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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 “Reckless oil and gas drilling has destroyed mule deer habitat, and outdated predator-control techniques can’t fix that.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.

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.

Protect the Mojave Desert from Military Expansion

     by Basin and Range Watch

Mojave Desert Habitat, Sheep Range, Desert National Wildlife Refuge

The US Air Force is proposing to close off 220,000 acres of the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and an additional 80,000 acres of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management to expand and enhance military operations. The Air Force is proposing to increase the acreage of the existing withdrawal area to enhance testing, training and operational security; and will look at options for extending the duration of the existing withdrawal timeframe (20 years, 50 years, or making the military withdrawal permanent until such time as lands are no longer needed for military testing or training).

The deadline for the comments on the Draft Legislative Environmental Impact Statement is Thursday, March 8th, 2018.

Please support Alternative 1 which maintains the Status Quo and allows the Air Force to continue existing operations while maintain existing access.

The Military Land Withdrawal Act of 1999 withdrew about 2.9 million acres of public land for military use at the Air Force Range in southern Nevada–a huge area of desert basins and mountains–and now that the current withdrawal is set to expire on November 6, 2021, the military wants to take more. Congress will have to make the final decision on the withdrawal through legislation.

The proposed expansion areas are in green

The Desert National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1936 and is managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service primarily to protect desert bighorn sheep. It encompasses 1.6 million acres of prime habitat for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and other Mojave Desert species, as well as natural communities of Joshua trees, limestone endemic plants, sand dunes, natural desert rock pavement, big galleta-grass washes, and creosote-bursage shrub-lands. The mountains are cloaked in pinyon-juniper woodland with ponderosa pine forest as well. The refuge supports a population of about 600 bighorn sheep.

Desert bighorn sheep

Impacts to the Desert National Wildlife Refuge from the proposed expansion would include:

Disturbance to desert bighorn sheep from increased bombing, over flights, sonic booms, noise and vibrations.

The Air Force would build 115 miles of fence in pristine wilderness in the refuge. Fencing would cut off wildlife connectivity and disturb desert tortoise habitat.

Two large runways would be constructed on undisturbed playas on the refuge. The runways would be 6,000 ft. long and 90 feet wide.

Thirty threat emitters would be built on concrete pads and several miles of new roads will need to be constructed to built these facilities.

 Misfires of increased overflights and bombing will increase the threat of wildfires on the refuge.

Vibrations from bombing and sonic booms will threaten sensitive archeology sites.

Over 200,000 acres of public access would be cut off and nearly 70 miles of the Alamo Road would be closed.

Desert tortoise

Potentially up to 18,000 acres of public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management near Beatty, Nevada would be closed off to create a buffer from potential misfires for Hellfire Drone tests on the base. This would create the following conflicts:

Recreation: The area is very scenic and now home to a network of new mountain bike trails. The trails were built on BLM land by an organization called STORMOV. It would hurt the local economy if the Air Force takes this land away from the public.  The area is being discovered by mountain bikers, hikers, horse-back riders and other recreationists.

Rhyolite cliffs along the Windmill Road in the proposed expansion area

Explosions could contaminate the headwaters of the Amargosa River. Contaminants from explosives could impact the people and wildlife that depend on this watershed. This is the headwaters of the Amargosa River and the region has already been impacted by past nuclear tests.

A large fence would be built around the 18,000 acre base expansion. The fence would impede connectivity for desert bighorn sheep and pronghorn antelope.

The fence would also be built right through the habitat for the Amargosa toad, an endemic amphibian found only in the Oasis Valley, Nevada. It has a very small range.

Amargosa toad

Because the existing base is about 2.9 million acres, we would like to request that the Air Force utilize this vast space over taking an additional 300,000 acres.


Below is a sample letter that you can copy and paste.  It should be mailed to the US Air Force official address for  comments. It would help to add a personal message so they will not dismiss your letter as a repeat message.

