Nevada counties ban together in favor of sage-grouse management plans. Seventeen Nevada counties submitted comments to the U.S. Forest Service regarding the development of renewed sage-grouse plans relative to forest management in several Western states, including Nevada.
In their comments, the Nevada counties asked for six specific amendments to be added to the new plans including state-specific amendments, the removal of sage-grouse focal areas, and elimination of the net conservation gain requirement. “By working together, we can maybe increase or magnify our voice when it goes to the federal agency so that they know it is not just an isolated comment,” said Elko County Manager Robert Stokes. “You don’t always know what the reception will be, but hopefully it will open up the lines of communication.”
The Forest Service initiated this public comment period as ordered by the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada in March 2017. The court ruled that the Service neglected to offer adequate information for meaningful public input on the issue in 2015. Because of this finding and pending the feedback from this current comment period, the Forest Service may amend the 2015 sage-grouse land management plans. The public comment period ends on Jan. 19.
Two bills for updated wolf management presented at the federal and state level. This week, lawmakers brought forth two pieces of legislation concerning management plans for two different endangered wolf species.
U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced S. 2277 to the Senate. In addition to calling for the delisting of the Mexican gray wolf – an animal that has been classified as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) since 1976 – the legislation also raises several concerns regarding the species’ recovery plan, which was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) last November. Under the plan, officials must ensure there are an average of 320 wolves in the wild over an eight-year period before the species can be removed from ESA protection, which Sen. Flake believes would make for “a federal regulatory nightmare.”
The Wisconsin State Assembly took up a similar piece of legislation in a public hearing. The state legislature discussed a bill, sponsored by State Representative Adam Jarchow (R-10), that would effectively end state management of the wolf, and prohibit the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from spending any money on matters relating to wolf management. The bill received significant pushback from conservationists who argued that it would “create a perception that hunting wolves is permissible even though the practice would remain illegal under both state and federal law.” Due to significant hunting seasons, a federal judge placed Great Lakes wolves back on the endangered species list in 2014 after President Obama removed them in 2012.
U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear Utah prairie dog case. The high court chose not to hear an appeal of a case on whether the FWS can grant ESA protections for the Utah prairie dog, a species that only resides in its name state.
In 2012, under the ESA, the FWS prohibited the purposeful “take” of Utah prairie dogs without a permit. State landowners found issue with this, saying the animal’s large population (about 21,000 exist in Utah, and 70 percent of those reside on private land) make it difficult to use their land as they wish. They subsequently took their claim to court, and argued the animal didn’t qualify for ESA protections on the basis that the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause did not apply since the species only dwells in one state and consequently doesn’t affect interstate commerce.
A district court initially agreed with the landowners, but the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March unanimously overturned the ruling, finding that “piecemeal excision” of species that live purely in one state “would severely undercut the ESA’s conservation purposes.” In May, the property owners petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case on the basis of “significant federalism concerns,” but it declined. The solicitor general, however, has promised to work with Utah to “develop greater regulatory and management flexibility.”
In the News
Center for Conservation Biology expresses concern over new interpretation of Migratory Bird Treaty Act. William & Mary. Bryan Watts, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology, has dedicated much of his professional life to keeping birds safe. Now, he’s worried that a new federal interpretation of a century-old law will result in the deaths of millions of birds. A 41-page memo issued just before Christmas by Daniel Jorjani, a deputy solicitor in the U.S. Department of the Interior, essentially changes the focus of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) by stating the DOI will only prosecute in the event of birds killed purposefully. Watts explained that the memorandum reverses a long-standing policy that allows the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (a unit of the Interior Department) to take action in the event of accidental bird deaths — known as “incidental take.” He explained that the MBTA was enacted in 1918 at a time of rampant bird killing — widespread market gunning and the hunting of terns and egrets for the millinery trade. It also was a period in which many bird species were hunted to extinction — Watts mentioned the extirpation of the passenger pigeon, heath hen and Labrador duck.
Agency proposes rare fish be taken off endangered list. Associated Press. A tiny fish found only in remote waters in southern Oregon has been recommended to be removed from the federal endangered species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday proposed that the Foskett speckled dace to be delisted after more than a decade of work to restore the species’ habitat, the Capital Press reported. The rare fish is a member of the minnow family and grows to about 2-4 inches (5-10 centimeters) long. The fish spawn in the spring and only live a few years. The fish are found in Foskett Spring on the west side of Coleman Lake, and another population was established at nearby Dace Spring, said Chris Allen, a biologist for the Fish and Wildlife Service. The species was listed as threatened in 1985, and the Bureau of Land Management purchased the land surrounding the species’ habitat a couple years later. The population has since reached more sustainable levels, Allen said. “In this habitat at least, they thrive in open water,” Allen said. “That’s been one of the keys to recovery, is to create as much suitable habitat for this fish as possible.”
