The Environment

  Wolves On Chopping Block AgainJanuary 24, 2008 21:34 Special regulations released Thursday will allow wolves to be shot if they are attacking stock animals or dogs, or if they are having an adverse impact on deer, elk or moose populations.

Conservation groups immediately denounced the move, saying it will let the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming “kill most of the threatened wolves in the Northern Rockies.”

“The Bush administration is giving a blank check to the states to slaughter wolves for doing what they need to do to make a living — which is eating deer and elk,” said Louisa Wilcox with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The government spent millions of dollars to reintroduce wolves to the wild in the Northern Rockies, and now it wants to spend millions more to kill them. That’s crazy.”

But Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said that’s not the case.

“Everybody’s crying wolf,” he said on Thursday. “We expect the number killed will be less than we currently kill now for livestock depredations.”

Since 1995, only 60 wolves have been legally killed by private citizens in defense of their private property, or by shoot-on-sight permits as authorized by special rules adopted in 1994 and revised in 2005, according to the FWS. In the past 12 years, two wolves were shot by federal land permittees as wolves chased and harassed horses in corrals or on pickets.

However, between 1987 and 2006, 255 wolves were hunted down and killed in Montana after they had killed livestock. As of December 2007, at least 65 wolves were shot last year alone for livestock depredation.

Since 1987, 101 dogs have been killed by wolves, according to the FWS.

The special regulation is applicable only in the southern half of Montana, most of central Idaho and throughout Wyoming, but not in national parks, Bangs said.

The regulation will be published in the federal register on Monday and is supposed to go into effect Feb. 28 after a 30-day “cooling off” period, but Wilcox said her group plans to file a lawsuit in federal court to block its implementation.

 
  Bad Week for Endangered SpeciesJanuary 21, 2008 09:02 Jaguars, whales, butterflies and prairie dogs got bad news this past week.

The American jaguar may soon be a memory in America, as the Bush Administration has abandoned plans to craft a recovery plan for the rare species. Why? The official line is that there are "too few" of them to warrant recovery. Critics say that homeland security (i.e., the U.S.-Mexico border fence) is being given priority over the species' survival. Either way, the Interior Department has just guaranteed the American jaguar will go extinct in the U.S. (although its population in Central American remains somewhat healthy).

Meanwhile, I hope that the endangered Quino checkerspot butterfly likes living in cramped quarters, because that's soon all they'll have available. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to reduce the species' protected habitat from 172,000 acres to less than 99,000. The Service is still evaluating things, and said it may cut another 39,000 acres before they're done. Yay.

Here's another un-sound decision: the U.S. Navy can once again use its powerful "active sonar" system to their hearts' abandon, despite scientific research and a judge's earlier rulings that the sonar hurts (and possibly kills) whales and dolphins caught in its path. That scream you just heard? That was the sound of a million marine-mammal migraines.

And finally, the Fish and Wildlife Service has delayed its overdue 90-day decision on adding the black-tailed prairie dog to the endangered species list until August (at least another 210 days), saying there are just too many other requests to protect species under the Endangered Species Act for the Service to respond to them all on a timely basis. Sadly, this statement is all too true.

Will there be better news on Extinction Blog later this week? I'd like to think so, but for some reason, I'm doubtful.
  Bush Allows Navy Sonar Use Despite Fears For WhalesJanuary 19, 2008 07:15 In a Navy-vs.-whales case watched closely by environmentalists from California to the Puget Sound area, President Bush on Wednesday exempted the Navy from some environmental laws.

The fight is over permission to use sonar during Navy warfare training exercises off the coast of California. The military itself admitted that the sonar could permanently injure whales and dolphins.

In a memorandum issued while he was traveling in the Middle East, Bush said the training was "in the paramount interest of the United States" and "essential to national security," and he therefore issued the Navy a waiver excusing it from certain laws.

While the waiver applied specifically to training in California, environmentalists were troubled by the precedent it could set.

"If the administration can just wave a magic wand and do away with the will of Congress and do away with the will of the courts, that raises a very serious question about how our democracy is functioning," said Daniel Hinerfeld, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued to curtail the use of sonar.

