Washington, DC — A top political appointee of the Bush Administration has overruled the National Park Service and ordered it to allow the installation of artificial water systems in California’s Mojave National Preserve. Contending that the artificial water sources are illegal and will harm the native wildlife, Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Biological Diversity today filed suit to stop the plan.
Paul Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks, intervened to quash Park Service objections about adding more artificial water sources (called “guzzlers”). Hoffman, who has no biological training and spent the ten years prior to his appointment by President Bush at the Cody Wyoming Chamber of Commerce, contends guzzlers enhance “coyote and varmint hunting” on the Preserve, according to one of his emails.
The Mojave National Preserve covers more than 3 million acres of desert and is home to more than 2,500 native species of which approximately 100 are considered imperiled. For example, the desert tortoise, the flagship species of the Mojave Preserve, is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Wildlife experts contend expansion of artificial watering in the Preserve hurts native flora and fauna by –
- Drying up natural springs and wetlands upon which native plants and animals depend;
- Drawing concentrations of ravens and other animals that prey especially on young tortoises. One survey found dead or dying desert tortoises at 30% of the current guzzlers. Another study found a ten fold increase in ravens congregating around guzzlers; and
- Sustaining non-native species like burros. There is even a concern about the watering systems helping to spread Africanized honeybees.
“Nearly a century ago, Congress charged the National Park Service with conserving the wildlife of the parks. Now, the Bush Administration is eroding the long history and tradition of protecting park wildlife and of preserving healthy ecosystems,” stated PEER Board member Frank Buono, who served as deputy superintendent at Mojave NP, pointing to a letter signed by 57 scientists specializing in desert ecology who oppose the guzzlers. “Paul Hoffman is setting wildlife policy on the basis of good-ole-boy ignorance.”
On January 31, 2005, the Mojave superintendent under orders from Hoffman granted permission for the installation of four guzzlers with eight more still under consideration. The lawsuit from PEER and the Center contends that the artificial water systems violate laws and policies governing the Park Service. The guzzler approval also flouts advice from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, the water sources run counter to the management plan that the NPS adopted, after four years of public involvement and thousands of public comments, for the Preserve in 2002. In making the move in January, the Park Service made no effort to revise its plan or notify the public.
“There are already many natural waters and guzzlers on the Mojave National Preserve, which is a natural area, not a game farm," said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Hoffman's illegal political push for unneeded guzzlers would harm native desert wildlife, and violate an agreement Interior made to keep these wells capped.”