Friday, May 20, 2011

USFWS goes off-road on stressed AZ border refuge

Tuggle hasn't checked reckless manager Slone

OVERSTRESSED AZ BORDER REFUGE INVITES IN OFF-ROAD VEHICLES No Field Damage Monitoring as Refuge Fired Volunteers for Expressing Concerns

TUCSON -- A volatile, fragile national wildlife refuge on the US-Mexico border has thrown open its doors to motorized recreation, according to an official federal announcement Thursday. The sudden move portends major visitor safety risks as well as profound ecological damage in the Sonoran Desert wilderness, contends Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The US Fish & Wildlife Service's (USFWS) Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, between Ajo and Yuma, Arizona, is ground zero for U.S. operations combating illegal immigration and drug trafficking. Despite the fact that 90% of the 860,000 acre refuge is designated wilderness, it is extensively patrolled by federal agents, most all of them in motorized vehicles. The new refuge policy allows off-road vehicle (ORV) traffic only on designated roads but the refuge has no means to enforce this limitation.

“Encouraging off-road recreation in one of the most sensitive and dangerous places in the country is reckless and foolish,” stated PEER Southwest Director and Ecologist Daniel Patterson. “The refuge manager clearly does not fully grasp the safety and environmental issues in the Sonoran Desert border region.”

Besides visitor safety concerns, PEER points to big environmental problems, including –
  • Recently, the refuge stopped doing damage impact surveys because it fired the volunteers who, for the past eight years, had hiked the rugged refuge to inventory scarring from off-road vehicles (ORVs) going overland;
  • The refuge manager, Sid Slone (formerly of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management), fired the refuge volunteers this February for expressing concerns about allowing ORVs onto Cabeza Prieta. After he received a Freedom of Information Act request, he also forbade certain individuals he believed were behind the FOIA from coming into the refuge office beyond the public information desk; and
  • The refuge already has 8,000 documented miles of off-road tracks, mainly from border patrols leaving refuge roadways, according to previous surveys, although there may be as many as 24,000 miles of illegal trails cutting through the refuge.
“Purging valuable, experienced volunteers because they voiced concern for damage to refuge lands and wildlife is just plain bad management and is counterproductive to meeting the refuge conservation mission,” Patterson added, noting that without the ORV damage surveys, the refuge will have little ability to assess the impacts of its new policy. “The refuge is not staffed to enforce requirements that off-roaders keep their vehicles on the roads and do not take off cross-country, harming security and habitat.”

A 2007 PEER survey of federal rangers in the Southwest reflected a broad consensus that ORVs are already by far the top law enforcement problem in the region.

More info & links.

- adapted from PEER

Friday, May 13, 2011

My wrap from 50th AZ Legislature, 1st reg. session


Arizona House of Representatives
Rep. Daniel Patterson (Tucson-LD29)

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- Dear Friends, The first year of the 50th Legislature began in January on a somber note, two days after the mass shooting in Tucson, where six people were killed, including U.S. District Judge John Roll and a young girl, and 13 others were wounded including our U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. One hundred days later the Legislative session ended and will be remembered for controversial Republican bills like the birther bill, the guns on campus bill, huge tax breaks to big corporations and deep cuts to our education and health-care system. Budget cuts will result in more crowded classrooms, higher college tuition, overwhelmed emergency rooms and understaffed public-safety systems. I am writing you this letter because I believe in transparency and that it is my responsibility to inform you of the outcomes of this legislative session.

This legislative session was an ongoing attack on the environment. Fortunately, the most outrageous bills died in the House after being voted out of the Senate. We were able to defeat bills that hinder native fish recovery and another bill that would have weakened Arizona’s voice in the transmission line siting process. I am honored to inform you that I received an A+ on this 2011 Environmental Report Card of the Arizona Legislature and Governor publicized by the Sierra Club. “A+” means that I voted pro-environment 100 percent of the time and did not miss any of the votes on bills scored. In addition, it recognizes a consistent support for environmental protection and good public policy, the strong opposition to a budget that further harms our State Park System, a bill to open up park expansion lands to mining, and several bad messages to Congress, including one objecting to protection of Grand Canyon area lands from mining. Please know I am committed to fighting for you and your priorities.

Now more than ever we must focus on growing our economy and protecting middle-class families. Gov. Jan Brewer and Republicans made their priorities clear by repeatedly giving tax breaks to their special interest friends and the rich, while middle-class families are forced to pay shoulder the burden. I believe in balanced, responsible solutions, and I will continue to fight for you. I will continue to fight to harness our natural strengths to build a strong 21st Century economy and create good-paying jobs. That includes making our state a leader in the development of solar power and renewable energy manufacturing – which not only reduces our reliance on dirty coal and foreign oil, but helps create good-paying jobs right here in Arizona.

