Apr 012015
 

We'll have more later, but Center for Biological Diversity announced a decision from the federal court on Hawaii about the impact of Navy training exercises on "whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and imperiled sea turtles." CBD's  press release is below.

Court Rules Navy Training in Pacific Violates Laws Meant to Protect Whales, Sea Turtles

Federal Judge Says Feds Wrongly Approved Plan Allowing Whales, Dolphins,
Other Wildlife to Be Harmed Nearly 10 Million Times

HONOLULU— A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that the National Marine Fisheries Service acted illegally in approving U.S. Navy testing and training activities in the Pacific Ocean that threaten widespread harm to whales, dolphins, other marine mammals and imperiled sea turtles.

The Navy and Fisheries Service had concluded that, over the plan’s five-year period, the Navy’s use of explosives and sonar, along with vessel strikes, could result in thousands of animals suffering death, permanent hearing loss or lung injuries. Millions of others could be left with temporary injuries and significant disruptions to feeding, breeding, communicating, resting and other essential behaviors. In all, the Navy’s plan could cause an estimated 9.6 million instances of harm to marine mammals.

The decision of the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii results from a December 2013 lawsuit brought by Earthjustice, representing Conservation Council for Hawaii, the Animal Welfare Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Ocean Mammal Institute, which challenged the Fisheries Service’s approval of Navy operations off Hawaii and Southern California as violating the National Environmental Policy Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act.

“The court’s ruling recognizes that, to defend our country, the Navy doesn’t need to train in every square inch of a swath of ocean larger than all 50 United States combined,” said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups. “The Navy can fulfill its mission and, at the same time, avoid the most severe harm to dolphins, whales and countless other marine animals by simply limiting training and testing in a small number of biologically sensitive areas.”

The National Environmental Policy Act requires that federal agencies, including the Fisheries Service and Navy, consider a range of alternatives, including alternatives that could be pursued with less environmental harm, and that the public have an opportunity to review and comment on that analysis.

The groups sued because the Fisheries Service and the Navy failed to evaluate alternatives that would place biologically important areas off limits to training and testing.

The judge concluded that the Navy’s claim it needs continuous access to every single square mile of the Pacific, and cannot avoid — even temporarily — biologically important areas where marine mammals breed, nurse their young, and feed, “makes no sense given the size of the ocean area involved.”

Noting the “stunning number of marine mammals” the Navy’s activities threaten with harm, the judge also found the Fisheries Service violated its legal duties under the Endangered Species Act to ensure Navy training would not push endangered whales and turtles to extinction and under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to prevent harm to marine mammal populations.

The judge stated: “Searching the administrative record’s reams of pages for some explanation as to why the Navy’s activities were authorized by the [Fisheries Service], this court feels like the sailor in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ who, trapped for days on a ship becalmed in the middle of the ocean, laments, ‘Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.’ ”

“In 2004, Navy sonar during Rim of the Pacific war games was implicated in a mass stranding of around 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay on Kaua‘i, with one baby whale dying,” said Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of Conservation Council for Hawaii. “This ruling hopefully will spare other marine mammals from a similar fate.”

“The science is clear that sonar blasts and explosives kill and injure marine mammals and sea turtles,” said Susan Millward, executive director of Animal Welfare Institute. “The court recognized that the law doesn’t allow the Fisheries Service to give the Navy a blank check to harm unlimited numbers of animals.  Both agencies must do more to protect these vulnerable animals.”

“The Navy shouldn’t play war games in the most sensitive waters animals use for feeding and breeding,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Fisheries Service has already identified vital areas to protect for whales and dolphins around the Hawaiian Islands and off Southern California, and they should be off-limits to explosives and other dangerous activities. The federal government has a responsibility to protect our natural heritage as well as national security.”

“This is an important victory for our oceans,” said Marsha Green, president of Ocean Mammal Institute. “The Navy can, and must, find ways to accomplish its mission that reduce the amount of deafening noise that prevents marine mammals from communicating, navigating, feeding and finding mates.”

