IPAA holds meetings with Interior, Fish and Wildlife leadership. This week, IPAA President and CEO Barry Russell, Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs Dan Naatz, Government Relations and Political Affairs Director Ryan Ullman, and Government Relations Director Samantha McDonald met with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in his office in Washington, D.C. In the meeting, IPAA specifically raised several key issues of independent producers, including utilizing categorical exclusions, Memorandums of Understanding or Agreement, Bureau of Land Management (BLM) permit streamlining project offices, offshore production issues, and endangered and threatened species.
IPAA’s team also met with the new Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Greg Sheehan today to provide additional background on the association’s work on ESA issues and specific species of concern. Additional topics included mitigation and migratory bird incidental take.
IPAA will be continuing this engagement with leadership in Washington in months ahead. If would like additional information on this week’s meetings please reach out to SMcDonald@ipaa.org.
Western governors release new recommendations for ESA. The Western Governors Association (WGA) on Wednesday unveiled its Species Conservation and Endangered Species Act Initiative report for 2017. The report details tools WGA used to garner input and shares stakeholder recommendations that emerged from a series of work sessions and surveys.
The WGA launched in 2015 under the leadership of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead as a means to closely examine ESA efforts and encourage voluntary conservation in order to avoid listing species unnecessarily. The report is a culmination of bipartisan recommendations that are statutory, regulatory and funding-related. Recommendations include: requiring the Secretary to make determinations on critical habitat designations; allocating funds in the Congressional budget to enable the Fish and Wildlife Service to delist and down-list species in a timely manner; and clarifying state jurisdiction alongside Fish and Wildlife to implement the ESA with specific emphasis on the management of threatened species and the issuance of take permits.
The report was released on the final day of the 2017 Western Governor’s Annual Meeting. The three-day meeting convened top officials from ten states and included a keynote address from Interior Secretary Zinke. Gov. Mead says he is optimistic about the future of the ESA, particularly the handling of the sage grouse, noting “Stakeholders in a number of different ways have come to a place — not led from the federal government but led from the states —which got us to a ‘no’ listing with sage grouse. The significance of that can’t be overstated.” As the Associated Pressreports, the Governors support the aims of the ESA, “but asked Congress to make changes, including giving states a bigger role and clarifying recovery goals for species protected by the law.”
BLM considers permitting oil and gas development on sage grouse habitat. In response to President Trump’s executive order calling to prioritize energy projects on public lands, the Bureau of Land and Management (BLM) is leasing a large amount of land in Wyoming’s high desert district for development. The decision has received significant pushback from conservation groups over concerns of potential impacts to the sage grouse population in the region.
One of the key arguments groups are using in their fight against the BLM is that existing regulations say the government must prioritize oil and natural gas development outside of key habitats, which the conservationists say the bureau isn’t doing. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, on the other hand, called the plan “reasoned” and commended it for utilizing the state’s public lands for multiple purposes. As Gov. Mead describes, “the plan strikes a balance between energy production, livestock grazing, recreation and conservation. It incorporates Wyoming’s plan for protecting greater sage grouse.”
BLM said it will provide an official response to the groups’ complaints during the public comment period and that a final decision will be released closer to the lease sale date in December.
In the News
3 BLM state directors removed in reorganization — sources. E&E News (sub req’d). The Bureau of Land Management is reassigning the directors of the Alaska, Colorado and New Mexico state offices to positions at other federal agencies as part of an Interior Department reorganization that sources say is only beginning. Alaska Director Bud Cribley, Colorado Director Ruth Welch and New Mexico Director Amy Lueders are among as many as 50 BLM and other Interior career officials notified this month that they are being transferred to different agencies or other positions within BLM, multiple sources with knowledge of the moves told E&E News. The Senior Executive Service officials were told of the transfers earlier this month and given 15 days, or until Wednesday, to either accept the transfers, retire or resign. Additional transfer notices will be coming as soon as this week, sources said. BLM and Interior Department officials have declined to provide many details about the ongoing reorganization effort, or the transfers of SES employees to other federal agencies.
