The Environment

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  Boxer Calls Absent Bush Officials 'Cowardly'September 24, 2008 21:05

Sen. Barbara Boxer called top Bush administration officials cowards Wednesday after they failed to attend a hearing on the administration's environmental record.
Boxer, D-Calif. and chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was incensed that two high-level officials at the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior skipped the committee hearing.
“They're cowardly and they have been a danger to the people of this country,” Boxer said.
Boxer called the hearing to explore the administration's environmental record, especially its decision to reject California's petition to control greenhouse gases from motor vehicles. The panel also was looking into a proposal to loosen rules protecting endangered species.

  Agency: Relist WolvesSeptember 22, 2008 22:27 The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday asked a judge to reinstate the gray wolf as an endangered species.

Department of Justice attorneys filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Mont., asking the court to vacate the department’s rule that removed wolves from the endangered species list and send it back to the agency for further determination.

In the motion Monday, Fish and Wildlife said it planned to reconsider the rules and the appropriate designation for wolves in the northern Rockies.

Continuing litigation “now risks wasting the parties’ and court’s resources because the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] intends to generate a new final agency action during the remand,” Fish and Wildlife’s motion states.

The agency’s motion was in response to a ruling in late July in which U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy halted the delisting and restored endangered species protection to gray wolves.

The estimated 2,000 wolves in the Rockies were removed from the endangered species list in March following a decade-long restoration effort, and responsibility for managing them was given to the states. Several conservation groups, including the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council, sued to keep wolves protected because of Wyoming’s wolf management plan and a lack of connectivity and genetic exchange among wolf populations in the northern Rocky Mountains.
  Freshwater Fish On Rapid Decline In North AmericaSeptember 11, 2008 22:02 About four out of 10 freshwater fish species in North America are in peril, according to a major study by U.S., Canadian and Mexican scientists.

And the number of subspecies of fish populations in trouble has nearly doubled since 1989, the new report says.

One biologist called it "silent extinctions" because few people notice the dramatic dwindling of certain populations deep in American lakes, rivers and streams. And while they are unaware, people are the chief cause of the problem by polluting and damming freshwater habitats, experts said.

In the first massive study of freshwater fish on the continent in 19 years, an international team of dozens of scientists looked not just at species, but at subspecies — physically distinct populations restricted to certain geographic areas. The decline is even more notable among these smaller groups.

The scientists found that 700 smaller but individual fish populations are vulnerable, threatened, or endangered. That's up from 364 subspecies nearly two decades ago.

And 457 entire species are in trouble or already extinct, the study found. Another 86 species are OK as a whole, but have subspecies in trouble.

  Bush Administration Sneak Attack On Endangered Species ActSeptember 04, 2008 20:21 The Center for Biological Diversity and dozens of other groups submitted comments today on another Bush administration attempt to weaken the Endangered Species Act that could severely limit protection for the nation’s endangered species. The rule, proposed August 5th, includes a very short public-comment period and purports to merely be an amendment to “the formats of the lists of endangered and threatened wildlife and plants.” But it would substantively redefine where species are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

“This 11th hour sneak attack on the Endangered Species Act is much more than a formatting change,” said Noah Greenwald, science director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead, the change will limit protection of species to wherever they are found – which for a number of species will mean a zoo.”

Under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is required to publish a list of endangered species in the federal register. The administration’s proposal will modify the format of this list to create a new column titled “Where listed,” and states the “ ‘Where listed’ column sets forth the geographic area where the species is listed for purposes of the Act.” The proposal also states that for species not listed in portions of their range or as a population, the agency will populate this column with the term “entire,” which is defined as “Wherever found.” This seemingly obscure “formatting rule” is in fact a significant change. Many species have been listed in portions of their historic range where they are no longer found, including the gray wolf, bald eagle, California condor, lynx, grizzly bear and jaguar.

“With a quiet pen stroke, the administration is attempting to erase protection for the nation’s endangered species,” Greenwald said. “Under this rule, species like the California condor and jaguar will lose protection over most of their range.”
  Warming Oceans Make Strongest Storms StrongerSeptember 03, 2008 14:48 As the world's oceans get warmer, the strongest tropical storms get stronger, climate scientists reported on Wednesday as the remnants of Hurricane Gustav spun out over the central United States.

"If the seas continue to warm, we can expect to see stronger storms in the future," James Elsner of Florida State University said.

