AZ: Preservationists File Suit Against Kofa Water

This is a report from the Yuma Sun quoting a press release from preservationist groups.  How establishing water sources in the harsh western Arizona desert environment in the midst of a drought endangers the desert bighorn is left as an exercise to the reader.

 

 — Chris Knox

 

June 28, 2007 – 11:11PM

Conservationists have filed for a temporary restraining order with federal court to prevent any refuge actions that ignore public involvement. The action followed an investigative report released on the declining Kofa bighorn sheep herd, according to an Arizona Wilderness Coalition and Wilderness Watch press release.  

 
The report and recommendations on the herd was released June 12 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The announcement revealed that a new 13,000-gallon water tank, called a big game guzzler, had been built on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge in early June and that there were plans to construct a second guzzler within the Kofa wilderness before the end of the month, the release said.

The construction of artificial water sources for wildlife on public lands has been a wildlife management tool for more than 50 years. Constructing artificial water sources helps counter the decreasing access to natural water sources. The Kofa wilderness is the second-largest refuge wilderness in the continental U.S. and has a large bighorn sheep habitat, the release said.

Conservationists said the guzzler was built without public involvement other than that of local hunting groups assisting with the project, according to the release.

The Arizona Wilderness Coalition and Wilderness Watch filed a temporary restraining order in federal court June 15 asking the new developments be put on hold.

"We are primarily concerned with the way in which this decision was made in secret. Given the limited and late information we were provided, we believe more public involvement and a more thorough environmental analysis is needed," said Arizona Wilderness Coalition executive director Kevin Gaither- Banchoff.

"It looked to us as if all the compliance work was done," said Yuma Arizona Game and Fish spokesman Gary Hovatter. "Our belief was we were participating in … a well organized … project."

He said though they are named in the suit, it will be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that will be called to court.

"We believe in water development in the southwest part of Arizona," Hovatter said. "It is necessary for helping to sustain the Kofa bighorn sheep herd in these times."

Hovatter said the water development was in the "best interests of the herd and sportsmen in this county."

Representatives of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could not be reached by press time.

The Arizona Wilderness Coalition is not opposed to development and maintenance of wildlife waters on public lands in Arizona, the release said.

"Backhoes, other heavy equipment, and new man-made developments are not normally allowed in federal wilderness, because they are incompatible with preservation of an area's wilderness character," Wilderness Watch policy director Tina Marie Ekker said in the release.

Both groups believe every project to develop artificial water sources for wildlife on public land should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis with public involvement and proper environmental analysis, the release said.

The restraining order does not ask for removal of all previously developed waters in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, only the two new tanks. Both groups support hunting inside wilderness, according to the release.

There are 800 water sources developed and maintained by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, including more than 20 on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, the release said.

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Nicole Squibbs can be reached at
nsquibbs@yumasun.com or 539-6855.