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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

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Military airtankers to join Colorado firefighting efforts

Forest Service cites ‘explosive wildfire conditions’ in deploying the planes

Two MAFFS aircraft will be coming from the 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, WY, and two aircraft will be from the local 302nd Airlift Wing here in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield)

Two MAFFS aircraft will be activated to help fight the Black Forest and Royal Gorge fires in Colorado. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Butterfield).

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —After a sudden start to the Colorado wildfire season, The U.S. Forest Service is activating two giant C-130s to help with aerial firefighting efforts. The planes are equipped with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems that can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or retardant on a single run. They can discharge their entire load in under five seconds or make variable drops.

The systems will be provided by the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve, Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. They will be based in Colorado Springs, Colo., and will begin flying wildfire suppression missions as soon as safe and effective operations can be established.

“We are experiencing an uptick in wildfire activity and we are mobilizing MAFFS to ensure that we have adequate air tanker capability as we confront explosive wildfire conditions in Colorado, New Mexico, and elsewhere in the West,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Maintaining adequate aerial firefighting capability is critical to provide support to, and enhance the safety of, the firefighters on the ground who are working so hard to suppress wildfires that are threatening lives, homes, infrastructure, and valuable natural and cultural resources.”

Airtankers are used in wildfire suppression to deliver fire retardant to reduce the intensity and slow the growth of wildfires so that firefighters on the ground can construct containment lines safely, which is how wildfires are suppressed.

Fire retardant is not typically used to suppress wildfires directly. Professional fire managers decide whether to use airtankers to deliver fire retardant , and where to use them, based on the objectives they have established to manage wildfires and the strategies they are using to achieve them.  Airtankers are not requested for all wildfires.

The Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems program is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense that has been in place for 40 years. The U.S. Forest Service owns the Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems equipment and supplies the retardant, while the Department of Defense provides the C-130 aircraft, flight crews and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.

The U.S. Forest Service has a total of eight Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems ready for operational use. Military installations in Wyoming, North Carolina, California, and Colorado provide C-130s to fly the missions.

In 2012, Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems delivered 2.4 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, California, and Nevada.  That was the second busiest year for the systems in at least the last 20 years. 1994 was the busiest year, when they delivered more than 5 million gallons of fire retardant while flying wildfire suppression missions.

Climate: Drought conditions edge westward

Wet, cool spring brings relief to Midwest

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The most severe areas of drought encompass parts of the central-southern plains, spreading southwest into parts of Colorado and New Mexico.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Drought woes have eased in the Midwest after a wet spring, but the far West,  California in particular, are facing continued dry conditions. California has reported its driest year to-date on record, with only 27 percent of normal precipitation for January through April. That doesn’t bode well for the state’s water supplies, although at least reservoir storage is close to normal in California.

New Mexico and Nevada are in bad shape when it comes to reservoir storage and there’s little relief in sight at the end of the snow season. Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said dry soil conditions in the southwest could contribute to higher than average temperatures this summer. Continue reading

Endangered species listing sought for boreal toads

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Do boreal toads need immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act? Photo courtesy National Park Service.

Conservation groups say they’ll go to court to force action 20 years after federal biologists first said the species qualifies for protection

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Rare boreal toads need Endangered Species Act protection sooner rather later, according to conservation activists who this week said they will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over it’s failure to protect dwindling populations of the ampibian.

Although Colorado populations of boreal toads have also declined from historic levels, the state is still somewhat of a stronghold, thanks in part to a state-led restoration effort and other protective measures. Boreal toads exist in less than 1 percent of their historic breeding areas in the southern Rockies. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Can the courts help save Mexican gray wolves?

Lawsuit seeks to have Mexican gray wolves protected as a separate subspecies

Photo courtesy of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team

A Mexican gray wolf in the wilds of the Blue Range wolf recovery area. Photo courtesy of the Mexican Wolf Interagency Field Team.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Wildlife conservation advocates are hoping to get some help from federal courts in their quest to prevent Mexican gray wolves from falling over the precipice of extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity this week sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over the agency’s rejection of a 2009 scientific petition from the center that sought classification of the Mexican gray wolf as an endangered subspecies or population of gray wolves.

Mexican wolves are currently protected as endangered along with all other wolves in the lower 48 states, with the exception of those in the northern Rocky Mountains and Great Lakes region. The lawsuit claims that protection as a subspecies will help ensure Mexican gray wolf recovery. Continue reading

Feds eye endangered species listing for lesser prairie chicken

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Lesser prairie chicken. Photo courtesy Doug Holt/USFWS.

Cooperative habitat conservation plans could avert final listing

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Endangered species and energy development will clash again in the south-central U.S. as federal biologists this week proposed adding the lesser prairie chicken to the endangered species list.

This decision could trigger new scrutiny by state and federal wildlife agencies on permits and operations for energy developers and ranchers that could impact the bird’s habitat in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado — states that are prime grounds for oil, gas and wind development, as well as farming and ranching. Continue reading

Wildlife: Lawsuit filed to boost Mexican gray wolf recovery

A Mexican Gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Conservation advocates say lack of releases is threatening genetic diversity

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Wildlife advocates are going to court to try and boost recovery efforts for the Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico by forcing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to release more of the animals into the wild.

Specifically, the lawsuit challenges the agency’s failure to respond to a 2004 petition calling for implementation of sweeping reforms in the management of the Mexican gray wolf population, which has grown by a scant three animals over the past eight years, leaving only 58 wolves in the wild today.

In 2001, a panel of scientists called for an immediate reduction in the number of Mexican gray wolves removed from the wild, as well as an increase in the number released. But faced with intense local opposition to wolf restoration, the agency has failed to act on the recommendations. Continue reading

Feds to kill endangered wolf in New Mexico

Mexican gray wolves are struggling in the Southwest. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Conservation activists say shooting is unnecessary; push for better livestock protection and management

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Bowing to local political pressure, federal biologists say they will shoot an endangered Arizona wolf that has been killing livestock — despite the fact that its pack is surviving mainly on elk, and that ranchers have been fully reimbursed for their losses.

Wolf conservation advocates said the kill order is a throwback to Bush-era wildlife policies that don’t make sense as endangered Mexican gray wolves struggle to hold their own in the Southwest. Continue reading

Cavers explore vast new area of Lechugilla Cave

The Witch’s Finger at Carlsbad Cavern National Park. PHOTO COURTESY NPS.

Colorado caver leads expedition in new section of renowned New Mexico cavern

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A team of explorers lead by Colorado caver Derek Bristol have discovered an entirely new maze of passages, pits and large rooms in Lechugilla Cave, part of an extensive ave system in New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

In early May climbed more than 410 feet into a high dome in Lechuguilla Cave. Near the top, lead climber James Hunter discovered the extension of the cave and named the new area Oz.

One large room is 600 feet long, 100 to 150 feet wide, and 75 to 150 feet tall. It’s now called Munchkin Land. 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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