Washington, DC — The National Park Service has abruptly reversed course and blocked installation of artificial water systems in California’s Mojave National Preserve, according to a letter from the park superintendent released today by Public Employees For Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Center for Biological Diversity. Last month the two groups filed a federal lawsuit to stop the artificial watering plan on the grounds that it harmed native wildlife and violated Park Service policy.
Yesterday, on April 5, 2005, Mary Martin, Superintendent of the Mojave National Preserve, sent a letter to the California Department of Fish and Game, which stated:
“[T]he National Park Service is withdrawing the approval, set forth in our letter of January 21, 2005, for the California Department of Fish and Game to convert four ranching well developments in Mojave National Preserve into wildlife watering devices…Upon further review, the National Park Service has determined that additional NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] compliance is desirable before a decision is made…”
Ironically, the position taken by Martin this week reflects the same stance that she had communicated in a June 17, 2002 memo to Paul Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Hoffman, however, disregarded Martin’s concerns and ordered her to set up artificial water sources (called “guzzlers”) in order to enhance “coyote and varmint hunting,” according to an email he sent to a sportsmen’s group.
“This is a classic example of a Bush Administration appointee inappropriately intervening to countermand wildlife professionals for political reasons,” stated PEER Board member Frank Buono, the former assistant superintendent at Mojave NP, noting that Hoffman, a former Dick Cheney aide, has no biological training. “Paul Hoffman should be fired for incompetence.”
The Mojave National Preserve covers 1.6 million acres of desert and is home to more than 2,500 native species of which approximately 100 are considered imperiled. The two groups pointed to the opinions of more than 50 wildlife experts that the guzzlers would threaten desert wildlife, particularly the desert tortoise, the flagship species of the Mojave Preserve.
“Superintendent Martin did the right thing to follow the law and involve the public,” said Daniel R. Patterson, Desert Ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “More guzzlers would harm native desert wildlife, and violate an agreement Interior made to keep these wells capped. There are already many natural waters and guzzlers on the Mojave National Preserve, which should be managed as a natural area, not a game farm.”
“Mojave National Preserve must obey the long-established policies of the National Park Service which mandate that artificial water sources for wildlife may be provided only in extreme conditions; conditions hardly evident at Mojave,” Buono concluded.