Weekly Newsletter – 11/3/17

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Weekly Newsletter – 11/3/17

Issues

Administration calls for review and comment on Mitigation. This morning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a notice in the Federal Register calling for public review and comment on its Service-wide Mitigation Policy and its Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy (ESA-CMP).

According to the Service, “The reopening of a comment period on the Service-wide mitigation policy and ESA-CMP are part of a broader re-evaluation of regulations and policies related to the Secretary of the Interior’s Order (SO) 3349 on American Energy Independence (March 29, 2017). The order directed bureaus to review policies to ensure consistency with existing directives in effect at the time of the SO’s issuance. The Service is soliciting public review and comment on its Service-wide Mitigation Policy and its ESA-CMP whether to retain or modify the mitigation goals or other policy direction articulated within our mitigation policies. Based on comments received, the Service will decide whether and how to revise the policies.”

The notice is set to publish in the Federal Register on November 6, 2017 with comments due within 60 days by January 5, 2018.  Read more about IPAA’s previous comments on the Mitigation Policy and Compensatory Mitigation on ESA Watch.

Senators ask for sage-grouse comment period extension. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are urging Interior Secretary Zinke to extend the comment period for updates to the federal Greater sage-grouse conservation plan.

In a letter sent this week, seven western senators responded to the Greater sage-grouse conservation plan’s Notice of Intent, which currently has a 45-day comment period. The letter states, “Given the importance and complexity of the proposed rule, and the intersection with BLM’s resource management plans, it is essential that all stakeholders have sufficient opportunity to prepare and provide feedback.” The senators go on to request an additional 45 days be added to the public comment period. In addition to Wyden and Merkley, Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Catherine Cortez-Masto, D-Nev. all signed the letter. If the extension is rejected, the comment period will end Nov. 27.

Conservation efforts continue for Gunnison sage-grouse. According to a presentation by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the biggest hurdle to effectively conserving the Gunnison sage-grouse, which can be found in Colorado and Utah, is collaboration between state and local entities. Despite this being the case, officials are optimistic about the future of the species.

During a San Miguel County Board of Commissioners meeting, officials discussed progress of both the Gunnison and Greater sage-grouse populations in Colorado. In the San Miguel Basin, officials report that there are fewer than 250 Gunnison sage-grouse and no Greater sage-grouse left in the Basin. Commissioner Joan May said, “This is important to have everyone here. We all have to work together to get conservation achieved.”  In fact, over the past 16 years, an estimated $2 million has gone toward preserving 12,000 acres of grouse habitat in the county.

In October, the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners along with three environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management because of a Colorado land lease sale by the Tres Rios Field Office. The groups say the land is critical habitat for the Gunnison sage-grouse’s mating activity.

In the News

Idaho House Speaker Calls for State-Managed Sage Grouse Plan. Boise State Public Radio. One of Idaho’s top political leaders urged the federal government Wednesday to roll back a conservation plan for one of the West’s most iconic animals. Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) joined other officials from surrounding states in testifying before the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington, D.C. Their hope? They want the Trump Administration to abandon a contentious federal plan to manage the greater sage grouse and revert back to compromises struck at the state level. “We were on a good path. All we need is for everyone to roll it back to the way it was and let the state plans work,” Bedke says. Gov. Butch Otter (R) hammered out the plan with other politicians, conservationists earlier this decade. It was approved by the Obama Administration under Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. But new tracts of habitat were added when Sally Jewell took over as secretary for Salazar shortly thereafter – a move the feds argued helped keep the bird off the endangered species list.

Study shows that right whales, already an endangered species, may face a dim future. Phys.org. When 15 North Atlantic right whales turned up dead in U.S. and Canadian waters in the summer of 2017, it was declared an unprecedented mass mortality event. For a highly endangered species with slightly more than 500 animals remaining, the crisis signals a major shift in the population’s recovery—corresponding to a 3 percent loss. Of the seven whales necropsied, six deaths were caused by humans—four by ship strike, two by fishing gear entanglement—and one was inconclusive. In addition to the staggering number of deaths, scientists also are puzzled by the location where most of the whale carcasses were discovered: Twelve were found in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, well north of the species’ typical distributional range. Does climate play a role in this mystery? And how will the surviving population of these baleen whales fare in the next century under various climate scenarios? UC Santa Barbara quantitative ecologist Erin Meyer-Gutbrod addressed that question in new research she conducted at Cornell University with her doctoral adviser and co-author, Charles Greene.

2 Montana fly species hatch renewed ESA questions. E&E News (sub req’d). The Fish and Wildlife Service is now having second thoughts about protecting two fly species found in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s home state of Montana. Citing new data about potential population ranges, the Interior Department agency today said it would reopen consideration of Endangered Species Act protections for the western glacier stonefly and the meltwater lednian stonefly. The move presents the possibility that the agency could eventually reverse all or part of a proposal from last October to list the flies as threatened. The reconsideration also extends a debate that’s been buzzing since at least 2007, when environmentalists filed the first related ESA petition. “Reopening the comment period will provide the public an opportunity to comment on the additional range information,” the Fish and Wildlife Service stated in a notice to be formally published tomorrow in the Federal Register.

One Arctic species is listed, one isn’t. Did politics play a role? Alaska Public Radio. Two of the Arctic’s most iconic animals face challenges with retreating sea ice. The Bush administration listed the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act in 2008. But recently, the Pacific walrus was denied the same protections under President Trump. Critics have called it a political decision. But the real story is likely a lot more complicated. Nine years ago, a conservation group petitioned the federal government to put the Pacific walrus on the Endangered Species list. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided the listing was warranted. But the decision got stuck in limbo because there was a huge backlog of other listings. “Personally back in 2008, I was very happy that the decision could be delayed for a while,” Rosa Meehan said. Meehan is retired now. But when the Pacific walrus was first up for review, she managed the marine mammal program at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. She says scientists knew polar bears living in the Arctic were threatened by changing conditions. “Walrus, there was concern. But it was not as immediate,” Meehan said.

States will better protect sage grouse. News Bonners Ferry (Letter from U.S. Congressman Raul Labrador). I watched with growing frustration during the Obama Administration as environmentalists used sage grouse as a tool to shut down livestock grazing, energy development and other multiple uses of our federal lands. But I have some good news from the Trump Administration, which is using its administrative authority to help Idaho by restoring common-sense management to protect the bird, the landscape and support local economies. Last week, I participated in a House Natural Resources Committee hearing exploring how Western states are better suited to lead the way on sage grouse recovery. Among those testifying was Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke, who explained the devastating effects of overreaching federal management. It’s important to remember that environmental extremists have seen sage grouse as a means to achieve their goal of ending 150 years of grazing and energy development on public lands. They’ve been trying to get sage grouse listed as an endangered species for 20 years.

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