Friday, July 30, 2010

NM governor suspends trapping in wolf area

Gov. Bill Richardson on Wednesday ordered a temporary ban on trapping on the New Mexico side of an area where Mexican gray wolves have been reintroduced into the wild along the New Mexico-Arizona border. Richardson ordered the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to prohibit trapping for six months while it studies what risk traps and snares pose to wolves...more



WHEREAS, the Mexican Gray Wolf is the smallest, rarest, and most genetically distinct subspecies of the Gray Wolf;

WHEREAS, the Mexican Gray Wolves that once widely roamed New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and the Republic of Mexico are now nearly extinct, suffering from the results of human development, reduction in habitat, and hunting;

WHEREAS, the Mexican Gray Wolf was listed as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act in 1976, and all known wild Mexican Gray Wolves were caught and put into a captive breeding program;

WHEREAS, the Gray Wolf species, of which the Mexican Gray Wolf is a subspecies, was listed as endangered under the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act in 1976;

WHEREAS, in 1998, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced the Mexican Gray Wolf to a portion of its historic range in New Mexico and Arizona within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (“Recovery Area”), which is comprised of the Gila and Apache National Forests;

WHEREAS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s goal was to restore at least 100 free-roaming Mexican Gray Wolves in the Recovery Area by 2005, but as of 2010, only 39 individual Mexican Gray Wolves are surviving in the wild;

WHEREAS, pursuant to the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act, the State Game Commission has enacted rules which make it unlawful for any person to take (defined as harass, hunt, capture, kill, or attempt to do so) any threatened or endangered species or subspecies in the State of New Mexico;

WHEREAS, under the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act endangered species may only be removed, captured, or destroyed with prior authorization by permit given by the Director of the Department of Game and Fish (“Department”) where necessary to alleviate or prevent damage to property or to protect human health;

WHEREAS, trapping and snaring activities occur in New Mexico within the Recovery Area even though such activities are negatively impacting the Mexican Gray Wolf, as traps and snares do not discriminate between Mexican Gray Wolves and the game animals intended to be taken;

WHEREAS, Mexican Gray Wolves may suffer injury or death while caught in a trap or snare due to dehydration, exposure to weather, or predation by other animals;

WHEREAS, in the last eight years, in the Recovery Area located in New Mexico, there have been six confirmed and three probable Mexican Gray Wolves that have been trapped, five of which have sustained injuries from traps or snares, including two Mexican Gray Wolves that had injuries severe enough to result in leg amputations;

WHEREAS, missing toes, claws, or other injuries can inhibit the Mexican Gray Wolves’ ability to catch prey and may actually increase the risk of livestock predation, as domestic livestock are easier to capture than native prey such as elk or mule deer;

WHEREAS, Mexican Gray Wolves require adequate prey and freedom from indiscriminate traps and snares to thrive in the Recovery Area; and

WHEREAS, tourism for watching the Mexican Gray Wolf has had almost no chance to develop in New Mexico, because the Mexican Gray Wolf population has not grown as planned.

NOW THEREFORE, I Bill Richardson, Governor of the State of New Mexico, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the State of New Mexico, do hereby order the Department of Game and Fish to carry out the purpose of the New Mexico Wildlife Conservation Act, which requires endangered species, including the Mexican Gray Wolf, be protected and direct the Department of Game and Fish to temporarily ban trapping in the portion of the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area located in New Mexico. The ban shall:

1. Prohibit trapping by persons licensed to trap pursuant to NMSA 1978, Section 17-5-5 and youth under the age of twelve years. This prohibition should not affect the right of a resident to trap animals in order to protect livestock, domesticated animals, or fowl. The ban shall be in effect for six months starting on November 1, 2010, while the two studies described below are completed.

2. Prohibit all methods of capturing a furbearer on land or in water, including leg-hold traps, neck and leg snares, Conibear kill traps, body-crushing traps, natural and man-made cubby sets, and other methods of trapping specified in NMAC. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the government of the United States and its agencies are exempted from this closure if the Mexican Gray Wolves require capture for medical treatment, monitoring, or relocation.

I further direct the Department to undertake a study of the various types of traps and snares allowed in New Mexico and to determine the level of risk to the Mexican Gray Wolf associated with the various traps and snares. The Department shall then pursue appropriate regulations to allow trapping within the Recovery Area only by use of traps and snares that pose minimal risk of harm or injury to the Mexican Gray Wolf.

