Saturday, June 19, 2004

HEARING - H.R. 3102

June 18, 2004

House bill would give NEPA process to universities

Allison A. Freeman, Greenwire reporter

Congress is considering a proposal that would put universities rather than government regulatory agencies at the helm of the environmental review process for grazing allotments in Arizona and New Mexico.

The bill would allow the Agriculture Department to enter into cooperative agreements with land-grant institutions in the two states for 10-year plans and studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act. Under the proposal, New Mexico State University, the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University would conduct the NEPA studies.

The bill would also revamp the Endangered Species Act requirement for full consultation between the Forest Service, which manages much of the federal government's grazing lands, and the Fish and Wildlife Service by placing just one FWS employee on NEPA review teams.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) last fall, reflects a broader effort by Republicans in the White House and Congress to streamline environmental reviews. Last year's Healthy Forest Restoration Act, for example, contained similar streamlining provisions to those being offered in the grazing bill. The Bush administration has already proposed changes this year to its grazing policy and NEPA review process.

Pearce said the bill is important to protect ranching in his home state, where the Forest Service has a backlog of grazing permit applications and insufficient data on which to base its reviews. The agency is fighting a congressional deadline to complete outstanding NEPA analyses of 4,100 allotments by 2010

But environmentalists have said the Pearce bill would threaten rangeland and species and undermine ESA protections.

NEPA requires the Forest Service to complete environmental impact analyses for all of its grazing permits. The process, which includes opportunities for public comment on six or seven alternatives, usually takes more than two years for each allotment, according to Forest Service officials.

The issue is further complicated in New Mexico and Arizona, where there is tension between environmental groups, the Forest Service and owners of grazing allotments, according to lawmakers who attended a hearing on the bill yesterday.

Environmentalists say cattle grazing causes many environmental problems, including streambank erosion, soil compaction and loss of plant diversity. Groups have increasingly used NEPA and ESA to challenge grazing permits in the courts, filing multiple challenges to grazing permits in New Mexico and Arizona on grounds they do not provide enough protection for endangered and threatened species.

Randy Moorman of Environmental Defense said the Pearce proposal would undermine protections for wildlife, removing needed environmental reviews and cutting the public out of the decisionmaking process.

At least one academic, Joseph Feller of Arizona State University, concurred with that view in his testimony yesterday before a House resources subcommittee. He said NEPA consultations require independent oversight, but the land grant institutions have been historically allied with the farming and ranching industry. Further, the institutions have research abilities but do not have the structure to oversee a public comment process, he said.

But John Fowler of New Mexico State University said research from the universities is desperately needed since the Forest Service often relies on data from the 1960s in making its decisions. "You cannot do an environmental assessment for NEPA unless you have an assessment of the environment, the rudimentary basics," Fowler said. "We've lost the basics and put in the cart in front of the horse."

Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey said his department has some reservations about the appointment of a single FWS employee to the NEPA team to satisfy ESA requirements, since the NEPA process and ESA process are not the same. Further, he said if the universities took over all range analysis and planning, it could take away from the Forest Service's role in managing rangelands.

Nevertheless, Rey did not discount the proposal. "I'm happy to work with Mr. Pearce and the subcommittee to reconcile those differences as the legislation moves forward," he said.

Rey said the NEPA process has taken too much of the agency's resources, keeping it from performing needed rangeland checks and collecting data.

The following is an excerpt from the testimony of Darrel Allred of Glenwood NM, representing Save Our Rural Economy.

....The USFS is trying their best to get the job done. However, due to the condition of our nation’s forests, the increase in wildfires, and the constant barrage of lawsuits filed by environmental groups, they can no longer keep up. Over the past few years, there is usually just a skeleton crew in our district office who sees to the day to day operations. All other personnel are out fighting fire. This is also a critical time of the growing season when data needs to be collected concerning grazing analysis on allotments, not to mention that all work is put on hold until personnel have returned back to their usual duties. This means NEPA on an allotment can take years. During which time, there is usually some type of change in personnel, a new district ranger or range consultant, and the way data is collected and viewed changes completely. It’s like starting the whole process over. There are also inconsistencies from district to district as to how data is collected and processed. Many districts are still using the old cage and clippings method, instead of becoming up to date on current methods and technology and letting the rancher become more involved with monitoring and decision making. The USFS also uses seasonal, unqualified employees for the purpose of collecting data and performing surveys, which can greatly affect allotments.

