Weekly Newsletter – 7/8/16

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Weekly Newsletter – 7/8/16

Issues

IPAA submits comments on voluntary agreements. IPAA has submitted comments on the Obama Administration’s proposed changes to the Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances (CCAAs) policy – an important tool for conserving species and habitats.  While the proposed changes have been introduced to clarify the level of conservation effort Fish and Wildlife requires to approve a CCAA, IPAA emphasizes that the proposed changes fail to clarify the level of effort needed, and instead “represent a marked departure from the existing regulatory framework, including new, substantive requirements that fundamentally change the focus, review and approval process required for CCAAs.”

The draft policy proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service would alter the criteria used to approve CCAAs to require a “net conservation benefit” for a specified species.  As stated in the comments, however, the definition of what qualifies as net benefit is excessive and should be adjusted to ensure net benefit can be achieved by implementing conservation measures intended to maintain populations.  IPAA argues, “On its face, the proposal discourages rather than encourages voluntary conservation measures…This shift to the concept of ‘net benefit’ is a significant change and will discourage the use of CCAAs.”

IPAA has requested the draft revised policy be withdrawn and that the Service instead focus on streamlining requirements for CCAAs and incentivizing their use. Read IPAA’s full comments HERE.

Monarch listing decision due in three years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached a settlement with conservation groups this week that requires the agency to make a decision on listing the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by June 30, 2019. The Service determined in 2014 that substantial evidence indicated that the monarch may warrant a threatened or endangered designation, but failed to make a final decision within a year as required by the ESA. IPAA will continue to monitor activity surrounding the species.

Lesser prairie chicken population falls by 13 percent. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) announced last week that the lesser prairie chicken population has fallen by more than 13 percent, from 29,162 birds last year to 25,261 this year. This year’s decline follows two straight years of population growth after a 2012 drought that had cut the population in half.  “Just as with last year’s population increase, we shouldn’t read too much into short-term fluctuations over one or two years,” said Bill Van Pelt, WAFWA’s grassland coordinator.

Jim Pitman, a WAFWA biologist, said that in most parts of the bird’s habitat the changes “could have been due solely to sampling variation in the survey methodology and not real changes in the number of birds.” The oil and natural gas industry has committed over $60 million to pay for conservation efforts, preserving over 130,000 acres of habitat to date. WAFWA has struggled, however, to purchase enough permanent conservation areas for the bird – something deemed necessary by the group’s 2013 rangewide plan.

In February, a U.S. District Court judge upheld his September 2015 ruling that overturned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to list the lesser prairie chicken as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The judge specifically cited WAFWA’s rangewide plan for the bird in his decision to overturn the listing. The Obama Administration announced in May that it would not appeal the court’s ruling, but “intends to reassess the status of the species based on the court’s ruling and the best available scientific data.”

Federal appeals court upholds preemptive critical habitat designation. A federal appeals court has upheld, in a 2-1 decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s designation of 1,544 acres in Louisiana as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog, a species currently found only in Mississippi. The plaintiffs say that the designated habitat does not contain the necessary features required for supporting the frog and therefore the government overstepped its authority. In February of this year the Service finalized new rules that allow the agency to designate areas as critical habitat that are not presently, and may never be, necessary to the conservation of a species.

The dissenting judge said the ruling would allow agencies to designate any place in the country as critical habitat if the land could be changed to suit an endangered species. “This decision authorizes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to regulate any parcel of land in the nation on the presumption that it could someday be made usable for species habitat,” plaintiff’s attorney Reed Hopper said. “That’s the very definition of unlimited federal power.” The plaintiff, a Louisiana landowner represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF), plans to either ask the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the case or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. PLF attorney Damien Schiff called the agency’s designation “a particularly outrageous example of Endangered Species Act abuse.”

