Weekly Newsletter – June 24, 2016

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Weekly Newsletter – June 24, 2016

Issues

National Pollinator Week creates buzz over bees, butterflies. National Pollinator Week took place this week as organizations across the country sought to draw attention to the declining populations of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators. Throughout the week, groups held events designed to raise awareness of the role key species, such as the monarch butterfly, play in our agricultural system. A proclamation issued by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called for the week to highlight the role of pollinators in food production systems, the economic stability of the agricultural sector, and the general environmental health of the nation.

In light of a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report that one third of the food consumed in the United States benefited from the honey bee population, particular focus was placed on this pollinator. The Christian Science Monitor reported on activists’ anger at the lack of government activity at a time when the United States has seen two consecutive years of a 40% or more decline in honey bee numbers. Meanwhile, Forbes highlighted increasing collaboration between the USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, and private organizations since the 2014 founding of the Pollinator Health Task Force.

The week was also a celebration of other key pollinators, including the monarch butterfly. The monarch’s population has declined sharply in recent years and researchers have suggested that a severe drought in Texas may be to blame. The Independent Petroleum Association of America submitted joint comments with the American Petroleum Institute on the butterfly last year, noting that “no evidence exists in the literature of adverse effects from oil and gas industry operations on the species itself or on the destruction, modification, or curtailment of the species’ habitat or range.”

Environmentalists deliver millions of dead bees to EPA to protest pesticide use. Environmentalists from the Keep the Hives Alive Tour delivered almost 3 million dead honeybees to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Wednesday in an effort to raise awareness about the declining bee populations across the country. Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, allege that EPA-approved pesticides are responsible for the recent declines in pollinator populations and have called for the agency to ban certain formulations of pesticides.

The EPA did not issue official remarks on the protest, though the agency tweeted Thursday, “Bees & other pollinators are responsible for 1/3 of the food we eat!  #Pollinator Week.” The tweet linked to an EPA “Pollinator Protection” webpage that provided resources for protecting pollinators and allows members of the public to report bee kills.

Last year the Independent Petroleum Association of America jointly submitted comments with the American Petroleum Institute on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to list the rusty-patched bumble bee as an endangered species. According to the comments, the petition to list the bee relied on incomplete data and did not present sufficient information to warrant listing the bee. The comments also requested the Service to consider Safe Harbor protections for oil and gas operators who voluntarily modify their activities on site, including modifying their use of pesticides to protect the bee.

IPAA preparing comments on voluntary agreements. The Obama Administration proposed changes earlier this year to the voluntary agreements private landowners make with the federal government to help protect imperiled species and prevent their placement on the endangered species list. The draft policy and rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service would alter the criteria used to approve candidate conservation agreements with assurances (CCAAs) to merely require a “net conservation benefit” for a specified species instead of requiring landowners to rely on the actions of others supplementing their own efforts.

The CCAAs allow developers and landowners to either restore or conserve a declining species’ habitat in exchange for assurances that they will be immune to additional regulations if the species is eventually listed. In February of this year, the administration also finalized a policy clarifying that lands enrolled in CCAAs and other conservation programs would be excluded from critical habitat designations for listed species. IPAA is preparing its comments on the rule in anticipation of the July 5th deadline.

In the News

Butterfly summit to focus on declining population in Illinois. State Journal-Register. The official state insect of Illinois has its own summit this summer. Representatives from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, agriculture, transportation and the utility industry are scheduled to meet in Springfield Sept. 9 to discuss ways to rebuild the state’s monarch butterfly population after two decades of steady decline. Loss of habitat — including the milkweed vital to monarch breeding – invasive species, herbicides and pesticides are among the topics on the agenda. Organizers say the Illinois summit is also part of a joint U.S. effort with Canada and Mexico to rebuild monarch populations that have dropped up to 90 percent in two decades.

