MBG Agency Meeting
April 23, 2015
Bill McDonald welcomed those in attendance and called for introductions. He then briefly summarized MBG’s activities so far this year. Besides hosting the Science Conference and participating in a variety of public outreach events, MBG has helped landowners complete several water, fencing and restoration projects this year and is preparing for three small prescribed burns to be ignited this summer.
Brandon Bestelmeyer and Eldon Ayres shared a PowerPoint summarizing the Jornada Experimental Range’s activities as our primary science collaborators. They have brought a powerful array of tools to bear to help us analyze and make scientifically sound decisions on the landscape in which we live. Monitoring and inventory data combined with remote sensing imagery will document changes that have taken place on our ranches here in the Malpai Borderlands.
Sherry Barrett, Mexican Wolf Recovery Coordinator for USFWS, brought us up to speed on the restoration efforts. The current wild population consists of a minimum of 109 wolves (the population has doubled since 2010). There are 19 packs, 14 of which produced at least one pup. One hundred percent of these wolves are “wild born”. Recovery goals have been revised accordingly. A Mexican Wolf Livestock Conservation Council has agreed upon a plan that consists of three key parts: depredation compensation, payments for presence of wolves, and NGO-funded proactive conflict avoidance measures.
Coronado National Forest reported that a candidate list for a permanent Forest Supervisor has been completed. We should know the identity of the new Supervisor by fall. A new Fire Management Officer has been hired and will be on the job soon.
The Douglas Ranger District reported on their loose rock watershed project getting underway on the Bar Boot and Turkey Creek areas. The Borderlands Restoration Group will bring in some young people to assist and learn about restoration techniques.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has received notice from 2 groups of their intention to sue over the critical habitat designation for jaguars. Critical habitat designations for yellow-billed cuckoo and Mexican garter snake are about to be released. The lesser long-nosed bat is probably recovered and, as soon as resources are available, they may be delisted.
The Cochise County Sheriff’s Department reported on their program to engage and assist ranchers by working directly with them. They are part of a new unit that consists of both Border Patrol agents and Cochise County deputies. Cochise County and the State of Arizona have begun prosecuting smugglers that would have previously been simply released and returned to Mexico by federal authorities.
The Arizona State Land Department reported that Richard Thompson is replacing the long-time Head of the Range Section, Stephen Williams, who recently retired. The governor has named Lisa Atkins as the new Land Commissioner.
BLM Las Cruces reported that they are losing one biologist and two range conservationists. However, the Assistant District Manager position, formerly held by Jim McCormick, will probably be filled by the end of the summer. Brush control efforts are slowing down as most of the areas where they expect to see positive results have been treated.
BLM Tucson reported that they have several range conservationists and other natural resources specialist positions that are vacant. They are looking at opportunities for planning prescribed fires in the SE corner of the state, probably in and around Guadalupe Canyon. They are evaluating the utility of unmanned aerial vehicles in resource analyses. New legislation allows BLM to employ categorical exclusions in lieu of Environmental Assessments, as long as the allotments are meeting plan standards. This should ease the current backlog of environmental assessments.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that Lordsburg has a new range conservationist, Bridger Skaarer, who introduced himself at the meeting. The district now has their budget for cooperative work in place. In Arizona, prescribed grazing contracts will now require a monitoring component. NRCS is working with the Conservation Districts to explain to cooperators how to set up monitoring programs to meet the terms of the contracts.
The Arizona Antelope Foundation is working with grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to preserve the connectivity of existing grasslands. They will be working in the San Bernardino Valley and Santa Cruz Valley to restore the connectivity and ecological function of grasslands. They are developing a GIS database to document and guide their work.
The Border Patrol reported that they still have no confirmation as to if and when the aerostat will arrive.
The meeting was adjourned at 2:45 PM.