Weekly Newsletter – 5/6/16

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Weekly Newsletter – 5/6/16

Issues

Federal government pledges to restore 500K acres of lesser prairie chicken habitat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) vowed last week to restore an additional 500,000 acres of lesser prairie chicken habitat across five states via a voluntary landowner incentive program. Because over 95 percent of prairie chicken habitat is privately owned, the USDA believes cooperation with landowners and ranchers is essential to recovering the species. Last week’s announcement is just the most recent action under the Lesser Prairie-Chicken Incentive, a program that began in 2010 and has so far restored over one million acres of lesser prairie chicken habitat.

Though the bird was listed as ‘threatened’ in 2014, many raised objections over proposed federal management plans out of concern that they would negatively impact development activities. A federal judge in Texas removed the bird’s ‘threatened’ status last year following a lawsuit filed by the Permian Basin Petroleum Association against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. This action led the USDA to propose the voluntary three-year conservation strategy under the farm bill that allows landowners and ranchers to receive fiscal incentives for adopting conservation practices on their properties that support the lesser prairie chicken.

Obama administration proposes changes to voluntary agreements. The Obama Administration proposed changes earlier this week to the voluntary agreements the federal government makes with landowners to help protect imperiled species and prevent their listing under the Endangered Species Act. The draft policy and rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service would alter the criteria used to approve candidate conservation agreements with assurances (CCAAs). The CCAAs allow landowners and developers to conserve or restore habitat for species undergoing a population decline in exchange for assurances that they won’t be impacted by additional regulations if the species is eventually listed. The agencies also finalized a policy in February that clarified that lands enrolled in CCAAs and other conservation programs will be excluded from designation as critical habitat for listed species.

Currently, agencies need to conclude that the benefits of conservation offered by the landowner, when combined with actions from “other necessary properties,” would “preclude or remove any need to list the covered species.” Fish and Wildlife Services faults the current language for relying on other landowners to undertake additional actions that are beyond an individual landowner’s control. The new language would eliminate references to “other necessary properties” and merely require a CCAA to provide a “net conservation benefit” to the specified species. The agencies hope the new language will encourage more landowners to enter into CCAAs.

FWS proposes 30-year permits to kill bald and golden eagles. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced this week that it was reviving a proposal to allow energy companies to receive 30-year permits to disturb and kill bald and golden eagles, in hopes of encouraging more companies to commit to eagle conservation measures. The Service has only allowed five-year eagle “take” permits since 2009, though the agency first proposed 30-year permits in 2013 – a move that was struck down last August by a federal judge who required FWS to prepare a National Environmental Policy Act review evaluating the new rule’s impact. The FWS released a draft programmatic environmental impact statement this week alongside the draft rule to fulfill the judge’s requirement.

Though companies are not required to obtain eagle take permits, without them they are more vulnerable to prosecution under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Under the proposed rule, companies would be required to fund conservation measures that would protect more than one eagle for every eagle expected to be killed or harmed. The wind industry welcomed the expanded permits, but was hesitant to embrace the proposal, which would require potentially costly reviews every 5 years to ensure the predicted take levels are not being exceeded.

Conservation groups welcomed the increased government oversight, but resisted endorsing a program that allows eagles to be killed. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe responded to concerns over the new rule in an op-ed. “Under no circumstances will we jeopardize the success of bald eagle recovery or create impediments to healthy, thriving golden eagle populations,” he wrote. “That’s our commitment to you, and our obligation under the law.”

In the News

US agency’s Nevada boss urges roundup of 4,000 mustangs. Associated Press. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Nevada director wants to free up more federal rangeland for livestock grazing this summer by rounding up 4,000 wild horses in Elko County— more than were gathered across 10 Western states combined last year. BLM Nevada Director John Ruhs, Gov. Brian Sandoval and state wildlife officials say removing the mustangs from four herd-management areas in Elko County near the Utah line would also benefit the greater sage grouse. Conservationists say the call for more roundups is a misguided attempt to placate ranchers at the expense of horses and grouse. Cattle do far more damage than mustangs to the drought-stricken range and the imperiled bird, they say.

Town supports mine in butterfly reserve. Mexico Daily News. Plans to reopen a copper mine located within the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve are moving forward, according to the mayor of Angangueo, who says the Michoacán state government is directly involved. Leonel Martínez Maya also denies that the reactivation of mining activities in the municipality would have a detrimental effect on the monarch butterflies or their habitat. The mine, owned by Grupo México, the largest mining conglomerate in the country, has been performing exploration and maintenance activities, he said.

Rosemont Mine won’t affect endangered species. Arizona Daily Star. The proposed Rosemont Mine will not jeopardize the existence or illegally destroy habitat for 12 imperiled species living in and around the mine site, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday. The agency, however, said it will cause significant adverse effects on many of them. The new, long-awaited report, said that many of the mine’s negative impacts on species will be ameliorated by a host of mitigation measures, some new, some previously disclosed. The new ones include financing of a biologist/project manager for monitoring of impacts on wildlife, a $3 million program to manage and remove invasive species and a $1.25 million program to upgrade habitat for the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher and the Western yellow-billed cuckoo. Note: Associated Press also reports.

Biological reviews don’t stop projects, study says. Arizona Daily Star. It’s no surprise that the new Rosemont Mine Final Biological Opinion concluded the mine won’t illegally jeopardize imperiled species or destroy their habitat — or that it’s not proposing to stop the project. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t stop a single project nationally over a seven-year period ending last year due to an endangered-species review, a recent study found. In that time, out of 6,829 formal reviews, the service only twice found that a project would jeopardize species’ existence and once concluded a project would illegally destroy critical habitat, said the study, written by two Defenders of Wildlife scientists.

Property owners ask Supreme Court to review sturgeon ruling. E&E News (sub req’d). West Coast property owners challenging habitat protections for the threatened green sturgeon are asking the Supreme Court to hear their complaints. A three-judge panel on the 9th Circuit last July unanimously sided with the government in the case, upholding the National Marine Fisheries Service’s designation of critical habitat for the threatened fish on the West Coast. The bottom-dwelling species lives in coastal estuaries and marine waters from Mexico to Alaska. The sturgeon’s southern population segment is only known to spawn in the Sacramento River, and its population has been hurt by construction of dams, pesticides, bycatch, poaching and the introduction of exotic species.

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