Monday, August 30, 2010

Wolf, grizzly bear cases set back progress, biologists, managers say

Wolves and bears don't behave well in courtrooms.

But the two big predators are likely to spend the next 18 months there as their advocates and enemies try to untangle them from the federal Endangered Species Act.

Last week, Montana wildlife managers decided to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy's Aug. 5 decision placing the gray wolf back under federal protection. Meanwhile, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials in Missoula appealed another Molloy ruling that prevented state management of Yellowstone ecosystem grizzly bears.

No one knows how the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will settle the two lawsuits. But wildlife managers for both wolves and bears fear that years of cooperation and compromise in the woods may wither while the animals' fate is debated - and ultimately decided - on paper.

"If people look in and realize how difficult it is for agencies to work together on anything, they would realize incredible steps were made," said Gregg Losinski, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game official who is part of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Committee. "All the mechanisms were there for bear recovery - that was the frustrating thing. This relisting put things back 20 years."

Molloy's 2009 decision blocked a FWS plan to let states manage about 600 grizzlies living around Yellowstone National Park.

His wolf ruling earlier this summer canceled public wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho for the 2010 season. Montana officials hoped hunters would kill 186 wolves and bring the state's population down to about 450 animals. Wolves are blamed for both falling elk and deer numbers and growing domestic livestock attacks.


If a wolf threatened Bob Rowland's cows last month, he could reach for his rifle. Now he has to reach for a telephone.

The Ovando area rancher sees some black irony in the Aug. 5 court decision placing gray wolves back under federal Endangered Species Act protection.

Molloy ruled the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service improperly gave Montana and Idaho wildlife managers control of their wolves, but excluded Wyoming because its plan didn't meet federal standards. He wrote that threatened species should be managed by their habitat area, not by state lines.

"It makes you wonder when Mr. Molloy says we have to treat all three states the same, but we split Montana in half," Rowland said.

That's because wolves in the northern half of the state (including Rowland's ranch) moved in naturally from Canada and are considered threatened and federally protected. Wolves roughly south of Interstate 90 are assumed to descend from a population transplanted to Yellowstone Park and the Idaho wilderness in 1995. Those wolves are "experimental" and have considerably less stringent protections.

It's a practical matter for Rowland. A fellow rancher 30 miles away in Avon can shoot a wolf that's harassing cattle. Rowland must call a federal Wildlife Services hunter if he has the same problem. And that's after he and other members of the Blackfoot Challenge landowners network spent years on innovative ways to co-exist with wolves.

"I don't think our tree-hugging friends want to piss us off," Rowland said. "We're to the point where we realize the carrot's just going to keep getting moved. Maybe it's time to buck a little bit."

Chris Servheen sounds equally frustrated. The head of the federal government's grizzly bear recovery program fears the bears he's spent decades trying to save may have turned a bad corner.

"It really breeds mistrust in the public and amongst all the agencies that do the work when we go to court," Servheen said. "We've seen it with the wolves, where people become angry and less likely to support these species. The law as it's written provides the guidance we need to recover (a threatened species). That's what we did with grizzly bears and that's what we did with wolves.

"When courts add their own requirements to these laws, it makes it almost impossible to achieve success in these recovery areas. Legal blockage makes it difficult for the public to invest in it. They become suspicious and cynical about the whole thing. It poisons the well when courts intervene in these things."


The legal work is taking place while both wolves and grizzlies are getting tabloid-style scrutiny. After a grizzly killed a camper near Yellowstone Park this summer, an Associated Press story reminded readers that grizzlies "have been known to peel off a man's face with a single swipe of their massive, clawed paws."

A widely distributed essay by a former Fish and Wildlife Service biologist warned of "increasingly stressful rural life where wolf attacks and sightings have placed parents and grandparents in fear when kids ask to go fishing or to go to or come from rural school bus stops or to take out garbage."

"Those stories kill bears," Servheen said of the AP article. "They're the National Inquirer-type crap that poisons people's minds. We could have all the cooperative efforts, 30 years in the Yellowstone, dissolve and disappear because people think it's futile."

There are other ways out of the courtroom, at least for wolves. And one leads through Congress.

Sen. Max Baucus pledged shortly after Molloy's wolf ruling he would "introduce legislation that puts wolves under Montana's management." Rep. Denny Rehberg said he would co-sponsor Texas Rep. Chet Edwards' H.R. 6028, which would amend the Endangered Species Act and remove wolves from its jurisdiction.

Another goes back into the rulebook. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf program coordinator Carolyn Sime said the state is considering a 10-J exemption, which would give Montanans increased federal leeway to manage wolves.

Lots of unknowns dot that path. The 10-J rule probably wouldn't affect Montana's northern threatened population, but it might let ranchers protect livestock in southern counties. How that might affect some packs that appear to roam across the line is uncertain.

It's also unknown if the rule can be stretched to include population control - not just immediate threats. Hunter groups throughout the state want wolf numbers reduced.

"To change the rules for delisting based upon a vision of more wolves on the landscape ignores the evidence that wolves are recovered, and ready to be delisted and managed permanently in Montana and Idaho," Montana Wildlife Federation director Craig Sharpe wrote in a letter backing the FWP legal challenge. He was joined by the Montana Bowhunters Association and nine rod and gun clubs in the state.

Sharpe said the 1994 federal wolf reintroduction plans anticipated wolves could hurt big-game populations and could be controlled if elk and deer were suffering.

But Sime pointed out another potential snag. Even if Montana gets permission for greater local control, that could wind up in court too.

"We have to ask if pursuit (of a 10-J exemption) is a wise use of agency resources," Sime said. "Will it get litigated?"

The Blackfoot Challenge linked together ranchers like Rowland, state managers like Sime and federal biologists like Servheen to help humans and wildlife coexist. Its own wildlife manager, Seth Wilson, said the challenge now is to keep that linkage alive while the courts grind on.

"The networks and the trust we've worked very hard to build will survive this," Wilson said. "And whether they're listed or not listed, it doesn't really matter to a bear or wolf. They're going to continue to do what they do."

Reporter Rob Chaney can be reached at 523-5382 or at

Joe Miller wants Alaska to control and develop federal lands

Tea Party-backed Joe Miller, who is threatening to unseat incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, has a bold vision for Alaska, one that would entail the state taking over federal lands, including Denali National Park and Preserve.

In an interview with Alaska Dispatch, Miller said if elected to the Senate, he will fight for state control of vast swaths of Alaska currently under federal ownership. Promoting resource development on those lands would help Alaska pay its own way and break its dependence on federal money, he said.

On Miller's list of federal lands that the state should control is Denali National Park -- Alaska's equivalent of Yellowstone National Park. Denali, a pristine park with only one road, is home to Mount McKinley -- the nation's tallest peak -- as well as grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep and other animals.

"If there's a significant resource in that park that we could get at in a responsible way -- and the state decides it's appropriate to extract it -- let's create jobs from it," said Miller, adding that he moved to Alaska because he loves hunting and fishing and doesn't favor anything that despoils the wilderness.

Miller -- a Gulf War veteran and Yale Law School graduate backed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin -- has fought his way to a 1,668-vote lead over Murkowski in the GOP Alaska primary, with some 20,000 absentee and questioned ballots to be counted starting Tuesday. Lawyers are now involved, the campaigns are slinging mud at each other, and Alaskans are wondering what a post-Murkowski world might look like.

Before the primary, few political insiders and journalists expected Miller would beat Murkowski, leaving many Alaskans unfamiliar about some of his positions. Like other Tea Party candidates, Miller believes government spending is out of control. Even Alaska -- a state that's depended on the federal government for decades -- must find other ways to support itself, he said.

Take back the land

Oil taxes, fees and royalties fund more than 85 percent of state government. Alaska has no state personal income or sales taxes. Petroleum, fisheries, tourism and the federal government are the big economic engines.

Miller's idea that the state should own most of the land -- not the federal government -- is far from new in Alaska. Business leaders and Republicans have long complained the feds have "locked up" Alaska, including places like the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and parts of the Tongass National Forest. (They don't often cite Denali National Park, though.) But Alaska's congressional delegation has been more successful at tapping federal programs and appropriations to pay for infrastructure, services and projects, often to the criticism of government watchdogs.

Miller adheres to the philosophy that the federal government should oversee national defense and border control, and very little else. Miller, who also holds a master's in economics from the University of Alaska, believes Alaska must end federal paternalism and move toward state control of all lands and encourage aggressive resource development. It's the only option, he said in an interview over the weekend, because the billions of dollars the federal government pours into Alaska won't last forever.

"The ultimate goal has to be state control over the (resource) base," Miller said.

The 'constitutional model'

So how would Miller begin transferring federal lands to the state of Alaska?

One way would be to build a strong coalition at the congressional level that could move the country toward a "constitutional model," as Miller puts it, in which the power of the state overrides the power of the federal government in almost all situations.

But this may happen on its own, too, Miller said.

He believes the federal government is headed toward bankruptcy if spending isn't brought under control. If the federal government runs out of money to maintain lands, it would have no choice but to relinquish control and ownership to the states, Miller said.

