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Few protesters on hand for hearing

By Greg Jones, staff writer

There were not many protesters on hand for the Congressional Field Hearing on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) at Eastern Arizona College on Monday morning, but those who showed up represented both ends of the spectrum.

Ranchers gathered before the meeting started to condemn the ESA.

"The wolf reintroduction has been a farce from the beginning," Jeff Menges, a rancher from Morenci, said. "The Endangered Species Act is really about taking away people's rights."

Rancher Barbara Marx said ranchers are getting along just fine with the animals. She also said the critical habitat designation for the Mexican spotted owl is unnecessary. Someone she knows has seen five of the endangered birds living near homes.

Marx commented on the owl's "pretty eyes," and someone in the crowd elicited laughter with the comment that "they taste good, too."

Menges praised Congressman Rick Renzi's (R-Ariz.) work for the county, saying the area hasn't had a congressman work this hard for Graham and Greenlee counties in a long time. He urged people to vote for Renzi in November.

Representatives of the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation had a different take on Renzi and the ESA.

They held signs with slogans like "Make Renzi an endangered species," "Clear cut Renzi, not squirrels," and "Renzi insults Apache beliefs."

Michael Davis, with the Apache Survival Coalition (ASC), said the ESA needs protection, especially in this part of the state.

"The Endangered Species Act has not cost any jobs for people in my community," he said. "We need to get our priorities straight."

He said it is a good law because it protects animals, and doing away with it would be bad for the country.

Sandra Rambler said she was insulted no one from the Apache Tribe was invited to testify.

During a press conference after the hearing, Renzi explained that Kathy Kitcheyan, chairwoman of the San Carlos Apache Tribe, was invited to testify. He also said the tribe will be given preference initially for any thinning and lumber projects that might happen on Mount Graham.

Rambler said the hearing was "well orchestrated with song and dance and all."

Erwin Rope, also with the ASC, said he thought the hearing was "a political, Republican showboat."

Environmentalists agreed.

Sandy Bahr with the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club said the event was essentially a campaign event for Renzi. She also said the ESA is working well.

Her opinion was that the committee members are "obviously not in tune with Arizona issues." She said tourism is a large industry in the state, and one big draw is for people to see the wonderful array of wildlife in Arizona that the act protects.

"People are seeing condors at the Grand Canyon," she said. "I haven't heard anyone say anything bad about seeing a condor."

She said she knew the hearing was rhetorical when people resorted to name calling. Qualifiers like "radical," and "activist" were commonly used before the word environmentalist, which itself was used with a negative connotation.

"I can always tell when they don't have an argument because they resort to name calling," she said. "It's not that my feelings are hurt; it's just sad."

Brian Nowicki with the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity said the hearing was like other field hearings held by this committee.

"They're not interested in hearing any real information about the ESA or issues in Arizona," he said. "This was a chance to talk about real issues, and, instead, they turned it into a rally."

Environmentalists were around, but they didn't have a large contingent of protesters. Perhaps the loudest protesting group was five EAC students holding anti-ESA signs and shouting phrases like "Hug a lumberjack, you'll never go back to a tree," as the hearing let out.

Olivia Leavitt from Glendale had a public speaking project due Monday, but she skipped class because she felt it was more important to demonstrate outside the auditorium.

"It's silly that people use the excuse of the squirrel to prevent clearing the forest," she said.

Her friend, a fellow second-year student at EAC, Elisabeth Holder from Sierra Vista, agreed.

"Healthy forests benefit squirrels," she said.

Holder held a sign reading "Screw the squirrels." She said it was not anti-squirrel, but designed to point out how ridiculous it is the squirrel is an impediment to maintaining a healthy forest.

"It's not just squirrels that live on the mountain," she said.

Leavitt said she wanted people to realize that kids know what happening and that they have opinions too.

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Safford is where I used to live. Those folks are NOT very tolerant of hippies and such, it is an isolated Mormon town where people are set in their ways and do not tolerate outside interference. :D
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