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2012

  • Christine Lepisto
    treehugger.com
    October 14, 2012

    Ahead of next week’s meeting of the parties on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad, India, a paper has been published putting some real numbers to the question: just how much financing do we need to meet our promises about biodiversity?

    Under the CBD, governments around the globe have committed to halting human-caused extinctions and protecting wildlife environments by 2020. The newest commitments were made in 2010, on the heels of the failure of previous good intentions. The current commitments appear doomed as well, unless someone can tell governments what this will cost, and hold them to their wallets as well as their words. Study contributor H. Martin Schaefer, of the Faculty of Biology at the University of Freiburg identifies the key problem:

    They left open the question of how to finance this. Therefore, no one knows how much it will cost.

    Schaeffer worked amongst a team of leading scientists to answer that question, demonstrating that the current progress falls short.

    The study focuses on the costs of maintaining or extending the most significant sites for protecting birds. Retaining existing protections would cost US$7.2 billion annually. Improving conservation efforts to the level required to improve species on the IUCN Red List by one threat-level would cost US$57.8 billion per year. This effort was shown to be in line with CBD targets of protecting 17% of the world’s land.

    Extending the estimates to cover other species — such as mammals, amphibians and some reptile, fish, plant and invertebrate groups — pushes the estimate to US$76.1 billion annually, a relatively small increase because these other species benefit greatly already by the protection of lands targeted for bird conservation efforts. Unfortunately, financial commitments currently on the tables amounts to only 12% of this funding target.

    The paper’s lead author, Donal McCarthy, Environmental Economist at BirdLife International and the RSPB puts these costs into perspective:

    The shortfalls we have identified highlight a clear and urgent need to scale up investment in biodiversity conservation substantially. But the total costs are very small relative to the likely costs of inaction. The total is just 1-4% of the net value of ecosystem services being lost annually, for which estimates range from £1.5 to £4.13 trillion ($2 to $6.6 trillion). More prosaically, the total required is less than 20% of annual global consumer spending on soft drinks.

    For those who do not read “Environmental-ese” daily, the “net value of ecosystem services” means the monetary value of benefits humans could reap if we work to save the ecosystem discussed. In short, this effort promises a great return on investment. Worse, the longer we continue to fail to meet the targets, the more it will cost to get back on track.

    So this week, while the parties meet in Hyderabad, keep open ears and eyes. If you get a chance to voice your opinion, let it be loud and clear: the time for action is now.

  • Jessica Estepa, E&E reporter
    Published: Friday, March 9, 2012

    Even as the Republican and Democratic sponsors of two wilderness bills yesterday said they had strong community support for their measures, a key House subcommittee chairman expressed skepticism about the proposals.

    On the table before the Natural Resources subpanel on public lands were two bills that would designate a combined 80,000 acres of wilderness and more than 150 miles of wild and scenic rivers in Oregon and Nevada.

    Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said the wilderness designations — the highest form of public land protection — had the potential to restrict access for timber, grazing, mining, recreation and other job creating activities, as well as hurt rural communities with land management decisions.

    “We need to ensure that those designations are fully vetted and protect the interests and livelihoods of the communities and stakeholders that could be impacted, something Washington doesn’t do very well,” he said.

    But conservation groups applauded the bills.

    “This Congress still has time to make significant gains for public lands protection, and it is heartening to see measures to provide a legacy for future generations being considered,” said Mike Matz, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Campaign for America’s Wilderness.

    H.R. 3436, offered by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), would expand the existing wilderness near southwest Oregon’s scenic Rogue River by more than 58,000 acres and would protect an additional 35 of the river’s tributaries. The bill would nearly triple the size of the 36,000-acre Wild Rogue Wilderness, which was created by Congress in 1978.

    Recreationists come to the area looking for commercial and sport fishing, rafting, jet boat tours and hiking, helping stimulate the economy, Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Mike Pool said. BLM manages 8,600 acres of the land, while the rest is managed by the Forest Service.

    “The Rogue is one of Oregon’s most important and productive salmon runs and one of the nation’s most well-known rivers,” DeFazio said. “Anyone who has rafted, fished or hiked along the wild and scenic Rogue has experienced a truly wild canyon, much of which is only accessible by boat or foot.”

    DeFazio said the local timber industry has not opposed the bill and that 77 percent of Oregonians support additional protections for the river.

    As the proposal advances, DeFazio intends to package it with another bill that would revive logging on about 1.5 million acres of BLM land, a move that some groups say could ultimately hurt the wilderness designation.

    “It is very important that legislation to protect these spectacular areas not be linked to controversial and reckless measures to weaken environmental protections for public lands elsewhere in Oregon,” said Steve Pedery, Oregon Wild’s conservation director, in a statement.

    Rep. Mark Amodei’s (R-Nev.) H.R. 3377 would create the Pine Forest Range Wilderness, an area in northern Nevada. The proposal is supported by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

    The bill would create 26,000 acres of wilderness in Humboldt County, Nev., on public lands managed by BLM, mostly made up of the Blue Lakes and Alder Creek wilderness study areas. The bill calls for 1,150 acres of the federal land not be designated as wilderness. That land would be exchanged for private parcels of land owned by local ranchers.

    The proposal has received support from the county, ranchers, the state’s wildlife department, the University of Nevada and the state Legislature, Amodei said.

    “Coming from a state with as much public land as Nevada has, I have seen how controversial public land management decisions can be, particularly those involving wilderness designations,” he said. “Having the consensus that has been developed through these stakeholders is … rare and lauded.”

    The panel also looked at two bills about Oregon rivers. H.R. 752 would add an additional 15.1 miles to the Molalla River’s wild and scenic river designation. H.R. 1415 would move the boundaries of the Chetco River’s wild and scenic segments.

  • By Phil Taylor
    March 30, 2012

    The Obama administration yesterday said it supports a pair of Democratic proposals to designate new conservation and wilderness areas in New Mexico and Maine.

    Mike Pool, deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management, said Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s (D-N.M.) bill (H.R. 1241) to create a 236,000-acre conservation area in northern New Mexico is the product of many years of local collaboration and would protect both the environment and traditional land uses.

    He said the administration also backs a bill (H.R. 2984) by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) to designate wilderness on 13 islands along the coast of Maine that have been relatively untouched by humans.

    Pool and Forest Service Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon expressed support to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands during a hearing that also focused on bills to streamline grazing permits and name a Northern California mountain.

    Luján said his bill would eliminate development threats and ensure traditional land uses including grazing and the gathering of piñon nuts, wild herbs and firewood are preserved.

    Moreover, he said, he plans to introduce an amendment to address concerns from some ranching groups that new wilderness or conservation areas would hinder access to repair grazing fences, windmills, tanks, pipelines and other infrastructure.

    His bill would also designate more than 20,000 acres of wilderness, which, while barring new roads or motorized access, allows existing grazing activities to continue.

    “What we want to do is make sure we’re being very clear about the importance of access to public lands,” Luján told E&E Daily after the hearing. He said his amendment would clarify ranchers have the right to maintain existing roads, fences or irrigation systems. “I think we’re going to find some common ground.”

    A letter in January from four stock grower groups urged Luján to include language stating that livestock grazing is one of the purposes of the conservation area and that motorized vehicles and machines may be used to repair or maintain the range.

