The Environment

  Yellow-Billed Look Approaches Extinction... and ListingMay 29, 2007 22:40 The federal government has announced it is advancing the yellow-billed loon toward protection under the Endangered Species Act. The action comes in response to a formal administrative petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and other U.S. and Russian scientific and conservation organizations in April 2004 that sought protection for the species. The yellow-billed loon breeds in tundra wetlands in Alaska, Canada and Russia, and winters along the west coasts of Canada and the United States.

The species is one of the rarest of all North American birds with a global population of approximately 16,000 individuals, of which about 4,000 breed in Alaska. The primary threat to the species in the United States is disruption of its habitat by oil and gas development in Alaska’s Western Arctic. The birds are also threatened by global warming and drowning in fishing gear.

“The yellow-billed loon is one of the rarest and most vulnerable birds in the United States, yet the Bush government’s plan to ‘protect’ it is to approve oil drilling in its habitat,” said Brendan Cummings, ocean program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “With the loon now on the path to Endangered Species Act listing, both the species and its habitat have a chance at real protection.”

The majority of yellow-billed loons breeding in the United States nest in the Western Arctic in areas recently opened up to oil and gas development, such as near Teshekpuk Lake and along the Colville River. Smaller numbers breed on the Seward Peninsula and on Saint Lawrence Island. Loons that breed in Alaska overwinter along the Russian and Japanese coasts, where they are also threatened by oil development. Birds that breed in the Canadian Arctic overwinter in the Gulf of Alaska, southward to the West Coast of the United States. Throughout their range, the loons are threatened by changing ocean conditions and the inundation of low-lying wetlands in the face of global warming and sea-level rise.

The finding on the petition to protect the loon, to be published in the Federal Register later this week, is almost three years overdue. The finding requires the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency charged with implementing the Endangered Species Act, to solicit public comment, carry out a status review of the species, and issue a proposed rule to protect the species later this year. Final protection under the ESA would occur within one year thereafter.
  Bush'S Environment Adviser Rejects Eu Idea Of Blanket Carbon Emission CutsMay 29, 2007 15:33 The United States rejects the European Union's all-encompassing target on reduction of carbon emissions, President George W. Bush's environmental adviser said Tuesday.

James Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said the United States is not against setting goals but prefers to focus them on specific sectors, such as cleaner coal and reducing dependence on gasoline. "The U.S. has different sets of targets," he said.

Germany, which holds the European Union and Group of Eight presidencies, is proposing a so-called "two-degree" target, whereby global temperatures would be allowed to increase no more than two degrees Celsius before being brought back down. Practically, experts have said that means a global reduction in emissions of 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Connaughton, on a one-week bipartisan trip to Europe with members of the House of Representatives, said the U.S . favours "setting targets in the context of national circumstances."

In Hamburg, Asian countries, including rising global powerhouses China and India, reluctantly agreed Tuesday to back European calls for a new climate change treaty by 2009 to limit greenhouse gases after the Kyoto Protocol expires.

The deal was a step forward for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's push for a climate deal at next week's G8 summit. But deep differences remained at the end of the meeting of foreign ministers from the European Union and Asia over whether developing countries would themselves agree to cut emissions.
  Salazar, Allard Team Up To Help Protect Endangered SpeciesMay 29, 2007 07:43 U.S. Senators Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard co-sponsored legislation recently to provide financial incentives for private landowners, including farmers and ranchers, to help save endangered plants and animals.

The Endangered Species Recovery Act would provide $400 million annually in new tax credits and offer deductions and exclusions to farmers and ranchers who take steps to help endangered or threatened species on the properties they own. Species that could be protected in Colorado include: the black-footed ferret, the southwestern willow fly-catcher, the green back cutthroat trout and the whooping crane, among others.

"Farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists. They know best the habitat needs of many of our threatened species because they live and work on the same lands," said Senator Ken Salazar. "It makes sense to provide farmers, ranchers and other landowners the tools they need to maintain portions of their land for our endangered plants and animals."

