Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Far Reaching Court Victory for Western Watersheds Project


Western Watersheds Project (WWP) has won a great court victory !!!

Judge B. Lynn Winmill’s Orderpdf of today (9/28) rules in favor of Western Watersheds Project's challenge to 16 Bureau of Land Management Resource Management Plans (RMPs) in 6 western states covering over 30,000,000 acres of public land.


This Order addresses the WWP challenge to two of the RMPs that are serving as test cases for all 16 Resource Management Plans being challenged. These two test cases are for the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve RMP in Idaho and the Pinedale RMP in western Wyoming.

The federal court has granted summary judgment to WWP on both FLPMA and NEPA claims and denied all summary judgment claims by the BLM and intervenors.

This case will resonate in many ways including, in particular, the failure of the BLM to consider overall cumulative effects of all permitted activities and all impacts on Greater Sage Grouse. The Order also strongly addresses failure of the BLM to comply with its own sensitive species policy and its national sage grouse conservation policy.

WWP’s excellent legal representation in this case is by Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West
in Boise.

All-in-all this is a very important win for western public lands management and all native sage-steppe wildlife including greater sage grouse.

Monday, September 26, 2011

‘Driest Year Ever’ Continues In N.M.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Weather forecasters and water managers had little good news to share Thursday about the prospects of Mother Nature helping New Mexico overcome a year of drought.

Members of New Mexico's Drought Monitoring Workgroup met in Albuquerque to talk about the lack of moisture over the past eight months and projections for fall and early winter.

"We're well on track for this being the driest year ever in New Mexico," Ed Polasko, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, told the group.

Polasko's grim statement followed his listing of dozens of communities around New Mexico that have fallen inches behind in their precipitation.

Some of the biggest precipitation deficits are along the Middle and Lower Rio Grande, but he also pointed to Carlsbad and Tatum in southeastern New Mexico, which have missed out on anywhere from six to 10 inches of their normal annual precipitation. Alcalde, Cloudcroft, Glenwood, Las Cruces and Deming are also behind.

Nearly every corner of New Mexico has been affected by drought this year, and the conditions are so bad that about two-thirds of the state have been classified as extreme and exceptional — the two worst levels of drought.

This summer was one of the driest on record and that helped compound a problem that has been brewing since last fall and winter, when storms brought little more than freezing temperatures to New Mexico.

The La Nina weather pattern that repelled moisture from much of the state was to blame. The bad news is that La Nina seems to be rearing its head once more, Polasko said.

New Mexico has also just wrapped up one of its hottest summers ever. This summer ranks just slightly behind the summer of 1980, which was filled with numerous triple-digit days.

"Here we are 30 years later and we're having one of the hottest summers ever and one of the driest," Polasko said. "Things go in cycles and it just happens to be our turn in the dry and very warm cycle."

From farmers along the Pecos River to ranchers in central New Mexico, months without any measureable rain have been difficult to bear. Farmers have been forced to pump groundwater to supplement this year's minuscule irrigation allotments, while ranchers have been trying to decide between selling off their herds or paying higher prices for feed.

In Albuquerque, residents rejoiced this summer when afternoon clouds would yield even a few raindrops.

With the combination of relentless heat and drought, members of the work group said this summer felt as if it would never end.

Thursday was the last day of the season, but the experts said New Mexico can expect more hot and dry weather.

Polasko described the outlook for rain and snow from October to December as "particularly distressing," as models predict storms tracking way to the west and north of New Mexico.

Forecasts show a 40 percent probability of below-normal precipitation for parts of the state, which is consistent with the return of the La Nina weather pattern.

As for temperatures, there's as much as a 50 percent probability that New Mexico will see above-normal temperatures through at least the end of the year.

"Nobody is really putting much stock in the fact that El Nino will return. That's been pretty much washed off the charts," Polasko said.

Raymond Abeyta, a hydrology technician with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in New Mexico, reviewed with the group water storage levels in reservoirs around the state.

While the Rio Grande is far below normal, he said things are worse along the Pecos River.

"If those models prove true, we're going to be in a heap of trouble next year," he said.

September has seen some scattered rainfall around New Mexico, but New Mexico Department of Agriculture range resources specialist Les Owen said it's too little too late for production of any grass on New Mexico's rangelands.

He said ranchers are paying $100 more per ton this year for feed and placement of cattle in feedlots in the Panhandle and Midwest this summer have been the highest on record because of the dry conditions plaguing New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

"The impacts on the ranching community are continuing to mount," Owen said, adding that rural counties that depend on taxes derived from ranching operations will also soon feel the hit.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Forest Service Probes Road Grading in Catron County

By Rene Romo / Journal South Reporter on Sat, Sep 17, 2011

LAS CRUCES - Federal officials are butting heads with Catron County over the county's unauthorized grading of parts of a 13-mile stretch of road that runs alongside, and sometimes across, the San Francisco River south of Reserve in the Gila National Forest.

