BLM Agrees to Reconsider Allowing Oil & Gas Drilling Activities in Critical Wildlife Habitat

BLM is currently taking public comment

Santa Fe-The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has agreed to reconsider its allowing oil and gas drilling activities in critical wildlife habitat in Northwest New Mexico. BLM is currently taking public comment on whether to allow exceptions to rules that protect wildlife during key breeding and wintering periods.

Pollution, noise, and physical barriers like pits and trenches from oil and gas drilling and construction activities severely endanger wildlife like elk, pronghorn and deer during winter when wildlife are already facing challenges to survival. While BLM adopted seasonal closures of public lands in New Mexico to oil and gas activities to protect wildlife, it has allowed these seasonal closures to be systematically violated due to pressure from the oil and gas industry and the Republican administration’s Energy Plan. WildEarth Guardians, a west-wide conservation group, reviewed the government’s own documents and found nearly 1,000 breaches of seasonal closures in New Mexico, including 441 in the northwestern portion of the state.

In May of this year, WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit in federal district court against BLM over the agency’s allowing breaches of seasonal closures designed to protect wildlife. In July, BLM sent out a letter indicating that it was reconsidering the granting of permission to oil and gas companies to breach the seasonal closures designed to protect wildlife. BLM is taking public comment on its reconsideration until August 20th. A copy of BLM’s letter, which includes the address to mail public comments, can be found at: http://ga4.org/guardians/notice-description.tcl?newsletter_id=26333625

Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, WildEarth Guardians’ Wildlife Program Director, said: “BLM promised the public that wildlife would enjoy increased protection from oil and gas drilling during critical winter periods but has routinely broken that promise. Hopefully BLM will provide wildlife more of the protection it needs, rather than allowing a mad rush to drill our public lands.” In addition to WildEarth Guardians, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and members of the New Mexico Game Commission have voiced concerns over the BLM’s pattern of allowing exceptions to wildlife closures.

In an earlier lawsuit in 2005, WildEarth Guardians, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, and the Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance sued the BLM over allowing exceptions to timing restrictions designed to protect lesser prairie-chickens in southeast New Mexico. The lesser prairie-chicken is an imperiled bird that has been a candidate for Endangered Species Act protection for over a decade. The lawsuit was settled with the requirement that BLM conduct surveys for the bird and solicit public comment prior to allowing those exceptions. Since the settlement, fewer than 10 exceptions have been granted annually in lesser prairie-chicken habitat.

Federal Government Exterminating More Wolves, Coyotes, and Black Bears

Record $117 Million Spent to Eradicate 2.4 Million Animals – Group Calls on Congress to End Lethal Control Program

Washington, DC – The federal government spent more than $117 million to exterminate 2.4 million wild animals (representing a total of 319 species, including some that are federally protected) and pets in 2007, according to records released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In comparison, the agency killed 1.6 million animals in 2006 and spent $108 million.

While the euphemistically named “Wildlife Services”-a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture-continues to emphasize extermination over practical non-lethal solutions, it has been criticized for its sledgehammer and indiscriminate approach to wildlife management. The past decade shows an escalating number of slain endangered species, including wolves and eagles, while the agency’s expenditures soar.

“Wildlife Services is killing more wildlife in the U.S. than ever, including endangered species, song birds, and other wild animals the public holds dear. While paying lip-service to civility, this gun-slinging, poison-toting agency’s first response is to kill,” stated Wendy Keefover-Ring of WildEarth Guardians. “We’re asking Congress to take away their guns, poisons, and low-flying aircraft by terminating lethal control funding,” added Keefover-Ring.

A record 340 gray wolves with an additional four Mexican gray wolves were killed in 2007-the highest number since 1996-the year when the agency was forced to make its records public. While Wildlife Services’ budget continues to climb, so too does the number of mammalian carnivores such as coyotes, wolves, bears, badgers, and cougars it kills:

· 2004: budget of $101.5 million, 102,345 mammalian carnivores killed (2.7 million total animals);

· 2005: Budget of $99.8 million, 99,346 mammalian carnivores killed (1.7 million total animals),

· 2006: Budget of $108.6 million, 117,113 mammalian carnivores killed (1.6 million total animals); and

· 2007: Budget of $117 million, 121,520 mammalian carnivores killed (2.4 million total animals).

Notably, in 2007, Wildlife Services killed 829 more black bears, 2,449 more coyotes, and 62 more wolves than in the previous year. The trend in the agency’s carnivore killing from 2004 moves steadily skyward. In 2007, Wildlife Services exterminated a record 121,520 native carnivores.