"Two years ago, I became a charter member of a bipartisan working group here in the Senate to develop legislation to improve the Endangered Species Act--today's bill is the culmination of that effort. We have worked in a bipartisan manner on meaningful improvements over the past two years to develop this legislation," said Allard. "The Endangered Species Act has been around for 30 years. In that time, 1,300 species have been listed, but only seven have been recovered. We can do better. We have seen what works and what doesn't work. And we know we get better results if we work with land owners on recovery instead of against them."

This Act allows eligible taxpaying landowners to receive a tax credit if they own habitat or incur costs to recover endangered plants and animals if they have a perpetual conservation easement, 30-year conservation easement or an agreement for a specified period of time qualified agreement.
  Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne's First Year in Office a Disaster for Endangered SpeciesMay 29, 2007 07:40 Today marks one year since Dirk Kempthorne was confirmed as Secretary of Interior. During that time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service endangered species program has gone from bad to worse.

Prior to Kempthorne's confirmation, the Bush government had the lowest rate of placing species on the endangered species list of any presidency in history. Under Kempthorne, the program has ground to a complete halt: not a single species has been added to the endangered species list under his watch. The last year-long listing drought occurred in 1981 under Reagan's interior secretary, James Watt. Compared to Kempthorne's annual listing rate of zero, Bruce Babbitt annually listed 65 species and Manuel Lujan 58.

"Kempthorne has been a disaster for endangered species," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity. "His failure to add even one species to the endangered list is a historic low in the history of the Endangered Species Act. This was an Annus Horribilis for American wildlife."

The lack of listing does not reflect a lack of imperilment. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists have classified 279 species as "candidates" meaning they have met all criteria to be formally proposed as endangered species. Agency biologists recommended emergency listing for three of them, but Kempthorne's Interior Department has kept them off the endangered list.
  Government Scraps Species Law ChangesMay 27, 2007 17:05 Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne said Friday he has scrapped a proposal that critics said would protect fewer rare plants and animals from extinction.

Kempthorne said that while he doesn't think Congress should change the Endangered Species Act, the department is still looking for ways to change how the law is enforced.

Environmentalists in March had made public a draft of rule changes the Interior Department was considering that they said would reduce the number of species that could be saved. They said the draft changes were so broad they amounted to gutting the program.

"That predated me. I've put a stop to that," Kempthorne said during a lunch with a small group of reporters marking his first anniversary as interior secretary. He did not elaborate on what kind of changes are still under review.

Noah Greenwald, a biologist in Portland, Ore., for the Center for Biological Diversity, said he remains concerned that the department is considering regulatory changes that will make it easier to remove some animals, such as the gray wolf, from the protection of the law or make it harder to list a specie that is at risk.
  Woodman, Spare That Marbled MurreletMay 12, 2007 12:08 Publicly, I prefer to celebrate the wonders of nature rather than get caught up in politics, but two recent actions pricked my "what are they thinking" reflex.

Members of a timber group in Oregon sued to have the marbled murrelet removed from the endangered species list there so they could cut old-growth forests. Then the feds said they were taking a long look at the endangered species act to make it more helpful to property owners and users.

Both wolves and grizzlies in the Rockies are up for removal from the list, allowing the individual states to manage their populations. So there's a lot of endangered species talk in the press and on the Net.

I decided to make the marbled murrelet my endangered species poster animal, so I spent last week making my way through old-growth forests on the coast. Coming, as I did, from the lodgepole and ponderosa forests of the Rockies that survive on an average annual precipitation of 13 to 17 inches, the cedar and redwood forests of the Pacific Coast are stunning.

With average rainfall of more than 100 inches, not counting the fog drip, these forests are wet.

Before setting foot in one of these forests, you lace and double tie your boots lest hidden bogs grab hold of them and rip them from your feet. When ferns are done covering every inch of ground, they grow right up the tree trunks and out onto the branches, and moss threatens to settle on any hiker who hesitates too long.

But the jaw-droppers are the trees so large you can't take them in with a single view. There are redwood giants that have stood in the same place through fire and storm for more than 4,000 years.

Seeing those words on a page is one thing, but standing in the presence of such a venerable living being is humbling. Think of the Ents in J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings." There are 50 million-year-old redwood fossils in the petrified forests of Yellowstone. These are real been-there, done-that trees. And any one of them has seen more life than I can even imagine.

