- ICYMI: IPAA submitted comments this week to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the “Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda” executive order, highlighting the Endangered Species Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and mitigation efforts.
IPAA calls for action on Burying Beetle. In conjunction with American Stewards of Liberty and the Osage Producers Association, IPAA filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Oklahoma on Thursday over the Agency’s missed deadline for response to a delisting petition of the American Burying Beetle.
Fish and Wildlife was required to come to a decision within 12 months of receiving the petition, which was filed in August 2015. As of today, however, the Service has yet to act. In clear violation of the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, IPAA and the aforementioned groups served a Notice of Intent to sue Fish and Wildlife in February 2017 and, as a result of the Agency’s continued inaction, filed a lawsuit this week against the agency. As featured in E&E News, IPAA Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs Dan Naatz commented, “The Service has had the time to properly review and act on our petition and it’s time to move forward. The economies and communities impacted by this listing deserve it.”
One such community is that of Oklahoma, which has spent over $6.5 million in beetle conservation efforts over the past 20 years. Naatz stated in The Oklahoman “the beetle’s listing has been met with criticism for failing to provide the science-based evidence that ESA listings warrant…It is time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to act on the American burying beetle.”
**Don’t miss IPAA’s new species page for the American Burying Beetle, now available on ESA Watch.**
Three new species awarded federal protection. This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a Hawaiian bird, an Arizona turtle, and a Mississippi fish will be listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The protections come after the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned heavily on behalf of the species for the past two decades.
The Sonoyta Mud Turtle and the Pearl Darter fish were both listed as endangered species after having been tied up in litigation since the 1990s. Supporters of the decision claim the turtle occupies 20 percent of its historical range in Arizona and Mexico due to loss of habitat from agriculture and other ground stresses. Fish and Wildlife notes the Pearl Darter listing is due in part to “the species’ small population size, scattered locations, and low genetic diversity increase its vulnerability to extirpation from catastrophic events.” The Agency called out impacts on the Darters’s habitat, including “historical and current threats affecting water quality within the Pascagoula River basin, including increased brine concentration from oil and gas production and pulp mill effluent related to pulp, paper, and lumber mills.”
Fish and Wildlife has one year to evaluate each species and the economic costs of making critical habitat determinations. The listings will become effective 30 days from their publication in the Department of the Interior’s Federal Register.
In the News
Nominee for top lawyer vows review of major habitat case. E&E News (sub req’d). The Interior Department’s top lawyer nominee may soon be involved in efforts by Western lawmakers to undo a key appellate court ruling that critics contend fuels environmental lawsuits and hinders forest managers. What happens with that effort could steer endangered species protections in the Trump era. “If confirmed, I would look forward to reviewing the Cottonwood opinion and any potential legal avenues to expedite the planning process,” Ryan Nelson said in a written response to Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), referring to 2015 decision for Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service. The Cottonwood decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals gave the Cottonwood Environmental Law Center legal standing to sue the federal government over a critical habitat designation for the Canada lynx. More broadly, it effectively expanded the Forest Service’s and Bureau of Land Management’s obligations to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service on management decisions involving protected species.
Lakeview BLM plans Sage Grouse habitat restoration work. Lake County Examiner. Lakeview Bureau of Land Management is beginning aerial herbicide application to support two Greater Sage Grouse restoration project areas. Work is expected to begin Sunday, Sept. 24, spraying 7,015 acres in the South Warner area and also 5,500 acres in the Clover Flat area. This is another step in ongoing sage grouse habitat restoration on the Lakeview Resource Area. Juniper cutting and burning have been done as well. After the spraying, native forb and grass seed will be spread. Non-native invasive winter annual grass species are targeted, including medusahead and cheatgrass, using Imazapic. This herbicide should not damage any native perennial species within the project areas and there are no grazing or slaughter restrictions for animals harvested off the project area. The BLM supports working landscapes across the West through its many programs and is committed to keeping public landscapes healthy and productive.