I further direct the Department of Tourism to undertake a study on the potential economic benefits of ecotourism related to recovery of the Mexican Gray Wolf in the Recovery Area.

THIS ORDER supersedes any other previous orders, proclamations, or directives in conflict. This Executive Order shall take effect immediately and shall remain in effect until such time as it is rescinded by the Governor.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


v. JANE L. COTTRELL, in her official capacity as acting Regional Forester; UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 09-35756.
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Argued and Submitted February 2, 2010—Seattle, Washington.
Filed July 28, 2010.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies ("AWR") appeals the district court's denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction. AWR seeks to enjoin a timber salvage sale proposed by the United States Forest Service. Citing Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 129 S. Ct. 365 (2008), the district court held that AWR had not shown the requisite likelihood of irreparable injury and success on the merits. After hearing oral argument, we issued an order reversing the district court and directing it to issue the preliminary injunction. Alliance for Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, No. 09-35756, 2010 WL 2640287 (9th Cir. June 24, 2010). In this opinion, we now set forth the reasons for our reversal, and we take this opportunity to clarify an aspect of the post-Winter standard for a preliminary injunction...


We conclude that the district court erred in denying AWR's request for a preliminary injunction. AWR has established a likelihood of irreparable injury if the Project continues. AWR has also established serious questions, at the very least, on the merits of its claim under the ARA. Because AWR has done so with respect to its claim under the ARA, we do not reach its claims under NFMA and NEPA. The balance of hardships between the parties tips sharply in favor of AWR. Finally, the public interest favors a preliminary injunction. We therefore REVERSE and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Go here to view the entire opinion.

Forest Service Proposes to Close 500 Miles of Roads in Magdalena Ranger District

The Magdalena Ranger District revealed its Travel Management proposal today which would ban the use of all motor vehicles on around 500 miles of the existing roads in the District. This will affect all vehicles includes motorcycles, ATVs, and 4WDs. It also affects all members of the public, including hunters. Per the proposal put forward, the nearly 1400 miles of roads currently available to the public would be reduced to just over 900 miles.

The proposal also dramatically reduces the areas allowed for 'car camping'. The proposal would limit 'dispersed vehicle camping' to 300 feet either side of only 390 miles of roads. using a motor vehicle for camping alongside roads.

The release of the Proposed Action begins the process required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA process begins with Scoping, which is a step to determine the range of actions, alternatives, and impacts of the project to consider. The public has 30 days to provide scoping comment on these issues by submitting letters or emails. These proposals are in theMagdalena Ranger District, Travel Management Proposed Action. The 30 day comment period will end on August 24th.

The purpose of this proposal is to designate a motorized road and trail system on the Mountainair District. Designation will include class of vehicle and time of year for motor vehicle use. The decision will result in the publication of a Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM). After the MVUM has been released, ALL other motorized travel off the designated system will be prohibited.

Four Open House public meetings will be held on August 3rd-7th. This will be an opportunity to meet with the Forest Service and ask questions about the project and their proposal. See the calendar link below for times/dates/locations.

Comments can be submitted by postal mail, email, and fax. Specific instructions and contact information are available here.

Additional information regarding this proposal can be obtained from:

Cliff Nicoll, ID Team Leader, Cibola National Forest, 2113 Osuna Road, NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113. Phone: 505-346-3900.

El Paso Corp. Gives $20 Million To Enviros; Includes Grazing Buyout

ELKO, Nev. -- Nevada ranchers concerned about the potential impact on livestock grazing are upset about a deal between the builder of a 680-mile natural gas pipeline and two environmental groups that agreed to drop their opposition to the project stretching from Oregon to Wyoming.

El Paso Corp. agreed earlier this month to contribute $20 million over the next 10 years toward conservation efforts in the pipeline corridor to be overseen by the Idaho-based Western Watersheds Project and Oregon Natural Desert Foundation.

Both groups have indicated they intend to use some of the money to buy out grazing permits from willing sellers on federal land, with the intention of permanently retiring the permits issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service.

"The livestock industry is about as upset about this issue as it has been for a long time. We're going to fight it tooth and nail," said Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, an Elko County rancher who chairs the Nevada Legislative Committee on Public Lands.

