Federal Fish and Wildlife Service declares Texas Hornshell endangered. In today’s Federal Register, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) published a rule that outlines the service’s determination that the Texas Hornshell warrants “endangered” status under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The 57-page rulemaking states, “We, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, determine endangered species status under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended, for the Texas Hornshell (Popenaias popeii), a freshwater mussel species from New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico. The effect of this regulation will be to add this species to the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.”
In 2016, the FWS announced it would review the Texas Hornshell’s status to determine if an “endangered” listing under the ESA was warranted. In response to this measure, the IPAA – in conjunction with three other industry associations – submitted comments to the FWS illustrating why an endangered listing was inappropriate for the mussel:
“It is the Trades’ position that a listing of the Texas Hornshell is not warranted. … [A] review of the Species Status Assessment Report (SSA Report) indicates that numerous specimens of the species were collected in Mexico (where as much as half to two-thirds of the species’ range is found) as recently as the 1980s… Pursuant to the Act’s instruction, the Service must make its determination ‘solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.’ … A mere absence of recent data cannot be the basis of such a determination.”
The ruling for the Hornshell becomes effective in 30 days.
Senate Democrats question Zinke on sage-grouse habitat. Six senators sent a letter to Department of the Interior Secretary Zinke asking him what efforts the department is taking to protect the Greater sage-grouse in light of a memo issued by the Bureau of Land Management in late December 2017 that states the agency “does not need to lease and develop outside of [grouse] habitat management areas before considering any leasing and development within [grouse] habitat.” The notice was part of the Interior Department’s efforts to rollback Obama-era policies and prioritize resource development in the West.
In the letter, the senators express concern as to how the department plans to prevent the sage-grouse from becoming endangered given its decision to open up much of the bird’s habitat to energy development. Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said the letter “is not reflective of reality,” adding “The [governors] of all major [sic] sage grouse states have requested modifications to the plans. These senators should have faith in the states that they represent and the states’ ability to help conserve the bird.” Opening up portions of sage-grouse habitat to energy exploration and production is just one of the many measures the Interior Department is taking to increase fossil fuel development on federal lands.
In the News
Count marks sharp drop in monarch butterflies wintering in California. Reuters. The number of monarchs wintering in California has dropped to a five-year low, despite more volunteers counting more sites in search of the orange-and-black insect that is arguably the most admired of North American butterflies, a report said on Friday. The latest tally of 200,000 monarchs in forested groves in California’s central coast has dropped from the 1.2 million counted two decades ago, indicating the number of butterflies found west of the Rocky Mountains, or the so-called western population, continues to sharply decline, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation said in a report. “It’s certainly concerning,” said Sarina Jepsen, endangered species program director for the Xerces Society. Western monarchs are born on milkweed plants in such states as Arizona, Idaho, Utah and Washington before embarking on a seasonal migration to California. The annual count in California, done at the end of autumn by dozens of volunteers and scientists, last saw a severe low in 2012, with 144,812 butterflies across 136 sites, she said.
Climbing areas closed to protect rare falcons. McDowell News. Portions of the Pisgah and Nantahala National Forest climbing areas have been closed off to protect rare falcons central to North Carolina, according to reports. Each year, the U.S. Forest Service closes several rock faces to recreational activities, including rock climbing, repelling and hang gliding, to protect the rare Peregrine Falcons that nest there. The 2018 closure recently went into effect last month. Wildlife biologists in the state have been working since the 1980s to help recover Peregrine Falcons, which dwindled to only one mating pair in North Carolina in the 1950s. Perhaps the greatest challenge to the recovery of the species is nesting success. Peregrine Falcons mate for life and return to the same site each year to nest. If the pair is disturbed, they will leave the site and may not nest again until the following year.
Trump administration open to moving public land bosses west. Associated Press. From its headquarters in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees some of the nation’s most prized natural resources: vast expanses of public lands rich in oil, gas, coal, grazing for livestock, habitat for wildlife, hunting ranges, fishing streams and hiking trails. But more than 99 percent of that land is in 12 Western states, hundreds of miles from the nation’s capital. Some Western politicians — both Republicans and Democrats — are asking why the bureau’s headquarters isn’t in the West as well. … Some Westerners have long argued federal land managers should be closer to the land they oversee, saying Washington doesn’t understand the region. Now they have a powerful ally in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a Montanan who is leading President Donald Trump’s charge to roll back environmental regulations and encourage energy development on public land. … Some recent disputes: … More than 50,000 square miles (123,000 square kilometers) of Bureau of Land Management land in the West is at the heart of a debate among conservationists, ranchers and energy companies over how much protection to give the shrinking population of the greater sage grouse, a ground-dwelling bird.
Feds quietly reconsider protected status for endangered Florida Key deer. Miami Herald. The last couple of years have not been kind to the endangered Key deer. A grisly, flesh-eating screwworm infected the planet’s only herd in the Lower Keys in 2016, killing nearly an eighth of the beloved, dog-sized deer. Then came Hurricane Irma in September, which landed a direct blow to their habitat. And don’t forget the poachers, an inept duo who hog-tied and stuffed three deer in their car before police stopped them. Now the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, under increasing pressure to thin the ranks of the endangered species list, is quietly conducting a review of the deer’s protected status. The agency, which has not publicly announced the review, confirmed it is ongoing, but refused to provide details about what prompted it. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is finishing up an evaluation related to the status of the Key deer required under the Endangered Species Act,” spokesman Ken Warren said in an email. “As soon as a recommendation is finalized and published, we will make an announcement.”
Judge gives Yellowstone bison second chance for endangered species protections. Wyoming Public Media. A federal judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its decision to deny Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone bison. The service initially concluded there was not enough evidence that the buffalo needed protection under the Endangered Species Act back in 2015. A study by Natalie Halbert, a research assistant at Texas A&M, showed current management techniques for the mammal are harmful and would benefit from the Endangered Species Act protections. Currently, bison are managed as one herd. But Josh Osher, Montana director for Western Watersheds Project, said studies show they should be managed as two distinct herds. One of the studies was done by Natalie Halbert, through Texas A&M. “Halbert’s findings suggested that management approach can endanger the genetic integrity of one or both of those subpopulations,” said Osher. The judge ruled this week that the service must thoroughly consider all scientific evidence, including Halbert’s study. Now U.S. Fish and Wildlife service must redo their original 90-day finding blocking protections. Note: The Cody Enterprise also reported.
American burying beetle continues recovery. Joplin Globe. With one more push this summer, scientists hope, the first endangered species being reintroduced to Missouri will be ready to take the next step in its recovery. Scientists have been monitoring the American burying beetle at Wah’Kon-Tah Prairie in Southwest Missouri ever since they began restocking it there in 2012, and the numbers just released give them reason to remain optimistic about its comeback. Historically, the orange-and-black beetle was found in 35 states, including Missouri, according to Bob Merz, zoological manager for invertebrates at the St. Louis Zoo and director of the Center for Conservation of the American Burying Beetle at the zoo’s Wildcare Institute. It is a partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Nature Conservancy in beetle restoration. That partnership last fall received the 2017 North American Conservation Significant Achievement Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which recognizes habitat preservation, species restoration and support of biodiversity in the wild.