Dunes sagebrush lizard making headlines again in Texas. The conservation of the dunes sagebrush lizard is up for debate again in the Permian Basin. After the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the species under the Endangered Species Act in 2010, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs worked to develop a plan enacted in 2012 to protect the lizard while maintaining energy operations in the region. Now, with an increase in frac sand mining in the state, new debate has emerged about how activity will impact the species moving forward.
Just this week, in conjunction with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts announced Black Mountain Sand’s Vest and El Dorado frac sand mines will be included in the state’s conservation plan for the lizard. The company has agreed to fund research, dedicate acreage to a conservation easement, and conduct its mining operations by environmentally sensitive protocol – all actions that are in line with the conservation plan’s priorities. According to Dr. Robert Gulley, the Texas Comptroller’s Director of Economic Growth & Endangered Species Management, granting Black Mountain a Certificate of Inclusion is exactly the kind of relationship the state’s conservation plan was meant to facilitate. “Through voluntary enrollment and disciplined stewardship, we will preserve economic activity and protect the dunes sagebrush lizard’s habitat,” he states.
Gov. Sandoval expresses concern over Zinke’s proposed sage grouse plan revisions. Representatives from the Nevada lawmaker’s office said he does not agree with the Interior Secretary’s recommended changes to the sage-grouse conservation plan that divert efforts from habitat conservation to state-managed population targets.
“Governor Sandoval does not agree with managing the bird by population objectives as defined by the Secretary. He continues to believe that habitat must be managed properly in order to increase numbers and conserve habitat,” Sandoval’s Communications Director Mari St. Martin stated this week.
Sandoval follows in the footsteps of Wyoming Governor Matt Mead who voiced his concern over Zinke’s proposed changes to the sage-grouse plan earlier this month. He said Wyoming would continue following its current conservation plan, one that prioritizes habitat conservation. The governors’ disapproval of Zinke’s sage-grouse plan comes after the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies issued a white paper last month that reported a plan that prioritized population numbers over habitat conservation –like Zinke’s—would likely harm the bird and other sagebrush-dependent species.
New study published says lesser prairie chicken in decline. In coordination with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Department of Interior, the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study that concluded there is “some degree of range-wide decline” happening in all four ecoregions the lesser prairie chicken inhabits in the United States. The study found that the highest rate of decline is likely to occur in the Short Grass Prairie ecoregion due to an extremely low summer survival rate estimate. This region, however, was also that with the highest degree of uncertainty. Variables such as population, weather, habitat availability, and random chance events are sources of uncertainty that USGS took into account when conducting the survey.
Similar rates of population decline were found across the other three ecoregions – the Sand Sagebrush Prairie Region, the Mixed Grass Prairie Region, and the Sand Shinnery Oak Prairie Region. Researchers also found that “in many instances results indicate some likelihood the ecoregions may be stable or increasing.” This finding would be consistent with other studies recently conducted on the lesser prairie chicken, such as the range-wide aerial survey conducted by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies last month that found the bird’s population has remained steady for the past six years.
In the News
Environmental groups says industry had undue influence on sage grouse review. Casper Star-Tribune. Environmental groups are crying foul after a letter from an oil and gas advocacy group to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke surfaced indicating energy may have played a significant role in the department’s recent, and controversial, sage grouse decision. In the July letter, which the industry group also provided to the Star-Tribune, Western Energy Alliance recommended 15 changes to federal sage grouse conservation plans to make it easier for industry firms to do business in the bird’s habitat. Earlier this month, at Zinke’s request, a panel of sage grouse experts turned in a review of federal conservation plans. It included 13 of WEA’s suggestions. The review itself was controversial, and Zinke’s comments about how to deem sage grouse conservation successful and whether captive breeding the bird could enhance the population had biologists across the West up in arms. Gov. Matt Mead also weighed in on the review, admonishing caution to the new secretary when it came to managing the bird. Wholesale changes to the plans were unnecessary, the governor said.