Three people died in six months while waiting for transplant funding to be restored and I am happy to inform you that Democrats fought hard to restore transplant funding for nearly 100 Arizonans until at least 2013. But more work remains ahead of us. The Republican-approved budget cut 280,000 people off of health care and will result in 45,000 lost jobs. We must provide essential services for the most vulnerable which include a world-class education for our children.

I know that quality education is both a moral and economic issue that is key to both our state’s economic recovery and children’s future. Republicans approved massive educa­tion cuts (the budget cut $200 million from state universities, $73 million from community colleges and $180 million from K-12 education), which will increase class sizes, cut salaries for thousands of teachers and eliminate critical programs that help students get ahead in the worldwide economy. We need to prioritize our children’s future by protecting school funding. Right now Arizona spends less on our students than almost any other state in the country. I will continue to fight to rebuild the infrastructure needed to economically rebound and create incubators for economic sectors like biosciences and renewable energy through universities and community colleges that will enable our state to weather future economic down­turns through the creation of high-paying jobs.

Furthermore, Republicans introduced bills that would require hospitals to check the legal status of a patient; would deny citizenship to children; would require K-12 schools and universities to check citizenship of students; would ban undocumented immigrants from buying a vehicle; and would ban undocumented immigrants from public housing. Such irresponsible immigration bills would only hurt our state economy, do nothing to address Arizona’s real immigration problems and fail to give our hard-pressed local law enforcement agencies the tools they need to keep our families safe. I believe in adopting comprehensive reform to address immigration problems in Arizona and I am proud that Democrats held Republicans accountable for irresponsible bills that failed to address Arizona’s real immigration problems.

Now more than ever, we need to hold government accountable to We the People. That’s why I am committed to serving you and holding Republicans, who control all of state government, accountable for their actions. We believe government should be honest and effective, and that we should have a right to know how our money is spent so that we can have a better quality of life and a strong future.

I have been and will continue to be a watchdog for you. We can do better on this front and we simply must. How we work together and what we do will have a lasting impact on all of us. Let’s finally get schools funded and make sure our frail and elderly get the care they need. Let’s protect the middle class, foster real job development, promote real economic growth, increase our states competitiveness to strengthen our economy and shine a light on government. And let’s do it in a dignified and respectful manner.

I am here to serve and represent you. Please know your participation and input is crucially important to me and it will help me serve you and our community better. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you ever have any questions, concerns or suggestions.

You may also want to follow me at twitter.com/RepPatterson and facebook.com/RepPatterson.

Respectfully,
Representative Daniel Patterson (Tucson-LD29)

Arizona House of Representatives, State Capitol
Committees: Ranking Member, Energy and Natural Resources; Employment and Regulatory Affairs
602.926.5342 Capitol
520.398.6000 Tucson
azleg.gov

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fed plan risks AZ border security & wildlife refuge

Click image for larger map

TUCSON -- Letter below I just sent to US Fish & Wildlife Service about a bad plan that would harm border security and wildlife in a large part of Pima & Yuma County.

Representative Daniel R. Patterson, Tucson-LD29
Ranking Member, Energy and Natural Resources Committee
House of Representatives, State Capitol, Phoenix AZ USA
602.926.5342 Capitol | 520.398.6000 Tucson | dpatterson@azleg.gov

May 12, 2011

Sid Slone, Refuge Manager
Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge
1611 N. 2nd Ave.
Ajo AZ 85321

RE: Issuing Permits for off-road vehicles in Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge

Mr. Slone, It has come to my attention that the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge will soon begin issuing permits to allow off-road vehicles (ORVs) access to the refuge. I am concerned about the propriety of this decision given the extensive impacts associated with increased illegal smuggling and Border Patrol activities on the refuge.

In addition, ORVs have a significant negative impact on wildlife, especially pronghorn, desert tortoise, big game and habitat, and there is a high likelihood of ORV users choosing to drive off-route which would have significant negative impacts on the archeological resources the refuge is intended to protect.

Please address the following questions today:
1. How is allowing ORVs on the refuge consistent with the goals of the refuge, which are to ensure wildlife and conservation come first in management of the refuge and that administration of the refuge contributes to the conservation and ecological integrity of the refuge?
2. How will allowing ORVs on the refuge ensure the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preserving the Wilderness character of the refuge lands?
3. How has the refuge monitored motor vehicle use in the refuge to date?
4. How many citations have been issued for illegal off-road use in the refuge since 2007?
5. How many miles of illegal roads and trails are currently on the ground, including roads and trails in the Wilderness area of the refuge? Please provide a map.
6. What are the Luke Air Force Base/Barry M. Goldwater Range, BLM, NPS and AZGFD positions on allowing ORV use on the refuge and how was their input solicited?
7. What is the Department of Homeland Security’s position on allowing ORV use on the refuge and how was their input solicited?
8. What would be your signing policy?
9. Would it be routes/roads closed unless signed open?