Federal agencies greenlight proposed delta tunnel project. Los Angeles Times. Federal fishery agencies Monday pushed forward a controversial water project that would change the way Northern California supplies are sent to the Southland. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service concluded that the construction of new diversion points on the Sacramento River and two massive water tunnels would not jeopardize the existence of endangered species in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which is the hub of California’s waterworks. The release of the documents marks a major — but by no means final — step in the long, twisting path of the proposal, which has been in the planning stages for more than a decade. Called biological opinions, the reviews analyze the project’s likely effects on endangered and threatened species, including the vanishing delta smelt, winter-run Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead. Note: Associated Press, CNBC, Seattle Times, San Francisco Gate, and Sacramento Bee also report.
Ad to Zinke: ‘Stand with the West, not Washington’. E&E News (Sub req’d). The Western Values Project today launched a six-figure ad campaign urging Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to refrain from altering federal sage grouse conservation plans. The Montana-based government watchdog group’s new campaign will also call on Western state governors to “hold Secretary Zinke and Washington bureaucrats accountable” for attempting to roll back any of the conservation efforts finalized in 2015. Advertisements will air on television and digital markets, as well as in print, in Colorado, Montana, Nevada and Wyoming. The spots are timed to coincide with the Western Governors’ Association’s annual meeting next week, which will be held in Montana and features Zinke as a keynote speaker. “Secretary Zinke’s Secretarial Order undermines years of bipartisan collaboration to conserve the greater sage-grouse,” Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger said in a statement. “It appears Secretary Zinke wants to scrap all the work done by Western communities, coalitions, sportsmen and women, wildlife managers, private landowners, and industry groups.”
Trump admin to analyze USDA office’s impacts on ocelots. E&E News (sub req’d). The Trump administration has settled a lawsuit brought by environmentalists alleging that the Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services bureau inadvertently harms ocelots. USDA and the Fish and Wildlife Service have agreed to assess whether the bureau’s activities unintentionally harm the endangered species in Arizona and Texas. The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona approved the agreement today, resolving an October lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Animal Welfare Institute. Wildlife Services works with farmers, ranchers and other landowners to remove animals that are considered nuisances or threats. The environmental groups’ lawsuit alleged that the bureau was out of compliance with mandatory measures to reduce the risk to the nocturnal cat.
Tiny insects face extinction threats. E&E News (sub req’d). Endangered polar bears, rhinos, tigers and other large animals have garnered much of the nation’s conservation attention, overshadowing the growing number of bugs on the government’s roster of species going extinct. The Endangered Species Act list includes 84 insects. Besides bees and monarch butterflies, some recent additions are beetles like the northeastern beach tiger beetle, a relative of the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle. Motorized off-road vehicles, urban development and pesticides are just some of the challenges these insects face. “All species are important,” said Leslie Ellwood, the Fish and Wildlife Service biologist charged with assessing the Great Sand Dunes tiger beetle’s status. Note: Animal Welfare Institute has issued a press release.
Researchers race to slow a disease that could wipeout some bat species. Minnesota Public Radio News. The fungal disease called white-nose syndrome has killed millions of bats since it was first discovered in North America 10 years ago, but University of Minnesota scientist Christine Salomon hopes to find a treatment deep in the cold damp shafts of the Soudan Mine. “We’re just looking at the basic biology of the pathogen, trying to understand how it grows and expands over time,” explains Salomon. The disease reached Minnesota two years ago and has killed thousands of bats the past two winters at the underground mine not far from Ely. Mining stopped in the 1960s, but the mine was turned into a state park that attracts tourists in the summer and houses thousands of hibernating bats in the winter. Salomon’s experiments take place 900 feet below the surface. To reach them, she takes an elevator, wearing a white decontamination suit, a hard hat and a headlamp.