Part of the pipeline would pass through the ranch owned by Rhoads, who requested officials for the Houston-based El Paso appear before the legislative panel at its meeting Friday in Ely.

El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley said they would be there.

"We will make our case and explain our position," El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley told the Elko Daily Free Press.

Rhoads said there would be major economic harm to small communities if ranchers sold grazing permits, and the government could retire those permits. The latter would require congressional approval.

"Hopefully, my committee will take some action, perhaps a letter to the congressional delegation asking them not to support such a concept," Rhoads said, adding that he wouldn't have agreed the pipeline could go through his ranch if he had known El Paso would enter into an agreement with the two environmental groups.

The public lands panel also will hear from the Nevada Cattlemen's Association, the Western Legacy Alliance and others on the threat to grazing permits.

Jon Marvel, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project, said last week that El Paso's agreement would allow for significant protection of the health of the range and the fish and wildlife that live there.

"It's unprecedented to have the support of industry to work for the retirement of public grazing permits," he said.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Lawsuit paints bull’s-eye on Fossil Creek grazing

The Forest Service’s decision to let some 300 cattle graze near Fossil Creek violates the law and will harm the Chiricahua Leopard Frog and other endangered species, according to a lawsuit filed by the Centers for Biological Diversity.

The alarming deterioration of the condition of the watershed had prompted the Forest Service to suspend grazing permits for more than 500 cattle several years ago, but after a study the Forest Service renewed the lease to a unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.

“Even the Forest Service’s own wildlife specialists concluded this is more than double (the number of cattle) the range can support,” said Jay Lininger, with the Centers for Biological Diversity. “Despite all the work that’s gone into restoring flows, this will wipe out the soil, change the hydrology and harm endangered species.”

Spokesman for the Coconino National Forest declined to comment, due to the pending lawsuit and referred all questions to the information in the Environmental Assessment posted on its Web site.

That study concluded that more than 56 percent of the rangeland remained in seriously degraded condition and that not allowing grazing would improve the riparian area.

Nonetheless, the Forest Service decided to renew the grazing lease, with requirements that the cattle be moved from pasture to pasture on the 42,000-acre parcel to minimize impacts on the creek.

Since the abandonment of a century-old hydroelectric plant about five years ago, the return of water to the creek has not only made it a recreational mecca, but also created one of the best native fish refuges in the southwest.

The Arizona Department of Game and Fish has created a catch-and-release fishery for Verde Trout and Headwater Chub, two native fish driven nearly to extinction elsewhere in their range.

The spring-fed, travertine rich waters of the creek have created a 15-mile long string of deep, blue-green, crystal clear pools that have drawn such heavy use that the Forest Service has banned camping and fires along the creek. The deep pools now swarm with native fish, after the U.S.. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Department of Fish and Game trapped the natives, poisoned the non-natives and restored the native fish with the renewed flows.

In responding to the Forest Service grazing plan, the Arizona Department of Fish and Game suggested letting about half as many cows on the grazing allotment as the Forest Service eventually permitted.

The Environmental Assessment concluded that the ranch managers working for the bank that owns the allotment could protect streamside vegetation and minimize erosion down the tributaries to the crystal-clear creek with intensive management, including fencing that would allow cowhands to constantly shift the cattle from one area to another, giving grass time to recover and keeping the cows out of the riparian areas during the spring when the riparian plants put on much of their growth.

The plan called for ongoing monitoring to make sure returning cattle to the watershed draining into Fossil Creek wouldn’t cause more damage.

However, the biologists who wrote the environmental assessment also concluded that not allowing cattle back onto the lease at all would boost the grass and riparian area even more.

The allotment has been grazed only fitfully for the past decade, due to the effects of a long, severe drought. It includes some 149 miles of streamfront, including Fossil Creek and its tributaries. Despite that long rest, the environmental assessment concluded that soil conditions were “impaired” across 49 percent of the range and “unsatisfactory” on an additional 7 percent. The biologists set up sample plots throughout the range and after several years of monitoring concluded that conditions had declined on 60 percent of the plots and were on a “downward trend” on 87 percent of the plots – even without grazing.

Lininger said up updated assessment showed that only 4 percent of the range is currently in “satisfactory” condition.