Less than 4 percent of California's old growth remains. The percentages are not much better in Oregon and Washington.

So why must we cut these last survivors? The loggers rightfully say that the lumber old-growth trees produce is better -- much, much better -- than second growth because the wood is denser from growing slowly over a long, long time. When you look at the butt of a cut old-growth log beside a second-growth log, you see that the second growth log has fatter tree rings. Lumber cut from a second-growth log isn't as strong.
  Bush Administration Sets All-Time Record For Denying Protection To Endangered Species: Zero New Listings In Past YearMay 10, 2007 23:43 Today marks exactly one year since the U.S. Department of the Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service last protected any new U.S. species under the Endangered Species Act. Fittingly, on this same day, the House Natural Resources Committee is holding important oversight hearings on implementation of the Endangered Species Act by a recalcitrant Bush administration. The last time the agency went an entire year without protecting a single species was in 1981, when the infamous James Watt was Secretary of Interior. There are currently 279 highly imperiled species that are designated as candidates for listing as threatened or endangered and that face potential extinction.

"The Bush administration has closed the doors on endangered species," said Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "With the pressing threats of rapid habitat destruction and global climate change, it's an outrage that not a single new species has been protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for an entire year."

The last species protected by the administration were 12 Hawaiian picture-wing flies listed in a single rule on May 9, 2006. Overall, according to a report released today by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 57 species compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the first Bush administration.

"The Bush administration has killed the program for protecting new species as endangered," says Greenwald, "and in the process has contributed to the extinction of at least two species. This government's war on science is also a war against wildlife."
  House Panel Spotlights Political Intereference With Endangered SpeciesMay 10, 2007 23:35 Bush administration officials at the Interior Department have repeatedly manipulated science in order to weaken protections for endangered species, former agency officials and environmentalists told the House Resources Committee Wednesday.

The hearing prompted a key Democrat to call for the resignation of the department's deputy secretary, who endured several hours of heated questioning from the committee.

"Under your leadership we have got negligence, incompetence and political hackery," Representative Jay Inslee, a Washington Democrat, told Interior Deputy Secretary Lynn Scarlett. "It would be helpful to have your resignation because you refuse to recognize how sick this situation is,"

The committee held the oversight hearing in the wake of the resignation of Deputy Assistant Secretary Julie MacDonald – a recent Interior Department inspector general report found MacDonald pressured federal wildlife scientists and leaked confidential information on species decisions to industry and private property groups.
The report detailed interference by MacDonald with scientific reports on a slew of endangered and threatened species, including sage grouse, prairie dogs, the California tiger salamander and Delta smelt fish. MacDonald repeatedly pressed scientists to downplay risks to species and in several instances simply ignored their findings.
  Study Ties Coral Bleaching Disease To Warmer OceansMay 08, 2007 16:01 Warmer sea temperatures are linked to the severity of a coral disease, according to a study on Australia's Great Barrier Reef that offers a dire warning about global warming's potential impact on the world's troubled reefs.

The 6-year study released on Monday tracked the relationship between water temperature and the frequency of a coral disease called white syndrome across more than 900 miles

of the world's largest coral reef.

"We've linked disease and warm water, which is one of the aspects of global warming," said John Bruno, the study's lead author. "Our study suggests as global warming warms the oceans more and more, we could see more disease outbreaks and more severe ones."

The results of the study, funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, were to be published on Tuesday in the online journal PLoS Biology.

Researchers have suspected for years that warm sea temperatures were responsible for disease outbreaks on coral reefs. But Bruno said the study was the first to conclusively connect the two.
  Steelhead Now A Threatened SpeciesMay 08, 2007 12:57 Puget Sound steelhead were listed Monday as a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service said.

The agency proposed the listing about a year ago to cover naturally spawned steelhead from river basins in the Puget Sound, Hood Canal and the eastern half of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Also covered by the listing are two winter-run hatchery stocks: the Green River natural south of Seattle and the Hamma Hamma River on the Olympic Peninsula.

Agency biologists said the decline in the steelhead population has been widespread, likely because of degraded habitat, man-made barriers, unfavorable ocean conditions and harmful hatchery practices.

