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Lawsuit Challenges Unwarranted Killing of Colorado Mountain Lions, Black Bears

Fish and Wildlife Service to Spend More Than $4.5 Million on Lethal Project

     by Center for Biological Diversity

DENVER— Three conservation and animal-protection organizations sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for funding a Colorado Parks and Wildlife plan to kill hundreds of mountain lions and dozens of black bears without analyzing the risks to the state’s environment.

The multi-year plan to kill black bears and mountain lions in the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River areas of Colorado is intended to artificially boost the mule deer population where habitat has been degraded by oil and gas drilling. The killing plans were approved despite overwhelming public opposition, and over the objection of leading scientific voices in Colorado.

Today’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court of Colorado by the Center for Biological Diversity, The Humane Society of the United States and WildEarth Guardians. The lawsuit faults the Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to adequately analyze the impacts of these lethal predator-control experiments under the National Environmental Policy Act.

“It’s appalling that the Fish and Wildlife Service bankrolled this killing without bothering to truly examine the environmental risks,” said Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center. “Reckless oil and gas drilling has destroyed mule deer habitat, and outdated predator-control techniques can’t fix that. Slaughtering bears and mountain lions will only further damage these ecosystems.”

The Piceance Basin Plan will last three years. Colorado Parks and Wildlife will use specialized contractors, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program, to kill mountain lions and black bears using inhumane traps, snares and hounds. The killing will be focused on and around the Roan Plateau, considered one of the most biologically diverse areas in Colorado. Up to 75 black bears and 45 cougars will be killed for a cost of approximately $645,000 — 75 percent of which will be paid for with federal taxpayer dollars.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorizing the use of millions of public dollars meant to promote wildlife restoration to kill Colorado’s bears and mountain lions is outrageous,” said Stuart Wilcox, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians based in Denver. “Scapegoating species key to ensuring Colorado’s ecosystems remain resilient because the state wants to ignore the true impacts of the filthy fossil fuel industry adds insult to injury.”

The Upper Arkansas River Plan will last nine years, during which time Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to kill more than 50 percent of the mountain lion population in the area. Colorado expects the killing of up to 234 mountain lions will cost nearly $4 million, 75 percent of which will be federally funded.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has an obligation under federal law to evaluate the environmental implications of its actions, relying on the best available science, and to allow the public to review that analysis,” said Anna Frostic, managing attorney for wildlife and animal research at The Humane Society of the United States. “The agency has failed to comply with these statutory duties, ignoring potentially devastating impacts on black bears and mountain lions.”

Rather than provide an independent analysis disclosing the environmental impacts of the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River plans, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to adopt an environmental assessment prepared by Wildlife Services, a wholly separate agency, whose purpose is to kill so-called “nuisance” animals nationwide.

Background
Mountain lions and black bears are critical to their native ecosystems. Mountain lion predation produces carrion that feeds more bird and mammal scavengers than that of any other predator on the planet. Black bears’ diverse diet of fruits results in broad dispersion of seeds, and their foraging behavior creates disturbances that allow sunlight to reach plants below the forest canopy, making them “ecosystem engineers.”

Bears and cougars are vulnerable to persecution and could be extirpated from these two regions as a result of the plans. The Fish and Wildlife Service failed to consider the many substantial environmental harms that are likely to result from the plans, such as the harm to the local ecosystem of this potential extirpation and the suffering and deaths of orphaned cubs and kittens.

Lawsuit Threatened Over Failure to Protect Endangered Nevada Fish

By Center for Biological Diversity

LAS VEGAS— The Center for Biological Diversity today notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management of its intent to sue the agencies for allowing groundwater pumping that will feed Las Vegas sprawl but would dry up the springs and aquifers that sustain the Moapa dace. The dace is an endangered fish found only in the headwater springs of the Muddy River, about 60 miles north of Las Vegas in the Moapa Valley Wildlife Refuge.

