Tuesday, May 01, 2012
State of Arizona's wildlife scandal in Sonora, Mex.
HERMOSILLO, SONORA, MEXICO -- The International and Borderlands Program of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, (IBP-AZGFD) along with the Sonoran counterpart of AZGFD the Comisión de Ecología y Desarrollo Sustentable (CEDES), exploited a loophole in the Mexican legal system to extract 60 prairie dogs from Sonora in October 2011, without thoroughly informing or obtaining consent of local conservation stakeholders, including managers of a Mexican federal protected area, two Mexican non-profits, two Mexican universities and several individual citizens. In doing so, they may have gotten an illegal authorization from a Mexican federal agency and have inappropriately violated the trust of the regional stakeholders.
“This action by the International and Borderlands Program of the AZGFD and CEDES puts at risk one of the two remnant colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs in the Mexican State of Sonora,” said Biologist Oscar Moctezuma, General Director of Naturalia. “We share the AZGFD’s interest in recovering prairie dog colonies in Arizona yet we believe this should not be achieved at the expense of wild populations or local conservation efforts in Sonora. One thing that we called their attention to is that their actions were based on an overestimation of the population, resulting from using a counting method, identified by its very authors as inadequate for circumstances like those in Sonora.”
Black-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are a species that, because of its abundance in parts of the United States, is not listed as an Endangered Species. In Arizona, the Statewide Comprehensive Wildlife Strategy recognizes the black-tailed prairie dog as a species of concern. However, this designation does not result in any protection for the species. In contrast, under Mexican Law (Norma Oficial Mexicana NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010) the species is listed as Threatened and enjoys full federal protection.
Removing these prairie dogs against the will of the regional stakeholders and using what could very well be an illegal permit could impact years of collaboration between groups on both sides of the border as the two state agencies would find it hard to gain the necessary trust of non-government partners.
By keeping the specific objectives, benchmarks, budget, interagency agreements and calendar of their activities unknown to anybody in the region, and only disclosing their monitoring methods and results at the eleventh hour, officials of the IBP-AZGFD and CEDES have violated the trust they once had of conservation groups who participated in prairie dog conservation meetings with CEDES since August 2010.
Juan Carlos G. Bravo, Naturalia’s northwestern Mexico representative, added “We have filed a lawsuit in a federal court in Mexico City and the CEDES-AZGFD permit has been suspended until a final ruling is reached. We did this because, even though we were not able to prevent the extraction of these 60 animals, CEDES has indicated its intent to continue extractions. It has to allow the population to recover, before extracting any more prairie dogs, and a precedent has to be set that such a permit violates the law and should not have been issued. We expect the court to rule in our favor so prairie dogs can remain in Sonora where, not only are they under federal protection, but where no single instance of plague, their greatest epidemic threat, has been recorded.” AZGFD reported a die-off of prairie dogs due to plague in 2010.
Paula Martin from Prairie Ecosystems, a Colorado based expert who has more than twenty two years of experience relocating colonies in western states, commented, “By extracting incomplete families the International and Borderlands Program of the AZGFD and CEDES have acted with very little regard to the well-being of the prairie dogs or the efforts of conservation groups in our neighboring country. They appear to be plowing ahead with nothing more in mind than their own numeric agendas, despite having many alternative sources for prairie dogs, some of which I even offered to facilitate through negotiations in New Mexico and Texas from colonies threatened with lethal removal.”
Daniel R. Patterson, Tucson-based Ecologist and Southwest Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), said, "The recklessness of Arizona's Game and Fish Department is harming wildlife and critical relations with our conservation friends in Mexico. This must be stopped. Arizona's once decent wildlife agency seems to have gone rogue. Arizona Game and Fish must be reformed for the common good." Patterson is also an Arizona hunter and former Arizona State Representative who served as Ranking Member on the Arizona House of Representatives Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Bravo concluded, “If there is to be a genuine, long-lasting regional collaboration, Sonoran citizens have the right to expect that foreign agencies uphold the highest standards of ethics and transparency, especially when dealing with our endangered species. We can’t imagine that Arizonans would approve if their neighbors started exploiting legal loopholes to harvest Arizona’s endangered wildlife, even if their purpose was recovery elsewhere.”
Naturalia is urging the citizens of Arizona to send a letter to Larry Voyles (firstname.lastname@example.org), Director of AZGFD, demanding that he stops all plans for further prairie dog extractions from Sonora until its populations have recovered sufficiently and a strategy is put in place that is both included in Mexico’s federal recovery plan (Spanish acronym PACE) and takes into account Mexican conservation non-profits in the region.
- adapted from Naturalia news release