ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A federal appeals court has sided with environmentalists, ruling that the U.S. government failed to consider the cumulative effects of greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the approval of nearly 200 drilling permits in an area surrounding Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
Home to numerous sites significant to Native American tribes, the region has been a focal point of conflict over energy development that has spanned multiple presidential administrations. Now, environmentalists and some tribal leaders have accused the Biden administration of “rubber-stamping'' more drilling.
In a ruling issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel for the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that federal land managers violated the law by not accounting for the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of air pollution from oil and gas drilling.
The court also put on hold the approval of additional drilling permits pending a decision from a lower court.
Kyle Tisdel, a senior attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center, accused the Bureau of Land Management of prioritizing oil and gas extraction at the expense of those who live in northwestern New Mexico, including many Navajo communities.
“Frontline Dine communities and their allies were vindicated today in a step toward environmental justice. We will continue to demand justice, and that their water, health and the climate stop being sacrificed to big oil profits,'' Tisdel said in a statement.
Environmentalists have long complained about pollution from increased drilling, but the fight took on new urgency when Native American tribes began raising concerns that a spider web of drill pads, roads, processing stations and other infrastructure was compromising culturally significant sites beyond Chaco park's boundaries.
The Bureau of Land Management had an informal process of not leasing land within 10 miles (16 kilometers) of Chaco park to address those concerns.
During the Obama administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the first time joined federal land managers in planning how to manage resources. Following a visit by then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt during the Trump administration, oil and gas leasing within a certain distance of the park was put on hold.
Now, the U.S. Interior Department is considering formalizing the 10-mile buffer around the park, putting off limits to future development of more than 507 square miles (1,310 square kilometers) of federal mineral holdings.
As part of the effort, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland _ a member of Laguna Pueblo and the first Native American to lead a U.S. Cabinet agency — wants to create a system for including tribal perspectives and values when land management decisions are made.
She first detailed the steps her agency would be taking during a visit to Chaco park in November 2021. That process is ongoing.
Much of the land surrounding the park belongs to the Navajo Nation or is owned by individual Navajos. While the federal government's planned 20-year withdrawal would not affect tribal lands, the Navajo Nation and allottees have expressed concerns about being landlocked and losing out on leasing revenue and royalties.
There are about 23,000 active oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico. The BLM is required to approve an application for permit to drill before a developer can begin work. As part of that process, the agency typically prepares a site-specific environmental assessment to determine whether the project will have significant environmental effects.
The judges noted their review was limited to only those applications for permits to drill that had already been approved by the Bureau of Land Management, not pending applications.
While the Bureau of Land Management's analysis of potential impacts to water resources was sufficient, the court noted that the agency was unreasonable in using one year of direct emissions to represent total emissions over the 20-year lifespan of a well.
It will be up to a lower court to decide how the agency can fix deficiencies in the environmental assessments that sparked the legal challenge.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — The life of Los Angeles' most famous mountain lion followed a path known only to the biggest of Hollywood stars: Discovered on-camera in 2012, the cougar adopted a stage name and enjoyed a decade of celebrity status before his tragic death late last year.
The popular puma gained fame as P-22 and cast a spotlight on the troubled population of California's endangered mountain lions and their decreasing genetic diversity. Now, with his remains stored in a freezer at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, wildlife officials and representatives from the region's tribal communities are debating his next act.
Biologists and conservationists want to retain samples of P-22's tissue, fur and whiskers for scientific testing to aid in future wildlife research. But some representatives of the Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielino (Tongva) peoples say his body should be returned, untouched, to the ancestral lands where he spent his life so he can be honored with a traditional burial.
In tribal communities here, mountain lions are regarded as relatives and considered teachers. P-22 is seen as an extraordinary animal, according to Alan Salazar, a tribal member of the Fernandeno Tataviam Band of Mission Indians and a descendent of the Chumash tribe who said his death should be honored appropriately.
“We want to bury him like he's a ‘wot,' like a ‘tomier,' “ Salazar said, “which are two of the words for chief or leader” in the Chumash and Tataviam languages, respectively. “Because that's what he was.''
