Fish and Wildlife Service proposes initiative to protect Lower San Pedro River; meeting set for Thursday in San Manuel

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) is exploring the possibility of establishing a collaborative conservation initiative along the riparian corridor of the Lower San Pedro River (San Pedro) from the Narrows to its confluence with the Gila River. The initiative would involve interested landowners, land managing agencies, local communities, non-profit organizations, businesses and the public. The vision of the initiative is to conserve one of the Southwest’s prime areas of biological diversity, help to safeguard water supplies for municipal and agricultural users downstream, and preserve a working rural landscape of ranches and farms.

Additionally, the vision for this initiative includes the formation of a landowner-driven collaborative conservation component, similar to the Malpai Borderlands Group. The Service could participate as a land-based agency representative on this group, but would not control the group’s decisions or activities.

As part of an extensive public participation process, the Service is hosting three public meetings within the project area to discuss the concept with members of the public and interested stakeholders, and to identify issues that should be considered. The meetings will be held:

• Tuesday, June 12, 3-5 p.m., DoubleTree Hotel, 445 S. Alvernon Way, Tucson, AZ

• Wednesday, June 13, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Cascabel Community Center, 5871 Cascabel Road, Cascabel, AZ 85602

• Thursday, June 14, 6:30-8:30 p.m., San Manuel High School Cafeteria, 711 McNab Parkway, San Manuel, AZ 85631

In addition to these meetings, the Service will accept written comments until Wednesday, August 1, 2012. Written comments can be sent to: Jeannie Wagner-Greven, Lead Planner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, P.O. Box 1306, Albuquerque NM; 87102; or to Jeannie_WagnerGreven@fws.gov. These public meetings and 60-day open comment period are formally referred to as ‘Scoping’ and are a part of compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The San Pedro is the last major undammed river in the American Southwest and one of the largest remaining intact mesquite bosques in the world. This Globally Important Bird Area is located at the convergence of four major ecosystems–the Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts. This convergence contributes to its high biodiversity values. It is recognized as one of the primary migratory bird corridors in the West, with estimates of up to four million birds that annually traverse the corridor between Mexico and breeding areas.

Through this process the Service seeks to identify an administratively approved project boundary. If a boundary is approved, the Service would be able to contribute an array of various tools that landowners could voluntarily and freely choose from. This includes technical assistance, cooperative agreements for management, Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program grants, conservation easements, or fee title acquisition by the Service. Any fee title acquisition by the Service would be from willing sellers only. Any formally acquired lands would be managed as a part of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Based on the information received during these Scoping meetings, the Service will determine if moving forward on the project is appropriate. If deemed appropriate the Service will create a draft Land Protection Plan, Conceptual Management Plan, and any necessary NEPA compliance documents. The draft documents would be made available to the public through an open comment period and another round of public meetings would be held. Based on the feedback received, a recommendation would be made to Service headquarters in Washington D.C where any final decision would be made.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

Important points about National Wildlife Refuges:

• There are currently over 556 National Wildlife Refuge’s through the US (including nine in Arizona) covering more than 150 million acres. Besides providing habitat for plants and animals, many refuges offer scenic vistas, wildlife watching, cultural and educational events, and recreation such as fishing and hiking. Last year, 45 million people visited a national wildlife refuge.

• Refuge lands often contribute to the development of ECOzones – sites with both ECOlogical and ECOnomic benefits. A 2006 analysis by the Service called Banking on Nature found that more than 34.8 million visits to refuges in fiscal year 2006 generated $1.7 billion in sales, almost 27,000 jobs, and $542.8 million in employment income in regional economies. An updated analysis is expected by 2013.

• Refuge lands are acquired from willing sellers or donors only. All acquisitions are based on available funds.

• Nearly all funds for land acquisition come from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which are funds derived from excise taxes paid by companies conducting offshore oil and gas development.

• The Service’s Refuge Revenue Sharing program helps compensate counties for property tax revenues foregone due to federal land acquisition.

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