Endangered Species Act administration changes bode ill for property rights

Since 2012, the Obama administration has relaxed requirements of the Endangered Species Act to make designation of “Critical Habitat” easier for the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). This is achieved by changing some definitions and by relaxing scientific standards. This will result in more areas being designated as “Critical Habitat” and impose more restrictions on private property, grazing, and mineral exploration and development.

Details of these changes are discussed in a memorandum by attorney Karen Budd-Falen. Here are the main points of that memo:

Previously “Critical Habitat” was confined to the area where a species was in trouble. Under the new policy, the entire range of the species will now be included, even areas where the species is not in trouble.

“Critical Habitat” will be expanded to include areas where the species does not now exist, but might inhabit that area at some unspecified time in the future. (An example of this is the proposed designation of “Critical Habitat” for the jaguar in large areas of Arizona and New Mexico even though jaguars do not occupy the area.)

Species listing and designation of critical habitat are supposed to be based on the “best scientific and commercial data available.” Now, principles of conservation biology are also included. Budd-Falen notes that many scientists describe conservation biology as “agenda driven” and “goal-oriented” biology.

FWS will no longer publish text or detailed land descriptions of the proposed “Critical Habitat.” They will publish small maps in the Federal Register. This will make it difficult for landowners to determine if their property is included.

FWS is no longer required to consider whether areas should be excluded from “Critical Habitat” based on economic costs and burdens.

Budd-Falen notes that these changes may cause normal operations of a farm or ranch to result in a “take” of an endangered species under the law. Also, as the farmers in California’s Central Valley found out, they were not able to divert water for crop irrigation because it was “needed” for downstream fish in a designated “Critical Habitat.”

Read entire memo


Repeal the Endangered Species Act

Endangered species listings based on questionable science and lack of independent review

Regulating behind closed doors, the cozy relationship between the Feds and environmental groups

When federal agencies can’t justify an action through normal channels, they seem to invite lawsuits from environmental groups, the settlement of which allows the agency to obtain court sanctioned, negotiated settlements that bypass input from affected parties and the public.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce notes that this tactic is most often used by the EPA and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and somewhat less often by U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Commerce.  The Sierra Club is the most often used partner in this scam, closely followed by the WildEarth Guardians, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

This “sue and settle” tactic is made possible due to the structure of environmental laws which not only get the Feds what they want, but also enriches environmental groups while at the same time hindering the legitimate function of the government agency.  For instance, the Endangered Species Act is used as a money generator for such groups.  The structure of the law makes it easy for environmental groups to game the system.  According  to attorney Karen Budd-Falen, “Species are listed by a petition process, which means that anyone can send a letter to the federal government asking that a species, either plant or animal, be put on the ESA list. The federal government has 90 days to respond to that petition, no matter how frivolous. If the federal government fails to respond in 90 days, the petitioner – in the vast majority of cases, radical environmental groups – can file litigation against the federal government and get its attorneys fees paid. The simple act of filing litigation does not mean the species will get listed or that it is warranted to be protected; this litigation is only over whether the federal government failed to respond to the petition in 90 days.  Between 2000 and 2009, in just 12 states and the District of Columbia, 14 environmental groups filed 180 federal court complaints to get species listed under the ESA and were paid $11,743,287 in attorneys fees and costs.”  The burden of responding to the many lawsuits causes government biologists to spend much less time on conservation work.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opines that “As a result of the sue and settle process, the agency intentionally transforms itself from an independent actor that has discretion to perform its duties in a manner best serving the public interest into an actor subservient to the binding terms of settlement agreements, which includes using congressionally appropriated funds to achieve the demands of specific outside groups. This process also allows agencies to avoid the normal protections built into the rulemaking process, review by the Office of Management and Budget and the public, and compliance with executive orders, at the critical moment when the agency’s new obligation is created.”

A major concern is that the sue and settle tactic, which has been so effective in removing control over the rulemaking process from Congress, and placing it instead with private parties under the supervision of federal courts, will spread to other complex statutes that have statutorily imposed dates for issuing regulations, such as Dodd-Frank or Obamacare.

The Chamber says that it is important to fix this culture of “sue and settle” because: “Congress’s ability to act on or undertake oversight of the executive branch is diminished and perhaps eliminated through the private agreements between agencies and private parties. Rulemaking in secret, a process that Congress abandoned 65 years ago when it passed the Administrative Procedure Act, is dangerous because it allows private parties and willing agencies to set national policy out of the light of public scrutiny and the procedural safeguards of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

Read the full report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here.

