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Bureau of Land Management Ignores Mandate to Protect Rare Plants in Critical Areas from Livestock Trampling

July 22, 2004
WildEarth Guardians
In This Release
Public Lands  
Santa Fe, NM – July 22. WildEarth Guardians has formally appealed the Bureau of LandManagement (BLM) decision to continue livestock grazing in the Waterflow Grazing Allotment, which overlaps with the Hogback Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC). The Hogback ACEC was specifically established to “protect habitat for rare plants.” It is within the NM BLM’s Farmington Resource Area, which is noted in agency management plans as “one of the most important areas in the southwest for rare, endangered and sensitive plants.”

For the two plant species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Mancos Milkvetch and Mesa Verde Cactus, the BLM’s Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Waterflow Allotment used five-year-old data. They failed to include data from the most recent study, which “discovered a vast majority of the cactus population was dead or dying” (Mesa Verde Cactus Investigation, Hogback ACEC, Farmington BLM, 27 March 2003.)

The EA also concluded that cattle are not a threat to the cactus, ignoring the results of an agency-funded study that found “cow tracks passed in close proximity to individual cacti.” The report, “Livestock grazing impacts to sclerocactus mesae-verdae in the BLM administered Hogback ACEC,” notes in its summary: “With respect to cattle, the greatest danger the populations faced was being trampled on as cows moved from one grazing area to another.”

The Recovery plan for the Mesa Verde cactus calls for restricted grazing in the Hogback ACEC. However, the history of use for the allotments in the area shows grazing levels and management similar to those of the surrounding areas.

In considering the effects of livestock on the rare plants in the Hogback, the EA only looks at the two federally-listed plant species and fails to even mention four other state-listed species in the Hogback ACEC: Cottam’s milkvetch, Paradox Valley hiddenflower, splendid phacelia and devil’s claw cactus.

“The mandate of the ACEC is not to protect only federally threatened and endangered species. It is much broader than that,” said Billy Stern, GrazingProgram Coordinator for WildEarth Guardians. “The BLM must immediately close off the entire Hogback ACEC to grazing and fulfill its mandate to protect habitat for all rare plants in the Hogback. Anything less is a violation of the Endangered Species Act and the ACEC mandate.”

The Waterflow EA also fails to adequately consider the effects of grazing on the Gunnison prairie dog and pronghorn antelope populations. The Gunnison prairie dog has recently been petitioned for endangered species status under the ESA. In failing to consider their status, the BLM is ignoring its mandate to prevent species from declining towards extinction. In dry climates, the decline in the pronghorn antelope population is compounded when they must compete with livestock for forbs and shrubs, which the cattle use to supplement limited desert grasses.

The BLM’s management failure in the Hogback is part of a continued pattern documented in the WildEarth Guardians report entitled: “The Bureau of Land Management’s Conservation Mandate, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.” The report is a comprehensive review of agency management that highlights the few successes and many failings of the BLM’s two-and-a-half decade old ACEC conservation initiative.

At the direction of Congress, the BLM has designated more than 3.2 million acres of land as ACECs in the four states, including essential habitat for endangered wildlife, ancient archaeological sites, and unique desert stream ecosystems and other rare ecological values, each of which the agency recognized needed special management attention in order to protect and conserve its values.

Unfortunately, the report findings show that the BLM has largely ignored itsconservation mandate and gives little or no consideration for the need to protect these special areas when making on-the-ground management decisions.

The ACEC program was conceived in the 1976 landmark Federal Lands Policy andManagement Act (FLPMA), which established the first conservation mandate for the BLM. The ACEC mandate directs the BLM to protect important riparian corridors, threatened and endangered species habitat, cultural and archeological resources and unique scenic landscapes throughout the southwest that the agency believes need special management attention.

“These lands include some of the Southwest’s most scenic landscapes,” said Nicole Rosmarino, Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “But the BLM has failed to protect them and now the Bush Administration is steamrolling this mandate and sacrificing these precious areas. The agency needs to be reminded that these lands belong to the public, and that the majority of the public places a high value on the protection of the environment,” said Rosmarino.