"If you look at, for example, Greece, where you had people killed on the streets and riots throughout -- if you don't think that's going to be the same sort of thing that happens in this country, think again," Miller said.

"My hope is it's a pragmatic change that occurs through leadership. But again, we must be prepared as leaders to confront what happens when this nation fiscally goes bankrupt."

Contact Joshua Saul at jsaul(at) This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Monday, August 23, 2010

'Problem Wolves' Spur Suit

Ranchers and two southern New Mexico counties sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court Friday for changing a policy about capturing cow-killing Mexican wolves without first conducting a study on the change's impact on humans.
The lawsuit says that rules governing the federally-managed wolf reintroduction effort, launched in 1998, provided for the removal of wolves that prey on livestock in the recovery area of southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico.
But since last year, Fish and Wildlife, in an effort to bolster the population of wild wolves, has stopped adhering to a 2005 standard operating procedure, known as SOP 13, that called for the removal or killing of wolves that preyed on three or more cattle in a one-year period.
The lawsuit says that the rule about removing "problem wolves" is being ignored, and that a change in the policy requires an environmental study on the impact of the change under the National Environmental Policy Act.
"The defendants' efforts to leave problem wolves in both the primary and secondary recovery areas" of Arizona and New Mexico, respectively, "was never part of the original proposed action and was not a practice contemplated or condoned in the ... final rule," the lawsuit says. "It is a 'substantial change' justifying the need to prepare an entirely new (environmental impact statement)."
Officials of the Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached for comment late Friday.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court by Otero and Catron county commissioners; the Catron County-based group Americans for the Preservation of the Western Environment; the Adobe Ranch and the Beaverhead Ranch, both in the Gila National Forest; the Gila National Forest Livestock Permittees' Association; and Glenwood area rancher Alan Tackman. The plaintiffs are represented by Ruidoso attorney Daniel Bryant.
Bryant and Tackman could not be reached for comment late Friday. Neither could representatives of Catron County or the Gila National Livestock Permittees' Association.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has long been criticized by conservationists for deferring too much to the cattle industry and for not doing enough to grow the population of Mexican wolves in the wild. Ranching groups, particularly in Catron County, have been hostile to the program because wolves have killed cattle, horses and other livestock and frightened some rural residents.
The recovery project has foundered in recent years. Federal officials expected that by the end of 2006, more than 100 wolves would be in the wild, but the count at the end of 2009 was 42, down from 52 the previous year.
The illegal shooting of endangered wolves, a practice that has claimed more than 30 lobos since 1998, has been the "single greatest source of wolf mortality" in the wild population, according to federal officials.
In response to the faltering wild wolf numbers and litigation by conservationists, in May 2009 a multi-agency committee, including members of Fish and Wildlife and the Arizona and New Mexico game and fish departments, approved a "clarification memo" stating they were "authorized and expected" to be flexible in removing cattle-killing wolves.
After that, the Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest regional director, Benjamin Tuggle, decided several times to leave a wolf in the wild even though it had killed more than three cattle in a year.
Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said he believes the lawsuit will fail.
"There's nothing in (the recovery project rule) that requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to remove any particular wolf," Robinson said. "It gives them the authority to do that, as long as it doesn't get in the way of conservation."

Lewistown meeting shows monument opposition mounting

Mistrust of the purported plans by the Interior Department to create a grasslands national monument — possibly with bison — on Montana's open plains was expressed by speaker after speaker at a meeting here Friday.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me," Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg, a Republican, said. "I don't trust 'em."

Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management officials insist that no concrete plans are in place to create new national monuments in the West.

Yeah, right — that was the message Montanans sent at the two-hour panel discussion, which Rehberg convened at the Lewistown Civic Center.

Rehberg said he wants public input on possible plans by the government to preserve lands across the West by creating national monuments, including a 2.5-million-acre grasslands refuge in northeastern Montana. The possibility was discussed in an internal Bureau of Land Management planning paper that has since been made public.

The meeting drew just more than 200 people, who filled the bleachers in the gymnasium. They heard speeches from a panel of county commissioners and people with ranching interests, who said they oppose a monument designation and urged the crowd to get informed — and ready for battle.

"I just hope you stay with us because it's going to be a fight that's worth fighting for," said Mike Ereaux, a rancher and the president of Phillips County Stockgrowers.

Residents, he added, had the right to say no to a monument.

"Not just no, but hell no," he said.

A 21-page "treasured landscape" memorandum drafted by top BLM officials that has turned up in the hands of the Congressional Western Caucus has residents worried about having a monument that they don't want be approved by presidential proclamation without local input.

It's happened before, they said.

President Bill Clinton used the federal Antiquities Act at the 11th hour of his administration to create the Missouri River Breaks National Monument in 2001 by presidential proclamation, a fact that was referred to several times Friday. That monument designation had its supporters, but none were speaking up Friday if they were present.

Use of the Antiquities Act, which allows the president to declare a monument without congressional input, was roundly criticized Friday by residents such as Big Sandy rancher Dana Darlington, who said it needs to be reformed so presidents can't act unilaterally.

Darlington, calling the initiative a "treasured land grab," urged residents to get involved to curb the "sweeping" plan.

"When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty," said Darlington, quoting Thomas Jefferson.

An area stretching form the Bitter Creek Wilderness Study Area to the Canadian border is mentioned as a possible national monument in the planning document, which states that the northern Montana prairie contains some of the largest unplowed areas of grasslands in the world, as well as some of the best wildlife habitats on the Great Plains. The cross-boundary conservation unit would provide an opportunity to restore prairie wildlife and to establish a new bison range, the document states.

Seven of the eight people on Rehberg's panel spoke against the idea, but Sean Gerrity, president of the American Prairie Foundation, withheld judgment. APF runs a growing private grassland preserve in northeastern Montana, where genetically pure bison roam.

Gerrity said an actual proposal to designate the area as a monument has not been made public, which makes it too soon to form an opinion.

"It seems to me we owe them a fair hearing once a proposal shows up," said Gerrity, noting APF is grateful for the subsidies it receives from the federal government in the form of inexpensive fees to use public land for grazing.

Gerrity said he first heard about the "treasured landscapes" last spring and spent time in Washington, D.C., with other landowners at a meeting in which BLM Director Bob Abbey and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar discussed the idea.

He was peppered with questions by residents about the prairie reserve, including its ties with the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation organization that supports the Montana reserve. WWF has been criticized for its alleged conversations with Interior Department officials about the proposed monuments.

Martha Kauffman, Bozeman-based managing director of the Northern Great Plains Program for WWF, said the group isn't in collusion with government land managers, as some people have suggested.

When the organization heard about the treasured landscape proposal in the spring, it inquired about what it was, then offered suggestions on land in Montana it considers really important, she said.

"I think it's good for people to say what they're concerned about," she said following the meeting. "I would like to encourage people to talk with me and others rather than surmise."

Kauffman told the crowd that Western Montana has received most of the conservation focus in Montana, while the eastern part of the state is overlooked.

"We like it that way," somebody in the crowd shouted.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar downplayed the internal memo when he appeared before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee earlier this year.

"There are no plans that we have to move forward," Salazar said, describing the memo as the result of an informal dialogue among agency employees.

But members of the panel said the details outlined in the document demonstrate that far more than just brainstorming is under way.

Phillips County Commissioner Lesley Robinson said she is worried about the loss of ranching families from the area should the government begin to purchase private land interspersed with BLM land for a monument. The county also depends heavily on natural gas development, which a monument could curtail, she said.

"The impact to Phillips County would be very large," she said.

The county invited BLM Director Abbey to Montana, and Abbey accepted. He is scheduled to speak Sept. 16 at Malta High School, Robinson said.

Robinson, expressing concern that environmental groups had a hand in the planning of the treasured landscapes, said any proposal should be locally generated.

Blaine County Commissioner Art Kleinjan said a monument might be a good idea to protect an object such as Pompey's Pillar — the famous sandstone butte signed by explorer William Clark. However, a monument designation is a farce for the vast rolling hills and rivers of northeastern Montana, which ranchers and farmers have preserved for generations, Kleinjan said.

"We kept this country the way it is, and there's no reason you need a monument to keep it beautiful," he said.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Group sues over lynx protection in NM

The lynx fall under the Endangered Species Act

Environmentalists are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the Canadian lynx.

The agency issued a finding in December that the lynx in New Mexico warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency didn't act immediately because it must finish work on other higher-priority listings.

The environmental group WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit this week, saying the animal will likely not receive protection for a decade or more because it has been put at the end of a line of 245 species awaiting listing.

Lynx have been reintroduced in southern Colorado over the past 10 years, and some have wandered into New Mexico.

Although the federal government lists the elusive animals as threatened in Colorado and 13 other states, they have no federal protection in New Mexico.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New Mexico ranchers' use of technology to track wolves debated

Should ranchers have access to the technology that allows humans to track endangered Mexican gray wolves?

One advocacy group says no, given that the number of Mexican wolves living in the wild in the Southwest has dropped from 42 to 39 in recent weeks.

Radio-telemetry receivers used by ranchers to track Mexican wolves in New Mexico and Arizona should be returned to federal wildlife authorities, according to the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, which is worried about illegal killings of the vanishing predator.

