch up to very quickly."

Dever's comments raised many still-unanswered questions:

Why would anyone connected to the drug trade risk the wrath and intense scrutiny (from both sides of the border) that killing a popular rancher in cold blood would bring?

Why did the killer also shoot Blue? Had the dog come upon an advance scout for the Mexican drug cartels who smuggle in untold amounts of dope through Cochise County every year?

Why did it take so long for authorities to find Rob Krentz's body after his family had called in a missing-persons report?

As for the latter, Dever tells New Times that "Rob was found kind of down in a little arroyo. You wouldn't see him from any of the nearby roads."

U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed her agency had "responded immediately to the murder. Immediately following the shooting, Customs and Border Protection [the Border Patrol] deployed additional helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to the area of the shooting. Border Patrol trackers located the footprint sign of the suspect and tracked him back into Mexico."

Not quite, says Cochise County Sheriff Dever. He says his agency requested, without success, Border Patrol "air assets" hours earlier.

Dever speculates that long-standing radio communications problems between Border Patrol stations in Lordsburg, New Mexico, and Douglas may have caused the delay.

The Border Patrol did respond by air, Dever says, but not until after the state Department of Public Safety had dispatched a Ranger helicopter from Tucson and soon found Rob's body using heat-seeking sensors and other technology.

And the biggest question, especially to politicians and the general public: Was the murderer an illegal alien?

Sheriff Dever told New Times after the shooting that "it makes sense that Rob ran into a guy who was involved in drug trafficking. The tracks tell us that the guy was heading south to Mexico, which suggests what it suggests. Whether he's an illegal or not remains to be seen. But it wouldn't surprise me."

Dever mentioned retaliation as a possible motive, saying that Phil Krentz called the Border Patrol one day before the shooting after spotting a group of what looked like undocumented immigrants on the ranch.

The agents soon arrested eight migrants and found almost 300 pounds of marijuana in the vicinity.

But federal prosecutors never filed drug-smuggling charges in the case, supposedly because they couldn't establish a direct link between the men and the pot.

The sheriff said Rob Krentz, like all border-area ranchers, had been deeply frustrated by the influx of drug smugglers onto his land.

But he noted that Rob, conversant in Spanish, was known to have helped ordinary migrants over the years by providing them with water and food.

Public interest in the Rob Krentz murder case skyrocketed.

Part of it stemmed from the remarkable timing: Senate Bill 1070 — the Arizona Legislature's thumbing its nose at the feds over illegal immigration — was nearing a final vote.

If odds of its controversial passage seemed great before the Krentz murder, it was a given afterward.

But authorities weren't prepared to say officially (they still aren't) that the homicide was committed by an undocumented alien, even if Sheriff Dever, the Krentzes, and many others seem convinced that it was.

The bill's sponsor, right-wing state Sen. Russell Pearce of Mesa, said in an interview, "The murder of Robert Krentz — whose family had been ranching in Arizona since 1907 — by illegal alien drug dealers was the final straw for many Arizonans."

Someone suggested they should dub the bill "Krentz's Law."

For its part, the Krentz family issued a statement, saying it held "no malice toward the Mexican people for this senseless act, but do hold the political forces in this country and Mexico accountable for what has happened.

"Their disregard of our repeated pleas and warning of impending violence toward our community fell on deaf ears shrouded in political correctness. As a result, we have paid the ultimate price for their negligence in credibly securing our borderlands."

A rosary for Rob Krentz was recited at St. Luke's Catholic Church in Douglas, followed by a memorial Mass at Douglas High attended by more than 1,000 people.

Afterward, close friends and family went to the old Gadsden Hotel in downtown Douglas for a private get-together.

The Arizona Cattlemen's Association soon announced a reward of $15,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Rob Krentz's killer, and the federal Department of Homeland Security later added $25,000 to the kitty.

Predictably, Gov. Jan Brewer, in a heated political fight to win the Republican primary late this summer, signed 1070 into law in late April. It is slated to go into effect July 29, though lawsuits have been filed seeking to enjoin the state from implementing it.

Rumors about the Krentz murder ran rampant on the web and in print.

According to one missive, Rob's brother and best friend Phil was the real killer, for reasons unspecified.

Another spun an elaborate yarn about how Rob had come upon an illegal alien lying on the ground saying he was sick.

It held that Rob had contacted the Border Patrol for help but that the alien shot him anyway. Mortally wounded, he called the Cochise County Sheriff's Office, and several ranchers who overheard the call "drove to his location."

Rob was dead, but the ranchers tracked the killer back to the border, where they, according to the yarn, "cornered him in a bushy draw."

Somehow, the guy evaded the makeshift posse, Border Patrol helicopters, and a bevy of law enforcement agents before fleeing to Mexico.

On May 3, the Arizona Daily Star published a story headlined, "Focus in Krentz Killing on Suspect in U.S. — Authorities Say Slaying That Sparked Outcry Over Border Security Was Not Random."

The Tucson piece cited "high-ranking government officials with credible information" who had come forward as anonymous sources "citing a desire to quell the fury over illegal immigration and drug smuggling set off by the shooting of longtime rancher Robert Krentz.

