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Mountain Biking is a Threat to New Wilderness Designation

by George Wuerthner / The Wildlife News

Several years ago, I published a book on motorized recreation and its impacts on public lands. In doing the research for that book, one of the statistics that I found interesting is the demographic profile of the “average” motorized ORV user. They tended to be male, between the ages of 20 and 40, and had incomes at or slightly above the national average (It takes a lot of money to buy pick-ups, snowmobiles and dirt bikes).

Another interesting statistic is that most motorized users had an “outlaw” attitude and regularly violated trail closures and felt like they were entitled to go anyplace their machines could carry them. They were adrenaline junkies, and like spoiled children, they groused at being told they were banned from some landscapes.

Mountain bikers, as a demographic group, fit the profile of off-road vehicle users. They are predominately male, between 20-40, and tend to have above average incomes and often have the same outlaw attitude and sense of entitlement.

We see this sense of entitlement in the continual commandeering of trails and/or illegal construction of new trails on public lands by mountain bikers. When the Forest Service or BLM seeks to close some of these trails (very infrequently done) mountain bikers squeal like a poked pig, claiming they’re being “discriminated against.”

A good example is the reaction of mountain bikers in Wyoming to closure of the Dunior Special Management Area near Dubois Wyoming. The Dunior has been a candidate for wilderness for years.  But without seeking any permission, mountain bikers began to ride in the area and upgrade trails. The Shoshone National Forest finally closed the trails, and the mountain bikers screamed about their “loss” of access. Access that was garnered illegally.

A similar situation exists in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area on the border of Idaho and Wyoming. Mountain bikers have commandeered trails in the area and are fighting to oppose wilderness designation for the area. This conflict would not have occurred if the Bridger Teton National Forest had simply unambiguously closed the trails to mountain bikers. Afterall a Wilderness Study Area is supposed to be managed for its wilderness qualities until Congress determines its fate and mechanical access is not permitted.

A comparable conflict is being precipitated on the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana where mountain bikers are regularly riding in a wilderness study areas like the Big Snowy Mountains. Similarly, mountain bikers regularly ride in the Gallatin Range, another Wilderness Study Area on the Gallatin/Custer National Forest.

When the Forest Service limits mountain bike use, the mountain bikers scream that they are being denied access to public lands. On the contrary, most trails currently used by mountain bikers are available to anyone to walk. The only thing that is being closed is access to their machines (bikes).  Most of these users are in better than average physical condition.

While there are local and regional mountain biking advocacy groups as well the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) all promoting more mountain bike access and trail construction, there is virtually no push back from conservation groups. I am not aware of a single employee of any conservation group whose sole responsibility is to monitor mountain bike use in proposed wilderness areas and to provide push back and support to public lands managers who might want to limit mountain biking in these areas.

I believe if mountain biking isn’t controlled and contained just as motorized ORV use has been limited, we will find it nearly impossible to designate any new wilderness areas.

Indeed, some of the more aggressive mountain bikers are even seeking to scuttle the prohibition on mountain biking in designated wilderness, which will open the door to a host of other interests to argue they too should be given access to the these lands. In a sense mountain biking, to use a cliché, is the camel’s nose under the tent.

Mountain biking is part of the outdoor recreation industry that is more about physical exercise, challenging one’s prowess on a machine and use of our public lands as outdoor gymnasiums than about appreciation of natural systems and/or protecting the ecological integrity of the landscape. It’s about speed and domination.

Challenging oneself isn’t necessarily bad. We all, I think, enjoy challenges. And mountain biking is great fun. I ride my bike regularly on trails specifically designed for mountain bike use.

However, we must recognize that unlimited access to public lands whether by extractive industries like logging, mining or livestock grazing or recreational users, can threaten the wildlife and ecological whole of the land.

We have so few landscapes specifically set aside to preserve ecological integrity that we must make protection of natural function a primary function.  This is an idea that seems foreign to many mountain bikers, just as it seems incomprehensible to many motorized recreationists or a smaller sub-set of bird watchers, hikers and backpacker.

In the end, we must accept limits. One of the lessons one teaches young children as a parent is the need for restrictions on behavior. You can’t always get what you want, but you can get what you need.  Far too many mountain bikers remind me of spoiled children who put on a tantrum when they are told that no they can’t do something.

I may be optimistic, but I am hoping to see a maturing of the mountain biking culture. After all you don’t need to bike in roadless lands to get an adrenaline high.  You do need to consider one’s impacts on other people and critters.

