EPA’s Pruitt signs memo to improve ESA pesticide registration process. While speaking at the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture Winter Policy Conference this week, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that established an interagency Working Group to evaluate and improve the ESA consultation process for pesticide registration. The Group’s goal is to revise the current consultation process to ensure endangered species aren’t put in harm’s way when new pesticides are approved.
“The current Endangered Species Act pesticide consultation process is broken,” Pruitt said. “Today, the Trump Administration is taking action to improve and accelerate this process, harmonize interagency efforts, and create regulatory certainty for America’s farmers and ranchers.”
The interagency Working Group includes representatives from the Department of Interior (DOI) and Department of Commerce (DOC). In order to reform the current pesticide consultation process, the Group will have to consult Section 7 of the ESA, which requires all agencies to discuss the effects of any actions pertaining to pesticide approvals with federal wildlife officials. Examining this process comes at a critical time as the EPA currently has 700 pesticide registrations to complete by 2022.
Activists sue over Mexican gray wolf recovery plan. This week, two coalitions of environmental groups filed complaints in U.S. District Court in Arizona, claiming the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) drafted an insufficient recovery plan for the wolf. The groups – represented by attorneys from EarthJustice – allege the FWS proposed inadequate population goals for the wolves, prohibited them from accessing crucial habitat, and failed to address escalating hereditary threats.
“Mexican wolves urgently need more room to roam, protection from killing and more releases of wolves into the wild to improve genetic diversity, but the Mexican wolf recovery plan provides none of these things,” EarthJustice attorney Elizabeth Forsyth said. “The wolves will face an ongoing threat to their survival unless major changes are made.”
The FWS released the proposed recovery plan last November, which requires population averages of 320 wolves over an eight-year period in order to be considered for delisting.
If a ruling is made in favor of the activist groups, the FWS will likely be required to draft a new recovery plan for the wolf.
In the News
Trump’s environmental rollbacks were fast. It could get messy in court. New York Times. As the head of the federal agency controlling billions of acres of public lands and waters, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has spent the past year making bold policy proclamations to advance President Trump’s energy agenda: He would open coastal waters to drilling, shrink national monuments, lift Obama-era fossil fuel regulations and reduce wildlife protections. … Ms. Scarlett noted that haste may also undermine or delay the Interior Department’s proposal to change an Obama-era plan to protect the habitat of the sage grouse, a bird that roams millions of acres in 11 states, including areas potentially rich in oil and gas deposits. The Obama-era plans “had been exhaustively developed, with lots of input, including by governors,” Ms. Scarlett said. “By going back to the drawing board, even if the idea is to benefit economies of states, it’s just injecting more delay and uncertainty into the picture.” On other moves, Mr. Zinke may have bypassed requirements of the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that federal-agency decisions that could have an environmental impact on the nation’s air, water, or pristine wildlife habitats must include a scientific analysis detailing the effects.
Feds launch investigation into minke whale deaths. Bangor Daily News. An unusually high number of dead minke whales reported along the East Coast in the past year has prompted federal officials to launch an investigation into what’s killing the protected animals. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Wednesday that it declared the strandings of 29 minke whales between Maine and South Carolina since January 2017 an “unusual mortality event.” The designation enables the agency to open the investigation. The average number of dead minke whales found in U.S. waters in a year is 12, NOAA officials said Wednesday in a conference call. Of those 29 minke whales, 19 were found dead over the past year. Another 10 animals were found in poor health, of which only one survived. Six of the whales were found in Maine waters, while Massachusetts had 8 and New York had 7, according to NOAA. Nine whales appeared to have died from entanglement with fishing gear; two from blunt-force trauma, presumed to be from ship strikes; and eight from infectious diseases, though investigators have not determined how the diseased animals may have gotten sick.
Declining species of shark added to the endangered species list. Associated Press. The federal government says the oceanic whitetip shark will be listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act to help the species recover. The shark lives along the East Coast of the United States, off southern California and in international waters. Conservation group Defenders of Wildlife called on the government to list the species. Scientists say the sharks have declined by 80 to 90 percent in the Pacific Ocean since the 1990s. They’ve fallen 50 percent to 85 percent in the Atlantic Ocean since the 1950s. Conservationists blame commercial fishing and demand for their fins. A statement in the Federal Register about the listing of the shark says a threatened species is “not presently in danger of extinction, but is likely to become so in the foreseeable future.”
Endangered species law in Trump’s crosshairs. Washington Examiner. The Trump administration has set its crosshairs on endangered species as it marches steadily toward removing federal protections for birds, reptiles, fish, mammals, and even plants. Led by the Interior Department, the administration is dialing back Endangered Species Act protections to make it easier to build infrastructure and open public lands to more oil and natural gas drilling, a goal Trump stressed early in his first year in office. Most recently, Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove the Canadian lynx from the list of threatened species. A number of other species are set to be downgraded from endangered to threatened, according to the administration’s regulatory agenda. The tidewater goby fish and the Louisiana pine snake are just two species that are slated to be downgraded later this year. The Interior Department also plans to make a final decision on whether to grant the lesser prairie chicken new protections by March. The wild western bird has been a thorn in the GOP’s side for years, along with the sage grouse. The department early in the Trump administration took some high-profile actions on endangered species, such as not giving the Pacific walrus and more than a dozen other animals protections under the Endangered Species Act.
Turning power over to states won’t improve protection for endangered species. The Revelator. Since the Endangered Species Act became law in 1973, the U.S. government has played a critical role in protecting endangered and threatened species. But while the law is overwhelmingly popular with the American public, critics in Congress are proposing to significantly reduce federal authority to manage endangered species and delegate much of this role to state governments. States have substantial authority to manage flora and fauna in their boundaries. But species often cross state borders, or exist on federal lands. And many states either are uninterested in species protection or prefer to rely on the federal government to serve that role. We recently analyzed state endangered species laws and state funding to implement the Endangered Species Act. We concluded that relevant laws in most states are much weaker and less comprehensive than the federal Endangered Species Act. We also found that, in general, states contribute only a small fraction of total resources currently spent to implement the law. In sum, many states currently are poorly equipped to assume the diverse responsibilities that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries (collectively, “the Services”) handle today.