Weekly Newsletter – 1/22/16

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Weekly Newsletter – 1/22/16

Issues

IPAA files intent to sue over American burying beetle. The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), alongside fellow petitioners the American Stewards of Liberty, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and Steven W. Carothers, notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Thursday that it intended to file a civil suit against the agency in 60 days, following the Service’s failure to announce its 90-day finding on the petition to delist the American burying beetle.

The American burying beetle was listed as an endangered species in 1989, with the agency claiming that the beetle’s range had been reduced by 90 percent. However, as laid out in the petition, the government has never completed “scientifically defensible, range-wide studies” on the beetle to back up its claim. Aside from anecdotes about the beetle’s decline, “there is no evidence that

[the species] is currently in danger of extinction across all or a significant portion of its contemporary range.”

According to the notice sent this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided against making the required 90-day finding and is instead launching a five-year status review of the beetle, with the intent to publish its findings in 2017.

Western governors want greater input into species protection. The Western Governors’ Association hosted a workshop in Boise this week, the second in an ongoing series focused on finding ways to give states greater input into Endangered Species Act decisions. The workshop included representatives from environmental groups, the oil and gas industry, and federal and state agencies, with panelists discussing voluntary conservation efforts, incentives for private land owners, and critical habitat designation.

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter expressed his frustration that the federal government did away with Idaho’s plan for protecting its sage-grouse habitat when it announced new land use restrictions following the Department of Interior’s decision not to list the bird as an endangered species. The Governor questioned why the federal government needed to rewrite the land management plans if they had determined the sage-grouse was not threatened. Idaho has filed a lawsuit over the restrictions on mining and energy development as a result of Interior’s actions to protect the sage grouse’s habitat.

Study finds wind turbines and disease to be primary causes of bat deaths. A new study, led by the U.S. Geological Survey, finds the increase in commercial wind farms and the spread of white-nose syndrome in North America have been the primary causes of “mass mortality” in bats since 2000. A mass mortality event is any event that kills 10 or more bats, records of which stretch back to the 18th century.

The study attributed 281 mass mortality events involving 41 species of bats to wind farms, in some cases finding hundreds of deceased bats at a single farm. The wind industry has taken steps to avoid collisions with bats and birds, including the use of radar and establishing best practices on sites, but the efforts have been met with mixed success.

White-nose syndrome, the primary cause of death in bats, has thus far been found in at least 30 states and is estimated to have killed more than 6 million bats in North America since 2007. The northern long-eared bat has been particularly impacted by the disease, resulting in a threatened listing for the species last year.  Read the full report HERE.

Industry and environmentalists fight over sage-grouse habitat withdrawals. Conservation groups and the mining industry are engaging in a “war of words” over the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposal to remove 10 million acres of federal land within the sage grouse’s habitat from new mining claims in six states. The proposed withdrawals were recommended following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision not to list the greater sage-grouse on the endangered species list last fall.

The mining industry says that drought and wildfires are the primary threats to the sage grouse, and suggests that barring mining across the 10 million acres would provide almost no benefit to the bird. In a letter from the National Mining Association to BLM Director Neil Kornze, the group states “BLM has failed to demonstrate that the withdrawal of 10 million acres from location and entry under the general mining laws is necessary or even recognizably beneficial to achieve the stated objective of conserving the sage grouse and its habitat.” Environmental groups, meanwhile, are pressing for even more federal land to be withdrawn.

Montana’s governor and attorney general also rejected the BLM proposal to withdraw nearly a million acres of public land from mining on Wednesday, saying that the restrictions were not necessary to protect the sage grouse. Governor Bullock, in his letter to BLM, wrote that Montana’s existing sage-grouse plan “is built specifically upon the premise that all lands would remain working lands.”

In the News

USFWS issues broader 4(d) rule for northern long-eared bats: What it means for energy developers. JD Supra Business Advisor. It provides authorization for incidental take of NLEB to all manner of commercial and industrial projects within the species’ range, subject to certain buffers from known occupied hibernacula and roost trees within areas affected by white nose syndrome. The Final Rule is a welcome development for the energy industry as it may alleviate the onerous ESA permitting burden that would otherwise apply to many projects within the 37-state range of the species. However, despite the considerable breadth of the protections offered by the Final Rule, there are other factors that energy developers should consider before deciding to abandon ongoing permitting efforts or push forward with new developments in the NLEB’s range without seeking individual permit coverage or at least consulting with the Service regarding the potential impacts of a project.