We need wild places for a host of reason, including protecting sensitive wildlife, ecological processes, and scenic beauty. But perhaps one of the most important reasons for creating wilderness areas is that it teaches us humility and self-limits. These are lessons the mountain biking community could use.

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.

Paiute Nation Protests Forest-Service Clearcutting of Pine-Nut Trees Near Reno, NV

By Deep Green Resistance Great Basin

BREAKING NEWS: Paiute Nation Protests Forest-Service Clearcutting of Pine-Nut Trees Near Reno, NV

Tubape Numu: Pine-nut People

Members of the Paiute nation living in northeastern Nevada are angry after the Forest Service clearcut more than 70 acres of pine nuts trees that have been used by the tribe for thousands of years, until the modern day.

According to the Forest Service, the trees were cut “by mistake” as part of a federal plan to improve habitat for the Sage Grouse (a story that Deep Green Resistance Great Basin has previously covered). Tribal members disagree, stating that clearcutting these forests will not help the Sage Grouse and should not be done without consultation and approval from the native people.

More than 70 acres of pinenut and cedar trees were cut.

Here at Deep Green Resistance, we are all too aware of the long history of “destruction disguised as restoration.” It’s a pattern that the Forest Service has been guilty of in the past, when it has used the cover-story of “forest health” to justify extensive clearcutting — including cutting old growth forests — in the Pacific Northwest.

More information about this situation is documented in the book Strangely Like War by Derrick Jensen and George Draffan, which begins with a quote from the logging industry:

“It was strangely like war. They attacked the forest as if it were an enemy to be pushed back from the beachheads, driven into the hills, broken into patches, and wiped out. Many operators thought they were not only making lumber but liberating the land from the trees.”
— Murray Morgan, 1955

This video posted on Facebook last week by Myron Dewey, a Paiute tribal member, explains more about the issue of these pine nut trees:

Dewey and others in the Paiute Nation protests group have set up a website,www.Tubape.org, to address the issue further. Here is an excerpt from the website:

From Facebook: "Pictured here is a Grinding Stone with rainwater collected from snow & rain. Behind is the Pinenut Tree that was cut down not too long ago. Goes to show we been in this area and no matter how they put it we had been coming into the Sweetwater area for thousands of years. #PinenutsAreThePeople No Justification to cutting down our relatives. They need to set it right and leave this area alone. Ndn people come from all over to pick in this area and if we say it's ok for 1 area, they gonna want more. Greed and $$$ can't bring back our pinenuts."

“The local Tribal governments and Indigenous people of Nevada and California are aware of the Carson City District resource management plans to conserve, enhance, and/or restore habitats to provide for the long-term viability of the Greater Sage-grouse Bi-state Distinct Population Segment. This action is needed to address the recent ‘warranted, but precluded’ Endangered Species Act (ESA) finding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) by addressing needed changes in the management and conservation of the Bi-state Distinct Population Segment habitats within the project area to support overall greater sage-grouse population management objectives within the states of Nevada and California.

“However, we disagree with your proposed action and request that you CEASE and DESIST immediately! Your agency’s are destroying our fishing, hunting and gathering sites as well as sacred sites within the Sweetwater Range and all areas within your DEIS. We have pictures and video’s taken by tribal members from the local areas. We demand that you comply with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that specifically states your agency is legally bound to comply with Executive Order 13175 and your Trust Responsibility to the Tribes.
You have intentionally destroyed our Pine trees (Tu’ba’pe) forests in Sweetwater (Pehabe Paa’a), Desert Creek (Pazeeta Nahu Gwaytu), Sand Canyon (Kiba Mobegwaytu), the territory of the Paiute (Numu) people and all of the Pinenut (Tu’ba’pe) trees and cedar (Wapi) trees in the Great Basin.”

Read more at www.tubape.org

Local news coverage in the Reno Gazette-Journal:http://www.rgj.com/videos/news/2015/02/07/23049559/

We will continue to post information about this struggle.

How to Stop Off Road Vehicles, Part 1

By Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

Imagine a time when you never once worried about losing your home or your means of making a living. Imagine your community used to be prosperous and well-run, providing everything you needed. You never gave a thought to giving back to it, though you always did and everyone else did, too. It hasn’t been this way for a long time—an invasion of thieves and murderers has taken all that away—but you remember what life was like.