"[The sources] said Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever is investigating a person in the United States, not in Mexico, in connection with the shooting."

New Times was at Sheriff Dever's office in Bisbee on the morning this story broke, and he angrily insisted it was flat wrong.

One day later, May 4, the Star published a correction:

"The story, as originally reported, said the suspect is believed to be in the United States. It was changed to 'American' in the editing process. While the suspect is believed to be in the U.S., the nationality is unknown."

It is mid-May in Cochise County.

The Krentzes have seen politicians come to their ranch and go. The pols have paid their respects and stood before cameras to decry how the feds have ceded control of the border to Mexican drug cartels.

Political posturing on the illegal immigration issue is at an all-time high, in Arizona and nationally.

Just a few days earlier, five Arizona legislators from the Phoenix area, all conservative Republicans, dropped by to visit Sue Krentz. They were shuttled to the ranch in what Sue describes as an armored car, protected by heavily armed state troopers.

"Hope they felt safe," Sue says, smiling wryly. "They were 'fact-finding.'"

Naturally, Sue's life has been out of whack since Rob's death, and she says she hungers to find "a new normal."

But she knows that the life she knew and loved is gone, stolen from her in a moment by a murderer's bullet.

"One bad decision killed one person and impacted a lot of people for the rest of their lives," she says. "I'm a widow now — just like that. Think about it: My mom is 87 and my dad is 89, so I'm going to live 50 years or something like that by myself."

Sue is sitting at her cluttered kitchen table, which serves as the center of a whirlwind of activity.

A good friend, Judy Keeler, who lives on a ranch just inside nearby New Mexico, has come over to visit.

Sue's daughter, 25-year-old Kyle Gutierrez of Wyoming, is staying awhile at the ranch with her two young children, Robert and Madyson.

Robert, who is 4, told Sue after Rob died, "'You don't have to worry about it, Grandma. I'm gonna kill the bad guy.'"

Sue says she told the little boy, "You can't do that," explaining why revenge isn't the way to seek justice.

Sue is a sturdy woman in her mid-50s who has spent a lifetime living on ranches. It shows in her weathered hands and face, which are at the mercy of the desert sun, relentless wind, and biting winter cold.

She speaks her mind and is an unusually good listener.

Today, she's fretting about the ranch, which she alone now owns with her brother-in-law Phil and his wife, Carrie, and her sister-in-law Susan Pope and her husband, Louie.

"There is no rich uncle," she says. "This is it. It's us, making it or breaking it."

A poster of John Wayne in Western garb hangs on a wall that leads to the living room.

"That's my dad," Kyle Gutierrez says, pointing to the poster. "My dad was John Wayne. He could do anything and everything. If I had a problem, he'd know what to do. A math question, he'd figure it out in his head. He was a big man, but he really was a teddy bear. Just like John Wayne."

The room quiets.

Kyle continues: "I know his last thought was, 'Oh, shit. What's gonna happen to my family?' He didn't think about himself. He thought about her."

The young woman gestures to her mother, who is crying silently at the words.

Sue steps into the living room, where she keeps her desktop computer. Nearby, a bunch of well-worn cowboy hats hang on wall pegs — some of them were Rob's, the others her two sons'.

"You know, all of my kids are trying to be brave," she says. "I guess we don't have a choice, other than I could go crazy."

She pauses.

"Let me tell you a little bit about me and Rob, OK?"

It was a marriage of Cochise County ranching royalty when Rob Krentz and Sue Kimble got hitched in Douglas in 1977.

The Krentzes and the Kimbles are two of southeastern Arizona's most revered cattle-ranching families. Both clans' ranches are at the south end of the San Simon Valley, between the Chiricahua and Peloncillo mountain ranges.

Rob was a few years older than Sue. He was popular as a teenager, a big rancher's kid with a quietly solid way about him. He was active in 4-H and played football for the Douglas High Bulldogs.

Sue was the third of seven siblings. As a teen, she saw herself as something of a loser, an overweight girl who never went to prom.

Rob earned his nickname of "Cap'n Crunch" as an interior lineman for the Bulldogs, an unheralded team that finished second in the state in a smaller-school division in 1968, when he was a junior.

Rob enrolled at Cochise Community College after graduation and spent two years there before transferring to the University of Arizona, where he earned a degree in animal science.

He was a fine student, and Cornell University in upstate New York offered him an Ivy League postgraduate fellowship.

But Rob just wanted to be a cowboy, and he returned to the ranch that his father, Bob, was still running.

Sue Kimble attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff for two years before also returning home for good.

Rob and Sue had their first date on June 23, 1976, at a Douglas country bar called the Red Barn.

"It was one of those deals," Sue says. "We could have gotten married right then and there."

They waited until July 23, 1977.

"Not many people get to come home when they grow up," Sue says. "I did. I got to be a rancher's wife, and Rob turned out to be the perfect man for me. He always kept me level."

The newlyweds honeymooned in San Diego, then returned to Krentz Ranch to brand cattle for six days straight.

Such is the ranching life.

Being so close to the Mexican border, the Krentzes had frequent, usually friendly, contact with Mexicans (their daughter married a Mexican-American).

But circumstances changed for the worse in the mid-1990s.