The US Air Force is proposing to expand the Nevada Test and Training Range over approximately 300,000 more acres of land now managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, in order to increase irregular warfare training, and for buffers for bombing targets in the military ranges (the military already controls almost 3 million acres here already, with no public access). This will close off recreational opportunities to the public, and prevent biologists from managing bighorn sheep in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge in the best and most transparent way. Hundreds of miles of fences will be built across the Sheep Range that may hinder wildlife movement and genetic connectivity. Increased bombing, over-lights. Explosions, over-flights and sonic booms will disturb bighorn sheep and other wildlife. More air traffic and bombing will increase the risk of wildfire on the refuge and elsewhere. The increased use of explosions will potentially contaminate watersheds in the Desert National Wildlife Refuge and the Amargosa River. More explosions may damage sensitive archeology sites. Close to 200 miles of public access to roads and mountain bike trails would be cutoff. This will hurt local economies.

Public land is also proposed to be withdrawn for military use near the town of Beatty NV, impacting recreation and pronghorn antelope habitat.

The existing base is 2.9 million acres – about the size of the state of Delaware. Please explore an alternative that utilizes the existing land on the base instead of impacting a cutting off access to an additional 300,000 acres of public land.
Please select Alternative 1 which maintains the Status Quo and allows the Air Force to continue existing operations while maintain existing access, and Alternative 4C–a 20-year withdrawal period before the next review. 

For more information, see Friends of Nevada Wilderness and Basin and Range Watch.

And please sign our Petition to Congress asking them to support Alternative One.

Help Stop Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s War On Prairie Dogs in State Parks

     by Prairie Protection Colorado

Prairie Protection Colorado (PPC) has been investigating the poisoning of prairie dogs in both Cherry Creek State Park and Chatfield State Park that occurred during 2017. During this year alone, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) poisoned over 3700 prairie dog burrows in these state parks with the incredibly dangerous and inhumane phosphine gas, Fumitoxin. When attempting to discover the reasons for this mass extermination, we were told that the prairie dogs were inhumanely gassed to death for three reasons:

  • They degrade vegetation (this certainly was not the case in the areas that were poisoned).
  • They were damaging trails (there were no trails in the areas poisoned).
  • Neighboring subdivisions were complaining (there were no neighboring subdivisions in the areas poisoned).

PPC immediately started calling the park managers to inquire into these poisonings. Cherry Creek State Park’s manager, Jason Trujillo, did speak with us but claimed that he knew nothing about the poisonings except that he had hired Wildlife Services to kill. He said he didn’t know where they poisoned or what they used to kill. We then reached out to Chatfield’s manager, Stuart Hayes, both through phone calls and emails and received no reply. Once we went up the chain and talked to their supervisors, Wendi Padia and Mark Leslie, we were met with silence and a refusal to answer any direct questions.

For over a month, we struggled to secure a meeting with Windi and Jason about the poisoning at Cherry Creek State Park since they have a Prairie Dog Management Plan that they clearly violated in multiple ways. Finally, Windi and Jason agreed to meet us but only over coffee at a Panera Bread restaurant, even though we repeatedly requested to meet at Cherry Creek State Park. We requested to meet at the park in order to have a productive conversation by walking the poisoned areas with these officials, getting to understand their prairie dog policies on the ground, and having an opportunity to better understand, through on the ground evidence, why they choose to poison over 2100 burrows this past October with burrowing owls appearing in the park for the first time in over 10 years. Even after repeated attempts to arrange our meeting in the park, we were told that we either meet at Panera Bread or not at all. We attended this meeting and were treated with hostility followed by an inability to be transparent and honest with us. Both Windi and Jason would not answer our questions directly and they behaved like politicians trying to circumvent the truth though the power of manipulative language.

As this was occurring, PPC submitted several Colorado Open Records Requests to CPW and Wildlife Services and discovered that CPW was withholding emails, maps and other information from our organization in violation of CORA law. In addition, Jason Trujillo knew exactly where the prairie dogs were killed and had discussed the poison used, Fumitoxin, in several emails. We now had evidence that he was lying to us about what had occurred in the park.