    Erminio Martinez, a rancher who grazes cattle in northern New Mexico, including in a neighboring wilderness area, said critics’ concerns are based on the unfounded fear that new conservation areas will result in more government intrusion. Martinez, who said his family has lived off the land for eight generations, said the bill is important because it would protect the area from being sold off to mining or oil and gas companies.

    “The threat that development poses to these traditions would negatively impact the culture, making protections of these lands so critical,” he said.

    The bill includes acres surrounding the Río Grande wild and scenic river gorge, which carves through the landscape and reveals basalt rocks beneath the surface, Pool said. “Wildlife species — including bighorn sheep, deer, elk and antelope — bring both hunters and wildlife watchers, while the Río Grande and its tributaries provide blue ribbon trout fishing and other river recreation,” he said.

    While Republican leaders have not indicated when they will hold a markup of the bill, Luján said he’s hopeful the measure can soon go before the Natural Resources Committee for a vote. He said it could then be brought before the House under suspension of the rules, a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority that is reserved for noncontroversial measures.

    While the House has made little headway on conservation measures, a companion to Luján’s bill in the Senate was among the first to reach that chamber’s floor when it passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote in November. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said they opposed the measure.

    Grazing bill

    Pool and Weldon said they have concerns with Rep. Raúl Labrador’s (R-Idaho) H.R. 4234, which would double the length of grazing permits and provide regulatory certainty for ranchers who graze cows, sheep and goats on millions of acres of public lands.

    The two expressed similar concerns when testifying on a companion bill by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) last week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (E&E Daily, March 23).

    Labrador said the bill would relieve BLM and the Forest Service of an enormous backlog of expired grazing permits that have been held up by the threat of environmental appeals and lawsuits.

    Due to a spike in 10-year permit renewal requests in 1999 and 2000, BLM by the end of fiscal 2012 expects to have a backlog of about 4,200 permits, Pool said. The agency for more than a decade has relied on year-to-year appropriations rider language to reissue grazing permits. Labrador’s bill would make such language permanent.

    “The intent of this legislation is to provide more stability to this industry,” Labrador said. “We must alleviate the problems caused by tedious bureaucratic process created only to satisfy an environmental agenda.”

    But according to BLM, the bill would require a majority of its 18,000 grazing permits to be renewed under categorical exclusions that exempt them from public review.

    The bill would also prevent the agency from halting unsafe grazing activities until appeals and litigation are resolved, which could take years, Pool said.

    But he, like Weldon, said he supports the flexibility to issue 20-year permits rather than the 10-year permits now allowed by law. Such permits would be particularly useful in areas of low conflicts where there are no endangered or at-risk wildlife species, he said.

  • By Phil Taylor
    March 30, 2012

    The Obama administration yesterday said it supports a pair of Democratic proposals to designate new conservation and wilderness areas in New Mexico and Maine.

    Mike Pool, deputy director of the Bureau of Land Management, said Rep. Ben Ray Luján’s (D-N.M.) bill (H.R. 1241) to create a 236,000-acre conservation area in northern New Mexico is the product of many years of local collaboration and would protect both the environment and traditional land uses.

    He said the administration also backs a bill (H.R. 2984) by Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine) to designate wilderness on 13 islands along the coast of Maine that have been relatively untouched by humans.

    Pool and Forest Service Deputy Chief Leslie Weldon expressed support to the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands during a hearing that also focused on bills to streamline grazing permits and name a Northern California mountain.

    Luján said his bill would eliminate development threats and ensure traditional land uses including grazing and the gathering of piñon nuts, wild herbs and firewood are preserved.

    Moreover, he said, he plans to introduce an amendment to address concerns from some ranching groups that new wilderness or conservation areas would hinder access to repair grazing fences, windmills, tanks, pipelines and other infrastructure.

    His bill would also designate more than 20,000 acres of wilderness, which, while barring new roads or motorized access, allows existing grazing activities to continue.

    “What we want to do is make sure we’re being very clear about the importance of access to public lands,” Luján told E&E Daily after the hearing. He said his amendment would clarify ranchers have the right to maintain existing roads, fences or irrigation systems. “I think we’re going to find some common ground.”

    A letter in January from four stock grower groups urged Luján to include language stating that livestock grazing is one of the purposes of the conservation area and that motorized vehicles and machines may be used to repair or maintain the range.

    Erminio Martinez, a rancher who grazes cattle in northern New Mexico, including in a neighboring wilderness area, said critics’ concerns are based on the unfounded fear that new conservation areas will result in more government intrusion. Martinez, who said his family has lived off the land for eight generations, said the bill is important because it would protect the area from being sold off to mining or oil and gas companies.

    “The threat that development poses to these traditions would negatively impact the culture, making protections of these lands so critical,” he said.

    The bill includes acres surrounding the Río Grande wild and scenic river gorge, which carves through the landscape and reveals basalt rocks beneath the surface, Pool said. “Wildlife species — including bighorn sheep, deer, elk and antelope — bring both hunters and wildlife watchers, while the Río Grande and its tributaries provide blue ribbon trout fishing and other river recreation,” he said.

    While Republican leaders have not indicated when they will hold a markup of the bill, Luján said he’s hopeful the measure can soon go before the Natural Resources Committee for a vote. He said it could then be brought before the House under suspension of the rules, a procedure requiring a two-thirds majority that is reserved for noncontroversial measures.

    While the House has made little headway on conservation measures, a companion to Luján’s bill in the Senate was among the first to reach that chamber’s floor when it passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote in November. Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said they opposed the measure.

    Grazing bill

    Pool and Weldon said they have concerns with Rep. Raúl Labrador’s (R-Idaho) H.R. 4234, which would double the length of grazing permits and provide regulatory certainty for ranchers who graze cows, sheep and goats on millions of acres of public lands.

    The two expressed similar concerns when testifying on a companion bill by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) last week before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee (E&E Daily, March 23).

    Labrador said the bill would relieve BLM and the Forest Service of an enormous backlog of expired grazing permits that have been held up by the threat of environmental appeals and lawsuits.

    Due to a spike in 10-year permit renewal requests in 1999 and 2000, BLM by the end of fiscal 2012 expects to have a backlog of about 4,200 permits, Pool said. The agency for more than a decade has relied on year-to-year appropriations rider language to reissue grazing permits. Labrador’s bill would make such language permanent.

    “The intent of this legislation is to provide more stability to this industry,” Labrador said. “We must alleviate the problems caused by tedious bureaucratic process created only to satisfy an environmental agenda.”

    But according to BLM, the bill would require a majority of its 18,000 grazing permits to be renewed under categorical exclusions that exempt them from public review.

    The bill would also prevent the agency from halting unsafe grazing activities until appeals and litigation are resolved, which could take years, Pool said.

    But he, like Weldon, said he supports the flexibility to issue 20-year permits rather than the 10-year permits now allowed by law. Such permits would be particularly useful in areas of low conflicts where there are no endangered or at-risk wildlife species, he said.

  • These letters to the editor were written by NM Wild Silver City Director Kim McCreery.

    Yes, we can live together

    Bad Result from Bad Science

  • These letters to the editor were written by NM Wild Silver City Director Kim McCreery.