One of the Krentzes' neighbors, Bill McDonald of the Sycamore Canyon Ranch, described what happened in a May 28 testimony before a U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs subcommittee:

"Border crossers, going both ways, are not new to our area. As long as I can remember — and long before — ranch hands and cowboys from northern Chihuahua and Sonora crossed to work in southern Arizona and New Mexico... The border was casual, and the area was peaceful for years.

"The numbers of crossers did not become problematic for local residents until about ten years ago. Large amounts of trash, cut pasture fences, floats broken off in water troughs, water lines cut and precious stored water lost, trails made by humans so deep that they start gully erosion... all of this has cost ranchers dearly in repairs, extra cattle work, and destruction of the landscape. Still, most ranchers just continued to try to live with it."

McDonald went on to say that, in the past few years, "the character of the crossers has taken an ominous turn."

He recalled that Rob Krentz's message to Border Patrol agents at a community meeting a few years earlier was that "if things continued as they were, it was inevitable that someone would be killed."

A few years ago, the Krentzes found the remains of a woman on their ranch. An undocumented migrant, she died of dehydration just yards from a water trough.

"Why did this happen?" Sue Krentz says. "How could our government let this happen to us and to her and thousands like her? No one cares."

Rob Krentz wasn't keen about expressing himself in public. But he spoke out again in May 2005, this time telling a Tucson television station that migrants had cost his family ranch up to $8 million over the previous five years.

The losses were the type described by Bill McDonald in his stark Senate testimony a few weeks ago.

Sue was more outspoken than her husband, writing to politicians and trying to get someone in authority to listen to the plight of Arizona border ranchers.

"Maybe they listened," she says, "but I can't say that anybody did anything."

Sue Krentz drives a visitor around the north part of the ranch, near her home and about ten miles from the murder site.

She knows every dip, every slippery turn on the old dirt roads. "You know your child, you know your ranch," she says.

Sue isn't carrying a firearm — never does. She says she isn't "going to live scared. I'm going to deal with what I'm going to deal with."

A stretch of the road runs through U.S. Forest Service land. Sue stops at a large metal sign that the feds erected a few years ago.

It says, "Travel Caution: Smuggling and Illegal Immigration May Be Encountered in This Area."

Sue parks and steps into a pasture crisscrossed with water lines.

"The water that our cattle and the wildlife drink comes from our private land — land that we pay taxes on, land that is ours," she says. "Is there anything wrong with that?"

Sue talks about her late husband's physical problems, how his body had been breaking down after years of grinding it out on the ranch.

Rob had back surgery in July 2009, and it was months before he could resume working full time. He and Sue regularly drove over to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where their son Andy is a physical therapist, for rehab.

In January, Rob had one of his hips replaced. His second hip had been scheduled for similar surgery in May.

"Rob's attitude helped him out with all this stuff," Sue says. "He just did what he could out there, even though he still couldn't move so much. He was pretty beat-up."

An ATV zips by in the other direction on the dirt road. A big fellow in the four-wheeler has a dog on either side of him.

He waves at Sue, and she waves back.

"That's my brother-in-law Phil," Sue says. "He's got so much more to do now that Rob is gone."

The cowboys now responsible for the day-to-day operation of Krentz Ranch are Phil, his son Ben, and Sue's son Frank.

It strikes Sue that she hasn't heard from Frank in a few hours.

"He's working today down near where Rob got shot," she says. "Stuff has to be done. But I get kind of crazy when he's out on the ranch and I don't hear from him for a while. I think he might be hurt, that somebody's done something to him."

Sue speaks of her continued faith in God, despite all that's happened to her and her family.

"I'm a Catholic, and I have to trust in what he has in store for all of us," she says. "But I am a little aggravated with my church right now."

She tells of attending a Sunday Mass with her sister, Dr. Lily Percell, in Phoenix a few weeks earlier.

The priest was sermonizing about Senate Bill 1070 and "how it's evil and [how] he picks up illegal aliens and takes them to safety, and how he supposes that makes him an illegal. I'm getting madder and madder, not because all aliens are evil people or even because I know that an illegal killed Rob. I'm mad because there's nothing coming out of his mouth that says anything about our rights, about what's happened to us, American citizens."

Sue says she and Lily walked out of the sermon and paced around the church parking lot.

Afterward, a lay pastor came out and tried to reason with the sisters.

"He told us that we all have our human dignity, that God looks at us all the same and all of that," Sue Krentz says. "I told him, 'What about my human dignity, hon? What about my husband's human dignity, getting shot in cold blood while he's out with his dog?'"

She finishes with this: "I wonder what really happened out there with Rob that day. But basically, I just wonder why."

Sheriff Larry Dever says there has never been a case in his 30-year police career that he's wanted solved more than Rob Krentz's murder.

His department's investigation continues, with the assistance of federal agencies that have more manpower and technology than are available to the financially strapped county.

"Let me put it like this," Dever says. "I have never seen one single event put such a huge exclamation to a movement, if you will, of people saying, 'Let's solve this illegal-immigration problem.'

"At one point, I thought it was very possible that we were going to see the killer tied to a fence somewhere on this side of the border dead with some incriminating evidence on him. But that hasn't happened.