CPW, along with Wildlife Services, has a long history of mismanaging Colorado’s wildlife. Just recently they began a corrupt war on mountain lions and bears and began chasing them down with dogs and trapping and shooting them to boost mule deer populations in Colorado. Thankfully, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity brought them to federal court and have put a hold on their plan by insisting that they actually take science into consideration when making such extreme decisions. CPW has also opposed wolf re-introduction into Colorado effectively nullifying advocates attempts to bring back this amazing keystone species to a land that cries out for them. In all cases, polls show that the majority of Colorado residents oppose these decisions made by our wildlife officials. CPW appears to be in the business of killing wildlife, not protecting them and they have no interest in what the residents of Colorado want for our land and wildlife.

PPC, together with our members and concerned wildlife advocates, plan on holding CPW accountable for their shameful decisions to poison prairie dogs in our state parks. In order to be effective, we need YOU to get involved and help us with various action calls, protests, letters and participation in this campaign. If Colorado’s residents step up and insist that this madness stop, we CAN change policy and insist that CPW officials are held accountable to the wishes of Colorado residents to protect our rapidly diminishing wildlife communities. This would be the first step in insisting that our state wildlife representatives begin protecting and conserving wildlife and land at this very critical time in our history. The prairie dogs need us, along with countless other species, and we can no longer stand back and wring our hands in disgust.

Take Action!

Colorado Parks and Wildlife: STOP Poisoning Wildlife In Our State Parks!
PPC and Care2 have put together a petition to sign and share to help us stop the poisoning of wildlife on our state parks. Please Sign Our Petition and help us illustrate that we deeply care about our prairie communities in our state park and that we will not stand by as our state’s wildlife officials poison a keystone species.

Write and Call CPW Agents Windi Padia and Jason Trujillo

It is important to let both Windi Padia (CPW north east region supervisor) and Jason Trujillo (Cherry Creek State Park manager) know that many Colorado residents care about prairie dogs and prairie communities in our state parks and that we will not tolerate the poisoning of our wildlife. You can contact them with your concerns at the following numbers and emails:

Windi Padia:

Jason Trujillo:
303-690-1166 ext.6565

Donate to PPC

PPC always appreciates your financial contributions. Currently, our attorney is working with us on the violations CPW has committed in terms of policy and Open Records Requests. Your donations help make this work possible. You can donate by clicking on the orange button in the upper right section of this email.

Together, we can make a difference for the rapidly diminishing prairie dog colonies along Colorado’s Front Range and the communities they support.

Thank you for your continued support! Please watch your inbox for our newsletters so you can help ensure the continued existence of healthy prairie dog colonies on our state parks.

Prairie Protection Colorado
Fighting for the Prairies

Oppose the Palen Solar Project—Comments Due December 11

     by Basin and Range Watch

Ask for the No Action Alternative
Copy letter at the end of this newsletter and send to BLM

November wildflowers blooming on the proposed site of the Palen Solar Project

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Riverside County, CA are seeking comments by December 11th, 2017 on the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement/Review for the proposed Palen Solar Project – a 4,200 acre (6.5 square mile) photovoltaic solar project.

EDF Renewable Energy has applied for a Right-of-Way (ROW) from the BLM to construct a 500 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic facility and 6.7-mile single circuit 230 kilovolt generation interconnection (gen-tie) transmission line on public lands near Desert Center, Riverside County, California.

The project site has a long history of attempts to develop large scale solar energy in its boundaries. It started out in 2009 as a concentrated solar thermal parabolic trough project and later in 2013 as two solar power towers. In both cases, the developers withdrew their proposals.

The project would destroy a large tract of desert sand dune habitat in the California Desert. The habitat is home to many sand dwelling species of plants and animals. The area has cultural significance to Native American Tribes. The project would have significant visual impacts to the landscape and will be visible from many adjacent conservation areas.

Dust and desertification from the construction of the Stateline Solar Project, San Bernardino, California (photo, BLM 2014)

The BLM is deciding on the proposed plan and 3 alternatives. The Proposed Action would develop a 500 MW solar facility of 4,200 acres of BLM land. The Reduced Footprint Alternative would develop a 500 MW project on 3,100 acres of land. It would avoid a major wash and this is the BLM’s preferred alternative. The Avoidance Alternative would develop up to 250 MW on 1,600 acres of land. This alternative follows the conservation recommendations of the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan and avoids much of the sand transport corridor, but would still develop and impact a major portion of this habitat.