The environmental assessment showed that currently erosion is 35 percent higher than normal. That means each 2.5 acres on the allotment loses 8 tons of soil annually.

The report also documented a decline in streamside vegetation and a decline in conditions for several endangered species. That includes the Chiricahua Leopard Frog listed as threatened in 2002 after disappearing from 80 percent of its former range.

“It’s our position that livestock grazing had devastated the soil in Fossil Creek and that the place needs an extended rest,” said Lininger. “A multi-national finance firm has no business exceeding range capacity at the risk of wiping out a threatened frog there.”

The bank foreclosed on the historic Rim Rock ranch several years ago and now seeks to restart the ranching operation.

The Forest Service’s environmental assessment concluded that without letting cattle back onto the lease, the rancher operators won’t upgrade water supplies and fencing. Some Chiricahua Leopard Frog populations have been established in stock tanks, often with water supplied from windmills.

The Forest Service plan set various goals for the condition of the grass and vegetation, noting that range managers would have to pull cattle off the range if it continued to deteriorate.

The plan called for not letting the cattle eat more than 50 percent of the grass and 20 percent of the riparian plants. The rancher would also have to build additional fencing to give the cattle access to the stream in only a few places.

The Forest Service plan said the lease would be regulated through “adaptive management,” which controls grazing based on the conditions of the grass and brush rather than just the numbers of cows. Such a system requires constant adjustments as conditions change.

However, critics say the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to provide adequate monitoring of range conditions, especially because conditions were deteriorating due to the drought even with no cattle on the range at all.

Lininger said that the Forest Service needs to prepare a formal recovery plan for all the endangered species in the watershed before even considering opening the gate to renewed grazing.

“Some of these pastures go right up to the creek – and at three distinct points the cattle will have direct access to the creek,” said Lininger.

He said the Forest Service plan set no limits to the number of leopard frogs the cattle might kill or displace.

“Federal biologists are ignoring the needs of the Chiricahua Leopard Frog and letting cattle grazing drive it to extinction,” said Lininger. “Fossil Creek is a resurrected river, but livestock grazing sets back public investment in restoration and benefits a massive bank with no stake in the local economy.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Rancher loses grazing appeal

WINNEMUCCA — A Paradise Valley rancher seeking judicial review of actions taken by the government in canceling his grazing permits lost his five-year battle when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the US Forest Service.

Kenneth Buckingham’s grazing permits were cancelled in 2005 for non-compliance primarily because the rancher repeatedly grazed his cows in restricted allotments.

In the appeal Buckingham argued the forest service did not provide clearly defined allotment boundaries with either a description or a map, failed to give him notice to achieve compliance, unfairly used Buckingham’s previous record of non-compliance when considering new violations, and generally violated his right to due process under the US Constitution.

Buckingham was issued the grazing permit on May 26, 2005. On July 25 the USFS issued a notice of non-compliance because Buckingham’s cattle were observed on an allotment restricted from cattle grazing. On August 18 he received notice of non-compliance and a decision notice informing him that 25 percent of his grazing permit was being suspended for non-compliance with the terms of his grazing permit -- again for having cows in restricted areas..

On Sept. 9 he received another non-compliance notice for having failed to maintain a fence on the allotment as was required AND for having cows in restricted areas. On Nov. 18 the USFS cancelled Buckingham’s grazing permit altogether.

In the appeal Buckingham made two primary arguments: 1) that he was not given sufficient notice in order to bring his operation into compliance, and 2) he had no authority to fix the fence in question.

As an example of the time issue, Buckingham noted a non-compliance letter was sent on July 25 in which he was given until July 27 to remove all his cows from the restricted area. Interestingly, he alleged he did not receive the notice until July 30.

As for the fence the USFS claimed was not maintained, which allowed cows to wander freely into restricted areas, Buckingham claimed that fence was not his to repair. That portion of fencing was the responsibility of another rancher and he (Buckingham) could not get the authority to fix it. He further alleged portions of the fence were destroyed by the USFS themselves during a controlled burn.

Attorneys for the USFS counter-argued each notice was not a new violation but rather was the same violation that was never corrected. They further allege while Buckingham was given until July 27 to have his cows off the restricted allotment, they did not actually inspect until Aug. 12 & 13 – at which time Buckingham’s cows were still in the restricted area. The Forest Service alleges the cows were still on the restricted area on an Aug. 23 & 25 inspection.

