Grand Canyon National Park eyes bison plan

Roaming buffalo create management challenges

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The buffalo are roaming in Grand Canyon National Park. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A herd of bison brought to northern Arizona in the early 1900s has moved from a state-run wildlife area into Grand Canyon National Park, and now park rangers want to develop a plan to manage the animals.

Initially, the bison were managed in the House Rock Wildlife Area for big game hunters, but in the late 1990s, the animals have pioneered their way to the top of the Kaibab Plateau and into Grand Canyon National Park.

Resource managers say  combination of public hunt pressure, drought and fire, and reduced forage quality in House Rock Valley during the 1990s may have contributed to the bison moving through Saddle Mountain Wilderness and onto the higher elevations of the Kaibab Plateau. Over the past several years, very few bison have returned to wildlife area. Most now spend a majority of their time inside the park. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds propose more jaguar critical habitat

USFWS also seeking comment on a draft economic analysis

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A revised critical habitat designation for jaguars adds lands in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains, where a lone jaguar has been photographed several times in recent months.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal biologists have revised a critical habitat proposal for endangered jaguars in the southwest. The updated maps include areas in Arizona’s Santa Rita Mountains where a lone jaguar has been caught on camera several times in the past nine months.

Under the modified U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal, released last week, a total of about 850,000 acres would be designated, including lands around a planned open-pit copper mine. Conservation advocates say the mine could interfere with the cats’ dispersal into North America. They hope the critical habitat designation will prevent approval of the mine.

Along with the updated habitat proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also released a draft economic analysis and draft environmental assessment of the proposed designation.

The economic analysis is a crucial issue relating to the proposed mine, because if the benefits of excluding an area outweigh the benefits of designating it, the agency can exclude an area from critical habitat, unless the exclusions would result in the extinction of the species. Continue reading

Feds map wind, solar energy zones in Arizona

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New plan focuses on previously disturbed sites with few resource conflicts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Obama administration’s push to develop more renewable energy resources reached another milestone this week, as the Interior Department finalized designation of 192,000 acres in Arizona as potentially suitable for utility-scale solar and wind energy development.

Any subsequent proposals for specific solar or wind energy projects will still need to undergo a site-specific environmental review.

According to the Interior Department, the lands identified in Arizona include previously disturbed sites (primarily former agricultural areas) and lands with low resource sensitivity and few environmental conflicts. Federal land managers in Arizona spent three years analyzing  disturbed land and other areas with few known resource conflicts that could accommodate commercial renewable energy projects. Continue reading

Wildlife advocates want more critical habitat for jaguars

Photo courtesy Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Feds plan to finalize critical habitat designation by the end of the year

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal plan to designate more than 800,000 acres of critical habitat for endangered jaguars in the southwestern U.S. may not go far enough to ensure recovery for the wild cats, according to conservation activists. The USFWS proposal, including comment information, is posted online here.

”The best habitat for American jaguars lies in the vast and rugged Gila National Forest in New Mexico and adjoining pine forests in Arizona,” said Michael Robinson, a wildlife conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which this week  filed a detailed 55-page comment letter with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week, urging the agency to add more habitat to the designation.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has a moral duty to protect these special places, where jaguars once lived and which they should be able to call home again. Recovering jaguars in this region, so full of wilderness, will bolster the genetic strength of the struggling jaguar population in northern Mexico, too, helping to ensure that these great cats will always share our country with us,” Robinson said. Continue reading

Forest Service OKs massive off-road rally without review

Mexican spotted owl. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Conservation advocates may sue to block future editions of the jamboree on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — When it comes to policing the annual Rainbow Gathering, the U.S. Forest Service can pretty harsh, but apparently that same hardline doesn’t apply to off-roaders, at least in Arizona, where the agency has apparently developed a cozy relationship with motorized users.

According the conservation groups, the Forest Service authorized a six-day off-road rally without doing any environmental studies or reviewing the impacts to rare and sensitive forest species.

Based on promotional materials for the off-road jamboree, the event is at least partly commercial and requires Forest Service review and permitting. Part of the route is through areas affected by the Wallow Fire, where new vegetation is just becoming established, and it also appears that there is some commercial photography associated with the off-road rally. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Lead poisoning still plagues condor recovery

A tagged California condor in flight.