For example, Marinel Poppie is a local rancher, she purchased the commensurate or deeded property from a three generation ranching family in 2001, who waived their grazing preference to her and therefore she also acquired the grazing permit for the Roberts Park Allotment on National Forest land. The Roberts Park Allotment was transferred to Ms. Poppie at 396 head of cattle and 8 horses. On June 13, 2003 the Glenwood District Ranger, Larry Raley, sent out a proposed action to authorize cattle grazing on the Roberts Park Allotmenti. The proposed action was to issue a 10-year grazing permit that authorized up to 240 head of livestock per year, a cut of 156 head of cattle, approx. 35%. This letter of notice was sent out without any notice to Ms. Poppie. The letter was also sent out on Wilderness District letterhead with comments to be received by all interested parties by July 16, 2003 and stated that there were only 5 pastures located within the allotment, when there are actually 7. This proposed action was typed up and sent out without any type of on the ground data being performed. When Ms. Poppie asked for a copy of all the data that had been collected to generate this action, she was given a one-page hand written document from 1998ii. This document indicated, only ocular surveys had been performed, but it didn’t specify who had collected the data, why or where it was collected from on her allotment. Ms. Poppie then had to hire her own Range Consultant at her expense to actually come out to her allotment and collect data. The findings were significantly different from the USFS findings. The USFS then had their personnel go out to the allotment and collect data; their findings were very close to the private range consultant.

The NEPA process on the Roberts Park Allotment is currently ongoing and Ms. Poppie is constantly attending meetings/negotiations and getting help from the outside to show the improvements and forage are in place to graze the current numbers on her allotment. During this time there has been at least four changes in personnel, a new district ranger and three different range consultants. The range consultant who started the proposed action on the allotment has been transferred to the Supervisor’s office over the district to a position on the NEPA Planning Team. He as taken personal offense to his decision being challenged and is part of the reason the process is being held up on this particular allotment.

Another example of problems with the current system in place happened in January of 2003. A rancher in our area, Mr. Hugh B. McKeen, who has the Cedar Breaks Allotment, was told he had to remove his cattle off of the allotment, because the current pasture is was utilizing, the Stout Mesa pasture, was at the available forage limits and the rest of the allotment pastures were at the same or worse conditions. Shortly after removing his cattle, the Glenwood Ranger District hosted a range monitoring class for area ranchers for the purpose of teaching the ranchers the new range monitoring method, the Holechek stubble heighth method, the district was implementing. The NMSU Range Task Force personnel attended, including Dr. Jerry Holechek, who developed the method.

After discussion, the group went out on the ground to show how to perform the method on the ground. It was decided to go to the Stout Mesa pasture on the Cedar Breaks Allotment. Mr. McKeen was present and agreed. After the group arrived, the Range Consultant for the USFS, Glenwood Ranger District, Mr. Ed Halloway started telling the group according to the new method being put into place the available forage within the pasture was only 20% and 80% had already been utilized. Dr. Holechek decided to go ahead and just do some on the ground teaching and check the pasture. They had gone to one of the key areas so Dr. Holechek started showing the group how to collect the data and perform the methods is order to get your results. Dr. Holechek then told Mr. Halloway he was quite wrong, only 20% of the forage had been utilized and 80% was still available. He then proceeded to ask Mr. Halloway if he had been asleep in class that day has Mr. Holechek had taught Mr. Halloway in college.

Approx. six weeks after this class, the Glenwood District Ranger, Mr. Larry Raley sent out a letter to all the ranchers stating the district would implementing a new range monitoring system which would include only some or parts of the Holechek system. This is an example of the mad scientist approach to range monitoring and analysis as the method being used would never be able to be backed up in court, as the USFS is not using a tried and proven method. Mr. McKeen was not allowed to put his cattle back and eventually suffered a 25% cut on his allotment numbers.