On Sept. 9 Buckingham was issued another non-compliance notice, warned about a repeated problem with non-compliance, and advised to have his cows off the restricted area immediately.

Despite this, the USFS said Buckingham’s cows were observed on restricted allotments during inspections on Sept. 14, 18, 19, 20, 22, 26, 28, 29, and Nov. 10. On Nov. 18 Buckingham’s grazing permit was cancelled in its entirety.

In siding with the USFS, the district court noted, “For years, the Forest Service exercised exceptional restraint in dealing with Buckingham.” The court noted Buckingham’s history of non-compliance was relevant to the permit cancellation because the Forest Service understands such an action is a severe sanction; therefore, they approach such a move with caution.

The court noted, “Buckingham was not first-time offender.”

They went on to note because of his history the decision to cancel his grazing permit was neither arbitrary or capricious.

The court did not address the issue of the disputed fence.

Group Challenges Feds Over Troubled Species

Group Challenges Feds Over Troubled Species

By Susan Montoya Bryan
Associated Press
In a few hideouts around the Southwest, the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse has a precarious foothold on survival. With its large hind feet and long tail, it can jump up to three feet high and swim to avoid predators, but it still faces other threats that could eventually lead to its extinction.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acknowledges that the mouse — found in parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado — deserves protection under the Endangered Species Act, but a listing proposal has languished because the agency is busy with other activities.
That doesn't sit well with WildEarth Guardians.
The group on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit in Tucson, Ariz., challenging a loophole in the Endangered Species Act that allows the Fish and Wildlife Service to delay listing a species if it has higher priorities.
The problem, the group says, is the Southwest region hasn't listed a high priority species in years.
Nicole Rosmarino, the group's wildlife program director, said she hopes the mouse's case changes the way the agency does business since its endangered species listing program has become painfully slow at the national level and has ground to a halt in the Southwest region.
"We do not think the agency can use the 'warranted but precluded' loophole until it demonstrates that it is listing high priority species and is making expeditious progress," she said. "At this point, it cannot convincingly argue either point so we hope to have a positive ruling, not only for the jumping mouse but also to speak to this larger national issue."
In its defense, the agency says it can only do so much with the funding and staff that it has.
"I can't really comment on their arguments or on the basis of their lawsuit, but I can say that we have many, many species that are certainly deserving of attention but we have limited resources in terms of people and just capability," said Charna Lefton, a spokeswoman for the agency's Southwest region, headquartered in Albuquerque.
Agency officials also took aim at environmentalists, saying a continuous stream of petitions and lawsuits seeking protection for various species results in priorities being dictated by court-ordered deadlines.
WildEarth Guardians maintains that it has tried to work with the agency on high priority species but that the agency has not been receptive.
"What we know is they are not listing species in the Southwest region and we also know there are a lot of candidates in the Southwest region that need listing," Rosmarino said. "Something needs to give."
Nationwide, there are more than 240 animals, plants and other creatures that are candidates for protection. That includes more than three dozen in the Southwest, such as the jumping mouse, the sand dune lizard and the Chupadera springsnail.
Environmentalists point out that some of the species have been on the candidates' list for years.
More than 1,300 U.S. species are currently listed as either threatened or endangered.
The Center for Biological Diversity is also challenging the warranted but precluded argument with litigation pending in Washington, D.C.
Like Rosmarino, Noah Greenwald of the Center for Biological Diversity said problems with the listing program go beyond the Southwest. He noted that the Obama administration has listed only one species in the continental U.S.
Rosmarino accused Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, of not having the willingness to address the endangered species bottleneck.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service and Interior have the power to take on these species listings. They're refusing to do so and they cannot persuasively argue at this point that it's just a resource matter," Rosmarino said. "I would argue it's an agency culture issue where they hide from their duties to protect species because of some powerful interests."
Lefton said many of the region's priorities for this year are based on court deadlines. The list includes more than a dozen actions, from determining whether the white-sided jackrabbit, the Jemez Mountain salamander and the Sonoran desert tortoise deserve protection to critical habitat decisions for the Chiricahua leopard frog and other species.
The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is not on the list for this year.
The Fish and Wildlife Service says the mouse was once found in about 100 locations from the Jemez Mountains in the north, down through the Rio Grande Valley to the Sacramento Mountains in the south. Now, the mouse can be found in seven locations in Arizona and nine in New Mexico, one of which stretches up into Colorado. Many of the sites are just a few acres in size.

