Press Release: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Excludes the Public from Decision Making in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge Wilderness
Conservationists File for a Temporary Restraining Order with Federal Court to Prevent Further Refuge Actions that Ignore Public Involvement
Phoenix, —On June 12, 2007, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department issued a press release announcing completion of a joint Investigative Report and Recommendations on the Kofa Bighorn Sheep Herd. The announcement revealed that a new 13,000 gallon water tank, called a big game guzzler, had been constructed 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—all with no public involvement other than that of local hunting groups assisting with the project.
On June 15th, The Arizona Wilderness Coalition and Wilderness Watch filed a temporary restraining order in federal court asking that these new developments be put on hold due to the lack of public involvement and environmental analysis.
“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.
When conservationists contacted the US Fish and Wildlife Service at Kofa Refuge to learn more about the pending construction of a new wildlife water guzzler on Friday, June 15th, agency officials responded by saying: “we cannot talk about the project for security reasons and we can not tell you why.” After additional communications late that day, regional US Fish and Wildlife Service officials directed refuge staff to reveal all available information and the fact that the second construction project was already underway. The southwest regional Director of Refuges, Chris Pease, declined to delay the project until conservation groups could gather further information.
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition is not categorically opposed to development and maintenance of wildlife waters on public lands in Arizona.
“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,” said Wilderness Watch Policy Director TinaMarie Ekker.
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, neither of which was done in this instance.
The restraining order in no way asks for removal of all previously developed waters in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge; it addresses only the two new tanks in question. Both groups fully support hunting inside wilderness; hunting is explicitly allowed in federal wilderness areas in the Wilderness Act of 1964.
The construction of wildlife waters on public lands has been a wildlife management tool for more than 50 years. The theory is that constructing artificial water sources will help counter the increasing human-caused fragmentation and destruction of wildlife’s access to historic natural water sources. However, the Kofa Wilderness is the second largest refuge wilderness in the continental U.S., encompassing a vast tract of unfragmented bighorn sheep habitat.
There are currently 800 water sources developed and maintained by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in the State of Arizona, including more than 20 on the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. There are more than 100 developed water sources in congressionally designated Wilderness in Arizona, but in almost every instance, these were constructed prior to wilderness designation.
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition and Wilderness Watch are currently evaluating potential next steps.
Wilderness Watch is a national conservation organization dedicated to ensuring the good stewardship of lands and waters within the National Wilderness Preservation System and Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Our mission is to ensure that the wilderness character of these special places is preserved and not allowed to diminish over time. www.wildernesswatch.org
The Arizona Wilderness Coalition works to permanently protect and restore Wilderness and other wild lands and waters in Arizona for the enjoyment of all citizens and to ensure that Arizona's native plants and animals have a lasting home in wild nature. Since 1979, we have done this by coordinating and conducting inventories, educating citizens about these lands, enlisting community support, and advocating for their lasting protection. Our offices are based in Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott, and Flagstaff.