House considers ESA-altering legislation. With Congress back in session, two ESA reform bills have been reintroduced. The bills, the Listing Reform Act (H.R. 717) and the Saving America’s Endangered Species Act (SAVES, H.R. 2603) would update how the ESA is enacted and enforced. Both the Listing Reform Act and the SAVES Act are currently awaiting House approval.
Proposed by Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX), the Listing Reform Act removes two rules that are currently required by the ESA: (1) that the Department of Interior secretary must answer all ESA listing petitions within 12 months of their proposal, and (2) that only scientific information can be considered when deciding if a species should be protected or not. Additionally, the SAVES Act, proposed by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and first introduced in May, would remove ESA protections from all nonnative species. The bill would effectively eliminate the duplicative requirement of captive bred permits for foreign species in the United States and those held in captivity.
Beetle makes headlines again. The American burying beetle is making headlines once again, this time in regard to two proposed energy projects in Oklahoma. As E&E News (sub req’d) reports, Plains All American Pipeline and Reach Energy Ltd. both have requested incidental take permits related to future energy development and pipeline infrastructure in the state. Fish and Wildlife notes, “The applicants anticipate American burying beetle take as a result of impacts to habitat the species uses for breeding, feeding, and sheltering in Oklahoma.”
The status of the beetle continues to frustrate industry and lawmakers alike. Sen. James Lankford noted this week that “In states like mine with high beetle populations, the endangered species listing creates real economic problems” and that “the American burying beetle population continues to rise.” Back in February 2017, IPAA and the American Stewards of Liberty also filed a Notice of Intent to sue Fish and Wildlife based on the Service’s failure to render a timely 12-month finding on a petition to delist the beetle. IPAA’s Senior Vice President of Government Relations and Political Affairs stated at the time, “it is long past time that the Service meet its legal obligation to thoroughly evaluate this filing for delisting. Economic threats to the affected communities continue to cost private landowners, businesses, and local governments millions and American jobs are at stake—resolution of this filing is now long overdue.”
Federal government reviews river herring species’ potential under ESA. The federal review comes after National Marine Fisheries Service biologist Tara Lake reported that both the alewife and blueback river herring populations are at approximately three percent of their historical levels. The regulatory Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission announced earlier this month that it finished conducting an extensive review of the two river herring species and found that both populations are at dangerously low levels in rivers from Maine to Florida. Lake found that “dams, culverts are blocking access to spawning habitat access coastwide,” and that “climate change is definitely impacting their distribution.”
This is not the first time federal protection has been proposed for the herring. In 2011, the National Resources Defense Council submitted a petition that called for the fish to be listed. The organization said protecting their populations was important as they “are a little fish that a lot of things eat.” But there has been good news recently as the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found that 16 of the 54 river herring stocks studied showed signs of increasing populations. An ESA determination of “threatened” or “endangered” for the two species could be reached by 2019.
In the News
Texas plant wins protection. E&E News (sub req’d). The otherwise modest Guadalupe fescue has broken new ground as the first plant to win Endangered Species Act protection under the Trump administration. In a decision that took years — since the 1990s — but finally proved relatively thorn-free, the Fish and Wildlife Service today announced listing the plant found in Texas and Mexico as endangered. “We’re in a race to save the Guadalupe fescue, but by extending ESA protections we hope to generate public attention and support timely collaborations on behalf of this unique plant,” Amy Lueders, FWS Southwest regional director, said in a statement. A formal listing notice is scheduled to appear in tomorrow’s edition of the Federal Register. A short-lived perennial grass, the Guadalupe fescue grows in the Maderas del Carmen of northern Mexico and in the Chisos Mountains entirely within Big Bend National Park. Its total absence from private U.S. property greatly lessened the potential for controversy.
From Maine to Florida, Designated Critical Habitat for Atlantic Sturgeon Will Complicate Federal Permitting. Lexology. From the Penobscot River in Maine to the St. Mary’s River in Florida, the Atlantic sturgeon ranges, swimming periodically up river to spawn and returning to marine waters when it is done. With a lifespan of up to 60 years, the Atlantic sturgeon can grow up to 14 feet long and weigh up to 800 pounds, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Despite this species’ mighty proportions and vast range, five distinct population segments of the species have been listed by the as threatened or endangered. Now, NMFS has designated “critical habitat” (DCH) for those segments. 82 Fed. Reg. 39,160 (August 17, 2017). The designation covers almost 4000 miles of habitat in 14 states stretching down the Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida, with North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia hosting the greatest number of river miles. This sweeping designation is likely to affect applicants seeking federal permits for activities that occur in or could affect the designated habitat.
Science supports removing grizzly bear endangered species protection. The Hill (Blog). It comes as no surprise that environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court on August 29 to stop delisting of the grizzly bear as a threatened species. According to WildEarth Guardians, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision on July 30 to delist is “riddled with flaws, not based in science nor the law, and places this icon of all that is wild squarely in crosshairs of extinction once again.” They claim that delisting will increase human encounters, thus leading to killing — euthanizing, if you like. Of course, more encounters are already happening for two reasons. First, Yellowstone grizzly populations have risen from 136 in 1975 to more than 700 today. Second, today’s grizzlies have little or no fear of humans because they have never been hunted.
Sage grouse Conservation Credit System used in Nevada. Wildlife Society. The State of Nevada has released the first credits for sale under its Conservation Credit System (CCS) to mitigate impacts to sage-grouse habitat. The CCS was developed through a collaborative effort among the State of Nevada, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), scientists, landowners, conservation organizations, and many others. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest worked closely with the State of Nevada and BLM Nevada to develop protocols for piloting the use of the credit system for mitigation on National Forest System and public lands where project impacts cannot otherwise be adequately mitigated. The CCS standards provide a net conservation gain for sage grouse habitat and create conservation and business certainty for land owners and conservation bankers, industry and infrastructure agencies, and regulators. Two projects on working ranches generated the 800 credits now available for sale to fulfill mitigation obligations for USFS and BLM permits. In less than 12 months, the projects obtained verified credit scores and approved management plans. Nine additional credit projects are anticipated to produce credits for sale this fall.
Scientists say decline in monarch butterflies brings risk of extinction. SF Gate. Western monarch butterflies, which crowd trees along the California coast every winter and flush them with color, have declined so dramatically since the 1980s that the species will likely go extinct in the next few decades if nothing is done, scientists said Thursday in a population study of the treasured creatures. Fewer than 300,000 of the brilliant orange and black insects were counted last year at some 300 locations stretching from Marin County to the Baja California peninsula, where millions of wintering monarchs historically took up shop, according to the report published in the journal Biological Conservation. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, alarmed by an estimated 75 percent drop in the population just since the early 2000s, funded the latest study to help officials decide whether to list the monarch under the Endangered Species Act.