Wednesday, December 04, 2013

UPDATE: Report: State of AZ violated safety standards. RIP 19 dead firefighters in AZ. Tragedy predictable & avoidable, not 'unimaginable'. Independent investigation needed

The Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew is shown in this undated handout photo provided by the City of Prescott 1 July 2013
RIP Granite Mountain Hotshots.
UPDATE, Dec 20: More firefighter families file claims. State of Arizona challenges fines, findings in deaths of 19 firefighters. @DanPattersonUSA: keeps denying on , refuses justice to 19 dead firefighter families. Forester Scott Hunt!

UPDATE, Dec 4: @DanPattersonUSA: Forestry Div. violated safety standards on where 19 firefighters died: declined interview

UPDATE, Sept 28: Yarnell fire investigation report on 19 firefighter deaths released.

UPDATE, Aug 22: Yarnell Hill Fire: The Granite Mountain Hotshots Never Should’ve Been Deployed, Mounting Evidence Shows

July 1, 2013, YARNELL, Ariz. -- 19 Prescott-based firefighters died Sunday afternoon fighting the lightning-sparked Yarnell Hill fire. May they all rest in peace. Prayers to their families.

Are these 19 deaths truly 'unimaginable' as Gov. Jan Brewer and others say? Probably not. This tragedy seems predictable, and avoidable.

I was professionally trained as a US wildland firefighter and resource advisor. I've long worked with fire policy and land conditions as an ecologist, conservationist and former state lawmaker (Ranking Member on House Natural Resources Committee). I've been on fires and watched fires in Arizona and the southwest for 20 years.

It seems likely that questionable decisions were made that lead to these deaths. A full independent investigation is essential to provide details so this never happens again.

Did fire bosses send the Granite Mountain Hotshots in to an area too dangerous where they shouldn't have been?

Have decades of full fire suppression, urban sprawl, livestock grazing, invasive plants, lack of defensible space around buildings, and other preventable factors lead to these deadly explosive fire conditions?

Are economic, political and insurance industry concerns too strong in wildland firefighting, leading to unsafe decisions to risk lives to try saving buildings that may not be salvageable?

Did fire bosses overlook predictable weather conditions during a bad drought on a record hot day where monsoon storms and wind were starting to form?

Wildlands firefighters are dedicated, brave professionals ready to risk their lives to save our lives, but after people are out of harms way should they be put at such risk to try to save buildings? No, especially if the property owners have done little to nothing to clear vegetation away from their buildings to create defensible space to allow a fire to safely pass by.

If a community is protected with defensible space then wildfires can mostly safely burn around the community, protecting lives and buildings. How much defensible space work was done around the communities affected by this fire? How many buildings burned had no defensible space? Were the firefighters killed trying to fight part of the fire threatening buildings without defensible space?

Too many politicians will praise these dead men without asking fire bosses tough questions about how and why they died and was it avoidable. Their timid, limited approach is an unintentional disrespect to these lost firefighters, and fails to learn from mistakes made so mistakes are not repeated to kill more in the future.

Too often we fail to prepare and when wildfires hit we expect firefighters to save everything. It isn't wise or possible. Sadly, these 19 brave firefighters died trying to protect buildings. No life is worth a building that can be rebuilt, especially if the owner has been irresponsible by failing to clear flammable vegetation away from his buildings.

We should all work together to protect firefighters and everyone by restoring the land and creating more defensible buildings in wildfire areas. We must be willing to protect our communities and wildland firefighters, to 'fight fire with fire' and let natural-caused wildfires burn whenever feasible.

RIP Granite Mountain Hotshots who lost their lives: Ashcraft, Andrew - Age: 29 Caldwell, Robert - Age: 23 Carter, Travis - Age: 31 Deford, Dustin - Age: 24 MacKenzie, Christopher - Age: 30 Marsh, Eric - Age: 43 McKee, Grant - Age: 21 Misner, Sean - Age: 26 Norris, Scott - Age: 28 Parker, Wade - Age: 22 Percin, John - Age: 24 Rose, Anthony - Age: 23 Steed, Jesse - Age: 36 Thurston, Joe - Age: 32 Turbyfill, Travis - Age: 27 Warneke, William - Age: 25 Whitted, Clayton - Age: 28 Woyjeck, Kevin - Age: 21 Zuppiger, Garret - Age: 27

For more info visit Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics & Ecology follow @DanPattersonUSA

To help fire victims

UPDATE: Two bighorns dead, two lions killed by state. Video of Tucson bighorn restoration. To survive & thrive, fire & careful recreation management by USFS essential

UPDATE, Dec 4: Yesterday Arizona Game & Fish Dept. managers confirmed the state recently killed two mountains lions suspected of preying on two of these reintroduced bighorns. The state is sticking to its position that they will kill any lion suspected of preying on just one bighorn, a strict standard many Arizonans view as excessive and too rigid, especially given AZGFD doesn't know or won't say how many lions may live in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Lack of clear, timely communications by AZGFD is a problem, as is lack of clear standards to justify killing lions. I, and many, still want the bighorns to make it in the Catalinas, but we are also justifiably concerned about 'zero tolerance' kills of mountain lions, lack of data on mountain lion numbers, and lack of clear limits on killing lions. It's a tough balance to find, if the state is truly aiming for balance, which is not clear. AZGFD is saying 'trust us', but the lack of detailed information and the state's historic anti-predator views and actions do not inspire trust or confidence in this situation. Let me know, AZGFD, if I may help.

Nov 19, TUCSON -- I was inspired to be part of the Nov 18 release of 31 wild desert bighorn sheep to the Santa Catalina Mountains, as Ecologist and Southwest Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Bighorn were extirpated from this Arizona sky island range in the early 1990s due to poor habitat management. Monday's important action to restore iconic bighorns to the Catalinas was sparked by Aspen Fire benefits to habitat, dedicated conservation advocates and increasing public awareness and support. To survive and thrive, bighorn will need fire and careful recreation and habitat management by the US Forest Service - Coronado National Forest, Arizona Game & Fish Dept., Arizona State Parks and others. See videos below, both by Daniel R. Patterson


Photo by Lou Waters
Photo by Lou Waters

Friday, November 15, 2013

Transparency lacking in federal pipeline safety program

Broken Enbridge, Inc. pipeline polluted Michigan river.
UPDATE: Big pipeline explosion Thu in Texas

WASHINGTON — As more oil and gas pipelines splay across the U.S., less information is publicly available about the safety of these high-risk facilities and what is being done to reduce those risks, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The group today called upon the federal pipeline safety agency to start putting safety-related information, such as response plans, incident reports and pipeline inspection data, on its website.

“Basic information about the reliability of our immense pipeline network should be readily available for all to see,” stated PEER Counsel Kathryn Douglass, whose organization has had to sue the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to force it to disclose facility response plans for systems it regulates. “It is ridiculous that it takes a federal case to uncover crucial safety information.”

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Government Accountability Office and Transportation Department’s Office of Inspector General have all taken PHMSA to task for keeping state and local first responders in the dark on pipeline failures. PHMSA has historically been hard to pry information out of.

In an October 30, 2013 letter, PHMSA Associate Administer Jeffrey Wiese complained that data PEER obtained under the Freedom of Information Act did not convey the entire picture. PEER responded by urging PHMSA to stop making selective information releases and start displaying, among other things:

-- All facility response plans to help state and local agencies and adjacent communities better prepare for future incidents (PHMSA is releasing this information to PEER from a lawsuit filed last April but is producing slowly at a rate that would extend beyond 2014);
-- All reports of investigation and hazardous material spills immediately after they are reported; and
-- A current database of inspections of pipeline units in order to monitor at-risk pipelines.

