An SDCP Cost Analysis or Horse Feathers - Conservation Plan won't stand up under federal scrutiny without an independent economic impact study, decides board of supervisors

12/19/02

by Glynn A. Burkhardt
president , Pima County Coalition For Multiple Use

Pima County Arizona - The Pima County Board of Supervisors, over the objection of many in the local green movement have finally decided the Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan will not stand up under federal scrutiny without an independent Economic Impact Study. This study is to determine the detrimental effects the SDCP will have on taxes, jobs, the residents and business community in Tucson and Pima County. Donít kid yourselves about the positive aspects of the SDCP unless you consider your cost of living rapidly rising and your quality of life dropping in proportion and speed in your best interests.

After hours of discussion a committee consisting of county staffers, development, ranching and environmental interests recommended a company and the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to hire ESI Corp. of Phoenix. ESI Corp. which will be paid $250,000, will have 16 weeks to complete the entire economic study.

Now however concern is rapidly growing over the cost and time restrictions for this economic impact study and how the board reached this nice convenient figure. The cost to the county of $250,000 for 16 weeks appears to be extreme and the time allocated deliberately restrictive

We need to break these numbers down. $250,000 divided by 16 weeks comes to $15,625.00 per week. Now we divide this by 5 working days per week and have a cost of $3,125.00 per day. We divide this by 8 hours per day and we come up with the ESI Corp. being paid $390.62 per hour.

Why is the Pima County Board of Supervisors willing to pay this excessive amount of money then restrict the time allowed ESI for the study?

We need to find out how many personnel and what resources ESI Corp. is committing to this job. Does the management feel ESI Corp. will be able to responsibly complete the study and publish the report in the time frame allocated by the county? We need to know if there is sufficient and true scientific information available to complete a realistic cost analysis of the proposed SDCP, all with this 16 week period. Finally, we need to have made public the terms of the contract, including incentives, penalties and potential extensions which could cause the study to be rushed or delayed and information misused, censored, misconstrued or deliberately withheld by any parties in possession or with knowledge of information generated by present or past activities related to the SDCP.

A good illustration of this possible misuse of information is in the proposed Pygmy Owl Habitat proposal and the information claimed to have been used to reach the figure of 1.2 million acres for 18 birds, with much of the proposed habitat in Pima County.


More information is leaking out on the lack of evidence and the possible falsification of records and documentation concerning over 80% of the critical habitat proposed. Much of the "documentation" was performed by inexperienced biology students who "volunteered" and were hauled out into the desert in buses (up to 100 at a time), placed in heavy stands of Jumping Cholla, Cat Claw, Crucifixion Thorn, Palo Verde, Iron Wood, Mesquite and other unpleasant desert growth (not to mention the Rattlers, Killer Bees and very aggessive ants) and instructed to search. Several Pygmy Owl sightings were reported. However, these reports were never followed up on for confirmation of the existence of Pygmy Owls on huge tracts of land and now the USFWS is fighting to keep these supposed locations confidential.

This begins to smell of the Lynx fiasco which took place in the Pacific Northwest last year. In that case several Federal officials were found to have criminally "planted" Lynx hair with the intent to have huge areas declared critical Lynx habitat.


Interestingly, Audrey Hudson of the New York Times (her story is below) who broke the Lynx hair story has begun to take an interest in the Pygmy Owl controversy. Hmmmm maybe Horse Feathers next?


Sincerely,
Glynn Burkhardt
president
Pima County Coalition For Multiple Use

For Information Contact:

Glynn A. Burkhardt
president
Pima County Coalition For Multiple Use

9100 E. Indian Hills Rd.
Tucson, Arizona
85749

Phone: 520-749-1393


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Letters to the Editor letters@washingtontimes.com
Managing Editor Francis B. Coombs Jr. fcoombs@washingtontimes.com



Plan to set aside land in Arizona for owls slammed

By Audrey Hudson
THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The federal government wants to set aside 1.2 million acres of public and private Arizona land as critical habitat for 18 endangered pygmy owls, a move critics say threatens development of the land for private business and public recreation. ]


Designating the Tucson land as a critical habitat for the tiny creatures, which span 6 inches and weigh 2 pounds, is necessary because they live in an area facing rapid growth and development, said Maeveen Behan, project director for Pima County.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's call for the land to be set aside is required by the endangered species act.Pygmy owls were added to the government's list of protected species in 1997. Area residents, ranchers and home builders say it's a government effort to stop development and recreation there.


Glynn A. Burkhardt, president of the Pima County Coalition for Multiple Use, called the pygmy owl "the most expensive animal alive." "It will be devastating to Pima County to have a large acreage taken out of use to be used as critical habitat," Mr.Burkhardt said.


Pima County is 6 million acres in size. The 1.2 million acres would give each owl an average of more than 66,000 acres, according to the 2002 count.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the economic loss from the designation will top $108 million over the next 10 years.


The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) called that a low estimate that failed to account for the impact
it will have on property values. They estimate the acreage loss will increase the cost of available residential property by as much as $12,000 per home, pricing some buyers out of the market.


Ranching, mining, farming, commercial development, and recreation such as hunting, camping and hiking would be banned in the critical habitat, Mr. Burkhardt said. The designation would also affect school funding, he said, because state property is held in trust, and proceeds from leases and sales are used for education.


"If they want to develop a trail or recreation facility they would have to do consultation to be sure not to impact any habitat important to the owl," Miss Behan said. Developers also would have to buy four times the size of land they wanted and commit it to conservation.


Doc Lane, president of the Arizona Cattlemen's Association, said some ranchers also will unfairly be put out of business.
"Apparently, what they think the cows do is run around to find trees with pygmy owls in it and then the cows tear down the trees," Mr. Lane said.


The owls are abundant in Mexico, but not so in the northern tip of their habitat in Pima County, which runs along the U.S.-Mexico border.


"It is in danger of becoming extinct in the United States despite the fact that all it has to do is fly above the four-wire fence into Mexico and they will no longer be extinct," Mr. Lane said.


"It's the classic logic and misuse of the Endangered Species Act. Environmental groups that wanted to have some way to hamper people who build houses and have ranches wanted to find a little creature they could use to damage the industry and this is the one they picked," Mr. Lane said.


The habitat designation is being challenged by the NAHB, which took the federal agency to court to force the disclosure of the owls' locations.


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the Fish and Wildlife Service to release its data disclosing locations, but the federal agency is planning to appeal.


NAHB spokesmen said their concern is that the federal agency will drag the appeal past the public comment period, which ends Feb. 27.


"How can anyone in the public determine what land is needed to protect a species when the government won't even tell us where the owl lives?" said Duane Desiderio, NAHB staff vice president for legal affairs. "I think they are holding back the data because it is not the best scientific data available and does not ultimately justify putting aside 1.2 million acres of land, but we can't make that determination until we see the data," Mr. Desiderio said.
"The government has never produced any valid science for its decision-making," Mr. Desiderio said.


A Fish and Wildlife spokesman said locations of the owls are being kept secret to protect the species and private property owners.


"We are concerned that it is such a rare species, birders tend to flock to the location to try and get pictures and often times there are cases of harassment of the owls," said Fish and Wildlife spokesman Scott Richardson. Federal officials are also concerned bird-watchers would trespass on private property, and owners would be less likely to cooperate with researchers.


The proposed habitat in Tucson would be nearly as large as the spotted owl's habitat in California, where 1.4 million acres were put off-limits after the bird was declared endangered in 1989. The move devastated the local economy.

 

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