In the News

Federal land-use plans miss mark, limit access. Capital Press. Stakeholders in sage grouse conservation have registered concern and frustration with new federal land-use plans they say would severely harm the agricultural, mining and energy sectors, which are already operating to protect the species and its habitat. The amended plans were issued last fall in combination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision that listing sage grouse as an endangered species wasn’t warranted. Stakeholders view the plans as an onerous means to limit access to public land in disregard of the progress that has been made through state and industry collaboration and the real threats to sage grouse.

Bipartisan bill would funnel conservation cash to states. E&E News (sub req’d). A long-shot proposal to proactively prevent the growth of the endangered and threatened species lists has finally found a pair of congressional patrons. The plan would direct $1.3 billion each year from federal energy and mineral development revenues into state-led conservation The dedicated funding would help states implement wildlife action plans for conserving 12,000 species in greatest need of conservation. At the same time, the new resources would provide the public with more access to open spaces. But the bill will be difficult to pass at a time when congressional budget hawks are more concerned with reducing the federal debt than protecting habitat for birds of prey. The entire Fish and Wildlife Service, for example, received $1.6 billion in fiscal 2016.

Mexico, Canada, and the US created a “flyway” to save the monarch butterfly, and it’s working. Quartz. In 2014, scientists and activists alike panicked after Monarch population numbers reached record lows the year prior. Since then, North American leaders have been cooperating to save the species. Obama’s Pollinator Health Task Force established a 1,500 mile “flyway” by rehabilitating nectar-producing plants and larva-friendly milkweed and educating residents along the migration path between Mexico and Minnesota. Additionally, US Fish and Wildlife is working with the Canadian and Mexican governments to “restore and enhance” butterfly habitats. According to Peña Nieto’s remarks on Wednesday, the trilateral effort is working. The World Wildlife Foundation has seen a six fold increase in the area covered by colonies since 2014.

Feds propose changes to allow more bald eagle deaths. KUSA. As the nation prepares to celebrate America’s birthday, conservationists are in a fight to protect America’s symbol, the bald eagle. “There’s an active response to what’s going on,” Dana Bove said. Bove serves on the Board of Directors for the Boulder County Audubon Society. In May, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a change to allow more permits for bald and golden eagle deaths under the current Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Bove says the driving force behind the change is the expansion of wind energy across the country. He says wind farms have caused the deaths of bald and golden eagles.

Pennsylvania bats face danger from disease. Lebanon Daily News. In real life, however, bats themselves are the ones in danger, with the antagonist being a fungal pathogen trying its best to eradicate their entire population. This deadly villain is known as White-Nose Syndrome, and the PA Game Commission’s lead mammologist has stepped up to play the role of Dark Knight. Turner explained that prior to WNS, the little brown bat and northern long-eared bat comprised 95-98 percent of Pennsylvania’s total bat population. His monitoring efforts over the past decade have noted an alarming 99.9 percent reduction in these two species.

Senators blast federal agencies over sage grouse plans. Capital Press. U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management officials were in the hot seat recently as senators from Western states criticized the agencies’ top-down approach in new land use plans for sage grouse conservation. Senators chastised the agencies’ disregard of state input in federal plans announced last September as part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision not to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. They pointed out that the states’ investments in management plans and local collaboration have resulted in impressive increases in sage grouse populations and were critical factors in the decision not to list the bird.

Embattled offshore wind project violated NEPA, ESA – judges. E&E News (sub req’d). A long-stalled offshore wind project is facing new hurdles after federal judges today ruled that the government’s environmental approvals were unlawful. A three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit ruled today that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a lease to the project, and that the Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to properly consider measures to minimize harm to migrating birds.

An attempt at ESA reform. Pacific Legal Foundation (Blog). Last year Kentucky Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill entitled “Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act.”  Currently the bill is being considered in committee and it’s forcing lawmakers to address the effectiveness and abuses of the ESA. To address concerns that the ESA overreaches into local affairs, the bill would return authority to the states. Currently, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service handles essentially the entire regulatory process for species listing, including proposals, data analysis, final listings, and enforcement. The bill would amend the ESA by requiring the consent of a state’s governor before federal agencies can act within the state. Of course, states remain free to regulate endangered species under state law, but if the feds want in, they need permission.

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