Nov 252014
 

Update (Dec. 2, 2014):

Environmental groups also are pushing to stop the hunt on adjacent FS lands. Here's a letter from Western Watersheds Project, Advocates for the West, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, and Project Coyote.

Update: BLM released a statement and its decision to rescind the afternoon of Nov. 25th. Scroll down to read it.

The Bureau of Land Management has decided to cancel a planned hunt for wolves, coyotes and other species on about 3 million acres in Idaho.

The permit for the so-called "predator derby" would have allowed three days of hunting each year for five years, starting Jan. 2. The Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, Project Coyote and Defenders of Wildlife had filed a lawsuit challenging the hunt and were waiting for BLM's response to the groups' request for an expedited briefing schedule.

The hunt is still scheduled to occur on Forest Service lands, however. (see above for update)

Juvenile coyotes are often heard in summer, trying out their voices (Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife)

“We’re so glad that the deadly derby has been canceled this year,” said Amy Atwood, senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, who represents the Center, Western Watersheds Project and Project Coyote. “These sort of ruthless kill-fests have no place in this century. We intend to pursue every available remedy to stop these horrible contests.” (Press release from environmental groups)

"The hunt would have allowed up to 500 participants compete to kill the largest number of wolves, coyotes and other animals for cash and prizes," the groups' press release said. "Contest organizers are hoping to expand their contest statewide."

BLM has yet to comment publicly on why it stopped the contest. Calls to BLM in Idaho and to a lawyer with derby organizer Idaho for Wildlife have yet to be returned. The court docket also has no filing from BLM.

"I believe that DOJ didn’t want to defend our motion because we have a good record," Atwood said.

According to the bureau's Finding of No Significant Impact, "For the purposes of the competition, predators include a variety of species, including, wolves, coyotes, weasels, skunks, jackrabbits, raccoons, and starlings. All rules and hunting regulations would be followed and adhered to by all participants."

BLM grants permit (11/13/14)

Public comment period open on permit (10/2/14)

BLM statement, 11/25/14

After careful consideration, the BLM has decided to withdraw the Record of Decision for the Predator Hunt Derby Special Recreation Permit. This comes as a result of uncertainties about the details of the Predator Hunt as provided by Idaho for Wildlife and operational changes that occurred after the Decision was released which then created ambiguity, making it difficult to conclusively determine whether an SRP was required, appropriate or administratively subject to a waiver under our regulations.

Full decision follows

Nov 252014
 

The National Marine Fisheries Service has agreed to designate critical habitat for the New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segments of Atlantic sturgeon (Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. U.S. Department of Commerce, 14-434-RBW).

In a consent decree filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., the agency promised to propose the designations within a year -- specifically, Nov. 30, 2015. The final designations will follow a year after the proposals.

The service listed the DPS's in 2012. (Final rule-NE DPS's; Final rule-SE DPS's). All but the Gulf of Maine DPS were listed as endangered. The GoM DPS was listed as threatened.

The government also agreed to pay $12,615 in attorneys' fees. In addition to the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, plaintiffs include the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Nov 212014
 

Lawsuit Launched to Prevent Sea Turtle Deaths (CBD press release)

 

Nov 212014
 

A conservation group in Montana will have another chance to challenge helicopter hazing of bison in Yellowstone National Park following a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Thursday, but the court may have made its task a little harder (Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. USDA, 13-35253).

That's because the court, while finding that the district court below had wrongly denied standing to Alliance for the Wild Rockies., also concluded that the Montana Department of Livestock's harassment of bison by air did not result in a "take" under the ESA's Section 9. The panel also rejected the plaintiff-appellant's ESA Section 7, National Environmental Policy Act and National Forest Management Act claims.

However, the panel -- Circuit Judges Mary M. Schroeder, Richard A. Paez, and Marsha S. Berzon -- also reversed the district court's ruling that AWR had not complied with the ESA's 60-day notice-of-intent-to-sue provision by filing suit before 60 days had expired.

"Although the federal defendants urge that the legislative purpose of the notice requirement is to afford agencies a complete 'litigation free window' in which to remedy alleged ESA violations, they fail to identify any provision in the statute which suggests that the ESA's notice requirement should be interpreted to preclude filing of a complaint alleging non-ESA claims before the 60-day notice period expires," the court said.

But the court affirmed the dismissal of AWR's ESA claims against the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and FWS because they were not included in AWR's 60-day notice.

Here's the unofficial summary provided by the court:

The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court's judgment in favor of federal and Montana state agencies and officials in an action brought by Alliance for the Wild Rockies, challenging the decision to permit recurring, low-altitude helicopter flights to haze bison in the Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Recovery Zone. To minimize disease transfer between wild bison and cattle in the Greater Yellowstone Area, the bison are managed, in part, according to an Interagency Bison Management Plan which includes using hazing operations to move the bison. The Yellowstone grizzly bear also inhabits the same area, and is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Under Section 7 of the ESA, the National Park Service prepared biological evaluations for the management plan which were approved by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and concluded that the helicopter hazing operations would not adversely affect the Yellowstone grizzly. Section 9 of the ESA prohibits the "taking" -- which can include harassing -- of an endangered or threatened species.

