IPAA weighs in on sage-grouse comment period. Today, IPAA alongside the American Petroleum Institute submitted comments on the Notice of Intent to amend land use plans regarding the Greater sage-grouse. The comments highlight that API and IPAA members support BLM’s goal of managing the grouse and its habitat on public lands, yet “overly burdensome restrictions in the current GRSG Land Use Plans have resulted in severe limitations on resource development in the states where the BLM has implemented these plans, which do not balance conservation of the GRSG and responsible oil and natural gas development, and which elevate conservation of the GRSG above all other land uses in a manner wholly inconsistent with multiple use management.” The associations outline a number of recommendations for BLM to consider as it looks to make any amendments to the existing plans, including a comprehensive and unbiased review of all available scientific literature on the Greater sage-grouse. Read the full comments from IPAA and API on ESA Watch HERE.
Officials also comment on sage-grouse conservation plans. As the comment period for the Greater sage-grouse protection plan closes, public officials are also weighing in on the matter. United States Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO), President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation Collin O’Mara, and Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission Chairman Dan Vermillion shared their thoughts on plans to update the management plans during a press call on Thursday.
All parties expressed uncertainty in Interior Secretary Zinke’s efforts to redo sage-grouse conservation measures established in 2015. Those measures are the result of large-scale collaboration between federal and local governments, as well as local community stakeholders on the ground, and officials fear that planning may now prove to be fruitless. Bennet commented, “[Current plans] worked for the sagebrush ecosystem and still provided flexibility for states and Western communities.” O’Mara echoed his sentiment saying, “Some of the recommended changes could destroy that balance by making drilling and mining a priority at the expense of the sage grouse.” In general, officials on the call were very complimentary of current management efforts and urged the public to “raise our voices to let Secretary Zinke know that he should not undermine the (federal) land management plans.”
The public comment period for sage grouse protection plans ends today and management directives could come before the end of the year.
Senate bill likely to shrink ESA funding. A new Interior Department and U.S. EPA appropriations bill could reduce funding for Endangered Species Act (ESA) operations. Part of the fiscal 2018 funding package, money appropriated for listing activities would decrease and a variety of species, like the lesser prairie chicken, would no longer be ineligible for ESA protection.
Although the bill increases overall Fish and Wildlife Service funding by about $40 million, republicans fear a spur in litigation due to the decrease in listing funds, which is now $17.1 million, down from FY 2017. According to E&E News, “The [Senate Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee] urges the Service to avoid entering into any multi-species settlement agreement unless the state and local governments where the species are located are a party to that agreement.” Instead, lawmakers encourage Fish and Wildlife to focus its efforts on delisting species that have met conservation goals. Notably, the American burying beetle, will be at the forefront of the debate as officials are scheduled to make ruling decision by the end of fiscal year 2018.
Proposed updates to MBTA met with mixed criticism. Amendments to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) are currently being considered on the Hill and have received varying responses from both sides of the aisle. Recently, legislators have been tackling whether “take” of migratory birds should be interpreted as incidental or intentional, opening the door for input from environmentalists and industry member stakeholders.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) recently called the MBTA’s language “ambiguous” and hopes her amendment to the SECURE Act will help establish clearer definitions and rules to be followed. Similarly, the Interior Department’s solicitor’s office suspended a January legal opinion by former Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins suggesting MBTA protects protected birds from being killed, accidentally or otherwise. This would mean hunting, activities related to energy development, and buildings with big windows could be held responsible for deaths of migratory birds. While this review is still pending, critics of MBTA reform have become increasingly vocal. The House Natural Resources Committee’s highest-ranking Democrat, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, said “It is entirely appropriate for the Fish and Wildlife Service to require permits and enforce violations by energy developers who can’t be bothered to protect birds.”
Rep. Cheney is insistent that updates to the Act are needed to protect industry. She said, “Our operators take multiple precautions to ensure migratory birds, as well as other wildlife, are not injured during operations, but if these precautions fail, the current language could impose criminal liability for the taking of the bird even though it’s accidental.” The House approved Cheney’s amendment in a 20-14 vote.
In the News
Montana Farm Bureau submits comments on Sage Grouse Land Management Plan. Tri-State Livestock News. The Montana Farm Bureau has submitted comments to the Department of the Interior regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s Greater Sage Grouse Land Management Plan. The state’s largest agricultural organization encouraged the DOI to make several improvements to the plan in order to make it more workable for multiple-use lands. The comments highlighted issues in the plan that need to be addressed before the DOI moves forward.: Minimum stubble height requirements on perennial grass and other types of vegetation during certain times of the year: These restrictions limit the extent to which ranchers can graze their animals on public lands, since grazing beyond a certain point risks leaving the grass below the minimum height specified in the plan. In many cases prairie grass doesn’t reach the proposed minimum height, especially in dry years or years following drought.
