Nevada Attorney General, counties allege sage grouse protections were politically driven. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt has joined with nine Nevada counties, ranchers, and miners in their third lawsuit against the Obama Administration over the federal government’s sage grouse conservation plans. This time the group is armed with internal documents alleging three top Interior Department officials illegally sought the opinions of conservationists outside the prescribed planning process.
The group also accused the Bureau of Land Management of rushing the listing decision and ignoring its own staff’s advice to conduct further scientific research and “reverse engineered studies with pre-determined conclusions designed to defend the land management restrictions.” Lauren Granier, an attorney for the Nevada group, said there was a “political agenda rather than a scientific basis for requiring withdrawals and absolute prohibitions on development and use.” The judge has given the federal government until April 25 to respond.
The three Interior officials allegedly illegally met with environmental leaders after the conclusion of the public comment period to get insight on what would be required of Interior for the conservation groups to approve of the land use plans. Incidentally, environmentalists have argued that the sage grouse conservation plans do not go far enough to protect the bird, and have filed their own lawsuits in response.
Environmental group petitions FWS to protect Wyoming pocket gopher under ESA. WildEarth Guardians petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week to protect the Wyoming pocket gopher under the Endangered Species Act. The small rodent is the only mammal that exists exclusively in Wyoming and only 79 sightings have ever been confirmed, though scientists have had difficulty determining the actual population of the pocket gophers because they spend most of their time underground and look similar to related species.
In 2010 the Fish and Wildlife Service determined a listing was not warranted, but WildEarth says new energy development in the Red Desert has “surrounded almost all of the animal’s range.” However, in its 2010 decision not to list the pocket gopher, the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote: “potential disturbances due to energy development do not always adversely affect pocket gopher species. Rather, in some cases disturbances have benefitted some pocket gopher species.” IPAA will continue to monitor this issue moving forward.
Researchers installing heated boxes to protect bats from white-nose syndrome. Scientists are scrambling to find a way to protect bats across the country from the deadly white-nose syndrome (WNS), which has already claimed over six million bats in North America since 2006. Kaleigh Norquay, a biologist at the University of Winnipeg, has begun a research project to determine if heated bat boxes can help the winged mammals kick the disease and survive the winter. Norquay’s project comes on the heels of news of WNS’s first appearance on the West Coast last month.
According to Norquay, WNS flourishes in the cold, which causes hibernating bats to wake up and warm themselves every few days to fight the disease, depleting their fat stores before they eventually starve or freeze to death. She is installing 20 heated boxes across Ontario and hopes the boxes will keep the WNS at bay while allowing the bats to recover.
Meanwhile, other researchers are working to determine why some bat populations in affected areas appear to have stabilized. Reports indicate some populations of little brown bats have stabilized in upstate New York and Vermont, near the area where white-nose syndrome was first discovered in America a decade ago. Some hypothesize the fungus is unable to spread as easily in the thinned cave populations following the massive die-off, while others point to evidence that bats can adapt to the disease.
In the News
Plans to save bistate sage grouse in Nevada gain momentum. Las Vegas Review-Journal. Before the Sage Grouse Initiative began in 2010, easements to protect the bird were rare. But in recent years, 7,300 acres of key habitat has been preserved in perpetual conservation easements with more in progress, federal officials announced last year. This is in addition to the 4,000-acre bistate easement completed in 2013 with the Nature Conservancy. Habitat has also been restored. Nearly 4,000 acres of sagebrush-steppe have been improved by selective removal of encroaching pinyon and juniper trees, which provide a perch for birds that hunt the grouse. Another 1,620 acres were expected to be completed by the end of last year, bringing a total investment to $1.1 million.
New 4,000-well drilling project proposed for Uinta Basin. Salt Lake Tribune. Despite the current downturn in oil and gas development, the Bureau of Land Management this week announced a massive drilling proposal spanning the heart of the Uinta Basin, covering three unincorporated towns, several rivers and two reservoirs and requiring hundreds of miles of new roads and pipelines. While none of the project area is roadless or proposed for wilderness, it virtually envelops the Ouray National Wildlife Refuge, a vital sanctuary for migratory birds on the Green River. And some of the land overlaps sage grouse habitat that is subject to special drilling restrictions, under the federal land-use plans adopted last September to keep the bird off the endangered species list.
Endangered Species Act candidates: Are they getting prioritized? HNGN. After years of the process that moves plants and wildlife onto the Endangered Species Act list devolving into a fight between those acting on behalf of the candidates and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service administrators that try and protect them, a 2011 settlement was reached in order to alter the way that the country protects its threatened and endangered species. For years, candidate species have lingered on the government’s list, with many groups taking action in the form of suing in order to get their attention. Although these groups act with the intention of representing the best interests of these species, the resulting lawsuits means that the service spends more time in court than focusing on the most important thing: biology.
AG defends Article 97 in Berkshire County pipeline case. The Recorder. The pipeline project would impact more than 20 acres of the conservation land, including permanent impacts to six acres of new pipeline right-of-way, the AG’s filing says, with more than 1 million gallons of water to be withdrawn from Lower Spectacle Pond for pressure-testing the pipeline — to be discharged to an adjacent vegetated upland to flow back into Spectacle Pond, but permanently lowering the Pond’s depth. The project would also impact wildlife and rare plant and endangered animal species including wood turtles and umber shadowdragon dragonflies, the northern long-eared bat, it says.
Elizabeth Warren asks feds to reject Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion request. Boston.com. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is asking the federal government to oppose a request that would allow construction to begin on a Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline. “A number of federally protected migratory birds and the northern long-eared bat – listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act – rely on trees in the region for habitat during warmer months,” she wrote, adding that allowing tree-clearing during this year’s warm spring would ” likely disturb protected species that have already roosted in the area.”
Sports coalition opposes bill to block federal protection plans. E&E News (sub req’d). A coalition of sporting groups is asking Congress to reject legislation that would block implementation of sweeping federal greater sage grouse conservation plans, saying such a move would “represent an unprecedented shift in the management authority of federal public lands.” The focus of the coalition’s two-page letter, sent today to House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member, is Bishop’s H.R. 4739. The “Greater Sage Grouse Protection and Recovery Act of 2016,” introduced in March, seeks to cripple the federal grouse plans, which took years to develop and are generally acknowledged as among the most ambitious and complex conservation initiatives ever undertaken by the Interior and Agriculture departments.
Wolverine protection changes meaning of endangered species act. HNGN. Decades of debate over whether or not to list snow-loving wolverines on the Endangered Species Act (ESA) have finally come to an end. A federal judge recently overruled the government’s refusal to list the animals and ordered wildlife officials to take immediate action. Dependent on a heavy spring snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, wolverines are greatly threatened by a warming planet. The problem is that the ruling isn’t based on science or reason, but rather grim climate change predictions. This decision, therefore, alters the way that the ESA has been interpreted since it became law in 1973.
Scientists: Seismic surveys could threaten endangered whales. Duke University. Allowing underwater seismic surveys for oil and gas to be conducted off the U.S. Mid-Atlantic and Southeast coasts could pose a substantial threat to one of the world’s most critically endangered whale species, a group of leading marine scientists say. In an open letter sent today to President Obama, the 27 scientists — including three from Duke University — cite evidence indicating that the North Atlantic right whale, whose population was most recently estimated at less than 500 animals, may now be declining in numbers. Exposing the whales to high-decibel industrial underwater airgun surveys in coastal waters between Delaware and Florida could represent a “tipping point” for the dwindling species, the scientists write, and “substantially increase the risk that the population will slip further into decline and jeopardize its survival.”