Utah, national mining groups decry land withdrawals for sage grouse. Deseret News. The vice president of the National Mining Association says a federal proposal to withdraw 10 million acres from any new hard rock mining to save the sage grouse is not only unnecessary but a punitive move meant to “exterminate” the industry. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have proposed to take 10 million acres of federal land off the table for any new hard rock mining as part of dozens of proposed land use management plans throughout the West that aim to protect the greater sage grouse. Public comment on the proposal ended last month, and the agencies are now in the evaluation stage of the proposal, which would put 233,300 acres off-limits in Utah.

How science influences Endangered Species Act decisions. Boise State Public Radio. One of the big topics at the day-long workshop was how science is used – or could be misused – to make endangered species decisions. Richard Valdez was a panelist at the conference. He is an adviser for an environmental planning firm based in Arizona. “Federal agencies cannot arbitrarily say, ‘This is what we want to use as best science because it fulfills our needs or meets our agenda,’” says Valdez. “It has to be an objective approach at the best available scientific information.” People have critiqued the science used in some decisions as being swayed by special interests. Valdez says to some people, peer-reviewed science is the only kind that should be considered. Idaho Fish and Game director Virgil Moore told those attending the meeting the best science comes from the state biologists working with a species day after day.

New bat protection rules backed by Ohio energy group, environmentalist organization. IdeaStream (Blog). New federal rules will go into effect next month to protect a bat species ravaged by a fungal disease over the past decade.  And two Ohio groups back the protections issued by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. With 30 states including Ohio reporting White Nose Syndrome, the quandary has been how to protect bat populations while not overly restricting development and forestry practices. Shawn Bennett with the Ohio Oil and Gas Association (OOGA), supports the new federal rules.  He says they allow – under certain conditions — for clearing land for pipeline development, among other energy activities. The Great Lakes Chapter of the National Wildlife Federation, also backs the rules.

FWP proposes relocating scores of sage grouse to Canada. MTN News. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks director Jeff Hagener presented a plan several days ago to help Canada’s dwindling sage grouse population. The plan would move 200 of the estimated 10,000 birds in the Phillips County area north to Canada. FWP will take mostly young hens and relocate them to areas in southern Canada where the birds are scarce, Hagener said. The birds will be sent in increments of 40 at a time over five years. The proposal was met with some opposition from legislators, especially those who want to see Montana’s grouse population bolstered first.

Coates: Improving sage grouse habitat has more than one answer. Elko Daily Free Press. Increasing the sage grouse population and improving its habitat will take more than one solution, according to wildlife research biologist Pete Coates, Ph.D., of the U.S. Geological Survey. He presented a study on how wildfire, pinyon-juniper encroachment and predation affect the bird and its habitat to a full house Wednesday in Great Basin College’s Greenhaw Technical Arts building. The threats to sage grouse in the Great Basin include wildfire and invasive grass, conifers and predation, Coates said. He went into great detail on how wildfire changes the landscape by burning the sagebrush — which is needed for sage grouse habitat – and allowing invasive weeds – cheatgrass – to take over.

A species of bats could make development more difficult and costly. Richmond Times-Dispatch. The northern long-eared bat is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a threatened species and local experts say it could soon become endangered, which would make development more difficult and costly in places it inhabits. The bat lives in 37 states, including Virginia. It is threatened because it is affected by white-nose syndrome, a fungus with a mortality rate of 90 percent. The fungus wakes bats up early from hibernation, when there are no flying insects for them to eat. The bat is protected in zones affected by the disease — and that means the entire state of Virginia, Martin said.

Senate bill includes wolf delisting. Duluth News Tribune. The U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee on Wednesday approved an amendment to a bill that orders wolves to be removed from federal Endangered Species Act protections in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and Wyoming. The amendment, which also would prohibit courts from intervening on wolf status in those states, was added to the so-called “Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2016.” The wolf amendment, which recently had been stricken from the federal budget compromise, was proposed by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo.

Fish and Game leadership shuffle could spark policy shift. E&E News (sub req’d). A California Fish and Game commissioner’s sudden resignation could mean the board will have more leeway for conservationists to assume more power over state wildlife policy. Recent unrelated departures of two other officials — Commission President Jack Baylis and Executive Director Sonke Mastrup — give Gov. Jerry Brown (D) the chance to appoint new conservationists to the commission. Observers say the personnel changes could pivot the board from one that historically protected hunting and fishing access to state land to an agency more focused on saving endangered species, habitat and wildlife.

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