U.S. recovery plan for endangered Mexican wolf assailed by environmentalists. Reuters. The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled a recovery plan for the endangered Mexican wolf, but environmentalists immediately assailed the program as so deficient it would lead to the demise of one of North America’s most imperiled mammals. The plan projects returning the Mexican wolf — actually the rarest subspecies of the North American gray wolf — to viable numbers in the U.S. Desert Southwest by 2043, paving the way for removing the animal from the endangered species list. But environmental groups such as the Center for Biological Diversity said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plan is deeply flawed and would further endanger a creature that has struggled to make a comeback despite decades of conservation efforts. Specifically, the government’s recovery program would cause further geographic isolation of the wolves, suppressing their numbers and leading to greater inbreeding, said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the center.
Trump admin to Supreme Court: Climate change could harm seals. E&E News (Sub req’d). Government attorneys this week urged the Supreme Court to deny petitions by the state of Alaska and oil companies challenging an Obama-era decision to protect Arctic bearded seals. NOAA Fisheries listed two populations of the seals as threatened in December 2012. The decision was based on projections that climate change would severely threaten the seals’ habitat by the century’s end. The agency acted reasonably based on sound scientific evidence, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court yesterday. “Substantial evidence supported the agency’s determination,” said the brief filed by Solicitor General Noel Francisco. DOJ’s court filing comes after the Fish and Wildlife Service in October reversed course in a separate case and declared that Endangered Species Act protections weren’t warranted for the Pacific walrus. As with the bearded seal, the Obama administration had found that rapid loss of Arctic sea ice tied to climate change threatened the viability of the species (E&E News PM, Oct. 4).
Invasive snail may be key to bird’s survival — study. E&E News (sub req’d). An invasive species in Florida may be helping an endangered bird rebound after years of dwindling numbers, researchers say. North American snail kites have curved beaks to pick out small apple snails from their shells in the Everglades. When part of the Everglades was invaded by a species of larger snail, ornithologists thought the snail kite’s decline would speed up. Instead, according to a study published this week in Nature Ecology & Evolution, the birds rapidly evolved to have larger beaks to eat the bulkier snails. “We were very surprised,” said Robert Fletcher, an ecologist at the University of Florida and an author of the study. “We often assume these large-bodied animals can’t keep up with changes to the system, like invasions or climate change, because their generation times are too long. And yet we are seeing this incredibly rapid change in beak size of this bird.” The findings are good news for the animals, which have had a rough year. Hurricane Irma destroyed all 44 of the birds’ nests near Lake Okeechobee.
NCDE Grizzly Bear Management Plan Nearing Final Publication. Montana Public Radio. As grizzly bears in and around Glacier National Park and the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem move closer to a possible delisting, a plan for management for the bears is nearing a final publication. A committee in charge of organizing grizzly bear recovery in the region met Wednesday in Missoula. Bear managers say grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), in and around Glacier National Park, are ready for federal protections to be lifted, which could allow a hunting season for the bear. Members of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee say removing Northern Continental Divide grizzlies from the endangered species list could happen by 2020. They say a plan is nearly complete for how an expanding population of grizzlies in the area will be managed. “This is a document that as a group; tribes, states, federal agencies, are going to use to take care of bears moving into the future, whether they are delisted or not.”
Six oil operators, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation form partnership. Midland Reporter-Telegram. Partnerships and joint ventures are nothing new among Permian Basin oil operators, but a new partnership just announced takes a unique approach. Six companies with significant operations in the Permian Basin – Anadarko Petroleum, Chevron, ExxonMobil’s subsidiary XTO Energy, Noble Energy, Occidental Petroleum and Shell Oil are teaming up with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to form the Pecos Watershed Conservation Initiative to support conservation projects in the region. The initiative is designed to identify significant conservation opportunities to improve habitat, address water scarcity, improve water quality and engage the area’s communities. “Partnerships between industry and conservation interests are the best path forward to support economic growth while conserving our nation’s natural heritage,” Jeff Trandahl, executive director and chief executive officer of the foundation, told the Reporter-Telegram by email.
Endangered butterfly, Mexican shrub may be hurdles to Trump wall. Bloomberg. Environmentalists suing to block President Donald Trump from constructing a wall along the Mexican border say the project would imperil endangered species including the Quino checkerspot butterfly and the Mexican flannel bush. The Homeland Security Department has asserted authority under federal immigration law to waive compliance with environmental protection statutes because 14 miles of existing fencing near San Diego is “no longer optimal for border patrol operations.” Defenders of Wildlife, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity argued in court filings this week that the Trump administration’s attempts to sidestep the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act are unconstitutional. A hearing over the dispute is set for February before U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, whom Trump scorned during the presidential campaign over the San Diego jurist’s handling of the Trump University fraud litigation.