The notice challenges the failure of the federal agencies to consider vital new information about how the Kane Springs Valley Groundwater Development project and the Coyote Springs Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan — both previously approved by the agencies — will impact Moapa dace habitat and the Warm Springs area of the Muddy River. The amount of groundwater proposed to be pumped in Kane Springs and Coyote valleys, for current and proposed sprawl development, is unsustainable and could drive the dace to extinction.

“Siphoning this water away will spell disaster for one of the rarest native fishes in Nevada,” said Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the Center. “These agencies have a moral and legal responsibility to protect this endangered species. This new science shows these groundwater pumping projects will severely affect the water flows that the Moapa dace needs to survive. Letting these projects proceed will, in all likelihood, push this fish into extinction.”

Recent groundwater-pumping tests show that groundwater developments will destroy Moapa dace habitat at a time when the endangered fish, found only in the upper Muddy River and its warm tributary springs, is showing modest increases in its numbers. The ongoing and proposed groundwater pumping and withdrawals alter the flows from the springs and negatively impact the precise flow, temperature and water chemistry that the dace require for long-term survival.

“The good efforts by the Fish and Wildlife Service to restore habitat on the Moapa Valley National Wildlife Refuge will go for naught if sprawl developments and golf courses siphon off the precious groundwater before it reaches the springs the dace live in,” said Mrowka.

The 60-day notice is a requirement for a citizen suit under the Endangered Species Act. Click here to find out more about the Moapa dace.

Forest Service Moves Forward With Old-growth Logging on Rim of Grand Canyon

By The Center for Biological Diversity

TUCSON, Ariz.— Thousands of trees that have stood on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for more than a century will be cut down later this year as a result of the scheduled “Wild Buck” timber sale today at the North Kaibab Ranger District office of the Kaibab National Forest.

The Center for Biological Diversity has aggressively fought this timber sale for more than a decade, delaying its progress for years. Despite outcry from citizens across the country, the Forest Service is pushing the logging forward under the guise of “forest restoration” and has scheduled a public timber auction where logging companies will bid to log the trees.

“Old-growth ponderosa pine is extremely rare in the Southwest and critically important to the survival of rare animals like northern goshawks and Kaibab squirrels on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon,” said Center Public Lands Campaigner Katie Davis. “While the Forest Service has raised the specter of high-severity fire again and again to justify cutting down old-growth pines in Arizona, any forest ecologist can tell you that big, old ponderosa pines are naturally fire resistant.”

The Center has advocated selective thinning on the Kaibab National Forest that would retain large, old trees, recognizing that decades of fire suppression and livestock grazing have increased the risk of fire on the forest by allowing overcrowding of smaller, younger trees and the spread of flammable invasive grasses. But the Forest Service continues to reject this strategy, opting instead for projects that put more money in the pockets of timber companies.

Logging thousands of majestic old trees from the forest surrounding the Grand Canyon will put the species that depend on these large trees at even greater risk, exacerbating the impacts already being felt due to climate change.

“This destructive and irrational timber sale highlights the need to permanently protect the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from logging and other damaging extractive industries,” said Davis.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Lawsuit Filed to Halt Massive Las Vegas Water Grab

This is a pond on the Goshute Reservation, below the Deep Creek Mountains. This place will be turned to barren desert if the SNWA pipeline project goes through. Photo via Stop the SNWA Water Grab.

This is a pond on the Goshute Reservation, below the Deep Creek Mountains. This place will be turned to barren desert if the SNWA pipeline project goes through. Photo via Stop the SNWA Water Grab.

For Immediate Release, February 12, 2014

Contact: Rob Mrowka, (702) 249-5821, rmrowka@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Filed to Halt Massive Las Vegas Water Grab

Pipeline Would Dry Up Springs and Wetlands, Hurt Fish,
Sage Grouse, Pronghorn and Other Species

LAS VEGAS— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court today to halt a right-of-way needed for the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s long-proposed pipeline (commonly known as the “Groundwater Development Project”). If allowed to proceed, the pipeline would siphon more than 27.3 billion gallons of groundwater each year from the desert of eastern Nevada and pump it more than 260 miles to the Las Vegas Valley. The controversial $15.5 billion project would have profound effects on people, wildlife and Nevada’s natural heritage.