Groups at odds hinder wildlife conservation efforts

by Shaun McKinnon

The Arizona Republic

State and federal agencies have spent more than $20 million over 30 years to restore the Mexican gray wolf to its native habitat in eastern Arizona, an effort now teetering toward failure as the dwindling wild population struggles to survive.

What has happened has exposed troubling weaknesses in the wildlife conservation system. Politics, competing interests and drawn-out lawsuits hinder on-the-ground work to protect the species, while three groups that should work together - state regulators, the federal government and environmental organizations - are too often at odds.

Emotions have magnified the conflicts over the wolf's return, but most of the arguments surface repeatedly in other cases. Wildlife agencies say courts, ruling on suits filed by environmental groups, increasingly trump science in management decisions. Environmental groups accuse the agencies of dragging their feet and favoring hunters and ranchers over native species.

The risk is that Arizona's native wildlife, already imperiled by shrinking habitat and threats from non-native species that can take over an ecosystem, will face an even more uncertain future.

"We're not going to turn Arizona back into the 1800s," said Pat Graham, state-chapter director for the Nature Conservancy. "People will have an impact. But if we're going to maintain our natural diversity, we've got to find a way to live with native wildlife."

In this story, The Arizona Republic continues its look at vanishing native species, the threats they face, in the wild and in the bureaucracy, and the costs of losing them - costs to a tourism- dependent economy and to a way of life rooted deeply in the state's natural wonders.

Ranchers vs. wolves

During the first half of the 20th century, the government's position on Mexican gray wolves, known as Lobo wolves, was simple: Shoot on sight.

The policy of the U.S. Biological Survey in Arizona, the predecessor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was spelled out in a 1930 document: "All Lobo wolves and jaguars will be taken as fast as they enter this state from New Mexico and Mexico, as 100 percent of them live on livestock and game."

Ranchers, hunters and other land users dictated wildlife policy in those days, so wolves that killed livestock or other game animals were exterminated. By the early 1960s, the once-mighty predator had vanished from Arizona.

Around the same time, the nation was gaining new ecological awareness, helped along by emerging science. By 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, which allowed the federal government - working, when practical, with state wildlife agencies - to protect imperiled wildlife.

In 1976, the Mexican gray wolf, a species by then all but gone, was listed as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service created a recovery program that established a specific habitat and called for reintroduction of the wolf using animals bred in captivity.

The goal was to build a self-sustaining population of at least 100 wolves. (Since the first release in 1998, a total of 92 wolves have been released; the population at the end of 2009 was 42.)

But ranchers resisted, arguing that wolves kill their livestock. They lobbied Congress and their state lawmakers and sued the federal government. The result, environmental groups say, is a program that was designed to fail.

First, the government decided to release wolves under rules that give agencies more leeway to remove or kill a wolf if it is caught preying on livestock. Such latitude is unusual in an endangered-species case.

Then, the federal agency limited the wolf packs to territory in Arizona after New Mexico gave in to protests by ranchers and refused to allow wolves in the wild. The wolves are the only endangered species limited by political boundaries, said Michael Robinson, who works on wolf issues for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity.

"When you look at the wolf program, the greatest losses to the population have been the same federal predator-control program that originally eliminated them," Robinson said. "It raises the question of how much has actually changed."

Since 1998, the wildlife service has shot 11 wolves for preying on cattle and sheep and permanently removed 23 to 34 others, depending on whose numbers are used. Poachers have killed at least 35, including two in the past month. Environmental groups believe the poachers are linked to wolf opponents, though the shootings are mostly unsolved.

A science-based assessment of the wolf program released by the wildlife service earlier this year warned that the population was at risk of failure. Brian Millsap, deputy regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, disagreed but acknowledged that the wolf program was challenging, in part because the wolves occupy land used by grazing livestock.

"We went into this with the belief that if the wolves consistently depredated livestock, they need to be removed," he said. "I don't think we make the decision that livestock operations are more important than conservation or vice versa."

