Beckett sues pipeline builder over ocelot habitat

Beckett sues pipeline builder over ocelot habitat

McALLEN, Texas (AP) Not even the legal equivalent of a fastball under the chin could stop a Texas pipeline builder from clearing acres of brush that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Josh Beckett claims is critical habitat for the endangered ocelot.

A federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Laredo by two of Beckett's companies asks a judge to stop any further work on the natural gas pipeline and specify what the builder must do under the Endangered Species Act. The companies filed a motion for a temporary restraining order Wednesday that included a statement from Beckett describing two occasions when he saw what he believes were ocelots.

But the clearing of about 40 acres of thick native scrub on a 7,000-acre hunting ranch about 100 miles southwest of San Antonio was finished earlier this month despite a warning Beckett's lawyers sent to Eagle Ford Midstream LP and its parent NET Midstream in August.

The pipeline company had obtained an easement across Beckett's Herradura Ranch in state court, according to the lawsuit. Beckett Ventures Inc. and Hall of Fame Land Ventures LP claim that they urged the company to choose a shorter, direct path rather than the diagonal swath that was cleared.

``Plaintiffs have attempted repeatedly, and failed, to persuade defendants to adopt an environmentally responsible route that will not cause a prohibited `take' of the endangered ocelot, which has been spotted on the ranch and which has extensive habitat on the ranch,'' according to the motion filed Wednesday.

A phone message left with Eagle Ford Midstream's parent company wasn't immediately returned.

But the company filed a response with the court Wednesday, arguing that the hunting ranch's activity posed a greater threat than their pipeline. They pointed out that a state court denied Beckett's similar request to halt their project earlier this month.

Jim Blackburn, who filed the lawsuit, said Beckett's companies went to state court first because the waiting period for federal jurisdiction under the Endangered Species Act hadn't passed before Eagle Ford Midstream started clearing land. He thinks Eagle Ford intentionally destroyed the habitat during that waiting period.

``We were trying to do everything we could to stop them from clearing the vegetation,'' Blackburn said.

Eagle Ford Midstream noted that e-mails it received from Beckett's lawyers in April requested an alternative route because of the impact on an irrigation system and the ranch's hunting business with no mention of endangered species.

``The protection of the ocelot was merely a sham to leverage additional money from (Eagle-Ford Midstream) in exchange for an easement,'' the response said.

Beckett was bow hunting from a camouflaged blind on the ranch six years ago when he saw a ``very stealthy'' cat with unusual markings come through a fence and walk down a drainage, according to statement filed with the court Wednesday.

Two years later, he saw an identical spotted cat followed by a kitten, again while bow hunting. Beckett said he is familiar with the more common bobcat and was confident it was not a bobcat. His father saw an adult and kitten that he believed were ocelots on the ranch in 2010.

Workers cleared easement for the pipeline on the ranch on Oct. 3 and 4, along with additional temporary work space, the lawsuit said. Eagle Ford Midstream said Beckett overstated the amount of land cleared. The pipeline is supposed to run 102 miles.

The pipeline company's environmental consultant evaluated the right-of-way for the project and determined the land ``does not exhibit the necessary density, coverage or structure generally described for potential ocelot habitat.'' It went on to say that the nearest known population of ocelots was 120 miles away in Kenedy County.

Based on that information, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determined no further action was required.

Beckett's team disagreed. It brought, Michael Tewes, a wild cat expert from nearby Texas A&M University-Kingsville to the ranch days after the clearing.

``In short, suitable ocelot habitat exists on the Herradura Ranch,'' Tewes wrote in a brief report filed with the court. ``It exists along or near the pipeline right-of-way. If ocelots occupied this habitat when it was cleared for the pipeline, then they were affected by such action. Also, noise and activity on the proposed pipeline could affect ocelots adjacent or near the pipeline.''

David Frederick, who retired after a 32-year career with U.S. Fish and Wildlife and is now a consultant and professional hunter, also filed a report based on a June visit to the ranch. He said there was suitable ocelot habitat and he found big cat tracks in dried mud along a drainage.

There may only be about 50 ocelots remaining in Texas.

Sonia Najera, a program manager with The Nature Conservancy in South Texas, said loss of habitat is one of the most significant issues facing ocelots. What habitat remains is more and more isolated and ocelots have to trek long distances, often crossing highways and road networks, she said.

``They will travel along drainages, fence rows that are wooded, wooded corridors,'' she said. ``They do need cover. And it's not just ocelots, it's most wildlife in general.''

Najera was not familiar with the Herradura Ranch or the lawsuit.

The Herradura Ranch offers luxurious multi-day guided hunting trips for white-tail deer, doves, quail, javelina, coyote and bobcat. Phone messages left there were not immediately returned.

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St. Louis therapy dog makes good on NLCS wager, reps Nationals gear

St. Louis therapy dog makes good on NLCS wager, reps Nationals gear

Friendly wagers are one of the best parts of sports. They're even more fun when they involve two very good boys. 

Thor, a black lab therapy dog from Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, challenged Tabby, a German Shepherd therapy dog at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., to a friendly bet on the Nats-Cardinals NLCS best of seven series. The bet was settled not too long after it began.

Since the Nationals swept the Cardinals, Thor had to wear a Nationals' bandana to work, courtesy of Tabby.

Thor does not look very amused, but at least he was a very good sport.

Hopefully, Thor will decide to cheer on the Nationals in their first-ever World Series against the Astros!


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The Redskins' inability to execute one of football's simplest plays is maddening and costly

The Redskins' inability to execute one of football's simplest plays is maddening and costly

On the list of factors why the Redskins lost to the 49ers on Sunday, it's not as high up as Adrian Peterson's unfortunate second half fumble, Dustin Hopkins' early missed field goal or the passing game's immense struggles in some disgusting weather.

But Washington not being able to pick up a fourth-and-1 in the second quarter against San Francisco hurt quite a bit. Unfortunately, the Burgundy and Gold are seemingly incapable of executing one of the simplest plays in football, which prevented that 10-play drive from continuing and possibly prevented the game's end result from being different.

In recent seasons, when teams use a QB sneak on third- or fourth-and-1, they convert almost 90-percent of the time. When they opt to hand it off for an inside or outside zone run, meanwhile, they convert a little less than 70-percent of the time.

Yet against the Niners on that second quarter possession, Bill Callahan and Kevin O'Connell called for a Peterson run up the middle. Peterson was stuffed at San Fran's 29-yard line, ending what was one of their better chances at putting up points on a day where they'd ultimately be shut out.

Could that decision have been influenced by something that happened back in Week 3? It's possible.

In their Monday night matchup with the Bears, Case Keenum and the offense were trying to generate a late comeback and found themselves facing a fourth-and-1 at Chicago's 16. They were down 13 points and had seven minutes left. It was a long shot, yes, but they had a shot.

In that spot, thankfully, Jay Gruden and Co. chose to sneak it. However, Keenum tried to go over the top — which is basically an unheard of maneuver anywhere except the goal line — and he was stripped. It was a disastrous disaster.

Maybe that turnover affected the non-sneak versus the 49ers. Maybe it didn't. Either way, the Redskins botched a sneak once this year then went away from it in another key situation. It has now cost them twice already in seven contests. 

In case you forgot, here's a reminder: QB sneaks are successful almost 90-percent of the time when one yard is needed to move the chains. For some reason, Washington can't take advantage of those odds.

It's not exciting. It's not complex. But the QB sneak is as close to automatic as it gets in the NFL. The only thing more automatic these days, apparently, is the Redskins making the incorrect call when it matters most.