Interior to announce lesser prairie-chicken listing in fall. The White House released its Unified Agenda this week, including plans from the Interior Department to issue a proposed rule on whether to list the lesser prairie chicken under the Endangered Species Act.
Fish and Wildlife initially listed the grouse species as threatened in March 2014, but removed it in September 2016 after a Texas court judge ruled it did not meet the required listing standards. Several wildlife conservation groups later petitioned in November 2016 for the species to be considered for an emergency endangered listing. The agency is now required to make a decision as to whether a listing is appropriate within twelve months of reviewing the petition, with a decision expected in late November 2017. The Service also expects to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking on the listing petition in September.
IPAA continues to advocate against a listing, highlighting the immense conservation efforts already underway to protect the species. As a recently released survey from the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies reports, the “bird population trends remain stable after six years of aerial survey data collection.” According to Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie Chicken Program Manager, “the bottom line is that the population trend over the last five years indicates a stable population, which is good news for all involved in lesser prairie-chicken conservation efforts.”
House ESA hearing looks at reform. This week, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on five bills focused on ESA reform. Topics covered a range of issues such as providing more consideration to local and state government data and economic impacts when considering listings to reducing the role of sue-and-settle decisions. Bills considered at the hearing include:
- H.R. 1274, from Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), to require making available to states affected by ESA determinations all data used in the federal decision making, and to ensure use of state, local and tribal data.
- H.R. 2603, from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), to provide that non-native species in the United States shall not be treated as endangered or threatened under the ESA.
- H.R. 3131, from Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), to adjust the hourly rates awarded to lawyers in ESA-related litigation.
- H.R. 424, from Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), to require the Interior Department to reissue final rules to delist the gray wolf as a protected species in the western Great Lakes and Wyoming.
- H.R. 717, from Olson, to require review of the economic cost of adding a species as endangered or threatened, and removing certain listing deadlines that have been the focus of litigation.
Deputy Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Greg Sheehan was one of the witnesses at the hearing, testifying that he likes to view the ESA as a hospital. “We need to step up our efforts to quickly diagnose the problems, define recovery actions, and get those patients back out into society. The ESA hospital was never intended to keep all patients indefinitely,” he stated.
Glenn Hegar of the Texas Comptroller’s office also testified to the need to better incorporate states and economic impacts into listing decisions, while David Willms, Policy Advisor to Wyoming Governor Matthew Mead, focused on the political nature of the ESA in recent years. According to his remarks, “Prior to 2003, the FWS never received more than 25 species listing petitions in a single year. Since then, species petitions have skyrocketed. In 2007, the Services received petitions to list 695 species, and another 432 in 2010—nearly all of which originated from two non-governmental organizations.”
In the News
Committee approves Interior-EPA bill. E&E News (sub req’d). The House Appropriations Committee late yesterday approved a $31.5 billion spending bill for U.S. EPA, the Interior Department and related agencies, giving them over $800 million less than fiscal 2017 but rejecting many of the administration’s steeper cuts for programs popular with lawmakers and constituents. The panel passed the measure in a 30-21 roll call following a marathon markup that started around 4 p.m. and ended just before 9 p.m., after members recessed for nearly two hours for a series of floor votes. Lawmakers approved a series of amendments to the measure, including on wild horses but, like in previous years of Republican control, rejected Democratic attempts to remove policy riders. The bill would cut EPA by more than $500 million, from $8.06 billion to $7.5 billion. For Interior, the bill would provide $11.9 billion, down from the $12.3 billion Congress appropriated in the fiscal 2017 omnibus.
Environmentalist ‘Sue And Settle’ Tactics Have Cost Taxpayers Millions. Daily Caller. GOP Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga testified before a House committee Wednesday on a bill that would restructure litigation rules under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to reflect existing law in the Equal Access to Justice Act. Huizenga’s bill, the “Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act,” would prevent environmental groups from using “sue and settle” tactics to advance a political agenda while profiting off taxpayers through recompensed attorney fees for successful suits. “Litigating attorneys representing non-governmental entities have taken advantage of the ESA, raking in millions of dollars of taxpayer funded money,” Huizenga said during the hearing. “This bill would ensure that all Americans that sue the federal government are entitled to the same reasonable limits when it comes to being awarded taxpayer funded attorney fees.”
FWS backs reform package. E&E News (sub req’d). The Fish and Wildlife Service today backed “in general” a package of Republican-authored Endangered Species Act reform bills that critics contend would gut the 1973 law. But in a sign of negotiations to come, the agency’s acting director advised lawmakers that certain “technical modifications” are still needed to meet specific concerns. “In Western states, the law and certain species have become lightning rods for intense disagreement,” acknowledged Fish and Wildlife Service acting Director Greg Sheehan, adding that “the administration is committed to making the ESA work for the American people.” The administration now supports, Sheehan noted, part of a bill — H.R. 717, from Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) — that would remove current 90-day and 12-month deadlines for making decisions on species listing decisions. Sheehan likewise voiced support for part of a bill, H.R. 1274, from Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.), that would require the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider all data submitted by state, local and tribal governments.
Wolf rebound leaves ranchers tense. E&E News (sub req’d). Wolf packs and ranchers are clashing in northeastern Washington state. With an estimated 20 packs in the region, wolf populations show clear signs of recovery in recent years. But that creates conflict with the herds that graze on Colville National Forest land. Last year, 15 cattle were killed or injured by wolves, which were in turn killed by the state. The public backlash was extreme, with death threats directed at ranchers and state wildlife officials. Many ranchers don’t like this management style. “When they shot those pups, we felt sick,” rancher Rhonda DalBalcon said of the Profanity Peak wolves. “It’s not the wolves’ fault. It’s like they are breeding them to shoot them. Can’t they manage and control them any better than that?” Strict grazing regulations on federal land mean the ranchers cannot easily move the cattle away from the packs.
Devastating bat disease targeted by new federal grants. E&E News (sub req’d). The Fish and Wildlife Service today elevated the fight against a fungal disease that’s threatening the U.S. bat population, announcing a little over $1 million in grants for state-level programs targeting white-nose syndrome. The grants totaling $1,016,784 are being spread across 37 states and the District of Columbia. The relatively bite-sized individual allocations range from $12,440 for Arizona to $30,000 each for several states including Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. “Bats are beneficial in many ways,” Jeremy Coleman, national white-nose syndrome coordinator for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. “While state natural resource agencies are on the front lines of bat conservation, many have limited options for responding to this devastating disease without these funds.” Part of the grant funding comes from FWS’s “Science Support” component, which the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal would zero out. Note:Duluth News Tribune also reports.