ICYMI: New species page on the monarch butterfly. IPAA has created a new species page for the monarch butterfly. In March 2015, IPAA submitted joint comments with the American Petroleum Institute (API) to the Fish and Wildlife Service in response to a request for comment on the status of the monarch butterfly, highlighting the negligible impact of oil and gas operations on the butterfly’s population and its expansive habitat range. As the comments highlight, “no evidence exists in the literature of adverse effects from oil and gas industry operations on the species itself or on the destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species’ habitat or range.” Check out the new page HERE.
Obama administration halts ESA protections for lesser prairie chicken. The debate over the lesser prairie chicken listing continues, with Congressman Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) stating last week that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not enforce its “threatened” listing of the lesser prairie chicken anywhere in the country. Meanwhile, federal attorneys asked a federal judge to amend their previous ruling overturning the listing, warning that the species risks a “death spiral” towards extinction.
At issue is a federal judge’s decision last year to overturn the Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2014 decision to list the chicken as a threatened species, impacting it’s habitat range in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado. Until Congressman Huelskamp’s announcement, it had been unclear whether the Service would still enforce its listing outside of Texas.
The Obama administration, however, is worried about proposed development projects capable of fragmenting the chicken’s habitat that do not presently require consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service as a result of the judge’s ruling. Federal attorneys want the judge to amend their previous ruling to allow the Service to make a new listing determination that fully takes into account a range-wide conservation plan by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, something the judge believed the Service did not adequately consider in 2014.
Nevada governor proposes change to sage grouse plan. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval (R) offered a proposal to the Bureau of Land Management last week that would free up mining claims in the state, claims that have been frozen by the agency’s sage grouse protection plan. The Department of the Interior decided last September not to list the greater sage-grouse, but instead adopted new regulations restricting development within sage-grouse habitat across 11 states. IPAA commented at the time that while avoiding a federal listing was necessary, these land use restrictions would harm energy producers and American taxpayers, calling the management plans “unworkable.”
Sandoval’s plan would reduce the total withdrawn area by roughly one-fifth and swap that land with other areas that contain higher quality habitat for the grouse, protecting 49 additional leks while only dropping protection for five leks included in the government plan. Such a shift would release all but one percent of the nearly 4,000 mining claims currently on hold in Nevada as a result of the federal plan. A BLM spokesperson in Nevada said that the agency would give “serious consideration” to the governor’s proposal.
Federal wildfire plan is praised by experts and ranchers. Public land experts are calling Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s wildfire plan one of the most significant federal land policy changes in 80 years. The plan directs federal resources to fight the enormous fires that burn in sagebrush habitat that supports cattle ranching and is home to the greater sage-grouse. Experts say the plan better enables authorities to respond to fires in one of the worst wildfire seasons.
Ranchers, despite their usual distrust of federal oversight, have also signaled support for the plan, with some joining together to form Rangeland Fire Protections Associations to stop small fires from exploding and charring their rangeland. Jewell’s plan improves on previous rehabilitation attempts by using local seeds to restore sagebrush habitat and includes plans to fight invasive cheatgrass that fueled a massive fire in Idaho and Oregon last summer.
In the News
Utah sues to halt plan for sage grouse proposal. Salt Lake Tribune. Utah officials on Thursday filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate federal land-use plan revisions aimed at conserving imperiled greater sage grouse, but critics say the state should be careful of getting what it’s asking from the courts. Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes says the feds ignored what scientific evidence indicates would be best for Utah sage grouse and illegally trampled on the state’s own conservation plan that Gov. Gary Herbert approved in 2013. But conservationists wonder if Utah is courting trouble with this suit. “The decision to not list was very much based on those plan revisions, 99 of them, to protect sage grouse, because the bar was set high enough and promises were made. If you undo all that, of course they are going to revisit the listing decision. That’s opening a can of worms,” said biologist Allison Jones, executive director for the Wild Utah Project.
