Key federal agency positions in the air after presidential election results. Predictions of who will fill key cabinet positions began to circulate this week following the announcement of Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election early Wednesday morning. Sarah Palin and Forrest Lucas, co-founder of Lucas Oil, are two potential candidates President-Elect Trump is considering to lead of the Department of the Interior, which overseas Endangered Species Act policy.
Conservation groups have expressed their concern about the future of conservation policies. Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said the group will remain “vigilant against attacks on the Endangered Species Act and our public lands, whether from Congress or from misguided agency action, and will look to the courts where necessary to ensure that federal officials faithfully comply with the law.”
Nevada official joins ongoing litigation over sage-grouse listing. Last Friday, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmental groups challenging the federal government’s decision not to list a population of sage-grouse that straddle the California-Nevada border. Four conservation groups previously sued the federal government for not listing the bird in April of 2015.
Laxalt, with the support of Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, believes current conservation efforts are sufficient to protect and balance multiple interests, including energy development. In a statement, Laxalt noted “Nevada has always made an effort to preserve, protect, manage and restore its diverse wildlife, and the state has moved to intervene in this suit to ensure the concerns and interests unique to Nevada are heard.” Sandoval added that these “unprecedented efforts” in conservation should not be threatened by “fringe groups” and detract from the progress being made.
The Nevada Attorney General has intervened in sage-grouse lawsuits before, joining a lawsuit opposing restrictive federal land development plans issued by the Obama Administration after it decided not to list the greater sage-grouse last year. While at the time Governor Sandoval called the legal action “premature,” Laxalt claimed the plan would hurt Nevada’s economy by negatively affecting its ranching, mining, and energy operations.
New report shows sage-grouse protection provides co-benefits to other species. According to a new report by the Sage Grouse Initiative, the benefits of sage-grouse conservation extend to other native songbirds. Researchers looked at Brewer’s sparrow, sagebrush sparrow, and sage thrasher populations and found these birds 13-19 percent more abundant near large areas of sage-grouse territory.
Clare Bastable, senior director of public lands for the National Wildlife Federation, commented on the study’s implication for broader wildlife conservation efforts in the Great Basin, stating “What’s good for the bird is good for the herd, because so many other big-game species – such as mule deer, elk and pronghorn – depend as well on healthy sagebrush land.”
The study focused on Wyoming’s land protection efforts for sage grouse, and found they also help reduce sagebrush sparrow and sage thrasher population fragmentation. The results of the study, funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Intermountain West Joint Venture, and the Sage Grouse Initiative, aims to provide tools to target and integrate community-level benefits of conservation.
In the News
Are there more endangered bird species than we think? The Verge. Hundreds of bird species around the world are endangered even though they’re not classified as such, according to a new study. Using geographical data, scientists analyzed the habitats of certain birds and concluded that the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List — the definitive guide to endangered animals — underestimates the risk for 210 bird species. It was developed about two decades ago, before there was widely available satellite data, and classifies animals as “vulnerable,” “endangered,” or “critically endangered.” Those classifications are in part based on how much habitat is left for a specific species — less than 20,000 square kilometers, 5,000 square kilometers, or 100 square kilometers. But according to study co-author Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation ecology at Duke University, the IUCN’s methods are outdated.
BLM seeking public comment on management of Gunnison sage-grouse. San Juan Record. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking public comment on the Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The BLM manages about 623,000 acres, or 37 percent, of Gunnison sage-grouse habitat across the range of the species. The Gunnison Sage-Grouse Rangewide Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment and Draft Environmental Impact Statement consider actions that could be implemented on BLM-managed lands and does not affect state, county, and private lands, or lands managed by other federal agencies except where these surfaces overlie federal mineral estate managed by BLM. The draft plan considers four alternatives with a wide range of management options.
Ecological impact assessments aren’t protecting bats from wind farms. Motherboard (opinion). Nothing is free in nature and this includes wind power. A particular concern with wind turbines is their effects on bats, which may often be found darting among treetops en masse while on the hunt for bugs to eat. When those treetops turn out to be spinning turbine blades, bad things happen: a bat might be hit directly, or it might wind up with bleeding lungs courtesy of abrupt changes in air pressure around turbines. Dozens of bats may be killed in a single night, only to be found the next morning littered underneath 30-foot turbine blades spinning at up to 80 miles per hour.
Protecting species or hindering energy development? How the Endangered Species Act impacts energy projects on Western public lands. Environmental Law Reporter (Sub req’d). Since it was enacted in 1973, the ESA has been one of the most celebrated environmental laws, but also one of the most reviled. Industry groups argue that the consultation process frequently delays and sometimes halts much needed energy, transportation, water supply, and other projects and often dramatically increases project costs. Environmentalists disagree with this view, contending that the process actually rarely stops anything and that the FWS lacks the backbone to impose meaningful conservation requirements that would be costly or inconvenient for the project developer.