Conservationists Seek Critical Habitat Protection for Highly Endangered Sonoran Pronghorn
"By failing to designate critical habitat for the pronghorn, the Fish and Wildlife Service is sanctioning the further destruction of important land for this species," said Rodger Schlickeisen, President of Defenders of Wildlife. "This is in direct contravention of the agency’s conservation mandate under the ESA."
In September, Congress allocated 2.7 million acres of Department of Interior land to the Department of Defense for land management. This transfer included the Barry M. Goldwater Range, which is prime habitat for the endangered Sonoran pronghorn. Conservationists fear that this transfer will only further hinder the FWS in any efforts to save the pronghorn. Defenders says the military’s recent activities such as the Air Force accidental bomb droppings in pristine public lands and a private golf course, a Marine Corps helicopter crash, an unexplained pronghorn death on a bombing range, and the dismissal of the Goldwater’s Chief of Cultural and Natural Resources Division raise serious questions about the military’s management abilities of the range.
In November, Senator John McCain submitted legislation requiring that the Department of the Interior and Defense Department study the transfer and determine the best natural resource manager for the entire range. Defenders and other conservation groups support McCain’s efforts in senate bill 1963 to take a closer look at the pronghorn habitat.
Sonoran pronghorn, with approximately 140 individuals left in the United States, are threatened by the continued degradation of its limited habitat. The Department of Defense uses the Sonoran desert and pronghorn habitat for military training, which includes target practice, such as bombing, strafing, ground maneuvers, and low-level overflights. The Bureau of Land Management continues to permit cattle grazing and Border Patrol helicopters never fly higher than 200 feet above the ground in pronghorn habitat. Defenders lawsuit charges all of these agencies with violating the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act because cumulative negative impacts have never been analyzed.
"Considering that FWS allows grazing, military training activities and border patrols in the last remaining areas available to pronghorn, all we ask is that the FWS do the most that they can to protect the dwindling species," said Bill Snape, Defenders Legal Director. "By ignoring the important conservation tool of critical habitat designation, the FWS is sending a message that the federal government sanctions the continued degradation of pronghorn habitat."
Snape says the failure to designate critical habitat for the pronghorn is consistent with other Administration actions ignoring this statutory requirement. The FWS has designated critical habitat for approximately less than ten percent of all listed species.
Listed as an endangered species since 1967, the subspecies today exists on less than 25 percent of its historic range and has dwindled to only 120-140 individuals. Scientific analyses all point to lack of adequate habitat as a limiting factor in the decline of this species. Once found throughout southern Arizona, California and Mexico, the pronghorn today is restricted exclusively to just two populations; the Arizona Sonoran Desert of the United States and in Sonora, Mexico. The pronghorn is unique in that it has evolved adaptations to the desert in which it dwells. Restoring and protecting the subspecies habitat is therefore key to its survival and eventual recovery.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is representing the ex-Chief of the Natural and Cultural Resources Division for the Goldwater in his whistle blower complaint against the military, which was filed December 20. This follows an Inspector General complaint citing multiple instances of misconduct in the military’s natural resource department.
Copies of the petition are available by contacting Chandra Rosenthal at Defenders of Wildlife at 202-682-9400, x124.
Contact(s):Cat Lazaroff, (202) 772-3270