The panel reversed the district court's holding that Alliance lacked standing to bring its ESA and National Environmental Policy Act claims. The panel also reversed the district court's ruling that Alliance failed to comply with the ESA citizen suit 60-day notice provision. The panel affirmed the dismissal of all of Alliance's ESA claims against the United States Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and Fish and Wildlife Service because they were not included in  the 60-day notice on which Alliance relied.

The panel held that Alliance's ESA Section 7 claim was moot because the federal defendants had already completed a second biological evaluation consultation addressing the impact of helicopter hazing on the Yellowstone grizzly bears, and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the federal defendants and grant of dismissal to Montana on the claim. The panel also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to the federal defendants and grant of dismissal to Montana on Alliance's ESA Section 9 claim because no genuine issues of material fact existed in the record concerning whether a take of a Yellowstone grizzly bear had occurred or was likely to occur. Finally,  the panel affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the federal defendants on the NEPA and National Forest Management Act claims.

Coverage in Bozeman Chronicle

Nov 202014
 

Environmental groups wasted little time in threatening to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service over its decision to list the Gunnison sage-grouse as threatened, not endangered.

Two notices of intent to sue went out today -- one from Center for Biological Diversity and Western Watersheds Project, the other from WildEarth Guardians, Dr. Clait E. Braun, Wild Utah Project, and Great Old Broads For Wilderness

CBD press release

Nov 202014
 

11/20/2014: Collaboration with Federal and State Agencies, Rice Growers and Industry Further Protect Endangered Salmon and Steelhead Trout. (EPA release, and below)

Release Date: 11/20/2014
Contact Information: Cathy Milbourn 202-564-7849 202-564-4355

WASHINGTON —Collaboration among federal and state agencies, rice growers and industry has created federally enforceable restrictions of the pesticide thiobencarb to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead trout in California.

“Working hand-in-hand with our partners we have met the critical environmental and economic goals of protecting threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead trout while maintaining rice production in California,” said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator for Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “This was achieved by creating a unique approach tailored to specific geographic locations critical to salmon and considering the needs of rice growers. I am proud of our joint efforts to protect threatened and endangered salmon.”

"This is a smart approach to pesticide use that includes important safeguards for protected fish while still allowing growers to care for their crops," said Will Stelle, administrator of NOAA Fisheries' West Coast Region." This demonstrates that we can find balanced and workable solutions through collaboration."

National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), California Department of Pesticide Regulation (CDPR), the California Rice Commission, and Valent, the manufacturer of the pesticide thiobencarb worked to put these restrictions in place.

The CDPR put in place measures to protect salmon and steelhead trout based on proximity to endangered species habitat according to NOAA Fisheries geographic locations and information from rice growers. After reviewing CDPR’s data on pesticide use and the state’s protective measures, NOAA Fisheries found that thiobencarb use on rice in California would not jeopardize salmon and steelhead trout provided protective measures currently being applied in California are ensured.

EPA is now making California’s geographic use limits federally enforceable by incorporating them into the pesticide label. These use limitations will be effective April 1, 2015. This action represents EPA’s first implementation of a NOAA Fisheries salmon and steelhead trout Biological Opinion. This action was a result of litigation brought against EPA and NOAA Fisheries by the Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC) and the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides (NCAP). NOAA Fisheries’ final Biological Opinion for thiobencarb and can be found at: www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/consultation/opinions/biop_thiobencarb.pdf .

The protection measures included in the NOAA Fisheries’ final Biological Opinion came from several sources including the California enforcement standards, the use limitations on California’s on-line database that recommends protective measures for endangered and threatened species and from the management practices the California Rice Commission receives from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board.

California is the only state within the range of Pacific salmon and steelhead trout where rice is grown. Thiobencarb is typically used on rice from May 1 through June 15.

View the Thiobencarb use restrictions for endangered salmon in 14 California counties where rice is grown at: www2.epa.gov/endangered-species/thiobencarb-use-limitations.

For more information on endangered species protection bulletins visit Bulletins Live site at: www.epa.gov/oppfead1/endanger/bulletins.htm.

Nov 182014
 

For more, check out the links in these tweets. And sign up for our Twitter feed if you're so inclined.

 

Nov 182014
 

Conservation groups in Virginia applauded the Forest Service today for deciding to prohibit oil and gas drilling, including fracking, on the vast majority of the George Washington National Forest.