"In addition, the government should assume the wolves' radio-collar frequencies have been compromised and should change the frequencies to prevent any tracking of the wolves via privately owned telemetry receivers," wrote Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. Robinson's letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was the center's second effort in a little more than two years to have the equipment returned.

Ranchers, though, say they use the equipment to locate dead cattle, not to hunt wolves.

Finding the location of a collared wolf with the receiver is not an exact science, said Laura Schneberger, who has a ranch on the north edge of New Mexico's Gila National Forest, where Mexican wolves are trying to establish packs. Schneberger, president of the Gila Livestock Growers, said the receivers have been used on her ranch.

"If you are on a ranch with 42 square miles, you're going to need that monitor," Schneberger said. "It will get you in that general area, then you look for buzzards. You use it to make sure the wolves are out of the cows. They (wolves) know you're coming way before you get there and find what they've been eating."

Robinson, who works out of the center's Silver City office, said the receivers can be used to pinpoint the wolves.

"As you get closer the telemetry signals get stronger," he said. "The population is getting gunned down one by one, for the most part."

Reintroduction advocates say the dwindling population means each lost wolf shrinks the gene pool. About 300 Mexican wolves are in captivity, in addition to the 39 in the wild.

Research indicates inbreeding is causing smaller litters and lower survival rates for pups, Robinson said. That could signal the end for a creature that once roamed large areas of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico.

The most pointed argument for retrieving the receivers, advocates say, is the fact that illegal shooting has been the main cause of death for the Mexican gray wolf since its reintroduction in 1998.

A total of 75 wolves have been released, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife data. Some of those wolves had pups that reached maturity. Thirty-five were shot illegally. Three have been killed since the beginning of June, said Tom Buckley, a Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman. Vehicles hitting wolves accounted for 12 deaths, which was the second-largest category.

Robinson said another 46 wolves, all but three with radio collars, have disappeared. Sometimes batteries die, but in 2009, two animals with collars dropped off the radar between weekly surveys, which suggests they were illegally killed, Robinson said.

Since 1998, only two people have been convicted of illegally shooting a Mexican wolf, Robinson said. Another who admitted to killing a Mexican wolf was not prosecuted.

"Given the high rate of illegal shooting of Mexican wolves, as well as the large number of wolves disappearing under suspicious circumstances, wolf-frequency-programmed receivers should only be in the hands of government employees responsible for protecting and recovering the wolves, and in the hands of scientists studying them," Robinson wrote.

Removing the receivers would take away a tool used by small family ranches that account for 95 percent of the grazing activity in the Gila, Schneberger said. "We've had people go out of business," she said. "Most of them have a very limited number of cattle."

A rancher can legally kill a wolf caught attacking livestock on private property, Buckley said. On public land, which includes the Gila National Forest grazing allotments, they must have a permit. It is not legal to shoot a wolf walking through or near cattle, he said.

Schneberger said no permits have been issued in Arizona or New Mexico, even in cases where ranchers had confirmed wolf kills.

To get a "shoot-on-sight" permit, there must be at least six breeding pairs in the area, Robinson said. That is a rarity, he said, which is why no permits have been issued.

The Fish and Wildlife Service provided the receivers at the beginning of the program "to elicit support" and give ranchers a method of depredation control, Buckley said.

About 11 receivers are in the hands of New Mexico ranchers and three are in Arizona, Buckley said. But the service cannot account for about four receivers loaned out early on, he said.

It may be one person who is misusing the equipment, Buckley said, "although I would acknowledge that even one loss (to poaching) is significant in this small population of wolves."

To get a receiver, ranchers now must fill out a "statement of use and receipt," which warns that dens and rendezvous sites, where wolves create a home base after pups outgrow the den, "are sensitive areas and caution should be used so the animals are not disrupted when it is not necessary to do so."

Buckley said the service is evaluating the policy of lending receivers as it works to revise the original recovery plan, which was written in 1982. A 2001 assessment prepared by the Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies stated that the revision was "long overdue." Robinson believes the service is wasting time instead of doing what is required by the Endangered Species Act to save the Mexican wolf.

"Even without conclusive, legally actionable evidence that telemetry receivers are being used for illicit ends, we urge you to adopt a wolf-protective stance," Robinson wrote. "This unique subspecies is in significant danger of extinction."

Chris Roberts may be reached at; 546-6136.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cibola National Forest Releases Long-Awaited Mount Taylor Travel Management Environmental Assessment

The Cibola National Forest has released the Draft Environmental Assessment for Travel Management for the Mount Taylor Ranger District. This release starts the official 30 day comment period for the Environmental Assessment (EA) document.

The draft EA proposes some really BIG changes from the current situation. In addition to the elimination of cross country travel, the Proposed Action (Alternative B) would close nearly 350 miles of currently existing road (although some of the closed road would be designated for motorized trail use). Of perhaps even greater impact, Alternative B would also eliminate dispersed camping on all but a 200 foot corridor along a mere 80 miles of roads. By its own admission, this would result in an 85% reduction in the available camping sites that are currently being used by the public. Three of the four alternatives being considered would also completely ban motorized big game retrieval.

The public has 30 days to comment on these issues by submitting letters or emails. The 30 day comment period will end on September 14, 2010. Only those who provide comments during this comment period will be eligible to appeal the final decision.

The purpose of the Travel Management EA is to designate a motorized road and trail system on the Mount Taylor 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. The full text of the document is on the Mount Taylor Ranger District Travel Management website.

Two Open House public meetings will be held on August 25th and August 26th in Gallup and Grants. This will be an opportunity to meet with the Forest Service and ask questions about the project and the proposed closures. The meeting will begin with a short presentation on the alternatives at 5:00pm, followed by the open house.

Wednesday, Aug. 25th, 5:00pm - 7:00pm Gallup Community Center 410 Bataan Veterans St. Gallup, New Mexico

Thursday, Aug. 26th, 5 :00pm - 7:00pm National Guard Amory 2001 East Santa Fe Ave. Grants, NM

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

For further information, please contact the Travel Management Team Leader for the Mt. Taylor Ranger District, Arnold Wilson at (505) 287-8833 or

Friday, August 13, 2010

Activist ‘Green’ Lawyers Billing U.S. Millions in Fraudulent Attorney Fees

by Richard Pollock

Without any oversight, accounting, or transparency, environmental activist groups have surreptitiously received at least $37 million from the federal government for questionable “attorney fees.” The lawsuits they received compensation for had nothing to do with environmental protection or improvement.

The activist groups have generated huge revenue streams via the obscure Equal Access to Justice Act. Congressional sources claim the groups are billing for “cookie cutter” lawsuits — they file the same petitions to multiple agencies on procedural grounds, and under the Act, they file for attorney fees even if they do not win the case. Since 1995, the federal government has neither tracked nor accounted for any of these attorney fee payments.

Nine national environmental activist groups alone have filed more than 3,300 suits, every single one seeking attorney fees. The groups have also charged as much as $650 per hour (a federal statutory cap usually limits attorney fees to $125 per hour).

In well over half of the cases, there was no court judgment in the environmental groups’ favor. In all cases, whether there was any possible environmental benefit from the litigation is highly questionable. Most cases were simply based upon an alleged failure to comply with a deadline or to follow a procedure.

A whistleblower who was employed for 30 years by the U.S. Forest Service told Pajamas Media:

Some organizations have built a business doing this and attacking the agencies on process, and then getting “reimbursed.”

This week a bipartisan group of congressional members introduced legislation to end the secrecy of the payments and force the government to open up the records to show exactly how much has been paid to the groups and the questionable attorney fees. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyoming), Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-SD), and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).

Congressional sources have said the disclosure was necessary to determine the extent of fraud and abuse. The $37 million is considered only a fraction of what has been paid out to the activist groups.

“For too long, taxpayers have unwittingly served as the financiers of the environmental litigation industry,” Rep. Bishop, who also is the chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus, said.

Rep. Herseth Sandlin remarked: “Simply put, this legislation is about ensuring good and open government.”

“It’s time to shine some light [on the program],” explained Rep. Lummis, who said the groups have created an industry that “supports their ‘stop everything’ agenda.”

The $37 million figure is considered low. It includes less than a dozen groups and only accounts for cases in 19 states and the District of Columbia. There are hundreds of eco-activist groups in the United States.

According to the whistleblower who served in the U.S. Forest Service, environmental activist groups typically file identical lawsuits to multiple agencies on procedural grounds, such as a missed deadline.

The identity of the huge revenue stream was established by the Western Legacy Alliance (“WLA”), along with Wyoming-based attorney Karen Budd-Falen. Western Legacy Alliance was founded in 2008 by ranchers and resource providers who raise beef and lamb on public lands of the West. What they found was astounding.

Examining court records in 19 states and in the District of Columbia, the total amount paid to less than a dozen environmental groups exceeded $37 million. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Budd-Falen. “We believe when the curtain is raised we’ll be talking about radical environmental groups bilking the taxpayer for hundreds of millions of dollars, all allegedly for ‘reimbursement for attorney fees.’ And what is even more maddening is that these groups are claiming that they are protecting the environment with all this litigation when not one dime of this money goes to projects that impact anything on-the-ground related to the environment. It just goes to more litigation to get more attorney fees to file more litigation.”