    Yes, we can live together

    Bad Result from Bad Science

  • From the air, the smoke from a massive wildfire stretches as far as the eye can see, spreading across the rugged country in southwestern New Mexico where the nation’s wilderness movement was born nearly a century ago.

    By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
    Associated Press

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — From the air, the smoke from a massive wildfire stretches as far as the eye can see, spreading across the rugged country in southwestern New Mexico where the nation’s wilderness movement was born nearly a century ago.

    On the ground, firefighters talk about the steep canyons that keep them from directly attacking what has become the largest blaze in New Mexico’s recorded history and the largest currently burning in the country.

    Things might look bad. But to land managers and scientists, the record-setting blaze represents a true test of decades of work aimed at returning fire to its natural role on the landscape – a test that comes as many Western states grapple with overgrown forests, worsening drought and a growing prospect for more megafires.

    The Whitewater-Baldy fire has destroyed a dozen cabins while marching across more than 356 square miles of the Gila National Forest. A pair of lightning-sparked fires grew together to form the massive blaze.

    Unlike last year’s megafires in New Mexico and Arizona, this blaze is burning in territory that has been frequently blackened under the watchful eye of the Gila’s fire managers.

    Starting in the early 1970s, the Gila has been leading the way when it comes to implementing such an active fire management strategy. Instead of immediately dousing flames in the wilderness, forest managers have let them burn as long as conditions are favorable.

    The question that the Whitewater-Baldy fire is expected to answer is whether that strategy will pay off with more natural, less intense fires.

    “There’s a great opportunity here to study a fire like this,” said Matthew Rollins, the wildland fire science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Center in Virginia.

    “The opportunity exists to look at how this fire has behaved differently in terms of vegetation mortality, effects on wildlife and fish habitat and water quality,” Rollins said. “We can study how it burned in the wilderness relative to areas with other types of fire management strategies and other types of ignition patterns.”

    So far, the word from the fire lines is that the majority of the 228,000-acre blaze has burned with low to moderate intensity, not the kind of near-nuclear strength that was exhibited last year with the Las Conchas blaze in northern New Mexico. In that case, entire mountainsides were vaporized, leaving nothing behind but the white ashy skeletons of what used to be trees.

    And as for those unburned pockets within the fire’s boundaries, Rollins said he believes many of those spots have experienced low-intensity fire numerous times over the last century to make them more resilient.

    Previously burned areas have also helped slow the flames on the fire’s eastern flank.

    “The fact that this is wilderness and the wilderness of the Gila has seen a lot of fires, we are comfortable with allowing it to burn. What we do is monitor it and help steer it around to keep some of the impacts lower than they would otherwise be on their own,” said Danny Montoya, an operations section chief with the Southwest Incident Management Team.

    Montoya said the rugged terrain has forced firefighters to attack the flames indirectly by starving the fire of fuels along its perimeter.

    The smoke also has prevented direct attack from the air. Several helicopters and small planes are helping ground crews with backburn operations.

    While a burn severity map has yet to be released, members of the incident management team are estimating that only 20 percent of the fire has burned at high intensity.

    Last week, the fire made a 60,000-acre run in one day, scorching mixed conifer at high elevations as the flames were pushed by gusts of up to 60 mph.

    That kind of fire can be devastating, experts said.

    With fire behavior ranging from active to extreme, it will be some time before the scientists can get on the ground to see how the Gila has fared. Until then, they are working on gathering the decades of research done on the Gila, which is home to the world’s first designated wilderness. It was the father of the wilderness movement, forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold, who pushed for the formation of the Gila Wilderness in 1924.

    Tree ring data that dates back to the 1500s tells of the forest’s fire history and the age of its trees. The perimeters of the Gila’s fires along with information about their severity and vegetation mortality for the last century have also been compiled by the U.S. Forest Service.

    There’s also more ecological data from the federal Joint Fire Science program that can be used for comparisons.

    “I think it’s going to be a success story for the use of fire for managing forests,” Rollins said. “It might not look like it on TV right now, but we haven’t had any fatalities or dramatic housing loss like we see in Southern California or it burning so dramatically close to communities like last year’s Las Conchas fire.”

    Experts agree that the Gila will see changes regardless of the severity of the fire. In the worst spots, aspens and other shrubs are expected to take over.

    “When we’re punching multi-thousand-acre holes in areas of ponderosa pine and drier mixed conifer types with no seed sources surviving, it’s very difficult for those conifers to be re-established,” said Craig Allen, a USGS ecologist based at Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico.

    Fire managers are also expecting flooding. As the Las Conchas fire showed, steep denuded areas resulted in walls of water washing down canyons during the rainy season.

    Residents in Glenwood are already worried about the prospect of flooding, and federal wildlife managers are concerned about what sediment and ash in the waterways could mean for the native Gila trout.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also monitoring two packs of endangered Mexican gray wolves that are situated to the north and east of the fire. Last year, wolves in Arizona were able to escape the massive Wallow fire with their pups, but it’s unclear how mobile the packs in New Mexico are since their pups are much younger.

    The fire is about 17 percent contained, which much of that being on the fire’s northern and northwestern flanks.

    On Saturday, the more than 1,200 firefighters who are battling the fire continued to build lines to corral the flames before more threatening winds and dry conditions developed.

    “We’re going to continue fighting this fire aggressively without putting our firefighters in danger,” fire information officer Lee Bentley said. “We’re getting as much of a black line as we can around this fire.”

  • From the air, the smoke from a massive wildfire stretches as far as the eye can see, spreading across the rugged country in southwestern New Mexico where the nation’s wilderness movement was born nearly a century ago.

    By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN
    Associated Press

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — From the air, the smoke from a massive wildfire stretches as far as the eye can see, spreading across the rugged country in southwestern New Mexico where the nation’s wilderness movement was born nearly a century ago.

    On the ground, firefighters talk about the steep canyons that keep them from directly attacking what has become the largest blaze in New Mexico’s recorded history and the largest currently burning in the country.

    Things might look bad. But to land managers and scientists, the record-setting blaze represents a true test of decades of work aimed at returning fire to its natural role on the landscape – a test that comes as many Western states grapple with overgrown forests, worsening drought and a growing prospect for more megafires.

    The Whitewater-Baldy fire has destroyed a dozen cabins while marching across more than 356 square miles of the Gila National Forest. A pair of lightning-sparked fires grew together to form the massive blaze.

    Unlike last year’s megafires in New Mexico and Arizona, this blaze is burning in territory that has been frequently blackened under the watchful eye of the Gila’s fire managers.

    Starting in the early 1970s, the Gila has been leading the way when it comes to implementing such an active fire management strategy. Instead of immediately dousing flames in the wilderness, forest managers have let them burn as long as conditions are favorable.

    The question that the Whitewater-Baldy fire is expected to answer is whether that strategy will pay off with more natural, less intense fires.

    “There’s a great opportunity here to study a fire like this,” said Matthew Rollins, the wildland fire science coordinator with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Center in Virginia.

    “The opportunity exists to look at how this fire has behaved differently in terms of vegetation mortality, effects on wildlife and fish habitat and water quality,” Rollins said. “We can study how it burned in the wilderness relative to areas with other types of fire management strategies and other types of ignition patterns.”