Should the Acuna cactus receive Federal protection?

Acuna-cactus-300x225The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to list the acuna cactus (Echinomastus erectocentrus var. acunensis)  as an endangered species and establish critical habitat for it in Arizona.  Will such a listing and critical habitat actually have a positive effect on the cactus?

As described by FWS, the Acuna cactus is a small, spherical cactus, usually single-stemmed, that can be up to 16 inches  tall and 3.5 inches wide.  Rose, pink, or lavender flowers which are produced in March.  The fruits are pale green and contain small, black seeds.   This cactus occurs in valleys and on small knolls and gravel ridges of up to 30 percent slope in the Arizona Upland subdivision of the Sonoran Desert scrub at 365 to 1,150 m (1,198 to 3,773 ft) in elevation.

In a press release, FWS says, “Current evidence suggests that the acuña cactus and Fickeisen plains cactus are in danger of becoming extinct in the foreseeable future.”  The Arizona Daily Star puts it more dramatically: “Small cactus in Organ Pipe National Monument faces extinction.”

Let’s look at the threat assessment according to FWS (from Federal Register vol. 77, no. 192):


Urbanization near Ajo and Florence may have direct or indirect effects on the cactus, but these areas comprise “less than 21 percent of known living acuna cactus individuals.”  “The majority of the range in the United States is protected from urban development because populations are on Federal lands, where little or no development will take place. In addition, most populations of the acuna cactus are relatively remote or otherwise protected from the effects of urbanization. We conclude that urban development and site degradation is not currently a threat to any entire population of the acuna cactus.”

Cattle grazing:

About 65 percent of acuna cactus occur in National Parks or National Monuments and are thus protected from cattle grazing.  Cattle grazing is not a threat.

Border Activities:

About 78 percent of known living acuna cactus live along or near the U.S.-Mexican border.  FWS concludes that “cross-border violators” are a threat the cactus habitat.

Invasive species:

Throughout the Sonoran Desert invasive species such as bufflegrass, red brome, and Lehmann’s love grass “have altered nutrient regimes; species composition and structure; and fire frequency, duration, intensity, and magnitude.”  However, FWS is not aware of any effect on populations of acuna cactus and concludes that invasive species pose no threat.


FWS says, “We are aware of no acuna cactus populations that are currently impacted by active mining.”   “We conclude that current and future mining activity is not a threat to the acuna cactus and its habitat.”

Drought and Climate Change:

After a very long discussion, FWS concludes that “drought and the effects of climate change, combined with insect predation, rise to a rangewide level threat.”

Disease or predation:

FWS concludes “that predation is a threat that is resulting in significant population impacts to the acuna cactus, and this threat is expected to continue into the future.”

To summerize, FWS says that the cactuses are threatened by “border activities,” climate change, and by predation or disease.

Wryheat conclusion:

Listing the cactus as endangered and establishing critical habitat will only make the “border activity” problem worse because it will limit enforcement activities.

I do not see how the endangerment listing and establishment of critical habitat could have any impact on the effects of climate change, predation by animals, or upon disease.

The conclusion, therefore, is that the acuna cactus should not be listed; it’s just a waste of time, money, and resources.


Save the Dragons! (satire alert)

Since the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and radical environmentalists want to establish “Critical Habitat” for the very rare jaguar in Southern Arizona, I propose they also consider protecting habitat for a predator just slightly rarer than jaguars: dragons. Maybe dragons don’t currently live here, but that shouldn’t be a problem, since USFWS and Pima County aim to reintroduce several other animals that don’t live here either.

When speaking of dragons, I don’t mean those common creatures like the little horned dragon of Australia or the larger Komodo dragon of Indonesia; no, I mean the big, flying, fire-breathing western dragons of legend. They must be an endangered species; you don’t see them around much any more. Imagine the large habitat they would require. USFWS and Pima County could control tens of thousands of acres as habitat for each dragon. And, dragons would tend to thin out all those nasty cows that enviros claim are destroying our desert and forests.

Some skeptics may think that dragons are just a myth. But I will prove, using the best available science, and biological logic at least as good as that appearing in Pima County’s Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan, that these fire-breathers could actually exist, and may have existed in Arizona. However, because peer-reviewed, scientifically rigorous, published accounts of known populations are few, habitat modeling based on environmental characteristics and the “best guess” of dragonologists must be used in constructing a model of dragon physiology and habitat requirements.

