The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is anticipating the submittal of the official plan for the reintroduction of Sonoran Pronghorn to the Chuckwalla Bench at the end of August 2019. The plan has been delayed by the redrawing of the proposed Nonessential Experimental Population (NEP) boundaries. Once the plan is submitted to the Department of the Interior offices located in Washington, D.C., it will be incorporated into the Federal Register for public review and comment. Once the review is complete, a Final Rule will be published.
It is important to note, the NEP is a section in the Endangered Species Act that allows the release of surplus animals in areas with the hope that they will reproduce. If the animals move outside the boundary, the endangered species act is activated and numerous regulatory burdens are initiated.
The USFWS initially believed that the boundary created in 2017 was sufficient, but it has since gone through two additional revisions. Unfortunately, with every change comes an additional review and more delay.
It is important to recognize what your chapter has accomplished up to this point:
One of the first question regarding the reintroduction of Pronghorn into the Chuckwalla Bench was genetics, specifically which species of Pronghorn inhabited the area. No governmental agency was going the move forward without this question answered. It was the San Diego Chapter working in conjunction with the San Diego Natural History Museum that collected 20 samples (bone and horn) from 5 different museums, including the Smithsonian for DNA analysis. The San Diego Chapter then supported the University of Arizona Genetics Laboratory that proved Sonoran Pronghorn inhabited the area in and around the Chuckwalla Bench. The data gathered also provided valuable information of where Peninsular Pronghorn, another endangered Pronghorn species once inhabited.
The San Diego Chapter created the California Reintroduction Working Group which includes: USFWS, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), The San Diego Natural History Museum, The Living Desert, The United States Marine Corps (USMC), Desert Wildlife Unlimited (DWU), Defenders of Wildlife (DOW) and other NGOs. This working group meets regularly to determine release locations, water sources and all the logistics that will be required to release animals into the wild.
One of the most important accomplishments the San Diego Chapter has provided is the reintroduction plan. It cannot be overstated that without an overall plan to guide the reintroduction effort, the project would not succeed. The USFWS has adopted our Chapter’s plan, and it has become the current guiding document for the reintroduction effort.
The California working group met on 11 June to review the status of the project and to develop a path forward while we wait on approval from Washington D.C. One of the key takeaways from the meeting was the agreement of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between all of the parties involved. This will clarify roles and responsibilities for both governmental and non-governmental agencies to ensure the project is sustained for the long term. The USFWS has taken the lead in creating the MOU, and we look forward to taking another step closer to realizing the goal of the reintroduction of Pronghorn on the Chuckwalla Bench.
It is important to remember how much has been accomplished by your Chapter, and how a hunting organization has taken the lead on the preservation of an endangered species.
The map shown is the current boundary of the NEP proposed by USFWS. The area has been increased significantly west, to the Salton Sea and northwards just past Lake Havasu City. It is the hope that in the event Pronghorn migrate away from the original release area of the Chuckwalla Bench that the experimental populations are allowed to roam freely without impacting the Endangered Species Act.
Leif Olsen, MPH, CIH, CHMM
Industrial Hygiene Department
Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton