USDA grants $40 million to rangers for sage grouse restoration. According to a press release from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week, the department is providing $40 million to ranchers and stakeholders in the greater sage-grouse’s 11-state range for restoration and sagebrush habitat protection. The funding is a part of USDA’s larger Sage Grouse Initiative 2.0 and the Working Lands for Wildlife (WLFW) partnership.
According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, “The decisions of agricultural producers have powerful impacts on wildlife and the long-term health of their own land, and the partnerships formed through our Working Lands for Wildlife initiative have had proven success for bringing back several of America’s native species. By managing ranches with sage grouse and other wildlife in mind, producers also strengthen their own operations, boost resilience and increase agricultural yields.”
The department also announced an additional $10 million for six other WLFW species, including the New England cottontail, southwestern willow flycatcher, golden-winged warbler, gopher tortoise, bog turtle and lesser prairie-chicken. Read the full release from USDA HERE.
Nevada sage-grouse litigation hits roadblock. This week, a U.S. District Judge ruled against a Nevada lawsuit challenging federal land use plans for the greater sage-grouse. In October, Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt added the state onto a lawsuit challenging the federal land use plans over concerns they will restrict development activities on federally managed lands in the state.
According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Miranda Du said the groups have “failed to prove any irreparable harm that could be averted by immediately halting implementation of the regulations,” noting the evidence presented during a hearing last month is “too speculative.” The Judge notes opponents can argue their case at a trial, but that most of the claims to date raise “only the possibility — not a likelihood — of irreparable harm.” While Attorney General Laxalt has stated “this suit is necessary to fully protect the interest of the state,” Governor Sandoval’s office has criticized the move, noting “prematurely embroiling the state in costly litigation at this juncture threatens to compromise future collaborative efforts.”
Meanwhile, Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl sent a letter to Gov. Sandoval this week, following the Governor’s meeting with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last week. Commissioner Dahl thanked the Governor for his negotiations, but states they did not “solve critical harms that the (sage-grouse Land Use Plan Amendment) has created in Elko County and in other rural counties.”
USFWS proposes changes to non-Federal oil and gas rights on wildlife refuges. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has issued a long-awaited new rule revising regulations over non-Federal oil and gas operations located within national wildlife refuges. This rule applies to non-Federal oil and gas activities associated with private, state, or tribally owned sub-surface mineral deposits where FWS governs the surface area as part of the Refuge System.
The proposed changes would require operators to obtain permits when conducting new operations or modifying existing operations. The revision will impact the roughly 5,000 oil and gas wells located on more than 100 national wildlife refuges. FWS states that nearly 1,700 wells are currently active in refuges, with most of those wells located in Louisiana. The rule is now open for comment until February 9, 2016, and comments on the information collection aspect are open for the next 30 days.
Omnibus negotiations prompt sage-grouse debate. As lawmakers continue talks on an omnibus spending bill, efforts are underway to include language related to the greater sage-grouse into the final bill. As Rep. Amodei stated in E&E News last week, “I’ve been focusing basically all of my efforts to try to get that put back in, because it didn’t stay in the NDAA.”
Meanwhile, a letter written this week by a group of fifty Western conservationists, ranchers, and farmers is pressing members of Congress to reject language that would impact BLM’s ability to carry out sage grouse conservation plans in the west. According to the letter, “there are efforts to place a rider in the year-end spending bill that would bar the implementation of the Bureau of Land Management’s and the U.S. Forest Service’s 15 sage grouse conservation plans. This would ignore the will of western stakeholders who came together and will result in new litigation and could easily result in the bird being listed under the ESA, an outcome that many of the same members have previously opposed.”
As POLITICO reports, the House is currently working on preparing a short-term stopgap spending bill to extend spending authority for 5 to 7 days. The House will vote this afternoon on the bill; the Senate approved a short term bill on Thursday.
In the News
Mining activities focus of BLM public meeting. Herald and News. If approved, 10 million acres of public and national forest lands across six western states could be closed to new mining activities for up to 20 years. According to BLM Spokeswoman Larisa Bogardus, if approved, the proposal will not affect existing mines, such as the Oregon Sunstone Public Collection Area in Lake County. The recommendation to close the lands to any new mining came after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found some hardrock mining activities caused disturbance and fragmentation to sage-grouse habitat, further threatening the species, documents said. As a result, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service recommended Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell exercise her authority under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act to safeguard important sage-grouse landscapes by withdrawing them from the mining law.