    So far, the word from the fire lines is that the majority of the 228,000-acre blaze has burned with low to moderate intensity, not the kind of near-nuclear strength that was exhibited last year with the Las Conchas blaze in northern New Mexico. In that case, entire mountainsides were vaporized, leaving nothing behind but the white ashy skeletons of what used to be trees.

    And as for those unburned pockets within the fire’s boundaries, Rollins said he believes many of those spots have experienced low-intensity fire numerous times over the last century to make them more resilient.

    Previously burned areas have also helped slow the flames on the fire’s eastern flank.

    “The fact that this is wilderness and the wilderness of the Gila has seen a lot of fires, we are comfortable with allowing it to burn. What we do is monitor it and help steer it around to keep some of the impacts lower than they would otherwise be on their own,” said Danny Montoya, an operations section chief with the Southwest Incident Management Team.

    Montoya said the rugged terrain has forced firefighters to attack the flames indirectly by starving the fire of fuels along its perimeter.

    The smoke also has prevented direct attack from the air. Several helicopters and small planes are helping ground crews with backburn operations.

    While a burn severity map has yet to be released, members of the incident management team are estimating that only 20 percent of the fire has burned at high intensity.

    Last week, the fire made a 60,000-acre run in one day, scorching mixed conifer at high elevations as the flames were pushed by gusts of up to 60 mph.

    That kind of fire can be devastating, experts said.

    With fire behavior ranging from active to extreme, it will be some time before the scientists can get on the ground to see how the Gila has fared. Until then, they are working on gathering the decades of research done on the Gila, which is home to the world’s first designated wilderness. It was the father of the wilderness movement, forester and conservationist Aldo Leopold, who pushed for the formation of the Gila Wilderness in 1924.

    Tree ring data that dates back to the 1500s tells of the forest’s fire history and the age of its trees. The perimeters of the Gila’s fires along with information about their severity and vegetation mortality for the last century have also been compiled by the U.S. Forest Service.

    There’s also more ecological data from the federal Joint Fire Science program that can be used for comparisons.

    “I think it’s going to be a success story for the use of fire for managing forests,” Rollins said. “It might not look like it on TV right now, but we haven’t had any fatalities or dramatic housing loss like we see in Southern California or it burning so dramatically close to communities like last year’s Las Conchas fire.”

    Experts agree that the Gila will see changes regardless of the severity of the fire. In the worst spots, aspens and other shrubs are expected to take over.

    “When we’re punching multi-thousand-acre holes in areas of ponderosa pine and drier mixed conifer types with no seed sources surviving, it’s very difficult for those conifers to be re-established,” said Craig Allen, a USGS ecologist based at Bandelier National Monument in northern New Mexico.

    Fire managers are also expecting flooding. As the Las Conchas fire showed, steep denuded areas resulted in walls of water washing down canyons during the rainy season.

    Residents in Glenwood are already worried about the prospect of flooding, and federal wildlife managers are concerned about what sediment and ash in the waterways could mean for the native Gila trout.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also monitoring two packs of endangered Mexican gray wolves that are situated to the north and east of the fire. Last year, wolves in Arizona were able to escape the massive Wallow fire with their pups, but it’s unclear how mobile the packs in New Mexico are since their pups are much younger.

    The fire is about 17 percent contained, which much of that being on the fire’s northern and northwestern flanks.

    On Saturday, the more than 1,200 firefighters who are battling the fire continued to build lines to corral the flames before more threatening winds and dry conditions developed.

    “We’re going to continue fighting this fire aggressively without putting our firefighters in danger,” fire information officer Lee Bentley said. “We’re getting as much of a black line as we can around this fire.”

  • (12/14/12) LAS CRUCES, N.M. – It’s better in the West – the economy, that is. 

    An in-depth study of Western job growth was presented yesterday (Thursday) in Las Cruces. It showed that from 2000 to 2011, New Mexico’s real personal income grew by 31 percent. 

    Wayne Suggs is the co-founder of Classic New Mexico Homes. He developed a website and a book to feature his homes, area art and the natural beauty of southern New Mexico. And his experience is that a public lands backdrop is valuable. 

    “I just got a call from someone who lives on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay and he’s tired of the cold. I sent him the book and he said that that view of the Organs (Organ Mountains) – it’s the Tetons of the desert. That’s the kind of reaction that people have. And that’s something that we have to preserve.”

    At the information session about how protected lands are increasing economic growth in the West, Suggs was one of the local business owners who cited the study as one more reason to approve the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument outside of Las Cruces.

    Ben Alexander is an economist and the associate director of Headwaters Economics, the Montana-based think tank that published the report . He says for years, he and his colleagues noticed that the Western states with protected public lands within their borders were outperforming the U.S. economy. They wanted to know what makes the West competitive. They discovered that service industries are at the forefront of that new growth, and many service companies are not constrained by location.

    “When we talked to the CEOs who are running many of these companies, we found that the workers they’re competing for are attracted by quality of place. Places that offer access for recreation, have scenic backdrops, are able to compete more successfully than the rest of the country.”

    Economists believe protected federal lands are an important factor in driving the economic growth of the region. Alexander says Headwaters crunched some numbers.

    “Our statistical analysis showed that for every 10,000 acres of protected federal lands there is an increase of $436 per capita income. So we would expect to see in a county with 100,000 acres of protected federal land, an increase of $4,360 per capita income.”

    Alexander says that makes a pretty compelling case that counties with scenic and protected federal lands are attracting more people and creating more and better-paying jobs. The Headwaters study shows that non-metro counties in the West that feature more than 30 percent of federally protected lands, increased employment by 345 percent.

  • (12/14/12) LAS CRUCES, N.M. – It’s better in the West – the economy, that is. 

    An in-depth study of Western job growth was presented yesterday (Thursday) in Las Cruces. It showed that from 2000 to 2011, New Mexico’s real personal income grew by 31 percent. 

    Wayne Suggs is the co-founder of Classic New Mexico Homes. He developed a website and a book to feature his homes, area art and the natural beauty of southern New Mexico. And his experience is that a public lands backdrop is valuable. 

    “I just got a call from someone who lives on the edge of the Chesapeake Bay and he’s tired of the cold. I sent him the book and he said that that view of the Organs (Organ Mountains) – it’s the Tetons of the desert. That’s the kind of reaction that people have. And that’s something that we have to preserve.”

    At the information session about how protected lands are increasing economic growth in the West, Suggs was one of the local business owners who cited the study as one more reason to approve the proposed Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument outside of Las Cruces.

    Ben Alexander is an economist and the associate director of Headwaters Economics, the Montana-based think tank that published the report . He says for years, he and his colleagues noticed that the Western states with protected public lands within their borders were outperforming the U.S. economy. They wanted to know what makes the West competitive. They discovered that service industries are at the forefront of that new growth, and many service companies are not constrained by location.

    “When we talked to the CEOs who are running many of these companies, we found that the workers they’re competing for are attracted by quality of place. Places that offer access for recreation, have scenic backdrops, are able to compete more successfully than the rest of the country.”

    Economists believe protected federal lands are an important factor in driving the economic growth of the region. Alexander says Headwaters crunched some numbers.

    “Our statistical analysis showed that for every 10,000 acres of protected federal lands there is an increase of $436 per capita income. So we would expect to see in a county with 100,000 acres of protected federal land, an increase of $4,360 per capita income.”

