N.M. Federal Lands News

This month we will start off with the settlement agreement between the US Fish and Wildlife Service and two environmental groups we know all too well, The Center for Biological Diversity and the WildEarth Guardians. This deal has been in the works for months that we know of and probably longer.

It settles ongoing lawsuits over FWS handling of around 250 candidate species and also obligates the agency to act on listing petitions on over 600 species by 2018. A Washington, DC federal judge approved it September 9.

There are specifics of the agreement that will have direct impact on New Mexico. The first provision requires the FWS to issue either a Proposed Rule or a ‘not warranted finding’ for the Mexican wolf by the end of Fiscal Year 2012. Another provision requires a determination on the status of the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse by FY 2013. Still another provision directly affecting New Mexico requires the FWS to amend the boundaries of the Canadian lynx Distinct Population Segment to include New Mexico by FY 2013. It also requires a determination on the proposed critical habitat designation for the jaguar by statutory deadlines. New Mexico has 16 species on the candidate list.
As no surprise, buried way down toward the end of the stipulated judgment, the FWS agrees that the plaintiffs (CBD and WEG) prevailed in this action and are entitled to compensation for legal fees, the amount to be negotiated.
For their part, the enviros agree not to petition for more than 10 species listings per year for the term of the agreement. This settlement doesn’t obligate the numerous other groups from filing new suits but if the level of lawsuits does not decrease, the FWS may be released from this agreement. It also depends on FWS receiving funding at FY 2011 request levels for the duration.
This looks like the ultimate sweetheart deal for the CBD and WEG. The government capitulates to their demands and the FWS has to manage ESA programs according to their priorities. They get legal fees paid and the potential for critical habitat designations for numerous species so they can control land use over millions of acres. From their point of view, what’s not to like? How can congress allow this insanity to continue?
In addition to the settlement’s possible effects on the wolf program, the Mexican government has announced that it intends to release five radio collared wolves in northeastern Sonora. The date and exact location are still unknown. USFWS officials say that if the wolves cross into the US, outside the Mexican wolf reintroduction area they will be treated as fully protected under the ESA. Within the reintroduction area they will be under the 10j rule, the same as the rest of the recovery population. Recently that has been about the same as full ESA protection.
Also, in August the Center for Biological Diversity filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish for removing the trapping ban in the wolf recovery area. CBD is interpreting the reinstatement of legal fur trapping in the area as a violation of the “take” provisions of the ESA. Without having any wolves actually taken by the reinstatement and without the game department setting traps and doing the “taking”; it looks like a real legal stretch of the statutes. CBD couldn’t get what they wanted from this Game Commission so now they are trying to harass and intimidate them through the courts. They have a track record of success with such tactics as evidenced by the settlement agreement mentioned above.
In addition to this attack on fur trapping, there seems to be an increasing amount of noise from anti-trapping groups. Watch out for another assault on trapping in the legislature next year.
Occasionally we hear of efforts to estimate the actual cost of environmental regulation. With the current state of the national economy and real concerns among a growing majority of voters with government spending and the national debt there is more interest in knowing the costs of senseless environmental regulation including the ESA. The state of Alaska has filed an appeal of the court decision that upheld the listing of the polar bear claiming populations have been increasing. Alaska has also issued a solicitation for proposals to do a study of ESA costs that would be published in a peer-reviewed and respected journal. The results would be Alaska specific but would be an indicator of the costs nationally.
Another sign that the cost of environmental regulation is becoming a political concern, the Obama administration withdrew new, more stringent emissions regulations to control ozone levels. In another “Let me be clear” speech the President announced the pull-back and reiterated his commitment to the environment but it left the greenies fuming. That is a real indication that the tide is turning.
More and more counties in western states are taking matters into their own hands on natural resource/environmental issues. In Idaho five counties are moving to have the state assume management of Forest Service lands. Their issue is the lack of logging which had provided much of the funding for rural schools in counties without much private land tax base. Federal legislation allows 25 percent of timber harvest income to go to local school districts but environmentalists have all but stopped FS timber harvest permits.
Here in New Mexico the Otero County Commission negotiated a deal with the US Attorney’s office to allow them to conduct an Emergency Tree Cutting as part of their emergency plan to reduce the fire danger on 69,000 acres of the Lincoln National Forest that current FS mismanagement has created. In the absence of federal action in an emergency situation, County Commissioners have the authority and the responsibility to act to protect the county and its citizens. The county attorney says they are still in discussions with federal officials on the rest of the 69,000-acre plan.
The ceremonial kick-off to the thinning project took place September 17. Congressman Steve Pearce spoke to start the event and cut the first tree. He has been criticized by the likes of CBD’s Taylor McKinnon for taking part in the tree-cutting and his past support for his constituents on environmental issues. The greater majority of his constituents appreciate his support for their safety and sound management of natural resources. There were a couple of hundred supporters of the action at the rally in Cloudcroft and around half that many accompanied Pearce and county officials to the one acre plot designated as the beginning of the thinning project to witness Pearce fell the first tree.
The BLM is reportedly considering more than a dozen “Crown Jewells” for wilderness designation according to the different state BLM offices. Wyoming and Idaho have no recommendations citing lack of support from local and state officials. Wyoming’s Governor Matt Mead told the state BLM director they should release the 337,000 acres in Wyoming now in Wilderness Study Areas before they consider restricting use on more. That sounds like a reasonable position. New Mexico’s state office is reportedly “mulling over a few areas” with no specifics given.
As of this writing there has been no new legislative action on Senator Bingaman’s wilderness bill for Dona Ana County since the 52 second hearing Frank mentioned last month.
Congressional Republicans have introduced bills to require either congressional or state approval of any new National Monuments and under the Antiquities Act. You will recall former President Clinton’s monument designations as he left office that blindsided Utah by locking up a big chunk of the state’s natural resources with no state or local input. Rumors surface from time to time about areas in New Mexico that are under consideration for monument designation. Wilderness areas can’t be designated without congressional action. National Monuments shouldn’t either.
A New Mexico rancher was recently recognized by the BLM with their National Stewardship Award. Joe Stell is a Carlsbad area rancher and former state legislator. In the legislature, Joe was known for his expertise on water issues and his office was one of the places where Bud and others who represented agriculture would hang their hats while they lobbied in the Round House. Joe has always been a supporter of federal land livestock grazing. We congratulate him on a well-deserved award.
Mid-September brought some much needed moisture to a lot of the state. There are still many places that are too dry and in most of them it is too late to grow usable forage. Predictions are for below normal precipitation for the rest of the fall and winter. All we can do is try to take care of our pasture and our livestock so they will be in shape to recover when the rains return. Until next time, pray for rain and God’s blessing on us all.