Senate EPW passes four conservation bills. Last week, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted on and passed four bills that would revive and strengthen wildlife protection programs and create four annual conservation prizes worth $100,000 each. One of those bills was the “Wildlife Innovation and Longevity Driver Act” (WILD Act), which was proposed and sponsored by Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) and ranking member Tom Carper (D-DE). The bipartisan WILD Act passed the committee by a voice vote on April 5, and was co-sponsored by Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Boozman (R-AR), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). In addition to bipartisan Senate backing, the bill also received NGO support from the World Wildlife Fund and the Family Farm Alliance.
The WILD act aims to advance conservation research and technology development through awarding cash prizes administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. These awards would go to innovations in poaching and trafficking prevention, wildlife conservation, invasive species mitigation and endangered species protection. Speaking on the bill, Senator Barrasso heralded innovation as “one of the best tools in conserving endangered species and keeping invasive species under control.” The legislation is the first step in the chairman’s long term effort to create a bipartisan bill to modernize the Endangered Species Act.
Sage grouse imported to save dwindling population. Officials in North Dakota began transporting sage grouse into the state last week in an effort to bolster population numbers. The birds are being flown in from Wyoming, as reported by the Associated Press.
The goal is to transplant 40 female and 20 male grouse and monitor their progress over time. While this effort has been implemented in other states, this is the first time North Dakota has attempted such a project. Game management supervisor Aaron Robinson says West Nile virus is slowly killing the sage grouse in the state in addition to sagebrush habitat loss from energy development. Robinson stated, “We’re at the end of our rope here, and we’re doing whatever we can to keep the population from being extirpated.”
The North Dakota State Game and Fish Department expects it will take officials at least another week to complete the transport. This summer, a graduate student from a local university will closely monitor the birds’ condition, reproduction, and overall adaptation.
Trump administration prioritizes BLM work. Leaked documents from the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) emphasize increasing energy development, expanding “wildlife conservation opportunities,” and increasing “maintenance and capital improvement projects.” The “BLM Priority Work” list also reverses the majority of federal lands management initiatives established by the Obama administration.
The document, written by senior BLM officials and reviewed by Interior Department administrators, calls on the agency to streamline the leasing and permitting processes for oil, gas, coal, and infrastructure, as well as “make additional lands available for ‘all of the above’ energy development.” According to E&E News, the list was “assembled by the team at the BLM to clearly lay out our continued commitment to ensure opportunities for commercial, recreation and conservation activities on BLM-managed lands,” Megan Crandall, an agency spokeswoman, wrote in an email.
The priority list was accompanied by a Draft Key Messages document that instructs officials on how to communicate the administration’s priorities with third parties. One theme found throughout the messaging is BLM’s “multiple-use mission,” demonstrating the agency’s intention to develop public lands while also supporting conservation.
In the News
Appeals court revives industry lawsuit over owl habitat. E&E News (sub req’d). Federal appeals judges today revived lumber manufacturers’ lawsuit over critical habitat for the northern spotted owl. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that lumber companies had legal standing to sue over the Obama administration’s decision to designate more than 9.5 million acres for the threatened species. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s argument that the designation won’t decrease the timber available for companies to harvest “defies basic common sense,” wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh, a George W. Bush appointee, for the court. Judges Thomas Griffith, also a Bush appointee, and Sri Srinivasan, an Obama appointee, joined the opinion, which reverses a lower-court decision to dismiss the case. The northern spotted owl has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1990. It’s found in coniferous forests from British Columbia to central California.
Groups threaten lawsuit over endangered salmon. E&E News (sub req’d). Four environmental and fishing groups are ready to sue the state of Oregon for logging practices and road projects in two state forests that they say violate the Endangered Species Act. The Department of Forestry, they say, is illegally killing coastal coho salmon in the Tillamook and Clatsop state forests. The four groups — the Center for Biological Diversity, the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources and Cascadia Wildlands — filed a notice of intent to sue yesterday. Now there is a 60-day waiting period for the state agency’s response before the groups can file a federal lawsuit. “The Oregon Department of Forestry has long known that its logging is harming coho salmon and streams on Oregon’s North Coast,” Noah Greenwald, endangered species director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “It’s well past time the department changes its practices and truly protects our beloved salmon.”
Endangered species habitat plan committee meets for first time. My San Antonio. A committee overseeing a plan meant to streamline development in Bexar County while protecting endangered species held its first meeting Tuesday with plans to begin accepting projects for enrollment. Right now, the Southern Edwards Plateau Habitat Conservation Plan exists mostly on paper. The plan is essentially a complex land-swapping mechanism. City and county proponents say it will help preserve habitat for nine endangered species — two small songbirds and seven cave-dwelling insects and bugs. Officials also say it will cut the time it takes for developers to get permits to comply with the federal Endangered Species Act from as long as two years to as little as two weeks. The plan grew out of efforts starting in 2009 to protect the Army’s Camp Bullis from having endangered birds pushed onto the base by encroaching construction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved Bexar County’s proposal in 2015, and the city joined the plan in January.
BLM’s planned lease sale of 100,000 Colorado acres for drilling prompts legal protest. Colorado Independent. The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal to auction approximately 100,000 acres of federal public lands in northern Colorado for oil and gas drilling has attracted legal pushback from conservation groups, who say the “massive” lease sale threatens some of Colorado’s most treasured and scenic landscapes and wildlife species. “Fracking these pristine public lands would come at the cost of imperiled wildlife, clean air and clean water, meanwhile worsening climate change,” says Michael Saul, senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center has joined environmental groups Sierra Club, Living Rivers and the Waterkeeper Alliance in filing an administrative protest against the proposed sale, scheduled for Jun 9. The 30-day public protest period has now ended. The groups also have several complaints with the BLM’s environmental assessment, including that that its carbon budget analysis is inaccurate and that it fails to analyze significant impacts to wildlife, particularly to sensitive species.
Wolves still need federal protection — Gary Feest. Wisconsin State Journal. Opinion. I oppose the bill in Congress that would eliminate of all federal protection for wolves. When wolves were taken off the Endangered Species List in 2012, the hunting that followed was incredibly harmful to the recovering species. The courts stepped in to restore federal protections, citing overzealous killing programs. Gray wolf populations are still recovering from centuries of persecution and habitat loss and cannot reach full recovery without federal protections. They have finally begun to repopulate and rebuild their pack structures. According to a mail survey conducted in 2014 by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources researchers, most Wisconsin residents — even among residents in the “wolf range” — support a wolf population at least as large as the state had at that time. Wolves are key players in their native ecosystems, benefiting both flora and fauna. They cull weak, old and sick animals from populations and mitigate browsing on vegetation and bring great vitality to the entire ecosystem.