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Ajo Warms Up
Southwest Region, June 5, 2006
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Cooperative management of the Sonoran pronghorn was achieved when an contract Arizona Game and Fish Department helicopter airlifted 3,000 gallons of water into two pronghorn guzzlers, one on the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and one on Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  Biologists from Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the Arizona Game and Fish Department completed a modification of the forage enhancement near Charlie Bell Pass to increase forage resources.  Because of ongoing drought conditions we continue to irrigate four pronghorn forage enhancement plots to improve pronghorn fawn survival.

Public interest continues to grow about the refuge, with May's local newspapers carrying articles on the 2006 Quitobaquito pupfish survey, poisonous desert wildlife and desert safety.  The refuge environmental education and outreach programs continued and provided valuable information about past land uses by historic and prehistoric peoples, geology, and botany to students from the Tohono O'odham Nation, St. Lawrence University, and the International Sonoran Desert Alliance.

The annual May census of the endangered Quitobaquito pupfish living in a pond outside the Visitor Center indicated that the population was much greater than in 2005, and many fish have increased in length and bulk.  The tiny fish (adults are about the size of a paperclip) are breeding, with the males an iridescent blue color.

Refuge staff met with staff from Arizona Game and Fish Department regarding our nearly finalized CCP. Outstanding issues were discussed and agreements were made. We hope to have the CCP finalized soon. We are currently conducting an Intra-Service Section 7 consultation with Ecological Services. Upon completion of the consultation, it will be ready for review in Washington.

 

Manager Di Rosa spent five hours in discussions over a weekend with Congressman Steven King (R-IA), House Resources Committee, Rosemary Jenks, Director of Government Relations, and key staffers.  Congressman King's group was being accompanied by Robert Eggle, the father of the slain Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument ranger who was supporting Border Patrol in a drug interdiction operation when he was killed by a drug cartel assassin.  Manager Di Rosa had spoken with Mr. Eggle on previous occasions.  The group met with a few other key border management personnel.   The group was here on a fact finding mission and without fanfare and media in order to obtain a truly candid representation from field personnel who are actually dealing with the border issues and problems at "ground level".  The conversations were candid, pointed and appeared to be very revealing for the Congressman who indicated that follow-up contacts are likely.  The group was especially impressed by a Powerpoint presentation about the Cabeza's conflicts and problems and the chronological sequence of maps depicting the accelerating damage to the Cabeza's resources over the last several years, and our efforts to work with Border Patrol/Dept. of Homeland Security.

 

Legislation to help support the resource management agencies on the border was introduced by Senators Kyl and Thomas.   It is an amendment based on an idea developed and pushed by Manager Di Rosa for ear-marked funding to support, and be specific to, federal land management units (refuges, parks, forests and BLM lands) that are suffering from major impacts to resources and operations from illegal border activities, subsequent law enforcement operations and actions dealing with Border Patrol and Homeland Security.  It is recognized that the these units are not being adequately supported by their agencies and are suffering in all aspects of their operations from unfunded mandates driven by border policy and enforcement.

 

The Refuge recorded another death this month.  A group of "mules" (Mexican drug smugglers backpacking heavy loads of marijuana) managed to make it past Border Patrol and reach the Refuge's north boundary with the military gunnery range before getting into trouble from dehydration and lack of water.  One of the individuals managed to struggle farther north until he was able to obtain cell phone contact and call 911.  Border Patrol responded and evacuated the group but not before one member died.

 

Assistant Manager McCasland and Refuge biologist/pronghorn recovery team leader Coffeen represented the Refuge at the quarterly Berry M. Goldwater [Gunnery] Range meeting, and Manager Di Rosa chaired the Intergovernmental Executive Committee meeting later that evening.  The hot topic for the sessions was the border and what the President's recent visit and comments, and Congressional actions will likely mean for those of us on the border.   It appears that National Guard Troops will be coming our way very quickly to assist Border Patrol.  What that means for the Refuge is unknown at this time, other than it will likely mean more work and difficulty for the staff trying to minimize the impact to its resources and wilderness.   Border Patrol also will likely bring in more field agents.

 

Lengthy articles about the border containing interviews and comments about the Cabeza were published this month in High Country News and Tucson Weekly.   Other than for a few factual errors the Tucson Weekly article is especially informative.

Contact Info: Martin Valdez, 505-248-6599, martin_valdez@fws.gov



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