\       SOUTHWEST BIODIVERSITY ALERT #165          /
       \                    12-17-98                    /
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On 12-16-98, the livestock industry requested a preliminary
injunction, banning the release of new Mexican gray wolves,
until a final rule is issued in its lawsuit against the entire
reintroduction program. If granted, the injunction would squash
the planned introduction of 11-15 wolves this spring. With no
evidence whatsoever, the industry argues that the reintroduction
is illegal since wild wolves already exist in the Gila Headwaters
Ecosystem, and that the wolves are actually wolf-coyote hybrids.

Defenders of Wildlife, the Southwest Center and others have been
granted intervener status and thus will be able to counter the
livestock industry's ludicrous arguments. No briefing schedule has
been set to hear the preliminary injunction articles. We are
represented by Grove Burnett of the Western Environmental Law

On 12-7-98, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sent out a press
release announcing that the first Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)
allowing "take" of Cactus ferruginous pygmy owls had been
issued, but that the plan would only allow temporary harassment,
not the death of any endangered owls. The Southwest Center,
however, discovered that the HCP does authorize the killing of a
pygmy owl. The Service retracted its press release the following
day, but had no coherent explanation as to why it mislead the
press, or why the kill authorization was hidden away in the fine
print, rather that presented up front in the official "take

Adding insult to injury, a Service spokeswoman said the Service
will recommend that the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan also
include authorization for developers to kill pygmy owls. Modeled
on the Southwest Center's Sonoran Desert Protection Plan, the
Conservation Plan is a county effort to protect open space and
endangered species habitats while establishing strong controls on
urban sprawl in the Tucson metro area. The Southwest Center and
the Coalition for the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan both
pledged to drop support for the plan if it includes a kill permit.
At a press conference on 12-14-98, a spokesperson for U.S.
Representative Jim Kolbe called the permit a "poison pill" contrary
to the spirit of the plan. He accused the Fish & Wildlife Service of
monkey wrenching" environmental support with such a
"bonehead" action.

On 12-10-98, a Honolulu Federal Judge, struck down the
incidental take provisions of a Biological Opinion issued by the
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service which required limitations on grazing
to protect the endangered razorback sucker and cactus ferruginous
pygmy owl. The judge agreed with livestock interests that since
the Fish & Wildlife Service had not proven that the species
currently occur on the BLM grazing allotments, it can not legally
conclude that overgrazing will kill them. Habitat loss by itself,
does not constitute take- for that, individuals must die, the court

The Southwest Center was granted intervener status in the case
because it brought the original suit which required the BLM to
consult with the Fish & Wildlife Service over the impacts of
overgrazing on endangered species. The government has not yet
determined whether it will appeal the case. The Southwest Center
is also considering appeal. It is represented by Geoff Hickcox of
Kenna & Hickcox.

On 12-13-98, Mark Muro, editorial staff of the Arizona Daily Star
published the following editorial in support of a plan by the
Southwest Center, Forest Guardians and the American Lands
Alliance to permanently retire grazing permits on National Forests
within the Gila River Basin. The plan would allow ranchers to
voluntarily "waive" their permits back to the Forest Service which
would permanently retire them. The ranchers would then qualify for
a retraining and education fund similar to the logger retraining
program included in the Northwest Forest Plan. Specific grazing
permits on the Gila, Apache-Sitgreaves, Coronado, Tonto,
Prescott, and Coconino National Forests would qualify, primarily
based on impacts to threatened and endangered species.

   The Last Roundup
   Preserve the Land by Paying Ranchers to Quit Ranching

Ed Abbey had a to-the-point solution for cattle grazing's destructive
impact on the West's grasslands, streams and wildlife.

He wanted cattle booted from America's public lands.

He thought every cow should be removed from every last acre of the West
- and kept out.

However, it was not to be. Abbey's radical program to make the West
``Cow Free by '93'' went nowhere, and since then, stalemate has
predominated. For years Congress - the ranchers' best friend - has
blocked every effort of Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to reform the
rules that govern federal lands grazing.

Now, though, a new push in Abbey's direction is afoot - and the beauty
of it is, the notion makes plain good sense.

This time around, the unthinkable idea of cow removal has been sharpened
and mainstreamed by two environmental groups: Tucson's Southwest Center
for Biological Diversity and its frequent partner, the Forest Guardians
of New Mexico.

These groups and others propose that the government should buy up and
retire - on a voluntary basis, for fair market prices - key grazing
permits around the Southwest. They say, essentially, that ranchers on
the region's most sensitive allotments should be paid to go elsewhere.
In this way, they propose a bold end-run on gridlock that would at once
protect the region's riparian areas, provide options to beleaguered
ranch families and reduce the controversy of the range wars.

Which is why lawmakers, land managers, environmentalists and, yes,
ranchers, should all take a good look at the most creative idea for
improving the range in years. Here is reform that might actually work.

The argument for permit retirement begins with the condition of the
West's ranges - especially the Southwest's.

Right now, public land grazing supports only 2 percent of the nation's
cattle. However, that meager economy does more damage to national forest
and Bureau of Land Management territories than any other pursuit.

Studies show overgrazing has pushed nearly 10 percent of all lands in
the West toward severe ``desertification.'' So, too, has the practice
sped the invasion of sagebrush and shrubs onto native grasslands and
pounded soils so hard as to impede natural water cycles.

