Weekly Newsletter – 7/15/16

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Weekly Newsletter – 7/15/16

Issues

IPAA holds mitigation meetings in Washington, DC. On July 14, IPAA and representatives from multiple member companies conducted a briefing on Capitol Hill to discuss the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed revisions to its mitigation policy.  On March 8, 2016, the Service issued proposed revisions to the policy that would provide a framework for applying a landscape-scale approach to achieve through the application of mitigation hierarchy a net gain, or no net loss, in conservation outcomes. IPAA has submitted comments on the draft policy, expressing concerns over the expansiveness of the proposed changes and requesting that the Service withdraw the policy unless re-proposed with significant changes.

IPAA also met with various officials from the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Interior, including the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals, Janice Schneider, to discuss concerns with the mitigation policy and the impending changes to the liability around the take of migratory birds. The group also met with officials from the Natural Resource Investment Center to learn the goals of the newly-created center and recommend effective conservation efforts instead of continuing failed preservation efforts that lock up massive swaths of land.  IPAA was informed in the meetings that the proposed mitigation policy is an “umbrella policy” and that the Service is expected to publish a draft policy on compensatory mitigation for the Endangered Species Act (ESA) any day now.

IPAA would like to thank Anadarko, Chesapeake, Concho, QEP, Occidental, Pioneer, and SM Energy for participating in the briefings.  Read IPAA’s one page summary on the mitigation policy HERE, and its full comments HERE.

**ICYMI: Presentation highlights MBTA concerns. At IPAA’s midyear meeting this year, Patrick Traylor, a partner with Hogan Lovells US LLP, lead an interactive discussion on how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) in enforcement actions against the energy sector as well as the Service’s recent notice of intent to create an MBTA incidental take permit program. Check out his PowerPoint presentation from the meeting on IPAA’s ESA Watch site HERE.

GOP opposes sage-grouse and lesser prairie chicken listings in party platform. With the 2016 Republican National Convention beginning next week in Ohio, the Republic platform committee convened in Cleveland to outline its national platform. In addition to various other positions, the platform includes an official GOP amendment opposing listing the greater sage-grouse and the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

In September 2015, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made the decision not to list the sage-grouse as endangered under the ESA. Meanwhile, a U.S. District Court judge recently upheld his previous ruling that overturned the Service’s decision to designate the lesser prairie chicken as threatened. Officials announced last week that the lesser prairie chicken population is down from last year, while the most recent sage grouse count yielded a 63 percent population increase over 2013.

Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Secretary of State and a delegate to the RNC, proposed the amendment, stating that the birds “had a huge impact on oil and natural gas and ranching in all of these states” where they reside. The listing of both birds was heavily contested, especially in states where land would be set aside from economic development.

House approves appropriations bill. The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 5538, the “Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017” by a vote of 231-196 this week. Amendments were added through the week, including preventing Fish and Wildlife from treating the gray wolf as an endangered or threatened species after June 2017.

As stated by IPAA’s Barry Russell, “The legislation contains several of IPAA’s key priorities, including prohibiting the Interior Department from implementing its ‘Washington knows best’ approach to regulate hydraulic fracturing and its ‘one size fits all’ mandate on offshore drilling, prohibiting enforcement of the Interior Department’s proposal to address methane emissions, and providing reasonable implementation of the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for ozone.”

In the News

Western dams violate Endangered Species Act – suit. E&E News (sub req’d). A federal lawsuit filed Monday by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies says more than two dozen dams in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana are violating the Endangered Species Act by harming bull trout. The group argues that three federal agencies haven’t completed required consultations with the Fish and Wildlife Service on operating dams in areas designated as the fish’s critical habitat. It wants a judge to force the agencies to finish those consultations, which could end up leading to more protections for the bull trout. “We’re just trying to get them to do what they promised us they would do,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Montana-based alliance. Note: Idaho Statesman, Yakima Herald, and Associated Press also report.

Groups threaten to sue for bison protections. E&E News (sub req’d). A coalition of conservation groups today threatened legal action if the Fish and Wildlife Service does not reconsider its rejection of a petition to protect Yellowstone bison under the Endangered Species Act. The Western Watersheds Project, the Buffalo Field Campaign and Friends of Animals claim that FWS failed to rely on the best available science, applied an incorrect legal standard to their petition and ignored the plain language of the ESA when it concluded in January that the groups had not provided substantial information indicating that the herd should be added to the endangered or threatened species list. Note: Associated Press also reports.

EPA sets tighter selenium standards, but enviros scoff. E&E News (sub req’d). U.S. EPA has finalized new water quality standards for selenium, a toxic element for fish and other wildlife. The limit ranges from 1.5 micrograms per liter in impounded waters to 3.1 micrograms per liter in flowing water. The standard is tighter than the existing water quality criterion of 5 micrograms per liter, a level the agency set in 1999. “These selenium standards are a step backward for water quality and little more than a green light for industry to keep polluting our rivers and streams,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement. “Endangered freshwater fish, amphibians and mussels are some of the fastest-declining species in the United States — in large part because toxic pollutants like selenium continue to be poorly regulated by the EPA.”

State considers easement funding for sage grouse lands. Great Falls Tribune. An oversight panel in charge of overseeing implementation of the state’s sage grouse habitat conservation plan is soliciting public comment on contributing $2.9 million in state funds toward the purchase of four conservation easements on almost 35,000 acres of private land in northeastern Montana. The land is important habitat for sage grouse, the prairie bird considered for federal protections until last year. The Montana Sage Grouse Oversight Team is expected to discuss the proposals Aug. 29 and could make a decision at that time to release the funds.

Dunes sagebrush lizard’s population a divisive topic. San Angelo Standard-Times (Column). The dunes sagebrush lizard is one of seven species of “spiny lizards” that reside in Texas, and it by far has the most limited distribution of the group. In fact, this species of lizard has the second-smallest range of any other lacertilian in the United States. Population studies have shown that this lizard is relatively abundant in some areas, while in others it has almost been extirpated. However, these studies have fueled the division between folks. Some studies have estimated that the population densities are as low as 10,000 individuals while other studies demonstrate the population may exceed 100,000 individuals.

GOP vows to block sage grouse protections in defense bill. Washington Examiner. House Republicans on a conference committee working on a major defense spending bill are vowing to block any effort to place protections for a Western bird over that of national security. “This presidential administration, along with special interest groups, are attempting to impede military training and limit public use of public lands through false claims of negative impacts to the sage grouse bird,” said Rep. Paul Cook, R-CA, after being named to the conference committee Friday for the fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Overall, the sage grouse has been a thorn in the side for many Republican lawmakers from the West, where the sage grouse is seen as an impediment for farmers, ranchers and energy development.

USDA requests farmers’ assistance for monarch repopulation. Ames Tribune. A coalition of researchers from Iowa State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other conservation groups are offering farmers across Iowa and the Midwest financial support to help restore the country’s monarch butterfly population. There is currently no state target for how many participants are needed to restore the monarch population, but Cronin said recent research estimates that 1 billion milkweed plants are needed to reach the USDA’s nationwide goal of 225 million butterflies by 2020.

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