A video on the effects of Navy sonar training on marine mammals is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9gDk29Y_YY
Court Document: http://earthjustice.org/documents/legal-document/decision-court-rules-navy-training-in-pacific-violates-laws-meant-to-protect-whales-sea-turtles
Online version: http://earthjustice.org/news/press/2015/court-rules-navy-training-in-pacific-violates-laws-meant-to-protect-whales-sea-turtles

Background
Ocean mammals depend on hearing for navigation, feeding and reproduction. Scientists have linked military sonar and live-fire activities to mass whale beaching, exploded eardrums and even death. In 2004, during war games near Hawaii, the Navy’s sonar was implicated in a mass stranding of up to 200 melon-headed whales in Hanalei Bay, Kauai.

The Navy and Fisheries Service estimate that, over the plan’s five-year period, training and testing activities will result in thousands of animals suffering permanent hearing loss, lung injuries or death. Millions of animals will be exposed to temporary injuries and disturbances, with many subjected to multiple harmful exposures.

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Apr 012015
 

Does the name make sense now? (credit: Wetland Studies and Solutions)

CBD slams decision

FWS release

The Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to list the Northern long-eared bat as threatened with a 4(d) rule.

Page with information from FWS

Said FWS in the rule: "[N]o other threat is as severe and immediate to the northern longeared bat’s persistence as the disease, white-nose syndrome (WNS).... WNS is currently the predominant threat to the species, and if WNS had not emerged or was not affecting the northern long-eared bat populations to the level that it has, we presume the species’ would not be experiencing the dramatic declines that it has since WNS emerged."

"Seven species of North American hibernating bats have been confirmed with WNS to
date: big brown bat, gray bat, eastern small-footed bat, little brown bat, northern long-eared bat,
Indiana bat, and tricolored bat. The effect of WNS appears to vary greatly by species, with

several species exhibiting high mortality and others showing low or no appreciable population-level effects (Turner et al. 2011, p. 13). The fungus that causes WNS has been detected on five additional species, but with no evidence of the infection characteristic of the disease; these include Rafinesque’s big-eared bat (Corynorhinus rafinesquii), Virginia big-eared bat (C. townsendii virginianus), silver-haired bat (Lasionycteris noctivagans), eastern red bat (Lasiurus borealis), and southeastern bat (Myotis austroriparius).

"The impacts of WNS on North American bat populations have been substantial. Service and State biologists estimate that at least 5.7 million to 6.7 million bats of several species have died from WNS (Service 2012, p. 1). Dzal et al. (2011, p. 393) documented a 78 percent decline in the summer activity of little brown bats in New York State, coinciding with the arrival and spread of WNS, suggesting large-scale population effects. Turner et al. (2011, p. 22) reported an 88 percent decline in the number of all hibernating bats at 42 sites across New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. Furthermore, Frick et al. (2010a, p. 681) concluded that the little brown bat, formerly the most common bat in the northeastern United States, is undergoing catastrophic declines in the region due to WNS, and is at risk of regional extirpation in the near future. Similarly, Thogmartin et al. (2013, p. 171) predicted that WNS is likely to extirpate the federally endangered Indiana bat over large parts of its range. While recent models by Ingersoll et al. (2013, p. 8) have raised some questions about the status of bat populations prior to the arrival of WNS, the empirical evidence from surveys of six species of hibernating bats in New York State, revealed populations that were likely stable or increasing prior to the emergence of WNS (Service 2011, p. 1). Subsequent to the emergence of WNS, decreases in some species of bats at affected hibernacula have ranged from 30 to 100 percent (Frick et al. 2010a, p. 680; Turner et al. 2011, pp. 16–19, 22)."

Changes from proposed rule (which would have listed bat as endangered)

(1) Based on our analyses of the potential threats to the species, we have determined that the northern long-eared bat does not meet the definition of an endangered species, contrary to our proposed rule published on October 2, 2013 (78 FR 61046).

(2) Based on our analyses, we have determined that the species meets the definition of a threatened species. Therefore, on the effective date of this final listing rule, the species will be listed as a threatened species in the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife at 50 CFR 17.11(h).

(3) We have further refined the estimated timeframe during which Pd (the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome) is expected to spread throughout the range of the northern long-eared bat.

(4) We have expanded the discussion of white-nose syndrome and the effects of whitenose syndrome on the northern long-eared bat under Factor C.

(5) We have included additional (most recent available) survey data for the species in the Distribution and Relative Abundance section.