One last example of the problems with the USFS doing their own analysis is shown on the Catwalk National Recreation Trail/Whitewater Picnic Area or Catwalk. The Catwalk was in need of some repairs and maintenance, so the Glenwood District Ranger, Larry Raley, decided to rebuild the old Catwalk and build a new handicap accessible trail on the other side of Whitewater Creek along the canyon wall. Instead of performing an EA or an EIS, the USFS used a Categorical Exclusion and in the biological assessment for the project they determined that the project would have “no effect” on loach minnow or spikedace, two endangered species of the area, yet on allotments in the area the USFS found their would be “a likely to affect” concerning cattle grazing. The USFS proceeded with the project and performed major blasting along the canyon walls in order to install the new trail, which sent all kinds of debris and sediment into the creek, not to mention all of the equipment which was used in the canyon, driven back and forth up the streambed. A complaint was filed with the Fish & Wildlife Service (F&WS). Upon their investigation they found the USFS to be in violation of the Endanger Species Act under 7(a)(1)iii.

These are just some of the examples with the problems, inadequacies and inconsistencies with the grazing analysis program and how the NEPA process is currently being performed. Our organization believes HR 3102 will make a huge difference in the condition of the forest, especially in rangelands, and make a huge tax savings to the taxpayers of this country....

TEXT OF H.R. 3102


1st Session

H. R. 3102
To utilize the expertise of New Mexico State University, the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University in conducting studies under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 in connection with the grazing allotments and range and continuing range analysis for National Forest System lands in New Mexico and Arizona, and for other purposes.


September 16, 2003
Mr. PEARCE introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Resources


To utilize the expertise of New Mexico State University, the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University in conducting studies under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 in connection with the grazing allotments and range and continuing range analysis for National Forest System lands in New Mexico and Arizona, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,



(1) COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS- The Secretary of Agriculture shall enter into a cooperative agreement with the State cooperative institutions specified in paragraph (2) to use such institutions to conduct all studies required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4331 et seq.) and perform related activities in connection with the 10-year plan of the Forest Service grazing allotments for National Forest System lands in New Mexico and Arizona.

(2) COVERED INSTITUTIONS- The State cooperative institutions referred to in paragraph (1) are New Mexico State University, the University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University.

(b) COVERED STUDIES- The studies and related activities referred to in subsection (a) shall include at a minimum the following:

(1) Range studies.

(2) Human dimension studies.

(3) Economic impact studies.

(4) Cumulative effects shown in all studies.

(5) Involvement in the planning and implementing of the 10-year plan.

(6) Water quality studies.

(c) RANGE ANALYSIS- The Secretary shall also utilize the State cooperative institutions specified in subsection (a)(2) to perform all range and continuing range analysis for National Forest System lands in New Mexico and Arizona, including the following activities:

(1) Monitoring, including the conduct of vegetative monitoring to determine long-term conditions and trends, as consistent with the Public Rangelands Improvement Act of 1978 (43 U.S.C. 1901 et seq.), Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.), and the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq.).

(2) Involvement in consultation required by section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1536).

(3) Involvement in the planning and implementation of annual operating plans.

(d) RELATION TO ESA CONSULTATION REQUIREMENT- The United States Fish and Wildlife Service shall assign an employee to serve as a member of the NEPA study team. Assignment of this employee shall be deemed to satisfy the consultation requirements of section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (16 U.S.C. 1536).

(e) FUNDING- There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary $10,000,000 to carry out this section. The Secretary may also utilize savings realized by reduction in Forest Service costs due to competitive outsourcing, as proposed by Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.

Friday, June 18, 2004

* was down until a few minutes ago. Will try to catch up tomorrow night.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004


