IPAA Talks ESA at Midyear Meeting. IPAA held its annual midyear meeting in Colorado Springs this week, kicking off the event with a one-day conference focused on strategic planning on environment and land access issues. The conference included expert speakers and members of IPAA’s Government Relations team to discuss some of the key issues facing independent producers, including the Endangered Species Act and access to federal lands.
Michael Nedd of the Bureau of Land Management spoke about the implantation of the sage grouse resource management plans and potential impacts for independent producers. Tom Sansonetti, a partner with Holland & Hart, later discussed the best ways to navigate the regulatory challenges facing independent producers operating on federal lands. Patrick Traylor, a partner with Hogan Lovells US LLP, also lead an interactive discussion on how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has used the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 (MBTA) in enforcement actions against the oil and gas and renewable energy sectors as well as the Service’s recent notice of intent to create an MBTA incidental take permit program. IPAA would like to thank all of the great speakers for their insight into these important issues. For more information about the sessions please reach out to SMcDonald@ipaa.org.
FWS and NOAA seek comment on Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their draft Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook this week and are seeking public comments. The Handbook instructs agency staff on how to assist applicants in developing their Habitat Conservation Plans. The draft Handbook incorporates recent proposed changes to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mitigation Policy and provides guidance on addressing climate change, among other changes. The agencies are accepting comments through August 29, 2016.
Interior officials testify at Senate sage grouse hearing. At a subcommittee hearing of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Tuesday, Western Republican senators decried the federal government’s sage grouse plans as a “one size fits none” solution. The hearing featured Jim Lyons, the Interior official responsible for overseeing sage grouse conservation efforts, and examined how the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service are working with Western states to implement changes to land-use plans following the federal government’s decision not to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act.
Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) said the federal plans interfere with existing conservation efforts within the states and threaten energy production in the West. “I’m concerned that
The hearing comes on the heels of multiple lawsuits brought by Western stakeholders in recent months, all seeking to block the federal plans. House Republicans recently introduced an appropriations bill that would prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from adding the sage grouse to the endangered species list in the future.
New model suggests Texas’ weather plays an outsized role in monarch population size. Scientists may be able to better predict and understand summer monarch butterfly populations by observing Texas’ weather in Spring, a new model suggests. “Spring weather conditions in Texas primarily drive summer abundance of monarchs in Ohio and Illinois,” said Elise Zipkin, a Michigan State University biologist and co-author of the model. “This suggests that the climate experienced by monarchs during their annual migration from overwintering sites in Mexico to their northern summer breeding grounds has a significant impact on population growth.”
The model’s conclusion is supported by another study released earlier this year by Anurag Agrawal, a Cornell University professor. Agrawal’s study suggested that “sparse autumnal nectar sources, weather and habitat fragmentation” were responsible for monarch population declines. He added that the end of a severe drought in Texas was likely responsible for the recent monarch population rebound. “Given the intense interest in monarch conservation, the blame being put on herbicide use and the national dialogue about potentially listing monarchs under the Endangered Species Act, we have to get the science right,” Agrawal said.
In the News
Sage grouse vs. oil men, a fight drags on into another decade. Houston Chronicle. The greater sage grouse, famed for its elaborate courtship rituals, has bedeviled Texas oil and gas companies trying to drill in the rocky high plains of the western United States for more than a decade. The tension seemingly should have dissipated in September, when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced that her agency would not place the grouse on the federal endangered species list and effectively block drilling across the ground bird’s expansive habitat.
Farm Bureau asks court to toss sage grouse land-use regs. Agri Pulse. The American Farm Bureau Federation and its Utah affiliate are asking a federal court in Utah to toss out a host of what they say are illegal land-use restrictions hampering ranchers in Western states. AFBF says the groups made the request as part of a motion to intervene on the side of the State of Utah in a lawsuit against the federal government. The litigation challenges federal land management plans imposing restrictions on ranching and other human activities in Utah as part of a larger effort to manage federal lands for species protection rather than for “multiple uses” as required by law.
Should Pacific Bluefin Tuna be Listed as an Endangered Species? NPR. Last week, about a dozen environmental groups — including Greenpeace, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Earthjustice — formally petitioned the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service to consider listing the Pacific bluefin tuna as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. That status mandates the highest levels of protection from harm. The Pacific bluefin tuna, a species distinct from the overfished Atlantic bluefin, has been depleted to less than 3 percent of its estimated unfished levels, according to numerous researchers.
Efforts to save endangered species can be counterproductive. Elko Daily Free Press (Opinion). In 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA), intending to protect the likes of eagles and grizzlies and bison. Instead it has been used by federal bureaucrats to label as endangered or threatened all manner of bugs, weeds, reptiles and minnows — jeopardizing economic activity from fishing to logging to mining to livestock grazing. Since 1973, 2,000 species have been listed under the ESA as endangered or threatened. Of those, only 20 species — 1 percent — have sufficiently recovered to warrant delisting.
Florida’s coral reef system in rapid decay, scientists say. CNN. Scientists say Florida’s coral reef system, the third-largest in the world, is in rapid decay, with a variety of threats edging the delicate ecosystem closer to collapse sooner than anyone believed possible. Langdon and his team discovered that as ocean water becomes more acidic, due to carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the structures that support the coral are beginning to disintegrate. Another controversial issue that environmentalists say has weakened Florida’s reefs: Port dredging. According to Silverstein, a multiyear project to deepen the port of Miami “buried alive over 200 football fields (worth) of our coral reefs off Miami Beach,” including species of coral that are on the endangered species list.
Survival of butterfly migration needs ‘all hands on deck.’ Quad City Times. Speaking at the second annual Q-C Pollinator Conference at the Davenport River Center, Taylor noted that this winter, 2015-16, the number of monarchs that made it to Mexico increased to an area covering four hectares. That was up from the all-time low of 0.67 hectares in 2013, but far below the all-time high of 18 hectares in 1996-97. And then a sleet storm on March 8-9 killed millions of butterflies, so the population that returns to the United States this summer isn’t expected to be very high, he told the roughly 300 people at the conference. While it is not likely that monarchs will go extinct, their numbers may fall to the point that they no longer migrate, Taylor said.
The hidden costs of environmental regulations. Orange County Register (Op-Ed). Environmental regulation is often portrayed as all good, no bad. In reality, however, environmental regulation often fails to protect those things while also imposing substantial economic, social and even environmental costs. Unfortunately, these critical habitat designations and the Endangered Species Act also appear to be contributing to urban sprawl, which has been identified as a major threat to wildlife by environmental groups. If you’re looking to build housing or a shopping mall, avoiding critical habitat areas can significantly lower the costs of the project. It may also push the development further away from downtown or urban areas, contributing to the very same sprawl that many environmental groups would like to stop.
Schiess: The aerial sage grouse count. East Idaho News (Column). For 50 years the counting of the dwindling numbers of Greater Sage Grouse has been a bumpy ride across the desert terrain by personnel of the Idaho Fish and Game along with dedicated volunteers. That could soon change as it may mostly be done from the air with aerial infrared (AIR), which reads temperature from high above. “Preliminary results suggest that both methods correctly account for approximately 90% of the sage-grouse at the lek,” said Gillette. “Counting leks with AIR is just one more tool that biologists can use to meet the demands of managing wildlife species on behalf of Idaho’s citizens.” As technology continues to be developed, wildlife researchers will have the advantage to do a better job of managing wildlife and specifically help the population of the Greater Sage grouse improve in Idaho.