Subject: SW BIODIVERSITY ALERT #78
SOUTHWEST BIODIVERSITY ALERT #78
SOUTHWEST CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY
silver city, tucson, phoenix, san diego
1. NAFTA COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE DEWATERING OF SAN PEDRO RIVER
2. EDITORIAL BLASTS ATTEMPT TO SUBSTITUTE "ZOO" FOR PROTECTION OF
SAN PEDRO RIVER
3. STAY DECISION HALTS BLM/PHELPS DODGE LAND EXCHANGE
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NAFTA COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE DEWATERING OF SAN PEDRO RIVER
NAFTA's Commission for Environmental Cooperation has ruled in
favor of a petition by the Southwest Center asking for an
international investigation into the dewatering of the San Pedro
River. The request was made following repeated refusals by the U.S.
Army to analyze the impacts of expanding Fort Huachuca on the
river. Numerous studies demonstrate that aquifer drawdown has
created a "cone of depression," drawing water out of the river.
Hydrologists predict that the San Pedro may completely dry up
within a decade.
This is the first time the Commission has agreed to investigate an
environmental problem in the United States. The Commission has
yet to issue a final decision on a second petition by the Southwest
Center charging that the military is circumventing U.S.
environmental laws by failing to analyze its effects on the San Pedro.
The Commission ordered E.P.A. to respond to the charges (the first
time it has ordered the U.S. to respond to environmental charges) but
has not yet ruled on the agency's evasive answer.
Both petitions where filed on behalf of the Southwest Center by
Earthlaw (Denver) and are available on Earthlaw's home page:
Earthlaw previously petitioned the Commission on behalf of the
Southwest Center and Forest Guardians to rule that the Salvage
Rider violated NAFTA requirements that member nations obey their
own environmental laws. The Commission refused.
_____ _____ _____
EDITORIAL BLASTS ATTEMPT TO SUBSTITUTE "ZOO"
FOR PROTECTION OF SAN PEDRO RIVER
The following editorial appeared in the Arizona Daily Star on
5/28/97. It faults a plan by the Town of Sierra Vista to circumvent
protection of endangered plants on the San Pedro River, by growing
them in herbariums. The Southwest Center filed sucessful ESA
petitions and litigation to list the Canelo Hills ladies' tresses (and
orchid) and the Huachuca water umbel as endangered species. Both
live in the San Pedro River or upper watershed.
- - -
This Ark Will Sink
Sierra Vista leaders, bridling at endangered species laws, want to
start a center to cultivate and reintroduce rare plants. Their hope is
this will circumvent coming requirements that might limit growth.
To which we say: By all means study and propagate threatened
species. But never forget that a species without habitat cannot
survive, no matter what extraordinary measures human ingenuity
To that extent, Sierra Vista City Councilman Harold Vangilder's
idea of a plant nursery for the Huachuca water umbel and the Canelo
Hills lady's tresses remains potentially useful as a complement to
other species efforts. But as a solution for preserving the rare and
diminutive plants found along the nearby San Pedro River, it is
wacky and cynical.
A focus on specific local ecosystems research - and even captive
breeding - is always needed. Moreover, the broad support of the
often ecologically insensitive Sierra Vista City Council for a
potentially helpful research initiative is gratifying. So at worst the
nursery plan seems harmless.
What is not harmless, though, are the larger motivations and
suppositions of this and similar ``Noah's ark'' proposals.
The Sierra Vistans' sudden interest in endangered species has little to
do with a desire to protect biodiversity and everything to do with
keeping the urban sprawl machine rolling in the San Pedro Valley,
where increased ground-water pumping threatens the river and the
life it supports.
Vangilder and others say themselves they hope to nurture the
faltering species - which are already endangered - mostly to head off
mandatory protection. They know a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
designation of ``critical habitat'' could force them to limit their town's
growth, so they want to avoid it - which is fine.
However, the ``ark'' plan's apparent cynicism and deludedness make clear
why the plant center stratagem cannot suffice as the San Pedro
Valley's main species program. First, there is Vangilder's past
environmental record, and a newspaper column he wrote for the
Weekly Bulletin of Sonoita last year. That piece referred to the two
plants and a listed salamander as ``two noxious weeds and a member
of the fish-bait community'' - hardly an indication of deep thought on
Otherwise, science insists the health of the larger ecosystem
ultimately determines a single species' health. Likewise, experts on
the San Pedro itself say habitat deterioration, caused by aquifer
drilling that is lowering the water table and reducing stream flows,
remains the crucial cause of plant and animal distress there.
And so a zany air of absurdity touches Sierra Vista's bid to protect its
species without remedying the biggest threats they face - the loss of
habitat to subdivision and ground-water pumping. It makes no sense,
after all, to set up an artificial ``plant zoo'' without setting aside land
and water for the plants' survival in the real world. Or as Robin
Silver of the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity asks: ``What
good would it have done for Noah to have built the ark and collected
the animals if there had not been a place to land?''
So with that in mind the Sierra Vista City Council - and others
thinking about pain-free fixes to the world's biodiversity crisis -
should recall there's no easy evasion of the simple, basic need for
habitat. Captive-breeding, special zoos, high-tech terrariums -
nothing can free human communities from the responsibility of
insuring the on-the-ground integrity of natural communities.
_____ _____ _____ _____
STAY DECISION HALTS BLM/PHELPS DODGE LAND EXCHANGE
On May 21, 1997, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued a stay,
preventing the Bureau of Land Management from trading 3,600
acres of public land to Phelps Dodge in exchange for 1,000 acres of
private land. The stay will remain in effect until the Board decides
the merits of appeals filed by the Southwest Center and the San
Carlos Apache Tribe.
The exchange would allow Phelps Dodge to expand operations of its
Morenci Mine without conducting an Environmental Impact
Statement, yet BLM refused to analyze the effects of future mining
on the property, claiming it can't reasonably foresee what the mining
conglomerate wants the land for. Fifty acres within a proposed BLM
Wild & Scenic River corridor where dropped from the trade following
complaints from the Center.
Earlier this year, the Southwest Center won an appeal of a BLM
plan to sell 460 acres of land to Phelps Dodge for $400 an acre. The
sale would have allowed Phelps Dodge to reopen its Lavender Mine,
just outside Bisbee, AZ.
Kieran Suckling firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director 520.733.1391 phone
Southwest Center for Biological Diversity 520.733.1404 fax
http://www.envirolink.org/orgs/sw-center pob 17839, tucson, az 85731