First, we have the anecdotal evidence. Dragons, with surprisingly similar characteristics, are mentioned in the annals of many cultures ranging from England, Scandinavia, Africa, the Middle East, India, and China. Dragons are even mentioned frequently in the Bible, though mainly with bad press. Some sculptures in Mayan ruins of Central America feature both snakes and dragon-like creatures. The Apache Indians of Arizona have a dragon legend. It seems that dragons were more common than pygmy owls.

 Western dragons (a species separate from the Chinese wingless dragon) are reputed to be up to 90 feet long and at least 10 feet thick. They can fly; and not only that, they can hover. They can expel fire; their blood is said to be caustic or poisonous; and they are reputed to horde gold. Although reputed characteristics of Western dragons may sound improbable at first, I will present a unified theory of dragons, showing that all these characteristics are not only probable, but necessary.

The key to dragon theory is their manner of flight. Aerodynamic calculations show conclusively that such big animals could not fly if they depended solely upon their wings. Ask not how such a large animal could fly; ask, instead, why the animal needed to be so large in order to fly.

The answer is that dragons were dirigibles. Rather than being constructed like a dinosaur or snake, dragon bodies were actually filled with a honey-comb of hollow bones and “lifting” bladders which captured vast quantities of hydrogen that made dragons nearly weightless. The wings were not for lift, but merely for propulsion and maneuvering.

 Hydrogen may be produced by hydrochloric acid (HCl) in dragon digestive juices. Hydrochloric acid is the common digestive juice of most animals, including humans. When HCl attacks calcium in the lifting bladders, we have a reaction which produces hydrogen: Ca + 2HCl = H2 + CaCl2. Calcium chloride is the mineral hydrophilite which is found associated with the exhalations of volcanoes, and, perhaps, dragons. Of course, in the organic system, things are more complicated, but this shows the general principle.

Some dragonologists say that methane (CH4), a byproduct of digestion, also contributed to the flammable lifting gas of western dragons. This process explains much about dragons. They are reputed to live in caves which are usually found in limestone country, and limestone is calcium carbonate. The streams and lakes around the area would be rich in the calcium needed to replenish their supply. Perhaps dragons even ingested limestone pebbles, much as dinosaurs did. That, too, would help replenish the calcium.

 Dragons expelled fire for two reasons. First, because they lived in caves, expelling hydrogen (and methane) would soon make the habitat unliveable, unless it was burned off. Secondly, they controlled their buoyancy in flight by producing and expelling hydrogen. The mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is highly flammable. There is some question as to how dragons would have ignited the mixture. Some dragonologists propose an electric spark. We know that certain animals, such as electric eels, produce an electric charge, but there is a question of sufficient voltage to make a spark. It has also been proposed that dragons ignited the hydrogen using an exothermic chemical reaction. We know, for instance, that bombadier beetles ward off attackers by producing a liquid emission which has a temperature of several hundred degrees. Or maybe dragons had flinty teeth. It is not a great leap of faith to suppose that dragons could have ignited hydrogen by these processes.

Dragons were actually rather fragile animals, that’s why they stayed in their caves so much. They were nearly defenseless against the knight and his sword, because the sword would puncture the hydrogen bladders and quickly ground the dragon. The puncture would allow hydrochloric acid to seep out, giving rise to the legend of caustic blood.

 How did such a creature evolve? Perhaps much like birds. An upright dinosaur would run and leap. To gain speed, the solid bone structure would become a lighter lattice of bones like that in birds, rabbits, and deer. Over the millennia, flaps of skin and bones would allow the leaps to become glides and the glides to become flight. Perhaps the dinosaurs that became dragons where particularly dyspeptic and the gas was gradually put to good use. Because dragons were actually such light creatures, they needed to feed only once or twice a month, another characteristic of legend. They would fly out from their lairs and attack cattle in the field, spouting flame to help control their flight. That they devoured a princess or two on the way is probably just a vicious lie.

Several radical enviro groups are campaigning to reintroduce large carnivores to the continental U.S. Why deal with puny pumas, gratuitous grizzlies, wandering wolves, or journeying jaguars when you can have a really big zoophagous dragon?

We’ve seen from the discussion above, that potential habitat for dragons must include mountains for their caves, prairies for the cattle, and riparian areas for a water source. Dragons would be a splendid “umbrella” species, for, by preserving dragon habitat, we necessarily preserve habitat for many other animals.

I’ve accounted for all the reported characteristics of dragons, save one: the collection of gold. While this may in fact be a myth, there is a reason why dragons would collect gold nuggets. Because of the caustic nature of HCl and hydrogen, a dragon would tend to line its nest with material that is not easily affected by the caustic nature of its physiology. Gold is such a substance. Do you suppose that accounts of lost treasure, such as the Peralta and Lost Dutchman mines, could actually be descriptions of fossil dragon nests? If so, then this is evidence that dragons once inhabited Arizona.