"We're pleased that the Forest Service did listen to our local community," said Kim Sandum, director of the Community Alliance for Preservation, on a teleconference this morning (Audio).

The American Petroleum Institute was also happy with the decision, saying that it "will not prevent the state from pursuing responsible energy development, utilizing hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, on public lands."

The conservation leaders who participated in the call said the decision would allow drilling on a small portion of the forest already under gas lease or subject to private mineral rights.

"On this 1.1-million acre forest, only around 10,000 acres are currently under gas lease and 167,000 acres are subject to private mineral rights. There is no gas drilling on the GW currently," according to a press release pasted below.

"They listened and we need to thank them profusely for listening," said Nancy Sorrells, a board member of the Augusta County Service Authority.

Also according to the press release, "The GW is a direct source of local drinking water to more than 329,000 people living in and around the Shenandoah Valley, and it lies in the watersheds of the James, Shenandoah, and Potomac Rivers—which ultimately provide water to over 4.5 million people downstream in cities such as Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA."

The decision received prominent coverage in today's Washington Post, which reported that the Forest Service had "backed off a proposal to ban fracking in the George Washington National Forest, a move likely to upset conservationists who oppose the controversial drilling practice."

On the contrary, the conservationists were thrilled with the decision, which they said has stronger protections for the environment than a proposal released three years ago, which would have allowed vertical drilling in "almost all of the forest," said Sarah Francisco, Senior Attorney and  Leader of National Forests and Parks Program at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The press release is below.


For Immediate Release: November 18, 2014

Contacts:

Sarah Francisco, Southern Environmental Law Center, sfrancisco@selcva.org, 434-977-4090
Megan Gallagher, Shenandoah Valley Network, megang@svnva.org, 540-253-5162

Local Conservation Groups Support U.S. Forest Service Decision
to Keep GW National Forest Lands Off Limits to Gas Drilling and Fracking

Charlottesville, VA – Local conservation and community groups expressed support for today’s decision from the U.S. Forest Service to make the George Washington National Forest (GW) unavailable for oil and gas drilling, except for a small portion of the forest already under gas lease or subject to private mineral rights.

The long-term forest management plan, released today, makes clear that no additional GW lands will be opened up to leasing and drilling, while existing gas development rights remain unaddressed by the plan. On this 1.1-million acre forest, only around 10,000 acres are currently under gas lease and 167,000 acres are subject to private mineral rights. There is no gas drilling on the GW currently.

“This decision protects the existing uses and values of the special George Washington National Forest,” said Sarah Francisco, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center. “As a native Virginian who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley, I’m pleased that the U.S. Forest Service has done the right thing and recognized that the George Washington National Forest—a beloved place for our entire region—deserves protection.”

As the largest national forest in the East, over a million people per year visit the GW and its headwaters ultimately provide drinking water supplies for more than 4.5 million people. The threat of it being opened to large-scale gas drilling had caused widespread concerns about converting popular national forest lands to industrial sites.

Three years ago the Forest Service released a draft GW plan which would have prohibited horizontal gas drilling but made most of the forest available for vertical drilling. Since then, dozens of public interest organizations, eleven local governments surrounding the forest, Governor McAuliffe, several public water suppliers, and over 75,000 public comments weighed in to support the Forest Service’s proposal, as did the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and National Park Service. U.S. Senators Warner and Kaine also urged the Forest Service to heed Virginians' clear wishes. The final forest plan takes a different protective approach, preventing any form of oil or gas drilling on the majority of the GW lands.

“The federal government has rightly heeded local wishes and chosen to protect the unspoiled lands of the GW,” said Megan Gallagher, interim director of the Shenandoah Valley Network. “There is no history of major oil and gas development in the Shenandoah Valley and not one county has embraced industrial gas development as a priority for public or private lands. This decision preserves the Valley’s recreation and agriculture-driven economy.”

As the home to popular destinations such as Shenandoah Mountain and the Great Eastern Trail, the GW provides abundant recreational opportunities to the approximately 10 million people who live within a couple hours’ drive, and it is a major economic contributor to the region. Visitors to the GW contribute substantially to the $13.6 billion in consumer spending, $923 million in tax revenue, and 138,000 jobs generated annually by outdoor recreation in Virginia.

Local and regional governments and businesses have expressed widespread concern that opening the lands to gas drilling and fracking would negatively affect local economies, particularly adjacent farms, which provide the economic backbone of the area. Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, and the GW region provides more than two-thirds of the value of the Commonwealth’s agricultural production.

