House delays vote on several ESA bills. The House Natural Resources Committee postponed votes on six bills regarding the management of endangered species on Wednesday. All of the bills up for debate (H,R, 1274, H.R. 424, H.R. 717, H.R. 2603, and H.R. 3131) would update how the ESA is enacted and enforced.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop remains focused on advancing the measures. During the Committee markup, Bishop said “We will consider five commonsense bills to advance the Committee’s longer-term goal of updating and improving the Endangered Species Act—which was last reauthorized in 1988. Most of these measures enjoy bipartisan support and a few have previously passed the House as part of other measures.” Due to time constraints, the Committee said it will hold votes on the bills at a later date.
The Committee did vote 13-22 to reverse an amendment to remove a provision that would end federal protection for the gray wolf in Wyoming and regions of the Great Lakes. More information on the bills and the Committee’s markup can be found here.
New report finds Monarch butterfly population down. A new study published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation finds that monarch butterfly populations in the western United States are down more than 90 percent from rates in the 1980s. The study reports there are now only 300,000 butterflies when there were over 10 million just a few decades ago.
According to the report, if this trend continues, the monarch butterfly has a 63 percent chance of disappearing completely within the next 20 years. Researchers believe western monarch population loss is due to habitat interference, namely human development, changes in climate, and increased pesticide use by farmers. In addition, decline in milkweed plants, which the butterfly relies on for its food supply and reproduction, is also a contributing factor.
The report, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, comes as debate continues about a potential listing of the butterfly – a species with an expansive habitat range across the country. In March 2015, IPAA submitted joint comments to Fish and Wildlife, highlighting the negligible impact of oil and gas operations on the butterfly’s population and its expansive habitat range. As the comments highlight, “no evidence exists in the literature of adverse effects from oil and gas industry operations on the species itself or on the destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species’ habitat or range.”
In the News
It’s Time to Limit Abusive, Taxpayer-Funded Environmental Litigation. Daily Caller (Op-Ed). Instead of allowing environmental groups with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets to file an endless chain of lawsuits at taxpayer expense, Congress should move decisively to end abusive practices that subtract from local conservation efforts, according to recent testimony delivered before House committees. This can be done by reforming both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which are both now riddled with “perverse incentives” to litigate without setting clear, achievable goals for rescuing endangered species, legal analysts and local government officials have told members of Congress.
BLM leases parcels in key grouse habitat despite protests. E&E News (sub req’d). The Bureau of Land Management held a contentious oil and gas lease sale in northwest Utah yesterday despite unresolved concerns that energy development in the region could harm an isolated population of greater sage grouse that the agency concedes is struggling. Environmental groups protested nine parcels covering nearly 15,000 acres because they are in an area occupied by a small group of sage grouse — dubbed the Sheeprocks population — that BLM announced in February was suffering a “serious decline” in population that warranted prompt attention (E&E News PM, Feb. 6). The population of grouse in Juab, Tooele and Utah counties has declined by 40 percent in the last four years, the agency said. “This is not over yet,” said Kelly Fuller, energy campaign coordinator with Western Watersheds Project.
House rejects deeper cuts for Interior, EPA. E&E News (sub req’d). The House this morning rejected efforts to maintain Obama-era protections related to drilling, as well as a measure that called for a 1 percent across-the-board cut to programs in fiscal 2018 spending for the Interior Department and U.S. EPA. Lawmakers have spent most of the week considering an eight-bill omnibus to fund numerous agencies (E&E Daily, Sept. 8). They will continue processing amendments related to the Interior-EPA section into next week. This morning, the House voted 216-186 on an amendment from New Mexico Republican Rep. Steve Pearce to thwart implementation of an Obama-era rule restricting methane flaring from oil and gas drilling on federal lands.
Renewed Controversy Over Who Should Manage Grizzlies. Wyoming Public Media. Paul Miller just got back from a 12-day hunting trip outside of Cody with some friends. “Yeah, we went on a mountain goat and bighorn sheep hunt. One guy drew both tags and we archery hunted it for a couple of days, then we hunted sheep with a rifle,” Miller said. On the trip, he saw 15 grizzly bears. Miller said he’s excited at the possibility of one day soon being able to hunt a bear. Conversations about trophy hunting revived last month when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the grizzly from the endangered species list. Miller is one of many in town who agrees it’s about time the animal be put under state management. “When you can go into one drainage and you don’t travel more than two or three miles each way and you can find 15 grizzly bears, I think it’s time to manage them a little better.” Miller said, “I mean they’re just thick and you’re just asking for people to get hurt.”
Some New Mexico Lawmakers Concerned With Wolf Recovery Plan. Associated Press. Some state lawmakers in New Mexico say a plan for recovering endangered Mexican gray wolves in the American Southwest is flawed and politically driven. The 21 Democrats outlined their concerns in a letter sent recently to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency is seeking public comments as it works to meet a court-ordered deadline to have a recovery plan completed by the end of November. The plan is a long time coming as the original guidance for restoring the species was adopted in 1982. The lack of a plan has spurred legal challenges and skirmishes over states’ rights under the federal Endangered Species Act. The lawmakers say federal officials should specify a target for wolf releases as well as a benchmark for genetic diversity among the population in New Mexico and Arizona.
State commission sets status of 8 threatened or endangered species. Spokesman-Review. The state protective status of yellow-billed cuckoos, loggerhead sea turtles, fishers and five whale species was set by the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission Friday and Saturday in Port Angeles. Yellow-billed cuckoo was listed as an endangered species in Washington. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distinguished the cuckoo in western North America as a distinct population and listed it as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. In Washington, cuckoos have been considered a candidate species for listing since 1991. Loggerhead sea turtles were elevated in protection from threatened to endangered. The north Pacific population of loggerhead sea turtles has declined substantially since the last half of the 20th century. Five whale species — blue, fin, sei, North Pacific right, and sperm — were maintained as state endangered species.