Saturday, June 29, 2013

Federal control of lands not bad, Interior Secretary Jewell tells Western governors

New U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told the Western Governors Association on Friday there's a need to get away from seeing federally managed lands as bad and state control over resources as good.
Jewell called for a balanced approach to using public lands in the West, pledging the federal government will be a partner in identifying what local communities "want from a grass-roots level," whether that's preserving or developing the land.
Gov. Gary Herbert, the association's outgoing chairman, asked Jewell after her keynote address on the first of three days of meetings to define balance, noting that "like beauty, balance is sometimes in the eye of the beholder."
Herbert noted that nearly 70 percent of Utah is federally controlled at a time when the nation needs the energy resources available on those lands, as well as to protect pristine wilderness.
"I look forward to understanding what balance means to the state of Utah," Jewell said.
Earlier in her speech to the 400 government leaders from the western U.S. and Canada and lobbyists, she spoke of a shift in federal land use in the West, from traditional grazing, mining and forestry to recreational tourism.
Jewell declined to comment to reporters specifically on the Utah Legislature's demand in 2012 that the federal government cede its holdings in the state, but said the decision to give the federal government oversight of those lands was made years ago.
"Just because the federal land may be under the jurisdiction of the federal government doesn't mean the states don't benefit from it," the former Recreational Equipment Inc. CEO said, citing as an example Washington sharing drilling proceeds with states.
"It's not negative necessarily to be federal, and some of the comments suggest that," she said. "In many cases, if you're in the East where I'm now living, people would kill to have federal lands like the beautiful federal lands we have out West."
Rather than turn back land held by the federal government to the states, Jewell said, "there is an appetite in the federal government to work with state government to more thoughtfully manage our land."
A Utah lawmaker behind the push to get the federal government to give up its claims in Utah, Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said Jewell's comments "ignore the fundamental question."
Ivory said the state is suffering as a result of how federal lands are managed, including losing access to roads and "abundant recourse that creates a tax base and jobs. So the speech sounds nice, but on the ground, it doesn't happen."
Jewell, making her first visit to Utah after being named interior secretary earlier this year, said she plans to hike to Barneys Peak in the Oquirrh Mountains with Bureau of Land Management employees Saturday before leaving the state.
Herbert told reporters that the states' relationship with the federal government "ought to be a partnership, not one that's subservient" and dominated by a dictator. Still, Utah's governor said he believes progress is being made.
"Sometimes it's a matter of getting people's attention and letting them know we're serious," he said, about putting a stop to what he called the federal government's continued overreach.
Herbert said he welcomed Jewell's focus on outdoor recreational use of public lands but added while that may be a big part, it's not all the holdings can provide. Utah, he said, is taking an "all of the above" approach to how federal land should be utilized.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

NM Mouse May Get Protections and Habitat

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse for endangered status under the Endangered Species Act, with over 14,500 acres of critical habitat.
     The mouse's unusual eight to nine month hibernation period contributes to the species' vulnerability, the agency said in a press release. With an active period of only three to four months during the summer, there is little time to breed, give birth, raise young, and also eat enough to survive the hibernation period. The species is short-lived, generally living only three years or less, and they have small litters. "If resources are not available in a single season, jumping mice populations would be greatly stressed," the agency said.
     The species has specialized habitat requirements of tall vegetation near flowing water. "Over-grazing destroys the streamside riparian and wet meadow habitat on which the meadow jumping mice depend," the WildEarth Guardians (WEG) noted in a statement. The WEG maintains that the recent listing and critical habitat proposals are in response to a "scientific petition" filed by the group in 2008.
     "The most important thing we can do to protect the jumping mouse and the ecosystem they call home is to reign in grazing on public lands," Bethany Cotton, Wildlife Program Director at WEG was quoted as saying in the group's statement.
     While the USFWS acknowledges that grazing has contributed to the species' habitat fragmentation, it maintains that "water management and use (which causes vegetation loss from mowing and drying of soils), lack of water due to drought (exacerbated by climate change), and wildfires (also exacerbated by climate change)," add to the problem as well as "scouring floods, loss of beaver ponds, highway reconstruction, residential and commercial development, coalbed methane development, and unregulated recreation," according to the listing proposal.
     Data from the 1980s and 1990s compared to more recent data indicate that 70 locations formerly occupied by the jumping mouse have been destroyed, leaving only 29 isolated populations spread over Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, the listing action said, and "none of the 29 populations known to exist since 2005 is of sufficient size to be resilient."
     The USFWS has concluded that the species is "at an elevated risk of extinction now and no data indicate that the situation will improve without significant conservation intervention," according to the listing proposal.
     The agency has proposed 193.1 miles, or 14,560 acres in eight units as critical habitat in twelve counties in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
     Comments on the two proposals are due Aug. 19, with public hearing requests due by Aug. 5.