 
  Congressmen Say Wolves Still An Endangered SpeciesJanuary 19, 2008 06:52 Five congressmen from the House Natural Resources Committee want to delay a plan to remove gray wolves in the Northern Rockies from the federal endangered species list.

In a recent letter to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, the congressmen wrote that states "hostile to wolf conservation" could reduce today's 1,500 wolves to "as few as 300" if the predators lose protected status.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which Kempthorne oversees, plans to announce the delisting of wolves in the Northern Rockies next month.

That would allow Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to host public hunts for the animals. The states already are setting hunting seasons and quotas.

Last year, more than 140 wolves were killed in the Northern Rockies by federal and state officials and ranchers in response to wolves preying on livestock.
  Bush Allows Navy Sonar Use Despite Fears For WhalesJanuary 17, 2008 08:25 In a Navy-vs.-whales case watched closely by environmentalists from California to the Puget Sound area, President Bush on Wednesday exempted the Navy from some environmental laws.

The fight is over permission to use sonar during Navy warfare training exercises off the coast of California. The military itself admitted that the sonar could permanently injure whales and dolphins.

In a memorandum issued while he was traveling in the Middle East, Bush said the training was "in the paramount interest of the United States" and "essential to national security," and he therefore issued the Navy a waiver excusing it from certain laws.

While the waiver applied specifically to training in California, environmentalists were troubled by the precedent it could set.

"If the administration can just wave a magic wand and do away with the will of Congress and do away with the will of the courts, that raises a very serious question about how our democracy is functioning," said Daniel Hinerfeld, spokesman for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which sued to curtail the use of sonar.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Florence-Marie Cooper in Los Angeles issued an injunction limiting the Navy's use of midfrequency action sonar. Citing the Navy's documents, she said that the training could cause temporary harm to whales in 8,000 cases and permanent hearing damage in 466 cases.
  Bush Administration Abandons Effort To Undercut National Forest ProtectionsJanuary 09, 2008 17:34 Conservation groups are declaring a "victory for public participation" as the U.S. Forest Service and the timber industry Monday abandoned their appeals of a federal court decision that invalidated a Bush administration rule removing environmental protections for the 192 million acre National Forest System.

Regulations issued in 2005 by the Forest Service sought to overhaul the land management planning process for national forests by eliminating mandatory protections for wildlife and clean water, and mandatory limits on timber harvesting.

These regulations also curtailed public participation in the process.

The National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to protect wildlife in the national forests and to allow citizens to participate fully in management decisions.

The Bush rules invalidated the 1982 standards for national forest management instituted under President Ronald Reagan that protected species and required public review of the environmental impacts of proposed national forest plans governing timber harvest levels and natural resource protection.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled March 30, 2007 that "because the 2005 Rule may significantly affect the quality of the human environment under NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act], and because it may affect listed species and their habitat under ESA [the Endangered Species Act] the agency must conduct further analysis and evaluation of the impact of the 2005 Rule in accordance with those statutes."

"The USDA is ENJOINED from implementation and utilization of the 2005 Rule until it has fully complied with the pertinent statutes," Judge Hamilton ruled.

Her ruling prohibits the "implementation and utilization" of the Bush rules nationwide.

 
  Conservationist Groups: Bush Administration To Miss Deadline For Polar Bear Endangered Species Act ListingJanuary 08, 2008 23:00 In response to the Bush administration’s announcement that it will not meet Wednesday’s deadline to issue a final Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing determination for the polar bear due to global warming, environmental groups announced their intent to go back to court to enforce the deadline.


The administration was required by law to make its decision by Wednesday following its proposal one year ago, but today announced “we expect to…finalize the decision within the next month.” The Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Greenpeace will begin legal action Wednesday with a formal notice to sue as required by the Endangered Species Act.

“We certainly hope that the polar bear will be listed within the next month. But this is an administration of broken promises, from Bush’s campaign pledge to regulate greenhouse gases to Secretary Kempthorne’s failure to list a single species under the Endangered Species Act in the last 607 days,” said Kassie Siegel, climate program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, and lead author of the 2005 petition. “We’ll begin the enforcement process Wednesday.”

