Weekly Newsletter – 9/1/17

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Weekly Newsletter – 9/1/17

Issues

States join industry groups to petition seal listing. A coalition of 18 states led by Wyoming are urging the United States Supreme Court to consider overturning an October 2016 ruling that lists the Pacific bearded seal as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The states say the listing is premature and would be costly while providing few benefits for the seal.

The petition comes on the heels of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the American Petroleum Institute filing a petition to combat the ruling. The groups filed a petition for a writ of certiorari that argues the ESA was used even though the National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) said it cannot predict how climate change will impact the species in Alaska, the basis for the ruling. According to the petition, NMFS used a 100-year climate change forecast to make its projections and used that data as support for the loss of the seal’s habitat in the “foreseeable future.” The groups also highlight NMFS has no evidence that the seal hasn’t adapted to climate-related changes, deeming the ESA ruling unjustified. The groups also said the decision will “stymie” oil development in Alaska during a time when the industry is trying to revive the state’s lagging revenues.

The Alaska Federation of Natives, a group that represents federally recognized tribes and corporations, has also filed its own brief stating natives would be hit hardest by the listing and the ruling imposes an “additional burden of unnecessary federal regulation to an already overburdened people.”

Wyoming takes steps to approve sage-grouse captive breeding. This week, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved a regulation that would allow licensed famers to breed and sell sage-grouse. The regulation is part of the state’s conservation efforts to slow population decline of the bird.

Naturally, the regulation has been met with both support and criticism. Supporters agree that captive breeding will help boost grouse numbers as birds will be released into the wild after successful breeding. But skeptics think only habitat preservation will solve the species’ gradual decline, citing a Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies report released last month.

The approved regulations specify requirements for facilities that wish to become certified in raising sage-grouse and how to release the farm-raised individuals. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has until November to review and revise the bill, which will only go into effect once it is signed.

In the News

Probe finds Reclamation misspent funds meant for wildlife. E&E News (sub req’d). A $32 million Bureau of Reclamation program for irrigators in southern Oregon and Northern California was likely illegal, according to federal investigators who released a letter to President Trump today that sharply criticizes the agency’s response. The U.S. Office of Special Counsel’s probe stems from the accounts of two whistleblowers who raised questions about a program designed to aid irrigators in the bureau’s Klamath Project, which provides water to about 200,000 acres of cropland. After a severe drought in 2001, the agency launched a water bank program, then entered a management agreement with the then-newly-formed Klamath Water and Power Agency, or KWAPA, in 2008. The bureau justified the multimillion-dollar agreement by saying it would be used for environmental mitigation. But two whistleblowers documented the money instead went toward increased water supplies for farmland, compensating farmers for receiving less water and other priorities that seemed aimed at aiding farmers — not the bureau’s environmental responsibilities such as protections for endangered salmon in the Klamath River.

Groups file lawsuits challenging Yellowstone grizzly delisting. E&E News (sub req’d). An environmental group and a coalition of conservation and Native American tribal interests today filed two federal lawsuits challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision in June to remove the Yellowstone population of grizzly bears from the endangered species list. The first lawsuit was filed by the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of WildEarth Guardians in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana. It says the decision to end federal protection for the distinct population of about 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem violated provisions of the Endangered Species Act; failed to conform to the best available science; and was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.” The second lawsuit, filed today in the same federal court by a coalition of four groups — the National Parks Conservation Association, the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club — makes many of the same arguments.

Coordinated comments on Mexican wolf plan warn of extinction. E&E News (sub req’d). Thousands of people are sounding off — and sounding alike — about the Mexican wolf and its future management by the Fish and Wildlife Service. As agency officials seek to revise their recovery plan for the endangered animal, they’re pawing through more than 8,000 public comments submitted since June 29. More will arrive before the comment period closes Aug. 29 (Greenwire, June 29). Many already show the signs of an organized campaign, a common though not necessarily dispositive practice on high-profile regulatory and environmental conflicts like this one. “I am passionate about the well-being of our wildlife and I believe we all have the right to intact and thriving ecosystems,” Volcano, Calif., resident Elena Knox declared Aug. 4. The same day, Don E. Dumond of Eugene, Ore., filed identical sentiments, capped with an identical warning. “Unfortunately, this draft recovery plan does not provide that freedom,” added Dumond, Knox and many of their allies. “Rather, this plan will lead the Mexican wolf down a road to extinction.”

