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Posts Tagged ‘Friends of Ironwood Forest’

An update on the Desert Fence Busters

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by Trica Oshant Hawkins, Conservation Programs Director, Arizona Wildlife Federation

[Excerpted from the Spring 2023 Friends of Ironwood Forest Newsletter]

I’ve been coordinating various volunteer conservation projects for well over 20 years now. In all that time, I can honestly say that the most gratifying work I have ever done (with or without volunteers) is removing old, abandoned barbed-wire fences.

Nothing says “accomplishment” like a wide open landscape you know is safer for wildlife and allows them freedom of movement for migration, foraging, finding mates, predator avoidance, etc. Sharing that satisfaction with a group of volunteers and other like-minded conservationists is, well, exhilarating.

Those “like-minded conservationists” I’m referring to are the Desert Fence Busters, who have collaborated over the past couple of years to make these impactful fence removal projects happen.

Through my work with the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF), I’ve been involved in projects to remove abandoned barbed-wire fence from public lands for several years now. However, working collaboratively with Desert Fence Busters takes this work to a whole other level.

In the past two years with AWF’s Volunteer for Wildlife program, I’ve organized four different projects, through which we’ve removed five miles of fencing. Those projects typically involve myself (representing AWF), a couple of agency partners, and volunteers (usually less than 20 folks per project).

In roughly that same amount of time, through six Desert Fence Busters projects, we’ve removed an estimated 21 miles of fence and taken 15,300 pounds of metal off the landscape to be recycled. Now that’s impact! See what we can do when we collaborate?

For a group of six different non-profit conser-vation organizations, a cadre of volunteers, and county, state, and federal agencies to collaborate and accomplish so much so quickly is nothing short of extraordinary. There is a certain magic with the Desert Fence Busters that one rarely experiences in the conservation field.

Collaborating among different organizations without “turf wars” or power struggles is rare indeed, yet somehow this group simply gets along and gets things done. We’ve come to honor, respect, and learn more about each other’s work and mission, but more than anything, we share the same goal: to help wildlife by getting aban-doned barbed wire off the landscape…to bust fence!

While fences serve many purposes, with both positive and negative effects on wildlife and people, abandoned barbed-wire fencing poses nothing but hazards for animals on the land-scape. Wildlife get entangled in the wire, often resulting in death. Fencing also disrupts the natural movement of wildlife, causing individual stress and population declines.

Many of these fences were installed during the era of intense cattle ranching in the south-west, which coincided with the invention of barbed wire in the late 1870s. To hold on to their public land grazing allotments, ranchers had to show “improvement” on the land. Building fences was (and still is) one of the primary methods of “improving” one’s grazing allotments.

However, there weren’t (and still aren’t) any directives stating that those fences had to be removed once ranchers and their cattle moved on. As land ownership and grazing allotments changed, the relics of the cattle industry remain-ed on the landscape. And they still do to this day.

It is estimated that there are 620,000 miles of fence on private, city, county, state and federal landscapes across the west. But no one really knows how much of that is abandoned barbed-wire fence, also known as “ghost fence.”

We do know it is a significant amount. As an example, in the 776 square miles that make up the Sonoran Desert National Monument (an AWF fence removal project site), it is estimated that there are at least 40 more miles of abandoned fence that needs removing…that we know of. So, there’s a lot of work to be done!

The beauty of the Desert Fence Busters is that we have a variety of agency land managers that identify and map abandoned fence that needs removing from their respective lands. Once a project site is scouted and identified, each of the different non-profit organizations reaches out to their respective database of volunteers, invit-ing them to participate in the project.

Agencies like the Arizona Game and Fish Department provide resources such as tools and fence rollers. Friends of Ironwood Forest sets up an information table and welcomes volunteers. BKW partners load and haul away the dropped fencing and T-posts. All of the groups help in organizing the projects and share costs of providing lunch, snacks, and beverages.

Through the Desert Fence Busters, we are truly making an impact on our beloved Sonoran desert landscape. We are improving the habitat for wildlife… and for people. Together, we are making a difference.

There are some who say the future of conservation is in collaboration. With the Desert Fence Busters, that future is now.

The Desert Fence Busters includes the following partner organizations: Friends of Ironwood Forest, Arizona Wildlife Federation, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, Arizona Game and Fish Department, BKW, Bureau of Reclamation, City of Tucson, Friend of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, Mule Deer Foundation, Pima County, Saguaro National Park, and Tucson Audubon Society.

