Weekly Newsletter – 3/11/16

Home/Newsletters/Weekly Newsletter – 3/11/16

Weekly Newsletter – 3/11/16


Western governors push for larger state role in protecting endangered species. The Western Governors’ Association at a conference on Wednesday discussed the need for changes to be made to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that would shift power from the federal government to the states. The governors noted that states and local communities know best how to protect species and are less likely to be bogged down by lawsuits. “Lawyers are winning on the Endangered Species Act,” said Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, the Republican chairman of the Western Governors’ Association. “The question is, are the species winning?”

The governors cited the increasing number of species-specific legislation being considered by Congress as an indication that improvements to the ESA are needed. However, the group declined to say whether they preferred to amend the ESA or completely rewrite it, with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper noting, “It’s pre-mature to make that judgement.”

FWS releases updated mitigation policy. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday announced proposed updates to its mitigation policy, which would include threatened and endangered species for the first time since its inception in 1981. The proposal remodels the mitigation policy to resemble the state-supported landscape-level model developed for protecting the sage-grouse last year, reflecting changes in conservation practices developed in the 35 years since the policy’s initiation.

The change would have the Fish and Wildlife Service consider the harm that could come from development in the context of larger factors, like climate change and invasive species, in addition to the direct impacts of development projects. The update has drawn criticism from both sides, with Republicans in Congress arguing that the proposed changes could halt future development, while the Center for Biological Diversity accused the Obama administration of unleashing a “stealth attack on the Endangered Species Act.” The Fish and Wildlife Service will accept comments on the proposal through May 9th.

Environmental groups sue FWS for sage-grouse protections in Nevada and California. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list an isolated population of sage-grouse along the California-Nevada border under the Endangered Species Act. The Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list the sage-grouse last year due to collaborative efforts by federal, state, and local leaders to conserve the species.

The lawsuit claims the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to justify last year’s decision to withdraw its proposals to list the bi-state sage-grouse population as “threatened” and to designate 1.8 million acres of mostly federal land as critical habitat. The environmental groups are concerned that the sage-grouse conservation plans are voluntary and that federal plans to improve protections on public lands are unfinished in Nevada and have not begun in California.

Despite the groups’ claims, federal efforts to help the bi-state sage-grouse continue, with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announcing earlier this year that the Interior Department would invest $39 million in conservation projects in Nevada that are, in part, designed to improve the sage-grouse’s habitat.

In the News

Feds sued over butterfly protections. The Hill. The federal government is fending off a lawsuit over monarch butterflies. A group of animal rights activists argues the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should add the monarch butterfly to the endangered species list. The Center for Biological Diversity and the Center for Food Safety jointly filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court, calling on the agency to take steps to protect monarch butterflies from extinction. The future of the monarch butterfly is “threatened” by a 90 percent population decline over the last two decades, the animals rights activists claim. During this time, monarchs’ habitat has declined by more 165 million acres. Note: E&E News (sub req’d) also reports.

Inspiration for teddy bear taken off endangered species list. Washington Examiner. The bear that inspired the teddy bear is coming off the endangered species list. The Louisiana black bear has been on the list since 1992 due to habitat loss, reduced quality of habitat and death from human interactions. There were fewer than 150 bears left back then, but the population has grown to between 500 and 700, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It’s the second announcement about an American bear species coming off the endangered species list in a week. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last week the Yellowstone grizzly bear may be coming off the list in the future. Note: The Hill, HNGN, Associated Press, E&E News (sub req’d) and The Guardian also report.

Trade group leader: Keep your courage. The Advertiser. Mark Miller knows. “Is it worse than 1986?” the new chairman of the Independent Petroleum Association of America asked rhetorically. “I think it is.” Miller said IPAA is lobbying against government efforts that would hamper the industry as it tries to emerge from difficult times. For example, he said, an effort by the Obama administration to impose a new $10.25 tax on each barrel of U.S. oil would slow industry’s emergence from its current price problems. So would some environmental restrictions to protect species that include the monarch butterfly, long-eared bats, the lesser prairie chicken and the greater sage grouse.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead leads state into sage grouse fight. Associated Press. The state of Wyoming is moving to join federal agencies in defending a sage grouse management plan against a legal challenge from a coalition of environmental groups. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead announced Thursday he’s directing the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office to intervene in a federal lawsuit environmental groups filed last month in Idaho. The lawsuit seeks to force the Obama administration to impose more restrictions on oil and gas drilling, grazing and other activities blamed for the decline of greater sage grouse across the West. The groups claim the conservation effort the government announced last fall has loopholes and won’t protect the bird from extinction. But Mead said the lawsuit shows that the federal Endangered Species Act needs to be amended so successful conservation efforts are celebrated instead of challenged.

Western land managers strategize on battling invasive weeds. Idaho Statesman. Public lands managers have released an outline for creating a decades-long strategy to combat wildfire-prone invasive weeds considered a main threat to Great Basin sagebrush ecosystems. The report released Monday by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies says piecemeal efforts must be replaced by landscape-wide strategies stretching across Western states. “The stakes are enormous,” the report states. “Without effective control and management of invasive plants, and all the negative ecological effect that come with invasives, habitat loss and degradation will only accelerate in sagebrush ecosystem.” Officials say that would mean declines in sage grouse and other species, possibly leading to regulatory actions limiting economic growth.

Overall oil, gas impacts minor in Alaska’s Cook Inlet – NOAA. E&E News (sub req’d). Oil and gas activities in Alaska’s Cook Inlet will only have minor impacts on marine mammals in the area, according to a draft environmental assessment from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The conclusion: While the activities may harass some animals, they will not result in “measurable changes” to populations or mating grounds. Much of the concern over oil and gas activity in Cook Inlet has centered on endangered beluga whales, which number a little more than 300 individuals. Loud blasts of air guns could mask whale calls, interrupt feeding or cause behavioral changes.

