Weekly Newsletter – 4/29/16

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Weekly Newsletter – 4/29/16

Issues

U.S. decides against setting aside protected habitat for northern long-eared bat. Federal wildlife officials announced Monday that they would not set aside protected habitat for the caves inhabited by northern long-eared bats, explaining that doing so may draw the attention of delinquents seeking to harm the bats or their habitats. The northern long-eared bat population has been devastated in recent years by white-nose syndrome, widely-present in the Eastern U.S. and recently discovered on the West Coast.

The northern long-eared bat was listed as a threatened species last year, a designation that limited the seasons during which developers can remove trees within the bats’ habitat. “While critical habitat has a fundamental role to play in recovering many of our nation’s most imperiled species, in the case of the northern long-eared bat, whose habitat is not a limiting factor in its survival, designating it could do more harm than good,” said Tom Melius, a regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

New research suggests lack of milkweed ‘unlikely’ to be driving species’ decline. A Cornell University study has cast doubt on the widely accepted claim that the recent decline in monarch butterfly populations is a result of disappearing milkweed. The study suggests that “sparse autumnal nectar sources, weather and habitat fragmentation” are largely responsible for the species’ plight. Milkweed is the sole source of food for the butterfly’s caterpillars in summer but not as the monarchs depart for their migration to Mexico in autumn. “The problem appears to occur after they take flight in the fall,” said Anurag Agrawal, a Cornell University professor and the senior author of the paper.

Agrawal said improved weather and the end of a severe drought in Texas were likely responsible for the recent monarch population rebound. “Given the intense interest in monarch conservation, the blame being put on herbicide use and the national dialogue about potentially listing monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, we have to get the science right,” Agrawal said. Mexico recently announced it was creating a new police force dedicated to protecting the country’s protected habitats, including the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary where tens of millions of monarchs spend the winter.

In the News

Feds vow to restore 500K acres to lesser prairie chicken. Santa Fe New Mexican. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pledged Thursday to restore 500,000 acres across five states, including the eastern plains of New Mexico, as habitat for the lesser prairie chicken through a voluntary landowner incentive program. Objections have been raised about a proposed federal management plan for the bird, and industries say protections would infringe on their activities, particularly in oil and gas production. In 2015, a federal judge in Texas removed the bird from the endangered species list, stripping its protections, after the Permian Basin Petroleum Association sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Instead, the USDA has proposed a voluntary, three-year conservation strategy that courts landowners and stakeholders in recovery efforts. Under the farm bill, landowners and ranchers are able to receive monetary incentives for implementing conservation practices on their property that encourage the prairie chickens to thrive. Note: Wichita Eagle also reports.

Miners sue over sage grouse land lockup. Capital Press. The American Exploration & Mining Association, in Spokane, has filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., challenging federal restrictions on mineral exploration and development in Western states. Allegedly to protect sage grouse, federal agencies have restricted mineral exploration and development on more than 10 million acres of federal land in California, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. The association, formerly the Northwest Mining Association, represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation, Denver, filed suit April 19 alleging federal agencies lack authority to withdraw the land from operation of the General Mining Law of 1872 and failed to provide for adequate public participation in the process by which federal land use planning documents are amended and revised.

U.S. claims success in efforts to save endangered species. The Guardian. The world may be hurtling to the worst extinction crisis since the dinosaurs were wiped out, but the US is claiming success in its own efforts to prevent species following the path of titanosaurs, dodos and passenger pigeons. A total of 34 species have been removed from federal Endangered Species Act protections since 1978 due to them recovering, rather than becoming extinct. This pace has accelerated under Barack Obama’s presidency – 16 of the 34 recovered species have been delisted during the current administration.

Monarch butterflies face ‘quasi-extinction’ – but hope is on the wing. NBC News. The iconic North American monarch butterfly is in “substantial” danger of becoming “quasi-extinct” — despite recent population growth, according to a new study. The beautifully delicate creature may no longer fill North American skies in the next 20 years, according to the study published at the end of March in the journal Scientific Reports. Dan Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told the Associated Press in February that the United States had managed to restore about 250,000 acres of milkweed in the first year, and raised about $20 million for the program.

Wildfire rehab effort going well so far in Idaho, Oregon. Associated Press. Scientists say a $67 million rehabilitation effort following a wildfire in southwest Idaho and southeast Oregon is starting off well thanks to good precipitation over the winter. The new wildfire approach ordered by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last year is credited with preventing many small rangeland wildfires from getting big. But the Soda Fire scorched 436 square miles of sagebrush steppe that supports cattle grazing and some 350 species of wildlife, including sage grouse. Jewell’s order calls for a “science-based” approach to safeguard greater sage grouse while contending with fires that have been especially destructive in the Great Basin. The bird did not receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act last fall.

Dems seek to block Atlantic surveys over ‘negative impacts’. E&E News (sub req’d). More than a dozen Democratic senators are asking President Obama to prevent seismic surveys along the Atlantic Coast, citing “serious negative impacts” to marine mammals and fishing. The letter to Obama comes after the administration announced it would not open Atlantic waters to oil and gas drilling, eliminating lease sales from the Interior Department’s 2017-22 plan. Seismic tests, which use air guns to create images of the geology beneath the seafloor, could still go forward. With drilling now off the table in the Atlantic Ocean, activists have focused their efforts on stopping the seismic tests, pointing to the population of endangered right whales along the coast. The senators’ letter references 95 localities that have passed resolutions opposing seismic tests.

Annual seminar brings environmental regulators, energy industry together. Midland Reporter-Telegram. With the oil and gas companies currently facing new or expanded regulations covering everything from air emissions to water emissions to endangered species, a better understanding of the regulations is becoming more important. Such understanding is the goal of the annual Permian Basin Environmental Regulatory Seminar. “The PBPA is giving an inside look at how we successfully challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s listing of the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act. If the listing of the lesser prairie chicken had been upheld, the results would have been devastating for our industry in at least five states, and especially here in the Permian Basin, with potential costs in the billions of dollars,” Robertson said.

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