Reasons to Support the No Action Alternative:
The Project Would Have Big Visual Impacts

The BLM has designated the region as the lowest possible Visual Resource Management classification. VRM Class IV – with the objective “to provide for management activities, which require major modification of the existing character of the landscape.” But the project site is highly visible from the Palen-McCoy Wilderness Area, the Chuckwalla Wilderness Area and the Palen Dunes Area of Critical Environmental Concern which are all managed as VRM Class I and II. These classes have objectives of “preserving the existing character of the landscape” and “retaining the existing character of the landscape”.

The project would also be visible from the southeast portion of Joshua Tree National Park.

While the Chuckwalla Valley has seen much large-scale energy development in the last decade, the area around the Palen Dry Lake is less visually impacted due to surrounding topographic features. Development of a large-scale solar facility would change that.

Desert Sunlight Solar Project: The living desert on these public lands has been transformed to a single use solar project.

The Project Would Impact Cultural Resources

Colorado River Indian Tribes have long opposed the construction of large solar projects located in the region. Many projects have resulted in cultural artifacts and human remains being removed by construction activity. The landscapes themselves are sacred to the tribes and the industrial construction of existing projects have damaged several thousand acres.

In 2012, several artifacts were dug up and destroyed during the construction of the Genesis Solar Project located along the Ford Dry Lake just east of the proposed Palen Solar Project.

The Project Would Impact Native Plants, Animals and important Sand Dune Habitat

The project is located on a sand sheet in the Colorado Desert sub-region of the Sonoran Desert. It is home to several species, many specialized to sandy habitats. Several specialized species are found on the dune habitat including the Harwood’s milkvetch and the Mojave fringe-toed lizard.

Mojave fringe-toed lizard on the project site

The Mojave fringe-toed lizard is adapted to fine-grained sand dune environments. It has specialized “fringes” on its toes that allow it to “swim” in sand. The species is found throughout the project site. Fringe-toed lizards often will be seen outside of their core habitat in this region crossing from one dune to another. The project would kill lizards and remove habitat.

Desert Kit Foxes suffered an outbreak of canine distemper during the construction of the nearby Genesis Solar Project in 2011. The Palen Solar Project could remove over 6 square miles of habitat for foxes.

Desert Kit Fox

Lake Effect/Avian Mortality

Several bird mortalities have been detected at many of the large-scale solar facilities that have been built in the last decade. Large-scale solar projects often resemble lakes and this is believed to be a cause of some of the bird mortality that is being detected on projects like the Desert Sunlight Project which is just under 20 miles west of the proposed Palen Solar Project. The hypothesis is that birds are attracted to the polarized light of the panels, but other factors like color may confuse birds into perceiving the panels as water. It is believed that other resources like insect prey and artificial ponds also attract birds. From 2012 to 2016, 3,545 mortalities from 183 species were detected on California solar facilities. Some of these mortalities have been listed species including the the Federally Endangered Yuma clapper rail and Federally Threatened Western yellow-billed cuckoo. Waterbirds such as White pelican and Western grebe have been found dead at solar projects. These projects are very large and only a small percentage of certain projects are surveyed so it is likely that many mortalities are missed because they are taken by scavengers.

The proposed Palen Solar Power Project would be located between the Desert Sunlight Solar Project to the west and the Genesis Solar Project to the east. All three construction alternatives of the Palen Solar Power Project would add significant cumulative additional impacts to the bird mortality of the region. More information on avian solar mortality can be found here.

Large-scale solar projects in the hot desert cause air quality problems. Dust control in hot, arid climates is very problematic. The removal of established vegetation, biological soil crusts and centuries old desert pavement creates opportunities for dust to be airborne every time the wind blows. Not only does fugitive dust create problems for visual and biological resources, it creates issues for public health as well. Efforts to mitigate fugitive dust on large desert regions often fall short.

Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever) is a common issue that impacts desert communities when dust is stirred up. Valley fever has been spread by large-scale solar development in desert regions.

The California Independent System Operator (CaISO), California Energy Commission (CEC), and California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) during Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative (RETI 2.0) meetings explain that California now has so much utility-scale solar that the state is over-generating in peak times.