States that spent the most dollars in 2007 often used those resources to eradicate coyotes: Texas spent the most at $13.8 million to kill 19,123 coyotes, California came in second on expenditures, spending $6 million to kill 7,759 coyotes. In fifth place in spending, $3.8 million, Wyoming killed the second most coyotes in the nation: 10,915.

“Coyote eradication is expensive business,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, “in 2007 Wildlife Services killed a record 90,326 coyotes across the nation, but the agency experienced two separate aerial-gunning aircraft crashes that resulted two fatalities and two serious injuries. It makes sense invest in guard animals and electric fences rather than waste the taxpayer funds to kill the nation’s wildlife for a handful of individuals.”

Numerically, bird species continue to endure the greatest numbers of losses from Wildlife Services. The 2007 kill numbers show this sampling:

· 1,176,641 starlings-while the species is non-native, the poison used to kill it is indiscriminate, poisoning native birds (raptors such as hawks and eagles can die from secondary toxicity);

· 307,622 blackbirds and 30,715 grackles because they eat grain and seeds. Ironically, birds are killed for feeding on sunflower crops, despite being grown for bird food; and

· large numbers of water-loving birds including 3,337 ducks, 15,739 cormorants, 21,957 gulls, and 3,138 egrets.

Many of the animals killed by Wildlife Services are not even targeted for control by the agency, but are “non-target” kills taken by indiscriminate killing methods. Across the U.S. in 2007, Wildlife Services accidentally killed, reindeer, peregrine falcons, porcupines, mule deer, pronghorn, alligators, fish, turtles, ringtails and others in lethal traps and snares. Dozens of foxes were unintentionally killed by “M-44s”, a device which releases cyanide into the mouth of any animal that triggers it.

“Wildlife Services has turned some of the most remote areas in the country into killing fields,” stated Keefover-Ring.

WildEarth Guardians has called upon Congress to defund Wildlife Services’ lethal control operations because the agency is a waste of taxpayer funds, it indiscriminately harms wildlife, pets, and people, and puts the nation at risk with its unsafe practices.

Contact: Wendy Keefover-Ring | WildEarth Guardians | cell: 303.596.3756; ofc: 303.635.1711

Groups Sue to Revitalize Mexican Wolf Program

Two federal agencies charged with failing to ensure recovery of rare wolves

Today, WildEarth Guardians and The Rewilding Institute filed a lawsuit in Phoenix, AZ regarding the federal government’s failed stewardship of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program. The groups name the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service as defendants in the case. At issue is:

  1. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s adoption and implementation of a controversial management protocol, dubbed SOP 13, which has brought the Mexican Wolf Recovery Program-and the species-to the brink of failure. The policy mandates the permanent removal of wolves known or thought to have been involved in three conflicts with livestock in any 365 day period; and
  2. The Forest Service’s failure to carry out a conservation program for the Mexican gray wolf within its own recovery zone-a heavily grazed area made up almost entirely of National Forest lands.

In February of 2008, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that the Mexican wolf population in New Mexico and Arizona had declined by 12 percent in a single year, leaving only 52 Mexican wolves in the wild. Although not highlighted in the government’s announcement, the primary cause of the decline is the implementation of SOP 13.

“The government is putting wolves on the ground with one hand, and then killing or removing those same wolves with the other,” said Rob Edward of WildEarth Guardians. “It is high time to give the lobo higher priority than livestock production,” said Edward.

From 1998 to 2004, FWS removed only 25 wolves from the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) for conflicts with livestock. Since 2005, FWS has removed 45 Mexican wolves from the BRWRA, under SOP 13, for conflicts with livestock.

Dave Foreman of The Rewilding Institute argues that “In effect, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting the second extermination of the lobo in the wild,” referring to the fact that Mexican wolves were effectively extinct in the wild.

The handful of remaining wild Mexican wolves were captured and placed in captivity in the mid-1970s, with the aim of rekindling the species from captive stock. All Mexican wolves presently in the BRWRA are descended from those rescued few.

The lawsuit also ties the impacts of SOP 13 to the actions of the U.S. Forest Service, which manages 95 percent of the land comprising the wolf recovery area. The Mexican Wolf Recovery Program is floundering not only because of FWS’s over-zealous killing and removal of wolves in response to conflicts between wolves and livestock, but also because of the Forest Service’s refusal to prevent such conflicts through livestock management and policy reforms.

“The Forest Service is obligated to promote the well-being of imperiled species that reside on lands managed by the agency,” said Edward. “Yet the agency acts as if Mexican wolves don’t even exist, let alone need stewardship.”

