IPAA submits comments on Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances Policy and Regulations. In November 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it would review and possibly revise the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) Policy and CCAAs Regulations. CCAAs are conservation agreements between Fish and Wildlife and one or more public or private parties that provide landowners with incentives for voluntarily engaging in conservation efforts of certain species and their habitats before they are listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service sought public comment on a portion of the CCAA guidelines that was perceived by some landowners to mean that each CCAA must provide the degree of conservation that would preclude any species from being listed under the ESA.
In coordination with three other associations, IPAA submitted comments in regard to the announcement, advocating the Service continue its support for CCAAs, but revise the current policy and regulations to encourage additional participation from landowners when it comes to proposing projects for economic and resource development. The Associations urged in their comments that the current policy be revised to complete the following:
Emphasize improvement of covered species and restore the CCAA policy’s past directive that CCAAs “preclude or remove any need to list” and adopt flexibility in evaluating proposals for CCAAs
Avoid a “one-size-fits-all” standard for evaluating conservation benefits and encourage achievable conservation outcomes
Avoid potentially arbitrary standards like “net conservation benefit” that discourage voluntary participation
Avoid evaluation of CCAA proposals based on speculation
The public comment period closed on January 22, 2018.
U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear critical habitat protections case. The Supreme Court announced it would decide whether the government can designate an area as habitat for an endangered species even if the animal or plant does not currently occupy that area. The case in question centers around the dusky gopher frog – an amphibian that has been listed as endangered under the ESA since 2001 – and the a 2012 decision by the Fish and Wildlife Service to designate 1,544 of a total 6,477 acres of private land just outside of a Louisiana town where the frog hasn’t been seen for decades. Originally inhabiting Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, there are only about 100 dusky gophers reportedly left in Mississippi.
In light of this designation, Weyerhaeuser Co., one of the world’s largest forest products companies, and several Louisiana landowners sued the Service, claiming the frog couldn’t be properly protected in that area without changes in land use, vegetation, and development. “The language of the ESA is absolutely clear that critical habitat must first be habitat. FWS has other means to create new habitat — it can’t do it on the backs of private landowners,” said Timothy Bishop, a partner at Mayer Brown LLP, the law firm representing Weyerhaeuser.
Despite this argument, in June 2016 a panel with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appealsupheld the Service’s rule, prompting the process that ultimately led to the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the case this week. The case will likely be heard in the Supreme Court’s upcoming term, which begins in October.
In the News
U.S. Forest Service ends comment period over reopening sage grouse plans. Wyoming Public Media. The U.S. Forest Service closed its comment period asking the public whether to reopen sage grouse conservation plans. The National Wildlife Federation found that over 120,000 comments were submitted requesting the agency to keep the plans how they are. The organization, along with several other conservation groups, analyzed the comments to come up with the number. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke moved to open the collaborative 2015 plans last June following an executive order from President Trump to prioritize energy development. The U.S. Forest Service announced later that it would seek to review its own plans as well. Since then, the Bureau of Land Management and now the Forest Service have finished comment periods requesting the public’s thoughts on reopening the plans.
Eastern U.S. cougar declared extinct 80 years after last sighting. Reuters. Eastern cougars that once prowled North America from Michigan to South Carolina were officially declared extinct and removed from the U.S. endangered species list on Monday, eight decades after the last confirmed sighting of the wild feline predator. The large cats, also known as mountain lions, pumas or panthers, historically roamed every state east of the Mississippi River but by 1900 had all but vanished due to systematic hunting and trapping, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency opened an extensive review in 2011 into the status of the eastern cougar, a genetic cousin of the mountain lions that still inhabit much of the Western United States and of a small, imperiled population of Florida panthers found only in the Everglades.
Supreme Court says bearded seal still threatened, despite legal battle. Alaska Public Media. The U.S Supreme Court decided to keep the bearded seal as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — rejecting an oil and gas industry challenge to the animal’s protection status. The marine mammal was listed in 2012, due to melting sea ice. But the Alaska Oil and Gas Association or AOGA and the American Petroleum Institute thought the listing was premature. Joshua Kindred, an environmental counselor at AOGA, said he was “disappointed” in the supreme court’s decision. He said the National Marine Fisheries Service didn’t provide enough evidence to warrant a listing. “They didn’t ever really show from a scientific point of view why the seasonal sea ice was so critical to their long-term health of the species,” Kindred said. Kindred said there also wasn’t sufficient guidance for a plan moving forward. He said excessive critical habitat designations can slow oil and gas development. The Center for Biological Diversity has fought to keep the bearded seal’s protection status. Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the organization, says the Supreme Court’s decision is a step in the right direction. But wildlife in the Arctic is still at stake.
Trump waives dozens of environmental rules to speed up construction of border wall. The Hill. The Trump administration is waiving dozens of environmental regulations to speed up construction of President Trump’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen said in a notice published in the Federal Register Monday that she was waiving the rules to accelerate construction on part of the wall in New Mexico. The waiver excludes rules from major laws including the National Environment Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Antiquities Act, among others. The notice claims that the “El Paso Sector is an area of high illegal entry,” citing its proximity to the city of Ciudad of Juarez, and will allow for vehicle barriers to be replaced with bollard wall for 20 miles on the border. “The Secretary of Homeland Security has determined, pursuant to law, that it is necessary to waive certain laws, regulations and other legal requirements in order to ensure the expeditious construction of barriers and roads in the vicinity of the international land border of the United States near the Santa Teresa Land Port of Entry in the state of New Mexico,” the waiver reads.
Monarch butterfly migration was off this year and researchers are worried. Washington Post. Thanksgiving was right around the corner, and a sizable number of one of America’s most famous migrants could be seen still sputtering south. Not across the Texas-Mexico border, where most monarch butterflies should be by that time of year. These fluttered tardily through the migratory funnel that is Cape May, N.J., their iconic orange-and-black patterns splashing against the muted green of pines frosted by the season’s first chill. This delayed migration is not normal, and it alarmed monarch researchers across the country. The Cape May stragglers were only a sliver of the record number of monarchs reported in the Northeast in November and December — news that sounded good initially to conservationists. But seeing butterflies so far north so late in the year suggested that few of these latecomers would reach their Mexican wintering grounds.
Here’s how fed shutdown affects the pygmy rabbit. E&E News (Sub req’d). Count the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit as collateral damage in the event of a government shutdown. The endangered little rabbit, which lives in Washington state, also inhabits a bureaucratic space that depends on federal agencies functioning normally. When politicians fight and funding stops, however briefly, the regulatory environment shrinks. Formally protected under the Endangered Species Act since 2003, the Columbia Basin pygmy rabbit now offers one small illustration of how this latest dysfunctional-government drama plays out. Today, the Fish and Wildlife Service published an advance notice of its intention to conduct a five-year status review of the rabbit and 17 other protected species. The reviews can be crucial in determining whether species remain listed under the ESA. “We are requesting submission of any new information on these species that has become available since the last review,” the agency stated. The other species scheduled for reviews are found in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Canada, and range from the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat to the threatened golden paintbrush.