    Alexander says that makes a pretty compelling case that counties with scenic and protected federal lands are attracting more people and creating more and better-paying jobs. The Headwaters study shows that non-metro counties in the West that feature more than 30 percent of federally protected lands, increased employment by 345 percent.

  • Taos News, March 31, 2012
    By Matthew van Buren
    A number of representatives from Northern New Mexico were on their way to Washington, D.C., this week to speak in support of creating the Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area.

    A hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday (March 29), related to a resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, and co-sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, was to be heard before the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Heinrich sits on that subcommittee.

    H.R. 1241 complements legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and cosponsored by Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM. The Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act has moved through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and been placed on the Senate legislative calendar.

    The federal legislation, if passed by both houses of Congress, would establish a 236,000-acre conservation area on public lands in Taos and Río Arriba counties, a 13,420-acre “Cerro del Yuta Wilderness” in Taos County and an 8,000-acre “Río San Antonio Wilderness” in Río Arriba County.

    The act introduced in the Senate makes note of the recreational uses of the area, as well as its historic uses and its importance as wildlife habitat.

    “The plateau provides habitat for bighorn sheep, deer, elk and antelope, as well as several types of raptors that hunt throughout the area, including peregrine falcons, golden eagles and bald eagles,” the act introduced in the Senate states. “The riparian area along the Río Grande provides habitat for brown trout and the federally listed endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The National Conservation Area also contains archaeological, cultural and historic resources relating to the settlement of the region by both indigenous populations and later by early Hispanic settlers.”

    Former magistrate judge and rancher Erminio Martínez was among those traveling to Washington, D.C., to speak on behalf of the creation of the Conservation Area. He said it is important to preserve and protect the area for future generations.

    Martínez said the Río Grande Gorge and surrounding area is not only a national treasure but is also important to local cultural traditions and history.

    “There is so much that needs to be preserved in this day and age,” he said.

    Martínez said preserving traditional uses within the Conservation Area is also a key part of the legislation.

    According to the House resolution being discussed, grazing would continue to be permitted in the area, as would the traditional collection of piñón nuts, firewood and medicinal plants and herbs “for noncommercial, personal use.” The resolution also calls for the protection of religious and cultural sites in the area to be preserved and for access to the sites by members of tribes or pueblos to be provided “for traditional cultural and customary uses.” Specific areas could also be temporarily closed “in order to protect traditional cultural and customary uses” by tribal members.

    Local outfitter Stuart Wilde, who operates Wild Earth Llama Adventures, said creating the Conservation Area, besides preserving the “magnificence of the Río Grande Gorge corridor,” the Conservation Area and wilderness designations themselves could attract more tourists to Taos County.

    “I absolutely think it will bring new visitors to the Taos area,” he said. “We all benefit from those things.”
    Wilde said he hopes legislators from both parties see the value in the Conservation Area and vote in favor of it.
    “This is more than a 20-year effort,” he said. “We’re really hopeful that, locally, we’ve all done our groundwork … (The legislation) really has strong backing from across the political spectrum.”

    The federal Department of the Interior has also taken an interest in the proposed Conservation Area. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes visited Taos last fall to see the Gorge as he worked on a report that seeks to protect a number of unique areas throughout the country.

    According to information from Luján’s office, Thursday’s hearing is the first step toward moving the bill through the House. After the hearing, it will be eligible for markup by the committee. If it is marked up, Luján intends to strengthen language that preserves grazing rights.

    “The environmentally, culturally and historically rich landscapes of the San Luís Valley and Río Grande Gorge that encompass the proposed Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area are part of New Mexico’s rich treasures,” Luján is quoted as saying in an email from his office. “Growing up in Nambé, I know the importance of access to the land — those of us with deep roots here appreciate that the protection of these landscapes under the proposed bill preserves grazing within the National Conservation Area and specifically protects our right to hunt, fish and collect piñón nuts and firewood.”

    According to information from Bingaman’s office, he is hopeful the bill will make it to the president’s desk this year. Bingaman is not running for re-election in 2012.

    “The Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act received bipartisan support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is ready to be considered by the full Senate,” he is quoted as saying in an email to The Taos News. “I am glad the House of Representatives is working on this important bill that will protect this impressive landscape while attracting more tourists to visit Northern New Mexico.”

  • Taos News, March 31, 2012
    By Matthew van Buren
    A number of representatives from Northern New Mexico were on their way to Washington, D.C., this week to speak in support of creating the Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area.

    A hearing, scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday (March 29), related to a resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, and co-sponsored by Rep. Martin Heinrich, D-NM, was to be heard before the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. Heinrich sits on that subcommittee.

    H.R. 1241 complements legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, and cosponsored by Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM. The Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act has moved through the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and been placed on the Senate legislative calendar.

    The federal legislation, if passed by both houses of Congress, would establish a 236,000-acre conservation area on public lands in Taos and Río Arriba counties, a 13,420-acre “Cerro del Yuta Wilderness” in Taos County and an 8,000-acre “Río San Antonio Wilderness” in Río Arriba County.

    The act introduced in the Senate makes note of the recreational uses of the area, as well as its historic uses and its importance as wildlife habitat.

    “The plateau provides habitat for bighorn sheep, deer, elk and antelope, as well as several types of raptors that hunt throughout the area, including peregrine falcons, golden eagles and bald eagles,” the act introduced in the Senate states. “The riparian area along the Río Grande provides habitat for brown trout and the federally listed endangered southwestern willow flycatcher. The National Conservation Area also contains archaeological, cultural and historic resources relating to the settlement of the region by both indigenous populations and later by early Hispanic settlers.”

    Former magistrate judge and rancher Erminio Martínez was among those traveling to Washington, D.C., to speak on behalf of the creation of the Conservation Area. He said it is important to preserve and protect the area for future generations.

    Martínez said the Río Grande Gorge and surrounding area is not only a national treasure but is also important to local cultural traditions and history.

    “There is so much that needs to be preserved in this day and age,” he said.

    Martínez said preserving traditional uses within the Conservation Area is also a key part of the legislation.

    According to the House resolution being discussed, grazing would continue to be permitted in the area, as would the traditional collection of piñón nuts, firewood and medicinal plants and herbs “for noncommercial, personal use.” The resolution also calls for the protection of religious and cultural sites in the area to be preserved and for access to the sites by members of tribes or pueblos to be provided “for traditional cultural and customary uses.” Specific areas could also be temporarily closed “in order to protect traditional cultural and customary uses” by tribal members.

    Local outfitter Stuart Wilde, who operates Wild Earth Llama Adventures, said creating the Conservation Area, besides preserving the “magnificence of the Río Grande Gorge corridor,” the Conservation Area and wilderness designations themselves could attract more tourists to Taos County.

    “I absolutely think it will bring new visitors to the Taos area,” he said. “We all benefit from those things.”
    Wilde said he hopes legislators from both parties see the value in the Conservation Area and vote in favor of it.
    “This is more than a 20-year effort,” he said. “We’re really hopeful that, locally, we’ve all done our groundwork … (The legislation) really has strong backing from across the political spectrum.”

    The federal Department of the Interior has also taken an interest in the proposed Conservation Area. Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes visited Taos last fall to see the Gorge as he worked on a report that seeks to protect a number of unique areas throughout the country.