"As far as this year goes, as a season, we did see the oceans warm and I think there's some reason to believe that that's the reason we're seeing the amount of activity we are."

Gustav made landfall on Monday just west of New Orleans; three more storms churned toward the U.S. mainland on Wednesday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts 12 to 16 tropical storms between June 1 and November 30 this year, with six to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes.

Many climate scientists have linked stronger storms to rising sea surface temperatures in the North Atlantic and elsewhere, under the so-called heat engine theory: because warm tropical cyclones feed on warm water, the warmer the water, the more intense the storm.
  Center Appeals Epa Permit For New Coal-Fired Power PlantSeptember 02, 2008 14:32 The Center for Biological Diversity today appealed the Environmental Protection Agency’s July 31, 2008 approval of a Clean Air Act permit to construct and operate the Desert Rock Energy Project. EPA approved the permit for the proposed 1,500 megawatt coal-fired power plant near Farmington, N.M., without first considering its effect on threatened and endangered species, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

Today’s appeal to EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board challenges the agency’s refusal to consider the environmental harm that the new power plant would inflict on the critically endangered Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and other species. In granting a “prevention of significant deterioration” permit to Sithe Global LLC, the EPA failed to analyze how the plant would affect endangered and threatened species and determine whether those effects weigh against issuing a permit to build the plant.

"The Environmental Protection Agency indisputably was required to consider the consequences of approving this permit,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney for the Center. “Their refusal to do so is a patent violation of the Endangered Species Act .”

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that in connection with a related environmental analysis, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees may have been threatened by representatives of the company seeking the permit, Sithe Global LLC, not to consider the proposed plant’s potential contribution to climate change or consumption of the region’s precious water resources. One e-mail states that “ Sithe Global had taken the issue back to ‘ Washington, D.C.,’” and that agency employees in New Mexico “would soon be instructed by ‘ Washington’ not to address or pursue the climate change questions.”
  Endangered Species On Military BasesSeptember 02, 2008 10:25 Given the nature of the activities that occur there, military training areas are not typically considered suitable habitats for plants and animals to thrive. However, Colorado State University researcher Steve Warren has found that many species, including some threatened and endangered species, flourish on military training areas.

"Within the United States, the density of threatened and endangered species on military training areas is between 3 and 18 times greater on Department of Defense lands than on lands managed by any other federal land management agency, including the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose missions include maintenance and enhancement of biodiversity. The question is why?" said Warren, director of Colorado State's Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands.

Warren's recent studies build on contemporary thought in the emerging field of disturbance ecology that attempts to explain how species adapt to complex and changing environments. Warren's research contributed to the recently introduced "Heterogeneous Disturbance Hypothesis" that suggests biodiversity is maximized when multiple types, frequencies and severities of disturbance occur simultaneously on the landscape.

In one study, Warren evaluated endangered grasshoppers and tiger beetles in relation to physical soil disturbance on four active U.S. Army training areas in Germany. He and other scientists surveyed a large number of plots distributed evenly between five levels of soil disturbance in the training areas.
  Federal Plan Would Cut Habitat For Endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep Nearly By HalfSeptember 01, 2008 21:44 Wildlife biologist Aimee Byard took it as a hopeful sign when she spotted 11 bighorn lambs, including a rare set of twins, nibbling encelia and ambrosia high above the multimillion-dollar homes of Rancho Mirage this spring. But as fall approaches, biologists such as Byard are growing concerned that the peninsular bighorn sheep, an endangered species, soon may lose some of the protection that has helped them survive.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on the final details of a map that would cut by nearly half the habitat the agency had previously considered to be critical to the species' survival. The plan could be approved by the end of September.

Scientists and environmental advocates say the trimmed habitat could deal a permanent setback to a species that has shown signs of recovering after 10 years of federal protection. They accuse the Department of the Interior, which governs Fish and Wildlife, of mixing politics with science, and caving to mining and tribal interests in the desert. One mining operation in Imperial County already has applied to expand its operation into land once listed as critical to the sheep's recovery, documents show.

"The Recovery Plan . . . has been working," said Mark Jorgensen, supervisor of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, who has worked with peninsular bighorn sheep for 40 years. "Why take out 500,000 acres of it and say that it's not a big deal? And that it's based on science? Why not come out and say that it's just politics?"