The grading project, carried out by a bulldozer, appears to have crossed the river more than two dozen times within an area designated critical habitat for the loach minnow, which has been designated a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"It's a terrible place for a road," said Cyndi Tuell, Southwest conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, who called the early August grading project the county's attempt to "thumb their noses at the federal government."

Catron County Commission Chairman Hugh McKeen could not be reached for comment. But in an Aug. 17 letter informing the Gila National Forest supervisor that the grading had occurred, McKeen and two other commissioners described the project as an effort to improve public access and the road's quality. County commissioners said three landowners asked for the road to be graded.

Catron County also asserted its jurisdiction over the road, which the county calls Historic Highway 12, through a grandfathered easement under

federal Revised Statute (RS) 2477, an 1866 public lands law aimed at encouraging Western development by granting rights of way over public land.

Some Western communities that have bristled at federal management of public lands have cited RS 2477 in claiming rights of way through national forests or wilderness.

"Maintenance of the original road has removed the in-stream travel of vehicles; they are limited to river crossings only," the County Commission's letter states. "Being aware of the ecology of the area, all material was pushed away from the live streambed. We have made every effort to retain the overall beauty of the road with its many trees and overhead shaded areas."

In a written response to Catron County's letter, Gila Forest Supervisor Kelly Russell disputed the county's claim of jurisdiction over the old road, which the county has not established in state District Court.

Private property owners have blocked the road at its northern and southern ends with locked gates, but grant Forest Service personnel access, Russell said.

Even if the road had been conveyed to Catron County, Russell said, the county failed to comply with federal laws and regulations under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

A Fish and Wildlife Service spokesman said Friday that agency law enforcement officers are cooperating with the Forest Service to investigate the incident. The U.S. Attorney's Office has not yet become involved in the matter, a spokeswoman said.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Lawmakers go west for hearing on public lands

The perennial conflict over public lands will surge again Monday in Sacramento, Calif., as congressional Republicans showcase their unhappiness over environmental restrictions they consider excessive.

Carpenters will complain about logging restrictions, motorcycle riders will plead for more off-road access and conservative lawmakers will hope to build momentum for bills whose long-term prospects remain uncertain.

"All of the West is under attack from radical environmentalists, so we'll have to move legislation," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said in an interview. "Jobs are being destroyed."

The Sacramento field hearing, and others like it, provides a stage for competing political narratives. Republicans can emphasize jobs; one of their witnesses Monday is from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America. Democrats can stress the vulnerable environment; one of their witnesses is from Trout Unlimited.

"There's been a full assault on any effort to stop rampant resource development," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said of congressional Republicans.

However it's characterized, there's certainly been no shortage of legislative proposals concerning public land use.

Prompted by President Bill Clinton's designation of the 328,000-acre Giant Sequoia National Monument in 2000, Nunes authored a bill to slow the creation of additional national monuments. His is one of a number of GOP bills likely to win favor in the House subcommittee on national parks, forests and public lands, which organized the Sacramento field hearing.

Some pending bills would specify that presidents cannot establish new national monuments in Montana, Utah or Idaho without congressional approval. Others would give state legislatures a veto over national monuments in their state or, like the Nunes bill, let the monument designations lapse without subsequent congressional approval.

Several different federal agencies currently administer some 100 national monuments nationwide, including the California Coastal, Carrizo Plain and Muir Woods monuments in California.

Republican presidents designated five of California's 10 national monuments, including one that commemorates the Tule Lake camp that incarcerated Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Beyond national monument controversies, the House subcommittee led by tea party favorite Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, is considering several broader public lands bills, including one by Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

The legislation by McCarthy, the House majority whip, would lift current interim protections from 6.6 million acres of Bureau of Land Management property.

Still other bills are designed to open up Forest Service land for multiple uses including grazing and mining.

Republicans run the House panel on public lands with a 13-10 margin, giving them the power to set agendas, dominate witness lists and move bills through the House over the objection of Democrats.

The Democratic-controlled Senate, though, poses a potentially serious impediment to the House's public lands efforts, and Garamendi predicted the House's most aggressive proposals won't go far. The Obama administration, too, has already stressed its opposition to a number of the House bills, including the national monument bill written by Nunes and the Bureau of Land Management bill written by McCarthy.

"Through our wilderness decisions, we demonstrate a sense of stewardship and conservation that is uniquely American," Bureau of Land Management Director Robert Abbey told the House subcommittee earlier this year.