Weekly Newsletter – 10/20/17

Home/Newsletters/Weekly Newsletter – 10/20/17

Weekly Newsletter – 10/20/17

Issues

Dunes sagebrush lizard causing problems for Texas sand miners. A thin, three-inch long lizard, the dunes sagebrush lizard, inhabits one particular type of sand found in Texas’ Permian Basin – a region that supplies more than 20 percent of the nation’s oil. News reports indicate sixteen mining companies that sell sand to exploration and production companies for use in the hydraulic fracturing process have leased land in this area, causing concerns about habit impact.

Conservation groups claim the lizard’s habitat is at stake and are threatening to petition for an Endangered Species Act listing if the miners refuse to stop their operations. “We aren’t doing this work because we have an ax to grind with oil and gas developers or sand mining companies,” Defenders of Wildlife Vice President Ya-Wei Li said. “Our work…is driven entirely by our concern for the species.” But, recognizing the important economic impact energy development has on the region and the negative effect an ESA listing would have on the industry, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar hopes that the sand miners currently working in the Permian will voluntarily move their operations out of the dunes sagebrush lizard’s habitat and into other areas of the state’s desert.

In 2012, the Texas Comptroller’s office worked with operators and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to avoid a federal listing, instead setting up a path for energy companies to fund conservation efforts and limit how much lizard habitat is disturbed. The Wall Street Journal reports that should groups begin petitioning Fish and Wildlife, the process could take a year or longer to resolve, and it is unlikely that drilling activity would be interrupted during that process.

Hearing on sage grouse management plan will be held next week. The House Committee on Natural Resources will meet next Wednesday to review how best to empower state based management of the greater sage grouse. The hearing is part of an ongoing discussion concerning the bird’s protections since the Interior Department reversed an Obama-era order that banned mining on 10 million acres of Western land, including sage grouse habitat. The Bureau of Land Management now reports it intends to consider amending “all or some B.L.M. land use plans that were amended or revised in 2014 or 2015 regarding greater sage grouse conservation.”

The decision to reopen the sage grouse management plans follows a report recommending changes from a government task force that was directed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review the grouse plans. The new plan to open up Western land previously dedicated to sage grouse habitat was one of the review team’s suggestions.

In the News

Grizzly Bear Recovery Depends On Public Acceptance, Panelists Say. Montana Public Radio. As the federal government prepares to remove Endangered Species Act protections for grizzly bears in the area around Glacier National Park, bear management experts say public acceptance of grizzlies will be crucial to their long term survival. Chris Servheen saw what a difference that can make in his 35 year career as the grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “When I started as recovery coordinator in 1981 there was not a lot of public support for grizzly bears. There was a lot of skepticism about why do we want these animals around, and particularly, why do we want you damn feds around,” Servheen said.  Servheen retired last year. In a talk at the University of Montana Tuesday he said grizzly populations in the U.S. have rebounded since the ’80s, and that public support is one of four key pillars to the recovery of the species. The others are having good biological data, an organization capable of managing recovery efforts, and the last is political support for recovery.

Senate to release Interior-EPA bill. E&E News (sub req’d). Senate appropriators aren’t likely to follow the White House’s lead this week when they mark up their fiscal 2018 spending bill for U.S. EPA and the Interior Department. Republicans and Democrats on the committee have expressed dissatisfaction with a range of recommended reductions from the Trump administration, including to Interior’s Land and Water Conservation Fund and EPA’s overall budget. The Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, led by Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), will consider the bill tomorrow. The full committee plans to take up the legislation Thursday. Concerns over Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran’s health, however, could lead to a schedule change. The Mississippi Republican has been recovering at home for the past few weeks from a urological procedure.

Online location data on endangered species might be putting them in harm’s way. PRI. The growth of data publicly available on the internet has been a boon for biological science and conservation. But it is also being used by poachers and dishonest collectors to locate rare plants and animals and sell them illegally for a hefty price. This situation presents researchers and the public with a quandary: How to find a middle ground that preserves the spirit of scientific discovery while protecting at-risk species. In other words, if you are in the woods of the southeastern United States and think you’ve found an ivory-billed woodpecker, which has been thought to be extinct since the 1940s, you may not want to post that information on eBird, says Adam Welz. He’s a South African writer, photographer and filmmaker, who recently published an investigation on this topic in collaboration with Yale E360. Instead, if you find something truly special, “you should give the information to somebody of great credibility, somebody perhaps who works for a well-established organization, who is in the public eye,” Welz recommends.

Ryan Zinke wants to break many conservation efforts. The Hill (Op-ed). Despite praising and promoting public-private partnerships as cost-effective approaches to managing federal lands, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke now proposes to overhaul agreements built upon decades of negotiations among ranchers, conservationists, sportsmen, industries, and agencies. On Oct. 11, Bureau of Land Management (U.S. Department of the Interior) officially announced a scoping process to revise 98 land-use management plans developed to conserve the Greater Sage-Grouse across 10 Western States. Greater Sage-Grouse is an iconic species of the West, but its populations have declined by about 95 percent. When previous regulatory mechanisms on federal lands did not abate threats to the species, concern grew that the species might be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. Listing would almost certainly result in costly land-use restrictions and management interventions. Instead, an unprecedented and bipartisan conservation partnership crafted a package of plans to save the Greater Sage-Grouse. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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