The whistleblower, speaking anonymously, told Pajamas Media the payments to the activists groups were “quite astronomical.” The former government agent was a line officer in a high-ranking position. That whistleblower added that the filings by the radical groups often were “canned” petitions that contained little research. In this way, environmental groups could pepper government agencies with a flood of lawsuits without much work.

“They will send a myriad of lawsuits across the bow to try to stop a number of projects or programs and then they hopefully will score with one or two,” he said. He saw a lot of the activist lawsuit filings because he had been attached both to the Forest Service’s Washington headquarters and to its field offices. “Then they will send in bills that are quite frankly, quite astronomical compared to the actual work they had to do to file an actual lawsuit. Many of the lawsuits are filed under a lot of canned material, yet the hours and rates that they charge were quite high.”

Here is a sampling of the number of assembly line “lawsuits” filed between 2000 and 2009 that have been painstakingly identified by the Western Legacy Alliance and Budd-Falen. Activist group Western Watersheds Project filed 91 lawsuits in the federal district courts; Forest Guardians (now known as WildEarth Guardians) filed 180 lawsuits; the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) filed at 409 suits; the Wilderness Society filed 149 lawsuits; the National Wildlife Federation filed 427 lawsuits; and the Sierra Club filed 983 lawsuits. These numbers do not include administrative appeals or notices of intent to sue.

Even local or regional environmental groups have figured out ways to turn on the taxpayer spigot. WLA found the Idaho Conservation League filed 72 lawsuits and the Oregon Natural Desert Association filed 50. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed 88 lawsuits. At last count, just eight local groups in nine Western states have filed nearly 1,600 lawsuits against the federal government.

On the national level, over the last decade nine national environmental groups have filed 3,300 cases against the federal government. As is usual, the vast majority of the cases deal with the alleged procedural failings of federal agencies, not with substance or science.

Said the Forest Service officer: “A lot of times they will sue on process, and not on substance. And substance means what difference does it mean for the resource, or what’s going in on the ground? A lot of times, it will be a process lawsuit and a lot of times the agency either missed something. … The bottom line is many, many times, when you look at the results on the ground, it [the environmental group winning the litigation] would have made very little difference.”

Karen Budd-Falen said that the cases amounted to a ripoff of taxpayers and rewarded radical groups with millions of dollars. “Although those of us involved in protecting property rights and land use in the West were aware that radical groups were getting exorbitant fees simply be filing litigation against the government, we had no idea of the magnitude of the problem.”

Budd-Falen highlighted one case that typifies the gravy train that has flowed to environmental groups. In 2009, the Earthjustice Legal Foundation represented the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and the Vermont Natural Resources Council in a case dealing with the process used by the Forest Service to adopt some regulations. The Earthjustice Legal Foundation filed for attorney fees for that single case that took only one year and three months to complete.

The same suit was filed by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of other environmental groups. The seven total attorneys who worked on the case billed the federal government $479,242. They charged between $300 to $650 per hour, far above the statuary federal cap of $125. The case was resolved at the district court level and the federal government did not appeal.

The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) also files a significant amount of litigation and receives lucrative attorney fees. In Washington State Federal District Court alone, CBD received attorney fees totaling $941,000 for only six cases. In the District of Columbia, it received more than $1 million in fees.

Fourteen groups identified as recipients of the Act’s funding are: the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Colorado Environmental Coalition, Forest Guardians, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Watersheds Project, Defenders of Wildlife, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, WildEarth, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Oregon Wild, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Wyoming Outdoor Council.

One of the fourteen groups, the Center for Biological Diversity, called the two Republicans and one Democrat “rabid right-wingers” and said that the charges of abuse was “patently false and patently ridiculous,” according to Bill Snape, senior council for CBD.

Another study from Virginia Tech University discovered similar findings as a result of a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act request to five federal agencies. The Virginia Tech study also revealed that two of the agencies could provide absolutely no data on the Act’s payments.

Environmental organizations are among the most financially prosperous non-profits in the country. The Sierra Club alone in 2007 reported its total worth as $56.6 million. According to 2007 Internal Revenue Service records, the top ten environmental presidents receive as much as a half million dollars a year in annual compensation. Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, Inc reported $492,000 in executive compensation in 2007. The top ten highest grossing environmental executives all received at least $308,000 in compensation.

Environmental activist groups also have been among the most influential in throwing around political money. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, between 2000 and this year activist environmental political action committees have given $3.4 million in campaign contributions to candidates for federal office. About 87% of the money went to Democrats.

Richard Pollock is the Washington, D.C., editor for Pajamas Media and the Washington bureau chief of PJTV.

Ranchers, Feds Debate Proposal

A turf battle is brewing between Rio Arriba County and the federal Forest Service over a proposal that could change the rules governing travel in the Santa Fe National Forest.

County officials and residents squared off against Forest Service representatives at an Aug. 5 meeting in Abiquiú over a Travel Management Draft Environmental Impact Statement that contains five options for the future management of travel in the Forest, several of which could limit access to Forest roads and land.

The Forest covers 1.6 million acres in Rio Arriba, Taos, Santa Fe and Sandoval Counties. Under current management, 443,848 acres are open to cross-country off-road travel. There are 5,119 miles of roads currently in use.

County Commissioner Felipe Martinez questioned Forest Service officials over the plans’ potential for eliminating what the County considers protected roads.

“Does any of your alternatives consider closing traditional right-of-ways and historical trails?” Martinez said. “Do you propose to obliterate any that may fall under (Revised Statute) 2477?”

That 1866 federal statute states ”the right-of-way for the construction of highways over public lands, not reserved for public purposes, is hereby granted.”

The County Commission adopted a resolution in 2002 which opposed the “closure of roads under County jurisdiction or any other right-of-ways in Rio Arriba by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management until all (Revised Statute) 2477 right-of-ways be verified and documented.”

The resolution also states “no federal agency has the authority to close a (Revised Statute) 2477 road for any reason.”

“It doesn’t obliterate any roads,” Forest Service spokeswoman Cindy Chonacky said. “We need you to identify any and all roads that may fall under that (statute).”

The County has not yet identified all of these roads, but is in the process of doing so, according to County Commission Chairman Alfredo Montoya.

The County has the right to keep open any right-of-way, according to County Assistant Planner Alberto Baros, of Española.

“That’s the mistake these guys are making,” Baros said. “When it concerns the County, we can keep the roads open.”

Northern New Mexico Cattlemen’s Association President Carlos Salazar, of Medanales, grazes cattle in the Forest near Cañones.

“My issue with this land management is you’re going to limit access that we’ve had for centuries,” he said.

Salazar and Martinez argued that traditional uses like cattle grazing and the gathering of firewood may be limited by the alternatives offered in the statement.

Coyote Forest District ranger Francisco Sanchez addressed the concern of those that held grazing permits.

“Permittees will be able to fix fences, round up cattle and use (all-terrain vehicles) to do so,” he said.

Travel Management Interdisciplinary Team Leader Julie Bain confirmed that permittees will be able to care for their cattle under all of the alternatives.

“People who hold permits will still have access,” she said. “It will be written into their permit.”

The meeting attracted 13 people to the Rural Events Center in Abiquiú. Salazar complained the meeting was not well-publicized.

“When I pulled into the lot I saw nothing but government plates, and that means the word didn’t get out,” he said.

Chavez said the meeting schedule had been published in several newspapers, including the SUN.

“Why isn’t the County Commission involved?” Salazar said.

Chavez said he had met with the Commission previously when Lorenzo Valdez was County manager. Valdez left the post in March.

“We have talked to the County,” Sanchez said.

Martinez said he felt it was up to the County Commission to stand up for County residents whose access to traditional uses may be limited by the new plan.

“They look to us for intervention and advocacy so we can be their voice,” he said.

Others at the meeting raised concerns over the use of off-road vehicles.

Veronica Egan, of Mancos, Colo., was representing Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a nonprofit organization.

“Off-road vehicle use has grown so rapidly it’s pushing the boundaries of wilderness,” she said. “There’s a time and a place for everything and (off-roaders) need to mature, get over their extreme gnarliness and learn to play by the rules.”

Bruce Ferguson, of Taos, argued for off-road recreation.

“You have 40 million people retiring soon who are no longer able to hike but still want to use areas they’re familiar with,” he said. “You are closing more and more areas to the only means they have left to see them.”

The meeting was supposed to end with a period of public comment, but most of the attendees had commented earlier, during the period that was supposed to be limited only to questions. A number of attendees sat quietly throughout the meeting and then left.

“I don’t trust these guys,” Salazar said, referring to the Forest Service. “They’re married to environmental groups.”

The meeting was the first of eight open house meetings scheduled during a 45-day period that ends Sept. 30 during which public comment on the draft plan is encouraged.

“We want to hear what people are thinking,” Española District ranger Sandy Hurlocker said. “We don’t have a preferred alternative. Tell us what you think and why you think it.”

The Forest Service plans to make a decision on the plan by the end of the calendar year, followed by the publication of a map showing what roads, trails and areas are legal to drive on, Hurlocker said.