The I-11 lawsuit explained

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by Tom Hannagan, Friends of Ironwood Forest, President of the Board of Directors

(excerpted from the Friends of Ironwood Forest Spring 2023 Newsletter)

Usually in this space, I would review three or four things that Friends of Ironwood Forest has been involved in recently. This time I’d like to focus on one item. We were in federal court for the first time in FIF history, to stop the proposed interstate I-11.

The FIF took a huge step forward in advocacy last year by joining three partners in filing a legal claim against the new I-11 interstate route favored by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Our three partners in this action are the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection (CSDP), and the Tuscon chapter of the Audubon Society.

The route chosen by ADOT, the so-called “west option,” would come very close to the eastern border of Ironwood Forest National Monument (IFNM) and bisect the Avra Valley, creating a barrier to wildlife connectivity between the mountains in IFNM and the Tucson Mountains, which include Saguaro National Park-West and Tucson Mountain Park. The ability of wildlife to move between mountain ranges is necessary for their genetic strength and in turn the continuing health of the species.

ADOT and the FHWA ignored the nearly unanimous objections of all bodies submitting public comments on their choice. In addition to conservation organizations, such as FIF and community organizations in Tucson, the governments of Pima County, the City of Tucson, and the Tohono O’odham Nation also filed formal objections. Even other departments of the federal government, including the National Park System, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service filed comments objecting to the west option.

Our lawsuit claims that ADOT/FHWA did not follow federal law in rushing through their Environmental Impact Study-Phase I (EIS). We feel ADOT ignored three separate federal laws affecting EIS requirements. Of critical importance to us was that the ADOT/FHWA excluded IFNM from any consideration as to environmental impact within the EIS. They felt that the IFNM did not qualify for consideration as a “park.”

Their rather flimsy justification for this is that the presidential proclamation creating IFNM did not use the term “park” or “recreation”. This is in spite of many references to recreational use in the BLM Resource Management Plan for the IFNM. It is clearly obvious that the IFNM is used for many public recreational activities from camping to hiking to photography to hunting and so on. It is also clear to all that the IFNM is a wildlife refuge for the only indigenous herd of desert bighorn sheep, along with other threatened plant and animal species.

Rather than waiting for the ADOT/FHWA juggernaut to proceed any further, we thought it was time to do everything possible to stop it. ADOT/ FHWA filed their EIS Record of Decision in November 2021. We began discussing a lawsuit by March 2022 and filed the legal claim in April 2022. See CBD’s press release about the lawsuit.

There were a series of minor filings by both parties regarding attorneys and other clarifying details. As expected, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss a part of our claim in August 2022. On January 25, 2023, we had our first appearance before a judge.

The attorney for FHWA/ADOT tried to justify their motion to dismiss by saying that taking into account the negative impact on the IFNM and other public lands was something they “might consider” in Phase II of the EIS process or sometime later. The judge repeatedly questioned the attorney as to why this wasn’t done, or shouldn’t have been done, sooner rather than later. Our CBD attorney argued that federal law clearly requires consideration covering impact as soon as possible in the overall process.

In fact, we all know that ADOT’s preference for the Avra Valley route could be materially affected by having to deal with the environmental impact on IFNM. The judge did not disagree with our line of argument. We conservationists in attendance (basically the only attendees other than members of the press) were very pleased to see the interest expressed by the judge and the performance of the CBD attorney, Wendy Park.

There is no deadline for the judge to rule on the motion to dismiss. He could decline the motion, grant it, or put it into some form of abeyance until later in the main trial. We will update you all when we get this ruling, and for other key stages of the legal claim over time. This is a rather long-term process.

I very much want to thank everyone of you who have continued to support FIF so that we have the capability to fight for the Monument. Your energy and goodwill are major factors in our continued efforts to protect the local treasure called Ironwood Forest National Monument.

Have a Beer for a Bighorn on November 18th!

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The Coalition, Friends of Ironwood Forest, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society are hosting a fun event on November 18, 2017 to support Ironwood Forest National Monument. Will you join us in having a beer for a bighorn? 

What: Have a Beer for a Bighorn Event

When: November 18, 2017, 3-7pm

Where: Dragoon Brewing Company, 1859 W. Grant Rd., #111

Details: There will be information available about Ironwood Forest National Monument, food trucks, brewery tours, snacks, and a slide show!

A pdf flyer about the event can be downloaded here. Please share with your friends and other community members who care about the Ironwood Forest National Monument! 

We hope to see you there!