Feds to pause killing of beavers after threat of lawsuit. Associated Press. The U.S. government will temporarily stop killing beavers in Oregon after environmental groups threatened a lawsuit alleging the practice reduces the number of dams that create deep pools that are ideal habitat for young, endangered coho salmon. In a letter released Wednesday by a coalition of environmental groups, the government said it will further study whether the actions violate the Endangered Species Act. Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said in the Dec. 27, 2017, letter that it would “cease all aquatic mammal damage management activities” directed at beavers, river otters, muskrats and mink. Wildlife Services killed more than 400 beavers in Oregon in 2016 as part of a federal effort to control damage to agricultural fields, timber land and roadways caused by flooding that resulted from beaver dams. It’s a little-known program in Oregon, where the beaver is the state animal, appears on the state flag and is the mascot of Oregon State University. Beavers played an important role in the state’s early economy, earning Oregon the nickname “the beaver state.”
Court rejects enviro challenge to owl take provision. E&E News (Sub req’d). Federal judges today denied environmentalists’ bid to overturn a Fish and Wildlife Service policy that allowed the taking of one owl species to help recover another. At issue in the case before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals are two owl species: the threatened northern spotted owl and the barred owl. The northern spotted owl primarily resides in southwest Oregon and northwest California, though its habitat has historically extended from British Columbia to Northern California spanning both sides of the Cascade Range. The barred owl originally hails from the eastern U.S., but because it is more adaptable, it has invaded the northern spotted owl’s habitat. Barred owls, which feature a distinctive brown and white striping, or “barring,” on their white chests, are much more aggressive than the dark brown and speckled northern spotted owls.
Panel OKs controversial marine mammals bill. E&E News (Sub req’d). House lawmakers this morning advanced legislation that would expedite the federal permitting process applicants must comply with to protect marine mammals from harm during offshore oil and gas exploration. The Natural Resources Committee reported out six bills, including H.R. 3133, the “Streamlining Environmental Approvals (SEA) Act of 2017,” from Louisiana Republican Rep. Mike Johnson. Lawmakers approved the legislation by voice vote. Democrats offered unsuccessful amendments that would have prevented the bill from being applied to the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Another unsuccessful Democratic amendment would have had the legislation take effect only after science demonstrated that marine and coastal wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico had recovered from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Republicans, including Johnson, said the legislation provides a “much-needed update” to a bureaucratic permitting process while maintaining protections for marine mammals. But Democrats blasted the bill as another attempt by the majority to gut core environmental laws.
Supreme Court will decided the fate of an endangered frog in a regulatory swamp. Washington Examiner (Op-ed). Neomi Rao, head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, noted in a December op-ed that “in the previous administration, agencies frequently exceeded their legal authority when imposing costly rules [and that s]ome agencies announced important policy changes without following the formal rule-making process.” That will end, she said, because the Trump administration is committed “to a regulatory policy that actually works.” The OIRA regulator-watchers could start by coming down hard on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a bizarre decision that not only doesn’t work but also diminishes the rights of landowners. Known on the federal court dockets as Weyerhaeuser v. United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Supreme Court will decide on Friday whether to hear the case. In this amphibian equivalent of a shaggy-dog story, the government is trying to seize control of land it does not own in order to protect an endangered species of frog that does not live there.
Bills to help monarchs signed by governor, solar subsidy bill passed Legislature. Press of Atlantic City. Volunteers will soon be planting milkweed on state-owned land, after bills to help monarch butterflies became law Monday. The Department of Environmental Protection must now set program criteria and match volunteers with particular locations in stormwater basins, state parks and other public lands. “Right now we are reviewing the bills,” said DEP spokesperson Caryn Shinske. “We do not have information yet about implementation.” The new laws encourage planting of the only food monarch caterpillars will eat. Wild milkweed has been decimated by habitat loss and changes in agricultural practices, according to New Jersey Audubon, a primary advocate for the laws. The numbers of monarch butterflies migrating south through Cape May Point this year increased substantially, but are still well below 2012 levels, NJ Audubon’s Monarch Monitoring Project reported this year.