Western Governors invite Zinke to talk sage grouse. The Western State Governors coalition sent a letter to Secretary Zinke this week, calling on the Interior head to meet with them in Montana next week at the Western Governors’ Association annual conference to discuss conservation of the greater sage-grouse. The coalition includes Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R), Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R).
The letter comes in response to Zinke’s recent Secretarial Order on the grouse to work with states on conservation. The letter states, “We appreciate your acknowledgement of the western states’ considerable role in conserving greater sage-grouse and would further emphasize the importance of including state officials as substantive participants in any federal review of current land use plans.”
The coalition also asks for additional details on Interior’s efforts, including the timeline for review and how the process will be conducted. The Governors also call for information on “how the Department of Interior will implement the Team’s recommendations to ensure durability for state and federal agencies and that protections of the federal Endangered Species remain ‘not warranted.’”
Zinke talks budget in Capitol Hill hearings. This week, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke appeared before the House Committee on Natural Resources to discuss the proposed 2018 fiscal year budget, including sage grouse conservation issues and Endangered Species Act reform. Secretary Zinke highlighted at the hearing his commitment to continue working with the states to ensure that the species maintains a healthy population and remains off of the endangered species list. Zinke also commented on the recent Secretarial Order to improve sage grouse conservation. The order establishes an “internal review team” to evaluate federal and state plans in place to conserve the species “to ensure they are complementary.”
Zinke also appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to discuss the proposed budget where he discussed issues related to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) methane rule, the need for increased offshore drilling, and substantial permitting delays for energy projects.
FWS considers cuts to endangered species conservation. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is considering a proposal that prioritizes funding species with high recovery potential, diverting money away from management of threatened and endangered species that show no sign of imminent recovery.
Arizona State University ecologist Leah Gerber developed the plan to “let some plants and animals become extinct so cash-strapped agencies can use more of their funds to save others.” Using a mathematical algorithm, Gerber believes she can be instrumental in conserving an estimated 200 additional species (like the Indiana bat and the woodland caribou) that have a chance of survival. On the other hand, species like the northern spotted owl, whose numbers continue to decline despite significant investment by the agency, would receive less help from the government.
Gerber’s proposal was rejected during the Obama administration, but officials believe the proposal may have a better chance of being implemented by the Trump administration under the proposed Interior budget. While Fish and Wildlife officials have not confirmed whether they plan to move forward with the proposal, a spokesperson told Reuters “We will be exploring further if and how we may best use [Gerber’s plan] to improve the effectiveness of our recovery efforts.” Algorithms like that of Gerber’s are already in place in New Zealand and Australia. Gerber says her conservation triage is specific to the United States and takes into consideration rules already laid out by the Endangered Species Act.
In the News
US officials to lift Yellowstone grizzly bear protections. WHIO TV 7 News. Protections that have been in place for more than 40 years for grizzly bears in the Yellowstone National Park area will be lifted this summer after U.S. government officials ruled Thursday that the population is no longer threatened. Grizzlies in all continental U.S. states except Alaska have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1975, when just 136 bears roamed in and around Yellowstone. There are now an estimated 700 grizzlies in the area that includes northwestern Wyoming, southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho, leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conclude that the population has recovered. “This achievement stands as one of America’s great conservation successes,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement.
Western governors invite Zinke to discuss review. E&E News (sub req’d). Western state governors involved in the development of conservation efforts for the greater sage grouse said this week they are “ready to engage” with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on his agency’s ongoing review of federal plans. In a June 20 letter to Zinke, a coalition of five governors — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R), Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D), Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) — invited the secretary to meet with them in Whitefish, Mont., next week. “In announcing [the review], you indicated that the spirit of the order is to work hand in hand with states and ensure that their efforts in conserving the greater sage-grouse are fully recognized,” the governors wrote. “We appreciate your acknowledgement of the western states’ considerable role in conserving greater sage-grouse and would further emphasize the importance of including state officials as substantive participants in any federal review of current land use plans.”
California puts hold on hunting for dwindling sage grouse. Associated Press. California wildlife officials are banning hunting of sage grouse for a season because of dwindling populations of the spikey-feathered native bird. Sage grouse are best-known for their mating rituals. Male sage grouse fan their spiked head feathers, hoist their wings and puff out their chests to try to catch the eye of females. Conservation groups say cattle-grazing, oil-and-gas drilling and other development, and drought are erasing habitat for the sage grouse. Their numbers have fallen by half in California over the last five years, with just about 2,100 sage grouse believed to survive in the state, the Center for Biological Diversity conservation group says.
Texas General Land Office seeks to remove songbird from endangered species list. Southeast Texas Record. The state’s oldest agency has filed a lawsuit against federal agencies over the status of a songbird, claiming the bird’s presence decreases property values. The Texas General Land Office filed a lawsuit against the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Department of the Interior, Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Fish and Wildlife Service Acting Director Jim Kurth, as well as Fish and Wildlife Service Southwest Regional Director Benjamin Tuggle seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The suit was filed in the Austin Division of the Western District of Texas on June 5. The Texas General Land Office accused the defendants of improperly handling the classification and declassification of the golden-cheeked warbler.
Wyoming toads begin to recover as states seek Endangered Species Act overhaul. New Hampshire Public Radio. The Endangered Species Act is facing a growing number of calls for significant changes. Momentum in Congress and in western states is building to give states more of a say when making changes to the landmark regulation that protects about 1,600 animal and plant species, and their habitats. Animals like the Wyoming toad. Back in 1985, there were only 16 of these palm-sized amphibians left at the Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Laramie, Wyo. Note: KQED and WBAA also reported.
Sage grouse hunting unlikely in South Dakota this year. Associated Press. South Dakota’s Game, Fish and Parks Department wants to close the state’s hunting season on sage grouse after fewer male birds were seen dancing on their mating grounds this year. Biologists counted fewer than 220 males this spring, below the 250-bird hunting threshold in the state’s sage grouse management plan. The spring of 2016 showed nearly 280 males, the Capital Journal reported. Drought hit the state’s sage grouse range last summer. Chick survival was low last year, leading to fewer adults this year, according to Travis Runia, a senior upland-game biologist.