The options currently under consideration were created to address concerns over the effects of unmanaged off-highway vehicles. Some of the detrimental effects of that method of travel are degradation of water quality through erosion and soil compaction, the fragmentation of wildlife habitat, damage to cultural resource sites, spreading of nonnative invasive plants, and compromising the character of wilderness.

The plan will provide a system of roads, trails and areas on National Forest lands specifically designated for motorized use.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Wilderness ad campaign stirs lively debate

An advertising campaign by one group supporting the creation of federal wilderness in Do-a Ana County proved to be the elephant in the room Tuesday, at a meeting of the Advertising Federation of Las Cruces.

The campaign and differing stances in the wilderness debate have created a wedge of sorts between two major business groups locally: the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and the Hispano Chamber of Commerce de Las Cruces.

Leaders from both groups, as well as other supporters and opponents of the wilderness bill, were present at the monthly Advertising Federation meeting.

Their assignment?

To talk about the advertising and publicity strategies each has used so far to get its message to the public.

It was about 45 minutes into the session before the Hispano Chamber's campaign, which includes an ongoing TV commercial on Comcast Cable, gained the spotlight.

Meeting organizers played the commercial, which urges support for Senate Bill 1689, saying it will conserve the outdoors for future generations. Afterward, wilderness bill critics from the Greater Las Cruces Chamber and People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, a ranchers group opposed to creating wilderness, pressed Hispano Chamber representatives to reveal the source of funding behind the campaign.

The Hispano Chamber declined to answer.

The group is a private nonprofit that's not required to disclose the source of its contributors.

Panelist Nathan Small, wilderness bill advocate and local representative with the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, noted that the opponents and supporters of the wilderness legislation are comprised of a patchwork of groups. By straying into a discussion about who's spending how much on which campaign, "we get off track," he said.

The Hispano Chamber in July said it applied for a grant to fund the campaign.

John Mu-oz, a leader in the Hispano Chamber and local director for Sitel, on Tuesday pointed out that his group has supported the creation of wilderness ever since an initial proposal was put forward by U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., five years ago. Wilderness, he said, promotes quality of life.

"It would be an economic benefit if we kept those lands protected," he said.

But John Hummer, a Greater Las Cruces Chamber representative, said the presence of wilderness is not on the "top 10" list companies look at when deciding to relocate to an area.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1689, would create 241,400 acres of wilderness - considered the highest level of protection in the federal system - and 99,150 acres of national conservation area, which has more flexible land-use rules, in Do-a Ana County.

Officials with the Greater Las Cruces Chamber said they don't have a budget to publicize their stance on wilderness and have relied on interviews with the media and letters to the editor to carry their message.

Jerry Schickedanz, chairman of People for Preserving Our Western Heritage, said his own group has relied on a website and YouTube videos, as well as an email list.

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

Interior Releases More of Leaked List of Potential National Monuments

The Interior Department has released the rest of a partially leaked document listing potential sites for new national monuments, but the move did nothing to quell Republican accusations that the Obama administration is plotting to lock up public lands.

House Republicans in February received a leaked copy of pages 15 through 21 of a document that details 14 Western sites potentially eligible for national monuments designation under the Antiquities Act of 1906, a law that allows the president to create new monuments without congressional approval.

The Republicans have been demanding the rest of the document since, which included pushing a "disclosure resolution" through the House Natural Resources Committee in the spring. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) today announced Interior had handed over the first 14 pages of the document to his office in late July.

The newly released pages of the document detail the Bureau of Land Management's goals for expanding its National Landscape Conservation System. The agency considers up to 140 million acres of land -- more than half of the 264 million acres it manages -- as "treasured lands," the document says.

The document calls on the administration to first support legislative efforts for new conservation designations and turn to executive action "should the legislative process not prove fruitful."

"However, the BLM recognizes that public support and acceptance of preservation status is best achieved when the public has an opportunity to participate in a land-use planning or legislative process," the document says.

Such assurances did little to satisfy Bishop, who said the new details support his charges that the Obama administration is planning to block energy development across millions of acres of Western lands.

"Thousands of Westerners whose livelihoods depend upon access to our public lands stand to be affected by these decisions, and yet this document blatantly goes out of its way to exclude their input or participation," Bishop said. "If there was any question about whether or not this administration has declared a war on the West, these new documents are evidence enough."

But Interior officials say the document reflects an initial brainstorming session about which areas may merit more serious consideration.

"Secretary Salazar believes it is important that the Department of the Interior serve as wise steward of the places that matter most to Americans," said department spokeswoman Jordan Montoya. "For that reason, he has asked [Interior's] bureaus to think about what areas might be worth considering for further review for possible special management or congressional designation."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Pro-ranching group to get $15 million

El Paso Corp. and the Public Lands Council worked out a $15 million deal over the Ruby Pipeline, Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, said Friday, but the arrangement is raising questions.

“It’s just a tentative agreement that will be decided at the Public Lands Council annual membership meeting in September in Pendleton, Ore.,” said the senator, who is Nevada’s voting delegate to the council.

Rhoads said the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is a party to the pact, which calls for El Paso to provide the $15 million over 10 years, with half of the money going into an interest-bearing fund to be used for rangeland improvements, office expenses and research.

He said the pending agreement prohibits use of the fund for litigation, however, there is an alternative. Interest money could be used to pay dues from livestock permittees belonging to the Public Lands Council to free up other money to establish a separate fund for litigation.

“The organization collects about $250,000 a year in dues,” Rhoads said.

The other half of the $15 million may stay with El Paso and be “dibbled out over the years,” he said.

El Paso spokesman Richard Wheatley said via e-mail Friday he didn’t have any comment on the reported agreement.

Ellison talks to governor

Elko County Commissioner John Ellison said after a meeting with Gov. Jim Gibbons Friday the governor planned to talk with El Paso.

“The devil is in the details,” Ellison said, explaining his concern is that the agreement should give ranchers enough latitude to use the $15 million to offset problems Western Watersheds would create.

“We’ll have knots and bumps along the way, but at the end of the day, we’ll get what we need,” he said. “There are nine counties who could be affected by this.”

Counties along the 680-mile Ruby Pipeline route from Wyoming to Oregon aren’t part of the agreement, and they may be looking at their own solutions at a meeting Aug. 12 in Salt Lake City that Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl said is slated at the Utah State Capitol.

Dahl also said he believes the nine counties should be involved in whatever agreement is worked out between El Paso and the Public Lands Council.

“I think it’s important everybody is involved. The counties are in a strong position,” he said.

Assemblyman John Carpenter, R-Elko, also said the counties should be “main players in the agreement. It seems to me the counties really hold the cards.”

The ranchers are worried about litigation because El Paso earlier signed a $15 million conservation fund agreement with Western Watersheds Project and a $5 million fund with the Oregon Natural Desert Association in exchange for their agreement to drop opposition to the $3 billion pipeline that will extend from Wyoming to Oregon.

Western Watersheds and the Oregon organization stated one of their goals will be to buy grazing permits from willing sellers and retire them. Ranchers are concerned about the impact to their industry.

Rhoads said he still doesn’t feel El Paso has made the company’s position clear on buying grazing allotments and changing the Taylor Grazing Act.

The act doesn’t allow federal agencies to retire grazing permits.

Western Watersheds comments

Western Watersheds Project Executive Director Jon Marvel said Friday that “since the fund will only make purchases from willing sellers, no ranchers will be ‘driven out of business.’ Ranchers can choose to negotiate with the fund, and the fund has already been contacted by at least one interested Nevada rancher.”

Marvel made the statement to Dee Holzel of the Winnemucca-based Silver Pinyon Journal.

“The settlement between WWP and Ruby Pipeline LLC is an innovative and unprecedented cooperative effort to mitigate for negative impacts on sagebrush landscapes caused by a major industrial installation, the Ruby Pipeline,” Marvel said.

He also said cited examples where grazing permits have been retired without a change to the Taylor Grazing Act, including Great Basin National Park near Baker in Nevada; Kanab County, Utah; Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks; and the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon.

“All of these buyouts of federal grazing permits were from willing sellers and were paid for with privately raised funds like the Sagebrush Habitation Conservation Fund,” Marvel said, referring to the new fund El Paso created for Western Watersheds.

Dahl said Western Watersheds has never had a problem with filing lawsuits, so he wants to see that there is money on the other side to defend against them.

Carpenter agreed.

“It seems to me the counties need funds with no strings attached to fight Western Watersheds,” he said.

Rhoads said the details about the Public Lands Council deal with El Paso were disclosed in a phone conference early Friday involving roughly 40 people, and “there was a lot of criticism and some praise. The leadership thought they got all they could get.”

U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., hopes ranchers, Elko County officials and El Paso “can come to a satisfactory agreement that will place the ranchers on equal footing,” spokesman Stewart Bybee said Friday. “He is deeply concerned with the prospects of funds provided to Western Watersheds being used to remove Nevada ranchers off of their allotments.”

Western Legacy Alliance

The Western Legacy Alliance wasn’t part of the agreement with the Public Lands Council but met with El Paso representatives earlier Thursday in Salt Lake city, and the alliance has its own solution to offer, according to Jeff Faulkner of Gooding, Idaho, executive director for the alliance.

