Weekly Newsletter – 9/16/16

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Weekly Newsletter – 9/16/16

Issues

IPAA submits request to extend comment deadline for public review of ESA Compensatory Mitigation Policy. IPAA and others submitted a request to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week to extend the comment deadline for the public review period of the Service’s Endangered Species Act Compensatory Mitigation Policy. IPAA asks that the Service extend the public comment period for this proposal for at least an additional 30 days, or until November 16, 2016.

The existing public comment period provides only a limited window for review and comment. The new policy is the first comprehensive treatment of the role of compensatory mitigation in the process of the Service’s review of potential remedies for effects on species and habitats of concern from projects proposed by entities in the private or public sectors. IPAA and the other signers believe that such a limited review period does not provide an adequate opportunity for the public to study the information and the rationale for the proposed policy, to carefully consider and provide information on the potential effects on permitting and other administrative decision-making that may result from implementation of the policy, nor to draft meaningful comments on the proposal. Read the full comments HERE.

Environmental groups, industry, and state officials clash on lesser prairie chicken delisting. A coalition of environmental groups, including WildEarth Guardians, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity, has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to relist the lesser prairie chicken, claiming key populations are in danger of extinction from energy development, farming, and infrastructure activity. The debate over the lesser prairie chicken’s status has been ongoing for over two decades.

On July 20, 2016, the FWS finalized its delisting decision, but environmental groups are now pushing the agency to re-evaluate the bird’s status and impose emergency protections in habitat areas. According to the groups, the petition is based on recent scientific studies that show an increasing likelihood of the bird’s extinction across the Texas-New Mexico border, Colorado, and Western Kansas. Erik Molvar, a wildlife biologist with WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement, “The science is clear: The lesser prairie chicken is in serious trouble, and voluntary conservation efforts are not doing enough fast enough to recover these amazing birds.”

State officials and oil and gas groups have said the relisting of the lesser prairie chicken is unnecessary due to on-going conservation efforts. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback called the relisting unwarranted and said there is adequate habitat for the bird. Wally Grandmeister, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said there have been significant achievements in conservation efforts between the state and private sector over the years that environmental groups fail to acknowledge. Grandmeister says, “It’s a relentless attack…It just seems like it’s a tool and technique to push development and industry and agriculture off the land as opposed to really addressing the issue.” The FWS said the bird’s status would be re-evaluated.

Greater sage grouse provision an impasse in NDAA negotiations. The greater sage grouse again brought the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) negotiations to a halt on Wednesday. The NDAA for Fiscal Year 2017 was close to being finalized by House and Senate legislators. However, disputes over the House’s provision preventing the sage grouse from being listed under the ESA quickly became a sticking point.

Supporters of the House provision have expressed concern that protecting the bird would impede military operations. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and an Armed Services member, said, “We’ve thrown out a couple of compromise options — it’s up to the Senate to take them.”

The listing of the greater sage grouse has remained a contentious issue both before and after it was officially delisted by the Department of the Interior in 2015. Over the years, the sage grouse has made frequent appearances in the NDAA. Politico now reports the NDAA will not be finished until after the November elections.

In the News

Ag secretary says private investment needed to help sage grouse. Associated Press. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced grants on Thursday for a pair of programs that will attempt to use private financing to conserve land across the Western U.S. as part of a sweeping effort to restore the greater sage grouse’s habitat. Vilsack told The Associated Press that such private sector investment is needed to supplement $400 million already spent under the agency’s sage grouse restoration initiative. Greater sage grouse live in 11 Western states. About 200,000 to 500,000 remain, down from a peak population of about 16 million.

BLM sage grouse plans not limiting development – report. E&E News (sub req’d). The federal greater sage grouse conservation plans finalized last year have not hampered oil and natural gas leasing and development on public lands in the West, according to a report by a watchdog group that was sharply criticized by the industry as misleading. The federal sage grouse plans finalized in September 2015 also have not negatively affected renewable energy development, livestock grazing and outdoor recreation; the Bureau of Land Management in the past year has approved “dozens” of permits “for a wide array of commercial recreation activities,” according to the report, released today by the Western Values Project.

The Administration’s end-of-summer push on compensatory mitigation policy. Holland & Hart LLP (Briefing). The proposed policy on compensatory mitigation is nominally focused on species protected under the ESA, but the Service appears to be taking a broad view of the policy’s scope, stating that it will be applied to “achieve the best conservation outcomes for listed, proposed, and at-risk species through effective management of the risks associated with compensatory mitigation.” The proposed policy would apply to every form of compensatory mitigation, including permittee-responsible mitigation, conservation banking, in-lieu fee programs, habitat credit exchanges, and other third-party mitigation arrangements.

