Bishop bill targets sage grouse. House Natural Resources Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) introduced H.R. 527 last week, a bill to help state governors plan for greater sage-grouse conservation and preservation. Bishop’s legislation is a reintroduction of a bill he initially proposed in 2016 and would allow states to block any federal actions to conserve the grouse that do not align with that state’s existing tactics, including the new land-use plans created by the Obama Administration.
Governors would only need to alert the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture Departments before taking action to block federal sage-grouse conservation measures. The bill, proposed Jan. 13, has ten Republican co-sponsors, all from Western states.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso has made this bill a priority in the new Congress, telling POLITICO “We want to find ways to update, improve, strengthen the Endangered Species Act so it actually helps species who are put on the list with a recovery plan, and then a way to get them off the list.”
As Interior Secretary, Zinke would shift federal priorities for endangered species. President Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), is awaiting a confirmation vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 31. Zinke has voted against federal protections for wolves and lynx and voted in favor of waiving protections for endangered fish in California in order to provide more water to California’s farmers.
Zinke also opposed the Obama administration’s sage-grouse conservation plans, asking “why would Washington, the bureaucracy, given there are no sage grouse here…decide what is best for Montana or the western states, that have a deep, traditional concern for wildlife management?”
Despite reservations by some conservation groups, the National Wildlife Federation has supported Zinke’s nomination, believing that he will be more proactive in conserving habitat than his predecessors. Zinke’s confirmation vote is set for Jan. 31.
Outgoing FWS Director quietly issued conservation credit system policy. Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe quietly issued an order last Wednesday that would give landowners the opportunity to voluntarily help species that could otherwise end up on the Endangered Species Act.
The Director’s Order gives states the ability to enter into candidate conservation agreements (CCAs) with landowners that give them credits in return for voluntary participation in qualifying conservation efforts administered by state wildlife agencies. The credits can be redeemed or traded with a third party. According to a press release issued by Fish and Wildlife, the purpose of the order and its incentives is to “encourage and reward voluntary actions to conserve our nation’s at-risk species.” As another benefit, landowners who participate will also be able to avoid future conservation restrictions.
Despite Ashe’s Order, the Trump administration announced this week that it will delay the implementation of the Obama administration’s new standard for CCAs until March 21. Last year, IPAA requested that the policy be withdrawn and reworked to better incentivize participation in the program.
In the News
US Fish and Wildlife Service proceeds with regulatory action despite Trump administration directive. High Plains-Midwest Journal. In a move that some believe violates the spirit of President Donald Trump’s recent directive freezing all agency regulatory activity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has indicated that it will decline to extend a 90-day comment period to evaluate the status of the lesser prairie-chicken under the Endangered Species Act. This denial comes despite the soon expected public release of a new population survey for the species by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife agencies—information that will be critical to determining the success of ongoing conservation actions. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Tracy Brunner said the decision denies stakeholders the opportunity to weigh in with thoughtful comments and the most up-to-date science, and places political pressure ahead of what’s best for the species.
States argue in court for more say over endangered species. Associated Press. The federal government asked an appeals court Wednesday to overturn an order that bars the release of endangered wolves in New Mexico without the state’s permission, a skirmish in a broader battle over states’ rights and the Endangered Species Act. New Mexico and 18 other states argue that the law requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to cooperate with them on how endangered species are reintroduced within their borders. Federal attorneys counter that the law allows the agency to go around a state, if necessary, to save a species.
Lankford criticizes habitat mitigation measures for beetle by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tulsa World. U.S. Sen. James Lankford attacked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday for the way it handles habitat mitigation for the endangered American burying beetle. Lankford and other members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation have been pressuring the agency to remove the beetle from the endangered species list. They say the insect is much more common than believed when it was declared endangered in 1989, and mitigating for it adds unnecessary costs to road and pipeline construction and to oil and gas exploration. “The American burying beetle population continues to rise, and research demonstrates that the burying beetle is a ‘habitat generalist’ capable of adapting in many habitats,” Lankford said Monday in press release. “The listing of the American burying beetle unnecessarily places burdensome land-use restrictions to build roads, water resources, and energy infrastructure in many of our communities.”
Alabama attorney general asks Trump to walk back endangered species habitat rule. AL.com. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange has co-authored a letter with 13 other state attorneys general asking the incoming Donald Trump administration to repeal rules that lay out what can be designated as critical habitat for a species that is listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The two new rules state that critical habitat could include areas not currently occupied by the species “if they are determined to be essential for the conservation of the species.” Strange said the changes “unlawfully and vastly expand the authority” of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, and joined 17 other states last November to file a lawsuit challenging the new rules. Strange argued the rules would allow those Services to “declare desert land as critical habitat for a fish and then prevent the construction of a highway,” he said in a news release.
Industry, wildlife advocates back sage grouse bill. Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Representatives from agriculture organizations, the fossil fuel industry and wildlife advocates all backed a bill Wednesday to spend $2 million a year on the state’s sage grouse program. The House Natural Resources committee held a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 228, sponsored by Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte. The bill would change how the state funds a sage grouse conservation program the Legislature supported in 2015 that is meant to keep the federal government from giving the chicken-sized birds protections under the Endangered Species Act. “The main thing we want to do is make sure we don’t list this bird,” Keane said. The bill would allocate $2 million to the sage grouse stewardship account each of the next four years rather than injecting $10 million into the account this year. The account is meant to provide grants to landowners who want to complete a project to restore habitat for the grouse.
Sen. Moran urges fish and wildlife service to formally extend lesser prairie chicken status review comment period. KTIC. In a letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) today requested an extension of their deadline for comments and information relevant to the latest 90-day petition funding and status review of the lesser prairie chicken (LPC). To stakeholders requesting a deadline extension in order to accommodate the best possible scientific information, the FWS has indicated an extension was unnecessary because it was open to receiving relevant information past the deadline. Sen. Moran today requested that the FWS reconsider their refusal to extend the deadline in order to help erase any confusion on when information may be provided to the FWS, and to grant stakeholders ample opportunity to provide comments.