Weekly Newsletter May 25, 2017
Lesser prairie chicken finding expected soon. The lesser prairie chicken is up for debate again, with a 12-month finding from the Fish and Wildlife Service expected this fall on whether or not a listing of the bird is warranted. In July 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the lesser prairie chicken from the threatened list following a September 2015 court decision vacating the listing decision. Just a few weeks later, WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a petition calling on the Service “to issue an emergency rule listing the bird as an endangered species.
In November 2016, the Service published a notice in the Federal Register in response to the petition finding it “presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that listing the lesser prairie-chicken may be warranted,” and initiating a 12-month review process expected to conclude in September 2017. The Service is also conducting a Species Status Assessment of the lesser prairie chicken “to ensure future actions related to the species are based on the best available science.” The assessment is expected by the end of summer.
In January 2017, IPAA submitted joint comments with API, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, and the Western Energy Alliance stating that the best scientific and commercial information available demonstrates that the chicken does not meet the ESA’s definitions of either a threatened or endangered species. As outlined in the comments, lesser prairie-chicken abundance has rebounded from historic lows, and through a combination of public and private efforts, the species is now better protected than at any previous time. A listing as threatened or endangered will not provide any additional conservation benefits above what already exists.
Sage grouse funding slashed. President Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget would block federal agencies from spending on new rules for both the Greater sage-grouse and Columbia Basin sage grouse.
The Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) proposed budget cuts sage grouse conservation funding by $11.5 million, an overall 17 percent reduction. According to E&E News, BLM will “delay implementation of a ‘Sagebrush Conservation Implementation Strategy’ focused on restoring grouse habitat and will conduct ‘more limited habitat restoration work.’” The budget also decreases funding for the Department of the Interior, specifically cutting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s budget by 8.6 percent. In March, Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke suggested the department may implement a new sage grouse management plan.
Sage brush restoration underway. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is restoring sagebrush on public lands in eastern Montana in effort to conserve the sage grouse populations. BLM and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks has partnered with the Montana Department of Corrections to grow sagebrush at the state prison. BLM official Wendy Belman says, “What we are trying to do is take those pasteurized areas and convert them back to some semblance of native species and if we put them back not only do they help the sage grouse, there is another 350 other bird species, numerous mammals, numerous other plants that rely on those habitats.” The state is currently growing 25,000 sagebrush plants.
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, Montana’s sage grouse population stands at an estimated 1,000 individuals and makes up about 18 percent of the total species population in the nation. The majority of the state’s sage grouse live on non-federal land, so management efforts, like that of the Montana Department of Corrections, often accommodate both federal needs and private capabilities.
In the News
Effort Continues to Restore Lesser Prairie Chicken Population. Kiowa County Press. Why did the lesser prairie chicken cross the state line? Well, if Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists are successful, the answer will be to rebuild populations of the rare and vulnerable bird that has mostly disappeared from the sagebrush and grasslands of the southeast corner of the state. Wildlife biologists Jonathan Reitz and Liza Rossi recently concluded a busy month-long effort to catch and relocate lesser prairie chickens from stronghold populations in Kansas. It’s part of a joint four-year operation between CPW, the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism and the U.S. Forest Service to rebuild prairie chicken populations in a 330,000-acre swath of southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas. The target recovery area includes privately owned rangeland, Conservation Reserve Program grassland, the Cimarron National Grassland in Kansas and the Comanche National Grassland in Baca County, Colo. Both the Cimarron and Comanche grasslands are owned and managed by the forest service.
Moffat County sues Interior department over sage grouse plan. Craig Daily Press. Five years after sitting down at the table with the Bureau of Land Management to draw up a new sage grouse management plan, four Northwest Colorado counties are suing the U.S. Department of the Interior for what they believe was a faulty process with a predetermined outcome. The BLM’s sage grouse plan, completed in 2015, is skewed heavily towards conservation, local officials say, while not allowing for balanced resource development or land use. In other words, protections for sage grouse are threatening to cripple local economies, they claim. “The seriousness of this is unbelievable,” said Moffat County Commissioner Frank Moe in a May 9 meeting. “With all this work, all the diligence that’s been done, we’re fighting for our economic future.” And as if to add irony to injury, while commissioners bite their fingernails about the county’s prospects, the birds are thriving, in part thanks to decades of work by ranchers and government agencies to preserve and improve their habitat. “Last spring, our grouse counts were the highest they’ve ever been in 50 or 60 years of monitoring,” said Colorado Parks & Wildlife biologist Brian Holmes.
Federal court overturns ban on Mexican Wolf release in New Mexico. Grand Canyon News. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is assessing potential impacts to Arizona’s endangered and threatened wildlife recovery program, following a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that lifts a preliminary injunction on releasing Mexican wolves in New Mexico. The court decision issued April 25 held that the state of New Mexico had not met the legal standard for a preliminary injunction because it did not demonstrate that releasing Mexican wolves without state permits will cause irreparable injury to the state. The ruling reverses a U.S. District Court decision last summer that prohibited the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from importing or releasing any Mexican wolves in New Mexico without first obtaining permits from the New Mexico Game and Fish Department (NMGFD). Claiming it did not need state approval for the release of wolves under the Endangered Species Act, the USFWS released two wolf cubs in 2016, spurring the lawsuit. New Mexico ended its participation in the federal wolf recovery program in 2011. In June 2016, a district court judge in Albuquerque issued a preliminary injunction against the release of more wolves in the state.
Rare foxes spotted in Oregon may help California population. Associated Press. Biologists are hoping a rare subspecies of foxes spotted in Oregon can help boost their number in California. Biologists captured and radio-collared two of the Sierra Nevada red foxes found in Oregon, The Bulletin reported. There are believed to be fewer than 50 of the foxes in Northern California. Tim Hiller, a wildlife biologist and founder of the Wildlife Ecology Institute, began studying the Sierra Nevada red fox in 2012. He said he plans to capture and radio-collar eight more foxes within a year to continue the study. “We don’t know their population status,” Hiller said. “Nobody has a clue.” DNA samples are being sent to a laboratory at the University of California, Davis. Hiller said the lab work could confirm if the Oregon foxes are able to breed with the California foxes. “This is really far down the road, but we could see if the Oregon foxes are similar enough to the California foxes that we might be able to augment those populations,” he said. Sierra Nevada red foxes in California are on a waiting list for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Oregon foxes aren’t close to being on the listing but are an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species.