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Legal Settlement Reached for Wolf on Gila National Forest
Albuquerque, NM-April 19. Despite a historic setback for Northern Rockies wolves in the budget fight last week, their cousins farther south – Mexican wolves – will get more careful attention on federal lands. WildEarth Guardians and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) today settled a case concerning livestock grazing in key Mexican wolf areas on the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. The settlement requires the USFS to conduct a public process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), so that the public and scientists can weigh in on renewal of livestock grazing permits in wolf country.
“Conflict with livestock is the number one reason why wolves have been killed or removed from the southwest since the Mexican wolf reintroduction began,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “The Forest Service must take the future of wolves into account, instead of rubber-stamping livestock grazing in the Gila.”
Guardians’ lawsuit originally stemmed from the USFS’s use of a provision under NEPA to shortcircuit public review of livestock grazing on public land. Normally required by federal law to examine how grazing can harm protected species, the USFS had been relying on a loophole to issue grazing permits without public input. The loophole was created in 2005 by a congressional appropriations rider, allowing the agency to “categorically exclude” from environmental analysis grazing management decisions in areas where “extraordinary circumstances” are not a factor. Guardians had argued that endangered species, such as Mexican wolves, present extraordinary circumstances, and the grazing decisions warranted a full public process.
The group settled its lawsuit in exchange for USFS conducting a public process for five grazing allotments, covering over 283,000 acres. These allotments either contain resident Mexican wolves or are otherwise important for this endangered carnivore’s recovery. The allotments are: Y Canyon, Deadman, Cox Canyon, V+T, and O Bar O Allotments. They will each receive an Environmental Assessment or a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement by April 30, 2013 (for the first three allotments); by September 30, 2013 for V+T; and by April 30, 2014 for O Bar O. For these five allotments, USFS has agreed to consider a wolf-conservation alternative submitted by Guardians. The settlement also requires USFS to conduct NEPA analysis on two additional allotments (Long Canyon and Dark Canyon) between 2014-2016.
“This settlement will give the public and scientists a chance to speak up for Mexican wolves and how our public lands are managed. Our national forests should be a flagship for species recovery. We need wild wolves in these wild places,” stated Bryan Bird of WildEarth Guardians.
Guardians released a report in 2009 on the Gila Bioregion, home of the America’s First Wilderness, designated in 1924 as a result of the efforts of Aldo Leopold – the legendary ecologist who evolved from wolf killer to wolf advocate in the course of his career. The report advocates adding an additional 2.2 million acres within the Gila National Forest to the wilderness system and using voluntary grazing permit buyouts to alleviate livestock/wolf conflicts.
Steps such as grazing permit retirement and better consideration for the needs of Mexican wolves in federal land management are especially urgent right now. The reintroduction effort has faltered in recent years, with the official end of the year count at just 50 wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico. Since then, at least two wolves have died: one was found dead by the highway in Arizona on February 27, 2011, apparently having been struck by a vehicle; and another wolf was found dead on April 1, 2011 in the El Malpais National Conservation Area, apparently from a gunshot wound.
For background information, including the settlement, contact Nicole Rosmarino at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-699-7404.
Table: Schedule of Settlement Requirements.