The Environment

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  Fewer Donate To WI Endangered Species FundMarch 25, 2008 08:41 The income tax checkoff to donate money to protect endangered species in Wisconsin turns 25 this year after raising $13 million over the years.

But donations are declining, in part because more programs are on the tax form that go after the same money, the program administrator said Monday.

"The last four years, it has been kind of a significant drop," said Signe Holtz, director of the Department Natural Resources' Bureau of Endangered Resources.

Another source of revenue for the agency -- the sale of endangered resources license plates adorned with a wolf -- also is down, she said.

Identified by a loon on the state income tax form, the checkoffs peaked at $670,000 in 2002 and last year raised $410,000, Holtz said.

"There are a number of things going on. One is the economy," she said. "Another thing is that there are other checkoffs."

People can now use the tax form to donate to a veterans trust fund, the Green Bay Packers and breast cancer research, Holtz said. "For a long time, ours was the only one."

The wildlife checkoff was created in 1983 to protect more than 200 endangered and threatened animals and plants. The state matches every dollar that is raised, up to $500,000.

  Gray Wolf To Be Taken Off The Endangered Species ListMarch 25, 2008 08:37 Government officials announced on Thursday that the gray wolf, scientific name Canis lupus, of the Northern Rocky Mountains will be removed from the endangered species list.

The removal will end a 13-year restoration effort in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
p. The gray wolf was almost extinct in the 1990s due to excessive hunting and habitat degradation, but populations have recently rebounded thanks to hunting bans and reintroduction campaigns.

“Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains are thriving and no longer need protection,” Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said in an Associated Press article.

Environmental groups plan on contesting the species’s removal from the list, arguing that removing federal protection for gray wolves would violate the Endangered Species Act, which requires politicians to use the most accurate science to determine adequate population sizes.

Government officials, such as Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs of the Fish and Wildlife Service, suggest that the wolf stocks are adequate and that, even with federal protection, one out of four wolves died every year. Despite this death rate, the wolf population has risen 24 percent each year.

When gray wolves first went under protection in 1974, they were almost extinct.

By the late 1980s, the gray wolf had only around 200 square miles of territory around Glacier National Park, but now they have almost 113,000 square miles of territory.

In 1995, around 66 gray wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. This initial stock rose to around 1,300 and combined with about 230 wolves that have moved into Montana from Canada.

The restoration effort was unpopular with ranchers because of wolf attacks on livestock. A thinned population meant better survival for their livestock.

However, even while gray wolves were federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, ranchers and wildlife agents were permitted to kill wolves that were attacking livestock.

Since the late 1980s around 724 wolves were killed legally and around that same number are estimated to have been poached illegally.

  Lawsuit to Protect Hundreds of SpeciesMarch 24, 2008 07:44 In a move that got suprisingly little press, the conservation group WildEarth Guardians on Wednesday filed a lawsuit seeking the immediate protection of 681 U.S. species under the Endangered Species Act.

The list of species includes plants, snails, butterflies and numerous other Western species. (I wish I could provide a more detailed accounting, but even WildEarth's own website doesn't have any news about the suit posted yet.)

The only real mention of this lawsuit so far come from Sunday's Washington Post, as part of a must-read investigative report on the obstacles the Bush Administration has placed upon protecting species under the ESA. The Post received internal documents from the Interior Department which showed "that personnel were barred from using information in agency files that might support new listings, and that senior officials repeatedly dismissed the views of scientific advisers as President Bush's appointees either rejected putting imperiled plants and animals on the list or sought to remove this federal protection."

During his seven years in office, President Bush's aministration has approved just 59 domestic species for ESA protection. In contrast, Presidents Clinton and Bush the First averaged 62 species per year during their combined 12 years in office.
  Since '01, Guarding Species Is HarderMarch 23, 2008 22:10 With little-noticed procedural and policy moves over several years, Bush administration officials have made it substantially more difficult to designate domestic animals and plants for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Controversies have occasionally flared over Interior Department officials who regularly overruled rank-and-file agency scientists' recommendations to list new species, but internal documents also suggest that pervasive bureaucratic obstacles were erected to limit the number of species protected under one of the nation's best-known environmental laws.

The documents show that personnel were barred from using information in agency files that might support new listings, and that senior officials repeatedly dismissed the views of scientific advisers as President Bush's appointees either rejected putting imperiled plants and animals on the list or sought to remove this federal protection.

Officials also changed the way species are evaluated under the 35-year-old law -- by considering only where they live now, as opposed to where they used to exist -- and put decisions on other species in limbo by blocking citizen petitions that create legal deadlines.

As a result, listings plummeted. During Bush's more than seven years as president, his administration has placed 59 domestic species on the endangered list, almost the exact number that his father listed during each of his four years in office. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne has not declared a single native species as threatened or endangered since he was appointed nearly two years ago.