    According to information from Luján’s office, Thursday’s hearing is the first step toward moving the bill through the House. After the hearing, it will be eligible for markup by the committee. If it is marked up, Luján intends to strengthen language that preserves grazing rights.

    “The environmentally, culturally and historically rich landscapes of the San Luís Valley and Río Grande Gorge that encompass the proposed Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area are part of New Mexico’s rich treasures,” Luján is quoted as saying in an email from his office. “Growing up in Nambé, I know the importance of access to the land — those of us with deep roots here appreciate that the protection of these landscapes under the proposed bill preserves grazing within the National Conservation Area and specifically protects our right to hunt, fish and collect piñón nuts and firewood.”

    According to information from Bingaman’s office, he is hopeful the bill will make it to the president’s desk this year. Bingaman is not running for re-election in 2012.

    “The Río Grande del Norte National Conservation Area Establishment Act received bipartisan support in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is ready to be considered by the full Senate,” he is quoted as saying in an email to The Taos News. “I am glad the House of Representatives is working on this important bill that will protect this impressive landscape while attracting more tourists to visit Northern New Mexico.”

  • Press release, U.S. Department of the Interior
    09/27/2012
    Contact: Blake Androff (DOI) 202-208-6416
    Megan Kelhart (FWS) 505-248-6285

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today dedicated the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge in Albuquerque, making it the first urban refuge in the Southwest and one of a handful across the nation. Salazar was joined by Senator Jeff Bingaman, Representative Martin Heinrich, Bernalillo County Commissioner Art De La Cruz, and other local stakeholders and partners, including the Trust for Public Land.

    Later today, Salazar will travel to Wind River Ranch near Mora, N.M. for a signing ceremony establishing the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area on over 4,200 acres donated by the Thaw Charitable Trust.

    “Today we celebrate two new jewels in the National Wildlife Refuge System — Valle de Oro, an urban oasis for people and wildlife just five miles from downtown Albuquerque, and Rio Mora, which will serve as an anchor for cooperative conservation efforts in the Rio Mora watershed,” Salazar said. “Both refuges exemplify the goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation ethic built on partnerships and to fuel economic growth in local communities.”

    The refuges established today are expected to help generate economic growth and support jobs in New Mexico by attracting visitors and encouraging outdoor recreation. Recreation in refuges, national parks and other public lands alone led to nearly $55 billion in economic contribution and 440,000 jobs in 2009. A 2011 comprehensive national survey of outdoor recreation showed a significant increase in hunters and anglers over the past five years, with hunters nationwide increasing by 9 percent while anglers grew by 11 percent. Nearly 38 percent of all Americans participated in wildlife-related recreation in 2011 and spent $145 billion on related gear, trips and other purchases, such as licenses, tags and land leasing and ownership, representing 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

    “These new refuges will enable us to protect and enhance important wildlife habitat in New Mexico, while serving as catalysts for partnership-driven, voluntary conservation efforts at a broader scale. At the same time, they will provide numerous recreational and educational opportunities for the area’s youth and local communities,” said Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe. “We’re excited to engage the people of New Mexico in shaping the future of these refuges and their public role.”

    Proposed exactly one year ago, the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge was formally established last Friday through the acquisition of 390 acres of Valley Gold Farms, a former dairy and hay farm. The 559th unit of the national wildlife refuge system is within a 30-minute drive of half of New Mexico’s population, providing ample outdoor recreation and education opportunities. Salazar unveiled the official name for the refuge today, Valle de Oro (Valley of Gold), which was selected following a social media campaign that solicited suggested names from local and national audiences.

    “I’d like to thank Secretary Salazar, county officials and city leaders for making the establishment of a wildlife refuge in Albuquerque a priority. Bringing this land into public ownership will give residents and visitors alike access to a beautiful natural space right here in our state’s largest city,” Bingaman said. “The creation of the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area is also great news for New Mexico. This new refuge gives New Mexicans and tourists another great reason to visit the northern part of our state, helping to support those local economies.”

    The Service intends to work with its partners to restore native Bosque forest on the refuge and establish recreation and environmental education programs for area residents. The site may also provide demonstration areas for sustainable agriculture.

    “The Valle De Oro is an urban refuge where citizens and students will have easy access to learn and enjoy all this beautiful space has to offer,” said Udall. “I’d like to thank President Obama and Secretary Salazar for all of their hard work to bring the first urban wildlife refuge in the Southwest to New Mexico, and for making the old Price’s Dairy part of America’s Great Outdoors initiative.”

    “Too many kids get more television time than outdoor time, but this new wildlife refuge is our opportunity to change that,” said. Rep. Martin Heinrich (NM-1). “This wildlife refuge will help New Mexico kids discover the incredible natural heritage of our state, and it represents an important investment in their health and well-being.”

    “Bernalillo County is proud to have led the way on making this project a reality,” Commission Chair Art De La Cruz said. “By contributing $5 million and working closely with the community on this project, a fantastic national resource is now located in the heart of the South Valley. I look forward to new outdoor education and economic development opportunities that will impact our state as a result of this new refuge.”

    In addition to the contribution from Bernalillo County, this first phase was made possible by $2 million from the Bureau of Reclamation, $1.8 million from the Albuquerque Metropolitan Arroyo Flood Control Authority, $1.7 million from the Service, and $500,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through the Walmart Acres for America Grant program.

    Located in the heart of the Middle Rio Grande Valley, the new refuge is an important stop-over site for migrating migratory birds such as sand hill cranes, snow geese, and duck species.

    Will Rogers, President of The Trust for Public Land, said, “We are thrilled to help residents of the South Valley gain access to close-to-home green space. We have completed the purchase of the first 390 acres of Price’s Dairy, and this will turn the Valle de Oro Urban Wildlife Refuge into a reality. We look forward to completing this wonderful project with the help of the partners and supporters who have been with us from the start.”

    The Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge and Conservation Area, which Salazar will establish as the 560th unit of the refuge system today, is located in the transition zone between the Great Plains and the Southern Rocky Mountains. The Mora River flows through the center of the refuge for approximately five miles in a 250-300-foot deep canyon.

    The establishment of the refuge and conservation area is a continuation of the vision of philanthropist Eugene V. Thaw and his wife Clare E. Thaw who bought the Wind River Ranch in 1980 with the intent of protecting and restoring the land as a representative piece of southwestern ecological heritage.

    “The transfer of Wind River Ranch to the ownership of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seems the perfect solution for this strategically located piece of land and its important stretch of the Mora River,” said Eugene Thaw. “We hope that this transfer will serve as the catalyst for a new era in range management, wildlife studies and sustainable agriculture for this whole area of the Southwest. We are grateful to Secretary Salazar and his talented staff for seeing the great possibilities at Wind River for environmental protection, science and education.”

    Inclusion of this important ranch and conservation area into the refuge system, coupled with the newly established Sangre de Cristo Conservation Area in Colorado, creates a wildlife corridor that will ensure protection and restoration of the Mora River watershed and one of the great prairie grassland landscapes of North America. It will benefit many grassland and woodland species, including the southwestern willow flycatcher.

    The long term plan for the Rio Mora National Wildlife Refuge will include opportunities for the public to enjoy wildlife-dependent recreation, including wildlife watching, education, and hunting.