Non-transmission alternatives can solve this problem: distributed battery storage paired with rooftop solar systems could offer peak load shaving. Net metering generators could be paid for the amount of solar energy they store, instead of selling excess back to the grid. Dispatchable technologies could be investigated in this distributed approach, instead of spending billions of dollars on new thousand-mile-long transmission lines. There are new models worth investigating to avoid giant land use costs of utility-scale solar and wind projects. And of course energy conservation and efficiency can help ease peak over-generation. Parking lot structures in California could produce 39,000 MW of solar energy.

Sample Comment Letter to Write BLM

You can email, fax or mail your comment letter by December 11th to:

Bureau of Land Management
C/O Aspen Environmental Group
235 Montgomery Street
San Francisco, California 94104
email: palensolar@blm.gov
Fax: 760-833-7199 or you can comment from this link.

To Whom it May Concern,

Please choose the No Action/No Project Alternative for the following reasons:

The Palen Solar Project would create big visual impacts for the region. A solar project of any size will be visible from two wilderness areas and Joshua Tree National Park. A No Action Alternative would preserve part of the visual landscape in the region.

The Palen Solar Project will destroy Native American artifacts and cultural landscapes. This can not be mitigated.

The Palen Solar Project will impact many native desert species and damage an important and unique sand dune habitat. All 3 development alternatives will remove habitat for Mojave fringe-toed lizard, Harwood’s milkvetch, desert tortoise, kit fox and desert microphyll woodlands. Sand dune habitats are unique and should not be sacrificed.

The Palen Solar Project will produce a “lake effect” which could attract birds and cause death or injury through collision and dehydration. Other recently built solar projects in the region have detected large bird mortality numbers and these include Threatened and Endangered species. Adding an additional 2 to 6 square miles of solar panels will cumulatively add to this problem.

The Palen Solar Project will create fugitive dust. The removal of established vegetation, biological soil crusts and centuries old desert pavement creates opportunities for dust to be airborne every time the wind blows. Not only does fugitive dust create problems for visual and biological resources, it creates issues for public health as well. Coccidioidomycosis (Valley Fever) has been a problem in the region.

The Palen Solar Project will contribute to California’s problem of over-generating large-scale solar energy during peak times. It will also create a need for more unsightly and expensive transmission lines. All of the environmental impacts associated with the Palen Solar Project are not necessary because non-transmission alternatives can solve this problem. Distributed battery storage paired with rooftop solar systems would alleviate this issue. We can meet renewable energy needs in more environmentally friendly ways.

While the Palen Solar Project lies in a Development Focus Area established under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP), it also predates the establishment of the DRECP and the BLM is not committed to following the Development Focus Area recommendations in the DRECP. In this case, any development in the location would create significant environmental impacts for the region.

Thank you
(Your name and info here)


Navajo Sign Law Criminalizing Human Trafficking

Navajo Nation, Human Trafficking, Navajo Nation Law against Human Trafficking

“The breeding ground for trafficking is poverty, alcohol, drugs and gambling,” Brown said. “On the Navajo Nation, we have all of these.” iStock

Nathaniel Brown on Human Trafficking: ‘Two years ago, I didn’t think we really had a problem … I have a permanent lump in my throat.’

A new Navajo law criminalizes human trafficking on the country’s largest American Indian reservation.

Navajo President Russell Begaye on August 7 signed the Navajo Nation Law against Human Trafficking, signaling his commitment to take a stance against an international crime that targets some of the world’s most vulnerable populations. The law, which amends the tribe’s criminal code, also calls for cooperation among government and civil institutions to define, prevent and combat the illegal “transporting, trading or dealing” of people.

“This is about strengthening our laws and collaborating with county, state and federal officials to stop the trafficking of our people,” Begaye said in a phone interview. “We are starting to see more missing children and teens, especially on the major corridors. We need to put families on alert so they know the issues, and we need to make sure all our people are protected.”

