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PRESS RELEASE: Wolf Crossing, 10/19/07, by Laura Schneberger
Coordinating with New Mexico’s announcement of Wolf Awareness Week, Santa Fe based Forest Guardians and Colorado based Sinapu, filed suit in federal district court Wednesday, to overturn all U.S. Forest Service decisions that allow livestock grazing permit renewal through Categorical Exclusion. The suit only targets ranches in the Gila National Forest of southwest New Mexico. The move was made in order to protect Mexican wolves from livestock.
Background: Due to a congressional mandate, the USFS has been instructed by Congress to issue ten year grazing permits through Categorical Exclusion rather than a full NEPA process. NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) allows public input into the planning and issuance of a ten year term grazing permit. This input is necessary if changes to management are made through the planning process. A Categorical Exclusion has no provision for public comment or appeal, due to a lack of significant management change or the existence of improved allotment condition or habitat development on an allotment.
The congressional intervention was crucial due to massive backlogs on individual grazing allotment NEPA analysis caused by another environmental lawsuit. Obviously the intent of congress in passing NEPA, was to allow access by the public to significant management changes on National Forests but not necessarily every individual planning process.
The groups have asked the federal district court to invalidate thirteen categorical exclusions issued on the Gila since 2005, the suit claims that the CE’s are contributing to the harm of the spotted owl, leopard frog and Mexican wolf. The groups are claiming the CE’s are damaging themselves and their members. If successful, the suit may result in the destruction of historic ranches in the Gila region of southwest New Mexico.
“The suit is absurd” said Laura Schneberger, President of the Gila Livestock Growers Association, who’s membership are listed in the case. “How is it legitimate that livestock are a threat to wolves? How can a non-essential experimental population of wolves be harmed by cows when courts have repeatedly ruled an adequate supply of essential animals to maintain the species exists in captivity and is available to supplement the population? For that matter, how is improved and expanded habitat a danger to species?”
As a remedy for their perceived harm, the groups have asked the courts to remove livestock from the allotments in question while a full blown NEPA analysis is conducted. Due to a tremendous backlog on NEPA analysis, that could take years.
Schneberger points out at least three of the allotments the groups have targeted for livestock removal have already been de-stocked due to unchecked uncompensated livestock depredation by wolves. “This is a backdoor attempt to permanently force out of business people who have created endangered species habitat. These are the very allotments where habitat has been created by the rancher’s excellent livestock grazing management. The irony is wolves would not be on those ranches harming people, if the habitat were not spectacular they would still be in the wilderness where habitat is obviously lacking.”
“If the Forest Service caves in to this frivolous lawsuit or a judge sides with it and orders those allotments to remove their livestock they will never be able to recover and the impact will be tremendous. I am sure that Forest Guardians and Sinapu are aware of that.”
Carton county manager Bill Aymar agrees.
”Even a blind pig could see removal of these cattle would have a terrible impact on the counties and communities in this region.”
Livestock organizations and rural communities contend that awareness needs to be raised over the lack of adequate management and mitigation of impacts by wolves in wolf country. Far more than the 30 head of cattle, claimed by the suit, have been killed by Mexican wolves to date.
According to Jess Carey, Catron county Wolf Interaction Investigator, a minimum of 57 confirmed livestock and 9 pets have been attacked or killed in Catron County between April 2006 and February 2007. That does not include possible or probable wolf attacks or those found to late to examine. Numbers from Arizona and other counties in New Mexico have not been officially compiled but clearly, public information on wolf impacts on rural inhabitants is lacking.
The 1998 Environmental Impact Statement on the Mexican wolf recovery issued a Finding of no Significant Impact on livestock, businesses or wolves. Currently, the Mexican wolf program administrators, including the USFS and US Fish and Wildlife Service and both Arizona and New Mexico Game departments, are working on a new EIS to change the current management rule. This process is being done under full NEPA analysis and allows for full public input.
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