    For more information on these two new refuges, please visit http://www.fws.gov/southwest/

  • Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
    December 17, 2012

    A meeting of top Interior Department officials two days ago in New Mexico has raised hopes that the White House will declare a national monument to protect a rugged river gorge and sagebrush mesa near the state’s border with Colorado.

    Interior Secretary Ken Salazar heard from dozens of local residents during a standing-room-only meeting Saturday at the Kachina Lodge in Taos to discuss protecting the Rio Grande del Norte, an area prized by sportsmen, hikers and tribes for its wildlife and sacred values.

    The area is marked by volcanic cones and the Ute Mountain jutting up from the surrounding valley and provides habitat for elk, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, falcons and great horned owls.

    The Rio Grande gorge, pictured Saturday west of Taos, N.M., is proposed for protection as a national monument. Photo by Brian O’Donnell, courtesy of Conservation Lands Foundation.
    For conservationists, the meeting marked the administration’s first official step toward using the Antiquities Act to designate the 236,000-acre Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau as a national monument.

    “I think the landscape and the resources there are absolutely worthy of protection,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Durango, Colo.-based Conservation Lands Foundation, who attended Saturday’s meeting.

    According to O’Donnell, Salazar at one point in the meeting asked for a show of hands of those who support a national monument designation, and almost all hands went up. None was raised after Salazar asked who opposed such a designation, O’Donnell said. Salazar said he was there to take the opinion of the community back to the president.

    He was accompanied by Neil Kornze, acting deputy director for policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management, which administers the area, O’Donnell said. The meeting also included BLM New Mexico State Director Jesse Juen and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who has introduced H.R. 1241 to protect the land as a national conservation area.

    While Luján’s bill carries the support of BLM and there is companion legislation sponsored in the Senate by New Mexico Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, few expect the legislation to pass both chambers during the fiscal talks of the lame duck. The lawmakers in recent months have suggested that a national monument is the only viable path forward amid the partisan dysfunction in Congress (E&ENews PM, Oct. 26).

    Such a move would mark the first landscape-scale monument designation for President Obama, whose first four monuments in Virginia, California and Colorado protected historic forts, archaeological sites and the home of labor leader César Chávez.

    If designated, a monument would be expected to follow the contours of the New Mexico lawmakers’ bill.

    “The Rio Grande del Norte is one of the crowning jewels in our state,” Luján said after the meeting. “The people of Taos and the surrounding communities made it clear to Secretary Salazar today that protecting this beautiful land should be a top priority.”

    Luján said his staff had met extensively with local ranchers, conservationists and other constituents to ensure the preservation of traditional land uses, including grazing and the gathering of pinyon nuts, wild herbs and firewood.

    A monument is backed by Taos County and the Taos and Mora Valley chambers of commerce as well as sportsmen’s, conservation and Latino groups and some ranchers.
    In a sign of the administration’s support, BLM last fall included the area in a report to Congress identifying 18 backcountry areas deserving of protections as national conservation areas or wilderness (E&ENews PM, Nov. 10, 2011).

    The report said that blue-ribbon trout fishing in the Rio Grande and its tributaries attracts fishermen from across the country and that public lands in New Mexico are responsible for about $350 million in annual recreation-related economic output.

    “Public lands provide huge economic benefits to communities through tourism and outdoor recreation, and the Rio Grande del Norte is no exception,” Salazar said Friday. “We need to ensure that generations to come have the opportunity to experience this iconic Western landscape.”

    The White House is likely to move cautiously on new designations, which are viewed with skepticism by some Western Republicans who have moved to block other Interior conservation policies.

    Some critics argue that presidents have abused their authority and exceeded the original intent of the Antiquities Act, which is to allow the executive branch to prevent archaeological, geological and scientific wonders from imminent threats, such as plunder or looting. A key provision in the law states that monuments should use the smallest footprint necessary to protect the resource at hand, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, has said in the past.

    While President Clinton designated or expanded more than 20 national monuments during his eight years in office, perhaps his best-known move was the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, which he declared in September 1996, sowing distrust among Utah lawmakers to this day.

    The vast majority of Clinton’s designations happened in his second term, and most were vetted through a transparent public process.

    Conservationists are lobbying the president to designate bigger monuments in his second term, including in New Mexico’s Organ Mountains in Doña Ana County, in addition to a 1.7 million-acre watershed north of the Grand Canyon, the Tule Springs in Las Vegas and Colorado’s Browns Canyon.

  • Phil Taylor, E&E reporter
    December 17, 2012

    A meeting of top Interior Department officials two days ago in New Mexico has raised hopes that the White House will declare a national monument to protect a rugged river gorge and sagebrush mesa near the state’s border with Colorado.

    Interior Secretary Ken Salazar heard from dozens of local residents during a standing-room-only meeting Saturday at the Kachina Lodge in Taos to discuss protecting the Rio Grande del Norte, an area prized by sportsmen, hikers and tribes for its wildlife and sacred values.

    The area is marked by volcanic cones and the Ute Mountain jutting up from the surrounding valley and provides habitat for elk, bighorn sheep, bald eagles, falcons and great horned owls.

    The Rio Grande gorge, pictured Saturday west of Taos, N.M., is proposed for protection as a national monument. Photo by Brian O’Donnell, courtesy of Conservation Lands Foundation.
    For conservationists, the meeting marked the administration’s first official step toward using the Antiquities Act to designate the 236,000-acre Rio Grande Gorge and Taos Plateau as a national monument.

    “I think the landscape and the resources there are absolutely worthy of protection,” said Brian O’Donnell, executive director of the Durango, Colo.-based Conservation Lands Foundation, who attended Saturday’s meeting.

    According to O’Donnell, Salazar at one point in the meeting asked for a show of hands of those who support a national monument designation, and almost all hands went up. None was raised after Salazar asked who opposed such a designation, O’Donnell said. Salazar said he was there to take the opinion of the community back to the president.

    He was accompanied by Neil Kornze, acting deputy director for policy and programs at the Bureau of Land Management, which administers the area, O’Donnell said. The meeting also included BLM New Mexico State Director Jesse Juen and Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who has introduced H.R. 1241 to protect the land as a national conservation area.

    While Luján’s bill carries the support of BLM and there is companion legislation sponsored in the Senate by New Mexico Democratic Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, few expect the legislation to pass both chambers during the fiscal talks of the lame duck. The lawmakers in recent months have suggested that a national monument is the only viable path forward amid the partisan dysfunction in Congress (E&ENews PM, Oct. 26).

    Such a move would mark the first landscape-scale monument designation for President Obama, whose first four monuments in Virginia, California and Colorado protected historic forts, archaeological sites and the home of labor leader César Chávez.

    If designated, a monument would be expected to follow the contours of the New Mexico lawmakers’ bill.

    “The Rio Grande del Norte is one of the crowning jewels in our state,” Luján said after the meeting. “The people of Taos and the surrounding communities made it clear to Secretary Salazar today that protecting this beautiful land should be a top priority.”

    Luján said his staff had met extensively with local ranchers, conservationists and other constituents to ensure the preservation of traditional land uses, including grazing and the gathering of pinyon nuts, wild herbs and firewood.

