Weekly Newsletter – 9/2/16

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Weekly Newsletter – 9/2/16

Issues

IPAA Submits Comments on FWS and NMFS Draft Revision to Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook. This week, IPAA submitted comments on the joint U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) draft revision to their Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook. The comments echo concerns acknowledged by the Services that the HCP process is too costly, inefficient, and results are uncertain.

As stated by IPAA and other signers on the comments, “Unfortunately, the revisions to the HCP process as provided in the Draft HCP Handbook will further impede rather than improve the planning process. These revisions create a more complex and regimented process that will reduce flexibility in HCP development, contradict the definition of adaptive management defined by the Services, eliminate the potential for innovative new conservation tools that can be incorporated into HCPs, provide little or no additional benefit to subject species and their critical habitat, and result in less certainty for parties seeking voluntary conservation agreements.” Read IPAA’s full comments HERE.

BLM issues guidance for implementing sage grouse plans. On Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued several Instruction Memorandums (IMs) to clarify how its sage grouse land use plans will be implemented. The IMs provide guidance on oil and gas development and grazing. “These Instruction Memorandums respond to state and stakeholder desires to see clear and consistent application of our management activities across the western Greater Sage-Grouse states while providing the flexibility needed to respond to local situations and concerns,” BLM Director Neil Kornze said in a release.

Under the IMs, BLM will prioritize oil and gas leasing outside of General Habitat Management Areas (GHMAs) and Priority Habitat Management Areas (PHMAs), with the agency considering leases in PHMAs only after all other options have been considered. The IMs note that parcels “immediately adjacent or proximate to existing oil and gas leases and development operations or other land use development” will be given the greatest priority, and parcels within existing Federal oil and gas units will be favored above those that are not.

BLM will also factor in parcels’ distance from higher-value sage grouse habitat, such as active leks or winter range areas, giving priority to parcels in lower-value habitat. The agency will additionally give priority to areas that have completed “Environmental Impact Statements or Master Leasing Plans that allow for adequate site-specific mitigation.” The IMs are effective immediately and are set to expire on September 30, 2019.

New settlement forces FWS to decide on endangered status of 9 species. In a settlement with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed Tuesdayto decide over the next few years if federal protections are required to help conserve nine species. The conservation group has repeatedly sued the agency for failing to meet statutory deadlines for Endangered Species Act reviews. This settlement sets a timeline for decisions staggered between 2017 and 2021.

The nine species in this week’s agreement were chosen for “expedited decisions” in a 2011 settlement with the CBD. The group sued the agency again in March of this year because the Service had not yet acted on those expedited decisions. The species in question include two fish, a freshwater snail, a mollusk, cobblestone tiger beetle, California spotted owl, foothill yellow-legged frog, alligator snapping turtle, and Northern Rockies fisher.

This latest settlement comes on the heels of an announcement that CBD would sue the Service over the Endangered Species Act reviews of 417 species. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe has said his resource-strapped agency is in a “losing battle” with conservation groups as it is more cost effective for the Service to settle with the groups than try to fight them in court.

Solar industry cries foul at protections for birds and bats. Politico recently obtainedcomments submitted earlier this year by the solar industry and wildlife advocacy groups on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s draft guidelines outlining actions solar developers can take to avoid or mitigate potential harm to birds and bats protected under the Endangered Species Act and Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The solar groups warned that the suggested actions would stymie efforts to expand utility-scale solar projects in the Pacific Southwest.

The Service’s draft guidelines suggested solar developers should implement projects away from the habitats of protected species and regularly survey sights to determine whether birds or bats are being harmed. The proposed guidelines only apply to projects 20 megawatts or larger in California, Nevada, and the Klamath Basin, but the Service could eventually expand the guidelines to encompass the rest of the country.

The Large-scale Solar Association called upon the Fish and Wildlife Service to withdraw the draft document and work with industry groups “to craft a reasonable and scientifically justified approach to these issues.” The Natural Resources Defense Council and Audubon California, however, said the guidelines are necessary precisely because there is insufficient data on the impact of large-scale solar development on birds and bats.

In the News

US takes key step to implement sage grouse conservation plan. Associated Press. Federal land managers issued guidelines Thursday for restricting energy development, livestock grazing and other activities on public land in the West to protect the greater sage grouse, part of a broad effort to save the bird without resorting to listing it as an endangered species. Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance, an oil and gas industry group, called the priority system arbitrary and said it ignores work companies have done to protect sage grouse. “This is another example of draconian federal measures that ignore actual on-the-ground measures that states, counties, landowners and companies are already doing to conserve the species,” she said.

FWS eyes compensatory mitigation for species or habitat damage. E&E News (sub req’d). The Fish and Wildlife Service will begin taking comment tomorrow on a proposal that aims to provide clear guidelines for how land users should pay for damage to protected species or habitat. The 148-page draft compensatory mitigation policy is a small component of the broader mitigation effort of FWS and the Obama administration. In general, the goal is to minimize, rectify and reduce harm to sensitive resources before turning to monetary options, such as those detailed in the new proposal. The agency aims to give preference to efforts that seek to offset planned impacts to species before they occur, that protect land within previously identified “priority conservation areas” and that consolidate conservation.

