Washington, DC — Reversing more than a decade of commitments to shield endangered desert tortoises from vandalism and other threats posed by non-game hunting, the National Park Service (NPS) has decided that it will not adopt hunting rules for the Mojave National Preserve, according to documents released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In an extraordinary move, NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis also formally waived the agency’s own Management Policies requiring that it adopt hunting rules for Mojave.
Hunting of non-game animals, called “varmints,” is permitted year-round without limit on the sprawling Mojave National Preserve, covering an area the size of Delaware in the southern California desert. Mojave is one of 62 national park units where hunting is allowed but NPS has adopted required special hunting rules in only a third of these units.
In order to implement the recovery plan for the endangered desert tortoise, NPS in an array of official documents beginning in 2000 repeatedly indicated that it would restrict non-game hunting during the spring and summer periods when the tortoise is active. Despite these numerous promises, however, the agency never acted. In June 2002, PEER and other groups petitioned the Interior Secretary to promulgate hunting rules for Mojave. After several subsequent overtures failed to induce action, PEER filed suit on July 28, 2010 charging Interior with failing to undertake “prompt consideration” of the 2002 PEER rulemaking petition, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), and ignoring notice, comment and analysis requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
The suit finally provoked an official response. In an October 14, 2010 letter NPS Director Jarvis wrote that he had decided not to promulgate hunting regulations for the Mojave Preserve, asserting that any restrictions are unwarranted but providing no scientific studies or evidence to support this stark reversal of the agency’s long-standing position. Director Jarvis also waived the NPS Management Policy mandating adoption of special regulations governing hunting as it applies to Mojave.
“This stunning about-face contradicts previous recommendations that were based on the best available science,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, who has amended the PEER lawsuit to challenge the NPS reversal as being arbitrary and capricious in violation of the APA. “With a stroke of a pen, Mr. Jarvis has upended a decision duly adopted through a public planning process, including endangered species impact review, without public notice, official consultation or scientific study. His action is the epitome of arbitrary and capricious.”
This is the first known instance where the current NPS Director has waived any of the Management Policies, which were actually strengthened during the second Bush term after a highly controversial attempt to weaken them. PEER is seeking to determine if Mr. Jarvis has quietly issued other waivers.
“Waiving Management Policies, especially those protecting wildlife, did not happen even during the darkest days of the Bush era but is happening now as an afterthought,” added PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “The National Park Service is the federal agency charged by law with the strictest standard of stewardship – a duty it has obviously failed to meet in Mojave.”