Failure to reduce lead exposure may lead to end of condor restoration effort in Arizona And Utah

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Government conservation biologists say California condors are slowly recovering in Utah and Arizona, with more breeding pairs and consistent use of seasonal ranges — but exposure to lead contamination associated with big game hunting  continues to be a major challenge.

The goal of the California Condor Recovery Plan is to establish two geographically separate, self-sustaining populations – a primary population in California and the other outside of California, each with 150 birds and at least 15 breeding pairs.

But the partner agencies will seriously consider withdrawing support for condor reintroduction efforts in the Southwest if, by the end of 2016, a reduction of extreme lead exposures (blood lead levels) is not achieved and a declining trend in diagnosed lead related mortality and morbidity is not observed. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Feds propose critical habitat for jaguars

Photo courtesy Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

Public comment sought on plan to protect 838,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — After outlining a vision for a jaguar conservation and recovery plan last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed designating more than 800,000 acres as critical habitat for the endangered cats.

Jaguars were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. in 1972. Internationally, they are listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List.

According to some recent estimates, there may be as many as 30,000 jaguars total across their range in South America and Central America, with between 3,000 and 4,000 in Mexico.

Populations thin out toward the northern end of the range, with populations in the Mexican states of Colima and Jalisco north through Nayarit, Sinaloa, southwestern Chihuahua, and Sonora to the border with the U.S.

Conservation advocates said the critical habitat designation could help restore native jaguar populations to southern Arizona and New Mexico. Continue reading

Freeport-McMoRan pays $6.8 million in settlement for natural resource damage at Morenci Mine in Arizona

Toxic sludge killed thousands of birds at open pit copper mine

The Morenci Mine, Arizona. Photo courtesy T.J. Blackwell via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The Freeport-McMoRan Corporation, owner of the Henderson and Climax molybdenum mines in Colorado, recently agreed to pay $6.8 million for natural resource damages at its Morenci Mine in east-central Arizona.

The U.S. District Court for Arizona recently approved the settlement, which involves the multinational mining giant, as well as the State of Arizona, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Continue reading

Republican lawmakers try again — and fail again — to remove Grand Canyon-area uranium development ban

Fourth attempt to overturn environmental protections for cherished area falls short in House committee

Aerial view of the Grand Canyon. PHOTO COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Federal lawmakers continued their cat and mouse energy game this week by fiddling with a transportation bill to try and repeal President Obama’s ban on new uranium development across 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park.

The effort, led by three Arizona congressmen, failed, when the House Rules Committee ruled it out of order. The amendment was sponsored by  Jeff Flake, Trent Franks and Paul Gosar, all Republicans. It would have overturned a recent decision by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar enacting a 20-year “mineral withdrawal” that bans new mining claims and development on existing claims lacking rights-to-mine across Grand Canyon’s million-acre watershed. Continue reading

Southwestern gray wolf population growing slowly

Advocates say more releases needed to bolster populations

Mexican gray wolf. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

The latest wolf-location map from Arizona and New Mexico.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Taking a small step away from the brink of extinction, the Mexican gray wolf population grew for the second year in a row.

According to the latest census there are now 26 wolves in New Mexico and 32 wolves in Arizona. Most importantly for the success of the recovery program, the number of breeding pairs increased from just two in each of the preceding annual counts to six in 2011.

That increase came despite the fact that the massive Wallow Fire in Arizona burned through inportant denning habitat.

Federal officials say continued collaboration and reduction in livestock losses is key to developing the social acceptance needed for successful long-term recovery.

“Building public tolerance by those who live on the land and must coexist with the wolf is so very important to the success of Mexican wolf recovery in Arizona,” said  Arizona Game and Fish Department director Larry Voyles.

The latest wolf census  shows that 18 pups born during 2011 have survived, boosting the total population to 58, up from 42 just a couple of years ago. There may be other pups living in the wild that weren’t detected in the surveys, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Previous annual reports are online here. Continue reading

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