The Navajo Nation Council on July 19 unanimously approved the law, which defines trafficking as “the illegal recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of a person, especially one from another country, with the intent to hold the person captive or exploit the person for labor, services or body parts.” Such offenses include forcing people into prostitution or marriage, slavery, sweat-shop labor or the harvesting of organs from unwilling donors.

The Navajo Nation condemns these actions, which constitute “a serious offense and a violation of human rights,” the law states. Yet trafficking—especially on or around Indian reservations—remains largely invisible, said Council Delegate Nathaniel Brown, who sponsored the legislation in March.

“Two years ago, I didn’t think we really had a problem,” Brown told ICMN. “But then I started looking into it. When you really see this, you can’t un-see it. I have a permanent lump in my throat.”

Brown attended training sessions with leaders of other Arizona tribes, along with the Arizona Human Trafficking Council. He learned that trafficking is a problem on tribal land—but because federal agencies are not required to report ethnicity of victims, it is unknown just how widespread it is.

On a global scale, human trafficking is the third most profitable crime, after drugs and arms dealing, the United Nations reported in 2014. More than 2.5 million people worldwide have fallen victim to the crime, which is considered a $36 billion industry.

Indigenous people are especially vulnerable, Brown said. Traffickers target runaways or children from broken homes. They use social media or online advertising to lure children or teens to metro areas where they are often forced into prostitution.

“The breeding ground for trafficking is poverty, alcohol, drugs and gambling,” Brown said. “On the Navajo Nation, we have all of these.”

Brown said the reality of trafficking is “sickening.” As opposed to drug or gun dealing, sex can be sold “over and over again,” with victims having an average of 12 sexual partners per day, he said.

“Pimps can make their money over and over again with trafficking,” Brown said. “People who are trafficked become empty shells. They have no hope. They have hit bottom and they don’t trust anyone at all: not the police or the laws or the system.”

The new law acknowledges the jurisdictional limitations on tribal land and calls on the Navajo Nation to cooperate “bilaterally and multilaterally” with other organizations to suppress the crime. It also seeks coordination with think tanks to analyze trafficking on the reservation and take measures to curb it—including advocacy, education, counseling and training to prevent trafficking and protect victims.

The first step to combat trafficking is awareness, said Council Delegate Amber Crotty, who serves as chairwoman of the Sexual Assault Prevention Subcommittee. She wants to see immediate efforts to raise awareness and educate the public.

“We know we have major corridors where there is national traffic coming through the reservation,” she said. “We know these corridors are prime gateways for traffickers to come in and prey on the vulnerable. We also know they’re using social media or other means to promise work, movie careers, things like that to lure people in. This is happening in Indian country. As we learn more about it, people can be educated on it. We can prevent individuals from being trafficked into the sex trade.”

The new law is the first on the Navajo Nation to address human trafficking, Crotty said. It adds a specific, sex-related crime to the criminal code and allows law enforcement officers to make arrests. A human trafficking conviction will carry a fine and a minimal prison sentence.

But the law also starts a conversation with federal partners, who can enforce stricter punishments, Crotty said. “As with any law, this is the beginning of a process,” she said. “This is just the first step. We will continue to layer onto our criminal justice system to change with the times, to add more laws against cyber bullying and revenge porn, to modernize our criminal code.”

Passage of the Navajo law came as Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, hosted a listening session on trafficking in Indian country. During the July 26 hearing, held in Washington, Udall called on the federal government to do more to keep Indian country safe.

“Because Native Americans disproportionally face high rates of poverty and trauma, they are especially vulnerable and frequent targets of human trafficking,” Udall said in a statement released after the hearing. “But the fact is that the federal government knows very little about the rates of human trafficking on tribal lands. And it knows even less about human trafficking of individual Native Americans.”

Udall also called for improved data collection on human trafficking on tribal lands. He asked the Government Accountability Office to research the prevalence of trafficking in Native communities, the frequency with which law enforcement agencies encounter it, victims’ services and efforts to increase prosecution.

“Like with other crimes in Indian country, addressing human trafficking will require Congress to look at and pass legislation that addresses issues of jurisdiction and inter-agency cooperation,” he said. “I’m hopeful that we can work together to provide tribes with more resources to combat human trafficking and ensure that all Native victims of crime get the support they so desperately need.”