Saturday, December 17, 2005

PD editor makes Kaulum the poster boy for CTS habitat destruction deal

A Press Democrat editorial said today (12/16),

A group in Arizona appears determined to torpedo a cooperative effort to protect an endangered species without wrecking the economy of Sonoma County. A spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity called the local plan to regulate development near tiger salamander habitat ‘outrageous,’ and added, ‘certainly we will consider challenging it.’”

The editorial continued,

The group's reflexive response comes as something less than a surprise. Still, it's a disappointment that suggests that the center is more interested in stopping development than in saving the salamander.” And the headline was, “Legal threat/Is the goal to stop the world or restore an endangered species?

The editor quoted Keith Kaulum, who was a last-minute member of the developer-driven Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy Team:

It should be noted that representatives of local environmental groups disagree with the reaction of the Arizona organization. Keith Kaulum, who negotiated on behalf of the Sierra Club, the Madrone Audubon Society and the California Native Plant Society, told Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose, ‘We would not have signed on if we thought it was a bad thing.’”

And the editorial concluded,

Local environmentalists and local representatives of key regulatory agencies - two groups never known for being soft on developers - endorse this agreement.Their opinions ought to matter to any group that claims to be acting on behalf of endangered species.

The editorial followed a PD story that said yesterday,

A U.S. district court decision in August in a lawsuit by the Arizona environmental center forced the [U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service] to consider critical habitat designation for a broad swath of the county west of Highway 101. The designation prompts federal agency review of development projects.

As a result, a local group representing public officials, developers and environmentalists scrambled to finish negotiations aimed at minimizing effects of those protections.

The Santa Rosa Plain Conservation Strategy group unveiled its proposal last week. The federal decision Wednesday cleared the way for the group to seek government approval for its plans unencumbered by the possibility of federal opposition.

A U.S. Fish & Wildlife statement said the proposals by Conservation Strategy ‘would streamline the approval process for projects and avoid the need for habitat mitigation on a project-by-project basis.’ It noted that four endangered plant species also would be protected.

But the Center for Biological Diversity strongly differed. The federal decision is ‘outrageous and certainly we will consider challenging it,’ center spokesman Jeff Miller said.

He said the Conservation Strategy group's plan ‘is heavily weighted in favor of development interests’ and ‘appears to have its origins in the development industry's desire to minimize costs and delays.’”

The CBD spokesman was right. First the local developers sued USF&W last February. Then they dropped the suit and created the Strategy Team, to negotiate with F&W and other agencies.

An Implementation Team of bureaucrats and local politicians received a compromise plan from the Strategy Team this April, and continued to bargain. This week we learned F&W had accepted the deal--and dropped the critical habitat designation the CBD had won in court.

So it’s no wonder the CBD is talking about going back to court. And there’s no question the opposition to designation of critical habitat was developer-driven (and reportedly, developer-funded as well)--with the help of their friends at the Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park City Halls and the County.

The only news here is the PD is making the lone enviro on the developers’ Strategy Team the poster boy for the continued destruction of the salamander habitat. The story the day before reported,

Keith Kaulum, one of the environmental representatives on the local group, rejected that characterization, saying, ‘We would not have signed on if we thought it was a bad thing.’Kaulum represents the Sierra Club, the Madrone Audubon Society and the California Native Plant Society, which have battled for wetlands preservation for years.

’Designation of critical habitat is problematic because you end up with a checkerboard of preserve areas that are not connected and there may not be a commitment from the federal agency to do any preservation work in any of them,’ he said

In fact, the developers’ plan Kaulum worked on not only dramatically reduces the area believed to be salamander habitat, it would create a checkerboard of man-made habitat “mitigation banks”. And now that the USF&W has copped out, it looks like there is no commitment from any federal agency to preserve anything.


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