U.S. Erred in Declining Protections for Remote Grizzly Bears: Judge. Reuters. U.S. wildlife managers erred when they declined to list as endangered a small population of grizzly bears in the remote reaches of Idaho and northwest Montana, a federal judge has ruled in what conservationists on Wednesday hailed as a huge victory. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 determined the fewer than 50 grizzlies that roam the Cabinet Mountains and Yaak River drainage in the Northern Rockies were not in danger of extinction and did not warrant re-classifying as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The Montana conservation group Alliance for the Wild Rockies sued, arguing the so-called Cabinet-Yaak population of grizzlies would go extinct unless U.S. wildlife managers tightened restrictions on logging, mining and other activities in bear habitat, all safeguards that would come with endangered status. On Tuesday a federal judge in Missoula, Montana, sided with the conservation group in a ruling that found that the Fish and Wildlife Service had violated U.S. law in determining that the number of outsized, hump-shouldered bears in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem could reach a targeted recovery goal of 100 without added protections. Note: Associated Press, Washington Post, The Columbian and Law 360 also report.
Analysts: Litigation Reform Needed to Curb Lawsuits Undermining Conservation. Washington Free Beacon. Well-endowed environmental advocacy groups have exploited the “perverse incentives” of federal laws with “sue and settle” arrangements that enrich trial lawyers at the expense of taxpayers while undercutting successful conservation efforts, according to congressional figures and attorneys who favor litigation reform. Under former President Barack Obama, the number of federal environmental lawsuits spiked sharply with nonprofit green groups such as WildEarth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, the Western Watersheds Project, and the Sierra Club seizing upon the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as their preferred tool. The House Committee on Natural Resources collected data from the U.S. Department of Justice showing the federal government was the subject of more than 570 ESA lawsuits filed between 2009 and 2012 by green groups, costing U.S. taxpayers more than $15 million.
Feds setting up designated habitat for endangered sturgeon. Associated Press. The federal government is designating critical habitat for the Atlantic sturgeon in a step regulators say will help the fish recover its population. The National Marine Fisheries Services says the designation will apply in coastal areas from Maine to Florida. The service says federal agencies will have to consult with the fisheries service if they operate or pay for activities that could affect designated critical habitat in nearly 4,000 miles of coastal river area. The service says the sturgeon was listed under the Endangered Species Act in 2012. The sturgeon suffered overfishing in the 20th century when it was harvested for eggs for caviar.
Sage grouse, chemicals amendments await NDAA debate. E&E News (Sub req’d). Sage grouse riders have a history of at least trying to find their way into the annual defense policy bill, and this year will be no different. A proposed amendment from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) — one of hundreds submitted ahead of Senate debate on the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act this fall — would decentralize greater sage grouse conservation and implement state management plans for the rangeland birds. The Lee proposal would also prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from listing the species as endangered until at least 2027. Even though sage grouse management is more the purview of natural resources panels and bills, lawmakers who worry about the bird protections affecting development on public lands say they could also affect military installations. Though nearly identical provisions have come close to making it into the final bill in recent years, this latest sage grouse rider is unlikely to even get a vote on the Senate floor.
Fish and Wildlife ‘lost its way’ on wolves — enviros. E&E News (Sub req’d). Leaders from 18 environmental groups wrote yesterday to Gov. Kate Brown (D) that Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife has “lost its way.” The state’s plan to manage wolves has veered off course, the environmental coalition said. The letter asked Brown to get more involved in the agency’s work as it moves to finalize a new wolf management plan, which the groups say is two years late. The letter came just one day after state officials said that two wolves from the Harl Butte pack will be killed after reported livestock deaths. “The Harl Butte situation again calls into question the effectiveness of killing wolves and demonstrates the need for clearer sideboards around what non-lethal actions must be attempted before trapping and shooting of wolves will be allowed,” the coalition said in the letter. Brown’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.