"We obviously aren't rushing to judgment, and we are not going to arrest someone for the sake of arresting someone. We don't do that."

Sue Krentz reports that friends have gotten her a new dog, a "big Brazilian hound of some sort." She named him Bull and surely will come to love him.

But not a minute goes by, Sue says, that she doesn't picture Rob and Blue on their ATV, going out to do what they loved.

Rob and Blue were cremated.

"Rob told me at one point that if he died before me, he wanted his ashes spread down on the creek, a place he loved so much," Sue says. "I've got both Rob and Blue with me right now. But I'm just not ready to do that yet."

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Judge: Cattle cannot muddy Ore. steelhead streams

A federal judge has ruled that grazing on public land in the Malheur National Forest has led to degradation of steelhead streams that the U.S. Forest Service failed to protect.

Conservation groups said the ruling by U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty showed the Forest Service grazing plan allowed livestock to damage steelhead habitat over nearly half a million acres along more than 300 miles of streams in the John Day River Basin in eastern Oregon.

Livestock can damage stream banks and muddy the clear, cool water needed for steelhead, a Pacific Northwest native trout listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Brent Fenty, executive director of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, said the decision will lead to long-term improvements for managing environmentally sensitive streams.

"We want to see steelhead recover in the John Day so they can once again be a central, social, cultural and economic asset," Fenty said.

But a rancher and spokesman for other ranchers in the area said the ruling was also a win for them because it showed the agency must tell them when they need to move their cattle away from critical stream banks.

"The key is when you get to the point the cows need to be moved, they need to be moved," Ken Holliday said. "It's really the Forest Service's job to do monitoring and be watching everything. They're the ones with all the science on their side."

A number of ranchers had intervened in the lawsuit to argue the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act by arbitrarily limiting grazing on public land in the Malheur.

The judge said in the ruling that damage done to stream banks in 2007 and 2008 was "particularly deplorable" and noted "this court has repeatedly found the grazing program to be insufficiently protective of listed fish species."

The current plan could have better protected fish if it had been enforced more effectively, the judge said.

A Forest Service spokesman in Portland referred questions to the agency's headquarters in Washington, D.C., but officials were not available for comment after hours.

David Becker, an attorney for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, said the ruling will help guide the next biological opinion, or plan for steelhead protection, expected next spring.

He praised Haggerty for bringing ranchers, environmentalists and federal agencies together as he considered the case, including earlier rulings on grazing permits for the 13 allotments covered by the current biological opinion issued in 2007.

"Maybe the agreement that the judge had us work on for this current season is a harbinger of something we can sit down together and talk about," Becker said.

Wilderness Proposal meant to ease concerns

Revisions to a proposal for creating federal wilderness in Do-a Ana County are meant to ease concerns relating to border enforcement, lawmakers said Wednesday.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, D-N.M., announced they plan to modify a wilderness bill they introduced last year by changing the designation of 30,000 acres in the southernmost part of the county.

They said the new proposal would classify the acreage as a restricted-use area, a new designation in which vehicle use by the general public would be banned, but law enforcement would still be able to access the land for routine patrols.

Jude McCartin, spokeswoman for Bingaman, said the change would increase the size of a buffer zone between the international border and the southernmost tip of the proposed wilderness, giving border agents "more flexibility" in their work. The initial bill included a three-mile buffer, but the restricted-use area would add another two miles to that. Either buffer would expand upon the 1/3-mile buffer that exists now under a temporary wilderness designation.

McCartin said the senators made the decision in response to concerns expressed at a February field hearing in Las Cruces about the legislation.

"Working with the Border Patrol, I believe we
have come up with a very good resolution that both enhances our border security and protects one of New Mexico's iconic landscapes," Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

Wilderness proponent Nathan Small, with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, said the announcement "makes a good bill even better" and shows that lawmakers are working with the community on the legislation.

"It's clear Sens. Bingaman and Udall have really gone the extra mile to not only address current concerns but to look far into the future about how to best protect our wilderness areas and provide for strong border security," said Small, also a Las Cruces city councilor.

Frank DuBois, with the group People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, which opposed an initial version of the legislation and instead put forward its own proposal, said he is reviewing the changes.

"I want to applaud Sen. Bingaman for holding a field hearing in Las Cruces and for recognizing border security is such an important issue to the community," he said. "However, I'm disappointed the senator didn't accept the compromise proposed by the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce to designate the Potrillos as a national conservation area, which would have protected the land but still allowed Border Patrol access to the entire area."

DuBois said he needs more time to review the changes before commenting further.

Prior to the recent revisions, Senate Bill 1689 would have created 259,000 acres of wilderness in the county, along with 100,850 acres of national conservation area, a more flexible designation. The designations cover three main areas: the Potrillo Mountains, the Organ Mountains and the Broad Canyon area.

Members of the ranching community and Las Cruces Tea Party have said they're worried a wilderness designation in southwestern Do-a Ana County, around the Potrillo Mountains, would hinder law-enforcement access to the area because of a ban on vehicle travel within wilderness. They've argued that could draw smuggling traffic.

Proponents of wilderness, however, contend the designation wouldn't hinder enforcement, thanks to a cooperative agreement among federal agencies that allows for officers involved in a pursuit to access otherwise-restricted lands.