The land is now impoverished by an unwelcome, occupying culture so self-important that they take everything without shame or even thought. These aliens have built their roads, power lines, and reservoirs all around you, siphoning every bit of your community’s resources for their own purposes. You have no recourse when an oil rig is set up in your town’s park, hospital, or swimming pool. You are helpless when they cut your watershed forest. There is nothing you can do about it, so you and your parents and your children and everyone else you know struggle on with no police to protect your health or property, no court to hear your grievance. You’d turn to your neighbors for help, but they’re in the same situation. The occupiers are everywhere, and they are all-powerful.

It’s not enough they’ve poisoned your water, built roads through your desert, and grazed their cattle across your range, stripping the grass from the ground which whips up into gritty brown curtains in the smallest wind. Many of your friends have been shot and left to rot in the street, but this doesn’t trouble the invaders; indeed, some of your children have been taken and kept in cages for their amusement. Now they want what’s left. They want everything, every inch of ground that once gave you all the wealth you ever wanted, all you could ever want.

In this dusty fragment that once was rich and whole, you barely get enough to eat and often feel ill because the water tastes of some sharp chemical. One day, engine noise comes from where no one has heard it before. Not along the ribbons of pavement where your kin are occasionally crushed to death, but in the last sad vestige of the flowering provident earth you’ve always loved. The machines come in packs. Aliens guide them over hills and through streams, muddying the water you and your children must drink. They roll over your friend’s house and you can hear them screaming inside, see their torn bodies, their bones stirred into the wreckage, smell their blood. You run away in pure bright panic as the machines veer insanely this way and that, destroying the neighborhood you grew up in. You might get away, but very likely you won’t. If you’re noticed at all, the end of your life will only be entertainment for the one who takes it.

This is what off road vehicles do.

 

Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon

Coyote Canyon and Other Sacrifices

Coyote Canyon is a small rocky tributary to Kane Springs Creek on Bureau of Land Management property just south of Moab, Utah. It recently became another off road vehicle (ORV) trail. Like many such trails, it began illegally when specialized, expensive ORVs called “rock crawlers” began using it without BLM authorization. ORV users prompted the BLM to write an Environmental Analysis to make the route official, and now Coyote Canyon is in the BLM’s words “an extreme trail specifically designated for rock crawler-type vehicles only. The route is one-way up a small canyon and down another, and although it is only 0.65 miles long can easily take all day to navigate as refrigerator-sized boulders must be traversed. Only HEAVILY modified vehicles can make it through. This route provides rock crawler enthusiasts an opportunity to challenge both their rigs and skills in a unique setting.”[1] One of the main reasons ORVers wanted the “unique setting” is that a roll-over accident, not uncommon to rock-crawlers, won’t pitch the vehicle and its occupants off a cliff.

The noise and disturbance of ORVs fragment habitat and push public-lands policies toward more development by turning vague routes into established roads. In some instances ORVs are exclusively to blame for the endangerment of a species—such as at Sand Mountain, Nevada, formerly “Singing Sand Mountain” until it was overrun by machines churning to dust the habitat of the Sand Mountain blue butterfly. The Center for Biological Diversity writes that the butterfly “is closely linked to Kearney buckwheat; larvae feed exclusively on the plant, and adult butterflies rely on its nectar as a primary food source. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Land Management has allowed off-road vehicle use to destroy much of the Kearney buckwheat that once thrived on the dunes at Sand Mountain.”[2]

Land management agency inertia is easily the most immediate reason the ORVs have caused so much damage, since law enforcement is underfunded and policy-makers don’t make a priority of protecting the land and wildlife that’s entrusted to them. The Center for Biological Diversity had to sue the US Fish and Wildlife Service to even get a response to a petition to list the Sand Mountain blue butterfly under the Endangered Species Act, and the agency’s response was that they wouldn’t do it. “Not warranted.” In this case (and others such as manatees being killed by speedboats), there aren’t even any jobs being held hostage. This is recreation and nothing more, taking ever more animals, plants, and habitat from the biological legacy of the planet.

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

Desert Iguana, Sonoran Desert

The Utah Wilderness Coalition had this to say about off road vehicles: “Most public lands are unprotected from ORVs in Utah. Roughly seventy-five percent, or 17 million acres out of 23 million acres, of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in Utah still lack any real protection (including designated routes, maps, trail signs, and other tools to ensure that these natural areas are protected) from ORV damage.

 

“Utah has over 100,000 miles of dirt roads, jeep trails, and old mining tracks. Driving all of these trails would be the equivalent of driving four times the circumference of the Earth.

 

“The BLM allows nearly uncontrolled ORV use in areas that have known but unrecorded archeological resources, putting these resources at risk from vandalism and unintentional damage. ORVs can cause damage to fragile desert soils, streams, vegetation, and wildlife. Impacts include churning of soils, distribution of non-native invasive plants, and increased erosion and runoff. Rare plant, wildlife, and fish species are at risk.