Natural habitats and natural resource extraction: Battle continues. National Law Review (Opinion). Most, if not all of you, are very familiar with the tensions between natural resource extraction – be it coal or oil and gas – and environmentalists. In Texas, these tensions manifested in the proposed listing of the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard (also known as the Sand Dune Lizard) that lives in the Permian Basis. The lizard’s chief threat is habitat loss due to oil and gas development operations, the conversion of native ecosystems to cropland and rangeland, and increased use of off-road vehicles. Industry and state and local government responded by preparing a voluntary, long-term conservation plan through which landowners and industry agreed to undertake specified conservation practices believed to ensure the lizard’s survival. This worked because the lizard’s chief threat was man-made activity. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for three species living in the Appalachian Basin being considered for listing. Specifically, the Northern Long-eared Bat, the Monarch Butterfly, and the Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee.
Manatees and power plants: an unlikely love story. E&E News (sub req’d). More than 70 years ago, Florida manatees made a life-changing discovery: The warm water pouring out of power plants makes excellent winter refuges. Such industrial discharges have been crucial to the ongoing recovery of the West Indian manatee. When it was first listed as endangered in 1967, fewer than 1,000 manatees remained in Florida. Today that number has jumped to more than 6,300, with more than half using man-made warm water refuges. This month, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the population no longer qualifies as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The agency is proposing to reclassify the species as threatened. But FWS has yet to tackle the biggest threat facing manatees: the loss of those power plant hot tubs.
Senators say coal rules are illegal ‘power grab.’ Register-Herald. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., calls tougher rules on the coal industry a “power grab” by federal mining regulators who want more leverage over states. He and other senators grilled the director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for more than an hour Wednesday over a package of rules that include closer monitoring of streams near coal mines. The Department of Fish and Wildlife, for example, could hold up mining permits to protect species being considered as potentially endangered. That expands the scope of the Endangered Species Act, Inhofe and others argue, beyond protecting those already designated as endangered.
Obama’s use of ESA ‘loophole’ undermines protections – report. E&E News (sub req’d). The Obama administration is using an Endangered Species Act provision to allow oil and gas drilling, logging, ranching and commercial wind development in sensitive wildlife habitat, according to a report released today by an environmental group. The report from the Center for Biological Diversity takes aim at special rules that let people incidentally kill, harm or harass listed species if they commit to certain conservation practices. The Fish and Wildlife Service under President Obama has issued more so-called Section 4(d) rules than under any president other than Gerald Ford, according to a paper authored by Ya-Wei Li, senior director of endangered species conservation at Defenders of Wildlife.
NOAA approves 10-fold increase in right whale habitat. E&E News (sub req’d). The National Marine Fisheries Service announced today that it is dramatically increasing the critical habitat for endangered North Atlantic right whales, with protections for feeding grounds and calving areas along the East Coast. The final rule expands the whales’ habitat tenfold, to almost 30,000 square nautical miles. That includes Northeast feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine and calving grounds between north Florida and North Carolina. The agency — a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — hopes the new designation will help protect an endangered species that was once hunted to near-extinction. Today, about 500 of the whales remain in the North Atlantic, where their biggest threats are ship strikes and fishing entanglements.
Aerial surveys could delay pipeline permits – FERC official. E&E News (sub req’d). Legislation to incorporate aerial survey data into the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval process for natural gas infrastructure could lead to unintended consequences by delaying or adding costs to some projects, a senior FERC staffer told a House panel today. Ann Miles, director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, said commission staff currently accepts aerial survey data, though most project applications include ground surveys for a significant portion of the right of way. She expressed concern that waiting to verify large amounts of aerial data until late in the project development process, or after a certificate is issued, could pose difficulties. Miles suggested a project’s impact on historical properties or endangered species might be hard to determine without ground surveys.
Washoe County proceeds with litigation over federal sage grouse rules. This is Reno. Washoe County announced yesterday that it intends to continue in litigation against the federal government over sage-grouse conservation rules released last fall. The county is protesting the Department of Interior’s (DOI) sage-grouse land-use plans that are designed to protect the bird from being listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Washoe County is a party to the suit with other Nevada counties and two mineral exploration companies. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt also signed on to the lawsuit, a move that irked Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval. Sandoval has been in direct negotiations with federal officials over the issues raised in the suit. He announced in December that U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell would use Nevada’s sage-grouse habitat maps, rather than the federal maps.