New sage-grouse recommendations cater to the oil and gas industry, critics say. Boulder Weekly. In September 2015, when former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel announced that sweeping collaborative conservation management plans would save the greater sage-grouse from an endangered species listing, Western governors, landowners and local governments declared it a “wildlife win.” Conservation groups and others, however, argued the management plans didn’t go nearly far enough to protect the bird, a sensitive species whose vitality indicates the overall health of the Western sagebrush habitat spanning 11 states, including Colorado. Now, under the Trump administration, the Department of the Interior (DOI) is reviewing the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans and announced in early August its intention to revise them based on recommendations provided by the hand-picked Sage Grouse Task Force. But critics argue the review process has not been adequately open to the public, and the proposed changes cater to the oil and gas industry to the exclusion of other important stakeholders.
Scientists: Ash tree species pushed to brink of extinction. Associated Press. Five prominent species of ash tree in the eastern U.S. have been driven to the brink of extinction from years of lethal attack by a beetle, a scientific group says. Tens of millions of trees in the U.S. and Canada have already succumbed, and the toll may eventually reach more than 8 billion, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said Thursday. Ash trees are a major part of eastern forests and urban streets, providing yellow and purplish leaves to the bounty of fall colors. Their timber is used for making furniture and sports equipment like baseball bats and hockey sticks. The rampage of the emerald ash borer is traced to the late 1990s, when it arrived from Asia in wood used in shipping pallets that showed up in Michigan. Asian trees have evolved defenses against the insect, but the new North American home presented it with vulnerable trees and no natural predators. “The populations are exploding,” said Murphy Westwood of the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois. Infestations have been detected in 30 states.
Sage Grouse Déjà vu. Inside Energy. Energy companies, environmentalists, ranchers and government officials are getting back together at meetings across the west this fall to talk about the fate of a chicken-like bird called the Greater Sage Grouse. Many of these so-called stakeholders have sat at this table before. The well-being of the Sage Grouse was the focus of a hard-fought compromise among 11 states, finalized just a few years ago. “I think it was extraordinary and a word that is often used is epic collaboration,” Sarah Greenburger, a sage grouse advisor at the Interior Department at the time, said. In Sept. 2015, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced to a round of applause at a press conference outside of Denver, that the bird would not be listed: “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has concluded that the Greater Sage Grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act.” Governors from both parties and stakeholders had worked with federal officials for nearly a decade to come up with plans to protect the Greater Sage Grouse and keep it off the list. The Greater Sage Grouse Conservation Plan prioritized conservation and restoration of the bird’s habitat, pushing oil and gas development outside habitat cores.
Groups challenge Trump waivers of environmental laws. E&E News (sub req’d). Conservation groups yesterday fired the latest shot in the growing legal battle over President Trump’s plans to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. A coalition of groups filed a lawsuit in California district court over the administration’s decisions to waive a host of environmental and public safety laws to expedite construction of the wall between California and Mexico. The groups asked the court to find the waivers unconstitutional and to bar the government from constructing any border infrastructure “without full adherence to all applicable laws.” “These waivers greatly endanger communities in the borderlands: our safety, environment and health,” said Dan Millis, director of the Sierra Club’s borderlands program. “This blatant disregard for effective and well-established safeguards harms hard-working families, threatened and endangered wildlife, and critical natural resources — all of which are essential to the region.” The lawsuit specifically challenges two rounds of waivers announced by the Trump administration.
Feds reviewing status of New England’s endangered salmon. Associated Press. The federal government is starting a five-year review of the Gulf of Maine’s population of Atlantic salmon, which are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Atlantic salmon were once plentiful off New England, but dams, loss of habitat, pollution and overfishing dramatically reduced the population. The National Marine Fisheries Service says it is reviewing the health of the stock to get more updated information on its current status. The fisheries service says the review will be based on scientific and commercial data. One group, the New Brunswick, Canada-based Atlantic Salmon Federation, says recent data are troubling. The group says total estimated returns of the fish to North America in 2016 showed a 27 percent decrease from the previous year. The fisheries service is taking comments until July 20.