Conservation Easement Benefits Lesser Prairie Chicken. Rural Messenger. The Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) has finalized permanent conservation agreements with a private landowner to conserve 968 acres of high-quality lesser prairie chicken habitat in southcentral Kansas. In addition, a 160-acre tract owned by another private landowner that is fenced and managed with the property will be protected under a 10-year conservation agreement that was finalized this week. These two tracts of land are immediately adjacent to a 1,781-acre tract, which was placed under a permanent conservation agreement earlier this year. The conserved acreage is all native rangeland currently being managed for livestock production, and this historical use will continue. “Thanks to conservation-minded landowners, we now have a complex of 2,909 acres being managed with the needs of the lesser prairie chicken in mind,” said Roger Wolfe, WAFWA’s Lesser Prairie Chicken Program manager.

New Mexico Commission Supports Wolf Recovery Proposal. Associated Press. The New Mexico State Game Commission has voted to support a federal proposal to recover an endangered wolf species that once roamed parts of New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. The vote came Thursday after commissioners received an update from the state Game and Fish Department on the recovery planning process for the Mexican gray wolf. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is under a court order to have a completed recovery plan by the end of November. The plan is a long time coming as the original guidance for how to restore the species was adopted in 1982. The lack of a plan has spurred numerous legal challenges as well as skirmishes over states’ rights under the federal Endangered Species Act. Environmentalists say the proposal doesn’t go far enough to boost the population or address concerns about genetic diversity.

Dominion vows ‘habitat’ on pipeline route, but critics scoff. The News Virginian. The builders of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline want to establish 750 acres of new habitat for butterflies, bees and other pollinating insects along the pipeline route in southern Virginia and eastern North Carolina once construction is complete. But pipeline opponents say the plan is little more than window dressing, adding that the damage to endangered bees and other insects from the pipeline construction itself will far outweigh 750 acres of new habitat. If approved and built, the natural gas pipeline will run 600 miles through parts of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. The current proposed route shows the pipeline traversing about 55 miles through Augusta County. Aaron Ruby, a spokesman for the main utility spearheading the project, Dominion Energy, said native grasses and wildflowers will be grown over a right of way area totaling about 50 miles. The pollinating material will be planted with the cooperation of landowners and should attract butterflies, bees and other pollinator insects.

Monarch butterfly population has declined 90 percent over the span of 2 decades. Springfield News-Leader. A colorful insect that has long been a source of wonder is now a source of worry. Monarch butterflies have been admired by generations of humans for their beautiful orange-and-black coloration, the beneficial pollination services they provide and the long migrations they make to Mexico at the end of each summer. Those migrations are getting underway, which means monarchs will be winging their ways south through Missouri in the weeks ahead. However, recent data indicates seeing one of these colorful insects isn’t as common an event as it used to be. Studies have shown monarch butterfly numbers east of the Rocky Mountains have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 20 years. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service equated that population drop to a loss of approximately 970 million butterflies during that time span, but the Center for Biological Diversity described the reduction in more sobering terms. It said, in human population terms, the monarchs’ population drop is equivalent to losing every living person in the U.S. except for residents of Ohio and Florida.

New path sought for high-voltage transmission lines in Idaho. Idaho Statesman. Federal officials on Monday reopened public comments on proposed routes for two high-voltage transmission lines in southwestern Idaho intended to modernize the Pacific Northwest’s energy grid. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced it will take comments through Sept. 27 for two segments of the Gateway West project proposed by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power. The BLM in January approved routes for the two 500-kilovolt transmission lines on public land in Idaho’s Gooding, Elmore, Owyhee, Cassia and Twin Falls counties. The BLM has been working on the project since 2008, trying to thread the powerlines through a mixture of private, state and public lands that also includes key habitat for imperiled sage grouse and the national conservation area that is prime habitat for raptors. It’s been a difficult process, and the final decision in January was appealed by environmental groups, causing it to head to the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

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