Because the refuge apparently intends to begin issuing permits for ORVs soon, a prompt response is necessary and requested.

Sincerely,
/s/Rep. Daniel R. Patterson

cc:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Ben Tuggle
ABQ NM

Carol Torrez
NEPA Coordinator
NWRS Division of Planning, Southwest Regional Office
P.O. Box 1306 Albuquerque NM 87103

Monday, May 09, 2011

EPA halts monitoring Fukushima nuke fallout












US EPA HALTS HEIGHTENED MONITORING OF FUKUSHIMA FALLOUT

No New Milk, Rain or Drinking Water Sampling for another Three Months

SAN FRANCISCO -- Although the Japanese nuclear reactor disaster is still unfolding with no end in sight, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has cut its radiation monitoring back to pre-tsunami levels, according to a statement posted on the agency website last week. As a result, stepped-up testing of precipitation, drinking water and milk has ended, with EPA saying that the next round of sampling “will take place in approximately three months.”

Read the rest from PEER.org

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A mean & not-so-green AZ legislative session, 2011

Why do Al Melvin & AZ Rs hate the environment?

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- Despite their best efforts, Arizona Republican legislators did not do nearly as much damage as they intended this session. Of course, saying that “it could have been worse” just lets them off the hook for a variety of truly awful actions, many of which will be resurrected next year. They did almost nothing to advance environmental protection, either.

“Arizona is this amazing place with truly incredible natural wonders – from Grand Canyon to Petrified Forest to Saguaro national parks, not to mention our remarkable state park system that safeguards Kartchner Caverns, Homolovi Ruins, and the Tonto Natural Bridge,” said Sandy Bahr, Chapter Director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter. “Why are our ‘leaders’ proposing to mortgage this wonderful natural capital just to advantage one business or industry or to serve some personal perceived slight? It is our health, the state’s biological diversity, and the future of Arizona’s children that are most at risk.”

It was again a highly partisan session, but the worst aspects of it were the abuse of power by those in leadership. From banning individuals from buildings and news conferences to limiting media access to suspending the rules at a drop of the hat, it was pretty outrageous. The budget was probably the best example of a body run amok. Only 30 hours after the Senate dropped its budget bills, they passed. The House then jammed through significant amendments to those budget bills in less than 24 hours. The Committee Hearings were not noticed properly, the bills and amendments were not posted properly, and, in the end, the legislators sent the governor budget bills that they had not read properly and that contained considerable errors. There was no opportunity for the larger public to participate.

“Not unlike last year’s budget, the budget passed for Fiscal Year 2012 was a mean budget with regards to environmental programs,” said Bahr. “In an attempt to put a nail in the coffin of our state parks, the legislature siphoned away even more dollars from them, forcing them to again turn to park closures and creating a huge cash-flow problem that could affect paying rent, meeting payroll, or paying for operations.”

The good news is that some of the most outlandish bills died in the Arizona House after being voted out of the Senate with overwhelming majorities. The “License to Pollute” measures both failed to get a hearing in the House. The House also defeated a bill to hinder native fish recovery and another that would have weakened Arizona’s voice in the transmission line siting process.

There was a ray of hope at the Capitol contained in a bill to provide some additional mechanisms for dealing with particulate pollution. While it certainly helped that the federal Clean Air Act is a strong law, lawmakers are working with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Maricopa County, the Maricopa Association of Governments, and various stakeholders to develop a plan that really cleans up our air. There is cautious optimism on that effort.

Overall, though, there was little about the 50th Legislature’s First Regular Session to write home about when it comes to protecting our environment, our communities, and our future.

This year, 39 House members and 21 senators, all Republicans, received failing grades and did not break even with a zero. On a positive note, one senator and seven representatives, including Rep. Daniel Patterson of Tucson, earned an “A+,” which means they voted 100 percent pro-environment and also did not miss a vote on the key bills we scored. Five senators and nine House members received an “A.” Governor Jan Brewer once again earned an “F.”

Senators were graded using 17 votes and House members 14 votes. Governor Brewer was graded on 8 bills. Everyone was graded on a curve, although no curve would be great enough to address how poorly many legislators did. The bills focused on a number of issues, including the budget, public involvement in transmission line siting, native fish recovery, Mexican gray wolf protections, and air and water quality, among many other issues.

The best news of the session is that it was relatively short and adjourned in 100 days (or 101, if you count the early morning hours of April 20th).

The Sierra Club Environmental Report Card is available here.

- adapted from SC