***IPAA holds call up on Capitol Hill. This week, IPAA and over 70 of its member companies held 115 meetings on Capitol Hill, highlighting the key role of independent producers to the U.S. economy and the current regulatory concerns facing operators. IPAA’s President and CEO Barry Russell was also featured in the Washington Times regarding the current environment, stating “strengthening, not degrading, American oil and natural gas production is a much better option for our country.” For more information on the call up contact SMcdonald@IPAA.org.
Environmental groups sue for more sage grouse protections. Conservations groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians, have filed a lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s greater sage-grouse plans, claiming they are scientifically flawed, contain loopholes, and will ultimately fail to protect the bird or its habitat. The groups are seeking to force the administration to impose more restrictions on oil and gas production, mining, and other activities within the sage-grouse’s habitat, advocating for more uniformity across states.
Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of the Western Energy Alliance, countered these allegations, writing, “the environmental groups are not interested in sage grouse conservation, but rather with greater centralized control of the West by the federal government. Their goal is to push any productive activities that form the basis of rural communities such as ranching and energy development off public lands.”
Western states and the mining and ranching industries have also filed lawsuits against the federal government’s conservation plans, stating that they are too restrictive and ignore the state conservation plans that prevented the sage-grouse’s ESA listing in the first place.
Oil and gas producers win sagebrush lizard lawsuit. A panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against conservation groups who had challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to withdraw its decision to list the dunes sagebrush lizard as endangered. Oil and gas producers had feared that listing the lizard as endangered would make drilling in the Permian Basin more difficult. The court found the conservation groups’ arguments against state plans to protect the lizard “unpersuasive,” siding with the Obama administration and the American Petroleum Institute.
Lesser prairie chicken ruling upheld. A U.S. District Court judge this week upheld his September 2015 ruling that overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, denying the Department of Interior and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s motion to amend his judgement. Federal attorneys had asked the judge to amend his ruling instead of vacating the listing decision so the Fish and Wildlife Service could make a new determination that appropriately considered a range-wide conservation plan the judge had cited in his decision to overturn the listing. The federal lawyers also asked the judge to limit his ruling to Texas and New Mexico, a request the judge denied.
Permian Basin Petroleum Association President Ben Shepperd stated the ruling “serves as vindication of the unprecedented stakeholder participation across the lesser prairie chicken range.” Immediately following the judge’s decision, the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) also fired its lesser prairie chicken program manager. Representing regulators from 23 states and Canadian provinces, the WAFWA had created the range-wide plan cited by the judge in his decision to overturn the listing.
Monarch butterfly population rebounds more than 200 percent. Researchers have observed a 225 percent increase in monarch butterflies following their annual winter migration to Mexico. Monarch butterflies fly thousands of miles from across North America to arrive in northern Mexico where they spend the winter hibernating in pine and fir forests. Scientists report that monarchs have rebounded from a low of 42 million last winter to 150 million this winter, though this year’s tally is still below historical totals.
Monarchs are currently imperiled by a loss of milkweed across their migratory path. The butterflies depend on milkweed for food and the plant serves as a host for the eggs they leave behind over the course of their migration. Scientists attributed this year’s population boom to efforts to increased milkweed plantings in North America, mild weather, and improved efforts to protect Mexican forests.
In the News
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.
Report: More pollinators species in jeopardy, threatening world food supply. NPR. A major global assessment of pollinators is raising concerns about the future of the planet’s food supply. A U.N.-sponsored report drawing on about 3,000 scientific papers concludes that about 40 percent of invertebrate pollinator species (such as bees and butterflies) are facing extinction. Vertebrate pollinators (such as bats and birds) are somewhat better off by comparison — 16 percent are threatened with extinction, “with a trend towards more extinctions,” the researchers say. About 75 percent of the world’s food crops, the report notes, depend at least partly on pollination. Note: E&E News (sub req’d) and Newsweek also report.
Appeals court upholds designation of polar bear habitat. Associated Press. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service followed the law when it designated more than 187,000 square miles — an area larger than California — as critical habitat for threatened polar bears in Alaska marine waters and its northern coast, an appeals court ruled Monday. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed a 2013 lower court decision that the designation was too extensive and not specific. A spokesman for the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to designate polar bears as a threatened species, called it a victory for the marine mammal. The federal government in 2008 declared polar bears threatened under the Endangered Species Act, citing melting sea ice. Polar bears need ice for hunting, breeding and migrating.
Pipeline project spurs new tussle over trees. Daily Star. Constitution last week asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider its request for permission to fell trees in New York, something the company has already been doing in Pennsylvania, where the required state permits have been issued to the developers of the natural gas transmission line. On Monday, Stop the Pipeline responded Monday with its own legal papers, urging FERC to spurn the company’s application. Constitiution spokesman Tom Droege said the tree clearing must be done by March 31 to accomplish the company’s goal of constructing the 125-mile pipeline this year. “The March 31 deadline to avoid impacting migratory birds and the Northern long-eared bat is approaching and it’s imperative that we start the tree felling work now in order to keep the project on schedule and begin providing low-cost natural gas to millions of consumers in the Northeast,” Droege said.
Washington goes farther than feds on sage grouse. Capital Press. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission has affirmed state-protected status for the greater sage grouse, exasperating agriculture groups that argue the state’s inventory of endangered and threatened species shouldn’t include wide-ranging species not on the federal list. “We think it’s redundant and unnecessary — an additional layer of state regulation that affects farmers and ranchers,” Washington Farm Bureau director of governmental relations Tom Davis said. The commission unanimously approved Feb. 26 a staff recommendation to keep the greater sage grouse, Western gray squirrel, northern spotted owl and snowy plover on the state protected species list. Note: Spokesman-Review and Yakima Herald also report.
Industry, greens call for annual $1.3B for species conservation. E&E News (sub req’d). A panel of energy, business and conservation leaders today called on lawmakers to direct $1.3 billion each year from federal energy and mineral development revenues into state-led conservation. The new funding is necessary to avert a growing endangered species crisis, according to the coalition led by John Morris, the founder of Bass Pro Shops, and David Freudenthal, former Democratic governor of Wyoming. Other members of the group include executives from Shell America, EDF Renewable Energy, Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America Inc. and the National Audubon Society.
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.
Move considered to remove grizzlies from endangered species list. Reuters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Thursday proposed stripping Endangered Species Act protections from the grizzly bear in and around Yellowstone National Park, saying the animal’s numbers have rebounded sufficiently in recent decades. The number of grizzlies in the greater Yellowstone region, encompassing parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, has grown to an estimated 700 or more bears today, up from as few as 176 in 1975, when they were formally listed as a threatened species throughout the lower 48 states. At that time, the grizzly had been hunted, trapped and poisoned to near-extinction. Its estimated population well exceeds the government’s recovery goal of 500 animals in the region.
New maps may help reduce threats for whales, dolphins in U.S. waters. Duke University (Press Release). Scientists have created highly detailed maps charting the seasonal movements and population densities of 35 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises — many of them threatened or endangered — in the crowded waters of the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has proposed opening a large portion of the Atlantic continental shelf to oil and natural gas development, as well as expanding oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico, Halpin noted. “Insights provided by these new maps can be very influential in shaping the outcomes of these decisions because population density estimates are used by U.S. government agencies to enforce the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act,” Halpin said.