“Enough is enough,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based senior scientist with the Center. “Despite hundreds of pages detailing the unthinkable harm that would be caused by this project, tens of thousands of people signing petitions against it, and setbacks in state district and supreme courts, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and BLM have closed their ears to reason, logic and plain common sense. They need to drop this disastrous water grab.”

The Groundwater Development Project would, by the authority’s own admission, dry up or “adversely affect” more than 5,500 acres of meadows, more than 200 springs, 33 miles of trout streams, and 130,600 acres of sagebrush habitat for sage grouse, mule deer, elk and pronghorn as water tables plunge by 200 feet.

The greater sage grouse is an upland bird species, iconic and completely dependent on sagebrush habitat for its existence; the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found the bird to warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act in 2010. Its numbers have plummeted by more than 50 percent in recent decades due to fragmentation and loss of habitat (more of which would occur with the Southern Nevada groundwater pumping project). The Fish and Wildlife Service must make a decision on listing the bird for protections under the Endangered Species Act by 2015 under a settlement agreement with the Center.

At least 25 species of Great Basin springsnails would also be pushed toward extinction, and 14 species of desert fish would be hurt, including the Moapa dace and White River springfish. Frogs and toads would fare little better, with four species severely threatened by the dewatering.

In the lawsuit the Center argues that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act in approving the groundwater development project.

“These laws exist because Americans care about their public lands,” said Mrowka. “Congress passed these laws to make sure our public lands are managed on the basis of multiple-use, to protect irreplaceable cultural and natural resources for current and future generations. They exist so that the needs of future generations of Americans can be taken into account — not just short-term economic growth and greed.”

The suit asserts the agencies failed to analyze impacts from permanently and irreversibly impairing the water springs, groundwater wetlands and wildlife habitat in the project area; failed to consider climate change; failed to adequately disclose how the project would comply with requirements of the Clean Water Act; and failed to comply with the Resource Management Plan in effect for the area.

Also raised in the lawsuit is the fact that the Water Authority has no rights to water to put into the proposed pipeline. On Dec. 10, 2013, the 7th Judicial District Court of Nevada issued a decision — which had been sought by the Center and allies in the Great Basin Water Network — that stripped the Authority of 83,988 acre-feet per year of groundwater due to severe deficiencies in the analysis that supported the original award of rights. The judge called the water-grab plan “likely the largest interbasin transfer of water in U.S. history.”

The Center has asked the court to order the BLM to prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement that addresses the flawed analysis, as well as to enjoin the agency from implementing any part of the project until it can be judged to be in full compliance with the law.

Background
On Dec. 19, 2013, the Center notified the BLM that due to the decision by the district court, the agency must withdraw its “record of decision” for the groundwater development project and reevaluate the proposed project and its purpose and need. Under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, an applicant for a right-of-way for a pipeline must have a valid existing right established under state law, which the Authority in this case does not. The BLM has not responded to the Center’s letter.

The Center has actively opposed this water grab since 2006. In 2010 and 2011 it filed hundreds of formal protests with the Nevada state engineer opposing the award of water rights to the Water Authority; it was these rights that were stripped by the state district court.

The Center is a member of the Great Basin Water Network, formed in 2004, a broad coalition of government agencies, American Indian tribes, organizations and individuals opposed to this groundwater development project of whose board Rob Mrowka is a member. The Water Network will also file suit against the pipeline right-of-way, as may other individual entities in the Network.

The groundwater development project is projected to cost over $15.5 billion when financing costs are included. The Network is not opposed to water for southern Nevada but instead of a short-term pipeline proposes water be gained from increased indoor and outdoor conservation, reasonable limits to growth, re-evaluating how the Colorado River is managed and used, and long-term solar-powered desalinization of Pacific Ocean water.

The Center is represented by Marc Fink, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, and local counsel, Julie Cavanaugh-Bill of Elko, Nevada.  

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 675,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Original post by Center for Biological Diversity

Two Central Texas Salamanders Receive Endangered Species Act Protection

A big win for two cool salamanders: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Austin blind salamander and the Jollyville Plateau salamander under the Endangered Species Act and designated 4,451 acres as critical habitat for the rare amphibians.