In a sign of how contentious the issue has become, the advocacy group WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking a court order to protect 681 Western species all at once, on the grounds that further delay would violate the law. Among the species cited are tiny snails, vibrant butterflies, and a wide assortment of plants and other creatures.

"It's an urgent situation, and something has to be done," said Nicole Rosmarino, the group's conservation director. "This roadblock to listing under the Bush administration is criminal."

Developers, farmers and other business interests frequently resist decisions on listing because they require a complex regulatory process that can make it difficult to develop land that is home to protected species. Environmentalists have also sparred for years with federal officials over implementation of the law.
  Maine Seeks Green Label For LobstersMarch 17, 2008 20:08 The Maine lobster industry has long been held up as a well-run fishery. Now it's seeking a seal of approval to prove it.

Efforts are under way to have the state's signature seafood certified as sustainable by an international organization that evaluates fishing practices worldwide. With consumers demanding more "green" food products, the lobster industry stands to lose out if it doesn't get certified, supporters say.

"It'll open up a lot of markets for us," said John Hathaway, owner of Shucks Maine Lobster processing company in Richmond. "If we don't do it, we'll probably lose markets."

The London-based Marine Stewardship Council has been in the business of encouraging responsible fishing practices since 1997. Fisheries that are certified as "sustainable" can use the council's blue ecolabel, a seal that assures consumers that the seafood was not overfished or harvested in a way that harms the ocean.

The MSC has now certified 26 separate fisheries around the world, and nearly 1,200 seafood products carry the group's label.

A growing number of retailers and restaurants are jumping on the bandwagon.

Wal-Mart has pledged that, in the next few years, all wild-caught seafood it sells in its North American stores will be certified as sustainable. Other U.S. chains, including Whole Foods, Target and Costco, have committed to the program in varying degrees.

It's hard to ignore heavy-hitters like those, said Linda Bean, owner of Port Clyde Lobster.

"We're convinced that the demand for Maine lobster will be greatly affected if won't do this," she said. "We'll be out of the loop."
  Chinook Salmon Vanish Without A TraceMarch 17, 2008 19:51 Where did they go?

The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations — and coming up dry.

Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year from northern Oregon to the Mexican border. A final decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.

As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July. Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and restaurants nationwide.

“It’s unprecedented that this fishery is in this kind of shape,” said Donald McIsaac, executive director of the council, which is organized under the auspices of the Commerce Department.

Fishermen think the Sacramento River was mismanaged in 2005, when this year’s fish first migrated downriver. Perhaps, they say, federal and state water managers drained too much water or drained at the wrong time to serve the state’s powerful agricultural interests and cities in arid Southern California. The fishermen think the fish were left susceptible to disease, or to predators, or to being sucked into diversion pumps and left to die in irrigation canals.

  Bush'S Epa Hurts The Environment, AgainMarch 17, 2008 08:47 What do you do when the president behaves as if he is above science and the law? When it comes to environmental regulation, George W. Bush has repeatedly ignored both, and this country's system of checks and balances has been powerless to stop him.

The latest outrage came last week when the Environmental Protection Agency released its new standard for ozone, the primary ingredient in smog. The administration lowered the standard that regions must meet to comply with clean-air rulesfrom 84 parts per billion to 75, which seems like progress until one considers that the EPA's panel of independent scientists had recommended a standard no higher than 70 parts per billion. The higher limit set by the EPA won't protect Americans from the damaging effects of ozone, which irritates the lungs, worsens asthma and kills susceptible populations.

Ignoring scientists is nothing new for Bush, but in this case he also ignored the U.S. Supreme Court. The EPA wanted to include a tougher secondary standard during growing seasons, designed to protect forests, crops and other plants from ozone, which retards plant growth and depletes soil moisture. Alarmed at the costs this would exact on polluters, the White House Office of Management and Budget sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson saying the EPA couldn't impose such limits without considering their economic effect. This is flatly untrue; a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in 2001 held that the EPA did not have to consider the costs of its clean-air regulations, only their scientific basis. When the EPA still refused to back down, the White House sent a curt letter saying the agency had been overruled by the president: The secondary standard was out.

The administration, in fact, seems to be making a habit of defying the Supreme Court. On the same day the EPA was releasing its watered-down ozone standard, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) was posting a letter to Johnson questioning why the agency's efforts to crack down on greenhouse gases had apparently "been effectively halted." Last April, the court ruled that the EPA had to regulate carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global warming. Waxman's House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which was already investigating the EPA's inexplicable refusal to let California regulate greenhouse emissions from vehicles, now will also examine its refusal to crack down on CO2 nationwide.
  Wolverine Denied Endangered Species ProtectionMarch 14, 2008 09:07 The Bush administration announced today that it has no obligation to protect endangered wildlife, provided their U.S. populations are contiguous with larger populations in Canada or Mexico.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it has determined that protecting the wolverine in the contiguous United States as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act is not warranted because "the wolverine population in the contiguous United States is not discrete ... it is not separated from wolverine populations in Canada, and is likely dependent on them to some degree for maintaining genetic diversity."