“We had what we thought was a viable option for users and the counties, as well. We will try to get to the county commissioners meeting and explain to the counties what our plan is. I think they will like it,” Faulkner said.

He said he was surprised when he learned the Public Lands Council and El Paso had an agreement on the table.

Western Legacy Alliance member and TS Ranch manager Dan Gralian said Friday he doesn’t believe the alliance should “condone the fact that El Paso cut a deal with the devil behind our backs,” but he also doesn’t believe the ranchers and public lands users should “accept bribe money from El Paso.”

Gralian said his first reaction upon to the Public Lands Council agreement with El Paso is “shame and embarrassment. It puts us on the same level as WWP.”

Rhoads said the agreement is “almost like accepting dirty money,” but at least the Public Lands Council is doing something. He said the El Paso agreement with Western Watersheds opened the door to financial settlements over protests.

El Paso started work on the pipeline a week ago, after receiving Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval.

Friday, August 6, 2010

El Paso, Public Lands Council work on deal

El Paso Corp. and the Public Lands Council are hammering out an agreement that could help resolve the energy company's conflict with the ranching industry and counties along the Ruby Pipeline route.

"It's a very positive first step," Public Lands Council President Skye Krebs of Ione, Ore., said Thursday. "It's a real substantial step forward."

He said the details were still being worked out, after a meeting Thursday in Salt Lake City.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association Federal Lands Committee representatives and other industry representatives also attended the meeting, Krebs said.

The conflict is over El Paso Corp.'s $20 million agreement with Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association that establishes two conservation funds. The organizations stated one of their goals would be the purchase and retirement of grazing permits.

"We feel grazing has been taken care of," Krebs said.

"We're pretty excited," Elko County Commissioner John Ellison said Thursday, a day after the county grilled El Paso Corp. representatives over the Western Watersheds agreement.

Western Watersheds and the Oregon organization agreed to the conservation funds in exchange for dropping their protests against the 680-mile pipeline that will extend from Wyoming to Oregon.

That agreement led to county commissioners along the pipeline route setting up an Aug. 12 meeting in Salt Lake City, and the Legislative Committee on Public Lands heard testimony on the issue July 30 in Ely.

Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, chairman of the Legislative Committee on Public Lands and the Nevada representative and past chairman of the Public Lands Council, said Thursday he had heard only a little about the proposed agreement.

"I understand it is in the millions (of dollars)," said Rhoads, who added he expected the Public Lands Council to set up a conference call soon to talk about the proposal.

He said he is still "a little bit leery" about the possibility of Western Watersheds using conservation fund money to lobby Congress to change the Taylor Grazing Act to allow retirement of grazing permits.

The grazing act currently doesn't allow retirement of grazing permits. They must be kept active.

The Legislative Committee on Public Lands voted to send letters to Nevada's congressional delegation, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Gov. Jim Gibbons against the Western Watersheds agreement and urging the delegation to oppose any attempts to change the Taylor Grazing Act.

Rhoads said El Paso assured the committee it didn't intend to lobby Congress to amend the Taylor Grazing Act, but "El Paso admitted that at least a percentage of the money could be used for lobbying, and El Paso also admitted that, if the law was changed, the money might also be used to retire grazing rights."

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., also weighed in against the potential for retiring grazing permits, which ranchers contended would severely damage their industry.

"Senator Reid has been very critical of the agreement that El Paso reached with Western Watersheds. It is important that the company find a way to make things right with the ranchers and the counties," Reid spokesman Tom Brede said Thursday.

"The initial reports of an agreement between El Paso and the Public Lands Council have been positive. We look forward to seeing more details," he said.

Ensign said Thursday, "I'm pleased that El Paso recognized how important it was to support the livestock industry and their way of life. The pipeline is an important project that will create jobs, help with energy independence, and add to the tax base and I'm happy that an agreement has been reached."

Ensign and Heller have sent letters to the legislative panel stating their concerns about El Paso's agreement with Western Watersheds.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the order to proceed for the pipeline July 30, and El Paso officially started work on Saturday.

Ginna Reyes, president of El Aero Services, said she hoped El Paso and ranchers and counties could come to "an amicable solution," because the pipeline project is important to El Aero and many businesses along the pipeline route.

"We're very happy to see it's proceeding. We have an aviation contract for fixed wing and helicopters," she said.

Reyes said El Aero's Elko and Carson City locations will benefit from the project.

El Paso rep: Pipeline settlement has caused ‘worry, concern and anger’

A settlement between environmental groups and El Paso Corp. over the Ruby Pipeline Project has caused "worry, concern and anger," the president of El Paso Western Pipeline Group told Elko County Commissioners Wednesday.

About 30 people attended the commission meeting and heard about two-and-a-half hours of discussion about the Ruby Pipeline Project and, particularly, El Paso Corp.'s agreement with Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association.

El Paso Corp. didn't expect "the firestorm that has erupted over this deal," said Jim Cleary, president of El Paso Western Pipeline Group.

"You guys went into bed with the worst there is," Commissioner John Ellison told El Paso Corp. representatives, referring to the company's $20 million agreement finalized last month with the two groups.

Money will go into the Sage Grouse Habitat Conservation Fund over a 10-year period and will be used for habitat protection. In exchange, the environmental groups will drop litigation opposing the pipeline project.

"Negotiating with Western Watersheds Project damages your reputation," Commission Chairman Charlie Myers told company representatives.

Myers said representatives from El Paso Corp. thought it would be easier to fight individual counties than Western Watersheds Project.

"Well, I am the president of Ruby Pipeline and that statement is not true at all," Cleary said.

Commissioner Warren Russell said the majority of commissioners probably wouldn't support the project today.

El Paso Corp. started work on the Ruby Pipeline this week after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the order to proceed Friday.

The 680-mile natural gas pipeline, which Cleary said is an approximately $3 billion project, will go through Elko County in its span from Wyoming to Oregon.

At its peak, the Ruby Pipeline project will employ up to 5,000 workers, Cleary said, and about $1.4 billion has been spent on the project to date.

There will be a permanent construction office in Elko that will employ seven people, he said.

El Paso Corp. expects to pay "substantial property tax revenues" of about $70 million to Elko County over a 10-year period and "tax payments will continue for decades to come," Cleary said.

Commissioner Sheri Eklund-Brown said commissioners stood in support of the project when El Paso Corp. first approached the county because the project will be a huge economic boon to the county and will provide jobs at a time when, nationwide, jobs are "valued, treasured and rare."

"Our vision is to be a good neighbor," Cleary said.

Jeff Williams, a member of Elko County's Natural Resources Management Advisory Commission, said a neighbor "who offends another makes a proper restitution."

"My question is just how sorry is El Paso Corp. for the problems they've caused?" he said, referring to the corporation's agreement with environmental groups.

Williams said Elko County has shown a great amount of "western hospitality" to El Paso Corp., but should have also taught them "country ethics."

"I want the gas line to go through, but wouldn't want to put up with someone who is a friend one day and stabs you in the back the next day," he said.

Elko County Planner Randy Brown said his staff was directed to help El Paso Corp. 28 months ago when the project was proposed. They have spent many hours helping the corporation acquire easements since then.

"We feel very slapped in the face," he said about the agreement.

Gary Weisbart, manager of the Winecup Gamble Ranch, said he was approached by Ruby Pipeline representatives asking for an easement and then wanting to buy water rights.

"This would have been all well and good," he said, but added that he felt pressured to sell water rights because El Paso Corp. representatives said they'd have to drill a well otherwise.

William Healy, vice president of Ruby Pipeline Engineering, said no one was hoodwinked and representatives "told him what they knew at the time," long before the deal was made with environmental groups.

Bill Wilkerson of Elko said he came to the meeting to get educated on the issues surrounding the Ruby Pipeline project.

"This isn't right," he said about the closed-door deal between El Paso Corp. and the environmental groups. He said he wants the agreement document to be made public.

"I want to know what's going on," he said.

Others said they also wanted to see a copy of the agreement between El Paso Corp. and the environmental groups. El Paso representatives said Friday the agreement is confidential.

Commissioner Demar Dahl asked if El Paso Corp. could get out of the agreement with the environmental groups.

Cleary said El Paso Corp. has a binding contract with the groups and the corporation is "not about breaching contracts," but is working to find solutions.

"It's not in the interest of counties (for El Paso Corp.) to write a big check to Western Watersheds Project," he said.

Cleary told commissioners the settlement will allow the project to proceed without litigation.

He said there are narrow seasonal construction windows and "the prospect of a delay would be very, very costly."

Cleary said Western Watersheds Project has its own agenda and the fund won't be "a treasure trove that's available to Western Watersheds Project."

"The fund is narrowly drawn and not one penny goes to Western Watersheds for their purposes," he said.

In order for the fund to be successful, Cleary said he wants "input from a diverse array of interests."

Cleary said the fund won't be used to outbid grazing permit licensees who are renewing their permits.

It's also not the intent of El Paso Corp. to amend the Taylor Grazing Act, he said.

Ellison said El Paso will be held accountable for the agreement with the environmental groups. He said it's the commission's job to protect the way of life for ranchers and "if there's no pipeline, then so be it."

Cleary said the purpose of the fund "is not to put ranchers out of business."