A big win for two cool salamanders: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected the Austin blind salamander and the Jollyville Plateau salamander under the Endangered Species Act and designated 4,451 acres as critical habitat for the rare amphibians.

Original post by The Center for Biological Diversity

Two Central Texas Salamanders Receive Endangered Species Act Protection

More Than 4,400 Acres of Critical Habitat Also Protected

AUSTIN, Texas— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today protected two Texas salamanders under the Endangered Species Act and designated 4,451 acres as critical habitat for the rare amphibians. The decision to protect the Jollyville Plateau salamander and Austin blind salamander was spurred by a landmark settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity in 2011 that is expediting federal protection decisions for 757 imperiled species across the country.

“This is a critical step toward saving these two salamanders that live nowhere else in the world. But we can’t forget that it’s also an important step for the region’s long-term water quality and health,” said Collette Adkins Giese, a Center lawyer who works to save imperiled amphibians and reptiles. “Protecting the clean water and habitat that these salamanders need will also protect all the plants and animals that share their landscape, including humans.”

The fully aquatic salamanders live in springs in Travis and Williamson counties in central Texas. They require clean, well-oxygenated water and are threatened by activities that pollute or reduce water flow to their aquatic habitats. Austin blind salamanders are now protected as an “endangered species” with 120 acres of protected habitat, and Jollyville Plateau salamanders are protected as a “threatened species” with 4,331 acres of protected habitat.

“Endangered Species Act protection for the salamanders also protects the springs that give drinking water and recreation to Texas communities,” said Adkins Giese. “These Texas salamanders cannot survive in waterways polluted with pesticides, industrial chemicals and other toxins so they are excellent indicators of the health of the environment.”

The Austin blind and Jollyville Plateau salamanders have spent years waiting in line for federal protection. As part of an agreement with the Center, the Service agreed to issue protection decisions for them by the end of 2013.

The Service today also announced a six-month extension for its final decision on the Georgetown salamander and Salado salamander, two other salamanders the agency proposed to protect last year.

Species Highlights

Austin blind salamander (Travis County): The Austin blind salamander has external, feathery gills, a pronounced extension of the snout, no external eyes and weakly developed tail fins. It occurs in and around Barton Springs in Austin. These springs are fed by the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer, which covers roughly 155 square miles from southern Travis County to northern Hays County. The salamander is threatened by degradation of its aquatic habitats from pollutants such as pesticides and fertilizers. Another threat to the Austin blind salamander and its ecosystem is low flow conditions in the Edwards Aquifer and at Barton Springs.

Jollyville Plateau salamander (Travis and Williamson counties): Jollyville Plateau salamanders that occur in spring habitats have large, well-developed eyes, but some cave forms of Jollyville Plateau salamanders exhibit cave-associated morphologies, such as eye reduction, flattening of the head and dullness or loss of color. The salamanders’ spring-fed habitat typically occurs in depths of less than 1 foot of cool, well-oxygenated water. The animals live in the Jollyville Plateau and Brushy Creek areas of the Edwards Plateau in Travis and Williamson counties. Scientists have observed significant population declines for the salamander, likely as a result of poor water quality from urban development.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 625,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Jaguar Threatens Open-pit Mine Plan in Southern Arizona

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by Tony Davis / AZ Star

A male jaguar has roamed the Santa Rita Mountains’ eastern flank for at least nine months, photos obtained from the federal government show.

The remote cameras have photographed the big cat in five locations on seven occasions since October.

Three times, the federally financed remote cameras photographed the jaguar immediately west of the proposed Rosemont Mine site in the mountains southeast of Tucson.

The photos were taken for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by University of Arizona cameras as follow-up after a hunter gave state authorities a photo of a jaguar’s tail that he took last September in the Santa Ritas.

The sightings next to the mine site were at roughly the same location where the earlier jaguar tail photo was taken, wildlife service officials said. Other photos ranged from two to 15 miles from the mine site.