The Endangered Species Act requires a listing process of no longer than two years, but in this case almost three years have passed since the scientific petition was submitted in February, 2005, calling on the government to list the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. The groups sued the Bush administration in December, 2005, when it missed its first deadline. Responding to the suit in February, 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that protection of polar bears “may be warranted,” and commenced a full status review of the species. Then, on December 27, 2006, the Service announced its proposal to list the species as “threatened” and had one year to make a final listing decision. The legal deadline for doing so is January 9, 2008.

“The polar bear needs a lifeline,” said Andrew Wetzler, director of the Endangered Species Project at NRDC. “Urgent action is required by our government. Polar bears’ very existence is already threatened by environmental disaster, and they also face toxic contamination and habitat destruction from oil and gas development. The administration's endless delay is outrageous and unwarranted.”
  Pygmy Rabbit May Warrant Protection Under The Endangered Species ActJanuary 08, 2008 22:58 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Service announced today that the pygmy rabbit may warrant federal protection as a threatened or endangered species following a review of a petition seeking to protect the pygmy rabbit Brachylagus idahoensis under the Endangered Species Act.

Today's decision, commonly known as a 90-day finding, is based on scientific information about the species provided in the petition requesting listing of the species under the ESA. The Service will now undertake a more thorough status review of the species to determine whether to propose adding the species to the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants.

"The finding does not mean that the Service has decided it is appropriate to list the pygmy rabbit," said Bob Williams, Field Supervisor for the Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office. "The 90-day finding is the first step in a process that triggers a more thorough review of all the biological information available. We are encouraging the public to submit any relevant information about the pygmy rabbit and its habitat to us for consideration in the comprehensive review."

The pygmy rabbit is the smallest North American rabbit. Adult weights range from 0.54 to 1.2 pounds and they are between 9.1 to 12.1 inches in length. Pygmy rabbits are typically found in areas of tall, dense sagebrush cover where soils are sufficiently deep and loose to allow burrowing. They are not distributed continuously across their range. The pygmy rabbit's historical range is in portions of Nevada as well as other states.
  Polar Bears Vie With Oil For Us Government FocusJanuary 06, 2008 20:44 The U.S. government will soon decide whether polar bears are in danger because global warming is melting their icy habitat. But last week, the government offered some of that habitat as a place to drill for oil.

Strangely enough, both those decisions are the province of the Interior Department.

The department's Fish and Wildlife Service is supposed to announce a decision by Wednesday whether polar bears should be listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A department spokesman said that deadline would probably pass with no decision.

Last week, the department's Minerals Management Service announced its plan to offer oil and gas exploration rights in February to 29.7 million acres (12.02 million hectares) in the remote Chukchi Sea off the northwest Alaskan coast.

There are about 16,000 polar bears in the region and environmentalists, especially those who pushed for the polar bear habitat to be protected, were outraged.

 
  Ranchers, Farmers Keep Nature In And Feds OutJanuary 06, 2008 15:03 Southern Colorado ranchers are setting aside land for conservation and inviting scientists on their property to study the imperiled Gunnison sage grouse.

On the Eastern Plains, farmers are flagging nesting sites of the mountain plover to avoid plowing over them.

The goal of the ranchers and the farmers is the same — to avoid strict regulations under the federal Endangered Species Act by helping animals at risk of extinction.

These days, the embattled federal law that is designed to prevent the extinction of plants and animals often accomplishes its purpose in Colorado without ever being invoked.

Local and state officials — and often private landowners — are scrambling to keep imperiled plants and animals off the endangered-species list by protecting habitat voluntarily rather than under the restrictions of federal law.

"This really is becoming the realm of the state and locals," said Tom Blickensderfer, director of endangered- species programs for the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

"It's . . . staving off federal mandates, but it's bigger than that," Blickensderfer said. "It's taking a good cause and doing it on our own."

Increasingly, efforts to preserve endangered species are finding acceptance in unlikely quarters, such as among the ranchers of the San Luis Valley, where the presence of a rare bird known as the willow flycatcher has fueled a popular voluntary land- conservation effort.