CAP report looks at sage grouse plans. In a new report published this week, the Center for American Progress (CAP) claims that Interior Secretary Zinke favored oil and natural gas development in his review of the sage grouse conservation management plan and potential public land use. The author of the report, CAP senior fellow Jim Lyons, noted certain language in Secretary Zinke’s review that called attention to energy development priorities. For example, Zinke asked his team reviewing the sage grouse plan to identify places in the current plan “that may require modification or rescission…in order to give appropriate weight to the value of energy and other development of public lands.”
Yet as IPAA has long highlighted, conservation should consider economic development, including the energy development that underpins many of the economies of the grouse’s 11-state habitat region and the robust conservation efforts these companies utilize to protect species and the environment. IPAA President Barry Russell summarized these efforts in the Salt Lake Tribune in 2015, stating “From ranchers to energy producers, stakeholders have worked together with state agencies to implement robust conservation measures for the sage-grouse, balancing economic growth with species conservation. In the oil and gas industry alone, producers utilize horizontal drilling and robust restoration and adaptation techniques to limit surface disturbances, while other companies have joined forces with state and federal agencies to improve Greater Sage Grouse habitats and abide by existing state-based conservation plans, such as Utah’s Greater Sage Grouse Management Plan.”
Environmental group now lobbying on the Hill. E&E News reports this week that the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has registered as a lobbying group. CBD is long known for using litigation as a tool to force Endangered Species Act listing decisions, relying on sue-and-settle tactics to force new petitions. CBD’s Government Affairs Director Brett Hartl says the organization needed to increase its congressional activity because “the level of threats has grown exponentially” under the new administration.
According to the group’s lobbying registration documents, CBD’s targets include President Trump, administration nominees, and a bill that would amend ESA-related litigation rates awarded to lawyers. The bill’s author, Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.), states “litigating attorneys representing nongovernmental entities have taken advantage of the Endangered Species Act, raking in millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded money,” which have gone as high as $750 per hour. The bill would limit fees to $125 per hour, which is the same as most other circumstances under federal law.
Gregory Sheehan, acting Fish and Wildlife Service director, told the House Natural Resources Committee that there needs to be more clarity on how the bill would work, but noted “time and cost of litigation is one of the significant challenges we face in implementing the ESA.”
David Bernhardt confirmed as Interior Deputy Secretary. This week, David Bernhardt was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the role of Deputy Secretary of the Interior. IPAA applauded the decision, highlighting Bernhardt’s continued efforts to support independent producers and the small businesses behind energy development.
As Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs Dan Naatz stated, “David understands the complex nature of federal land management. With his extensive public policy experience in the executive and legislative branches, as well as in private practice, David is skillfully able to traverse tough policymaking on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and other important federal land management issues. He is a steady hand and seeks to find workable solutions to further Interior’s mission of balancing the need to preserve and protect federal lands with reasonable development of those areas.”
IPAA looks forward to continuing to work with the Deputy Secretary in this new leadership role.
In the News
Trump admin reviews hot-button protections for prairie dogs. E&E News (sub req’d). The Trump administration is reconsidering a rule that’s been at the center of a high-profile constitutional challenge to the Endangered Species Act. According to a court filing today, acting Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Aurelia Skipwith instructed the Fish and Wildlife Service last month to review the rule, which prohibits harming the Utah prairie dog on private property. In the brief, government attorneys urged the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to deny a petition by property owners to rehear the litigation over the rule because its review may make the case “moot.” “FWS could find it unnecessary and inadvisable to further prohibit such take on non-federal land,” the Justice Department said. Fish and Wildlife issued the rule in question in 2012 under the Obama administration to prevent the “take” of the Utah prairie dog without a permit. The threatened species is found in the southwestern part of the state, and about 70 percent of the population lives on private land.
Senate panel OKs conservation package. E&E News (sub req’d). The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today quickly approved a conservation package whose potential reach extends from the Chesapeake Bay and Western state wetlands to hunters and anglers everywhere. Much of the “Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation for Wildlife Act” appears to enjoy broad support, and the 25-minute markup played out before a half-empty room. “The ‘HELP for Wildlife Act’ is a bipartisan conservation bill designed to enhance recreational hunting and sport fishing activities, ensure commonsense environmental regulations, and protect wildlife and wildlife habitat,” said Sen. John Barrasso, the Wyoming Republican who chairs the Senate panel. But the approval by a 14-7 vote of S. 1514 came only after Democrats failed to defang provisions that ensure removal of Endangered Species Act protections from the Wyoming and western Great Lakes gray wolf populations. The controversial language left in the bill blocks judicial review of the Wyoming population delisting, among other things.
As Interior secretary swaggers through parks, his staff rolls back regulations. New York Times. Ryan Zinke, a former member of the Navy SEALs and lifelong Montana outdoorsman who now heads the Interior Department, loves to compare himself to Theodore Roosevelt, the father of American conservation. “I’m a Teddy Roosevelt guy!” the interior secretary said in an April announcement that he would commence a review of the boundaries of the nation’s national monuments. “No one loves public lands more than I do.” But as the secretary hopscotches across millions of acres of Western parks, monuments and wilderness with his Stetson-sporting swagger, a crew of political appointees in Washington has begun rolling back the conservation efforts put in effect over the eight years of the Obama administration. Many of those appointees spent the Obama years working for the oil and gas industry — and they come to the Interior Department with an insider’s knowledge of how its levers work and a wish list of policies from their former employers.
Threatened, endangered species playing role in project planning. Legal Intelligencer. Rusty patched bumble bees, part of a group of native pollinators with an economic value of $3 billion per year in the United States, are declining in number. Rusty Patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis), according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Endangered Species. Historically, the species inhabited 28 states throughout the eastern United States and the upper Midwest, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Due to habitat loss, intensive farming, disease, pesticides, and global climate change, the decline in the Rusty Patched Bumble Bee has been so severe that in 2017, the bee was listed as endangered by the federal government. As with a number of other federally and state listed threatened and endangered species, individuals interested in real estate development or other projects should take note because protecting these species will become increasingly more important in the land development permitting process.