Foreman takes the argument one step further, stating that, “these agencies are washing their hands of responsibility because they find that restoration of the lobo causes them problems. They seem to think that maintaining a handful of Mexican wolves in captivity fulfills their legal and ethical obligations to one of the most endangered mammals in the world. Thank goodness that wildlife managers in Africa and India have a greater commitment to wildlife or else there would be no lions or tigers in the wild.”

In sum, the lawsuit asks the court to:

  • Order the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to immediately suspend implementation of SOP 13; and
  • Order the U.S. Forest Service to develop and implement a conservation program for Mexican wolves within the recovery area.

A PDF copy of the lawsuit can be downloaded at http://www.wildearthguardians.org/htm/support_docs/complaint_el-lobo_sop13_4-30-08.pdf.

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Wolf at the Door?

Wolf pack

Longtime Denver Post writer, Ric Soulen, opines in his Colorado Journal that the recent decision to relax restrictions on killing wolves in the Northern Rockies is, “completely insane and without any scientific reasoning or humane sense at all and is being perpetrated for obvious political gain.”

We’d like to commend Ric for one of the most succinct summaries of wolf politics we’ve seen in ages. Click here to read his post.

Conservation Groups Merge To Create a Force of Nature for the American West’'s Wild Places, Wildlife and Wild Rivers

Gray wolfGroup Expands to Westwide Scope, Retains Fierce Approach

Santa Fe, NM –- Sinapu and Forest Guardians, two regional conservation groups have joined forces to create a stronger organization to protect and restore the wild places, wildlife and wild rivers in the American West. The new organization, WildEarth Guardians, creates a conservation force that will pressure policy-makers and government agencies to better protect and restore the lands, wildlife and waters from the Great Plains and Desert Southwest across the Rockies and through the Intermountain West.

For nearly two decades Sinapu, based in Boulder, Colorado, has worked to defend and restore large carnivores across the Southern Rockies while Forest Guardians has worked to protect and restore national forests, endangered species and rivers in the Greater Southwest. Integrating and expanding upon the two groups’ specialties, WildEarth Guardians has four core programs: Wildlife, Wild Rivers, Wild Places and Climate & Energy.

““We’’ve created a bigger, bolder and better organization to achieve our goals to restore wolves across the West, protect iconic western rivers such as the Rio Grande and keep wild places like the Sagebrush Sea intact,”” said John Horning, Executive Director of WildEarth Guardians. “”With the merger and other staff additions we’’ve assembled a powerful team of incredibly talented, passionate and hard-working advocates for wild nature,”” Horning added.

Both organizations collaborated closely over the last two years, and agreed to merge a year ago. WildEarth Guardians will continue to do much of the same work, but has also amplified its strategic focus in several critical respects.

“”The work of restoring and protecting wild carnivores will be enhanced considerably as a result of this merger,”” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, formerly of Sinapu, and now the Carnivore Protection Director for WildEarth Guardians. “”We will have more resources to defend habitats and key corridors for large carnivores,”” she added.

Among WildEarth Guardians priorities are: restoring wolves to the American West, including protecting Mexican wolves in the Gila bioregion, and reintroducing wolves to the Southern Rockies; protecting the Rio Grande from its headwaters in Colorado to the Gulf of Mexico; restoring keystone species such as prairie dogs across the American West; restoring wildfire as a natural and restorative process in healthy western forest ecosystems; abolishing the USDA’’s Wildlife Services wildlife-killing program; and inspiring residents of the West’s urban and rural communities to become a cohesive and powerful voice for the protection of wild nature.

Two other new developments at WildEarth Guardians that parallel the merger announcement and name change include the creation of a new Climate & Energy program, and the formal integration of the Sagebrush Sea Campaign into WildEarth Guardians.

The Sagebrush Sea Campaign, which had been a sponsored project of Forest Guardians until recently, focuses on protecting and restoring the vast sagebrush-steppe landscape in the Interior West. To protect native wildlife and ecosystems of the Sagebrush Sea, the Campaign Director, Mark Salvo, will lead WildEarth Guardians’ efforts to obtain Endangered Species Act protection for the Greater sage-grouse, Columbian sharp-tailed grouse and Gunnison sage-grouse. These three iconic grouse species have dwindled precipitously in the recent past because of habitat destruction due to livestock grazing, energy exploitation, and urban development.

“The Climate & Energy program will fight fossil fuel extraction including coal and oil and gas while promoting renewable energy and energy efficiency. “Unless we do more to bring about a shift away from dirty energy and towards clean, renewable energy and efficiency, the climate crisis is going to have a devastating effect on the wild places, wildlife and wild rivers of the American West,”” said Robert Ukeiley, the Climate & Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians.