The frustration with PHMSA’s lack of transparency extends to safety measures the agency is supposed to be implementing. In an October 30, 2013 letter, U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-MI) demanded that PHMSA account for an array of safety steps it was mandated to adopt by the Pipeline Safety Act of 2011. Nor has PHMSA put in place key NTSB safety recommendations following the natural gas line explosion in San Bruno, California which killed eight and totally leveled a neighborhood, or the massive Enbridge breach which gushed a million gallons of tar sands into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River – both back in 2010.

By contrast, Mr. Wiese has touted the creation of a PHMSA YouTube channel to sway industry into making voluntary safety improvements. “We’ll be trying to socialize these concepts,” he stated after downplaying the effectiveness of regulation or enforcement during a July 24th conference.

“To protect our expanding 2.6 million-mile network of oil, natural gas and propane pipelines, we will need to see more than YouTube videos,” Douglass added, calling PHMSA among the most critical agencies you have never heard of. “If PHMSA wants to be better understood, it must begin to inform rather than stonewall the public.”

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

AZLeg must be careful on civil rights if texting bill pushed

 Joe Arpiao could use unneeded new law to harass more people.
STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- Let me be clear up front, I believe texting while driving is stupid and dangerous. I also support law enforcement. My record is clear on that.

Let me also be clear I believe there are good intentions behind efforts to make a new law in Arizona outlawing texting while driving. I listened to these good intentions as a state lawmaker from 2009-12 and I respect them, but we all know good intentions can have unintended bad consequences.

Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, told the Cronkite News the state’s law against reckless driving should already cover texting while driving. “Texting while driving is something that is ridiculous and totally unacceptable, but the question I always ask is the same: How do you enforce it?” Gutier said. I agree.

In addition to being hard to enforce, there are other concerns lawmakers should consider. In a state with a long history of racial profiling by some cops, we should be very careful to not create a new vague reason for police to stop you. Although it is not clear that police in Arizona are even asking for a new law against texting.

It's difficult to understand how an officer would know the difference between you texting or dialing a phone number, turning off your ringer, deleting a voicemail, or other non-texting key punches of your phone, especially with the fast and limited view offered in most traffic situations. Anyone could be considered a violator it seems for simply for holding a phone in their hand and pushing a key.

This unavoidable phone use vagueness could lead to texting while driving claim abuses by some cops, for example Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies, who may want to pull someone over because they 'look suspicious', which we know too often means the driver is poor, black, latino or a woman. Most cops seem good, but some rogue cops would have a new open door to stop you to investigate alleged texting, then also ask to search your car or otherwise harass the driver or passengers without a solid reason to stop you in the first place. In a free country police should always have to have a strong and clear reason to stop you.

An unneeded new law on texting could also lead to difficult cases and expensive court costs for the state and citizens charged. It would seem very hard for the government to meet its burden of proving someone was actually texting while holding their phone. If you say you were calling your mom, would police then confiscate and search your phone to determine if you were texting? If so that clearly opens up a lot of significant constitutional and privacy concerns.

Highway Safety Director Gutier also said education is the best way to stop texting while driving. I agree. I urge my former colleagues in the legislature, new freshmen and Gov. Jan Brewer to be very careful not to let good intentions lead to bad consequences for our civil rights.

- 1st published 1.15.13

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Shutdown, lonely, closed Saguaro National Park today in Tucson, Arizona

UPDATE, Tue. Oct 15: National Park Rangers ask public not to shoot messenger: Open letter calls for reforms to prevent future closures, urges public to direct anger at Congress to force parks reopening. from PEER.org

TUCSON -- I visited Saguaro National Park this afternoon. Here are some images of the federal government shutdown. The park, a top Arizona attraction, was very empty. I saw one guy in a Ford truck with Texas plates and Airstream trailer who seemed bummed he had no place to go. Each day US parks are closed costs Arizona at least $2.7M in lost economic benefit. All photos by Daniel R. Patterson Oct 1, 2013.
PEER.org watches out for US Parks.

Road closed @ Hohokam & Kinney, Saguaro National Park.

Empty, lonely Red Hills Visitor Center, Saguaro Nat. Park AZ

Keep out: Saguaro National Park, Tucson AZ

News & views from Arizona on US government shutdown

TUCSON -- For daily news & views from Arizona on the US government shutdown, follow @DanPattersonUSA &/or 'like' on facebook. A sample here:


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rep. Daniel Patterson may run for Arizona Corporation Commission in 2014

TUCSON, Sept. 19 -- Good people of Arizona, I'm considering a run for Arizona Corporation Commissioner to help our quality of life and serve your interests, not special interests.

As a professional, public servant, organizer and father, I've worked cooperatively for common sense solutions on energy, economic & safety issues in Arizona for 20 years. I'm qualified, dedicated, independent-minded and vindicated. I'm thankful I've been elected and re-elected by Arizonans to represent us at the State Capitol. I served as Ranking Member on the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee, and also on the important Employment & Regulatory Affairs Committee. I worked hard and listened to all, but I always served my constituents first, not special interests or political bosses.

In the too often dysfunctional atmosphere of the Arizona legislature, I faced some politically-motivated false allegations. Legislative rulers rushed to deny me due process, so I chose to resign. But the truth prevailed soon thereafter when I was completely exonerated in a court of law, found 'not guilty' by Judge Wendy Million. The initial allegations, by a woman I love who has struggled with mental illness, were quickly recanted and she supports me today. I made some mistakes, learned some important lessons, and I've grown stronger. I'm also proud of my positive, proven strong record for the public interest and us common Arizonans. I've been vindicated and I am ready to serve you again.

The current Corporation Commission is out-of-touch with the needs of real people, having all five Commissioners from the same wing of the same political party. I respectfully ask for your support and vote for Arizona Corporation Commissioner in 2014, if I decide to run. I value and welcome your views. Please feel free to contact me at 520.906.2159 or DPcampaign@gmail.com

With thanks and respect,
Daniel Patterson

Friday, September 27, 2013

Daily updates on politics, environment, etc. @DanPattersonUSA

TUCSON -- For daily breaking news & views, photos, etc., please follow @DanPattersonUSA or facebook.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Gray wolf peer review panel purged by feds: US Dept. of Interior-Fish & Wildlife Service forces contractor to axe scientists due to sign-on letter

Obama's FWS Dir. Ashe & Interior Sec. Jewell
UPDATE, 8/12: "The Interior Department is putting the brakes on a scientific peer review of its proposal to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves after discovering it had improper knowledge of the scientists who would be participating in the review," reports E&E today.

WASHINGTON — Three of the nation’s top wolf experts have been excluded from the scientific peer review of the plan to remove federal protections from the gray wolf on orders from the U.S. Dept. of Interior-Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). The scientists were barred because they had signed a letter with 13 other scientists expressing concern about the scientific basis for the federal plan, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The federal wolf de-listing plan is the subject of an accelerated peer review conducted by a private consultant firm, AMEC, chosen by FWS. Although the peer review is supposed to be independent of FWS, the agency controls selection of the reviewers engaged by the contractor.

FWS exercised that control in blocking at least three of the seven names on AMEC's list of reviewers chosen for their qualifications: Dr. Roland Kays of North Carolina State University, Dr. Jon Vucetich of Michigan Technological University and Dr. Robert Wayne of the University of California, Los Angeles. All have published extensively on the wolf and are considered preeminent experts.

In an August 7th email to one of the scientists, an AMEC official stated that the FWS had vetoed his participation in the peer review even though the firm had already selected him for his qualifications:

“I apologize for telling you that you were on the project and then having to give you this news. I understand how frustrating it must be, but we have to go with what the service [sic] wants.”