Given the government’s penchant for spending money on, shall we say, special projects, perhaps we could attract dragons by lining a few caves with gold nuggets. Taxpayers shouldn’t mind this expense, after all, we subsidize otherwise uneconomic solar and wind energy ventures, as well as electric cars. Just think of the pleasure of seeing, on a dark night, within the mountain vastness, the flames from bull dragons proclaiming their territories by trumpeting and spouting fire. This project has all the merit of establishing “Critical Habitat” for jaguars.

 Save the dragons!

[Note: the idea for the manner for dragon flight was proposed by Peter Dickinson in his whimsical book “The Flight of Dragons.” See that and other Dickinson works by visiting his website: http://peterdickinson.com/ ]

Jaguars versus the Rosemont mine

JaguarThe U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) will seek public comment on its proposal to designate “Critical Habitat” for the jaguar in Southern Arizona and New Mexico. USFWS had previously determined that Critical Habitat “for the jaguar in the United States would not be prudent.” However, an Arizona District Court found that the previous decision was “not legally sufficient.”

The proposal is not scientifically sufficient either. Two years ago I wrote:

A Freedom of Information Act inquiry has revealed that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decision to declare portions of Arizona and New Mexico as “Critical Habitat” for the jaguar has no basis in fact. USFWS based its decision on unsubstantiated anecdotal stories that did not meet the Endangered Species Act definition of minimum scientific standards. The inquiry also found possible collusion between an employee of the Arizona Fish and Game Department and the Center for Biological Diversity. The report of the inquiry was written by Biologist/Attorney Dennis Parker.

Read the rest of that story in my article: Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science. At the time that story was written the USFWS claimed that designation of “Critical Habitat” was “prudent”, i.e., it was prudent before it was not prudent and now it is prudent again.

FWS is now proposing “Critical Habitat” again. From a FWS press release:

The Service has identified 838,232 acres in six units in primarily mountainous portions of southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico that will be considered for potential critical habitat. These include 547,000 acres of Federal land; 111,741 acres of State of Arizona land; 76,329 acres of Tribal land; and 103,143 acres of private lands. Critical habitat designations have no effect on actions taking place on non-federal lands unless proposed activities involve federal funding or permitting.

I wonder if collecting Social Security payments would be considered “federal funding” and trigger the bureaucratic implications on private land.

The proposed Rosemont copper mine would be directly impacted by “Critical Habitat” designation because the mine site occurs in the northern end of the designated lands (see map from the Arizona Daily Star below).

The Rosemont mine’s footprint is about 4,400 acres according to the Arizona Daily Star. That’s 0.5% of the whole area. Is that half percent really critical? The portion of habitat occupied by the mine is broken in four places by highways. The Arizona Daily Star notes that the proposed “Critical Habitat” “includes areas known to have been occupied by jaguars since 1962, or land considered essential for the animal even if jaguars haven’t been seen there in recent decades.”

So, if jaguars haven’t been seen for decades, how “critical” is the land? In the last twenty years, there have been about a half dozen jaguar sightings throughout Southern Arizona and all those sightings have been of male jaguars. It is obvious that Southern Arizona is not breeding ground for jaguars. Those few male jaguars have wandered north from their main breeding areas in Mexico. Southern Arizona is obviously not “critical” to jaguar breeding.

I find it curious that the proposed “Critical Habitat” includes the Rosemont site, the site of mineral exploration farther south near Patagonia, and the water source for the City of Tombstone, but does not include the Chiricahua Mountains farther to the east near the New Mexico portion of proposed habitat. According to the National Park Service, “The Chiricahua mountains were also historically the home of the jaguar.” Of course, there are no known economic mineral deposits in the Chiricahua Mountains.  That makes it look like the radical environmentalists and USFWS are targeting potentially productive land to make them off limits.

Another question: How will designation of “Critical Habitat” affect border security?

The jaguar’s range extends through Mexico, Central America, and much of South America.  A few thousand acres in Arizona will not make a difference to the species as a whole.  This whole jaguar issue shows how the Endangered Species Act can be abused.  ESA should be repealed.

This “Critical Habitat” proposal is scientifically unjustified. It is just another green utopian obstacle placed in the path of job creation and beneficial use of the land.