Editorial: The Environment Shortchanged
The Interior Department's appropriations bill, scheduled for a House vote this week, is a stunning example of what happens to discretionary domestic programs when a complicit White House allows tightfisted lawmakers to have their way. Nothing much escapes the ax, including in this case two programs that were central to President Bush's environmental agenda in the 2000 campaign. One is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the main federal land-acquisition program. Mr. Bush promised to give the program its statutory maximum, $900 million a year, of which half goes to the states and half to federal purchases. This figure has rarely been reached, but under Mr. Bush it has receded even further into the distance. He asked for just over $300 million altogether and House appropriators did even worse, calling for $91.5 million for the states and a measly $48.5 for the federal side... Conservationists want protection for West Coast salamander Conservation groups on Wednesday asked federal wildlife officials to grant protected status to a salamander that lives in old-growth forests in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California. The environmental groups filed their petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Siskiyou Mountains salamander as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The salamander is threatened by logging in old-growth forests, the groups said. The salamander was previously protected by a federal program that required government scientists to conduct surveys of the salamander and protect its habitat, but the Bush administration scrapped that program in March, according to the environmental groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity.... The Grizzlies Return Ever so slowly, the grizzly bears of Yellowstone National Park have lumbered back from the brink. Some 200 years ago, when Lewis and Clark first reported seeing them, the government estimates there were 50,000 of the bears across the American West. By 1975, the number had plummeted. In the area surrounding Yellowstone National Park, there were fewer than 250 bears remaining. Under the Endangered Species Act, the grizzlies were listed as threatened. That protected the bears from hunters, and the forests where they lived from loggers and builders. It worked. The number of bears around Yellowstone has more than doubled. Now, says Chris Servheen of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, it is time to remove them from the threatened-species list.... Algae killing thousands of fish along Salt River Thousands of fish are dying in several lakes along the Salt River, probably because of increased algae fed by ash runoff from wildfires and warm temperatures. Although the dead fish in the Salt River lakes may be unsightly, the lakes do not pose a health risk for the public, health officials say.... Reefer madness: Grizzly with penchant for human treats captured and marked A marijuana-munching grizzly bear with a history of belly-flopping on tents in Yellowstone National Park likely has a short future in the wild. The 332-pound, 5-year-old bear has been captured, marked and released so rangers can tell if he reverts any of his old tricks again. Unfortunately, the bear has earned some food rewards from his behavior. That, coupled with his apparent lack of fear of humans, means that if he pulls any more stunts, he'll likely be killed or sent to a zoo.... Nevada lawmakers want to expand auctions of federal land A measure to sell federal government land in a rural Nevada county to pay for economic development, infrastructure, recreation and conservation was being introduced Wednesday by the state's congressional delegation. Nevada's five federal lawmakers in Washington said they modeled the Lincoln County Conservation, Recreation and Development Act of 2004 after a program that has sold almost 8,200 acres and raised $1.4 billion in the Las Vegas area.... Editorial: Managing wild lands It could well be argued, as it was well argued by Utah environmental groups, that judicial micromanagement of America's wild lands is preferable to no management at all. The fact that a unanimous Supreme Court Monday rejected that contention, at least in one case, does not mean that Utah's federal lands are all well managed. It does mean that any failure to do so belongs at the feet of the Bureau of Land Management, the Bush administration and Congress. And that is where the fight to defend wilderness land from the loud and destructive toys known as off-road vehicles (ORVs) should be taken.... Editorial: Land use A unanimous Supreme Court this week put the kibosh on a tactic often preferred by environmentalists: using activist judges to accomplish what they've been unable to get done legislatively. The case involved about 2 million acres of "wilderness study areas" in Utah, including some land near Zion National Park. Congress has yet to agree whether to designate the land as official wilderness, which would bar off-road vehicles. Environmental groups sued, hoping the courts would compel the BLM to change course. But while the justices agreed the off-road vehicles had damaged the land, all nine of them -- liberal and conservative -- held that it wasn't the role of the judiciary to micromanage the federal bureaucracy.... House passes bill to promote refinery expansion, opponents say it would hurt environment House Republicans pushed through legislation Wednesday that supporters said would speed construction of new refineries to ease tight gasoline supplies. Opponents said the bill would reduce environmental protection and do little to stem high fuel costs. The legislation was approved by a vote of 239-192 as House Republican leaders sought to dramatize the congressional impasse over energy legislation by bringing up for votes a series of energy-related bills.... Billions of crickets plague parts of Idaho They eat everything in sight. They shake the ground as they move together in bands that cover the earth like a dark blanket. In some parts of Idaho, they're taking over. Owyhee County Deputy Sheriff Richard Freund has seen Mormon crickets do all that and more. This year it's so bad the county is asking Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to declare a disaster in Owyhee County....