While the FWS claims that it seeks an “unbiased” review panel, given that this issue has received much discussion in both the media and scientific journals over the past decade the agency’s posture results in the exclusion of almost all qualified wolf scientists. This may leave the panel with only those experts who have never opined publicly on the issue, either because they favor delisting or they feel it inappropriate to comment on such proposals due to income from federal contracts.

“To avoid dealing with the serious scientific concerns raised by its delisting plan, the Fish & Wildlife Service is packing the review panel for its own proposal,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “Selecting your own reviewers defeats the purpose of independent peer review.”

The May 21st letter signed by the 16 prominent wolf researchers presented a number of serious scientific concerns with the gray wolf delisting plan as well as lack of designated habitat for the highly endangered Mexican wolf. The letter was submitted as a public comment to which the Service has yet to respond, although this week’s action suggests it was read.

The FWS disqualification of scientists appears at odds with White House Office of Management & Budget guidance which states that selection of peer reviewers should be primarily driven by expertise of the reviewer, followed by a need for balance to reflect competing scientific viewpoints followed by their independence from the agency.

“Firing independent expert wolf scientists confirms concerns by wildlife advocates nationwide that political appointees at US Interior already have their minds made up to end wolf protections no matter what the science says. They don't want an independent peer review of their flawed, rushed political plan to end US wolf protections,” said PEER Ecologist Daniel Patterson.

The AMEC wolf peer review is slated to be completed by September 11th but the peer reviewers will not be provided with the public comments containing issues raised by scientific experts.

“Steamrolling a fast-track scientific review on a matter of this controversy underlines that it is politics not science driving the decision-making,” Ruch added. “If it wants to maintain any credibility, the Fish & Wildlife Service should openly address and resolve the array of serious scientific criticisms which have been leveled. This peer review charade will only lead to more litigation which could have been avoided.”

Link to full news release with documents, etc. 

- adapted from PEER

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Arizona leading bad national trend to restrict voting rights. Overturn HB 2305

STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX -- Media outlets recently dubbed North Carolina’s sweeping new voter restriction legislation the “worst in the nation.”

But Arizona’s new roadblocks to get tough on voters -- House Bill 2305 -- is in many ways worse than North Carolina because it was approved on top of some of the nation’s most restrictive voting laws already in place, said Julie Erfle, Chairwoman of the Protect Your Right To Vote Arizona Committee. Erfle is leading a broad and diverse coalition working together to overturn HB2305 through a voter referendum. HB 2305 helps career politicians rig the system by preventing tens of thousands of eligible voters from casting their ballots. The bill will kick people off the early voter rolls and make it a felony for volunteer groups to help elderly, homebound and economically disadvantaged voters get their early voting ballots to the polls. It also helps politicians hold onto power by keeping third parties off the ballot and making it extremely difficult for Arizonans to overturn the Legislature’s decisions through citizen initiatives.

After the United States Supreme Court voted to gut the 1964 Civil Rights act in June, North Carolina, Texas and several other states quickly introduced new legislation to discourage the poor and minorities from voting. Arizona’s effort to get even tougher on voters had passed and was signed by Gov. Jan Brewer just days before the Court ruled.

“If you compare the main prongs of North Carolina’s anti-voter bill to what’s already in law in Arizona, you can clearly see why so many organizations are working together to stop career politicians from making it even harder for eligible Arizona voters to cast their ballots,” Erfle said. “House Bill 2305 was an attempt by incumbent politicians at the legislature to take out all their competition at once. But it’s not right for politicians to pick their voters, it should be the other way around.”

Compare the two states:

· North Carolina will eliminate same-day voter registration. Arizona does not allow voters to register on election day, and in fact shuts down registration a month out, which shuts out many potential voters.

· North Carolina will reduce early voting by a week. Arizona allows in-person early voting at limited sites, but it is rarely used compared to the more popular mail-in ballots. However, mail-in ballots must be mailed by the Friday before Election Day or dropped off at a polling place. In Maricopa County AZ, 2,500 mailed ballots were received after the Tuesday Election Day and were not counted. That number will rise dramatically because HB2305 makes it a crime for volunteer organizations to drop early ballots for voters that – if mailed too late – won’t be counted.

· North Carolina will eliminate the option to vote a straight party ticket. Arizona does not allow that now.

· North Carolina will blow the lid off its legislative campaign finance donations, raising the individual limit to $5,000. Arizona legislators pass an identical law, House Bill 2593, in this session.

· North Carolina will repeal out-of-precinct voting. Arizona does not allow voters to cast in-person ballots in wrong precincts. In fact, more than 7,500 votes were disallowed in Maricopa County because poll workers improperly issued provisional ballots to voters who had showed up to the wrong polling places instead of directing them to the correct location.

· North Carolina will now allow any voter to challenge the eligibility of someone’s voting status. This state-sanctioned harassment of voters is already legal in Arizona and is heavily promoted by the Republican Party as part of its “True the Vote” program.

“On top of this, House Bill 2305 also makes it extremely difficult for citizen initiatives and third-party candidates to get on the ballot,” Erfle added. “North Carolina is bad, but Arizona is really the perfect storm of politicians protecting themselves instead of protecting our right to vote.”

“Entrenched, self-serving political bosses and their greedy lobbyist puppet masters at the Arizona Legislature continue to attack citizen’s voting rights and our democracy,” said former Arizona lawmaker Rep. Daniel Patterson, of Tucson. “Fair voting is the foundation of our democracy and it must be encouraged and easy, not discouraged and harder. HB 2305 is voter suppression and it must be overturned. Everyone’s vote must count.”

There are many election reforms that Arizona needs to implement, but HB 2305 addresses none of them. An in-depth analysis of the 2012 election revealed numerous concerns that county elections officials refuse to acknowledge or address. Those concerns include:

· The backlog of uncounted votes on Election Day in 2012 had less to do with the 170,000 ballots dropped off at the polls than with a backlog of 250,000 uncounted early votes, which created a colossal traffic jam. Election officials must start counting these votes earlier and running the machines all day Sunday, Monday and Tuesday to eliminate any backlog.

· The largest grouping of provisional votes that were disqualified was voters who showed up to the wrong polling place. Election workers should have directed these voters to the correct location. Instead, because poll workers didn’t receive proper training they gave more than 7,500 eligible voters provisional ballots that were subsequently disqualified. Why did this happen and what is being done to prevent it in 2014?

“It’s time for elected campaign officials to stop blaming voters for their problems handling the increasing popularity of early voting,” Erfle said. “The only way House Bill 2305 will make matters more convenient for election officials is to prevent or discourage tens of thousands of eligible voters from voting. We should pass laws to make it easier to vote, not harder.”

- adapted from Protect Your Right to Vote Committee

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Feds push science shell game to back ending wolf protections

Historic vs. current range of US gray wolves.
WASHINGTON — The plan to remove federal protections from the gray wolf will be peer reviewed on an accelerated schedule by a private consulting firm selected this week, according to a document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The exercise is designed to help the plan to delist the gray wolf under the federal Endangered Species Act withstand expected legal challenges.

The contract Order Statement of Work (SOW), issued June 25, 2013, calls for “a formal, external, independent scientific peer review before a final determination is made” to end safeguards for remaining gray wolf populations. Yet the specifics of the SOW raise questions as to its independence:

* The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) controls selection of reviewers by picking from a list compiled by the contractor. The ultimate number of reviewers will be left to FWS “discretion”;

* Expert reviewers are disqualified if they have “an affiliation with an advocacy position regarding the protection of this species.” This standard bars every scientist who has ever opined about wolf recovery, leaving only those who may not be knowledgeable enough to venture an opinion; and

* Reviewers are directed “not to provide advice on policy” questions and limit themselves to the quality of the information cited by FWS.