Climate Change and Biodiversity

Climate alarmists have claimed that global warming will cause massive species extinctions. The geologic record shows the opposite. As “climate change” itself loses traction, green extremists are switching to “biodiversity” as the next bogeyman. The U.N. is launching its “International Year of Biodiversity.” But the current wildlife extinction rate is the lowest in 500 years according to the UN’s own World Atlas of Biodiversity. Environmental groups are beginning to use the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as an excuse to control carbon dioxide emissions. Perhaps the first species to be listed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) on speculation of the effects of global warming is the polar bear.

On May 14, 2008, FWS listed the polar bear as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), based on the supposition that carbon dioxide emissions are melting the bear’s Arctic habitat.

In 2007, just prior to listing, the Arctic sea ice reached the lowest level recorded since 1979 when satellites began tracking the ice. However, that same year, Antarctic sea ice reached the maximum extent ever recorded. Did you hear about that?

The Department of the Interior press release on the polar bear claimed, “The listing is based on the best available science, which shows that loss of sea ice threatens and will likely continue to threaten polar bear habitat. This loss of habitat puts polar bears at risk of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future, the standard established by the ESA for designating a threatened species.” Really? Environmental groups are suing to force FWS to upgrade the listing to “endangered.”

The FWS listing is based on computer projections and false assumptions. An article in Science Daily claims, “Federal Polar Bear Research Critically Flawed…” People who live in the Arctic know that polar bear populations have been increasing, mainly due to changes in hunting regulations. Native Inuit hunters say that “The growing population has become ‘a real problem,’especially over the last 10 years.”

The polar bear has been around for a very long time and somehow survived conditions that were warmer than now and warmer than computer projections. It is also telling that the Canadian government, which oversees 14 of the 19 polar bear populations, has not listed the bear as “threatened” or “endangered.” The Alaska Department of Fish & Game opposed the listing claiming that FWS did not use the best available science and that FWS cherry-picked models, choosing only those which supported their case. Alaska fish & game says that polar bear populations “are abundant, stable, and unthreatened by direct human activity.”

FWS has a Climate Change Strategic Plan which is based largely on reports from the now discredited Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (See my posts The Assumed Authority, and IPCC and Peer Review.)

 Real, on the ground, research into the relationship between global warming, species extinction, and biodiversity paints a picture very different from the speculative computer models. Abundant research shows that warming increases the range for most terrestrial plants and animals, and for most marine creatures. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere makes plants more water efficient and more robust. For an introduction to this research seehttp://www.co2science.org/images/pdf/extinction.pdf “The Specter of Species Extinction, Will Global Warming Decimate Earth’s Biosphere?” That report concludes:

The CO2-induced global warming extinction hypothesis claims that as the world warms in response to the ongoing rise in the air’s CO2 content, many species of plants and animals will not be able to migrate either poleward in latitude or upward in elevation fast enough to avoid extinction as they try to escape the stress imposed by the rising temperature. With respect to plants, however, we have shown that as long as the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration rises in tandem with its temperature, most of them will not “feel the heat,” as their physiology will change in ways that make them better adapted to warmer conditions. Hence, although earth’s plants will likely spread poleward and upward at the cold-limited boundaries of their ranges in response to a warming-induced opportunity to do so, their heat-limited boundaries will probably remain pretty much as they are now or shift only slightly. Consequently, in a world of rising atmospheric CO2 concentration, the ranges of most of earth’s plants will likely expand if the planet continues to warm, making plant extinctions even less likely than they are currently.

Animals should react much the same way. In response to concurrent increases in atmospheric temperature and CO2 concentration, they will likely migrate poleward and upward, where cold temperatures prevented them from going in the past, as they follow earth’s plants. Also as with earth’s plants, the heat-limited boundaries of their ranges should in many cases be little affected, as has been observed in several of the real-world studies that have been wrongly cited as providing evidence for impending species extinctions, or their entire ranges may simply shift with the rising temperature, as has been observed in many real-world studies of marine ecosystems.

To summarize, both theory and observation paint the same picture. A goodly portion of earth’s plants and animals should actually expand their ranges and gain a stronger foothold on the planet as the atmosphere’s temperature and CO2 concentration continue to rise. If the air’s CO2 content were suddenly to stop increasing, however, the biosphere could find itself facing a significant challenge, as the world’s plants would cease acquiring the extra physiological protection against heat stress that is afforded them by rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Consequently, the end result of curtailing anthropogenic CO2 emissions might well be just the opposite of what many people are hoping to accomplish by encouraging that policy, i.e., many species might actually be driven to extinction, rather than being saved from such a fate.