The wolverine is the largest land species of the weasel family, with adults weighing up to 40 pounds. It looks more like a small bear than a weasel, and feeds primarily by scavenging on carrion.

In North America, wolverines occur in boreal forests, tundra and western mountains throughout Alaska and Canada, with the southern portion of the range extending into the contiguous United States. There are an estimated 15,000 wolverines in Canada

The current range of the wolverine is found to be the northern Cascades in Washington and possibly Oregon, and the northern Rocky Mountains in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

The species was likely driven from the Sierra Nevada and the southern Rocky Mountains with the early westward expansion of settlers, the Service said.

Last week, a graduate student studying another member of the weasel family, the marten, photographed a wolverine in the Sierra Nevada north of Lake Tahoe. News of the picture surprised scientists.

When considering whether to add a species to the federal list of threatened and endangered species, the Service can determine whether a portion of a species can be designated as a distinct population segment. "A distinct population segment must be geographically discrete from other populations and also be significant to the survival of the species," the Service said.
  Smelt May Join Endangered-Species ListMarch 13, 2008 12:26 A silver 6-inch-long oily fish that once teemed through coastal rivers in Washington, Oregon and California is the latest candidate for the Endangered Species Act.

Federal scientists will give the Pacific smelt, or eulachon, a close look for possible federal protection, the agency in charge of endangered fish announced Wednesday.

The decision by the NOAA Fisheries Service comes in response to a 2007 petition by the Cowlitz Tribe of Southwest Washington. The tribe urged protection as smelt populations in the Columbia River and such tributaries as the Cowlitz River have plunged and smelt have vanished from other rivers.

Cowlitz Tribal Chairman John Barnett called the news "long overdue."

"No one else seemed to be taking action, and we didn't want to see this important part of our heritage disappear," he said in a news release.

If the fish gets on the Endangered Species Act list, it could trigger restrictions on activities that might harm the fish, such as dam operations or development that damages spawning areas in rivers.

It's not a sure thing the fish will get protection. Wednesday's decision sets in motion a potentially drawn-out process. As early as this fall, federal officials could determine whether to protect the fish. If they say it's warranted, there's a yearlong review of the proposal before a final decision.

  U.S. Sued Over Endangered ListMarch 11, 2008 20:45 Three environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government for missing the deadline to list the polar bear as a threatened animal under the Endangered Species Act.

The Natural Resources Defence Council, Greenpeace and the Center for Biological Diversity presented their complaint to a court in San Francisco, saying they hoped the move could prompt an early listing of the animal in the Endangered Species Act by the government.

According to the three groups, the U.S. government was originally supposed to issue a final decision on the polar bear case on January 9, but it requested a delay and this past Sunday was the deadline for a decision. It is the first time that the U.S. government has ever considered listing a species as threatened due to global warming.

The U.S. Geological Survey magazine said in a report that if the trend of global warming continues, the number of polar bears could drop to one-third of the current level by 2050, without any left in Alaska by then.

  Bush Administration Refuses To Protect The Last American Jaguars, Driving Conservation Group To CourtMarch 03, 2008 11:22 The Center for Biological Diversity issued a 60-day notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today over the agency’s decision not to recover an endangered species native to the United States, the jaguar, in violation of the Endangered Species Act. The notice is required to allow the federal agency one last chance to comply with the law.

“Jaguars evolved in North America, and their recovery in our country is part of recovering our damaged ecosystems,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “They are beautiful animals that help keep the balance of nature, and preventing their extinction involves helping them reclaim the homelands from which our government exterminated them.”

On January 7, 2008, in response to an active Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit seeking a recovery plan and critical habitat for the jaguar, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director H. Dale Hall signed a “determination” that developing a recovery plan for the jaguar — as required by the Endangered Species Act — would not promote the conservation of the species. This decision effectively mooted a recovery-plan claim in an ongoing, two-part suit by the Center based on the fact that the government has unreasonably delayed recovery planning and protection of critical habitat. The “unreasonable delay” claim will shortly be replaced by a new lawsuit that specifically takes issue with the Bush administration’s decision not just to delay a recovery plan but to abandon its responsibility to recover the majestic, shy cat.

The government’s January decision awkwardly and inappropriately attempts to fit a narrow loophole in regulations under the Endangered Species Act that permit the agency not to develop a recovery plan for species whose “historic and current ranges occur entirely under the jurisdiction of other countries” (emphasis added).