WWP Board Member Louise Wagenknecht's Memoir "White Poplar, Black Locust" is Published, Conservation Groups Petition to List Pygmy Rabbits Under ESA, Conservation Groups Sue to Protect 1.3 Million Acres in Nevada

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WWP Board Member Louise Wagenknecht's Memoir "White Poplar, Black Locust" is Published

Louise Wagenknecht's memoir of growing up in the remote California logging town of Hilt has been published by the University of Nebraska Press. Available from Amazon.com or your local bookseller, the book is described as "a noteworthy addition to the literature of place, and a sensitive and richly textured family memoir."

Louise is currently on a book tour in the northwest including a visit to Yreka, California on April 15. WWP Staff and Board extend our congratulations to Louise.

Conservation Groups Petition to List Pygmy Rabbits Under ESA

A coalition of six conservation groups, including Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for the High Desert, has petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list pygmy rabbits in the Intermountain and Great Basin regions of the West as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

The groups also want FWS to designate critical habitat for the rare rabbits concurrent with ESA listing.

Scientific studies show that these diminutive, sagebrush-dependent mammals face extinction without ESA protection. Pygmy rabbits have been on the Red List of the International Union of Concerned Naturalists since 1996. The petition applies to all remaining pygmy-rabbit populations outside the remnant Washington State population.

"The pygmy rabbit is a unique species that has already been lost from more than 90 percent of its historic range," said Katie Fite, conservation director of the Committee for the High Desert. "Livestock continue to destroy the structure of sagebrush plants that are essential to the rabbits' survival."

Pygmy rabbits depend on sagebrush for 99 percent of their winter diet. Sagebrush also provides them with critical cover from predators. These small, endemic rabbits have long since won the hearts of wildlife enthusiasts, range ecologists and even many livestock operators.

"These entrancing little bright-eyed creatures are animated bundles of fur . . . there is no wild creature more deserving of the word 'cute' than these dwarves of the rabbit tribe," note E.R. Jackman and R.A. Long in their book, "The Oregon Desert."

The geographic range of pygmy rabbits once spanned more than 100 million acres across eight western states (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon and Washington). That range has declined to fragmented portions of 7 million to 8 million acres.

Only three large populations of pygmy rabbits remain, and even these are divided by habitat fragmentation and human impacts. Pygmy rabbits do not disperse well and are reluctant to cross open areas, multiplying the effects of fragmentation. Fragmentation and loss of large sagebrush habitat are rampant throughout the rabbits' range. Livestock grazing, which occurs on nearly all of the areas inhabited by pygmy rabbits, radically alters sagebrush habitat, removing forage, lowering the nutritional value of grasses, spreading exotic weeds and diseases, collapsing burrows and attracting predators.

Other dire threats to pygmy rabbits include prescribed fires; manipulation of vegetation for livestock forage; oil, gas and coalbed methane exploration and production; geothermal exploration and production; and road-building and OHV use.

"We are concerned that this animal's specialized sagebrush habitat needs and unique behavior make it particularly vulnerable to the impacts of unchecked energy development like that taking place right now on BLM lands in Wyoming," said Jeff Kessler, conservation director of the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance there. "The BLM has repeatedly failed to adopt needed conservation measures while the pygmy rabbit marches toward extinction. ESA protection is therefore absolutely necessary."

"The BLM is allowing its essential sagebrush habitats to be pounded to oblivion by livestock," said Fite. "If we can't save this species, there is absolutely no hope for long-term survival of any sagebrush-dependent wildlife."

Joining CHD and WWP in the petition are the American Lands Alliance, Oregon Natural Desert Association, Center for Native Ecosystems and Biodiversity Conservation Alliance.

For a great online photo of a pygmy rabbit visit: http://www.wa.gov/wdfw/science/current/pygmy_rabbit.html

LOOK AT the Pygmy Rabbit Petition documents (.doc) filed by WWP

Conservation Groups Sue to Protect 1.3 Million Acres in Nevada

Western Watersheds Project and the Committee for the High Desert will file suit on Monday April 14, 2003 against the Bureau of Land Management for a familiar agency failure: mismanagement of more than 1.3 million acres of livestock-damaged public lands in northeastern Nevada.

The public lands in question comprise the Sheep Allotment Complex, Owyhee Allotment and Big Springs Allotment under the supervision of the Elko Field Office of the BLM. WWP and CHD maintain that the agency has failed to revise its grazing management practices on these lands as required by federal environmental law.

"BLM has deliberately chosen a course of action that will lead to the further destruction of our treasured public lands," said Todd Tucci, staff attorney with Advocates for the West. "Unfortunately, because the agency has refused to enforce our environmental laws, we are forced to file this lawsuit to hold BLM accountable for its repeated, flagrant violations."

WWP and CHD want the BLM to revisit its decisions to allow an increase in livestock of nearly 60 percent across public lands that the agency itself has documented as degraded.

The groups contend that the agency failed to prepare environmental impact statements and assess the impacts of livestock grazing prior to issuing its multiple-use decisions, all of which call for significant livestock grazing on badly damaged lands.

"Elko BLM's own documents show that it is has allowed livestock to harm all but small areas of these vast sagebrush wildlands," said Katie Fite, conservation director of CHD. "Grazing is not an appropriate or acceptable use of these public lands."

The BLM is no stranger to lawsuits filed by conservation groups left with no other recourse in their fight to protect public lands grazed by livestock. Nor should WWP and CHD's charges of rangeland mismanagement come as any surprise to the agency. The BLM's monitoring of conditions on Sheep Complex, Big Springs and Owyhee reveals severe ecological damage from grazing abuses, past and present.

"The management of public lands by the Elko BLM borders on the criminal," said Jon Marvel, executive director of WWP. "We hope this lawsuit gets their attention and spurs them to action."

Sheep Complex comprises eight allotments which total 454,066 acres of public lands in Elko County, Nevada.The area is bordered by the Goshute Mountains on the west and the Utah state line and Kingsley Mountains on the east.

Nearly 250 species of vertebrate wildlife occur within Sheep Complex. The lands provide habitat for many threatened and sensitive species, including bald eagles, goshawks, burrowing owls, Swainson's hawks, sage grouse, Pacific Townsend's big-eared bats and Pale Townsend's big-eared bats.

The Goshute Mountains are designated a "Globally Important Bird Area." More than 254,000 raptors of 18 different species have been observed there since 1979.

Big Springs, which covers 479,088 acres of primarily public lands, sits near the center of the Wells Resource Area in northeastern Nevada. The allotment provides habitat for mule deer, elk, antelope, sage grouse, hawks and bald eagles.

Habitat in Big Springs is under great stress from livestock grazing, and noxious weeds are a serious problem.

Owyhee comprises more than 375,000 acres of public and private lands. Two Wilderness Study Areas -- Owyhee Canyon WSA and South Fork Owyhee WSA -- are in the allotment. Nearly 250 species of vertebrate wildlife also occur there. WWP and CHD contend that the BLM's environmental assessments for the three allotments violate the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Fundamentals of Rangeland Health.