FWS unveils listing plan through 2023. E&E News (sub req’d). The Fish and Wildlife Service today unveiled which rare animals and plants it will consider adding to the endangered or threatened species lists over the next seven years. The listing plan is based on a new methodology for organizing the status reviews of hundreds of species. The highest priority was given to species that appear to be critically imperiled; the lowest went to those for which there are limited data available. Among the first species to be considered for new or additional protections is the lesser prairie chicken, which an oil industry trade group successfully sued to have removed from the threatened list in 2014. Meanwhile, the wide-ranging Western bumble bee and the little brown bat are a couple of the species closely watched by industry that FWS does not plan to review for listing until 2023.

FWS reviewing status of nearly two dozen species. The Hill. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) will review the status of nearly two dozen endangered and threatened species, including the Alabama beach mouse, oyster mussel and tulotoma snail. The status review of both animals and plants announced Monday could lead to fewer protections for species that have recovered since they were listed. The public has 60 days to comment.

Oregon wild horse roundup canceled. Capital Press. A planned roundup of wild horses from the Three Fingers herd in Malheur County, Ore., has been canceled due to a rangeland fire in the area. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management decided to withdraw its decision to gather 100 of the herd’s 200 horses near Jordan Valley, Ore., in late August, forestalling at least temporarily an animal rights group’s lawsuit seeking to block the action. The planned August roundup was also aimed at protecting sage grouse habitat and fire restoration projects, neither of which were studied under the 2011 analysis, the complaint said. Since then, a study has found that PZP can remain effective longer than expected, causing foals to be born outside the normal birthing season, and is associated with ovulation failure, according to Friends of Animals.

Obama creates largest protected place on Earth, around Hawaiian Islands. Courthouse News Service. President Barack Obama on Friday quadrupled the size of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii to include some 580,000 square miles of the northwest Hawaiian Islands. Papahanaumokuakea’s expansion includes a far-flung network of open ocean, coral reefs and windswept atolls, home to over 7,000 species — one-quarter endemic — including whales and sea turtles listed under the Endangered Species Act and the longest-living marine species in the world: black coral, which have been found to live longer than 4,500 years.

Are monarch butterflies dwindling or rebounding? Christian Science Monitor. Earlier this year, the monarch butterfly seemed to be starting a comeback after 20 years of habitat loss took a serious toll on its population. The insect, which is known for its distinctive orange-and-black wings and dramatic migration pattern that has some butterflies cover a distance of up to 3,000 miles, seemed to be responding positively to joint conservation efforts from the United States, Mexico, and Canada earlier this year. But this summer’s monarch butterfly counts have yielded alarmingly low numbers of the species, compared with last year.

Farmers, the most likely cause of the monarch butterfly’s travails, may now be their salvation. Grist. The monarch population has plummeted in recent years, and it’s probably because farmers have gotten a lot better at controlling weeds. They’ve waged war against milkweed, wiping out the plant monarch caterpillars need to survive. There are a lot of other things ganging up on these poor butterflies, but milkweed loss seems to be the biggest problem. Now farmers are coming up with creative solutions to help the butterfly population bounce back — planting milkweed along field edges, in the corners unreached by irrigation circles, and along roads. This is happening in farm country all around the United States.

Rep. Gosar decries legal threats for endangered species. Payson Roundup. Rep. Paul Gosar this week renewed his war with the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center this week filed a notice that it might file a lawsuit to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether to list some 417 species as endangered or threatened. Rep. Gosar issued a release saying “Extremist environmentalist groups, led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), announced their intent this week to unleash several hundred more frivolous lawsuits against the Fish and Wildlife Service. These organizations have a long history of abusing the ESA (Endangered Species Act) in order to force taxpayers to pay millions of dollars in government legal fees defending these arbitrary lawsuits. The truth is that misguided groups like CBD are simply using ‘sue and settle’ tactics to fund and implement their radical agenda.”

Newmont inks deal to help sage grouse habitat in Nevada. Associated Press. Newmont Mining Corp. officials signed an agreement Tuesday with the U.S. government and the state of Nevada to protect some of the most critical sage grouse habitat in the West in exchange for assurances it will be allowed to develop other public lands in the future in the largest gold mining state in the nation. The deal calls for Newmont to seek approval from state and federal regulators for habitat conservation projects across 1.5 million acres under Nevada’s Conservation Credit System.

Wyoming sage grouse count up for 3rd year in a row. Associated Press. The number of greater sage grouse in Wyoming continues to grow, at least for now, and recover from a recent sharp decline. Long-term prospects for the bird, which once numbered in the millions but has seen its habitat dwindle by almost half, remain uncertain, however. No more than half a million sage grouse remain across the birds’ range in 11 states. Biologists and others who fanned out across Wyoming this spring counted more male sage grouse at leks, or sage grouse mating areas, than any year since 2007. The number of males per lek averaged 35.7, up 16 percent from 2015, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department data released Monday.

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