The news release announcing the changes was accompanied by a letter from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin, indicating the changes would "greatly enhance the flexibility" of the agency to work in the border area.

Also with the revisions:

• Boundaries of the proposed Organ Mountains National Conservation Area were pulled back an extra one-half mile in the area of Anthony, N.M., to allow for future development on the east side of Interstate 10.

• Boundaries of the proposed Organ Mountains National Conservation Area were pulled back by about 1,000 feet where it parallels the Interstate 10 corridor, to exclude existing flood control structures and allow for building of future flood infrastructure.

• The boundary of the proposed Desert Peaks National Conservation Area, between Las Cruces and Hatch, was pulled back by 300 feet in some places.

• The Prehistoric Trackways National Monument, northwest of Las Cruces, would be expanded by 470 acres to include "recent, new discoveries," according to Bingaman's office.

This week's changes must still be formally adopted into the legislation by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which Bingaman is chairman.

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

Monday, June 7, 2010

Wolf-recovery program now 'at risk of failure'

Twelve years after Mexican gray wolves were reintroduced in Eastern Arizona, their dwindling numbers are putting the population "at risk of failure," says a recent report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Factors such as the rigid borders of the endangered wolves' recovery area, removal of wolves to protect livestock, and illegal shooting of wolves are keeping the only wild population of Mexican gray wolves from growing, says the "conservation assessment" released last month.

After 1998, when the first 11 wolves were released in the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area, their numbers started growing and were expected to reach 100 wolves in 2006. The known population hit a high of 59 in 2006 but then began dropping, falling to 42 last year.

The project has cost taxpayers $20 million or more since 1998. Now officials and others are seeking a way to move the wolf program further from its origin as a way to rescue the subspecies, and instead create a viable wild population.

"It is time to shift the focus of the recovery program from the 'brink of extinction' toward pursuit of full recovery," the report concludes.

Among the initiatives under way is a proposed release of eight captive wolves into the area, which would be the most wolves released since 2003. The regional head of the Fish and Wildlife Service discussed the possible release with the directors of Arizona's and New Mexico's game and fish departments Wednesday.

Other efforts to salvage the population are less direct but perhaps as important over the long term:

• Some ranchers are adopting practices to limit contacts between their herds and wolves.

• The service is reconvening a "recovery team" and writing a new plan for the wolves to replace the existing, 1982 plan.

• Mexico, which has no known wild wolves, is planning its first release of wolves, in northeastern Sonora, which could be a key step in creating a healthy subspecies.

Closer to home, advocates on various sides of the wolf issue continue filing lawsuits, keeping the program in litigation. And some ranchers in the area continue to question the project's existence.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service would like to see us shut up and take our medicine," said Laura Schneberger, a rancher who heads the Gila Livestock Growers Association.

Problematic rules

The conservation assessment suggests the problems with the wolf population were built into it through its "removal" rules.

Under those rules, wolves that establish territories completely outside the boundaries of the Blue Range program or that establish a tendency to attack livestock are to be removed from the area. Since 1998, 144 wolves have been removed from the project area - more than the 92 that have been released in the same period.

"The No. 1 obstacle to Mexican gray wolf recovery has been removal, whether legal by the federal government or illegal in the form of poaching," said Nicole Rosmarino, the wildlife program director for an environmental group called WildEarth Guardians, which has sued over the wolf project.

Indeed, 31 wolves are known to have been shot during the life of the program, making shooting the top cause of mortality in the population. The Fish and Wildlife Service said at least two wolves were shot to death in 2009.

Service investigators are looking into the shootings and have turned over two cases to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Mexico, said Nicholas Chavez, the service's law-enforcement chief for the Southwest.

The assessment also raises the issue of the strict boundaries of the wolf recovery area as preventing population growth. Wolves are only released into a small "primary recovery area" in Eastern Arizona, along the border with New Mexico, and the farther they stray from that area, the greater the risk of being removed or picked up and put back in the primary area.

In previous years, the service has explored releasing wolves directly into the "secondary" recovery area in New Mexico, but it hasn't done so due to objections from that state, said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, which has been a frequent litigant in the wolf program. Now the service is talking about that option again, but Robinson says he'll believe it when he sees it.

"That should have been completed in 1999 or early 2000," he said.

Livelihood concerns

Much of what the service and environmentalists are proposing, Schneberger sees as threatening to her livelihood and that of her neighbors. Like many ranchers in the area, Schneberger leases U.S. Forest Service land for grazing cattle, and she sees the service as increasingly unfriendly to their way of life.

The new conservation assessment "just gives the environmentalists more momentum to sue," she said.

Her group last month filed a notice that it intends to sue over the government's increasing reluctance to remove wolves since 2007.

The truth about the project, Schneberger said, is it's doomed by genetic limitations. Just seven wolves trapped in the 1970s are ancestors of the entire population of Mexican gray wolves, including the 42 in the project and more than 300 in captive breeding sites.

"They have plenty of space. They just can't breed," Schneberger said.

