IPAA requests emergency delay on rusty patched bumble bee listing. On Wednesday, a coalition of agriculture and energy industry groups submitted a joint petition to the Secretary of the Interior asking for an extension on the rusty patched bumble bee’s final listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The letter, signed by organizations including IPAA, Crop Life, National Cotton Council of America and the National Association of Home Builders, asks the Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the current March 21, 2017 effective date of the rusty patched bumble bee listing until January 11, 2018.
The bee’s listing was “rushed” before the new administration took office and ignores “clear flaws in the science and data on which the Service relied in listing the RPBB,” the coalition wrote. In particular, the groups point out that Fish and Wildlife has acknowledged in the past that there is no way to reliably locate the bee’s nesting and hibernation sites, which makes it nearly impossible for any type of activity to take place without potentially harming the species.
The effective date was previously delayed from February 21, 2017 to the current March 21, 2017 deadline. Service assistant director Gary Frazer said the delay “is not expected to have an impact on the conservation of the species.”
GAO report finds “deadline” suits do not affect ESA rule making. According to a new Government Accountability Office (GOA) report, between 2005 and 2015 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service faced 122 “deadline” lawsuits which prompted the agency to negotiate settlements with environmental groups. A majority of the suits were related to missed deadlines for issuing findings on petitions to list or delist species from the endangered species list.
Between 2005 and 2015, plaintiffs filed 141 deadline suits against Fish and Wildlife and the National Marine Fisheries Service, with more than half the lawsuits coming from two groups: the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. House Natural Resources Ranking Member Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who requested the report, serves on the advisory board of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute.
Opponents of the process say it allows activist groups to force species listings, but the GOA report concluded that settlement agreements “did not affect the substantive basis or procedural rule-making requirements” under the Endangered Species Act. The report did say that the settlements ate up agency resources, which critics contend leads to rushed decision-making with agencies failing to fully consider input from all stakeholders.
Wyoming senate votes in favor of sage-grouse captive breeding program. On Monday, the Wyoming senate voted in favor of HB 271, a bill to create a sage-grouse captive breeding program that would allow licensed breeders to collect up to 250 eggs in the wild to try and hatch them in captivity. State Senator Charlie Scott (R-Casper), a supporter of HB 271, argued that the timing of the legislation aligns well with the abundant habitat and a healthy sage grouse population that will provide leeway to experiment with the program and identify potential challenges.
Some conservation groups have opposed the program, calling it a high risk for relatively little benefit. In an earlier Op-Ed, Brian Rutledge of the National Audubon Society suggested instead that the legislature should invest in more “effective” efforts like habitat restoration through established working groups and state agencies.
Others like State Senator Cale Case (R-Lander) have opposed the bill, citing captive breeding studies that show sage grouse have a “lousy” success rate and that removing eggs from the wild further reduces this effort. Despite skepticism from some senators and environmental groups over the effectiveness of the program, the bill passed 24-6 and is now headed to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s desk.
In the News
Governors group urges reform of key law. E&E News (sub req’d). In a rebuke to environmentalists, the nation’s governors have formally endorsed the Endangered Species Act reform effort underway on Capitol Hill. “Governors support the Endangered Species Act (ESA), when applied prudently, as a valuable tool for protecting imperiled species and call on Congress to improve and reauthorize the act,” the bipartisan National Governors Association said in a policy position adopted Sunday and posted online this week. Many of the 14 principles for reform that the NGA adopted were uncontroversial: to rely on science and work to prevent the need to add species to the endangered or threatened lists, for example. Others, however, could dramatically change the implementation of the 4-decade-old law. “Vague terms, such as ‘foreseeable future,’ should be defined, replaced or eliminated,” one provision said.
