Squirrels versus Scopes…the war over Mount Graham continuesby Hugh Holub on Dec. 23, 2010, under environment water and energy, politics
Tony Davis of the Arizona Daily Star reports:
….The Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon and the Mount Graham Coalition sent a “notice of intent to sue” to the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, telling the agencies to officially review the biological status of the Mount Graham red squirrel or face a federal lawsuit to force formal consultation under the terms of the Endangered Species Act. The lawsuit will be filed in 60 days, the notice says…..
…”As long as buildings remain within habitat essential for the Mount Graham Red Squirrel’s survival and recovery, and as long as future firefighting efforts are consumed by the primacy of building protection, jeopardy to Mount Graham Red Squirrel cannot be overcome. The telescopes and other structures must go if the Mount Graham Red Squirrel has any chance of survival,” the notice says.
The battle between environmentalists who want no human activity on Mount Grahm (or pretty much anywhere else in Arizona) goes on. Now the claim is that because of fire fighting activities (including tree cutting) to protect the UA’s telescopes on Mount Graham, the US Forest Servce ought to revoke the permit for the scopes to be there in the first place.
In a separate (but related) article, the future of the Red Squirrels is doubtful.
The most recent squirrel count found about 250 remain, a population about the same as in 1987 when the squirrel was first listed as an endangered species.
Since that time, most of the squirrel’s preferred habitat, the Englemann spruce forest that surrounds the telescopes in the highest peaks of the Pinaleños, has disappeared.
About 80 percent of the mature spruce trees succumbed to successive waves of insect attacks and fire, aided by a 10-year regional drought.
However, there is another argument that the red squirrels are not solely dependent on the high altitude habitat… this from the University of Arizona:
Initially, some biologists believed that the Mt. Graham red squirrel could only survive in spruce-fir habitat on the mountain range, resulting in an 800 hectare (1961 acre) area of the highest elevations ( above 3048 m or 10,000 ft.) of the Pinaleño Mountains being designated as critical habitat. In 1988, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service designated most of this area as a red squirrel refugium. Access to the refugium is restricted by a permit system administered by the USDA-Forest Service. This action has also served to protect three high elevation cienegas (wetlands). Since 1989, however, significant numbers of red squirrels have been found at lower elevations on the mountains, calling into question the validity of designating only spruce-fir as critical habitat and the effectiveness of the refugium restrictions. Currently, red squirrels are found throughout the mixed-conifer and spruce-fir habitat zones, from about 2375 m (7800 ft.) on the north and east slopes to 3267 m (10,720) on High Peak.
The problem with all this furor over the Mount Graham red squirrel is that this squirrel exists as a consequence of the climate change in the region since the last Ice Age.
This particular bunch of squirrels basically got stranded on one of our “sky islands” as the climate warmed and dried out. The squirrel’s habitat retreated upslope to the highest part of the mountains.
Problem is the drying out and warming up of our region’s climate seems to be continuing…and as a result the high altitude habitat the red squirrels lives in may vanish irregardless of whether there are telescopes on top of the mountain.
Maybe the squirrels can live in a changed habitat as some believe. Maybe not. But the change in the habitat is not solely human caused unless you believe that for the last 9,900 years before the industrial age ancient Indians were causing the warming of the Southwest’s climate.
Another big issue is the conflict between the Endangered Species Act and any human activity that can be alleged to impact an endangered species or its habitat.
The way the ESA is being pursued by groups such as Center for Biological Diversity as a weapon against human activity obviously places protection of the endangered species and/or its habitat ahead of any human activity.
And even if the alleged bad human activity is only a minor element in the species’ future, bad bad humans. Must tear down the telescopes.
Ultimately I predict that the kind of arguments being made on behalf of the red squirrel and other critters by groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity are going to create a really nasty backlash in Congress…and help fuel a Republican majority in the US Senate. The Endangered Species Act itself may become endangered.