The northern spotted owl is in danger again. And this time it’s from another owl. Washington Post. Across that gorgeous emerald range, federally protected northern spotted owls and invasive barred owls are in a nasty turf war. In a new report from the front lines, a U.S. Geological Survey study says that spotted owls that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed on the endangered species list to save them from logging and development don’t stand a chance. Research shows that spotted owl populations have fallen by up to 77 percent in Washington state, up to 68 percent in Oregon and by more than half in California, based on some estimates. “In addition, population declines are now occurring on study areas in southern Oregon and northern California that were previously experiencing little to no detectable decline through 2009,” the USGS said in a statement about the report released Wednesday and published in The Condor: Ornithological Applications.
Congress must not limit the role of the Endangered Species Act. The Hill (Op-Ed). As species in other regions of the country approach endangerment, it would be foolhardy to enact any of the bills now pending in Congress that would constrain or limit the role of the ESA. The law holds unprecedented potential to prompt similar collaborations and mutually beneficial agreements among stakeholders in the future. If the successful sage grouse collaboration is any indication, when it comes to the ESA only one old adage should apply: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Sage grouse to gain from mineral withdrawal. Earthworks (Blog). As part of a national effort to protect this iconic Western species, the Bureau of Land Management is proposing to protect 10 million acres of Sagebrush Focal Areas from mining (subject to valid existing rights). The proposal is vital. Without a formal mineral withdrawal, the 1872 Mining Law requires the agencies to prioritize mining over all other land uses, including wildlife conservation. On September 24, 2015, the BLM started the process by temporarily withdrawing these lands for mining for two years, while it completes its environmental review of the proposal. The agency is accepting comments on the proposal until January 15, 2015. Earthworks will be submitting comments and defending the proposal.
Survey: Monarch butterflies more prevalent in Oregon. Capital Press. As Oregon conservationists turn their attention to the monarch butterfly, field research has found that there are more of the colorful insects in the state than once thought. The field research last summer by the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers found that Central Oregon is dotted with butterflies, The Bulletin reports. Researchers found 125 adult monarchs and more than 300 caterpillars. Before the data was collected, there were only four or five known spots for monarchs. The survey found about 30 sites. “We basically put Central Oregon on the map for monarch butterfly conservation,” said Matt Horning, a geneticist with the U.S. Forest Service in Bend. The new findings could help efforts to revive the species, which is being considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Sage-grouse populations. RFD-TV. Sage-grouse populations began rapidly declining across Wyoming in 2006. A conference in Lander has researchers talking about how state and federal agency plans are helping to rejuvenate Sage-grouse numbers in that state. The conference in Lander is bringing together multiple organizations so strategies already in place can be observed and possibly improved, with collaboration being a key component to reaching the desired goal. Sage grouse populations have rebounded the past two years thanks to all the research and time dedicated to their survival.
Modoc sucker removed from federal endangered species list. Capital Press. A class of sucker fish that spawns in the streams of far Northern California and Southern Oregon has been taken off the federal list of protected species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the Modoc sucker, which is native to the Upper Pit River watershed east of here, no longer needs protections under the Endangered Species Act. Listed as endangered in 1985 because of habitat loss because of overgrazing and channelization caused by certain agricultural practices, the sucker now has a known distribution along 42.5 miles of habitat in 12 streams within three river sub-basins, the agency said.
Sandoval gets results on sage grouse – without lawsuits. Las Vegas Review-Journal (Column). During a meeting of the Western Governors’ Association in Las Vegas, Sandoval met on the sidelines with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The subject: A list of concerns over efforts to protect the sage grouse, a chicken-size, ground-dwelling bird with habitat across the West. Long story short: By the end of the day, Sandoval had resolved or received commitments to resolve every single issue on his list. The governor looked on as Jewell outlined the agreement to assembled reporters, and not a discouraging word was heard. “We will be reasonable, flexible and work with the states,” Jewell promised, adding later, “We’re continuing to execute on our plans, we’re continuing to be open to work with all governors from all states.” “We know this is the right thing,” she summed.