For even more information, go to www.CO2Science.org and look in their subject index under “extinction.” There you will find reviews of the scientific literature based on real world observations. This research, as well as geologic history, show that a warmer world increases biodiversity. Habitat destruction from other causes is a separate issue.

Looking at the greater geologic record, we see that major extinctions are associated with ice ages and other cooling events. After each ice age, as the planet warmed, life rebounded with more speciation and greater biodiversity. The geologic record also shows that the “normal” temperature of this planet (when we are not in an ice age, or an interglacial period of an ice age) is about 18 degrees F warmer than now (see chart in this post). Even in our current interglacial period, warm cycles have been up to 10 degrees F warmer than now and we have not seen massive extinctions. (The megafauna extinction of about 10,000 years ago was associated with a rapid cooling period, the Younger Dryas.) The hot and steamy Cretaceous Period saw the development of flowering plants and a great increase in biodiversity.

It seems that the Fish & Wildlife Service is following a political agenda based on junk science.

(For another example of FWS junk science see, Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science)

Buenos Aires National Game Refuge where Endangered Species and Illegal Immigration Collide

The 118,000-acre Buenos Aires Game Refuge in Southern Arizona’s Altar Valley was created in 1985 “to establish and manage populations of the masked bobwhite quail” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Altar Valley is also a major route for illegal immigration and drug smuggling.

Thousands of people cross the border there every year. One source says that somewhere between 600,000 and 800,000 people per year had crossed the border, but local ranchers say the numbers are much lower than that now. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) which runs the Refuge has issued a travel advisory warning people about the area:

“As a result of illegal immigrants crossing our borders, other unlawful acts do occur within the Refuge. Some of the illegal immigrants are armed, dangerous, and determined to complete the trip at any cost. Most often these are smugglers and drug runners. They may drive a stolen vehicle or they may hire human ‘mules’ to carry their contraband in homemade backpacks.”

“These illegal routes are lined with empty water jugs and other trash. Illegal immigrants frequently stop to camp, collect wood and start fires. These fires sometimes escape and cause damage to wildlife habitat. Trash left at these sites is not only unsightly, it is unsanitary and attracts a variety of scavengers. Nearby water sources are often so fouled by pollution that wildlife can no longer use them. Some overnight rest stops are so heavily used that the damage is extensive. During the rainy seasons, trails and vehicle routes become avenues for floodwaters, further increasing the resource damage.”

One area rancher said, “There are quite a few government agencies with various responsibilities to protect us from the onslaught of illegal activity that exists on or near our border.  That activity creates dangers to us personally and that is our greatest concern. That activity also harms our environment and undermines many of the environmentally protective measures that we ranchers have committed to and are undertaking.   I hope all the agencies can work closely together so that they can succeed in their mission.”

The fact that there still is illegal immigration means that the federal government is not adequately enforcing the ESA to protect the environment nor enforcing border security to protect people in and near the Refuge.

A short history of the area complied from FWS and local ranchers:

The Altar Valley was first homesteaded by Pedro Aguirre, Jr. in 1864 as the “Buenos Ayres Ranch.” He had been running a stagecoach and freight line between Tucson and mines near Arivaca, Arizona and Altar, Sonora, Mexico. Aguirre drilled wells, built earthen dams, and created Aguirre Lake. This ensured a water supply for cattle in the Altar Valley.

As railroads opened new markets, cattle numbers in southeastern Arizona exploded. But an extreme drought from 1885-1892 killed at least 50% of each herd. The remaining cattle stripped the land bare. This occurred before establishment of modern ranching practice. When the rains returned, no grasses were left to absorb the water. The rain eroded the land, creating the washes and gullies we see today. The earthquake of 1887 may have contributed to the erosion by either raising the land or lowering the water table.

Between 1909 and 1985, Buenos Aires Ranch changed ownership several times. It became one of the most prominent and successful livestock operations in Arizona. From 1926 to 1959, the Gill family raised prize-winning racing quarter horses. During the 1970’s and 80’s, the Victorio Land and Cattle Company specialized in purebred Brangus cattle, which are well suited to hot, dry climates. The ranch sold bulls and bull semen nationally and internationally with some bulls selling in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In 1985, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the Buenos Aires Ranch, and it became a National Wildlife Refuge. FWS brought in pronghorn antelope and masked bobwhite quails (which promptly became food for coyotes and hawks). FWS abandoned wells and waterlines because they were “unnatural.” With the lack of water, much of the wildlife left. (More recently, FWS re-established some of the stock ponds.) The Altar Valley is the northern fringe of the bobwhite’s range. At the time of Refuge creation, a study of the bobwhite was going on at Las Delicias ranch. That study indicated that the bottom of the valley was too extreme for the quail.