Tuesday, June 15, 2004


Column: Bush likes forest industry, but not the trees The president's fondness for the timber industry is well documented. Even his forest fire prevention bill -- the so-called Healthy Forests Initiative -- is tilted toward timber industry interests. But now the Bush administration is poised to issue its radical rewrite of the National Forest Management Act regulations, which have protected our national forests, including the Olympic and Wenatchee forests in Washington, for decades. A key amendment scheduled for a vote today in the House, co-led by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Tacoma, can stop these regulations in their tracks. We better hope it does, because the latest draft of President Bush's scheme is frightening.... Fight against wildfires chronically underfunded As America’s forests and public lands burn this year, the federal government likely will spend whatever it takes to fight the wildfires. The policy sounds good, but watchdog groups and critics of the Forest Service's “suppress at all costs” mentality toward wildfires say that because firefighting is chronically underfunded, money is siphoned from other agencies, hurting efforts to prevent wildfires in the first place. “The federal land agencies, and especially the Forest Service, have a blank check to put out fires and thus have no reason to control their costs,” says Randal O’Toole of the Thoreau Institute in a report called Reforming the Fire Service(pdf).... Three face criminal charges in grizzly bear deaths Two dead grizzly bears have landed three Flathead Valley residents in trouble, the men charged with illegally killing the protected bruins. James Fisher and his 14-year-old son Zachary were charged with killing a grizzly, and with shooting from a public roadway, in relation to a May 22 case of mistaken identity. The Fishers were reportedly hunting black bears on the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir when they shot the grizzly by mistake. Black bear hunters are required to pass a bear-identification test prior to receiving a license. Fisher reported the accident to officials, who later filed charges.... Promotion affects key player on Klamath For Klamath River fisheries advocates fighting the Bush administration over water flows for salmon, Sue Ellen Wooldridge has been a calming influence as Interior Secretary Gale Norton's top assistant. But just as the fight over the river's fishery shows signs of heating up again, the former Sacramento lawyer has been thrust into the middle of another raging controversy that will mean less time for the Klamath River battle. While the Senate was away on its Memorial Day recess, President Bush used his executive powers to appoint her as the Interior Department's solicitor, or top lawyer.... Electrical plant haze a concern As Americans planned last month for summer vacations in the national parks, two federal agencies began raising concerns with the Utah Division of Air Quality's plans to approve a new coal-fired power plant in Delta. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Park Service warned that pollution from the proposed Unit 3 of the Intermountain Power Plant (IPP) will further obscure the vistas in Capitol Reef, Canyonlands and other national parks in the West. The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups share the concern, and they have joined the agencies in criticizing the state's evaluation of Unit 3. The groups want tougher emission controls and a tougher pollution evaluation.... Column: Lying about Yosemite Yosemite National Park is one of the beauties of nature that has brought me back every year for more than 20 consecutive years. But, in recent years especially, there seem to be two Yosemites -- the one discussed in the media and the one I see with my own eyes. On the first day of my visit this year -- June 6th -- there appeared one of the standard propaganda pieces on Yosemite in the San Francisco Chronicle, illustrated with the standard propaganda photographs. They say the camera doesn't lie but it can do some serious misleading. A standard lie of the environmental