Welcome to Federal Policy Week, a blog that covers federal policy developments in conservation, natural resources, wildlife, and animal welfare.
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Fascinating Federal Fact: There are 1307 total animal listings (US & Foreign) as of December 2, 2014. (Fish & Wildlife Service).
Sage Grouses & EPA
The debate over protecting threatened and endangered species continues –just with different species and different geographic locations-as landowners, developers, agricultural producers, and others continue to spar with those trying to protect species’ habitats and ensure their survival.
Recently, in the midst of a multi-state and multi-year effort to protect the Sage Grouse and prevent an Endangered Species Act (ESA) designation for the Sage Grouse (with a decision due by September 2015), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (the Service) announced that the Gunnison Sage Grouse, found only in parts of Colorado and Utah, should be protected under the ESA because private efforts have failed to protect the Gunnison. The announcement set off a battle, with oil & gas development potentially limited. Originally, the Service had planned on designating the Gunnison as endangered, and (likely as a result of political pressure) changed the proposed designation to threatened. Wildlife protection groups continue to express concerns over the efficacy of the National Greater Sage-Grouse Planning Strategy, managed by the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service.
By designating the Gunnison Sage Grouse as threatened (instead of endangered), it enables the Service discretion to “protect” the species while allowing agriculture producers and ranchers – who use USDA conservation programs and continue current conservation practices – to continue using the land without restrictions (however that may not preclude restrictions to oil and gas exploration). This approach also limits the Service’s obligation to devote resources to protect species.
Despite the announcement for the Gunnison, the Obama Administration again deferred to state and local interests delaying using science in ESA designations (ignoring the science that lead to the original proposal of endangered for the Gunnison) with the goal of engaging private landowners, but also working to avoid actual designations. Just recently, USGS released a report finding that Sage Grouse need a larger buffer from oil and gas, wind and solar development than previously thought.
As expected, several politicians, including the Governor of Colorado, have objected to even the conservative actions to save the Gunnison Sage Grouse. House Republicans, including the Chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, strongly objected to the proposed listing focusing instead on jobs and resource development in the bird’s habitat. Members of both the House and Senate introduced legislation including the Sage-Grouse Protection and Conservation Act (H.R.4716/S.2394) that prevents the designation of the Greater and Gunnison Sage Grouse under the ESA and defer to state plans.
In time, we will see how the Obama Administration will handle this and future designations under ESA, including designating appropriate resources to protecting species and their habitats.
Wildlife Needs: A recent report found that for wildlife in Wyoming to have successful seasonal migrations, they need access to private and government lands, not just wilderness. The project, which brings together foundations, universities, and conservation organizations, released a film that shows the mapping migration corridors for several big game species in an effort to promote wildlife and wilderness conservation. (NY Times)
Fracking in Forest: As part of a deal, oil and gas extraction will be allowed in a small part of the George Washington National Forest in Virginia on privately-controlled and some leased federal land. Fracking was banned under the original proposal three years ago, but the new plan only allows oil or gas development without a federal permit (still need a state permit) if the leasee to the land has mineral rights (having an existing lease to land without the mineral rights still requires a federal permit before fracking is permitted). With development come new roads and other infrastructure development and uses that can disturb wildlife. The new proposal updates the 1993 plan that had no restrictions on extraction in the forest. (Washington Post)
Exposing Bristol Bay. A federal judge recently partially ruled against EPA’s efforts – restricting activities that would at ruin wetlands and streams and jeopardize salmon runs – to protect Bristol Bay in favor of the Pebble mine project. The judge put EPA’s actions on hold after finding that Pebble had a chance of winning at least claim –how it developed its strategy – against EPA. (Alaska Dispatch News)
Glacier National Park Melting. Climate change is helping to deny Glacier National Park its identity as its acclaimed glaciers continue to melt. Only about 17% of the ice sheets that covered the mountains a century ago remain. (See photo from USGS showing radical changes in ice sheets of time). The negative impacts include reduced water supplies for agriculture producers, wildlife, ski resorts, and residents. (NY Times) General overuse of water for agriculture and from new residential areas, combined with the impacts from climate change, puts increasing strains on people and wildlife.
Protecting Endangered Fish: As a result of a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, EPA and NOAA recently announced an agreement with California state agencies and rice growers to protect federally endangered species. The agreement creates restrictions on the use of the pesticide thiobencarb in rice production. The restrictions go into effect on April 1, 2015. (EPA)
Honeybees. Honeybees are in crisis and scientists are looking to the past hoping to find something to stop their precipitous decline – far beyond just the US. Scientist are examining the collected history of bees in North America and Europe, and trying to understand population changes over the past century and focusing on their food sources and their survival. (NY Times)
Senate Agriculture: Farmers and Fresh Water: Voluntary Conservation to Protect our Land and Waters, Wednesday, December 3, 2014
House Natural Resources: H.R. 3099. To provide for the development of a fishery management plan for the Gulf of Mexico red snapper, and for other purposes, Wednesday, December 4, 2014
House Energy Committee: The Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975: Are We Positioning America for Success in an Era of Energy Abundance?, Thursday, December 11, 2014