    A monument is backed by Taos County and the Taos and Mora Valley chambers of commerce as well as sportsmen’s, conservation and Latino groups and some ranchers.
    In a sign of the administration’s support, BLM last fall included the area in a report to Congress identifying 18 backcountry areas deserving of protections as national conservation areas or wilderness (E&ENews PM, Nov. 10, 2011).

    The report said that blue-ribbon trout fishing in the Rio Grande and its tributaries attracts fishermen from across the country and that public lands in New Mexico are responsible for about $350 million in annual recreation-related economic output.

    “Public lands provide huge economic benefits to communities through tourism and outdoor recreation, and the Rio Grande del Norte is no exception,” Salazar said Friday. “We need to ensure that generations to come have the opportunity to experience this iconic Western landscape.”

    The White House is likely to move cautiously on new designations, which are viewed with skepticism by some Western Republicans who have moved to block other Interior conservation policies.

    Some critics argue that presidents have abused their authority and exceeded the original intent of the Antiquities Act, which is to allow the executive branch to prevent archaeological, geological and scientific wonders from imminent threats, such as plunder or looting. A key provision in the law states that monuments should use the smallest footprint necessary to protect the resource at hand, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, has said in the past.

    While President Clinton designated or expanded more than 20 national monuments during his eight years in office, perhaps his best-known move was the 1.9-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, which he declared in September 1996, sowing distrust among Utah lawmakers to this day.

    The vast majority of Clinton’s designations happened in his second term, and most were vetted through a transparent public process.

    Conservationists are lobbying the president to designate bigger monuments in his second term, including in New Mexico’s Organ Mountains in Doña Ana County, in addition to a 1.7 million-acre watershed north of the Grand Canyon, the Tule Springs in Las Vegas and Colorado’s Browns Canyon.

  • By J.R. Logan, The Taos News

    December 15, 2012

    A standing-room-only audience turned out in Taos Saturday (Dec. 15) to show overwhelming support for protecting a huge swath of public lands know as the Rio Grande del Norte.

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar took comments from residents regarding a proposal to provide added federal protection to an area that straddles northern Taos and Rio Arriba counties.

    Salazar was joined at the meeting by Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M. Also present were Taos Pueblo Gov. Laureano Romero and Lt. Gov. Gilbert Suazo.

    During the two-hour meeting at the Kachina Lodge, dozens of local residents spoke about the environmental and cultural importance of the area. All those who gave comments were in favor of added protection.

    Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have introduced legislation that would create a 236,000-acre conservation area along both sides of the Rio Grande Gorge. However, the legislation has made little progress getting through Congress.

    Salazar told The Taos News after the meeting that he would be working on determining how best to get some sort of protection in place, be that through legislation or through a presidential proclamation.

    “I think there is huge support for a designation that will protect this place,” Salazar said.

    For more on this story, see the Dec. 20 edition of The Taos News.

  • By J.R. Logan, The Taos News

    December 15, 2012

    A standing-room-only audience turned out in Taos Saturday (Dec. 15) to show overwhelming support for protecting a huge swath of public lands know as the Rio Grande del Norte.

    U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar took comments from residents regarding a proposal to provide added federal protection to an area that straddles northern Taos and Rio Arriba counties.

    Salazar was joined at the meeting by Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M. Also present were Taos Pueblo Gov. Laureano Romero and Lt. Gov. Gilbert Suazo.

    During the two-hour meeting at the Kachina Lodge, dozens of local residents spoke about the environmental and cultural importance of the area. All those who gave comments were in favor of added protection.

    Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation have introduced legislation that would create a 236,000-acre conservation area along both sides of the Rio Grande Gorge. However, the legislation has made little progress getting through Congress.

    Salazar told The Taos News after the meeting that he would be working on determining how best to get some sort of protection in place, be that through legislation or through a presidential proclamation.

    “I think there is huge support for a designation that will protect this place,” Salazar said.

    For more on this story, see the Dec. 20 edition of The Taos News.

  • By John M. Marzluff
    Oct. 28, 2012

    AS a wildlife scientist involved in endangered species recovery and a student of the interactions between humans and animals that many despise, I have closely tracked the recent removal of the Wedge wolf pack from Northeast Washington. As citizens and agencies proffer explanations, there has been little rationale retrospection. I offer one in the hopes of changing how future human-wolf conflicts will be resolved.

    The removal of the Wedge pack was an avoidable response to disingenuous ranchers who took advantage of the unwillingness of conservation agencies and advocacy groups to spend political capital. Len McIrvin, owner of the ranch where wolves had killed cattle, refused to implement the many successful predator deterrents used by his fellow ranchers, for example, range riders, guard dogs, electric corrals and electrified flags, also known as turbo flaggery.

    Conservation agencies rightfully offer financial incentives to those who willingly use deterrents, but they do not penalize those who choose not to. This is reasonable for a rancher grazing on private land, but when public resources are used — as in the case of McIrvin’s cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest — then consequences should be stipulated and penalties should be levied.

    By spending heavily to satisfy a single citizen, our agencies squandered public funds, devalued the sacrifices made by the many well-behaving ranchers who take proper precautions to limit wolf-cattle interaction from the outset, and disregarded the majority of U.S. and Washington citizens who support wolves and the economic windfall for hunters and wildlife viewers alike. Conservation-advocacy groups have publicly condoned the use of lethal force and now are stinging from its application.

    In hindsight they call for stronger proactive measures, but their early willingness to back a strategy that assumed killing wolves was necessary to their survival has set back wolf recovery and allowed members to shirk their responsibility as a voice for nature, first.

    What can we do now to avoid future pack removals? Broadening ownership of our wolves and their interaction with our neighbors is an important start.

    The state could help by creating a wolf license plate or an annual “wolf stamp” that would allow all Washingtonians to bear the costs of sustaining wolves. Revenues could fund innovations that strengthen local economies dependent upon wolves. These might include rancher investments in herd safety or, for those wishing to diversify their income streams, startup costs for wolf tourism businesses.

    Tailoring proven tactics such as mimicking the dolphin-safe tuna campaign to certify “wolf-safe beef” could aid ranchers who act responsibly by allowing consumers to reward their sacrifice. Local economies would grow as independent assessors certify herds that coexist with wolves, ranchers cooperate to develop marketing strategies, and local processors prepare and ship the meat to our urban marketplace. Beef that was raised in conflict with wolves would garner the rancher less at market.

    If grazing fees were also linked to stewardship, it would cost more to produce. Federal agencies could hike grazing fees for ranchers who choose not to employ wolf deterrents.

    As we learn to be better wolf neighbors, we should also teach wolves to be better human neighbors. Wolves are smart and living in a pack means they can learn from one another, but dead wolves don’t learn. Teaching wolves that cows and sheep taste bad is possible by tainting meat with sickening agents, a tactic proven effective at shifting the diets of other predators.

    For centuries, we Westerners have waged war on our wild dogs, but we seem incapable of learning from our mistakes. Let us begin to learn.

    Our ecosystems function poorly, our cultural identity narrows and our economy suffers when we refuse to tolerate wolves. Our future holds more conflicts with wildlife, but by learning to live with other forms of life, even those our ancestors reviled, we not only improve our ecosystem’s resilience, we show our uniqueness as a species.

    John M. Marzluff is a professor of wildlife science at the University of Washington and author of “Gifts of the Crow,” which addresses nonlethal animal control.

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