extremists is that Yosemite is "over-crowded" and choked with bumper-to-bumper traffic. True to form, the San Francisco Chronicle shows a line of cars and a couple of pedestrians scooting between them.... BLM OTERO MESA PLAN FAILS TO PROTECT N.M. GROUNDWATER A new study finds that the controversial U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) drilling plan for Otero Mesa could jeopardize the potential of the aquifer beneath the Mesa to meet the water needs of 800,000 people in drought-stricken New Mexico. That conclusion is based on the fact that the BLM plan "makes no special provisions for protection of ground-water resources" including existing and proposed public water wells. The study by the Albuquerque-based water-resource consulting firm John Shomaker & Associates, Inc. was conducted for the Otero Mesa Coalition and the Campaign to Protect America's Lands and was released just two days before a June 17, 2004 hearing on more environmentally sensitive rules proposed by the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division at the direction of Governor Bill Richardson.... Hearing begins on former Box O grazing A U.S. Department of Interior administrative law judge began hearing an appeal Monday morning from a rancher whose request to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to allow her cattle to graze on the former Box O Ranch has been repeatedly denied. Jennifer Walt, whose family owns the Box D Ranch adjacent to the former ranch in the Jenny Creek drainage of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, wants Judge William E. Hammett to overturn the BLM’s denial. Hammett is based in Sacramento with the interior department’s hearings and appeals office.... Greenpeace Blocks Timber Road in Oregon The environmentalist group Greenpeace opened its summer campaign to protect old growth forests in southern Oregon with a mixture of low-tech tactics and a high-tech way to tell the world what it was doing. Three protesters were arrested Tuesday after being dislodged from a 20-foot shipping container that had been plopped down in the middle of a logging road to block workers from getting to 236 acres of forest designated for a timber sale. Two men equipped with a video camera and a laptop computer with a satellite Internet connection were locked inside the steel container, giving updates. Another protester sat outside the container, her arm through a hole in one side and locked inside a concrete-armored box.... Column: A win for Gale Norton Environmental group leaders have found it very easy to criticize Interior Secretary Gale Norton. The former Colorado Attorney General has taken a lot of heat during her tenure in Washington and has more than once been pictured as a Westerner who is all too willing to sell out the interests of the West. Because of that history, it is all the more important now to give some credit where credit is clearly due. Norton was on the winning side of a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case that had challenged her alleged lack of concern about off-road vehicle use in land designated as potential wilderness.... Government asks energy industry for help in fighting lawsuits A Justice Department official asked the energy industry for help in battling a record number of lawsuits, most of them environmental challenges of oil and gas drilling on public land. About 7,100 cases are being litigated by the department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said Thomas Sansonetti, an assistant attorney general of the Justice Department. More than two-thirds of the cases originated west of the Mississippi River, most of them in the Rockies. "When these lawsuits come up, when they sue the federal agencies like EPA or BLM, intervene if possible," Sansonetti told executives at the Independent Petroleum Association of America conference Monday. "The fact is, we need help. Sometimes, two or three of our attorneys are matched up against entire law firms." The department handled 3,200 cases during the Reagan administration and was litigating 4,500 in 1992 at the beginning of the Clinton administration....

