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Aplomado Falcon Reintroduction Proposal Would Remove Federal Protections: Groups Challenge Designation of Falcons as "Nones

WildEarth Guardians and other conservation groups are urging the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) not to remove Endangered Species Act protections from aplomado falcons in Arizona and New Mexico

Santa Fe, NM - Feb. 9. WildEarth Guardians and other conservation groups are urging the Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) not to remove Endangered Species Act protections from aplomado falcons in Arizona and New Mexico. The proposed rule provides for the reintroduction aplomado falcons annually for ten or more years into New Mexico under a non-essential experimental designation. Such a designation would remove nearly all Endangered Species Act protections for both wild falcons which currently exist in New Mexico, as well as reintroduced falcons and their progeny.

“Wild falcons in New Mexico need the vital safety net of the Endangered Species Act now more than ever,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of Forest Guardians. Rosmarino continued, “We fully support falcon recovery efforts, but the focus should be on giving the falcons southwest of Deming a fighting chance - we disagree with the Service dismissing these birds as nonessential. This wild population is in fact very essential to the recovery of the falcon in New Mexico and the Endangered Species Act is the key to safeguarding its Chihuahuan desert grassland habitat.”

The proposed rule would designate all of New Mexico and Arizona as a Nonessential Experimental Population area. Within the Non-essential Experimental Population area, falcons would have no Endangered Species Act protection from lawful land management activities (such as oil and gas, military operations, livestock grazing, recreation, etc.) on either private or public land. While intentional take of falcons (including death, impaired breeding) via shooting would be illegal, death and harm occurring to falcons incidental to land use activities would be allowed.

Habitat loss and degradation, as well as pesticide use, have long been thought to be key threats to the aplomado falcon. The proposed rule would terminate the Endangered Species Act provisions which address these threats. For example, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would no longer need to consult on the impacts of its oil and gas program (including leasing, drilling permitting, authorization of pipelines and other infrastructure) on falcon habitat - including Otero Mesa - throughout New Mexico, although oil and gas has been cited by the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM as a significant threat to falcons and their habitat.

“Habitat destruction is a leading cause of the falcon’s dire situation, yet this proposal would eliminate our nation’s primary means of reigning in habitat destruction - Endangered Species Act safeguards,” stated Rosmarino. “On the eve of Otero Mesa being opened to oil and gas drilling, the falcon cannot afford lessened protections.”

If the reintroduction rule is finalized, no critical habitat for the falcon can be designated within the experimental, non-essential population area (all of Arizona and New Mexico). WildEarth Guardians filed suit on January 3, 2005 seeking a finding on their 2002 petition to provide falcons with protection of critical habitat on the basis that such protection is crucial for safeguarding the unoccupied (or not know to be occupied) habitat of the aplomado falcon. The proposed rule would eliminate the potential for such critical habitat designation in the future. According to research (based on FWS data) by the Center for Biological Diversity, species with critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering as those without critical habitat.

Critical habitat designation for the falcon would enhance protection for Otero Mesa, an important desert grassland that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) intends to open up to private oil and gas drilling. The reintroduction rule would eliminate the BLM’s obligation to protect habitat on Otero Mesa for the falcon. The BLM’s controversial plan is being challenged by Governor Richardson and a broad coalition of citizens who want Otero Mesa protected for water, wildlife, and wilderness values. “Otero Mesa is a precious expanse of Chihuahuan Desert grassland which must not be squandered for a few hours or days worth of natural gas,” said Dr. Nicole Rosmarino, Conservation Director for WildEarth Guardians. “A transition to clean, renewable, domestic energy is urgent for national security and to protect rare wildlife, such as the falcon.”

WildEarth Guardians seeks to preserve and restore native wildlands and wildlife in the American Southwest through fundamental reform of public policies and practices. Other groups opposing the reintroduction rule are: Chihuahuan Desert Conservation Alliance, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Southwest Environmental Center, and Southwest Public Employees for Environmental Protection.

 

Contact Nicole Rosmarino at 505-988-9126x156 ornrosmarino@fguardians.org for more information, including a synopsis of the proposed rule.

 

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