Conservation by litigation

Convinced that the government ignored its responsibilities to protect the wolf, the environmental groups turned to the courts, filing so many lawsuits over the years that the wolf- recovery effort can be tracked almost as easily from a courthouse as from the wild lands the animals prowl.

The environmental groups began with arguments familiar in other endangered-species cases: the government, usually the federal government because it administers the Endangered Species Act, has failed to move the animals closer to recovery.

The complaints about the wolf program were often more focused on the motivation of the government, both state and federal. The environmental groups say the agencies involved in helping the wolf were swayed by ranchers and other land users, as well as by lawmakers who support those interests.

Ranchers themselves have filed suits almost as often as the environmental groups, arguing that releasing wolves imperiled their ability to graze cattle on public lands.

Most of the species new to the threatened or endangered lists over the past decade attained that status after someone sued.

Wildlife managers believe they could do their job more effectively if they didn't spend the time they do answering lawsuits, which sometimes arrive weekly or even more often.

Steve Spangle, director of the Arizona ecological services office for the federal wildlife agency, said he once compiled a regional list of species that might warrant protection and believes he could have worked his way through the list within a few years if his attention hadn't been diverted by lawsuits. Instead, he said, "we never touched the list."

Some of those lawsuits force the government to focus on the higher-profile, or charismatic, species, such as the jaguar, whose plight made international news last year after the death in captivity of Macho B, the last known jaguar in Arizona.

"There is some frustration there," Spangle said. "We can't do a lot for the jaguar in this country, yet we have to put significant resources toward that animal."

Meanwhile, he said, there are fish, frogs, bats, snakes and other species that could use the money that will be spent on creating a recovery plan and designating habitat for the jaguar, which has likely retreated to Mexico.

Environmental groups defend their work. In some cases, land users or businesses have agreed to help protect a species in advance of a lawsuit. Water provider Salt River Project, for example, designated habitat for the Southwestern willow flycatcher before a lawsuit could affect operations of its dams and canals.

The Mexican wolf program would have progressed even less had the government been left on its own, environmental groups say. They say they have helped propel many species onto the endangered or threatened species lists by petitioning the government to act.

"When I look into why they're not getting anything done, it's not lawsuits," said Noah Greenwald, endangered-species program chief for the Center for Biological Diversity. "They have an incredibly cumbersome bureaucratic process. The listing decisions they make are primarily because of lawsuits, not in spite of them."

Dual roles debated

How competing interests sway wildlife conservation is seen most clearly, environmental groups say, in the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Even its name reflects conflicting goals, they say.

"They're hostile to the non-game side," said state Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, who is Arizona director of the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

Although not the chief enforcers of the species laws, the state often shares work with the federal agency and has taken the lead on some issues in the Mexican wolf program.

Patterson tried and failed in the 2010 Legislature to change the agency's name to Arizona Wildlife Conservation Service to recognize its wider responsibilities.

"I think the agency itself forgets its role," he said. "Everything that isn't hunting and fishing is just 'non-game,' stuff they can't sell licenses for."

Hunting and fishing licenses generate almost all of the department's revenue. The department receives no money from the general fund, an arrangement similar to that in most other states.

Critics say the agency's dual role puts it at odds often with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is focused solely on wildlife conservation. The state seems most conflicted in cases involving predators, such as the wolf or the mountain lion, whose presence on a ranch or among other game animals leads to policies that lead to removal of the predator.

The state acknowledges that it has disagreed with federal regulators over other predator-related decisions, but officials say their positions are not anti-wolf or pro-rancher.

"Ultimately, wolf conservation is accomplished by wolf acceptance, or at least tolerance," said Terry Johnson, endangered-species coordinator for the state agency and architect of its wolf policies. "We have to weave the wolf into the fabric of the community rather than force the community into the fabric of the wolf."

Patterson, a hunter himself, blames some of the problems on the Game and Fish Commission, which sets policy for the department. Members are appointed by the governor, and Patterson said Gov. Jan Brewer seems to be trying to stack the panel with anti-conservation forces.

Brewer has appointed two of the five members, Jack Husted of Springerville and John Harris of Tucson. Both have extensive law-enforcement backgrounds - Harris is the current police chief in Sahuarita - both worked as reserve game rangers for the state agency and both are avid hunters.