A more detailed history is presented in the book Ranching, Endangered Species, and Urbanization in the Southwest, by Dr. Nathan Sayre (2002) University of Arizona Press. (The book is available in local libraries).

Sayre recounts the history of cattle ranching in the Altar Valley by examining both the economics and ecology of ranching. The Altar Valley was a lush grassland, but one without perennial water sources. In a parallel story, Sayre examines the failed effort of the federal government to establish the Masked Bobwhite quail in the region, first by working with the ranchers, and then by buying out the ranches and establishing the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. When the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge was created, cattle were removed and so were most of the developed water sources.

Sayre starts by exploring the history of the masked bobwhite quail, a subspecies of the northern bobwhite, from its discovery in 1880s, its disappearance around 1900, to its return to the Altar Valley in the 1970s. During this period, the masked bobwhite acquired great symbolic value among ornithologists and wildlife managers as a victim of cattle grazing. Sayre concluded that the effort to reestablish the bobwhite was doomed to failure because the Altar Valley is at the very northern extreme of the quail’s habitat. They die in freezing weather which occurs frequently in mid-winter on the Refuge.

Subsequent chapters recount the development of ranches from the 1880s to the 1970s and the constant battle to provide water and forage while suffering droughts and floods. These chapters deal with the “cattle boom” in the 19th century, its ecological consequences, and how successive owners dealt with these conditions.

Sayre notes that more than 25,000 captive-bred birds have been released on the Refuge at a cost of $68 million, but few if any survive. “Despite the removal of livestock, Refuge biologists have not succeeded in establishing a self-sustaining population of masked bobwhites.” “An ambitious program of prescribed burning, intended to simulate the natural fire regime of the desert grasslands, has not resulted in any change in the vegetation on the Buenos Aires.”

The flyleaf of the book notes that “The creation of the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge has been a symbolic victory for environmentalists, but it comes at the cost of implicitly legitimizing the ongoing fragmentation and suburbanization of Arizona’s…rangeland. Sayre reveals how the polarized politics of the rangeland conflict have bound the Fish and Wildlife Service to a narrow, ineffectual management strategy on the Buenos Aires, with greater attention paid to increasing tourism from bird watchers than to the complex challenge of restoring the masked bobwhite and its habitat.” (The Buenos Aires is now under a new director who is working on another updated plan.)

The Refuge has been a favored route for illegal immigration. It has also been the site of various accidental or intentional unplanned range fires set by the border crossers either for the purpose of being located and rescued or perhaps as decoys to draw resources away from routes being used for narcotics transportation.

But humans are not the only invaders. Because of earlier government soil conservation practices, the area of the Refuge was converted in large part to a plantation of exotic grass species. It started around 1900. According to a UofA News story, “Combined overgrazing and drought resulted in ecological disaster in the 1890s… A concerned federal government intervened at the turn of the century. Pioneering researchers lacked modern technology and time to experiment with re-establishing native grasses after their initial attempts to restore these grasses failed. Their worldwide search for the best ‘miracle’ grass to reduce soil erosion and provide livestock nutritive forage ended in the 1930s in South Africa, where they found Lehmann lovegrass. It established readily from seed, was easy to handle, and thrived on less than 10 inches annual rainfall. Lehmann lovegrass was widely seeded across southeastern Arizona from the 1940s through the 1970s.”

According to a local expert on desert grasses, Lehmann lovegrass “was the grass of choice for the highway department that seeded it alongside the roads to prevent erosion. The prolific production of very fine seed with the extra water afforded by runoff from highways contributed as much as anything to the spread of the grass. Additionally, the seed was readily picked up by vehicle tires and transported everywhere. Lehmann lovegrass greens up earlier in spring and stays green longer in the fall than many native perennials, so it provides good forage at those times; it is not the grass of first choice during the prime summer rainy season–native perennials are first choice– but fills its own important niche at other times. Lehmann tends to occupy the lower areas between hills and is slow to move up hills, especially the common limey, rocky slopes.” Lehmann lovegrass initially displaced native species and decreased the biodiversity of the Refuge, “but it seems to be hindered from displacing native grasses where those are well established.” Area ranchers report that native species are returning in some areas.

The Fish & Wildlife Service has failed in its original goal to establish a viable, permanent population of masked bobwhite quail in the Altar Valley. It seems that the major result of this experiment has been to turn productive land into non-productive land.