Likely born about 12 years ago in the western Santa Monica Mountains, wildlife officials believe the aggression of P-22's father and his own struggle to find a mate amid a dwindling population drove the cougar to cross two heavily traveled freeways and migrate east.
He made his debut in 2012, captured on a trail camera by biologist Miguel Ordenana in Griffith Park, home of the Hollywood sign and part of ancestral Gabrielino (Tongva) land.
Promptly tagged and christened P-22 — as the 22nd puma in a National Park Service study — he spawned a decade of devotion among Californians, who saw themselves mirrored in his bachelor status, his harrowing journey to the heart of Los Angeles and his prime real estate in Griffith Park amid the city's urban sprawl. Los Angeles and Mumbai are the world's only major cities where large cats live — mountain lions in one, leopards in the other.
Angelenos will celebrate his life on Saturday at the Greek Theater in Griffith Park in a memorial put on by the “Save LA Cougars.'' P-22 inspired the group to campaign for a wildlife crossing over a Los Angeles-area freeway that will allow big cats and other animals safe passage between the mountains and wildlands to the north. The bridge broke ground in April.
P-22's star dimmed last November, when he killed a Chihuahua on a dogwalker's leash in the Hollywood Hills and likely attacked another weeks later. Wildlife officials said the puma seemed to be ``exhibiting signs of distress,'' in part due to aging.
They captured P-22 on Dec. 12 in a residential backyard in the trendy Los Feliz neighborhood. Examinations revealed a skull fracture — the result of being hit by a car — and chronic illnesses including a skin infection and diseases of the kidneys and liver.
The city's cherished big cat was euthanized five days later.
Los Angeles mourned P-22 as one of its own, with songs, stories and murals crying “long live the king.” Post-It notes of remembrance blanketed an exhibit wall at the Natural History Museum and children's paw print messages covered a tableau outside the LA Zoo.
While fame is fleeting for most celebrities, P-22's legacy lives on — though in what form is now up for debate.
The Natural History Museum took possession of the animal's remains, prompting swift condemnation by tribal leaders who feared P-22's body could be taxidermized and put on display. Samples taken during the animal's necropsy also are causing concerns among the tribal communities about burying the cougar intact.
“In order to continue on your journey into the afterlife, you have to be whole,'' said Desiree Martinez, an archaeologist and member of the Gabrielino (Tongva) community.
A year before P-22's death, Ordenana — the wildlife biologist whose camera first spotted the cougar and is now a senior manager of community science at the Natural History Museum — had applied for a permit from the state for the museum to receive the mountain lion's remains when he died. Typically an animal carcass would be discarded.
Ordenana and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife have apologized, saying they should have spoken with the tribes from the start.
Museum, state and other officials began talks with the tribes Monday in the hopes of reaching a compromise. Ordenana and other scientists are advocating to retain at least some of P-22's tissue samples to preserve future research opportunities for the endangered animals as new technologies and techniques arise.
“We're trying to see what can we do differently — regarding outreach, regarding our process — that is feasible for us as an institution,” Ordenana said, “but respectful of both the scientific and the cultural-historic legacy of these animals.''
Salazar and Martinez, however, do not believe samples should be taken from the animal's remains and held by the museum in perpetuity.
“We've been studied like the mountain lion has been studied,” Salazar said. “Those bones of my tribal ancestors are in boxes so they can be studied by future generations. We're not a science project.''
Beth Pratt, California executive director for the National Wildlife Federation and a key player in developing the wildlife crossing, said it's important to balance the different arguments to ensure the diminishing LA cougar population has a future.
“We do need data from these animals, even P-22, for science,” said Pratt, who calls him “the Brad Pitt'' of pumas.
Chuck Bonham, director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the P-22 discussions have forced his agency and others to reckon with their outreach to California's tribes.
“I think he'll live forever in this way,” Bonham said.
Martinez, of the Gabrielino (Tongva) community, said the beloved mountain lion's death also symbolizes how humans must take responsibility for respecting animals' lives.
“We are wildlife. We are creatures of nature, just as all the animals and plants are,” Martinez said. “What can we do to make sure that the creatures that we are sharing this nature with have the ability to survive and live on — just like us?''