Trump administration begins sage-grouse overhaul. The New York Times reports the Interior Department will soon publish a notice of intent to alter 98 Greater sage-grouse management plans in 10 states. The decision comes as a result of a report published by the special sage-grouse task force that urged the Department to give states more management flexibility in order to keep the bird off the endangered species list. The task force also recommended altering protections for the sage-grouse in part to revitalize energy production and economic opportunity in the habitat region. Once issued, the notice of intent will begin a 45-day comment period.
Additionally, Interior Department Secretary Zinke is not expected to reinstate the two-year moratorium that bans mining in sage-grouse habitat across six different Western states when it expires this Sunday, opening roughly ten million acres of land to new mining claims. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently conducting an environmental impact statement of the vast acreage to determine whether any piece of it should be exempt in an effort to protect certain sagebrush focal areas, areas the federal plans describe as “essential for the species survival.” Despite the moratorium ending this week, BLM’s review is not expected to be completed until the end of the year.
Senators introduce legislation granting states more control over endangered species. This week, Utah senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch introduced the “Native Species Protection Act” to Congress. If passed, the legislation would bar regulation under the Endangered Species Act of noncommercial species that live in only one state.
The senators said the bill is one of many that should contribute to much needed ESA reform. Sen. Mike Lee stated, “The Native Species Protection Act is a common sense reform that would limit the damage caused by federal mismanagement of protected species while empowering state and local officials to pursue sensible conservation plans with their communities.” E&E News (sub req’d) reports the move was likely influenced by a March decision from the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that restored a 2012 ban on harming the Utah prairie dog on private property.
The unanimous ruling rejected a constitutional challenge that the Endangered Species Act doesn’t authorize the regulation of species that live in a single state and has no impact on interstate commerce. Property rights advocates have filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to review the decision.
In the News
U.S. agency to decide if Pacific walrus is threatened species. Associated Press. A federal agency faces a deadline this week to decide whether the iconic Pacific walrus will join the polar bear on the threatened species list. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under a court settlement has until Saturday to decide whether the Pacific walrus should be put on the list because of threats to its sea ice habitat due to climate change. Walruses use sea ice as platforms for resting, feeding and nursing. In spring, ice in the Bering Sea melts and the edge gradually recedes north through the Bering Strait and into the Chukchi Sea. Shaye Wolf, climate science director for the Center for Biological Diversity, in February 2008 filed the petition that called for the listing. The need has not diminished, she said Tuesday. “The science is absolutely clear that the walrus is in trouble from climate change and it’s already waited much too long for protection,” Wolf said. President Donald Trump has called climate change a “total con job” and “hoax” perpetrated to harm U.S. economic competitiveness.
All for naught? Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Editorial). The New York Times reported Thursday that the Interior Department intends to consider amending “all or some” sage-grouse habitat management programs in 10 western states, which could upend a decade of collaboration and compromise to keep the bird off the endangered species list. This wasn’t unexpected. The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported last week on John Swartout’s ongoing efforts to help stakeholders arrive at a statewide consensus on whether Colorado’s plan should change. The plan, approved by the Obama administration in 2015, prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide not list the bird under the Endangered Species Act. Swartout, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s appointed point person on sage-grouse issues, initiated a series of meetings with local governments, energy industry representatives and environmental interests because state officials anticipated federal action, either by Interior or Congress, to loosen protections on habitat.
Ryan Zinke plans overhaul because Interior Department employees ‘not loyal’. Washington Examiner. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Monday 30 percent of his agency’s employees are “not loyal” to him or President Trump and he is developing a plan to overhaul the department. “I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” Zinke said in remarks to the National Petroleum Council, a federal advisory panel. He compared his running of the agency to a pirate ship that seizes “a prized ship at sea and only the captain and the first mate row over” to complete the mission. He then went on to discuss a forthcoming “huge” plan to restructure the agency away from Washington and to the states to speed up oil and natural gas permitting. He also said the Endangered Species Act has been “abused” by environmental groups and bureaucrats alike, which has stalled development. The designation of animal species granted protections under the law must be less arbitrary, Zinke said. “There is no off-ramp” for species to be taken off the endangered list, once it is determined that a species numbers are adequate and it has recovered, he said.
Report: Sand miners disturbing threatened West Texas lizard’s habitat. Texas Tribune. Sand mining operations in oil-rich West Texas have disturbed at least 292 acres of a threatened lizard’s habitat this year — and could impact up to 23,000 acres, according to an advocacy group’s analysis published Monday. The dunes sagebrush lizard, a vulnerable species that calls the Permian Basin home, has long faced threats to its habitat from oil and drilling operations. Companies that mine fine-grain sand for hydraulic fracturing pose an additional threat, especially because several operations have been planned along a stretch of West Texas land considered a prime habitat for the lizard. Last month, Texas’ endangered species chief said these “frac-sand” operations posed a “significant” risk to a plan meant to protect the lizard and the 248,686 acres it lives on. In an August letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the official noted that five frac-sand companies had disturbed more than 271 acres of the lizard’s habitat and surrounding buffer areas between early-March and mid-July. Several companies have agreed to modify their plans.
Endangered U.S. wolf denied new habitat, as critics charge that politics trumped science. Science Magazine. On 26 January 1998, federal wildlife officials drove three Mexican wolves to a remote corner of southeastern Arizona, where they soon became the first wild wolves to roam the U.S. Southwest in nearly 30 years. Mike Phillips, a biologist who had helped reintroduce wolves to the southeastern United States and Yellowstone National Park, said that day that reestablishing the Mexican wolf was going to be “the biggest wolf conservation challenge” yet. The captive-bred wolves would have to survive in a landscape grazed heavily by livestock, increasing the potential for deadly conflicts with ranchers. Still, Phillips never thought it would be this hard. Nineteen years after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) released those animals, the agency has announced its draft plan for reestablishing a viable population.
Trump’s Wall Would Protect Hundreds Of Miles Of Critical Habitat And Environmentalists Want To Stop It. Daily Caller. Environmentalists are suing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for suspending environmental regulations in order to construct a border wall along the U.S. boundary with Mexico, despite evidence of “significant” environmental damage caused by illegal immigration. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Democrat Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who sits on CBD’s advisory board, are calling the DHS waivers “unconstitutional” acts that represent “dangerous disregard for our environment.” “Trump’s border wall will be a deathblow to already endangered animals on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border,” a May CBD report on the border wall states. “A wall will block movement of many wildlife species, precluding genetic exchange, population rescue and movement of species in response to climate change.” While wall construction will affect animal movements to a certain extent, illegal immigration also poses a threat to endangered animals. The CBD lawsuit runs counter to the stated goals of environmentalists, GOP Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah told The Daily Caller News Foundation in an email.