Sage Grouse season proposed for the first time since 2012. Aberdeen News. The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission is considering re-opening the sage grouse hunting season. The season has been closed since 2012 due to a decreasing population. GFP’s sage grouse management plan says that the season could open again if the spring lek survey count is over 250 male sage grouse on all leks. This spring revealed a count of 278 male grouse on all leks. The proposed season would run Sept. 17-18 and would allow for 40 resident hunting permits with a limit of one sage grouse per hunter. If permits are still available after the first drawing, both residents and nonresidents will be able to apply. Any leftover permits will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Government exceeds its powers in enforcing the Endangered Species Act. Cato Institute (Blog). A California builders’ association is now asking the Court to establish that judicial review is available for individuals and businesses affected by these agency actions that purport to enforce the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA specifically requires federal agencies to take economic impacts into consideration, but the USFWS routinely ignores the costs of designating land as a critical habitat. The San Francisco-based U.S Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that the designation of critical habitat is an action fully committed to agency discretion, and that it may ignore any cost implications at its leisure, but this would seem to contradict Michigan v. EPA and other precedent.

Law helped recover most bird populations – report. E&E News (sub req’d). A conservation group report today determined that the Endangered Species Act has been “extraordinarily successful” in recovering imperiled birds. The Center for Biological Diversity study — which says it is “the most exhaustive and systematic analysis of its kind” — found that 85 percent of bird populations in the continental United States increased or stabilized while protected under the ESA. The law was less successful in recovering Pacific island birds. Only 61 percent of those populations have increased or stabilized since they were added to the endangered or threatened species lists, according to the report.

Sen. Moran talks about future legislative goals with High Plains Journal staffers. High Plains Journal. “As I like to tell my colleagues, when it rains, you get habitat, and where there’s habitat, you get birds,” he said. “There’s been a 50 percent increase in the population in the two years since we started having rain again.” But that doesn’t mean the USFWS can’t come back with a new proposal from scratch to list the bird in the future, and that’s why as a member of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, and chairman of the ag appropriations subcommittee, Moran put wording in the funding bill for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that stripped funding from implementing the listing of the lesser prairie-chicken.

Trump Jr. calls BLM drilling regs ‘reasonable.’ E&E News (sub req’d). BLM has taken sensible steps to balance oil and gas leasing with conservation in the West, the son of Donald Trump said yesterday. Trump said he’s also encouraged that Interior was able to garner “bipartisan” support from Western states to avert an ESA listing for the greater sage grouse. Trump said he supports a “happy medium” that saves the bird and enables energy independence, though he refrained from criticizing the federal land-use plans. ESA does not have to be dismantled, Trump said, though he didn’t rule out the need for changes. “I think the Endangered Species Act has done some great things,” he said. “But I also think that at times it’s been used as a Trojan horse to

[advance] other agendas that probably don’t have as much to do with the species in question as the people pushing their agendas would like everyone else to believe.”

Group says fracking will harm endangered Alaska beluga whale. Associated Press. A national environmental group on Wednesday asked federal fisheries officials to block an oil company’s plans for offshore hydraulic fracturing underneath Alaska’s Cook Inlet because of the threat to the inlet’s population of endangered beluga whales. The Center for Biological Diversity said fracking increases risks of spills, earthquakes and toxic pollutants to belugas, which were declared endangered in 2008. BlueCrest’s well will be on shore, said CEO Benjamin Johnson. The company will drill horizontally up to four miles to reach deep oil deposits and create fractures of about 200 feet. “We are not in a beluga-critical habitat, by the way, but nevertheless, there would be absolutely no impact to any marine animals by us fracking — putting a fracture in the ground that’s a couple of hundred feet thick — over a mile and a half below the surface of the sea floor,” he said.

As deadly bat disease takes hold in Minn., scientists focus on future. Minnesota Public Radio. State conservation officials in March confirmed that several hundred bats found dead over the winter in northern Minnesota were infected with white nose syndrome. There is no cure. Instead, researchers at Itasca, Minn. and at more than a dozen sites across the state are focused now on trying to help bats survive by understanding the summer habitat they use to reproduce and raise their young. The data will help develop ways to manage the forest, hopefully, in time to protect the threatened bats. At the Itasca site, research has focused on the northern long-eared bat, a species that’s been hit especially hard by white nose syndrome and is now listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.

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