Groups threaten to sue again over Pacific development. Over the past two weeks the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) and Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) have announced their intention to sue the Interior Department less than three months after the department released an environmental assessment that found there was “no significant impact” from hydraulic fracturing and other drilling activities off the coast of California. The assessment was the result of a settlement with EDC and CBD following their lawsuits in 2014 and 2015 challenging the department’s routine permitting of oil and gas production in the Pacific Ocean.
According to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Ross Hopper at the time of the assessment, “The comprehensive analysis shows that these practices, conducted according to permit requirements, have minimal impact.” EDC and CBD, however, claim that the report was not accompanied by formal consultations with the agencies responsible for enforcing the ESA. According to E&E News, “CBD will file suit in 60 days if Interior does not suspend all offshore fracking and acidizing approvals and complete a comprehensive analysis under the ESA.”
Obama administration touts record species recovery. The U.S. Department of Interior announced this week that more endangered species have been recovered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) during the Obama administration than under all other presidents combined since the law’s passage in 1973. The announcement notes that 19 species have been recovered and delisted during the Obama presidency, with the 6 delisted this year representing a new record for species recovery.
Many groups, however, have criticized the law for its low recovery rate and the ease with which some groups use it as a tool for halting economic development. Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis stated in June, “Such litigation does little more than benefit lawyers and diverts time and resources away from species conservation. What is needed is boots on the ground instead of briefcases in the courtroom.” Critics of the ESA have noted that there are well over 2,000 species protected under the Act, but only 63 have been delisted since the law’s enactment, with some delisted due to extinction instead of recovery.
International Migratory Bird Treaty celebrates 100th anniversary. Tuesday marked the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treat agreement that established bird protection measures across state and international borders. Signed in 1916, the treaty was the result of significant species loss stemming from unregulated hunting, commercialization of bird meat and feathers, and increased environmental pollution at the turn of the century.
The agreement between the United States and Great Britain (on behalf of Canada) established a regulatory framework across international borders that inspired a significant behavioral change in consumers and nations as a whole with respect to bird conservation efforts. Recent dispute surrounding the role of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), however, has sparked a new debate about the role of the rule in supporting both conservation and not harming economic development.
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 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.
In the News
Online tool to protect ‘sagebrush sea’ from wildfires. E&E News (sub req’d). The Interior Department today unveiled a new online tool that the agency says is designed to help land managers across the West make sagebrush habitat more resilient to wildfires. The online tool, developed by the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Geological Survey, gives federal, state and local officials access to a collection of geographic information system data, including extensive landscape-scale information. The data can be used to “create printable maps” that can “help select areas for preventative actions that will reduce the potential for future fires in sagebrush habitat,” according to BLM and the USGS. The online “hub” is the byproduct of years of work by federal, state and local leaders to save the greater sage grouse, which depend on the sagebrush ecosystem to provide cover from predators and shelter to raise their chicks. Note: USGS has issued a press release.
NOAA grants for threatened species recovery. NOAA (Press Release). NOAA has awarded US$5.4 million in grants to states and tribes in all coastal regions to help in the recovery of endangered and threatened marine species. It has also opened a call for 2017 proposals under its Species Recovery Grants Program. The funding supports management, research, and outreach efforts designed to bring vulnerable species to a point where Endangered Species Act protections are no longer necessary. Funding may also support monitoring of species under consideration for protection or species recently removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.
Take a number: Endangered species running into long wait times. Michigan Public Radio. Endangered species are waiting in long lines for the federal government to make a decision. That’s the conclusion of a study in the journal Biological Conservation on wait times for listing a species under the Endangered Species Act. Emily Puckett is the lead author of the study. She’s a postdoctoral associate with Fordham University. She analyzed what happened with 1,338 species since 1974. She says according to the law, it’s supposed to take about two years to get through the process. “The median time that they’re waiting is 12.1 years and not that two years. Some species are being listed very quickly, but other species have essentially waited the entire length of the ESA, up to 38 years before they’re ever listed,” she says.
Some endangered species not on list. Opelika Observer. The Endangered Species Act of 1973, signed into law by President Richard Nixon requires conservation of threatened or endangered species throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges and conservation of the ecosystems they depend on. Numerous aquatic snails and mussels that were formerly abundant in Alabama streams are now extinct or are listed as threatened or endangered by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Yet comparably few such insects are on the list. The Xerces Society, an organization dedicated to conserving harmless and often beneficial insects, notes that only four percent of the listed animals are insects, whereas 17.9 percent of vertebrate animals in the U.S. are listed. The Society points out that 72 percent of the world’s animals are insects and concludes that on this basis at least 29 percent of the insects in the U.S. should be on the list.
Solar industry, enviros clash over Calif. arrays. E&E News (sub req’d). Efforts to install more solar power on public lands in California are pitting onetime allies against each other. Solar arrays require no fuel input and do not produce carbon emissions. But to generate a sizable amount of energy, the arrays need to span miles through sunny parcels of land. Specifically in California, these sunny areas are usually inhabited by the endangered desert tortoise. People who would normally find themselves supporting solar projects are now faced with a choice: clean energy or tortoise protection?
Harney County SWD plans suit over range plan. Capital Press. A recent decision by the federal government kept sage grouse off the Endangered Species List, but Harney County ranchers, displeased with the BLM’s range management plan amendment, are considering taking their complaint to court. Louie Molt, chairman of the Harney County Soil and Water District, said the agency disregarded input from rural communities. “When they were writing the Range Management Plan Amendment they asked counties and soil and water districts to come up with their own ideas about how to protect sage grouse and keep the rural community viable,” Molt said. “The BLM took our rural alternative and threw it in the trash.”
Humans first, beetles second. Muskogee Phoenix (Editorial). Placing the welfare of a beetle over that of people is government overreach — even if that beetle is on the Endangered Species List. Progress on a $6 million road project in Fort Gibson has been halted because the work threatens the habitat of the American burying beetle. The beetle is federally protected by the Endangered Species Act. The presence of the beetle means the 8.3-mile Northeast Fort Gibson Road project could be delayed by months and will increase the cost of the project by as much as $720,000. Bear in mind that this project, for the most part, does not destroy additional habitat. Much of the work consumes only enough land to allow the road to be widened. Humans must come first. Beetles must come second.
Agency will double 250 miles of fuel breaks. Argus Observer. Fuel breaks are a necessary tool in fighting wildfires. Time and again, the barriers have proved their worth. That is why the Bureau of Land Management’s Vale District is looking to double its 250 miles of existing fuel breaks. The plan is to expand the miles of fuel breaks in the Vale District to 500 to help protect sage grouse habitat, he said. Greater sage grouse was up for inclusion on the Endangered Species List, but was not listed as programs were developed at the state, federal and local levels to protect and enhance the bird’s habitat. Wildfires have been identified as one of the main causes of sage grouse habitat loss, and finding ways of controlling fires is one of the of the initiatives of the BLM to protect habitat and the grouse.