Disagreements over Bitter Creek Wildlife Refuge remain, but 'this is a whole different atmosphere' Richard Snedden says
Richard and Susie Snedden are hoping for a thaw in what until now has been a frigid relationship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a plan to manage the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge that borders their cattle ranch southeast of Maricopa.
Four years in the making, the plan envisions spending $6.7 million (not including the cost of personnel) to enhance the habitat of the endangered California condor.
“The first meeting (in 2008) was a pretty hostile deal,” said Richard Snedden. “I didn’t see any disrespect this time.”
Prior meetings between the USFWS and property owners were filled with rancor, but this time around the give-and-take was much more amiable because, ranchers say, there has been a change in command at Fish and Wildlife.
“The attitude is exceptionally good compared to what we’re used to,” said Art Steinbeck, a rancher who lives “in the middle of that refuge” and formerly grazed cattle there.
He welcomes the change.
“All it’s ever been is a street fight, but this is a whole different atmosphere. These are good guys.”
The Sneddens, who share 13 miles of common border with Bitter Creek, have a few objections to the management plan rolled out May 17 during an open house in Taft.
Concerns include use of prescribed burning, introduction of elk and antelope and pending agreements between USFWS and the Bureau of Land Management that would impinge on more than 5,000 acres of Snedden ranch property.
“Fire, elk and antelope are not necessary components for the recovery of the condor or for the biodiversity of the Bitter Creek,” the Sneddens said in their formal response to the plan.
After local, county, state and national officials strongly objected to prescribed burning during a “scoping” meeting two years ago, the Sneddens thought they had been assured the idea had been scrubbed.
They want “the use of fire and burning to be completely removed” from the management plan.
“The Bitter Creek Refuge topography, wind patterns and neighboring vicinity are too vulnerable to the possibility of escaped fire, which could destroy humans, animals, property and air quality,” they say and recommend instead “an effective livestock grazing plan to mitigate the fire hazard.”
For the last century, cattle have grazed the northern fringe of the land that became the Bitter Creek Refuge in 1985. Grazing, a practice ranchers contend contributes to the biodiversity of the area, was banned seven years.
Replacing grazing by introducing elk and antelope to the refuge does not help preserve condors, the Snedden response noted, because those animals are not native to the area. Instead, they would like to see efforts to control predatory mountain lions.
“U.S. taxpayers can’t afford to feed million dollar condors to mountain lions for lunch,” they wrote.
The Sneddens say they just want their concerns taken seriously along with an acknowledgement that they are caring stewards of the land.
“We want them to understand that they are not the only ones taking care of the country and the critters,” Richard said.
Their frustrations and even pessimism stems from their belief that those making decisions on how best to manage Bitter Creek have never set foot on the Refuge.
They also are frustrated at being ignored.
“No one has talked to us at all since the meeting two years ago,” Richard said.
That’s why they “have little reason to believe” their concerns will be considered but hope attitudes
They reminded Fish and Wildlife management of the agency’s self-proclaimed guiding principle to “respect the rights, beliefs and opinions of our neighbors.”
All the Sneddens want is for the Service to “do no harm to their neighbors.”