WildEarth Guardians also has its own legal department. The organization has hired four staff attorneys over the last year to provide the legal muscle necessary to enforce environmental law and ensure that government agencies are protecting wildlands, imperiled species, biodiversity and clean air and water. In the past, the organizations have relied exclusively on outside law firms.

“”The law is one of our most powerful tools to protect our public lands and endangered species,”” said Jay Tutchton, WildEarth Guardians’ general counsel, who has successfully brought about the protection of more than 100 endangered species. “”By having experienced litigators on our team, we can move quickly and make sure that endangered species have a fighting chance.””

WildEarth Guardians has 18 staff members—15 full-time and 3 part-time—and a budget of nearly $1.5 million in 2008. The group has offices in Denver, Boulder, Santa Fe and Phoenix as well as more than 10,000 members and e-activists from all across the country, the majority of whom live in the Four Corners states.

While the merger, name change and staff additions are each new and different, much will remain the same about the organization’s work according to Horning. “”A WildEarth Guardian is a staunch guardian for wild nature, with legal and ethical duties in the same way that guardians are appointed by the courts to represent the interests of children. That core value has always been with us, and it will always be at the heart of our work,”” continued Horning.

“”Our mission is to protect the wild and we will use the law and mobilize the public to make sure wild nature in the West is defended and restored,”” said Horning. ““This is an exciting time to be a Guardian—, both new and old.””

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Predators Do More Than Kill Prey

A recent post in the online magazine Science Daily offers an interesting insight into the complex nature of the effects that predation has upon prey and the ecosystem. Those of you who visit this blog regularly, and who are locked in a heated battle of wills over claims that wolves are going to eat themselves out of business might want to read it [click here for the article]. Happy New Year!

Livestock Lobby Pressures to Retain Wildlife Poisons

Two Front Battle to Block Legislative Ban and EPA Registration Revocation

Washington, DC — As a public comment deadline looms, the livestock industry is ramping up to fight growing calls to ban two of the most deadly poisons used to kill wild mammals, according to documents released today by Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). This battle takes place against a backdrop of rising concern about a massive federal program to kill predators and other wildlife deemed a problem by ranchers, primarily in the West.

The two poisons are sodium cyanide (used in M-44 ejectors) and sodium fluoroacetate, commonly called Compound 1080, used in “livestock protection collars” strapped onto the heads of sheep and goats. The poisons are distributed by Wildlife Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture which used these two agents during 2006 to “dispatch” an average of 1.6 animals every hour. The poisons are part of a $100 million Wildlife Services’ program which killed more than 1.6 million animals during 2006.

The public comment for a proposal before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the two poisons ends this January 15th. Last week, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) also introduced legislation outlawing production and use of the two agents, which EPA classifies as having the highest degree of “acute toxicity.” The basis for the proposed bans is growing reports of accidental poisonings of pets and “non-target” wildlife, including endangered species, and environmental damage.

Compound 1080 is registered for use in only 11 states and are outlawed in several countries, as well as California and Oregon. Because it is a colorless, odorless, tasteless and water soluble, Compound 1080 is poses a significant bio-chemical threat if introduced into urban water supplies. In November, Wildlife Services announced a nationwide safety review of its pesticide and hazardous chemical operations.

“Protecting sheep from coyotes does not require waging chemical warfare,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, noting that even rancher groups concede that the two poisons account for only a small percentage of coyote removal. “The industry’s own figures show that a wide range of effective alternatives exists.”

Nonetheless, the ranching lobby has opened a vigorous double-barreled campaign to block the poison bans. For example, nearly a month before Rep. DeFazio introduced his bill, the industry recruited Rep. John Salazar (D-CO) to circulate a letter discouraging co-authors. In the letter, Rep. Salazar touted the benefits of Compound 1080, even though it is outlawed in his state. In 2001, however, someone in Grand Junction, Colorado illegally used Compound 1080 to poison 30 pets; even the policeman who handled the carcasses was sickened.

In addition, the industry is urging its members to submit public comments to EPA opposing the ban. In a surprising contrast, Mark and Jane Truax, members of the American Sheep Industry Association, wrote supporting the ban, pointing out that buying a guard llama ended coyote predation on their ranch.

“Scattering incredibly potent poisons across the range should not be a mainstay of modern wildlife management,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization in partnership with Sinapu organized the petition that EPA accepted for comment this past November. “Many of us are perhaps naively hopeful that the Environmental Protection Agency makes this decision on the merits.”

EPA had previously banned Compound 1080, but the Reagan Administration reversed the ban.

Press Release
For Immediate Release: Wednesday, January 9, 2008Contacts:
Wendy Keefover-Ring ||Sinapu || 303.596.3756
Carol Goldberg || PEER || 202.265.7337
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