The photos were provided to the Star this week by Fish and Wildlife in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. All were taken at night of the nocturnal beast. They show the jaguar, an endangered species, running, walking or standing in rocky, grassy terrain.

This is the only jaguar known to live in the United States since the 15-year-old known as Macho B died in Arizona in March 2009.

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“Best habitat we have”

The photos were taken within federally proposed critical habitat for the jaguar, on which the wildlife service is scheduled to make a decision on Aug. 20.

While this habitat isn’t as good for jaguars as what exists in Mexico, said Jean Calhoun, an assistant field supervisor in the service’s Tucson office, “It’s the best (jaguar) habitat we have.”

The area where the photos were shot has prey for the jaguar – deer and javelina – “so as long as there is food available, he is able to hang around there,” said Tim Snow, a Game and Fish Department nongame specialist.

“To me, it’s not a whole lot different” than Macho B, who came and went to different mountain ranges in Southern Arizona. Macho B would stay in the Baboquivari Mountains for awhile, and then move back down to the Atascosa Mountains, and in between authorities didn’t know where he went.

The current male jaguar was photographed in the Whetstone Mountains south of Benson in November 2011.

The photos were released as the wildlife service and the Forest Service are wrapping up a draft biological opinion regarding the proposed Rosemont copper mine’s impacts on the jaguar and nine other federally protected species, including the lesser long-nosed bat, the Chiricahua leopard frog and the ocelot. The wildlife service hopes to get a draft of the opinion to the Forest Service in a week to a week and a half, Calhoun said.

In an earlier biological assessment, the Forest Service wrote the mine is “likely to adversely affect” the jaguar. The biological opinion is supposed to examine measures that can ease a project’s impacts on an endangered species.

The jaguar’s continued presence in the Santa Ritas and elsewhere in the “Sky Islands” mountain ranges of Southern Arizona shows that jaguars belong in this region and underscores the need to protect their critical habitat, said Sergio Avila, a large cat biologist for the environmentalist Sky Island Alliance.

“The jaguars are saying it better than anyone else that they belong here – they’re making the point, not me or my organization,” Avila said.

Is habitat really “critical”?

But the new photos don’t change Game and Fish’s view that jaguar critical habitat isn’t justified.

“That solitary male jaguar is no reason for critical habitat. We don’t have any breeding pairs,” said department spokesman Jim Paxon. “If that was critical habitat, we would still be doing the same thing that we are doing today. We are not harassing that jaguar or modifying normal activities there that are lawful today.”

Because the jaguar’s range extends from northern Mexico through Central America and into much of South America, it also is unclear how the Santa Rita Mountains can possibly be considered essential to the species’ conservation as critical habitat, said Kathy Arnold, Rosemont Copper’s vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs.

Michael Robinson, an activist for the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, disagrees. Since critical habitat is legally supposed to be areas essential for conservation and recovery, “it’s hard to see how an area with possibly the only jaguar living in the wild in the United States, how that habitat would not be essential to recovery here,” he said.

Rosemont Copper has been aware of the lone jaguar’s presence in the Santa Ritas and the Whetstones for some time, Arnold said. The company has provided some support for the federally financed camera effort, she said.

The environmentalists’ raising of the critical-habitat issue “is exactly the type of tactics we expect” at a time when release of the final Rosemont environmental impact statement is drawing near, Arnold added.

“We are confident that both the Coronado National Forest and Fish and Wildlife Service have concluded that the Rosemont project will neither jeopardize the continued existence of the species, nor adversely affect the proposed critical habitat. At worst, the project may modify this lone male jaguar’s roaming patterns,” Arnold said.

Coronado National Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said, however, that the Forest Service hasn’t concluded that the mine won’t jeopardize or hurt critical habitat for the jaguar since the biological report isn’t finished yet.

Coming NEXT WEEK

Coronado National Forest will release to other, cooperating government agencies, and post on its website, a preliminary version of its final Rosemont Mine environmental impact statement sometime around Monday, July 1, Forest Supervisor Jim Upchurch said Wednesday. Pima County, state and federal agencies will have 30 days to comment to help the Forest Service prepare its official final environmental report, he said.