 

“ORV use is growing nationwide. In the past 30 years, the number of off-road vehicles in the United States has grown from 5 million to roughly 36 million ORVs. The BLM has fallen woefully behind in the management of these machines on public lands.”[3]

 

 

“The Best Trails are Illegal”

 

Because illegal ORV use is so dispersed, it’s rare for underfunded and understaffed public lands law enforcement to catch anyone in the act. Usually what they see—what anyone sees—are the long-lasting impacts (tire ruts, crushed vegetation) and not the machines themselves. Without any evidence, there can’t be any enforcement. If you complain to the BLM or Forest Service about illegal trails, this is the response you can expect. If you can catch someone in the act, a license plate number—especially if you can photograph it—will be helpful, but there’s still the underlying issue of it not being all that illegal in the first place. A fine isn’t much of a deterrent, particularly when it’s extremely unlikely to happen at all.[4] The 30 million-odd ORVers in the US alone probably won’t ever be fined for illegal trails.

One reason why opposition to ORVs and the destruction they cause is so feeble and inadequate is because opponents are portrayed by ORV groups as wealthy elitists trying to corner access to common lands at their expense. This human-centered framing entirely discards other beings’ lives that depend on the land and water at stake.

Unfortunately, potential defenders seem to be disarmed by this tactic. A kayaker I know once explained how she used to resent jet-skis and speedboats on the lakes she paddles on, but decided she was being selfish and to just accept it. But personal peace and quiet is somewhat beside the point. Oil and fuel spilled by gasoline boat engines is toxic to fish, birds, and invertebrates, and wakes from motorized watercraft swamp nesting birds such as the loon. In terrestrial habitat, as road density increases habitat security for large animals like bears and wolves decreases. Habitat effectiveness for elk, for example, falls steeply from a hundred percent where there are no roads to 50 percent with two road miles per square mile to 20 percent with six road miles.[5] Acceptance of the destruction wrought by others might make one feel nicer and ostensibly more democratic, but it means abandoning the defenseless.

The entitlement taken by the ORVers themselves is even more aggressive and unconcerned for life. A motorcyclist, enraged by new restrictions on off-roading in the Mojave Desert, shouted at me: “It’s the fucking desert! Nothing lives out there!” Anyone who’s spent time in the desert and seen the many reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants who live there knows this is ridiculous. The Mojave is the smallest desert in North America, and is being dissected by solar energy projects, military bases, and an ever-worsening ORV infection. Desert tortoises are being displaced to the point of extinction, followed by every other Mojave lizard, snake, and ground-nesting bird in the way of the dominant culture’s activities.

Even on private land, where ORV activity is considered trespassing, landowners are often frustrated by law enforcement’s ineffectiveness.

A California organization called Community ORV Watch advises: “Given current conditions, assistance in dealing with lawless OHV [off highway vehicle] activity in the vicinity of your home is more likely from the Sheriff’s Department than either the BLM or the California Highway Patrol. None of the three agencies consider unlawful OHV activity to be a high priority, so if you are to gain any benefit from an attempted contact with them it is important that you be willing to take the time and effort to see the call through. This isn’t always easy; responses are frequently hours late in arriving or do not come at all, so be prepared for a wait…this can be inconvenient, and it’s tempting to just let it slide rather than commit to a process that could tie you up for hours…

“By not calling, we participate in our own victimization by succumbing to a ‘what’s the use?’ attitude. This hurts community morale and perception over time, and lowers community expectations for services we are absolutely entitled to.”[6] This organization’s focus, the Morongo Basin in Southern California, is especially unfortunate to be near large population areas where there are lots of ORVers.

Remote areas have their own problems, and even law enforcement organizations are admitting they’re powerless to control ORV use in their jurisdictions. In a 2007 memo, an organization called Rangers for Responsible Recreation writes:

 

“The consensus of [law enforcement] respondents is that off-road vehicle violations have increased in recent years. Specifically: A majority of respondents (53%) say that ‘the off-road vehicle problems in my jurisdiction are out of control.’ Nearly three quarters (74%) agree that the off-road vehicle problems in their jurisdictions ‘are worse than they were five years ago.’ Fewer than one in six (15%) believe that ORV problems are ‘turning around for the better.’”[7]

 

GlorietaMesa.org, “an umbrella organization consisting of ranchers, horseback riders, hikers, environmentalists, wood-gatherers, residents, hunters and off-roaders, who are dedicated to protecting Glorieta Mesa from irresponsible Off-Road Vehicle recreation” writes:

“A 2002 Utah report reveals that a high percentage of riders prefer to ride ‘off established trails’ and did so on their last outing. Of the ATV riders surveyed, 49.4% prefer to ride off established trails, while 39% did so on their most recent excursion. Of the dirt bike riders surveyed, 38.1% prefer to ride off established trails, while 50% rode off established trails on their most recent excursion.

