Groups express concern over U.S. Fish and Wildlife mitigation policy. In November, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service initiated a 60-day public comment period to obtain input on its existing Mitigation Policy and Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy, and specifically the possibility of dropping “net conservation gain” from its overall mitigation planning goals. This would mean that when considering permits and projects, Fish and Wildlife will simultaneously set a goal for improving the status of affected resources.
IPAA along with four other associations submitted comments earlier this month on the Service’s efforts, expressing concern regarding the lack of specificity around the concept of net conservation gain. According to the comments, “Because these elements of the Compensatory Mitigation Policy present the particular risk that it could be applied to impose mitigation requirements on projects beyond the scale of the impacts resulting from such projects or beyond the FWS’s statutory authority to require mitigation, the terms ‘net conservation gain’ and ‘no net loss’ should be removed from the Policy.”
Other groups, including the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Associated General Contractors of America and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, submitted comments that raised similar concerns. “Unfortunately, a ‘net conservation gain’ goal lacks predictability and potentially conflicts with other federal policies… determining a net conservation gain is subjective and would be left up to the discretion of service staff,” Southern California Edison wrote. According to the agency, its next step will be to determine “whether and how to revise the policies in response to the public input.”
Clarification of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act met with mixed reviews. At the end of December, the Department of Interior issued a reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), making it clear that one cannot be held liable for an incidental taking of a bird protected under the Act. Many industries and businesses applauded the Department’s move, saying it restored the original intent of the Act. Business groups such as the National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA) said the clarification brought the MBTA in line with the Act’s original intent. IPAA also applauded the Departments effort to clarify the law, stating “Today’s action is an important step to clarify the legal role of the MBTA to support species protection, while limiting inappropriate legal impacts on otherwise lawful activities from an array of industries.”
Others have expressed concerns over the change, including seventeen former government officials who wrote a letter to Secretary Ryan Zinke saying the Department’s MBTA update is “contrary to the long-standing interpretation by every administration (Republican and Democrat) since at least the 1970’s.”
In the News
Decision expected soon on fate of sage grouse plan. Public News Service. The Bureau of Land Management is expected to make a decision soon on the fate of sage grouse habitat protection plans that span 50 million acres in several western states including Wyoming. The Department of the Interior, which oversees the BLM, asked the agency to consider proposed changes that would open up more habitat to oil and gas production. Wildlife biologist Jack Connelly is one of a number of scientists who signed a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke urging that any changes be based on the latest science. “We were simply trying to underscore the importance of building sound natural resource policy on sound science,” he explains. “If we don’t do that, then we’re simply building policy as we would build a house of cards. It just won’t stand.” Connelly says more is known about sage grouse habitat needs than just about any other western wildlife species, and adds that policy makers should listen to advice from scientists and habitat managers. He worries that’s not happening. Industry groups maintain the habitat management plans overestimated the impacts from energy production.
Could ‘sue-and-settle’ ban backfire for Trump team? E&E News (Sub req’d). Industry and congressional critics began using the phrase “sue and settle” during the first term of the Obama administration to describe what they saw as gaming of the system by federal agencies and a recurring cast of environmental players, including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. The charge goes like this: Environmentalists sue a friendly federal agency and then negotiate a settlement that forces a burdensome regulatory agenda on industry, all with the blessing of the courts. Regulated entities and states are left out of the loop. … The report, for example, noted that settlements with environmental groups led to the issuance of hazardous air pollution standards for power plants. Critics also say the Obama administration colluded with environmental groups to come to a 2010 settlement that ultimately led to the issuance of the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump EPA is working to repeal. It’s not just at EPA. Critics say a sweeping 2011 settlement that the Fish and Wildlife Service entered into with WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity compelling the agency to make decisions on whether to list 252 species under the Endangered Species Act is one of the most egregious examples of sue and settle.
Documentation of wolves near Oregon’s Mt. Hood new benchmark. Associated Press. A remote camera picked up two gray wolves in Oregon’s northern Cascade Mountains, marking the first time multiple wolves have been documented in the area since the species returned to Oregon more than a decade ago. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Tuesday the animals were spotted in the White River Wildlife Area and in Mt. Hood National Forest, as well as on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Single wolves have been spotted in Wasco County twice before in 2013 and 2015. Gray wolves are a federally protected species in western Oregon. Wolves crossed into Oregon from Idaho in the early 2000s after being driven to extinction in the state decades ago. Officials are currently updating a wolf management plan to address changes in population.
Fish recovery plan could empty Detroit Lake for 2 years. Associated Press. A $100 million-plus project to improve conditions for endangered fish could mean emptying a lake east of Salem for one or two years. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is planning to build a 300-foot (91-meter) tower and floating screen at the dam on Detroit Lake to improve water temperature and fish passage for salmon and steelhead in the North Santiam River, the Salem Statesman Journal reported. But the $100 to $250 million project could impact water supply in Salem and Stayton, for farmland irrigation, and to the economies of Detroit and the Santiam Canyon from the loss of recreation at the popular reservoir. “In the long-term, this project has a lot of positives, from a healthier environment for fish to better operation of the dam,” Marion County commissioner Kevin Cameron said. “But there is a huge risk in the short-term.” The project aims to preserve native fish while maintaining the benefits of dams and reservoirs. The project still needs to go through multiple planning phases before construction is scheduled for 2021.
Coho salmon released in Marin County’s Redwood Creek to boost spawning of endangered fish. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. In an effort to boost the population of spawning coho salmon in Marin County’s Redwood Creek, biologists from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the National Park Service (NPS) today released nearly 200 adult coho salmon in the creek at Muir Beach. The released coho salmon were collected as juveniles from Redwood Creek in the summer of 2015 at an age of 6 to 8 months and reared to adulthood at the Warm Springs Fish Hatchery in Geyserville at the base of the Lake Sonoma Dam. The release of coho salmon this winter is the culmination of the Redwood Creek Coho Salmon Rescue and Captive Rearing Project. This project, a collaborative effort by CDFW, NPS, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, was initiated in 2014 with the goal of preventing the extinction of the coho salmon, which is listed as an endangered species under both the California Endangered Species Act and the federal Endangered Species Act.