“This quickie, consultant-led peer review gives the illusion of impartiality from the bankrolling agency which can easily manipulate its results,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “If the Fish & Wildlife Service wanted a truly independent peer review on a topic of this magnitude it would have invited one of the scientific societies to conduct it, free from agency restrictions.”

The peer reviews must be completed by September 11th, the date on which the public comment period for the proposed delisting ends. Since the peer reviewers will not be provided with the public comments, many of which may arrive on the scheduled peer review completion date, the peer review will not examine, let alone respond to, criticisms levels by scientific experts. Nor has FWS responded to a May 21st letter from 16 of the nation’s top wolf experts expressing “deep concerns” about its delisting proposal.

Significantly, the Service is seeking peer review only after its delisting plan was formally unveiled in the Federal Register on an apparent fast-track to finalization. Further, in the unlikely event that the peer reviewers pan the delisting plan, FWS is not obligated to withdraw or alter its plan to answer criticisms.

“Contrary to the fiction that its plan is science-driven, the Service’s proposed final rule matches the political promises made to state game agencies and mirrors the negotiated preferred outcome,” added Ruch, pointing to records from “Structured Decision Making” meetings between the Service and state game agencies, which PEER obtained from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. “The Service hopes to deodorize this day-old fish by wrapping it in new consultant reviews.”

Full news release with links to documents, etc.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Documents show politics, not science, dominated US wolf de-listing meetings

Obama & Sec. Jewell: Politics over science at Interior, again.
POLITICS DOMINATED WOLF DE-LISTING MEETINGS
Science Was Afterthought in Developing Preferred Alternatives for Wolf Recovery

TUCSON — The federal government’s plan to remove the gray wolf from the protections of the Endangered Species Act was hammered out through political bargaining with affected states, according to documents obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Contrary to requirements of the Endangered Species Act that listing decisions must be governed by the best available science, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service presided over a process in which political and economic considerations were at the forefront.

The 52 documents produced by Fish & Wildlife Service detail how the “National Wolf Strategy” was developed in a series of closed-door federal-state meetings called “Structured Decision Making” or SDM beginning in August 2010. The meetings involved officials from every region of the Service and representatives from the game and fish agencies of 13 states. The SDM process featured –
  • A “Focus on Values. Determine objectives (values) first, and let them drive the analysis.” An SDM flow-chart starts with Problem and goes to Objectives, to Alternatives and then to Consequences at which stage a small box labeled “Data” finally comes into play;
  • An explicit political test “Where should wolves exist? (emphasis in original) What does the public want? What can the public tolerate?”; and
  • A matrix to weigh alternatives on a scale of “legal defensibility” then “public acceptance” followed by “wolf conservation” and finally “efficiency.”
“These documents confirm our worst suspicions that the fate of the wolf was decided at a political bazaar. The meeting notes certainly explain why no outside scientists were welcome,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch who had been seeking the records since April 2012. “From what we can see, Structured Decision Making was structured primarily to deal out the lower-48 population of gray wolves.”

Under a federal proposal currently out for public comment the gray wolf would be stricken from the federal list of threatened or endangered species. The Mexican wolf, with only a handful remaining in the wild, would keep its endangered status but no protected habitat would be delineated for it.

Much of the meetings were devoted to assuaging state threats to sue to halt wolf reintroductions. The tenor of these discussions was captured by a map titled “New Fantastic Alternative” which allowed unlimited hunting of gray wolves in Colorado and Utah. It also confined Mexican wolves to portions of Arizona and New Mexico.

“Politics have dominated moves to end national protections for wolves across America, and politics continue to hold back recovery of the Mexican wolf in the Southwest,” said PEER Ecologist and Southwest Director Daniel Patterson. “US Interior Department claims of 'best science' are tired and untrue as bureaucrats spin to try to please a never satisfied handful of special interests who simply hate wolves, in contrast to most Americans who respect wolves and want real wolf recovery.”

“The Obama administration keeps preaching integrity of science and transparency but seems to practice neither on any matter of consequence,” Ruch added, pointing to PEER’s detailed complaint on how politics smothered the recovery plan developed for Mexican wolves by a team of scientific experts. “In simplest terms, these documents detail how the gray wolf lost a popularity contest among wildlife managers.”

These foundational SDM documents obtained by PEER will likely provide fodder for the lawsuits that will almost certainly follow the expected final federal decision to de-list the gray wolf.

News release with links, documents, etc.

Read also Salon article on this topic

Monday, June 24, 2013

USA greens oppose Corker-Hoeven border militarization immigration bill amendment

WASHINGTON -- US conservation orgs just sent this letter to the Senate:

PLEASE OPPOSE THE CORKER-HOEVEN AMENDMENT TO S. 744

Dear Senator:

We are writing to express our strong objections to the Corker-Hoeven amendment to S. 744. The amendment contains measures intended to provide the illusion of security at a high cost to the nation.

The Corker-Hoeven amendment would unnecessarily mandate the construction of hundreds of miles of additional double layered walls along the Southwest border. Secretary Napolitano testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Border Patrol had already constructed fencing where it was needed. She explained at the first day of the Judiciary Committee’s hearings that the Department of Homeland Security’s preference was for technology that would provide for more efficient and effective security: “We would prefer having money not so designated so that we can look at technology, air-based, ground-based, manpower, and other needs that may be more fitting to prevent illegal flows across the Southwest border.”

There is no security rationale for the mandate for hundreds of more miles of border wall. The provision to transform vehicle barriers to pedestrian wall is a direct refutation of the Border Patrol’s own decision that in those particular areas, vehicle barriers are better than walls. This provision appears to ignore previous reports, including several produced by both the Congressional Research Service and the General Accountability Office, that have failed to find any evidence that the existing border wall has made a significant contribution to border security.1    Further, the maintenance and repair costs for border walls are, as National Guard representatives have been quoted as saying, “a bottomless pit”.2    The walls constructed to date have been built at an average cost of $6.5 million per mile. Hundreds of more miles mean billions of more wasted taxpayers’ dollars and a landscape doomed to be strewn with rusting metal across America’s public lands.

1 See, for example, Congressional Research Report: Border Security: Barriers Along the U.S. International Border, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/RL33659.pdf 2 http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/RL33659.pdf

More wall will cause more tremendous damage to the land, wildlife and communities. While border walls are easily circumvented by smugglers going over, under or through the wall, the barriers stop the flow of water. Already, border communities and public lands have experienced serious floodingas the result of the current walls. Roads, commercial stores and public lands have been damaged by this flooding. The wall also severs the migration pathways of imperiled wildlife, including jaguars, ocelots, and big horn sheep, further contributing to their decline.

Our organizations were extremely disappointed that some very modest but important amendments proposed by Senators Ron Wyden and Barbara Boxer were not included. Among other things, these provisions would have required some mitigation of the extensive damage that will be inflicted on the fragile borderland environment from these extreme and unnecessary security measures. We fail to understand how the inclusion of these very modest improvements would have derailed or undermined any of the requirements of this amendment, and in fact they would have done a great deal of good.

More walls will only harm – not protect – America. We ask that this provision be removed from the bill and that decisions about security measures that are needed remain in the purview of the Department of Homeland Security.