County commissioners in the counties affected by the Ruby Pipeline project will meet Aug. 12 in Salt Lake City to talk about the agreement, as well as grazing permits.

Elko County Commissioners unanimously voted Wednesday to approve a resolution to present at the meeting. Several commissioners plan to attend the meeting, but can't take formal action in Utah due to Nevada Open Meeting Law.

Commissioners also unanimously voted to not take action on a legal action by Ruby Pipeline LLC to condemn .76 acres of land managed by the Elko County treasurer's trust.

There's only $106 of taxes owed on the property and the owners are no longer alive, said Kristin McQueary, Elko County chief civil deputy district attorney.

Copyright 2010 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

BLM document reveals big change in federal land management

KSL 5 News has obtained a document that outlines a huge change in how the federal government wants to manage federal land in Utah, and one Utah congressman says it makes him furious.

Congressman Rob Bishop's office also recently received the document. Bishop said he's angry because it would put virtually all land management power in the hands of the White House.
"Of the 264 million acres under BLM management, some 130- to 140-million acres are worthy of consideration as treasured lands. These areas [are] roughly equivalent in size to Colorado and Wyoming combined." -BLM's Treasured Lanscapes paper
A portion of the document was leaked back in February and led to speculation about a federal land grab in Utah. It talked about the creation of a 12 new national monuments

Now, an outside source provided KSL with the entire document, and it does suggest a dramatically new philosophy for managing federal land.

The Bureau of Land Management's document is stamped with "Internal Draft. Not for release." Titled "Treasured Landscapes," it lays out what some consider a sweeping and detailed plan for the next 25 years.

It took Bishop months to get the document, which lays out the context for the snippets released a few months ago.

"They have clearly been dragging their feet, and they don't want to let us know what they're trying to do," Bishop says.

He is especially concerned about portions of the document that recommend using the Antiquities Act "should the legislative process not prove fruitful." The act gives the president power to designate a national monument with no public or legislative input.

The U.S. Department of the Interior released a statement Thursday that reads, in part: "The preliminary internal discussion draft reflects some brainstorming discussions within BLM, but no decisions have been made about which areas, if any, might merit more serious review and consideration." [CLICK HERE to read the entire statement]

"Their brainstorming session was how to do this without engaging Congress, without having to go to Congress for approval," Bishop said.

There are those who support what is a radical new departure in land management -- the idea of protecting whole ecosystems instead of just individual parcels.

Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, says the vision within the pages is urgently needed.

"I'd like to see some real planning developed out of it," Robinson said. "It obviously is a brainstorming kind of thing thing, but you have to do that before you take intelligent action."


El Paso, Public Lands Council work on deal

El Paso Corp. and the Public Lands Council are hammering out an agreement that could help resolve the energy company's conflict with the ranching industry and counties along the Ruby Pipeline route.

"It's a very positive first step," Public Lands Council President Skye Krebs of Ione, Ore., said Thursday. "It's a real substantial step forward."

He said the details were still being worked out, after a meeting Thursday in Salt Lake City.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association Federal Lands Committee representatives and other industry representatives also attended the meeting, Krebs said.

The conflict is over El Paso Corp.'s $20 million agreement with Western Watersheds Project and the Oregon Natural Desert Association that establishes two conservation funds. The organizations stated one of their goals would be the purchase and retirement of grazing permits.

"We feel grazing has been taken care of," Krebs said.

"We're pretty excited," Elko County Commissioner John Ellison said Thursday, a day after the county grilled El Paso Corp. representatives over the Western Watersheds agreement.

Western Watersheds and the Oregon organization agreed to the conservation funds in exchange for dropping their protests against the 680-mile pipeline that will extend from Wyoming to Oregon.

That agreement led to county commissioners along the pipeline route setting up an Aug. 12 meeting in Salt Lake City, and the Legislative Committee on Public Lands heard testimony on the issue July 30 in Ely.

Sen. Dean Rhoads, R-Tuscarora, chairman of the Legislative Committee on Public Lands and the Nevada representative and past chairman of the Public Lands Council, said Thursday he had heard only a little about the proposed agreement.

"I understand it is in the millions (of dollars)," said Rhoads, who added he expected the Public Lands Council to set up a conference call soon to talk about the proposal.

He said he is still "a little bit leery" about the possibility of Western Watersheds using conservation fund money to lobby Congress to change the Taylor Grazing Act to allow retirement of grazing permits.

The grazing act currently doesn't allow retirement of grazing permits. They must be kept active.

The Legislative Committee on Public Lands voted to send letters to Nevada's congressional delegation, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar and Gov. Jim Gibbons against the Western Watersheds agreement and urging the delegation to oppose any attempts to change the Taylor Grazing Act.

Rhoads said El Paso assured the committee it didn't intend to lobby Congress to amend the Taylor Grazing Act, but "El Paso admitted that at least a percentage of the money could be used for lobbying, and El Paso also admitted that, if the law was changed, the money might also be used to retire grazing rights."

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and U.S. Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., also weighed in against the potential for retiring grazing permits, which ranchers contended would severely damage their industry.

"Senator Reid has been very critical of the agreement that El Paso reached with Western Watersheds. It is important that the company find a way to make things right with the ranchers and the counties," Reid spokesman Tom Brede said Thursday.

"The initial reports of an agreement between El Paso and the Public Lands Council have been positive. We look forward to seeing more details," he said.

Ensign said Thursday, "I'm pleased that El Paso recognized how important it was to support the livestock industry and their way of life. The pipeline is an important project that will create jobs, help with energy independence, and add to the tax base and I'm happy that an agreement has been reached."

Ensign and Heller have sent letters to the legislative panel stating their concerns about El Paso's agreement with Western Watersheds.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the order to proceed for the pipeline July 30, and El Paso officially started work on Saturday.

Ginna Reyes, president of El Aero Services, said she hoped El Paso and ranchers and counties could come to "an amicable solution," because the pipeline project is important to El Aero and many businesses along the pipeline route.

"We're very happy to see it's proceeding. We have an aviation contract for fixed wing and helicopters," she said.

Reyes said El Aero's Elko and Carson City locations will benefit from the project.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Governor Richardson Proclaims First Annual “Roadless Recreation Week”

Outdoor activities start Saturday in New Mexico national forests and across the country

Governor Bill Richardson (D-NM) joins other governors and conservation groups from across the country to support America’s first annual Roadless Recreation Week, August 7-15, which will host more than 50 recreation activities in national forest roadless areas in New Mexico and in 12 other states. The weeklong celebration highlights the importance of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, issued to protect nearly 60 million acres of pristine national forests across the country, and encourages the public to go “all out” to enjoy the outdoor opportunities these areas provide.

Governor Richardson issued a proclamation today to “recognize the recreational, environmental and economic values” roadless areas provide and calls the national roadless rule “one of the most popular federal policies ever developed.” The proclamation notes that roadless areas are a source of drinking water for 60 million Americans, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as recreation jobs in rural communities.

The USDA estimates there were 173.5 million recreation visits to U.S. Forest System lands in 2009, with more than 57 percent of those visits for activities such as hiking, mountain biking and fishing.

“People can have fun and show their support for saving these treasured places,” said Nathan Newcomer, Associate Director of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. “Roadless forests are some of the best outdoor recreation areas we have in the state, and New Mexicans are enjoying their roadless areas even more today than they did when the roadless rule was enacted in 2001.”

The first annual Roadless Recreation Week occurs as a federal court prepares to issue an important decision about the Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The rule was issued in 2001 by the Clinton administration to protect roughly one-third of undeveloped U.S. Forest Service lands. It was the result of the largest public lands review process in U.S. history, with more than 1.2 million comments and 600 public hearings.

The rule has been the subject of conflicting court decisions over the past decade. In August 2009, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling to reinstate the roadless rule for most roadless areas, but a Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals decision is still pending. The Obama administration has expressed strong support for the national policy, and has asked the Tenth Circuit to uphold the rule.

New Mexico residents can go to to find out about the week’s activities in their area, and to learn how to support roadless area protection, and read Governor Richardson’s proclamation.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Endangered Mexican gray wolf may get new help

The endangered Mexican gray wolf gained ground Tuesday in its struggle to survive when federal wildlife officials decided the animal may warrant greater protection than other, less-imperiled gray wolves.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it will review the status of the Mexican wolf - native to Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico - and determine whether it should be classified as a separate subspecies of the wider-ranging gray wolf native to other parts of North America.

The difference is significant under the Endangered Species Act. The government would be required to create a recovery plan specifically for the Mexican wolf and set measurable goals for the species' recovery that would extend protection beyond what wolves elsewhere receive.

No such plan is in place, even as the wolves' numbers dwindle.

"This is clearly a step forward for the Mexican wolf," said Nicole Rosmarino, wildlife program director for the advocacy group WildEarth Guardians. "The wolves face real, significant threats and they need heightened protection."

The wildlife service announced its review of the wolf's status as part of a settlement with WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Rewilding Institute, three conservation groups that petitioned the agency to reclassify the Mexican wolf.

A final ruling could take up to a year. The fact that the federal agency has already decided there is enough evidence to warrant a full review tips the odds at least slightly in favor of a rarely bestowed subspecies listing, conservation groups believe.