Monday, June 14, 2004


New guidelines balance wildfire management, air quality Wildfire managers want to let lightning-sparked fires burn in remote areas, but said they need to improve how government agencies decide which blazes can be allowed to continue without harming air quality miles away. They announced a plan Monday to better coordinate between local, state and federal agencies when fires in the Sierra Nevada range should be allowed to spread, when they must be extinguished, and when they can be channeled and allowed to burn out. Lightning-triggered wildfires are a natural phenomenon that aids some wildlife, helps control forest growth, and can minimize catastrophic firestorms, said John Kennedy, a manager within the air division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.... Forest Service makes fresh beginning on job competition effort The Forest Service has received permission to partially clear its slate after completing a number of small job competitions that are not expected to yield any savings. Office of Management and Budget officials agreed to let the agency out of overseeing the in-house teams that won 142 contests for maintenance jobs, said Christopher Pyron, the Forest Service's deputy chief of business operations, last week. The studies involved only a few positions each and, if implemented, promised few improvements in efficiency.... Flake offers bill to get grounded firefighting planes flying East Valley Congressman Jeff Flake has introduced legislation to get grounded firefighting air tankers back in service temporarily. Flake wants contracts reinstated with aviation contractors to provide aircraft to help fight western wildfires. The Flake bill would require the contractors to meet safety requirements. The U.S. Forest Service grounded some aging air tankers in May amid safety concerns regarding the aging fleet. That has sparked major concerns about the ability to fight major wildfires this summer in Arizona and other western states.... Blazing a trail in the forests Pauline McGinty is a bit of a pioneer in the U.S. Forest Service, having paved the way for other women who wanted more than just a desk job. In the late 1960s, the Philomath resident was the first woman hired as a forest technician in Region 6, which covers Oregon and Washington. She later helped other women find jobs outside the office, joining men out in the field. There were no female foresters when McGinty became a forest tech. Some rangers believed women were entitled to training for the job, some didn't. Even McGinty's own ranger, Jack Price, didn't think it was OK.... Cattlemen Teaming Together to Restock Arizona's Forest Service Land The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), Public Lands Council (PLC), and Arizona and Gila County Cattle Growers are teaming up to restock grazing cattle on Arizona's Forest Service land. Because of drought and other issues, Animal Unit Months (AUMs) on Forest Service land has been reduced in that area by nearly 80 percent, and the area's ranching community has suffered. The Tonto National Forest Restocking Agreement signed by Arizona-based representatives of the USFS, the Arizona Cattle Growers Association, and Gila County Cattle Growers will expedite the return of as many cattle as supportable by forage conditions on allotments.... House Passes Landmark Legislation to Save Endangered Sea Turtles The Ocean Conservancy applauds the House of Representatives for today's passage of the Marine Turtle Conservation Act (H.R.3378), a victory for endangered sea turtles. Championed by Maryland Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-1st), the bi-partisan bill authorizes $5 million a year for international conservation projects protecting nesting sea turtles and their habitat, and will help to thwart illegal trade in sea turtle shell, meat and eggs. A similar bill passed the Senate in October of 2003. Small differences between the Senate and House versions need to be resolved before President Bush can sign the bill into law. Because sea turtles live a very long time, mature late, and move through the waters of many nations in their lifetimes, they are often victims of overexploitation.... Two grizzlies killed recently; charges filed in one case Two grizzly bears were illegally killed recently near Hungry Horse Reservoir and Essex, and the state is also continuing its prosecution of a grizzly poaching case in the Condon area. A Hungry Horse man and his son have been charged with illegally killing a grizzly bear on the west side of Hungry Horse Reservoir last month. Meanwhile, another grizzly was found dead near Essex last week. The grizzly was found Saturday by Tim Manley, a state grizzly bear management specialist, in the upper Middle Fork Flathead Drainage east of Essex. The case is under investigation.... Retirees Tell Hill of Illegal Lobbying Push, Bush Campaign-Related Travel by Mainella and NortonThe group that exposed the secret plans to cut summer services at national parks is back today with a revealing letter to key members of Congress warning of an illegal lobbying push by park superintendents that was ordered by a political appointee working for National Park Service (NPS) Director Fran Mainella (and later rescinded in the face of an internal uproar), as well as a flurry of widely publicized trips by Mainella and U.S. Interior Department Secretary Gail Norton that are designed to promote the re-election of President George Bush.... Justices limit courts' role in forcing agencies to act The Supreme Court Monday blocked a lawsuit that accused the federal government of not doing enough to protect undeveloped Western land from off-road vehicles, the Associated Press reported. In the case, Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the court said that environmental groups cannot use courts to force the federal Bureau of Land Management to more aggressively safeguard about 2 million acres of potential wilderness in Utah.... Rancher in fight with BLM sells cattle A rancher embroiled in litigation with federal land managers for nearly a decade is no longer grazing cattle, his attorney said. Harvey Frank Robbins Jr. and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management have been involved in lawsuits and countersuits over numerous grazing violations for nine years. Although he is out of the livestock business, Robbins will press his latest suit against the agency, his attorney, Karen Budd-Falen of Cheyenne, said. In January, the BLM voided a settlement agreement with Robbins after he was cited by the agency for nonwillful trespass of cattle on BLM lands. Budd-Falen then filed a motion in U.S. District Court seeking to prevent the BLM from voiding the agreement, a matter which is still pending, she said....