The assessment concurs that it appears some breeding pairs are producing smaller litters due to inbreeding. But the captive breeding program, which has wolves living in 48 sites in the United States and Mexico, works to maximize genetic diversity, said Peter Siminsky, a former Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum researcher who now coordinates the program from Palm Desert, Calif.

"We have a studbook - a complete genealogy of all wolves in captivity and even some in the wild, going back to the founding animals," he said.

That lets scientists ensure genetic diversity is conserved in both the captive and wild populations. The captive animals are bred to maximize genetic diversity, and wolves are released into the wild based in part on their genetic suitability.

Limiting interactions

While some ranchers fight the wolf project outright, others are adjusting their practices to limit interactions between their herds and wolves.

Craig Miller, who works in the Tucson office of Defenders of Wildlife, said he's been working with a half dozen or so ranchers to help introduce new methods, paid for in part by his group:

• Adding additional riders to accompany herds in the summer calving and grazing season, steering them away from wolves.

• Supplying portable electric fencing to help keep sheep and cattle separate from wolves.

• Consolidating the livestock breeding schedule so calves are born in the winter, so they're bigger when wolves and pups emerge from their dens in summer.

"That's a huge step toward coexistence," he said.

Release in the works

Mexico's planned release of five wolves in northeastern Sonora did not happen as scheduled in February but is still planned.

The main issue remains the objections of cattlemen, said Luís Carlos Bravo, the northwestern Mexico representative of the environmental group Naturalia. Bravo said he's hopeful that showing ranchers the protections they're offered from depredation by wolves will sway them to support the release.

The government plans to release the wolves this summer in the Sierra San Luís, a mountain range that runs from the easternmost Arizona-Mexico border south about 80 miles.

The release could be important to wolf recovery in that the population, if it takes, will be close enough that it could intermingle with the Blue Range population, but far enough away that they couldn't both be wiped out by the same epidemic or other catastrophe.

Contact reporter Tim Steller at (520) 807-8427 or

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Western Watersheds Project’s Assault on Family Ranchers

Another Earth Day has come and gone. Earth Day has become a holy day of obligation for America’s secular religion, the environmentalist movement.

But hidden behind the facade of planting trees or discussing the virtues of “paper or plastic” is a well-financed global group of dedicated radicals who are bent on changing the way we live whether we like it or not. They are funded by a vast network of wealthy individuals, trust funds, and foundations who selectively give money to organizations they can control like puppets on a string (think George Soros).

One such organization has dedicated its entire existence to the warped dream of one man who says that his ultimate goal in life is to destroy families and a way of life with absolutely no regard for the economic or human cost.

Meet Jon Marvel and the Western Watersheds Project.

This is an organization that talks a big game about saving the environment but in truth has never lifted a finger or raised a dollar to mitigate the environmental issues they claim to care so much about.

This is an organization that bills itself, according to its mission statement [1], as a group dedicated “to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through public education, public policy initiatives and litigation”

That last word “litigation” is the key, because in truth they are nothing more than a group of professional plaintiffs who have filed hundreds of lawsuits against the government and individuals to accomplish their goals. Between 2000 and 2009 they have filed 91 lawsuits and 31 appeals in Idaho alone and hundreds more throughout the West..

And this is an organization that has been funded in part with the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people to the tune of $1.2 million in Idaho Federal District courts alone by the abuse of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which others have written about [2] on these pages.

The Western Watersheds Project is headquartered in that playground of the rich and famous, Sun Valley, Idaho. The organizaton’s neighbors include Teresa Heinz Kerry and her husband John Kerry as well as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Marvel’s ultimate goal? Ending any and all economic activity on the vast public lands that make up 75% of the American West. These are lands that are rich in resources and provide recreational opportunities like hunting, fishing, and hiking. They are also a critical part of our food supply, as grazing rights make cattle and sheep ranching possible.

Marvel saves his particular venom for the ranching communities of the West who lease the public lands from the government to graze their cattle or sheep.

Marvel and WWP claim that the ranchers pay very little to the government for the right to use the land for livestock grazing and that this is a form of “welfare” to the ranchers and the cowboys who work the land.

What he won’t tell you is that the rancher who enters into a lease agreement with the federal government is taking on the same responsibilities of environmental stewardship that they would on private land.

The ranchers are responsible for all the financial costs associated with maintaining the land as well as the wildlife that inhabit it. Failure to do so can result in fines, penalties, and the loss of the permit.

So here’s a question to ponder when you look at the wild claims of WWP and other environmental outlaws when it comes to cattle grazing on America’s public lands.

If livestock grazing is destroying the public lands, how come every year the grass comes back, the streams run clear with water, and the cycle of life continues as the land yields its nutrients to produce more meat for our tables?

Many ranching families can trace their history back five or six generations. So if everything that Jon Marvel and WWP say about the alleged abuse of the land were true, they would never have lasted one generation.

This is just the beginning. In the coming weeks I will be going into greater detail about WWP and the environmental cartel that is waging their war against the American West and the people who survived and prospered against everything Mother Nature has thrown at them and who are still fighting against a man-made pestilence — radical environmentalists armed with lawsuits.

Patrick Dorinson blogs at The Cowboy Libertarian.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Obama admin. holds meetings on 'Great Outdoors'

On the edges of a vast landscape that measures in the millions of acres and stretches north through a wilderness area and a scenic national park, ranchers and environmentalists have been able to agree on a lot lately.