Protesters rant at BLM Nevada oil, gas lease sale, but the market speaks louder. Natural Gas Intelligence. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office in Reno, NV, held an oil/natural gas lease sale involving more than 50,000 acres in two northern counties on Tuesday, and the market spoke loud and clear above the chanting of protesters from the national “Keep It in the Ground” campaign that wants to end leasing on public and tribal lands. In a repeat of a demonstration in Colorado last month 25 to 30 protesters marched two blocks to Reno’s Silver Legacy Resort Casino for what they dubbed a “climate auction,” alleging that the leased parcels contain 486,000 tons of potential greenhouse gas emissions and provide important habitat to several “sensitive and imperiled” species, such as the bi-state sage grouse. “Most of the protesters came in and observed the lease sale,” the spokesperson said.

Devastating white-nose syndrome has reached Minnesota bats. Star Tribune. White-nose syndrome has announced its dreaded arrival in Minnesota with the discovery that hundreds of bats died in the cold outside Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park this winter. The discovery, made in January and announced by state officials Wednesday, was expected, since evidence of the lethal fungus was found in 2013 at two winter hibernation sites, including the Soudan mine. But it marks the beginning of an epidemic that is likely to decimate four of Minnesota’s seven bat species, all of which play a critical role in controlling insects like mosquitoes, and which provide an estimated $3.7 billion in pest management and pollination to agriculture nationally. Note: Duluth News Tribune, Grand Forks Herald, and Timberjay also report.

Litigation helped shape species conservation. Capital Press. Conflict has become synonymous with the Endangered Species Act, but battle-scarred veterans on both sides of the issue say litigation has played an important role in shaping implementation of the law. Among the outcomes is cooperative agreements such as those reached for the sage grouse, one observer said. The role of conflict and litigation in the ESA is the subject of the latest webinar in the Western Governors’ Association Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative aimed at enabling states to share best practices in species management and explore how to improve the efficacy of the ESA.

Constitution natural gas pipeline pushes back completion date. Albany Times Union. Stymied from cutting trees along the path of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline, its owners Thursday pushed back the start of the line’s expected operation at least six months, from the end of 2016 to the second half of 2017. The company blamed the delay on a “rapidly closing environmental window” to cut trees along the line’s planned route in New York. Limits imposed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service allow Constitution to cut trees only between Nov. 1 and March 31 in order to protect migratory songbirds and the northern long-eared bat, whose numbers have been decimated by a fungal disease. The bat is listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Asian bats show resistance to deadly white-nose syndrome. BBC. A study found that bats in China showed strong resistance to the fungal infection responsible for the deaths. The scientists involved in the report say some American species may evolve the ability to fight the disease. European bats seem to have evolved resistance to the fungus. This new study suggests that resistance is widely found in Asian bats as well. The researchers say that genetics may be at play. They point to a North American species called the little brown bat. Overall these had much higher levels of infection than Asian bats but some individuals had very low fungal loads. By contrast, northern long-eared bats showed very little variability in the amount of fungus in their systems. As a result say the scientists, their prospects are poor.

Proposal would extend American burying beetle protection process in Oklahoma. The Oklahoman. A process for streamlining protection for an endangered insect would be extended for three years under rules proposed this week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The service has begun a 30-day comment period for its proposal to extend the American Burying Beetle Industry Conservation Plan (IPC) until May 20, 2019. Implemented in 2014, the plan provides a uniform way for oil and natural gas companies to comply with the Endangered Species Act, allowing them to receive incidental take permits for the American burying beetle. With the permits, companies can continue operating in the beetle’s habitat, which includes 45 counties in central and eastern Oklahoma.

Noise filter technology may alter drill debate. Grand Junction Sentinel. Outdoor noise mitigation like that being used today in oil and gas development near homes is a relatively new field that is quickly evolving, according to an industry consultant. “Environmental noise is not a particularly mature business because until probably 1986 there wasn’t anybody really interested in environmental noise,” Donald W. Behrens, president of Behrens and Associates Environmental Noise Control, told the Garfield County Energy Advisory Board Thursday. Behrens also has been involved with noise work related to efforts to protect the greater sage-grouse from activities like drilling in Western states.

Wyoming counties, conservation districts sue over sage grouse. Associated Press. A group of counties and conservation districts in western Wyoming is suing over the federal government’s sweeping plans to protect habitat for the greater sage grouse. The Wyoming Coalition of Local Governments filed a petition for review Monday in federal court in Wyoming. The greater sage grouse is a ground-dwelling bird that has lost much of its habitat to development and declined significantly in number. The birds live in 11 states from Oregon to the Dakotas. The Interior Department announced in September that it would not pursue federal protection for the greater sage grouse but would implement a series of land-use plans to help protect the bird. Those suing include Uinta, Lincoln and Sublette counties. They say the federal government oversteps its authority with the new sage grouse plans.

Livestock grazing draws ravens that eat eggs, chicks – study. E&E News (sub req’d). A federal study has found a negative association between livestock grazing in the sagebrush that’s home to greater sage grouse and the abundance of ravens that are a major threat to the survival of the grouse, a conclusion that is soundly rejected by the cattle industry. The chief concern is not so much the cattle themselves, but rather other aspects of grazing, particularly water troughs for livestock that attract the ravens that eat sage grouse eggs and chicks. Researchers found the odds of ravens present on the landscape in southeast Idaho, an area where livestock grazing is common, increased 45.8 percent where cattle were present, according to the study, published in the journal Ecosphere.

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