Audubon * Center for Biological Diversity * Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection * Conference of Major Superiors of Men * Defenders of Wildlife * Earthjustice * Endangered Species Coalition * Friends of Friendship Park (San Diego) * Guadalupe Ranch Corporation * International League of Conservation Photographers * Klamath Forest Alliance * League of Conservation Voters * Northern Jaguar Project * Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility * Sierra Club * Sky Island Alliance * Texas Border Coalition * The Wilderness Society * The Wildlife Society * United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries * United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society * Wilderness Watch

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Eco-news from PEER: NM Petroglyphs win, CA Sonoran Desert dunes, MI wetlands

Algodones Dunes, Sonoran Desert, SE Calif.
TUCSON -- Recent news from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER.org), where I serve as Southwest Director & Ecologist.

NEW PETROGLYPH PACT BETTER PROTECTS MONUMENT
National Park Standards and Management Extended to City of ABQ-Owned Lands

BIG ROLLBACK OF CALIFORNIA DESERT PROTECTION 
BLM to Open 49,300 Acres of Algodones Dunes Plan to Off-Road Vehicles

EPA AND MICHIGAN FACE SHOWDOWN ON WETLAND PROTECTIONS
Pending Bill Violates Federal Law and Threatens Michigan’s Wetlands Delegation

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Stonewall on Petroglyph pact leaves monument at risk

ALBUQUERQUE — The five-year Cooperative Management Agreement governing the Petroglyph National Monument lapsed last week with no successor pact in place, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) which has pushed for strengthened safeguards for the monument’s irreplaceable troves of rock art. This weekend also marks a gathering of the International Federation of Rock Art Organizations in Albuquerque, New Mexico, an event preceded by a major cleanup drive on one of the most imperiled sections of Petroglyph National Monument, two-thirds of which is on city-owned land.

Previously, the City of Albuquerque refused to allow National Park Service (NPS) rangers to patrol or enforce Park Service rules on City lands. As a result, Petroglyph lacks both consistent law enforcement coverage and management standards for protecting the Monument’s estimated 22,000 petroglyphs. Surrounded by an urban area, the Monument is vulnerable to scars from graffiti and off-roading as well as illegal dumping. In addition, ancient rock art has been increasingly targeted by thieves and vandals.

At the same time, the 2013 International Rock Art Congress opens this Saturday through Memorial Day in Albuquerque. One of the main sponsors, the American Rock Art Research Association, is hosting a pre-conference cleanup May 25th at the downstream end of Piedras Marcadas Arroyo near Golf Course Road. The entire Piedras Marcadas Canyon with over 3,000 petroglyphs has suffered under lax City management standards which could be remedied by a new joint pact.

“This international gathering underlines Petroglyph as a global treasure at a time it is most endangered by political squabbling,” said Daniel Patterson, Ecologist and Southwest Director of PEER, which has pressed both sides to improve the prior agreement. “Petroglyph deserves world-class protection that transcends the parochial interests of local officials.”

The National Park Service claims it has offered ranger patrols only to be spurned by the City even as local fiscal cutbacks have further limited services the City can provide. In addition, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) obtained a Congressional Research Service legal opinion concluding that “NPS has authority to enforce laws and regulations” on city-owned monument lands.

By its terms, the 5-year Cooperative Management Agreement expired on May 16th – five years from the final executing signature back in 2008. In the absence of an effective agreement the impasse over monument management deepens and may widen from days to weeks to months. Any new agreement would be subject to public review and comment as required by the National Environmental Policy Act but no draft has emerged to start that process. Officials from both the City and NPS have yet to announce any plans for a new agreement.

“As it stands now, Petroglyph National Monument has entered the twilight zone,” Patterson added. “It should be a priority for both parties to a draft an agreement consistent with Sen. Udall's Congressional Research opinion for full public review in the very near future.”

PEER has created an on-line petition urging that Petroglyph be managed up to national standards so that all sections of the Monument are safe and accessible to visitors.

Click for full news release with supporting documents, photos, etc.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Scenic scenes from southwest backroads trip across Arizona & New Mexico, May 13-18, 2013

Wildlife mural in Tonto Basin, Arizona.
Beautiful Gila, New Mexico.
Colorful Petrified Forest National Monument, Arizona.
Feeling grand at the Grand Canyon, Arizona.
Wolf hunting with Ravens at Bearizona.
Daniel Patterson enjoys 'Big Ditch' Park in Silver City, New Mexico.
West view from Wupatki Nat. Mon. to Sunset Crater & San Francisco Peaks, Arizona.
Jake at Sedona Dog Park, Arizona.






Friday, April 26, 2013

National Parks slow to curb disposable plastic bottles; parks in Arizona take lead

Bottle trash was piling up at Grand Canyon

NATIONAL PARKS NOT RUSHING TO EMBRACE PLASTIC BOTTLE BANS
Fewer Than 5% of National Park Units Restrict Sales of Disposable Water Bottles


TUCSON — Only a handful of national parks have banned plastic water bottles under the new policy adopted last year in the wake of the embarrassing revelation that Coca-Cola influenced agency officials to interfere with a planned ban at Grand Canyon, according to agency documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result, mounting waves of discarded bottles will likely prevent the National Park Service (NPS) from achieving its own sustainable “Green Parks” goals for reductions in solid waste and landfill volume.

Just days before a long-planned plastic bottle ban at Grand Canyon National Park was to take effect, NPS Director Jon Jarvis intervened to block it at the behest of Coca-Cola which gave substantial contributions to the National Park Foundation, the fund-raising arm for NPS. After PEER revealed his action and motive, Jarvis, stung by adverse news coverage, reversed himself on Grand Canyon and announced a new policy setting conditions for individual parks seeking to end concession sales of single-use water bottles.

In the year following adoption of that policy, park bottle bans have spread only marginally. At the time it went into effect, three park units had banned plastic water bottle sales (Utah’s Zion, Hawaii Volcanoes and Grand Canyon), while another 8 units never allowed sales. Agency documents state that another dozen parks, including Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Death Valley were considering eliminating bottle sales. Since the policy, none of those parks has moved forward but a small number of others have:
  • In Arizona, Petrified Forest ended sales while Saguaro removed its beverage vending machine;
  • In Utah, Arches and Timpanogos Cave stopped sales while Canyonlands expanded a partial ban park-wide; and
  • In South Dakota, Mount Rushmore ended sales of disposable bottles for plain water but continues sale of enriched or enhanced water and other beverages in plastic disposable bottles. 
“For national parks setting a sustainable solid waste standard, what was supposed to be a rising tide has slowed to a trickle,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that only Washington’s Mount Rainier has publicly stated that it is contemplating a plastic water bottle ban in 2013.

Plastic bottles are both an ecological and financial burden for parks as between a third and a half of the trash left by visitors in our more than 400 national parks consists of disposable plastic bottles.  In response to a PEER Freedom of Information Act request, NPS has offered no analysis of why more parks are not reducing their plastic trash load but several dynamics appear to be at work:
  • Abandonment of Goal. In 2010, the draft Green Parks plan called for a halt in disposable water product sales and installation of drinking water filling stations (capable of filling canteens or reusable containers) in 75% of all visitor facilities by 2016.  Those draft goals were quietly dropped and the final Green Parks plan substitutes a 2016 goal that parks cut solid waste streams by half though it is doubtful parks can approach this goal without reducing plastic bottle volume;
  • Deference to Concessionaires.  Although all concession contracts allow park managers to determine what items are sold, the new Jarvis policy makes the impact on concession sales a major factor in whether NPS regional directors approve park applications for bottle restrictions; and 
  • Sequester Uncertainty.  The ability of parks to set aside funds to build sufficient watering stations for visitors is undermined by the fiscal vicissitudes of recent months.
“National Parks in Arizona at Grand Canyon, Saguaro and Petrified Forest are leading for trash reduction. National Parks across America should follow this lead to improve parks. There should be no delay,” said Ecologist and Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson.

