Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Court: US wrongly put water tanks in refuge

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service overstepped its authority by building two water tanks inside a Western Arizona wilderness area to help bighorn sheep living in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, a federal appeals court panel ruled. The wildlife service failed to prove that the 13,000-gallon tanks were needed for bighorn sheep, thereby flunking a key requirement for building permanent structures inside federal wilderness areas, said two members of a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Under the Wilderness Act, permanent structures are not allowed "except as necessary to meet minimum requirements" for administration of wilderness areas. The Dec. 21 ruling means the service will either have to come up with a better justification for installing the tanks, remove them or take some other, as yet unknown action. Environmental groups have opposed these tanks since the service built them in 2007 and had filed the lawsuit challenging the federal decision to build them. The 9th Circuit panel sent the case back to the U.S. District Court in Arizona for further review and action. While hailing the ruling, a Tucson environmentalist said he's not sure whether removing the tanks would be the best solution at this point, because that would require more intrusive action in a wilderness area. The underground tanks, installed over a three-day period, were built as an effort to try to stem a sharp decline in bighorn sheep populations in the Kofa refuge, which is about 40 miles northeast of Yuma. The tanks consist mainly of PVC pipes. They were designed to catch rainwater and run that water into small concrete troughs or weirs. The service decided to enter the Kofa wilderness with motorized vehicles and equipment to build the tanks, after concluding that such a tactic was safer for workers and would reduce the amount of time they spent in the wilderness. The workers used existing roads and removed their vehicle tracks after the work was done, the 9th Circuit ruling said. They also covered the watering troughs with sand and rocks to blend them into the environment, so only troughs and small vent pipes are visible...more

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