The Mexican gray wolf was exterminated from its native habitat in the 1930s and 1940s and was originally listed as an endangered species in 1976. Two years later, the Mexican wolf was absorbed into a broader listing of almost all gray wolves after the government decided that such an approach afforded the animals better overall protection.

But while the wolf has recovered in some parts of the country - several populations were removed from the endangered species list in 2009 - the Mexican wolf has not.

A reintroduction program begun in 1998 has failed to establish a self-sustaining population. The latest count, conducted at the end of 2009, found just 42 wolves, mostly in the mountains of eastern Arizona.

The government already recognizes the Mexican wolf as endangered and has not moved to change that status even as it delists other wolf populations. But the wolf was reintroduced in Arizona under rules that don't require a recovery plan.

That difference, environmental groups say, has hurt the wolf's survival odds.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service since the mid-1990s has been promising to come out with a new recovery plan for the Mexican wolf," said Michael Robinson, who works on wolf issues for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity. "What we have now is a process that will make the plan a mandatory step. Ultimately, it may lead to reforms of the entire reintroduction program."

Federal officials will review the wolf's current status and threats it faces, such as loss of habitat, disease, problems with existing regulations and other factors that imperil the species' survival.

In its decision Tuesday, the wildlife agency disagreed with some claims made by environmental groups about threats to the wolf, but it acknowledged that many wolves have died as a result of human actions, including illegal shooting and collisions with vehicles.

Simpson kills buyout for grazing permits

A potential federal grazing permit buyout program was killed by amendment last Thursday as Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, defended national public lands grazing during a subcommittee markup.

The stricken language, which was attached to the Interior and Environment Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2011, would have created a national pilot program to allow buyers to purchase and retire grazing permits from willing sellers.

"In the West, we know that if you don't graze on public lands, you don't graze at all," Simpson said.

Simpson has previously been engaged with the public grazing issue through his work on the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, or CIEDRA. CIEDRA proposes to designate some 330,000 acres of land in central Idaho as federal wilderness.

However, CIEDRA specifically provides for voluntary donation and retirement of grazing permits, which some see as contradictory to Simpson's latest move.

"Strange only begins to describe it," said Jon Marvel, executive director of the Hailey-based Western Watersheds Project, a nonprofit environmental group. "If you support grazing buyouts on one hand, but detest them on the other, something odd is going on."

Marvel and Western Watersheds have been involved in orchestrating the buyout of grazing permits, and Marvel said he doesn't understand Simpson's position on the issue.

The two programs, however, differ according to Simpson's staff.

"It's one thing to look at buyouts on a case-by-case basis," said Simpson spokesman John Revier. "It's quite another to look at a nationwide program that allows the highest bidder to retire perfectly good grazing lands."

According to Simpson's staff, when a rancher wishes to sell a grazing permit, there is an official bidding process in which interested parties, normally ranchers with neighboring land, compete for the permit.

A news release from Nikki Watts, Simpson's communication director, states that the proposed language would have allowed "environmental activist groups" to outbid such ranchers, obtain permits, and permanently retire them.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management currently reserves the right to terminate or cancel grazing permits on lands that have been severely impacted by heavy grazing.

Revier said it has become "virtually impossible" for ranchers in Idaho to graze on public land due to environmental regulations and lawsuits. The language in CIEDRA is aimed at providing compensation to ranchers with essentially useless permits, he said.

Simpson also added language to the appropriations bill that would enable the BLM to continue working through what Watts called a "backlog" of grazing permits that are up for renewal.

This backlog is created by old grazing permits, which come up for renewal every 10 years, and the several hundred new applications the bureau receives every year.

The language has been in the Interior appropriation's bill for each of the last 12 years, but was omitted this year until Simpson reintroduced it.

The funding allows the BLM to undertake the longer process of focusing on whether permits for environmentally sensitive areas should be renewed, rather than issuing renewals on a first-come, first-served basis.

The Interior and Environment Appropriations Act provides funding to the BLM and other land management agencies.

The bill was undergoing markup for fiscal year 2011 in the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.

Katherine Wutz:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Box Elder fights for grazing rights

Box Elder County Commissioners remain firm in their opposition to a contract between El Paso Corp. and regional environmental groups that puts local ranchers in danger of losing grazing rights on federal land.

Commissioners recently learned that El Paso Corp. will pay $20 million over 10 years into a trust fund set up for the purpose of habitat rehabilitation.

In exchange, the environmental group Western Watershed Project has agreed to drop its opposition to construction of the Ruby Pipeline, set to begin any day.

Box Elder is one of nine counties to be crossed by the Ruby Pipeline, a 675-mile line of 42-inch pipe to transport natural gas from Wyoming to Oregon. Each of the nine counties has agreed to form a coalition of counties which will form and pass a resolution to protect ranchers' rights.

To date, several drafts of a resolution have been created, but none are ready for ratification. Commissioners have said they wish to wait until after an Aug. 12 coalition meeting in order to draft a resolution that shows unity between the counties.

"I thoroughly support the efforts of these nine counties to put together this resolution to retain these grazing permits," said Commissioner Jay Hardy. "There is a lot of federal ground in our county."

Monday, August 2, 2010


HUGH B. McKEEN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE, an Agency of the United States Department of Agriculture; TOM VILSACK, in his official capacity as Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture; TOM TIDWELL, in his official capacity as Chief of the Forest Service; CORBIN L. NEWMAN, in his official capacity as Regional Forester for the Southwest Region, State of New Mexico; RICHARD E. MARKLEY, in his official capacity as Forest Supervisor of the Gila National Forest, State of New Mexico; PAT MORRISON, in her official capacity as the Glenwood District Ranger in the Gila National Forest, Defendants-Appellees.[ 1 ]

No. 08-2290.
United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit.
August 2, 2010.

Submitted on the briefs:

Karen Budd-Falen, and Kathryn Brack Morrow, Budd-Falen Law Offices, LLC, Cheyenne, Wyoming, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General, Aaron P. Avila, Andrew A. Smith, and Susan L. Pacholski, Attorneys, United States Department of Justice, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Washington, D.C., for Defendants-Appellees.

Before BRISCOE, Chief Judge, HAWKINS[ 2 ], and O'BRIEN, Circuit Judges.

BRISCOE, Chief Judge.

For more than forty years, the United States Forest Service (hereinafter "Forest Service") has granted Plaintiff Hugh B. McKeen and his family a series of term livestock grazing permits to graze cattle and/or horses on the Cedar Breaks Allotment in the Glenwood Ranger District of the Gila National Forest in Catron County, New Mexico. Recently, McKeen sought to have several Forest Service actions which affected these permits set aside pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act ("APA"), 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq. The district court denied each of McKeen's requests for relief and McKeen filed this timely appeal. We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and AFFIRM in part and VACATE in part. With respect to those claims which we vacate, we REMAND to the district court with instructions to DISMISS as moot.[ 3 ]...

Go here to read the decision.

Bill's wolf-trap ban needs federal follow-up

Give Gov. Bill Richardson a hand for lending one to the still-struggling Mexican gray wolf: This week he ordered a temporary ban on animal trapping in our state's part of the Blue Mountain wolf-recovery area. It's to last six months, while state biologists figure out what risks traps and snares pose to wolves.

For doing so, his critics are likely to issue word-play lines about him looking after himself — but this was just the latest of many seven-league strides Richardson has made on the environmental front during 71/2 years in the Governor's Office, and in Congress before that.

The Mexican gray, an endangered subspecies, was reintroduced to the New Mexico-Arizona borderlands in the late 1990s. By now, figured the federal wildlife officials who trucked a few animals into the Gila River basin, their population should have grown to about 100.

They reckoned without the region's taxpayer-subsidized ranchers or other two-legged enemies of canis lupus: As this year began, there were only 42 of the wolves. Since June, three have been found dead — two of them shot. In recent years, 14 have been trapped or snared — 12 in New Mexico. Five were injured, two of those so badly they required amputation.

If ranchers had anything to do with the trap injuries, there was irony in the infliction: Injured wolves might have a harder time bringing down a deer or an elk — so those grazing-lease livestock become more appealing.

It's possible that the people preying on wolves aren't ranchers — since they're not supposed to shoot wolves to save their stock; deadly force is limited to saving human lives.

But the cowboys are potential beneficiaries of those shooting and trapping the wolves: Packs of them pick on cattle from time to time.

However, the federal government, as well as the environmentalist group Defenders of Wildlife, have programs to pay stockgrowers for such depredation.

Such compensation systems depend on ranchers' willingness to take part — and some are less willing than others to buy into a wolf-reintroduction project they think is crazy, even dangerously so.

A pioneering effort by Santa Fe's WildEarth Guardians seeks to compensate ranchers for giving up their grazing permits. The local group is in pursuit of its first agreement. It would be a promising start toward freeing the forests for wildlife.

A more immediate effort by Guardians has been its petition to federal agencies to ban trapping — which, they figure, is part of the campaign to keep wolves at the edge of annihilation, where they've been for a century or so.

The governor's response to the rash of trapping is the right one; the feds should follow his lead.

The Santa Fe New Mexican