“The anemic progress in freeing parks from growing plastic waste burdens is a failure in agency leadership,” Ruch added. “Rather than going green, the National Park Service turned a cautious yellow.”

- adapted from PEER.org

Full news release with links to documents

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Strong southern Arizona crowd cheers Fred DuVal for Gov.

TUCSON -- An enthusiastic and influential crowd cheered Fred DuVal's announcement of his run for Governor this afternoon at Bentley's near the University of Arizona.

"Today, Arizona's promise has been broken," DuVal said. "Investment in Arizona has suffered, education has been cut, growth is stalled, jobs have vanished. Our state leaders have no plan, no clear strategy to build jobs, opportunity and a good quality of life for today, or for tomorrow." DuVal continued passionately, "We have to do better. Together we can set our sights on big goals and move with common purpose: a robust and competitive business climate; a workforce with skills for the new economy; efficient government that is accountable to the people. I believe that we can achieve these goals. That is why I'm announcing my candidacy for Governor. I want to work with you, and work for you, to restore Arizona's promise. When I am Governor, we will move Arizona forward."

I support Fred DuVal and I was pleased to join other elected officials there today in support, including Sen. David Bradley, former Sen. Paula Aboud, former Rep. Tom Chabin, former Rep. Tom Prezelski, former Pima County Supervisor Dan Eckstrom and others.

"Everyone who desires a renewed Arizona should go to his website right now and join us in supporting Fred for Governor," said Phoenix City Councilman Daniel Valenzuela.

Visit Fred2014.com

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

US conservationists oppose Gang of 8's push for more lawless border militarization

Gang of 8 plan bad for communities, parks, private property & wildlife.

April 23, 2013

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman
The Honorable Charles E. Grassley, Ranking Member
United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Grassley:

We are writing to express our strong objections to certain border security provisions contained in
S. 744, “The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” that
eliminate the rule of law, elevate fencing over other security measures, and institute unnecessary
provisions. Our environmental and conservation organizations would like to work to improve
the bill with all Senators who share our concerns about eliminating the rule of law and the
significant impacts that can result from that and other measures that will damage National
Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, other public lands, communities, private property, and
wildlife.

Our concerns relate to: 1) the restatement and broadening of the provision allowing the Secretary
of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to waive all laws for construction of roads,
barriers and other physical tactical infrastructure; 2) the Southern Border Fencing Strategy; 3)
the unnecessary provisions for Border Patrol access to public lands (which they already have);
and 4) the waiver of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for rules promulgated to
implement Title II of the bill. We explain our concerns below.

Waiver of Laws

The 2005 REAL ID Act authorized the Secretary of Homeland Security to waive all legal
requirements that the Secretary determined necessary to ensure expeditious construction of
barriers and roads. The Congressional Research Service characterized this provision as
providing for the largest waiver of law in American history. Secretary Michael Chertoff invoked
the waiver five times for construction of hundreds of miles of border fencing and roads, and it is
still actively being used for additional projects (for example, construction of a road through a
national forest in southern Arizona). The waivers currently in place cover not only all federal
and related state and local health and environmental laws, but also all laws protecting historic
sites, archaeological findings, the Administrative Procedures Act and the Religious Freedom Act.
Implementation of these waivers has done great harm to communities, private property and our
public lands. Typical judicial review afforded to parties aggrieved by federal government
actions has also been eliminated.

Rather than repealing or narrowing the authority granted in 2005, this legislation actually
broadens it to encompass “other physical tactical infrastructure”. Among other things, this
would include the forward operating bases authorized in the bill. A number of forward operating
bases have already been constructed at or near the southern border without invoking the waiver.
There has been no litigation regarding forward operating bases or other infrastructure not
covered under the present waivers or, for that matter, directed at operations at or within 100
miles of the border since 2008.

There has, however, been real physical damage done to towns, public lands, private property,
and roads used for law enforcement purposes as the result of flooding caused in part by walls
that were constructed hastily without adequate regard for human safety and in contradiction with
readily available hydrological and meteorological data. Because of the current waivers, the
construction of these fences did not go through typical interagency and public review. The
waiver has also resulted in damage to public lands and to America’s wildlife. The waiver is a
hindrance, not a help, to the enforcement of the nation’s laws and to the security of the U.S.
citizens who rely on those laws for protection. This elimination of law will bring significant
harm to the people, wildlife, water and lands of the Southwest, and its economy.

Southern Border Fencing Strategy

The bill requires the Secretary of DHS to develop a “Southern Border Fencing Strategy” to
identify where fencing, infrastructure, and technology should be deployed along the Southern
border. The language, of course, should read “additional fencing, infrastructure and technology”
since over 650 miles of fencing has already been constructed, along with a considerable amount
of other infrastructure including many surveillance towers, sensors, lighting, and forward
operating bases.

Our organizations oppose the construction of additional walls at the border. The walls
constructed to date have resulted in serious environmental and economic impacts due to massive
flooding, debris, and associated changes in hydrology. Indeed, in some places, the wall – built at
a cost of millions of dollars per mile- has fallen down because of such problems. Private
property, commercial businesses, roads and public lands have been damaged, and critical
wildlife migration pathways have been severed. Further, there has been no evidence shown in
reports by the General Accountability Office or other organizations that the wall has made a
significant contribution to border security. Requiring a separate border fencing strategy elevates
one approach over all other approaches and, at that, the approach that causes the most damage
and is probably the least effective tool available for border security.

Access to Public Lands

Section 1105(b) directs the Secretaries of the Departments Agriculture and Interior to provide to
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol immediate access to Federal lands within 100 miles of the
border in Arizona for routine motorized patrols and the deployment of communications,
surveillance and detection equipment. This is an unnecessary provision. There are already
several forward operating bases and numerous surveillance, communication, and emergency
assistance towers on public lands within 100 miles of the border. The 2006 interagency
agreement between the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture and
the Department of the Interior clearly anticipates the needs of Border Patrol to enter into all
areas, including wilderness areas and wilderness study areas. Should anyone doubt that the
Border Patrol has access to these areas, there is a government report documenting thousands of
miles of off-road travel, primarily by Border Patrol agents, in the Cabeza Prieta National
Wildlife Refuge Wilderness.

Waiver from the National Environmental Policy Act

Title II provides opportunities for legal status for undocumented persons currently in the U.S.
who meet certain qualifications to obtain registered provisional legal status. It also addresses
particular categories of people (DREAMERS, those who serve in the military, etc.) and it also
includes a provision for long-term legal residents of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana
Islands. Section 2110(e) of the Title dealing with rulemaking to implement this Title exempts,
“Any decision by the Secretary concerning any rulemaking action, plan, or program described in
this section” from NEPA. This is another unnecessary provision; the types of activities covered
under Title II generally do not have environmental impacts and would be covered by categorical
exclusions under the Department of Homeland Security’s Directive 023-01.

In summary, the current version of the bill contains provisions that are damaging to America’s
public lands and the environment and are also unnecessary. The authority to waive “all laws” is
particularly egregious. In defending our country’s territorial integrity, we need not eliminate one
of the pillars of this country’s character – that we are a nation of laws. No agency should be
encouraged to operate outside of the law, especially law enforcement agencies. We look forward
to working with like-minded decision-makers to improve this bill to better provide for a border
security framework within our system of laws.