Sunday, June 13, 2004


Editorial: Listen to public on gas drilling Controversy over coal-bed methane drilling roils across the West. It's possible to access natural gas in coal seams without causing severe environmental harm, but the Bush administration's all-or-nothing approach ignores possible compromises - and makes the issue far more divisive than need be. Last week, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental study to allow 500 new gas wells in the San Juan Basin. Some would be in one of southwestern Colorado's most intact low-elevation forest ecosystems, the HD Mountains. The plan entails 94 miles of new roads and disturbing almost 1,000 acres of old-growth forests. The BLM and the Forest Service should rewrite the draft environmental impact statement to require energy companies to use existing roads and place drill pads outside the HD Mountains, then use slant drilling and other advanced techniques to search for coal-bed methane.... Piñon picture differs Tree experts have differences of opinion over the future of New Mexico’s piñons. Flyovers of north-central New Mexico last September resulted in estimates that 45 million of the state tree have died from a combination of drought, bark beetles and other opportunistic insects over the last three years. Although the die-off has yet to affect much of Southern New Mexico, in broad swaths of Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Taos, Los Alamos, Sandoval and Bernalillo counties, few piñons are left.... Rendezvous returns Carson City to Wild West Re-living the past is an important part of Rex Norman’s life. Norman, dressed in rugged mountain man garb reminiscent of the 1820s and 1830s, is among many celebrating the history and heritage of the West at the 21st annual Carson City Rendezvous. “The story of the West is fascinating. And to me, the history of western expansion covering the period of explorers and trappers is especially fascinating,’’.... Forest Service eases pressure to log roadless areas The U.S. Forest Service has backed off trying to sell timber in the most controversial stands burned by the 2002 Biscuit fire, deciding against an emergency declaration to speed up logging in roadless areas that environmentalists and some scientists want left alone. The decision decreases the likelihood any logging could begin this year in roadless areas.... Federal agencies at odds on lynx plan A Forest Service lynx-protection plan that exempts energy and logging projects may actually prevent the predator's recovery in the southern Rockies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday. Forest Service officials originally proposed a stronger conservation strategy developed by their lynx biologists. But they inserted exemptions for oil and gas development, energy-transmission lines and healthy-forest projects to comply with recent White House policy directives. "They're proceeding with a project that, frankly, doesn't look like it has much to do with recovering lynx," said Brian Crowder of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which also panned the proposed lynx plan.... Endangered 'mouse that doesn't exist' might be delisted Amy and Steve LeSatz want to be able to teach their clients the finer points of riding and roping in their own arena but can't because of a mouse that may never have existed. The only decent site on their property for building an arena in southeastern Wyoming lies within 300 feet of Chugwater Creek. Building there is far too expensive because of the Endangered Species Act restrictions intended to protect the Preble's mouse. "The mouse that doesn't exist," Amy LeSatz noted dryly. After six years of regulations and restrictions that have cost builders, local governments and landowners on the western fringe of the Great Plains as much as $100 million by some estimates, new research suggests the Preble's mouse never existed. It instead seems to be genetically identical to one of its cousins, the Bear Lodge meadow jumping mouse, which is considered common enough not to need protection.... When the Bush Energy Policy Confronts Ancient Art Blaine Miller, a quiet, slow-talking 57-year-old archaeologist, has made a career of studying the haunting scenes of net-wielding hunters and sinuous horned snakes on the smooth rock faces of Nine Mile Canyon near here. His colleagues consider him a leading expert on the 400- to 1,500-year-old images etched and daubed on the canyon walls. But Mr. Miller's bosses at the Bureau of Land Management barred him from evaluating recent proposals for natural gas exploration around the canyon after a gas company executive complained about his work. Mr. Miller said he had sought more stringent protections for the rock art than the government eventually required. His bosses said he had the appearance of a conflict of interest. The quiet drama that has played out in the last year because of Mr. Miller's removal from the development review reflects not just the polarization typical of battles between industry and preservationists, but also the pressures on the regulators controlling federal land.... Hearing on Otero Mesa scheduled for June 17 New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is serious about protecting Otero Mesa from drilling. And to that end, the Oil Conservation Commission, a division of the State Land Office, will hold a public hearing to discuss the issue on June 17 at 9 a.m. in Santa Fe. "The BLM has continued to ignore the state's message that we will protect Otero Mesa from drilling," said Joanna Prukop, secretary of the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. "The governor, by executive order, has asked the Oil Conservation Division to propose pit rules for this globally and ecologically significant area. Water resources, the unique Chihuahuan Desert, and threatened species are all concerns that the BLM fails to adequately address." The governor's executive order, issued earlier this year, placed a moratorium on pits needed for oil and gas drilling until rules are adopted that require special containment of mud and wastes produced by the drilling. In addition, the order asked the State Engineer's Office to apply strict criteria when considering applications of water well permits. Richardson also instructed the Game and Fish Department and its commission to take measures to protect the area's threatened species....