Weekly Newsletter – 8/11/17

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Weekly Newsletter – 8/11/17

  • ICYMI: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a six-month extension on the deadline for making a final ESA listing determination for the Texas hornshell. The public comment period is open until September 11th.
  • New species pages: IPAA has developed new species pages for the Texas hornshell and the Rusty-patched bumble bee, now available on the ESA Watch website.

Issues

Review team recommends fundamental changes to sage-grouse plan. Conducted by a team of federal researchers directed by Department of Interior Secretary Zinke, a new review of federal sage-grouse plans advises a number of habitat-related changes, such as allowing states to determine their own population objectives and removing the boundaries of sagebrush focal areas.

According to an internal memo, Zinke directed Interior Deputy Secretary Bernhardt to work to “immediately begin implementing” the report’s recommendations. The report suggests changes such as modifying or issuing “new policy on fluid mineral leasing and development” within sage-grouse habitat, removing “hard triggers” in the management plans, and increasing livestock grazing in sage-grouse habitat areas. The Bureau of Land Management could implement some of the changes simply with a memorandum, but others will require a land-use amendment that could take years to complete.

Responses to the review have been mixed to date. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) published a report last week that found DOI’s shifting emphasis from sage-grouse “habitat management and restoration” to “population-based approaches for management” would likely lead to an ESA listing for the bird and other species who depend on sagebrush as habitat. Western leaders also expressed differing opinions, with Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter stating “Zinke’s announcement marked an appropriate step toward giving the state more power to manage sage grouse.” Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, however, stated he is “concerned” the proposed changes may, as E&E News describes, “complicate efforts in his state to protect the bird and to offer regulatory certainty to energy developers.”

Environmental bills exempt from judicial review. This August, E&E News (sub req’d) reports congressional members have sought to limit “judicial review” in select bills related to conservation and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The article reports this restriction applies to 28 bills presented before this Congress, 13 of which concern environmentally-focused issues.

The judicial review ban would block courts from reviewing actions such as the removal of certain gray wolf populations from ESA protection, the decision to not list the sage-grouse, and the decision to grant greater listing authority to states. Activist conservation groups often use litigation as a tool to force ESA listing decisions, making it a costly and time-consuming interference that detracts from the true purpose of ESA enforcement.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop supports the effort, noting “Litigation is the biggest problem we have in almost every area that deals with land policy and water policy.” Rep. Bishop’s fellow House Natural Resources Committee member Rep. Raúl Grijalva, however, thinks the judicial branch should be considered in the legislative process, if necessary.

In the News

Balance energy production with conservation – sportsmen. E&E News (sub req’d). A coalition of sporting and outdoor recreation groups today released a report outlining a “blueprint” for responsible energy development on public lands that calls for balancing oil and gas production with protection of wildlife habitat and waterways for hunting and fishing. The report released today by Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development — a coalition led by the National Wildlife Federation, Trout Unlimited and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership — comes as the Trump administration is making a concerted effort to expand domestic energy production by removing what it characterizes as regulatory burdens for oil, gas and mining activity on federal lands. But the latest report — titled “Lessons Learned: A Blueprint for Securing Our Energy Future While Safeguarding America’s Sporting Heritage” — argues for federal land managers to put “the right policies and procedures in place to facilitate both energy development and the conservation of healthy fish and wildlife habitat.”

Group pushes milkweed on farmers in bid to save butterfly. E&E News (sub req’d). An environmental group is trying a new tactic in its quest to save the monarch butterfly: the profit motive. The Environmental Defense Fund hopes to launch a “habitat exchange” later this year that would encourage private investors to pay for the creation of butterfly-friendly environments, giving farmers and other private landowners a financial incentive to switch marginal land along field edges and roadsides from other uses, although organizers say they are not looking to displace productive farmland. “They’re the ones who can provide the habitat for endangered species,” said David Wolfe, director of conservation strategies at EDF. Monarch butterflies aren’t listed by the federal government as endangered, but the Fish and Wildlife Service is considering protections based on a 2014 petition from the Xerces Society, Center for Biological Diversity and Center for Food Safety.

Trump administration encouraged to avoid salmon protection rules. CBS News. A group that represents farmers is calling the costs of saving imperiled salmon in the largest river system in the Pacific Northwest unsustainable and is turning to the Trump administration to sidestep endangered species laws. The Columbia-Snake River Irrigators Association wants the government to convene a Cabinet-level committee with the power to allow exemptions to the Endangered Species Act. Known as the “God squad” because its decisions can lead to extinctions of threatened wildlife, it has only gathered three times – the last 25 years ago during a controversy over spotted owl habitat in the Northwest. The irrigators association is frustrated with court rulings it says favor fish over people, claiming the committee could end years of legal challenges over U.S. dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers and bring stability for irrigators, power generators and other businesses that rely on the water.

Endangered species petition for bluefin tuna rejected. San Diego Tribune. Federal fisheries managers rejected a petition to list Pacific bluefin tuna as endangered this week, concluding that the species is stable, despite its historic low numbers. The National Marine Fisheries Service announced the decision Monday, stating that a team of fisheries and conservation biologists found bluefin at low risk of extinction. It cited a 2016 international stock assessment that estimated the total population of Pacific bluefin at more than 1.6 million, including more than 140,000 fish capable of spawning. “The Scientific Review Team found that the population is large enough to avoid the risks associated with a small population, such as a year with low survival, and that Pacific bluefin has recovered from similarly low levels in the past,” the service stated.

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