Weekly Newsletter – 5/19/17

Home/Newsletters/Weekly Newsletter – 5/19/17

Weekly Newsletter – 5/19/17

Issues

 Western senators want details on sage grouse plans. Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke this week, asking the secretary to lay out the department’s plans to ensure sage grouse conservation persists across western states.

In 2015, the Obama administration updated 98 land-use plans to incorporate sage grouse conservation. The plans established habitat management where new oil and natural gas drilling and transmission line projects are limited and resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service rejecting to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act. These Obama-era plans prioritized state and federal collaboration along with local municipalities to ensure the sage grouse’s success. Since then, Secretary Zinke has criticized the effort calling instead for state-driven management leaving some to worry whether the conservation plans will be fully implemented by the new administration. In their letter, Sens. Wyden and Bennet ask Zinke to “work with the sage-grouse task force to find solutions rather than abandon” the effort. They want to know what the Trump administration has done to continue the conservation efforts and to avoid a sage grouse listing.

Congress recently approved a $1 trillion budget for fiscal year 2017 that included an increase of Bureau of Land Management funding for sage grouse conservation management. Zinke commented, “Changes are going to come on sage grouse.”

 Western governors want more say in land-use planning. The Western Governors’ Association (WGA) wants the Trump administration to implement regulatory reforms granting state agencies more authority on federal land-use planning issues. Specifically, the WGA wants the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to more effectively take state priorities into account when considering public land use.

WGA Executive Director Jim Ogsbury sent a letter to Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Justin Clark outlining the WGA’s recommendations. The demands come in response to President Trump’s executive order, Enforcing the Regulatory Reform Agenda, which requires the federal government to seek assistance from states. In his letter, Ogsbury lays out a “menu of reforms” mapping out recommendations for how to improve state government and federal agency relationships. Ogsbury says, “Each Executive department and agency should be required to have a clear and accountable process to provide each state with early, meaningful and substantive input in the development of regulatory policies that have federalism implications.” One listed reform would require groups that petition FWS to list a species under ESA to provide a copy of the petitions to affected states so that states can provide data on the named species.

The proposed reforms largely take aim at Obama-era rules and are designed to prevent future administrations from enacting similar regulations.

 U.S.-Mexico border wall and the ESA. This week, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) released a study stating 93 endangered and threatened species would be driven toward extinction with the construction of a border wall. The study also concluded that 2 million acres of designated critical habitat, home to about 25 endangered species, would be destroyed.

The study, A Wall in the Wild, states, “Trump’s border wall will be a deathblow to already endangered animals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.” Impacted species include the jaguar, ocelot and Mexican gray wolves. In January 2017 President Trump signed an executive order to begin construction of a border wall as an attempt to improve border security. In April 2017, CBD along with Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) sued the Trump administration over the border wall and its potential environmental impact. While the lawsuit successfully delayed some of the planning, officials say construction of the wall should begin this summer.

In the News:

Report: Nearly half of California salmon species on track for extinction. SF Gate. Nearly half of the salmon and trout species that live in California will be extinct in 50 years if nothing is done to improve water quality, protect wetlands and stream habitat, and fight climate change, scientists warned Tuesday in a wide-ranging study of native fish. The loss of so many species would be catastrophic for the ecosystem and have a profound effect on the state’s culture and economy, impacting everything from recreational fishing to people’s eating habits, according to the 106-page report by the nonprofit conservation group California Trout and the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. The report concluded that 52 percent of the salmon species and 30 percent of the inland salmonid species (mainly trout) in the state will be gone by 2067 if serious measures aren’t taken to help the fish, which spawn in rivers, streams and lakes and in many cases make long, perilous journeys from the ocean up increasingly degraded waterways. “This report should rightly be considered an alarm bell, but it should also be seen as a road map for how we can correct course to better support native aquatic species,” said lead author Peter Moyle, the associate director of the Center for Watershed Sciences.

Obama team divulged harassment cases, policy prospects. E&E News (sub req’d). Shortly before last year’s election, the Obama administration put together an Interior Department briefing book for its successors that detailed a flood of sexual harassment issues, cast doubt on the prospects for Endangered Species Act reform and made the case for imperiled energy regulations. Another notable briefing paper in the book offered a candid assessment of congressional efforts to reform the Endangered Species Act. “The prospects are poor for successful legislative action,” wrote Gary Frazer, the assistant director for endangered species at the Fish and Wildlife Service. That was why the Obama administration focused on administrative reforms of the law, he said in the Sept. 16, 2016, paper. Frazier also warned the incoming administration that Fish and Wildlife’s endangered species program was likely to face a barrage of lawsuits and budget cuts in the coming years.

Thurston Commissioners Approve Big Changes to Gopher Review Process. Nisqually Valley News. Last week, Thurston County Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the 2017 gopher review process for permit applicants. This year’s process is different from previous years in several significant ways. In order to meet Federal Requirements associated with the Endangered Species Act, this process is the result of a collaborative effort between the Commissioners and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), with the objective of benefiting Thurston County residents by streamlining the review process. Other changes include prioritizing project-related permit applications over non-project reviews when scheduling site visits. In 2015, the county began offering low-cost gopher-only reviews of full properties to curious land owners, even if they did not apply for a building permit. The county will no longer offer that option, but county officials say anyone with a non-project application already in the queue can convert to a project application by Friday, June 30, 2017. County officials also noted that landowners who want to know if they have gophers on their property can hire private biologists for a review. However, reviews by private consultants do not meet USFWS requirements.

The threatened western snowy plover returned to LA. States Chronicle. Many animal species are threatened due to climate change and human activity. However, some of the endangered populations have started recovering.  The western snowy plover was spotted nesting on the shores of LA for the first time over the past 70 years. Researchers discovered nests of the western snowy plover across Malibu Lagoon State Beach and Santa Monica Beach. They embraced this unexpected event with enthusiasm, but also with care. The endangered status of the bird asks for maximum protection, so researchers are now trying to help them build more nests and keep them safe. Researchers asked beachgoers to give the birds enough space to build their nests and not disturb them. If they are scared off, the western snowy plovers might not find another safe place for nesting. They usually choose dry salt ponds and coastal beaches to build nests. These birds prefer wide areas on the beach, where they can see any approaching predators.

Study Blames Roundup for Monarch Butterfly Deaths. Courthouse News Service. A group of Michigan State University researchers say there is a nexus between large-scale deaths of Monarch butterflies and the application of the widely applied herbicide glyphosate. Their study looked at the application of glyphosate in counties in Illinois and Texas during different seasons in an effort to better understand its potential effect on the population of Monarch butterflies – which has been in sharp decline in recent years. “We provide the first empirical evidence of a negative association between county-level glyphosate application and local abundance of adult monarchs, particularly in areas of concentrated agriculture,” wrote Sarah Sanders, an MSU biologist and lead author of the study. Glyphosate is a weed killer originally created by agrichemical giant Monsanto, which sells the chemical under the brand name Roundup. In 2016, an annual count of Monarch butterflies showed the population to stand at 22 million, representing a 68 percent decline in 22 years, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

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