The work done to preserve land in northwestern Montana's "Crown of the Continent" was made the shining example Tuesday of what the Obama Administration hopes to achieve with its new "America's Great Outdoors Initiative."

The conservation effort has focused on voluntary land sales of 310,000 acres from a large timber company, deals to retire mining and oil projects and conservation agreements with ranchers and land owners in developing homemade plans for a working landscape in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.

The varied interests behind the effort also agree the Obama Administration should make sure its new initiative doesn't force land conservation ideas from big cities down the throats of rural residents.

"Urban-based conservation movements have really only succeeded in alienating the very best allies: our ranchers, our loggers, our sportsmen and our farmers," said Melanie Parker, who lives in the scenic Swan Valley and has played an integral role in getting loggers and environmentalists in the area to talk with one another.

The administration assured all involved that its initiative will rely on the local ideas gathered in a nationwide listening tour launched Tuesday and Wednesday in Montana.

"The first message, clearly, is that this effort must be bottom up," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Far be it from me, from Iowa or Washington D.C. or wherever I come from, to suggest I know better."

Montana is a state, like many in the West, where federal land management and conservation are often hotly debated and can lead to long-lasting policy stalemates.

President Barack Obama expects that the multi-agency listening sessions around the country will result in a report delivered to him by November, Vilsack said. The next event will be in Los Angeles in the coming weeks, following sessions Wednesday in Missoula, Bozeman and Helena.

Watershed preservation efforts from the Great Lakes to Chesapeake Bay will also be covered, Vilsack said. The goal is to include everything from recreation to economic development, particularly for rural areas where incomes languish compared to most urban areas.

In Montana, the administration officials were joined by the state's governor and U.S. senators. They highlighted the decade-long conservation effort around The Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and Glacier National Park that has involved longtime foes in land use battles.

Enhancing wildlife habitat was a main goal, but so was improving the local economy with ways to make sure a working landscape became a sustainable timber source for planned biomass energy production.

State and federal money was secured, but only after it was clear the effort had widespread local support after years of hammering out complex deals.

The administration's new initiative comes as Republicans and others criticize the contents of an internal Interior Department memo and other records that show the administration was considering the potential for presidential monument declarations in nine western states. Those declarations, last done in Montana under former President Bill Clinton, remain a very sore point for some westerners.

Leading Democrats said the monument declarations are not part of the agenda.

"I am opposed to the administration creating monuments," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who holds an influential role in the Senate. "This is bottom up, that was top down."

Lawsuit Filed to Protect Arizona Endangered Species From Cattle Grazing

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.— The Center for Biological Diversity today sued the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect an endangered species, the Chiricahua leopard frog, from livestock grazing in the Fossil Creek watershed in the Mazatzal Mountains of central Arizona.

“Cattle can wipe out endangered animals at Fossil Creek and similar sensitive areas,” said Jay Lininger, an ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity in Flagstaff. “Public agencies must protect natural treasures from excessive grazing, not sacrifice them to private interests.”

Approximately 290 cows were released into the Fossil Creek Range Allotment last September, and grazing is ongoing there now.

Last year, the Coconino National Forest approved grazing by nearly 500 head of cattle in the 42,000-acre range allotment straddling the Mogollon Rim between Camp Verde and Strawberry. A Forest Service study showed that degraded range conditions due to past grazing and ongoing drought could not support the approved grazing levels, and that adverse effects to the watershed were likely to result from more grazing.

The complaint filed today in U.S. District Court in Tucson states that the Forest Service violated its management standards by allowing grazing levels in excess of what agency science shows to be the capacity of the land.

The Fish and Wildlife Service also violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to identify how many Chiricahua leopard frogs would be harmed or killed by livestock grazing — and by failing to limit that harm and mortality – as cows trample and dewater streams and wetlands.

The Fossil Creek watershed hosts the last remaining Chiricahua leopard frog habitat in the Coconino National Forest, according to federal biologists.

The grazing permit is held by J.P. Morgan & Chase Co., a multinational financial services firm.


Listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in 2002, the Chiricahua leopard frog needs permanent water to reproduce, making perennial Fossil Creek and 149 miles of tributary streams in surrounding uplands ideal habitat in an otherwise inhospitable desert environment.

But livestock grazing, water diversions, and dams have destroyed more than 80 percent of known habitat throughout the range of the species, which reaches from the Verde River basin into northern Mexico.

The Fish and Wildlife Service must limit “incidental take” of the frogs to avoid jeopardizing their continued existence at Fossil Creek, according to Todd Tucci, an attorney with Advocates for the West representing the Center in litigation.

But federal biologists failed to limit take when they signed off on the grazing proposal at Fossil Creek in a biological opinion issued by Fish and Wildlife last year and “clarified” in response to the Center’s notice of intent to sue in February.

“Federal biologists are ignoring the needs of Chiricahua leopard frog and letting cattle grazing drive it to extinction,” said Lininger. “Wildlife must come first in managing public lands.”