The steelhead listing will help focus more attention on the condition of Puget Sound, said Brian Gorman, spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"I don't think there's going to be an enormous change over and above protections already afforded to Puget Sound chinook," said Gorman. "My guess is the steelhead listing is going to refocus concentration and effort improving Puget Sound water quality and keeping it clean."
  Legal Ruling May Put Endangered Species In DangerMay 06, 2007 08:58 Ecologists and philosophers across the nation are protesting a new and narrowed definition of "endangered species."

In a letter sent Monday to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, and the House Committee on Natural Resources, they warn that the new definition—spelled out in a legal opinion from the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior in March—will substantially weaken the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Wolves, grizzly bears, and jaguars are among the species that could be hurt by the new definition, which limits endangered species to those simply "at risk of extinction." The scientists and philosophers protesting the ruling say that the original law defined an endangered species as one "at risk of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range."

"It is clear that Congress intended 'range' to be the historic or former range of the animal," said John A.Vucetich, an assistant professor of population ecology in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan. "That makes the Act restorative and very powerful, as Congress intended. The new ruling defines range as 'current range.' That means the Act can't be used to expand the existing range, even if that is necessary for the viability of a species."

"The proposed rule would have allowed our national symbol, the bald eagle, to become extinct in the lower 48 states, surviving only in Alaska, and it would have allowed the gray whale to become extinct in U.S. waters," Vucetich went on to say.

Vucetich and Michael P. Nelson, associate professor of environmental philosophy and ethics at Michigan State University, have collected 38 signatures on the letter protesting the newly restricted definition of "endangered" or "threatened" species.

  Swift Action Can Cut WarmingMay 04, 2007 23:50 A new report from an international panel of scientists says global warming can be tamed through energy conservation, limits on greenhouse gases and other measures that won't seriously harm the world's economy.

The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change lays out dozens of options for combating global warming - ranging from capping carbon emissions to encouraging more commuting by bicycle - and says they could limit the increase in global temperatures to 3.6 degrees over preindustrial levels, enough to avoid catastrophic changes to the planet.

The IPCC, an international panel of 2,500 scientists, has previously warned about the dire effects from the projected rise in temperatures. But the new report says the threat can be reduced if governments around the world move swiftly to reduce greenhouse gases, which scientists believe are largely responsible for the warming.
  Scientists Sign Onto Letter To Protest New Interpretation Of Endangered Species ActMay 02, 2007 15:19 More than three dozen scientists have signed a letter to protest a new Bush administration interpretation of the Endangered Species Act, saying it jeopardizes animals such as wolves and grizzly bears.

The proposed policy revision would enable the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect animals and plants only where they are battling for survival. The agency would not have to restore the animals in areas where they have died out, or protect them where they're in good shape.

The proposed changes were being sent this week to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and leaders of congressional committees that oversee the department. The changes were revealed last month in draft department documents released by environmentalists, who said the changes would amount to a gutting of the federal Endangered Species Act.

Interior Department officials said then that the drafts were still under review and that no decision had been made on whether to proceed.

The proposed changes would 'have real and profoundly detrimental impacts on the conservation of many species and the habitat upon which they depend,' said the letter, signed by 38 prominent wildlife biologists and environmental ethics specialists.
  Timber Industry Uses Draft Bush Endangered Species Act RegulationsMay 01, 2007 10:34 On March 27, 2007, the media published draft Bush administration regulations that radically undermine the Endangered Species Act, causing a public uproar. In response, the administration asserted that it did not intend to implement the draft as written.

In legal papers filed today, however, environmental groups show that Mark Rutzick, a former Bush official now representing the timber industry, has filed a lawsuit based on the draft regulations, not the actual law.

"The Bush administration's draft regulations gutting the Endangered Species Act haven't even been publicly proposed yet, but the timber industry is already trying to strip the nation's wildlife of protection." said Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice. "The Bush administration is undermining protection of our nation's endangered species to benefit their friends and campaign contributors in the timber industry."

The timber lawsuit was filed on March 7, 2007, nearly one month before the draft regulations surfaced. Industry lawyers are trying to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the marbled murrelet from the federal threatened list under a provision of the draft regulations. Current regulations contain no such requirement.