Interior Department orders review of sage grouse plans. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Wednesday signed a secretarial order announcing a review of federal sage grouse conservation plans. The purpose of the review is to strengthen sage grouse conservation while improving collaboration between state and federal governments. “As we move forward with implementation of our strategy for sage-grouse conservation, we want to make sure that we do so first and foremost in consultation with state and local governments, and in a manner that allows both wildlife and local economies to thrive. There are a lot of innovative ideas out there. I don’t want to take anything off the table when we talk about a plan,” said Secretary Zinke.
Secretary Zinke has assembled a team with representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to study the plans that are currently in place, giving the group of experts 60 days to develop recommendations. The Secretary said this review will not change existing work, but the goal is to ensure state and federal priorities more closely align. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) commented saying the review “should have been done a long time ago.” Bishop also warned of imminent lawsuits in retaliation to the Department’s review efforts and noted that sage grouse conservation needs to be handled legislatively.
Zinke appoints acting FWS director; Subcommittee advances deputy interior secretary nominee. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke this week appointed Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Director Greg Sheehan to fill a newly-created role as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) deputy director. Sheehan will also temporarily serve as acting head of FWS until a permanent director is appointed and confirmed, according to the Associated Press. Sheehan has worked for Utah’s wildlife division for the past 25 years. He will now be managing FWS’ 9,000 employees and 150 million acres of public lands across the country. Sheehan is expected to assume his new role on June 19th.
Meanwhile, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved David Bernhardt as deputy interior secretary in a 14-9 vote. The nomination will now make its way to a full Senate vote.
In the News
Yellowstone grizzlies await delisting rule, possibly in June. Billings Gazette. Grizzly bears throughout the Rocky Mountains have awakened for 2017, but their proposed removal from federal Endangered Species Act protection remains in hibernation. “It’s still hanging somewhere,” said Chris Servheen, who retired last year as the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee’s recovery coordinator. “It’s very unusual to have change of administration and all this time with nobody knowing what’s going on. The Fish and Wildlife Service, BLM (Bureau of Land Management), National Park Service — nobody’s got any directors. And if this gets politically directed instead of following the biological decision, things are going to go south.” The lack of an appointed agency director would not affect progress on the delisting effort, said Gavin Shire, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service chief of Public Affairs.
Retired Justice David Souter returns to write salmon opinion. E&E News (sub req’d). A federal appeals court won’t revive a lawsuit brought by environmentalists challenging modifications of hydropower leases in Maine. The environmental groups alleged that federal agencies had not adequately assessed the impacts of the changes on the Atlantic salmon, a species that is protected under the Endangered Species Act. They challenged biological opinions issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But a three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today agreed that a lower court correctly decided to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction. “Time and events have eliminated whatever claims of district court jurisdiction to review the [biological opinions] the appellants might have raised, whether sound or not,” the panel found. Retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter sat in on the case and wrote the 10-page opinion for the court. Souter retired from the Supreme Court in 2009.
Oregon cattle group votes to sue Fish and Wildlife Service. Capital Press. The Oregon Cattlemen’s Association announced this week its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its failure to complete an environmental study that would remove gray wolves from the endangered species list in the lower 48 states. Citing the agency’s lack of decision-making following the publication of its 2013 proposed rule in the Federal Register to remove the gray wolves from the Federal List of Threatened and Endangered Species, Jerome Rosa, executive director of Oregon Cattlemen, said the membership voted to file a 60-day letter of intent to sue U.S. Fish and Wildlife at its Pendleton spring quarterly meeting June 2. Rosa said the Cattlemen will be represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation of Sacramento, Calif. “One comment we’ve gotten through the years is that the cattle industry often tends to be playing defense,” Rosa said. “Many of our members feel by moving forward with this we are being on the offensive side of things instead of trying to defend what we do.”
Texas sues to strip protection for warbler. E&E News (sub req’d). A songbird that breeds in the forests of central Texas should be removed from the federal endangered species list, Texas’ land office said in a lawsuit filed today. The golden-cheeked warbler, which has been listed as endangered since 1990, has lowered the market value of properties owned by the Texas General Land Office, the lawsuit alleges. The agency says the Fish and Wildlife Service unlawfully dismissed a petition last year that called for the warbler’s delisting. “Leaving a species on the endangered list after its recovery is not only ineffective, it’s irresponsible,” Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush said in a statement. “The restoration of the golden-cheeked warbler population is a success story worth celebrating by removing it from the endangered list and restoring the rights of Texas landowners to effectively manage our own properties.” The right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation is representing the land office in the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. Note: My Statesman, Austin American-Statesman, San Antonio Express-News, and Law 360 also report.
Judge blocks Montana mine over environmental concerns. Duluth News Tribune. A federal judge in Montana has blocked the development of a contested mine next to a wilderness area in the northwestern part of the state, handing a victory to environmental activists who had argued the project could endanger grizzly bears and bull trout. Citing the Endangered Species Act and other federal environmental laws in a pair of rulings this week, U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy effectively canceled the U.S. Forest Service permit issued for the proposed copper and silver mine last year. Environmental groups praised the decision. “(The) ruling underscores how wrong it is to site major industrial facilities on the doorstep of public wilderness lands that provide irreplaceable habitat for imperiled wildlife,” Katherine O’Brien, an attorney for several of the environmental groups involved in the case, said in an e-mailed statement. The Montanore mine had been planned by a subsidiary of Hecla Mining Co. on the edge of the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness, part of the Rocky Mountains about 120 miles north of Missoula. Note: Great Falls Tribune, Seeking Alpha, Bonner County Daily Bee and Engineering & Mining Journal also report.