ESA bureaucrats twisted law with expanded ban on ‘takes.’ Capital Press (Op-Ed). The late Justice Antonin Scalia once described the Endangered Species Act as imposing “unfairness to the point of financial ruin — not just upon the rich, but upon the simplest farmer who finds his land conscripted to national zoological use.” His comment resonates with far too many landowners across the United States. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency charged with implementing the statute, has needlessly and illegally expanded the application of the statute’s most burdensome provision, harming both property owners and species.

Judge halts BLM plan to open 1M CA acres to drilling. Kallanish Energy. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the federal Bureau of Land Management from opening up 1,500 square miles in central California to drilling and hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) because of the threat to drinking water and endangered wildlife, Kallanish Energy reports. Fitzgerald said California houses one-third of the 130 species on the federal endangered species list and that groundwater is essential to California. The ruling is raising some industry concerns because it opens the door to a new federal judicial review of fracking.

Hickenlooper’s aide on BLM grouse plans: ‘I think they can work.’ Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. Collaborative efforts have been key to the development and implementation of Bureau of Land Management plans to protect the greater sage-grouse, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s point person on the issue says. “There’s still things we don’t like about these plans, but I think they can work,” John Swartout, a senior policy adviser to Hickenlooper, said in an interview. “… I think we can work through these issues that come up.” Swartout’s comments follow the BLM’s recent release of policies, or guidance, for how it will implement the plans it released last year for managing sage-grouse habitat and protecting the bird across the West, including in northwest Colorado.

Illinois picks up monarch butterfly cause. Herald & Review. Illinois’ fiscal health and its bond ratings aren’t the only things about the state that have been on the decline in recent years. So has the population of the state insect: the monarch butterfly. The distinctive orange and black butterflies, which make a 2,500-mile, multigenerational journey between Canada and Mexico each year, are facing a host of threats, including habitat loss along their migration path due to development and the proliferation of herbicide-resistant crops and in their overwintering sites in Mexico due to illegal logging. A group of conservation organizations has petitioned the federal government to add the monarch butterfly to the endangered species list, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed to make a decision by summer of 2019.

Sen. Rounds: Cost of regulations impacts South Dakota landowners. Black Hills Pioneer (Op-Ed). We also heard from FWS on the Endangered Species Act during our field hearing. There are currently 1,226 species listed as endangered and 367 listed as threatened in the United States under the Endangered Species Act, and approximately half of the listed species have 80 percent of their habitat on private land. While the FWS attempts to work with landowners to encourage voluntary species management and conservation, the Endangered Species Act continues to impede landowners’ abilities to utilize and develop their land by imposing significant restrictions on what landowners can do on their own property.

Feds advance Joshua tree protections, decline others. E&E News (sub req’d). The iconic Joshua tree and three other species moved a step closer to Endangered Species Act protection, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced today. At the same time, FWS decided against listing the American pika, the Wyoming pocket gopher, the Fourche Mountain salamander, and the Ricord’s rock iguana. The agency also rejected requests to delist the threatened spectacled eider and the threatened Alaska population of Steller’s eider. The other species moving forward in the listing process are the Lassics lupine, the lesser Virgin Islands skink and Florida scrub lizard. Note: Associated Press also reports.

Laura Bush urges Texans to help monarch butterflies. Austin American-Statesman. Appearing at the Austin campus of a military contractor undertaking native plant restoration, former First Lady Laura Bush on Tuesday encouraged Texans to improve habitat for monarch butterflies. “It’s important for us, across our state, to plant the sort of plants that pollinators — monarchs and bumblebees — need,” she told an audience at BAE Systems in East Austin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is studying the monarch, famed for its orange wings and its vast, multi-generational annual migration, to determine if it should be listed under the Endangered Species Act. By some estimates, the migrating population has dropped by as much as 90 percent over the last two decades.

New sage grouse study may add to political debate. Natural Gas Intelligence. Researchers from the University of Nevada, Reno published a paper on Wednesday that may rekindle concern about the ability to allow oil/natural gas development throughout the West and still protect Sage Grouse habitat. Dan Gibson and his co-researchers tracked greater sage grouse hens following mating season for nine years in Nevada, noting that most of the chicks didn’t survive. They published their findings in the scientific journal Condor: Ornithological Applications, and it could spark new concerns about oil/gas and mining development in the 11 western states where sage grouse habitat exists.

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