The only commission member with a background in wildlife conservation is the current chairwoman, Jennifer Martin, a biologist whose appointment in 2006 by Gov. Janet Napolitano stirred strong protest among hunting interests. Napolitano also appointed the other two members, whose five-year terms are staggered to produce one vacancy a year.

Larry Voyles, director of the state Game and Fish Department, said the commission actually helps shield the agency from politics by removing policy-setting activities from the direct purview of the Legislature.

He calls the hunting-bias issue "a red herring" and said his agency's non-game side works hard on behalf of imperiled species. It has achieved success in some tough cases, including the black-footed ferret, once the most endangered species in the country.

Hunters and anglers provide the money needed for wildlife conservation, Voyles said, and they are active in other ways, too. Trout Unlimited has worked on behalf of the threatened Apache trout, and the Arizona Elk Society works to clear areas of vegetation. Those projects benefit the elk but also create healthier habitat for other species.

"We hear from people that what wildlife needs is habitat," Voyles said. "It doesn't matter whether they're hunted or not hunted, they have those same needs. The Sonoran pronghorn near Yuma isn't hunted because it's rare. The pronghorn farther north can be hunted. The conservation activities aren't that different."

Hopeful signs

Although many protection efforts remain mired in expensive court cases, occasionally a species offers hope that competing sides can unite.

Near the Grand Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs, an effort to reintroduce the California condor has worked so far because of painstaking attention the birds have received - and cooperation among hunters, environmentalists and others.

Still, even as condors recover, protecting them from some of the same threats that led to their near-extinction will mean a perpetual struggle.

The issue is lead. Condors, along with bald eagles and other raptors, are suffering from high lead levels that, left untreated, could kill them. One likely source is the carcasses of animals shot by hunters. The condors eat the remains and ingest fragments of lead bullets, which partially disintegrate upon impact.

"It's something we can choose to acknowledge or not to," said Chris Parish, California condor project director for the non-profit Peregrine Fund.

Few endangered species have required the attention the condors have. The need for medical care was great enough that a small hospital was established near Marble Canyon.

The lead issue is probably not new and may have contributed to the birds' rapid demise.

"We should try to think in those terms," Parish said. "If we're going to impact their habitats, let's do what we can for them."

Parish, a lifelong hunter himself, has started talking to hunters' groups and urging them to switch to non-lead ammunition. He said many hunters are angry at first, but they listen. Some come around, and the reason may resonate for a lot of Arizonans who wonder about the value of the state's native species.

"Hunters like to see condors soaring overhead," Parish said. "It's just part of the whole Arizona experience."

Monday, July 12, 2010

House and Senate Western Caucuses to Hold “War on Western Jobs” Hearing

Chairmen Rep. Bishop and Senator Barrasso Invite Secretary Salazar to Explain Administration’s Policies

Senate Western Caucus Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) will host a bicameral House and Senate Caucus hearing entitled “The War on Western Jobs” on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. The hearing will examine the Administration’s policies and their negative impact on jobs and communities throughout the West. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the West has maintained the highest regional unemployment for over 12 months.

Today, Senator Barrasso and Congressman Bishop sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. They invited him to attend the hearing and answer questions about the economic impact of the Administration’s policies.

Excerpts of the letter:

“The purpose of this hearing is to examine the negative economic impacts on western jobs and communities from policies currently being pursued by this Administration.

“As Secretary of Interior and former Senator from Colorado, you know firsthand what is happening on the ground in the West. Many western communities are facing extremely complex and diverse problems- population growth and development, water supply and quality, housing, overlapping federal bureaucracies and conflicting regulations, and immigration. However, the most pressing issue of the day is jobs for all Americans. Unfortunately, many of these challenges are exacerbated, not alleviated, by federal policies emerging from Washington. Too often, federal policies stand in the way of real job creation and economic growth.”

Hearing Details:

WHAT: Joint House and Senate Western Caucus hearing on “The War on Western Jobs”

WHERE: Dirksen Senate Office Building
Room 406
Washington, D.C.

WHO: The hearing with feature notable guests such as, Utah Governor Gary Herbert, Bill Kovacs- Chamber of Commerce, author Chris Horner-Competitive Enterprise Institute, Congressman Devin Nunes (CA-21) who represents much of California’s Central Valley, and others from western states and industries.

DATE: Tuesday, July 13, 2010

TIME: 2:30 p.m. EDT

Press Release