Fossil Creek was killed by civilization, restored in the new millennium, and now faces destruction by recreation and livestock grazing. Since 2004, Arizona Public Service Co. has removed two hydroelectric powerhouses and restored natural flows to the creek, and native fish species have replaced exotic ones.

“Fossil Creek is a resurrected river,” said Lininger. “But livestock grazing sets back public investment in restoration and benefits a massive bank with no stake in the local economy.”

Foresters had kept cows out of the Fossil Creek Range Allotment for part of the last decade because drought conditions and soil damage limited range capacity. Soil conditions are documented as “unsatisfactory,” “impaired,” or “inherently unstable” across 96 percent of the allotment, with only four percent of soils in “satisfactory” condition. Fully 60 to 87 percent of the allotment is in a downward range condition trend now, according to the Forest Service.

Soil erosion due to grazing and roads contributes sediment that harms aquatic life in Fossil Creek. Currently, soil loss is about 35 percent above normal, which translates into the erosion of eight tons of sediment per hectare each year.

Great Outdoors Initiative forum held in Helena

Federal officials got an earful Wednesday at a listening session in Helena on how to better protect open lands and get people, especially children, into the great outdoors as part of President Barack Obama’s Great Outdoors Initiative.

Jay Erickson with the Montana Land Reliance called for renewal of conservation-easement tax incentives, which could give ranchers more reason to keep from subdividing their property.

Bob Sanders with Ducks Unlimited wants to focus attention on preserving the wide open native prairies of Eastern Montana and the Dakotas, which he called “one of the most productive areas on Earth.”

Jim Quillin suggested keeping the management of public lands in Montana out of the hands of East and West Coast bureaucrats, while Jonathan Matthews with the Sierra Club noted that some limits to local control also are needed.

Many of those attending, though, said they would at least like to see land-management discussions begin at the local level before working their way to Washington.

Chris Bardash would like it to be a lot cheaper to recreate with his family in the national parks.

“It’s $200 a night to stay at a hotel in Yellowstone. There’s something wrong with that,” Bardash said. “When you go there with babies and grandparents, you can’t camp, but you’re priced out of staying in the hotels.”

The five men were among about 200 people who crowded into two banquet rooms at the Red Lion Colonial Inn in Helena, as one of four listening sessions held only in Montana this week on the president’s initiative. One session was held in Ovando on Tuesday, and two others were in Missoula and Bozeman on Wednesday. Additional listening sessions are expected to be scheduled in other states in the near future.

Robert Bonnie, a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, said the sessions were enlightening to the dozens of federal officials attending them. Vilsack, John Jarvis, director of the National Park Service, and Nancy Sutley, chairman of the White House Council for Environmental Quality, were among top federal officials who attended Tuesday’s session.

“This has been a great day and a half,” Bonnie said at the end of Wednesday’s session. “I’ve been in conservation for 20 years and learned a lot yesterday and today.

“We’ll announce more listening sessions in other parts of the country, but felt strongly that the place to kick these off is in Montana, because of the depth of experience in these issues.”

Former Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Gloria Flora urged officials to encourage their forest and park employees to get out from behind their computer tubes and into the public lands, to demonstrate the behaviors the president is calling for.

“I was a Forest Service employee for 20 years, and the employees are spending about half the time they used to in the field,” Flora said. “And stop outsourcing. You’re putting in people who are not trained and with no career dedication that most federal employees have.”

Flora and others also pleaded with the federal government for a more stable funding mechanism instead of relying on one-year appropriations.

“People come up with multiyear plans, and I had to sit there like a fool saying I can fund you through September and then we are done. I can’t promise you anything. A lot of land managers feel that way,” she said.

Along those financial lines, Lynda Saul with the Department of Environmental Quality noted that they had to send about $10 million in wetland preservation funding back to the federal government because it couldn’t be used for a variety of reasons. She said more flexibility is needed with federal funding.

Ellen Simpson with Montana Wood Products and others also said that if the government wants more people to use the outdoors, they need to make it easier to get into the forests.

“We need to open, not close, access to people,” Simpson said. “How you do that is up to the land managers, but if you want people to get off the couch and outdoors, you need to make it fairly easy to do.”

Mary Sexton, director of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said the federal government also needs to move faster and be more responsive in land exchanges with the state.

“A Forest Service land exchange in the Lolo took nine years. With private parties it’s usually two years, and we just finished one with the tribes in a year,” Sexton said. “Then, in land exchanges with the BLM, they offer land nobody wants.”

Ken McDonald with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, added that the federal government also needs to change rules regarding matching-fund programs, because instead of the money going toward the highest priority projects, it often is used for those with matching state or private monies.

“So it’s used for where you can get the best match rather than what the best conservation priorities are,” McDonald said.

Jennifer Harris, a mother of three young children, added that what’s really needed to make the Great Outdoors Initiative work is to support teachers doing more hands-on applications as well as finding ways for parents to get reconnected with the land.

“We would get more users who would be more empathetic with what’s going on with the land and have a better voice on policies,” Harris said. “I think we can create some programs to take to state parks and become a model for the nation, to try to get families more connected to the outdoors.”

For more information on the initiative, go to

People also can send comments, along with stories of favorite places or conservation efforts, to

Obama has asked for a report on the initiative to be submitted on him by Nov. 15.