Further, the harm has been most severe in the region's most sensitive
places: near the dry Southwest's rare, life-breeding streams. There,
dozens of native plant and animal species - from the Southwestern willow
flycatcher and the Apache trout to the desert bighorn - have been harmed
or driven to extinction by cattle turned loose along rivers and streams.

The upshot: Something major needs to be done - soon - to turn back the
trend of extinction. Or as Kieran Suckling of the Southwest Center
declares, ``Grazing does pervasive, overwhelming harm to ecosystems.
That's why we need emergency action.''

The problem, though, is that change never quite gets done - which is the
second rationale for the new proposal.

Consider that a tight knot of ranch country stubbornness, bureaucratic
timidity and western politics appears to rule out deep-going regulatory
reform for the foreseeable future.

Environmental lawsuits, to be sure, have compelled grudging improvements
on the range, such as the U.S. Forest Service's April agreement to
remove cattle from sensitive streamside habitat in 11 Arizona and New
Mexico national forests.

Nonetheless, those improvements have been cumbersome, and the forces
allied against change remain formidable. Cash-poor and prickly ranchers
ferociously resist even minor rule changes. Local BLM or Forest Service
range managers shy away from the controversy of protecting wildlife
habitat. And finally, pro-producer Western senators - abetted by public
sympathy for cowboys - rush to stymie every attempt to reduce stocking
levels or impose new rules.

In view of that, more and more advocates of better range stewardship are
seeing the need for alternative approaches. ``Regulatory reform has been
a complete failure, and lawsuits take forever - so we need some new
methods,'' says John Horning of the Forest Guardians. And the veteran
reform activist Steve Johnson of Tucson agrees: ``We need a dramatic
intention. Reform of the current system won't work.''

Which suggests the cachet of Suckling and Horning's plan to pay ranchers
in troublesome areas to go away. Suckling and Horning want to begin
immediate ecosystem recovery by promoting a total ``destocking'' of the
most cattle-pounded localities of the Southwest - even if regulatory
reform is going nowhere elsewhere.

How exactly would the environmentalists achieve this? Simple: They think
the government's grazing agencies - the BLM and the Forest Service -
should begin fairly compensating any rancher who agrees to simply hand
over his grazing permit for good and quit running cows in sensitive

No, this offer would not exist everywhere across the West. But in
fragile, degraded places with threatened biodiversity like the
headwaters streams of the White Mountains and the Gila River Basin of
southeast Arizona and southwest New Mexico, it would offer a new tool
for bringing about rapid change. There, any willing permittee could
choose to sell his grazing permit to the government at its market value.
Then, that permit and its associated allotments would be retired from
grazing permanently.

In this fashion, ranching families using perhaps 200 problematic
allotments covering 2.5 million acres around the Southwest would receive
a lump-sum payment of maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars to vacate
those ranges. That payout would not only support their transition into
other livelihoods but work a wealth of good.

``Even if we got just 10 guys to quit, that would be hundreds of
thousands of acres where we wouldn't have to worry anymore and could
just start managing for water and recreation and biodiversity,''
explains Horning, the Forest Guardian. Meanwhile, Suckling notes that
much of the relatively low cost of such a program would be recouped by
savings in the up to $50,000 per permittee per year costs of
administrating, monitoring and mitigating ranching.

Otherwise, those benefits almost pale beside the truly radical
innovation of permit retirement: that ranchers might actually welcome

Think about it: Here is a form of range reform that treats the West's
struggling cattlemen with respect - as free agents with legitimate,
precarious livelihoods whose displacement ought to be voluntary and

Such reform, after all, would be voluntary. Moreover, it would hand
ranchers not more regulations but another option. Ranchers could choose
to sell their permit, pull their animals off federal land and gain some
useful cash while they transition to another lifestyle. Or they could
stand pat, and continue to take their chances in a dynamic regulatory
and economic environment. Whatever, the choice would be theirs.

``This says, `If you're thinking of getting out, here's a way,' '' says
Horning of The Forest Guardians. And Jerry Holechek, a New Mexico State
University range expert who has long advocated permit retirement, adds:
``Willing-seller buyouts make a lot of sense because they offer the
rancher something instead of endless new regulatory burdens.''

In this fashion, permit retirement might just tamp down some of the
controversy of range reform. No longer, if the payouts became available,
would environmentalists need to sue the government to get cows out of
the Southwest's streams. And no longer either would ranchers feel
compelled to resist at every turn. For them, change would now be
voluntary and good paying where it presently seems coercive and costly.

Now, of course, permit retirement alone won't solve the public-lands
grazing conflicts, which affect some 258 million acres of the West - an
area far too vast and diverse to be addressed by one single panacea.

Moreover, the idea of cash payments to ranchers, who are already heavily
subsidized, will please neither budget hawks nor environmentalists angry
about ranchers' past hostility to reform.

Still, environmental liberals, fiscal conservatives and the ranching
community, too, should consider embracing what offers an efficient way
of reducing livestock's toll on fragile watersheds that need a subtler,
greener management.

Yes, Ed Abbey may have gone too far in his desire for the last roundup.
But even so he had the outline of a good idea way back when.

Taken in measure, and made voluntary and remunerative, retirement of
grazing permits looks like the future for certain Western lands.

Bring on the last payout.


Kierán Suckling                     
Executive Director                            520.623.5252 phone
Southwest Center for Biological Diversity     520.623.9797 fax                      pob 710, tucson, az 85702-710