“More than nine out of ten (91%) of respondent rangers from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) agree that off road vehicles represent ‘a significant law enforcement problem’ in their jurisdictions. According to one BLM respondent, ‘90% of ORV users cause damage every day they ride. Most will violate a rule, regulation or law daily.’”[8]

ORV damage is just another example of privileged access to limited and stolen resources, and it extends beyond the impacted land to the airborne dust that worsens early mountain snowmelt[9] and to the spread of invasive weeds.[10] Human communities are negatively affected, too. Moab merchants make many thousands of dollars on ORV tourism, but the menial jobs that support it are taxing and degrading. ORV tourists tip small or not at all, and are notoriously rude and spiteful. This is why Moab restaurant waiters call the annual “Jeep Week” ORV event “Cheap Week,” when you see hundreds of wealthy strangers swaggering around in t-shirts reading: the best trails are illegal.

Read part 2 of How to Stop Off Road Vehicles

 Endnotes

[1] “Coyote Canyon Motorized Route,” U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, accessed July 13, 2014, https://www.blm.gov/programs/recreation/passes-and-permits/lotteries/utah/coyotecanyon

 

[2] “Saving the Sand Mountain Blue Butterfly,” Center for Biological Diversity, accessed July 13, 2014, http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/invertebrates/Sand_Mountain_blue_butterfly/index.html

 

[3] “Protecting America’s Redrock Wilderness: THE FACTS ABOUT OFF-ROAD VEHICLE DAMAGE,” Utah Wilderness Coalition, accessed July 13, 2014,

 

[4] “One possible reason for this trend [in increased ORV violations] is a failure to provide sufficient penalties to offroad riders who are caught breaking the law. ‘Possibly the greatest weakness in the ORV enforcement program is the lack of bite in judicial penalties,’ wrote one ranger from the Bureau of Land Management. ‘There is often little penalty in not paying tickets. In California… you only have to pay tickets when you renew a license,’” “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007, http://www.glorietamesa.org/RangersForResponsibleRecreation.pdf

 

[5] T. Adam Switalski and Allison Jones, eds., “Best Management Practices for Off-Road Vehicle Use on Forestlands: A Guide for Designating and Managing Off-Road Vehicle Routes,” Wild Utah Project, January 2008, http://www.wildearthguardiansresources.org/files/ORV_BMP_2008_0.pdf

 

[6] “Report ORV Abuse,” Community ORV Watch: Protecting Private and Public Lands From Off Road Vehicle Abuse, November 7, 2011, http://www.orvwatch.com/?q=node/5

 

[7] “First-Ever Survey of Federal Rangers Shows ORVs Out of Control, Need for Tougher Penalties,” Rangers for Responsible Recreation, December 11, 2007, http://www.glorietamesa.org/RangersForResponsibleRecreation.pdf

 

[8] “Facts About OHV (ORV) Use,” GlorietaMesa.org, accessed July 15, 2014, http://www.glorietamesa.org/ohv-orv-facts-sheet.php

 

[9] Andrew P. Barrett, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado; Thomas H. Painter, University of Utah; and Christopher C. Landry Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, “Desert Dust Enhancement of Mountain Snowmelt,” Feature Article From Intermountain West Climate Summary, July 2008, http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&ved=0CEcQFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwwa.colorado.edu%2Fclimate%2Fiwcs%2Farchive%2FIWCS_2008_July_feature.pdf&ei=dtTGU_2FE9KJogTDp4HQAQ&usg=AFQjCNEM1fS-iGyJ_40WWALM4-tCHr04Bw&sig2=0UIU30HMtiZAGr2fBnj-uw&bvm=bv.71198958,d.cGU&cad=rja

 

[10] Thomas P. Rooney, “Distribution of Ecologically-Invasive Plants Along Off-Road Vehicle Trails in the Chequamegon National Forest, Wisconsin,” The Michigan Botanist, Volume 44, Issue 4, Fall, 2005, http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mbot/0497763.0044.402/1

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.

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.