Friday, November 16, 2012

Sonoran pronghorn threatened by water issues, coalition says

Arizona Daily Star / Conkite News Service
November 16, 2012
by Andrew Bovin

WASHINGTON - A new report lists the endangered Sonoran pronghorn as one of the species most threatened by water problems across the nation.

The pronghorn was one of 17 species identified Wednesday by the Endangered Species Coalition as threatened by water-quality issues or a lack of water in 10 different watersheds.

For pronghorns, which live in the Sonoran Desert between Southwest Arizona and northern Mexico, problems include a lack of rainfall, water-quality problems from industrial and agricultural runoff and habitat damage from Border Patrol activities, among other factors, the report said.

Leda Huta, the coalition's executive director, said the timing and duration of rainfall in the desert is vital for the pronghorn's survival for several reasons.

"It's not just water, but also what they're eating," Huta said. "Without water, they're not going to have food."

Another problem is off-road activity by Border Patrol agents. That damages vegetation that the herds graze on, said Tierra Curry, a conservation biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that make up the coalition.

"It changes the nature of the area," Curry said of border activities, pointing out that the border fence divides pronghorn herds between the U.S. and Mexico.

"The fence is certainly a problem because it separates the population in Mexico and the population in the U.S.," Curry said.

But the Border Patrol challenged that claim, saying it works to protect the environment while doing its job of protecting the border.

"The preservation of our valuable natural and cultural resources is of great importance to Customs and Border Protection, and we are fully engaged in efforts that consider the environment as we work to secure our nation's borders," the agency said in a written statement Wednesday.

The statement said the agency's work in the Barry M. Goldwater Range in Arizona, where it "has funded mitigation and recovery efforts for the endangered Sonoran pronghorn, is an example of our commitment" to the environment.

The report, "Water Woes: How dams, diversions, dirty water and drought put America's wildlife at risk," is the latest by the coalition, which releases a report every year listing areas that are at greatest danger from a different environmental threat.

Environmental groups nominate species that are reviewed by scientists, who put together a final list. Huta said the coalition chose species that "aren't a lost cause," where human changes could alter the situation.

"They wanted species where we can highlight what can be done," Huta said.

She said people can help by cutting water use and reducing their carbon footprint, which she said contributes to global warming, which can lead to drought.

Pronghorns were listed as an endangered species in 1967. Officials estimate that there are only about 500 in the wild, about 100 of which are on the U.S. side of the border.

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