Because fracking uses huge quantities of water and often undisclosed chemicals to break up shale formations deep underground to release natural gas, this decision will ensure that high-quality drinking water continues to flow from the GW. The GW is a direct source of local drinking water to more than 329,000 people living in and around the Shenandoah Valley , and it lies in the watersheds of the James, Shenandoah, and Potomac Rivers—which ultimately provide water to over 4.5 million people downstream in cities such as Washington, D.C. and Richmond, VA. Map of local drinking water supplies: www.southernenvironment.org/uploads/maps/marcellus-shale-fullsize-map.pdf

“Communities in the GW region recognize the risks fracking poses to our water, our economy, and our quality of life,” said Kim Sandum, Executive Director of Community Alliance for Preservation in Rockingham County. “This decision protects and preserves the forest itself and also the communities that value and depend on it.”

For more information: www.ProtectTheGW.org

###

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of more than 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org.

The Shenandoah Valley Network links local community groups working on land protection, land use and transportation issues in six Virginia counties. SVN works to maintain healthy and productive rural landscapes and communities, to protect and restore natural resources, and to strengthen and sustain our region’s agricultural economy. www.svnva.org

Nov 172014
 

NMFS must reconsider whether petitions requesting federal protection for porbeagle sharks have enough data to justify development of a full-blown scientific review.

In other words, the service will have to prepare a new 90-day finding in response to the ESA petitions, filed by the Humane Society and Wild Earth Guardians. WEG announced the Friday decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein this morning.

Rothstein's order

Rothstein said that "[i]n considering plaintiffs’ petitions NMFS appears to have required 'conclusive evidence' regarding threats to the porbeagle population." And, commenting on an assessment of the sharks by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas and The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna, the judge said:

The ICES/ICCAT assessment presents substantial scientific information indicating that the petitioned action, that is, the listing of the porbeagle shark as endangered or threatened, may be warranted. As previously discussed by the court, the assessment provides evidence that the porbeagle population (or distinct population segments thereof) may be declining from an already-critically low baseline. The assessment also indicates that additional measures are necessary to rebuild the porbeagle population. This evidence is a far cry from the “statements in petitions that constitute unscientific data or conclusions, information [the agency] knows to be obsolete, or unsupported conclusions of petitioners” that have been rejected by other courts as meeting the 90-day finding standard. (emphasis added by ESWR)

Press release announcing lawsuit (8/4/11)

ICES site with porbeagle documents

Lynx lawsuit seeks more area for critical habitat

Here's the press release and here is the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Missoula, Mont.

From the press release, issued today by WildEarth Guardians and Western Environmental Law Center:

"The lawsuit challenges the Service’s decision to exclude all lynx habitat in the Southern Rockies from the species’ critical habitat designation. The challenge also seeks to reverse the Service’s refusal to protect important occupied lynx habitat in Washington’s Kettle Range and Wedge areas, and parts of Idaho, Montana and Oregon. Lynx currently live in small populations throughout the Rockies in intact mature forests from Idaho and Montana to Colorado and New Mexico, but the Service ignored the best available science by excluding areas that support the snow-loving cats and the prey they depend on from protection."

Nov 142014
 

Environmental groups are suing the Bureau of Land Management over approval of a "predator derby" on 3.1 million acres of BLM lands in Idaho (Defenders of Wildlife v. Kraayenbrink, 14-487, D. Id.).

The agency's Environmental Assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact and Decision Record "rely on numerous factual and legal misstatements, omissions, and unwarranted assumptions to downplay potentially significant adverse impacts to wildlife populations, recreational use, [Wilderness Study Areas], and other environmental values," the complaint says.

Approval of the derby is "directly contrary to the federal government’s wolf reintroduction efforts," the suit says. "[U]p to 500 entrants will compete over a three-day period each winter – starting on January 2, 2015 – to see who can kill the most and largest wolves and coyotes, and win cash and prizes." The lawsuit seeks to have the EA/FONSI and decision record vacated and reversed.

In addition to Defenders, other plaintiffs are the Center for Biological Diversity, Project Coyote and Western Watersheds Project.

“We are aware of the social controversy regarding the event,” said Joe Kraayenbrink, BLM's Idaho Falls District Manager. “However, from our analysis, we could not find significant conflicts with other environmental resources that would prohibit the competitive event from occurring."

Unless stopped by the court, the derby will take place on about 3.1 million acres of land managed by the Challis, Salmon, and Upper Snake Field Offices of BLM's Idaho Falls District. "For the purposes of the competition, predators include a variety of species, including, wolves, coyotes, weasels, skunks, jackrabbits, raccoons, and starlings," BLM's EA says.

"Participants will bring their harvested predators to a location on private property within Salmon, where they will compete on a point system based on the number and types of predators harvested," the EA says.

The event promoter is Idaho for Wildlife, which states on its website that its mission is "to protect Idaho's hunting and fishing heritage. To fight against all legal and legislative attempts by the animal rights and anti-gun organizations who are trying to take away our rights and freedoms under the constitution of the United States of America. To hold all Government and State Agencies who are stewards of our Wildlife accountable and ensure that science is used as the primary role four our Wildlife management."

Press release on lawsuit