Sincerely,

Mary Beth Beetham
Director of Legislative Affairs
Defenders of Wildlife
Tiernan Sittenfeld
Senior Vice President, Government Affairs
League of Conservation Voters 
Daniel R. Patterson
Ecologist & Southwest Director
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
Bill Snape
Senior Counsel
Center for Biological Diversity
David Alberswerth
Senior Policy Advisor
The Wilderness Society 
Kevin Proescholdt
Conservation Director
Wilderness Watch
Debbie Sease
National Campaign Director
Sierra Club
Kristen Brengel
Director, Legislative and Government Affairs
National Parks Conservation Association
Brian Moore
Legislative Director
Audubon 
Tara Thornton
Program Director
Endangered Species Coalition 
Melanie Emerson
Executive Director
Sky Island Alliance
Chloe Schwabe
Advocacy Associate
Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach
Kevin Bixby
Executive Director
Southwest Environmental Center
Rev. John Fanestil
Convener
Friends of Friendship Park (San Diego) 
Monica Weisberg-Stewart
Chair of Immigration and Border Security
Committee Texas Border Coalition 
Les Corey
Executive Director
Arizona Wilderness Coalition 
Krista Schlyer
Associate Fellow
International League of Conservation Photographers

CC: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Final 4; Daniel's NCAA Elite 8 picks; I picked 11 of Sweet 16

UPDATE, Apr 2: I went 4 of 8 on my Elite 8 picks. In the Final Four @ Atlanta I pick Michigan over Syracuse; Louisville over Wichita State.

TUCSON (Mar 24) -- I'm pleased to report on my NCAA tournament bracket I correctly picked 11 of the Sweet 16 teams (69%). Here are my picks of teams to win and move on to the Elite Eight.

Thu 3/28 games: East @ Washington DC: Indiana over Syracuse; Miami over Marquette. West @ Los Angeles: Arizona over Ohio State; Wichita State over LaSalle.

Fri 3/29 games: Midwest @ Indianapolis: Michigan State over Duke; Louisville over Oregon. South @ Dallas: Michigan over Kansas; Florida over Florida GC.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Daniel's family photo of the day: Ruby the track star

My girl Ruby ready to run with her Holladay Red Hawks team at the TUSD track meet March 21 in Tucson. I'm a proud father.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Endangered Jaguar confirmed again in Santa Rita Mountains near Tucson AZ

Photo: Male jaguar photographed by automatic
wildlife cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains on December 31, 2012, as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Department of Homeland Security-funded
jaguar and ocelot survey conducted by University of Arizona. One of three photos taken the same night in two different locations.

Credit: USFWS/UA/DHS
Male jaguar photographed by automatic wildlife cameras in the Santa Rita Mountains on December 31, 2012, as part of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Department of Homeland Security-funded jaguar and ocelot survey conducted by University of Arizona. One of three photos taken the same night in two different locations. Credit: USFWS/UA/DHS

Diverse coalition opposes US House bill for mining land exchange on Tonto National Forest near Superior AZ

Coalition opposes new "Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013" San Carlos Apache Tribe, Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition, Sierra Club's Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter and Arizona Mining Reform Coalition unite to oppose land swap.

SAN CARLOS, Ariz. -- US Representatives Paul Gosar (R, AZ District 4) and Ann Kirkpatrick (D, AZ District 1) re-introduced the "Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013," formerly H.R. 1904 in the 112th Congress.

"It is outrageous that members of our Arizona Congressional delegation support a land swap that benefits a foreign mega-mining giant over what's best for Arizona," said Terry Rambler, Chairman, San Carlos Apache Tribe. "Resolution Copper Mining (RCM), owned by Rio Tinto which does business with Iran, wants to blast a 7,000 foot deep, massive block-cave mine into sacred land in the Tonto National Forest. This land was set aside in 1955 by President Eisenhower for its religious, cultural, traditional, recreational and archaeological significance.

"We, along with many tribes, and recreational and environmental organizations, have opposed this land swap and the mine for more than seven years. Arizona cannot afford this deal. The mine would be an environmental disaster on an unprecedented scale and the job claims made by the copper company are unsubstantiated. As Apaches, we will continue to fight to preserve this land for all Arizonans."

The Chairman emphasized that the real cost of this bill is not jobs, but desecration and destruction of a significant sacred site. He also expressed concern that the extraction process would consume voluminous amounts of water. "Toxins released into groundwater by the block-cave mining process can contaminate our water supply throughout our region," Chairman Rambler noted.

Tribes throughout the U.S. have joined the San Carlos Apache Tribe to oppose the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act of 2013. The member Tribes of the Inter Tribal Councils of both Arizona and Nevada oppose this bill as does the National Congress of American Indians, Great Plains Tribal Chairman's Association, Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, All Indian Pueblo Council of New Mexico, and United South and Eastern Tribes. Many Apache Tribes, including Fort McDowell Yavapai Apache, White Mountain Apache Tribe, Jicarilla Apache Tribe and Mescalero Apache Tribe are also opposed to this legislation, as is the Navajo Nation and others.

In addition to Tribal opposition, the proposed legislation is also strongly opposed by major environmental groups including the Access Fund, Arizona Mining Reform Coalition, Tucson Audubon Society, Friends of Ironwood Forest, Earthworks, and Sierra Club. The land is used by recreationists, hikers, and campers and is one of the nation's premiere rock climbing sites.

Said Don Steuter, Conservation Chair for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter, "This bill is nothing more than special interest legislation for a foreign mining corporation. It allows Rio Tinto to privatize public, sacred lands, including Oak Flat, which are of incalculable value to Native Americans, birders, rock climbers, and endangered species. And it does this by sidestepping a cornerstone of our environmental laws - the National Environmental Policy Act. We strongly oppose this bill and we are disappointed that some in our congressional delegation are once again trying to bypass the public and push through this bad deal. This legislation will harm our lands and provide little return to the American public."

RCM has lobbied Congress to enact this land swap since 2004. The legislation would mandate the Secretary of Agriculture to transfer more than 2,400 acres of the Oak Flat Campground and surrounding public land in the Tonto National Forest to RCM. RCM has indicated it will use the block-cave mining technique to extract the copper from Arizona public lands, a process that will destroy huge swaths of land in the Tonto National Forest and consume more than 40,000 acre feet of water yearly. In addition to the massive water withdrawal, the process will release toxins through the mining process that can contaminate and further deplete Arizona's precious and limited water supply.

RCM is owned by Rio Tinto PLC (United Kingdom) and BHP Billiton Ltd (Australia). Rio Tinto is partially owned by the Government of China. Because the proposal does not require that copper assets be kept in the U.S., China, and not the U.S., is positioned to be the chief beneficiary of the copper and other materials removed from the mine. Rio Tinto also does business with the Iran Foreign Investment Corporation, a wholly owned company of Iran. Rio Tinto and IFIC are partnering in a uranium mine in Africa.

Rio Tinto and RCM have opposed any changes to the bill that would require the corporation to hire Arizonans and use Arizona resources in the operation. In addition, the bill avoids both an environmental assessment and public interest determination.

"Resolution and its political allies don't tell you that the land exchange sidesteps critical safeguards provided by other federal laws," said Roy Chavez of Concerned Citizens and Retired Miners Coalition. "Arizona's senators and representatives should be cautious. If passed, this bill may leave Arizona with nothing but a massive hole in the ground and a huge cleanup bill costing the American taxpayers billions of dollars. That would be a most unfortunate legacy for Representatives Gosar and Kirkpatrick, as well as Senator McCain."