Jaguar Listing and Habitat Designation Based on Junk Science

JaguarA Freedom of Information Act inquiry has revealed that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) decision to declare portions of Arizona and New Mexico as “Critical Habitat” for the jaguar has no basis in fact. USFWS based its decision on unsubstantiated anecdotal stories that did not meet the Endangered Species Act definition of minimum scientific standards. The inquiry also found possible collusion between an employee of the Arizona Fish and Game Department and the Center for Biological Diversity. The report of the inquiry was written by Biologist/Attorney Dennis Parker. Here is the press release:



In a recent letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) the Southern Arizona Cattlemen’s Protective Association (SACPA), the Coalition of Arizona/New Mexico Counties, the Pima Natural Resources Conservation District (NRCD), the Whitewater Draw NRCD, and People for the West strongly urged the agency to reverse its decision that critical habitat is “prudent” for jaguars in Arizona and New Mexico. The letter shows that under the ESA, and based solely on the best science available, habitat “essential” to the jaguar’s existence does not exist in the United States. Furthermore, studies have proven that well managed livestock grazing poses no threat to jaguars or their habitat.

“The Department of Interior just announced a new policy favoring sound science over political misconduct,” said SACPA president Cindy Coping. “To honor their own policy the USFWS must reverse their unsound but politically fashionable decision that won’t help the jaguar and does threaten to destroy hundreds of rural jobs in two states.”

A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) inquiry revealed that the agency’s decision relied heavily on a 2005 conference presentation that lacked supporting data and fails to meet the ESA definition of minimum scientific standards.

Another public records search revealed that an employee of the Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) authorized a $999.99 payment to the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) to create a jaguar habitat model for New Mexico. The CBD’s model was a substitute for, and produced conclusions far different from, the sound scientific conclusions already published by the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The CBD had a then recent history of publishing maliciously false information about endangered species and livestock grazing. That charge, proven in court, was already a matter of widespread public knowledge when the AGFD employee engaged the CBD to produce a substitute habitat model for New Mexico.

“The payment itself, one cent below the level we understand requires Commission approval, raises serious questions about the AGFD employee’s intentions,” Coping said. “These issues involve authority and abuse of such, improper bias, conflict of interest, and the unprecedented extraterritorial extension of AGFD authority over the State of New Mexico,” wrote Dennis Parker, the wildlife biologist/attorney who authored the comments.” These facts alone warrant suspension of any critical habitat designation for the jaguar in the United States until this serious situation is fully investigated and explained,” he added. At least two of the supposed “verified” jaguars mentioned in the Arizona habitat models were likely not naturally occurring, but rather, animals of foreign origin captured and imported into the United States for the purpose of “guaranteed” hunting. At least 9 such imported jaguars were introduced into New Mexico in 1972 and 1973 alone, including at least one female that escaped. Recent journal published studies from Brazil prove that both the range and numbers of jaguars expanded where domestic livestock were introduced, due to the more dependable prey base. In fact, Brazilian cattle ranches support the highest densities and numbers of jaguars found anywhere. Moreover, both the historic and the recent record of transient jaguar occurrences in the Southwest indicate that modern, highly controlled livestock grazing poses no threat to the few jaguars that sometimes wander across the Mexican border onto neighboring Arizona and New Mexico ranchlands.

All of the citizen organizations represented in the carefully documented letter sent to the USFWS care deeply about the management of landscapes in Arizona and New Mexico where ranching has been and continues to be the dominant land use keeping habitat largely intact and undeveloped for more than 300 years.


For more information, please contact Cindy Coping, SACPA president, at (303) 905-4041.

Read the full 15-page report here.

Some excerpts from the report:

“While one transient male jaguar, Macho B, did roam the borderlands of Arizona and Sonora for more than a decade until last year, his extensive travels prior to his death indicates he was having a difficult time surviving in this dry, rugged region. Moreover, his persistent presence in the borderlands was also artificially induced by the placement of female jaguar scent (in the form of scat of captive females in season) at camera locations on the United States side of the boundary with Mexico.”

“Finally, if Arizona and New Mexico actually qualified as critical habitat, or habitat “essential” to the existence of the jaguar as a species, then both common sense and objective science would necessarily demand that, at a minimum, female jaguars be shown to reside in those States. The facts conclusively show that they do not and that no female jaguar has been shown to occur in Arizona, even on a highly questionable and suspect basis, since 1963. The facts also reveal that no [wild] female jaguar has been verified to have occurred in New Mexico — ever.”

This is just one more example of why we should Repeal the Endangered Species Act.