Weekly Newsletter – 2/24/17

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Weekly Newsletter – 2/24/17

Issues

ASL and IPAA file Notice of Intent regarding American burying beetle. This week, the American Stewards of Liberty (ASL) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America filed a Notice of Intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violation of section 4(b)(3)(B) of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) based on the Service’s failure to render a timely 12-month finding on an August 2015 petition to delist the American burying beetle.

As IPAA Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs Dan Naatz states, “Under the requirements of the Endangered Species Act, we believe the case for removing the American burying beetle is clearer than ever. Fish and Wildlife has had the time to properly review and act on our petition. It is long past time that the Service meets its legal obligation to thoroughly evaluate this filing for delisting. Economic threats to the affected communities continue to cost private landowners, businesses, and local governments millions and American jobs are at stake—resolution of this filing is now long overdue.”

IPAA and ASL are calling on the agency to delist the American burying beetle due to lack of sufficient evidence that the species now, or ever was, at risk of extinction. In March 2016, as a preliminary response to the petition, the Service determined that the delisting of the beetle may be warranted based on new information and analyses. The Service has failed to publish the requisite 12-month finding — which was due by August 2016 — to announce its final determination of whether delisting is warranted based on the species’ current status and an erroneous original listing determination. Read the full press release HERE.

Environmental group appeals transmission line in Idaho due to potential sage-grouse impact. The Western Watersheds Project is challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of a power line on the grounds that the Wyoming-to-Idaho project will have negative impacts on sage-grouse and their habitat. The plan for the Gateway West Transmission Project, submitted by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, was approved at the end of the Obama administration despite strong opposition from local government agencies, landowners, and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter.

The Western Watersheds Project’s appeal says the project, “will damage sensitive sage grouse habitats, create a barrier to sage-grouse movements and migrations, isolate tracts of sage-grouse habitat, and increase sage-grouse mortality” because sage grouse predators will perch on the lines. The appeal also says BLM’s analysis of the final two segments violates the National Environmental Policy Act because it failed to “ensure the scientific accuracy of its analysis.”

BLM has said in the past that the Idaho sections of the line were careful to avoid “priority sage grouse habitat” identified in federal grouse management plans finalized in 2015. According to Gov. Otter, the agency’s amendment process “undermined years of open partnership-driven work by local and state leaders and other stakeholders.”

Court denies request to reconsider listing Arctic seal due to climate change. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to reconsider its decision allowing the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the Arctic population of Pacific bearded seals as “threatened” due to climate change. The original ruling, made in October 2016, represented the first case of a species gaining protection under the Endangered Species Act on the basis of future climate change impacts. The decision was challenged by representatives of the oil and gas industry, Alaskan local governments, and Native American tribes.

The ruling could have major implications for future ESA listings and raises concerns about the possibility of listing determinations being made without substantial scientific evidence of current impacts. As recently as October of last year, the Pacific bearded seal was listed as a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Nevertheless, the Fisheries Service projected that the seal’s winter sea-ice habitat in Alaska and Russia would decline as a result of climate change, endangering the species by 2095.

The American Petroleum Institute, the North Slope Borough and the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope contested the decision, stating “If a species can be listed simply based on a projected threat of climate-related habitat decline, irrespective of the magnitude of the threat to the species’ survival, then the statutory listing standards are rendered meaningless and the federal regulatory power becomes limitless – all without regard for the serious effects of unchecked, unprincipled species listings on states, Native interests, local governments and others.”

In the News

280 green groups tell governors to reject ESA reform. E&E News (sub req’d). A broad coalition of environmental and consumer protection groups today called on the National Governors Association to oppose calls from their Western members to reform the Endangered Species Act. “We strongly believe that, in the current political environment, any effort to open up the law would likely weaken, if not cripple, its ability to conserve and recover our nation’s most imperiled plants and animals,” said the letter signed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Sierra Club, Public Citizen and 277 other groups. “Accordingly, we strongly urge you to reject any resolutions or proposals regarding changes to the Endangered Species Act at your next winter meeting,” the groups wrote to Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the rest of the nation’s governors.

Trump may upend carefully laid plans for sage grouse. E&E News (sub req’d). When former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that sweeping federal plans designed to save the greater sage grouse had been finalized less than a year and a half ago, she hailed it as an “epic conservation effort” that took years to complete. She revealed that the mottled-brown bird would not be listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, in large part because of the federal plans. But the election of President Trump just over a year later has federal and state officials, conservation groups, and others expecting big changes in how the plans are carried out — if they are ever fully implemented. Trump has not publicly addressed the federal sage grouse plans. But Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), Trump’s nominee for Interior secretary, has been a vocal critic, comparing them at one time to Obamacare and saying he wants “state-driven solutions” for managing grouse.

A year later, sage grouse conservation in mining areas still a matter of debate. Casper Star Tribune. More than a year ago, environmentalists, oil and gas operators and landowners across the West waited to hear whether the greater sage grouse would be listed as an endangered species. The answer, released in a social media video with then-Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, confirmed the hope of many and the fear of some: The odd bird with the strange mating ritual would not be listed. However, the department that oversees the Bureau of Land Management sidelined one piece of the sagebrush conservation pie for further study and public review: the potential removal of certain sage grouse habitats across six states, including Wyoming, from future hard rock mining. To many the idea is federal overkill, an unnecessary restriction that sets a bad precedent for industry in the West.

Captive sage grouse breeding may have unintended consequences. Casper Star Tribune (Op-Ed). The state of Wyoming’s approach to Greater sage-grouse conservation has historically been a good process. Unfortunately, the present effort to establish a captive breeding program for the species is, at best, mistaken. As accomplished wildlife biologists, as well as long-term members of the Sage Grouse Implementation Team as well as a local working group, it is our considered opinion the determination to breed Greater sage-grouse in captivity for release to the wild contains far greater risk than it offers reward.

Hunters, ranchers worry Trump’s wall could keep them out. E&E News (sub req’d). As the Trump administration pursues plans to construct a continuous barrier along the nation’s 2,000-mile southern border, VeneKlasen is concerned that not only will wildlife corridors be irreparably harmed, but he and others may find themselves cut off from access to public lands. “Building a wall is still the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border,” Grijalva said in a statement to E&E News. “The wall will hurt wildlife; destroy sensitive habitat for endangered species; damage the natural flow of floodwaters; lead to costly litigation with landowners, Native American communities, and other stakeholders; and threaten the economic, social, and cultural ties between the United States and our neighbors.”

Missouri joins lawsuit against endangered species regulation. KBIA. The Missouri River is home to one of Missouri’s most famous endangered species: the pallid sturgeon. The Fish and Wildlife Service listed the sturgeon as endangered in 1990, after decades of man-made changes to the river decimated the population. The Service, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has undertaken a series of projects along the river aimed at restoring the sturgeon’s habitat. Now, the designation of habitat for the pallid sturgeon and a host of other endangered species is the center of controversy. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley filed a lawsuit earlier this month against the Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services. “We’re bringing suit against an Obama-era regulation that gives the federal government the power to designate whole swathes of land as critical habitat,” Hawley said.

Freudenthal gives strong rationale for updating Endangered Species Act. Powell Tribune (Editorial). The former governor’s comments add to the abundance of evidence already available that it is high time the Endangered Species Act was streamlined and modernized to make it function as it was intended. We call on the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee to follow through as quickly as possible and to forward a comprehen

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