Lawmakers float endangered species, forestry bills. E&E News (sub req’d). House Republicans are resurrecting two bills that would amend the Endangered Species Act and elevate the importance of state data in listing determinations. H.R. 1274 would direct federal agencies to treat all state data as the “best scientific and commercial data available” while H.R. 1273 would require the online publication of the data that are the basis for endangered species listing decisions. Past versions of the bills passed the House in the 113th Congress. They may find new life in a Republican effort to update the ESA while the party has unified control of Congress and the White House. The ESA isn’t the only environmental law in lawmakers’ sights. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) reintroduced a bill this week to amend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to exempt farmers from federal fines for “baiting the field” if they follow best practices from their state cooperative extension offices.
Barrasso: Endangered species: Making recovery a priority. Casper Star-Tribune (Op-Ed). As a doctor, if I treat 100 patients and just three recover enough to be discharged from the hospital, I would deserve to lose my medical license. A similar standard should apply to the Endangered Species Act. This law was meant to protect animals, plants, and other species identified as endangered or threatened with extinction. It also tried to conserve ecosystems upon which these species depend. A major goal of the Endangered Species Act is the recovery of species to the point that protection under the law is no longer necessary. Since the law’s enactment in 1973, there have been 1,652 species in the United States listed as either endangered or threatened with extinction. Just 47 have come off the list due to recovery. That’s a recovery rate of less than 3 percent. That’s unacceptable. We can – and must – do better to fulfill the mission of the Endangered Species Act.
Alaska underwater gas leak continues, 2nd group to sue. Associated Press. A second environmental group has given formal notice that it will sue the owner of an underwater pipeline spewing natural gas into Alaska’s Cook Inlet. The inlet is home to endangered beluga whales, salmon and other fish. Gas since at least Feb. 7 has bubbled from an 8-inch pipeline owned by Hilcorp Alaska LLC. The pipeline moves processed natural gas from onshore to four drilling platforms. The company in a statement said its modeling consultants conclude that only tiny amounts of natural gas likely are dissolving into the water and that there likely is minimal effect on marine life. Hilcorp says the leak will be repaired when it’s safe to dive. However, the Center for Biological Diversity in a letter to the company and the Environmental Protection Agency said the leaking gas is a threat to belugas.
California court expands endangered-species removal powers. Associated Press. The California Supreme Court on Monday said petitioners seeking to remove a subset of coho salmon from the state’s endangered species list could present new evidence to argue the listing was wrong. In a unanimous ruling, the court overturned a lower court decision that said efforts to remove the salmon and other species could only argue that the listing was no longer necessary. The high court decision came in a lawsuit by Big Creek Lumber Co. and the Central Coast Forest Association, which includes forest landowners. They filed a petition to remove a subset of coho salmon from the state’s endangered species list, arguing that the listing was wrong because the fish were not native to the area and were introduced and maintained there artificially using hatcheries.
Iowa launches plan to save threatened Monarch butterflies. Des Moines Register. Iowa took a large step Monday toward helping the recovery of monarch butterflies, with the introduction of a strategy designed to help keep the threatened insects off the national endangered species list. The 135-page plan helps provide farmers, backyard gardeners and others with a road map for boosting monarch butterfly habitat in Iowa. Nearly 40 agriculture, conservation, business, utility and government groups, calling themselves the Iowa Monarch Conservation Consortium, pulled together the strategy. “It’s a big first step. Now we have a foundation to build on,” said Steve Bradbury, an Iowa State University entomologist and strategy team leader. About $4 million has been invested in building research, adding demonstration habitat plots and other initiatives since 2014. The consortium hopes the group’s work will attract more, with $1.3 million in grants already being sought.
House tees up fight to limit endangered species rules. Washington Examiner. House Republicans on Wednesday will help draw attention to endangered species rules that are limiting the expansion of hydro-electric dams and could impede President Trump’s infrastructure development goals. The House Natural Resources Committee is holding a Wednesday hearing to examine environmental obstacles to boosting water power. Republicans note that in some parts of Washington state, hydropower can contribute up to 70 percent of the electricity consumed, but makes up just 7 percent of the nation’s electricity supply. The committee’s memo on the hearing explained that hydropower is the only form of renewable energy that can provide low-cost electricity around the clock. “However, some believe hydropower projects can have negative impacts on migratory fish, wildlife and their habitats as well as water quality,” the memo said.