San Carlos Apache Tribe news release

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

255 orgs want Pres. Obama to strengthen wildlife protections

US groups representing millions of Americans call on Obama administration to strengthen Endangered Species Act protections for rare and vanishing wildlife across country

TUCSON — Citing diminishing Endangered Species Act protections for some of the nation’s rarest plants and animals, a coalition of 255 groups, representing millions of Americans, sent a letter to the secretaries of Interior and Commerce today calling for increased preservation of critical habitat and the reversal of current proposals likely to undermine the ongoing conservation of wide-ranging species like grizzly bears and gray wolves.

“For 40 years the Endangered Species Act has been wildly successful at saving and recovering species under its protection,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “But to meet the complex challenges of climate change and an ever-growing human footprint, the Obama administration needs to step up and reverse the tide of recent policy changes that are weakening, instead of strengthening, some of our most effective Endangered Species Act protections.”

The letter, from conservation, recreation, employee, animal welfare, religious, business and women’s groups, asks the administration to withdraw a proposed policy that would sharply limit the number of species that qualify for protection under the Act; to strengthen protections for critical habitat; to keep better track of permitted harm to endangered species; and to find better ways to incentivize endangered species conservation by private landowners.

“The Endangered Species Act works to protect America’s rare wildlife,” said Daniel Patterson, ecologist and southwest director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. “But the act must not be weakened. It can and should be strengthened to better and faster serve our national commitment to wildlife conservation.”

Such policy changes would allow species to be protected when they are endangered in “significant portions of [their] range,” ensure that species and habitats are not lost through death by a thousand cuts, and increase landowner participation in wildlife conservation.

“The Endangered Species Act is a sound law that is recovering hundreds of species,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “But with more species needing its full protection every day, it’s critical that the administration renew its commitment to aggressive implementation of this landmark law. We hope the guardians of our wildlife and the health of our planet will take to heart the suggestions of the millions of Americans represented by these 250-plus groups.”

Groups on the letter include Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the Center for Biological Diversity, Endangered Species Coalition, Network of Spiritual Progressives, Union of Concerned Scientists, Natural Resources Defense Council, Audubon chapters from around the country and many more.

adapted from CBD news release

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Bad Habitat: Hunter, others call AZ Game & Fish antiquated & anti-predator

by Tim Vanderpool, Tucson Weekly

TUCSON -- In an era when life splashes spontaneously across YouTube, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission is still grappling with dot-matrix.

Consider that the commission does not stockpile digital videos of its monthly meetings, where sweeping management decisions about Arizona's wildlife are pondered.

That means folks who can't ditch work to attend these Phoenix parleys—or watch them on live webcasts—must cool their heels until the minutes are released months later. Or they can submit a public records request for audio recordings. The digital files are dispatched in five-minute increments, making it impossible to know who's saying what.

Then again, perhaps this is limited access by design.

Which leads us to the policies of a commission that critics consider far more concerned with nourishing the hunting industry than protecting all wildlife—including endangered species that once roamed Arizona. This is particularly true, they say, when it comes to big predators such as the border jaguar and Mexican gray wolf.

That's not much of a reach. Most if not all current commissioners are longtime members of the NRA and influential hunting groups such as the Arizona Desert Bighorn Sheep Society and Safari Club International. The Safari Club, which operates the International Wildlife Museum in Tucson, has been linked to unethical hunting practices and efforts to weaken endangered species protections.

Nor is this lopsided margin surprising given that hunting groups three years ago successfully pushed for creation of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission Appointment Recommendation Board. The board screens potential commissioners before submitting three finalists for the governor's consideration. Among the board members is former AGF commissioner Sue Chilton, a Southern Arizona rancher notorious for her vitriolic opposition to reintroduction of large predators such as the Mexican gray wolf. It also includes Hays Gilstrap, another former commissioner and husband to Suzanne Gilstrap, who happens to be the lobbyist for a group called Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife Conservation.

Suzanne Gilstrap's group was not only the prime mover behind creation of the recommendation board, but also subsequently forwarded her spouse as its preferred appointee.

Critics contend that this cozy club skews Arizona's wildlife policies. Among those detractors is Daniel Patterson, a former state lawmaker and currently Southwest director with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER (also a hunter). Patterson says his contacts within the Game and Fish Department describe an agency where morale is abysmal and shepherding the interests of hunting groups remains paramount.

That's hardly new; as a legislator, Patterson floated efforts to change the name of the Game and Fish Department to the Arizona Department of Wildlife. "The reason I did that was to remind them that their responsibility was for all wildlife," he says, "not just game and sports fish. Unfortunately, that message seems to be lost.

"A lot of hunters are pro-predator and want to see habitat protection. But the commission doesn't want to hear from those conservation voices. They want to hear from the more exploitative side," such as professional hunting guides and organizations.

For a case in point, Patterson and other conservationists note what they consider the commission's ongoing hostility toward Mexican gray wolf reintroduction.

Given that there are probably fewer than 50 Mexican gray wolves in the wild, folks were a tad surprised in 2010 when the commission threw its weight behind yanking the animals from federal endangered species protection.

Commissioners have also opposed establishing critical habitat for the border jaguar, despite at least five Southern Arizona sightings of the big cats in recent years.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initially sided with Arizona in opposing habitat designation—until it was ordered by a federal judge to change course.

Following a lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife and the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity, the late U.S. District Judge John Roll demanded that the agency develop a recovery plan and designate critical habitat.

Last fall, Fish and Wildlife finally proposed some 1,300 square miles in Arizona and New Mexico as habitat critical for jaguar recovery. That range includes the site of a Canadian company's proposed strip mine in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson.

Today, Game and Fish Commissioner Jack Husted remains among the most vocal critics of critical habitat. Known for his cowboy hats and trenchant commentary, Husted hails from Springerville in northeastern Arizona. Coincidentally, Springerville is perched next to the Mexican gray wolf recovery zone, and opposition to the project there runs deep.

Nonetheless, Husted takes issue with folks who call him anti-predator. "But what I am against is allowing the emotion involved in predators to make habitat management decisions we need to manage all wildlife," he says. "I don't want to let the wolf or the mountain lion or any other predator get any special treatment, just because he's got a lot of followers on Twitter."

That also applies to the jaguar, says Husted, who downplays the District Court's habitat decision. "A judge telling U.S. Fish and Wildlife to go do something doesn't change the Arizona Game and Fish position," he says.

Among comments submitted to U.S. Fish and Wildlife in October, the Arizona Game and Fish Department argued that critical habitat was not warranted "because habitat essential to the conservation of the jaguar as a species does not exist in either Arizona or New Mexico under any scientifically credible definition of that term."

Environmentalists call that ridiculous. "The jaguar evolved in the United States before it was the United States," says Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. "The jaguar was native to this continent before it expanded its range to the south. They were found from the Carolinas to California. The question is whether we are going to take any steps to protect a tiny bit of habitat on the edge of what was a huge swath of habitat."

Sergio Avila is a wildlife biologist with the conservation group Sky Island Alliance, which has photographed several jaguars just south of the border in Sonora, Mexico. "In terms of the jaguar it doesn't really matter if you're in Mexico or the United States," he says. "The point is, jaguars are here. We have records of jaguars going back over 100 years, and we have records of jaguars going back just a month ago. It's time to learn from our past mistakes and do something in terms of recovery of this species."

Still, Game and Fish commissioners certainly don't seem to consider past decisions as mistakes. And given the difficulty of accessing details about their earlier meetings, an observer might conclude that these gentlemen much prefer making decisions in an echo chamber of the like-minded.

"I've got to say that the sportsmen or whatever groups have been coming and sitting in front of us for years," Husted says. "I guess to spend departmental resources to make it easy for everybody, we could get pretty carried away."