Wednesday, September 08, 2021

DuBois column: Water, Mice and Wolves

Water, mice and wolves

Water

To be present when something occurs for the first time in history should be a positive event. That’s not always the case. The feds have recently declared a water shortage on the Colorado River, and that is the first such situation since the project was started over a century ago.

The Colorado River is governed under a pact between the Upper Basin States (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico) and the Lower Basin States (Arizona, California and Nevada and Mexico). Based on a pact agreed to at the time, this declaration of a water shortage will result in serious cutback of 2022 water deliveries. Hit the hardest will be Arizona, who only had junior water rights.  That state will lose more than 500,000 acre-feet from its projected allotment for 2022. That’s about 18% of the state’s usual allotment from the Colorado River.

Twenty-one thousand acre-feet will be lost in Nevada, or about 7% of its planned 2022 allotment; Mexico will lose 80,000 acre-feet based on a treaty with the U.S, which is about 5% of its annual total.  

At a press conference attended by all the states involved, the deputy commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation said, “The announcement today is a recognition that the hydrology that was planned for years ago, that we hoped we would never see, is here today.”

There is another part of the compact agreement which requires the Upper Basin States of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico to deliver 7.5 million acre-feet annually to the Lower Basin States. Should they fail to make the deliveries, they will then have to cut back their own allocation of Colorado River water.

Mice            

Our friends at the Center for Biological Diversity have filed another lawsuit against the Forest Service, accusing them of not doing enough to protect the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse from cattle grazing.

The lawsuit alleges the Forest Service is not in compliance with Section 7 and Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act, and with certain provisions of the Administrative Procedures Act.

Their real target, though, is livestock grazing.

The suit alleges, “Livestock grazing poses a particularly significant and acute threat to the jumping mouse. Livestock concentrate in riparian areas due to their productivity and proximity to reliable water sources, and preferentially graze native riparian vegetation. Grazing eliminates or reduces the tall herbaceous vegetation and density that the jumping mouse relies upon for its biological functions and life history needs. Additionally, grazing can alter the composition and structure of the riparian habitats that are essential to the jumping mouse’s survival. By preferentially grazing native riparian vegetation and thus decreasing competition, grazing can allow for the introduction and spread of invasive species and can convert sites from riparian vegetation dominated to upland plant species-dominated. Additionally, the concentration of livestock in riparian habitats results in extensive and deleterious trampling, soil compaction, and erosion of the streambed, which degrades the stream channel such that it can no longer support the riparian vegetation and wet soils required to maintain suitable habitat for the jumping mouse. In addition, the killing of jumping mice by trampling of livestock is not theoretical where at least one endangered jumping mouse ‘was trampled and killed.’”

And that’s not all folks. The suit also says livestock grazing causes increased predation of the jumping mouse. “The reduction of suitable habitat due to grazing also places individual jumping mice at a greater risk of predation due to the loss of vegetative cover.” There is more, but that should give you the real reason behind this lawsuit.  

One shouldn’t be surprised then that their proposed solution is to suspend grazing permits.

In defense of it actions, the Forest Service stated it had spent $8.4 million on just one allotment to protect the mouse, with each mile of fence costing between $137,000 and $227,000! All this for a little mouse with a three-year life span.  

Wolves

There is one bright note. Surprisingly it comes from the Biden administration. During the waning days of the Trump administration, a rule was issued delisting the gray wolf. An enviro group has sued to overturn the delisting, but the Fish & Wildlife Service has instructed their attorneys to defend the rule. Biden is defending Trump in court. Did this just slip through the cracks, or is it a sign of better things to come?  

Until next time, be a nuisance to the devil and don’t forget to check that cinch.

 Frank DuBois was the NM Secretary of Agriculture from 1988 to 2003, is the author of a blog: The Westerner (www.thewesterner.blogspot.com) and is the founder of The DuBois Rodeo Scholarship and The DuBois Western Heritage Foundation

This column originally appeared in the September editions of the New Mexico Stockman and the Livestock Market Digest.

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