The Environment

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  Directive Limits Activity In Roadless Areas Of ForestsMay 28, 2009 19:52 Stepping into a major environmental dispute, the Obama administration said Thursday that no new timber-cutting or road project could begin in roadless areas of national forests without the permission of the secretary of agriculture.

The Agriculture Department, which issued a directive outlining the policy, called it an interim measure meant to bring “consistency and clarity” to decisions on a contentious issue that has faced legal challenges since the Clinton administration banned such projects in the roadless areas in 2001.

Environmental activists and others greeted the directive as a rebuke to the Bush administration, which in effect overturned the Clinton rule in 2005.

Federal district courts in the Ninth and Tenth Circuits, which have jurisdiction over Western states, have issued contradictory rulings on the matter. In its statement, the Agriculture Department said those rulings had created confusion, making it difficult for the Forest Service, a department agency that rules on logging and road requests, to manage the lands it oversees.

The directive applies to most of the 58.5 million acres of roadless areas cited in the Clinton rule but not to Idaho, which initiated its own procedures for assessing projects under the auspices of a federal statute. Nor does it apply to projects that the Forest Service has already approved.
  Endangered Species Consultations Lack Critical Oversight, Gao Report Says - Nytimes.ComMay 26, 2009 22:00 The Fish and Wildlife Service has no established way to track cumulative threats or injuries to most of the imperiled species the agency is attempting to protect, according to a new report from federal investigators.

The Government Accountability Office found that FWS lacks a systematic way to track required monitoring reports or the harm to or death of protected species. Instead, the agency relies on individual biologists to maintain crucial species information -- meaning the retirement or loss of a biologist could be disastrous for the agency and the species it protects.

The report illuminates holes in the agency's oversight of the consultation process, which is considered key to protecting threatened and endangered species.

When a plant or animal is protected under the Endangered Species Act, the law requires federal agencies to consult with FWS biologists over the potential harm a planned project, such as a road or dam, could have on the species.

The consultation rules have been in the spotlight over the past year, as the Bush administration advanced a rule in its final months that would have made the consultations optional. Capitol Hill Democrats, environmental groups and wildlife biologists decried the move, and the Obama administration threw out the rule last month.

GAO found that FWS biologists do not have a system to track the cumulative take of most listed species or the monitoring reports that are required as part of the consultations.

At field offices that GAO visited, FWS biologists could not find monitoring reports for 63 percent of species that required them. FWS staff said that they gave priority to new consultation requests and often did not have time to follow up on monitoring reports. The results, according to GAO, are incomplete information about how species react to the actions under consultation and gaps in the agency's "institutional knowledge."

  Elephants Suffering In Mali DroughtMay 18, 2009 21:25 The bodies of young elephants covered in the brown dirt of dried-up wells tell a heartrending story.

Reaching desperately for drops of water, they had lowered their trunks, toppled in, remained trapped and died in Mali's scorching heat.

The "last desert elephants in West Africa" have "adapted to survive in the harsh conditions" they face, Save the Elephants said Monday. But now, the group says, conditions have gone from bad to worse, and they are living "on the margin of what is ecologically viable."

Save the Elephants distributed new pictures Monday that depict the devastating drought and the struggle for survival in Mali, one of the poorest nations in the world.

"Six elephants have already been found dead," the group wrote in a news release accompanying the photos.

"Four others, including three calves, were recently extracted from a shallow well into which they had fallen when searching for water. Only the largest survived."

The youngest are in the most danger, since their smaller trunks can't reach deep into the few remaining wells, the group said.