Sep 092015
 

from the Department of the Interior:

Date: September 9, 2015
Contacts: Emily Beyer (Interior), Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov
Meagan Racey (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), 413-253-8558

Secretary Jewell, Senator Shaheen to Celebrate Major Conservation Partnership
Protecting New England Cottontail

DOVER, N.H. – On Friday, September 11, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will make an announcement related to tremendous coordinated efforts by federal, state, nonprofit, and private partners to protect the New England cottontail and conserve forest habitat in six Northeast states (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York).

Secretary Jewell will join U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller, private landowners, and conservation leaders for the announcement. For the first time, officials will release cottontails bred in captivity onto young forest habitat on private land.

WHO: Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Dan Ashe, Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jeanne Shaheen, U.S. Senator, New Hampshire
Jason Weller, Chief, U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service
Rick Jacobson, Director, Wildlife Division, Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection
Rick and Donna Ambrose, Landowners
WHAT: Important conservation announcement related to New England cottontail
WHEN: Friday, September 11, 2015
11:15 a.m. EDT – Media check-in
11:30 a.m. EDT – Announcement
12:00 p.m. EDT – Photo opportunity and media availability
WHERE: Ambrose Farm
210 Tolend Road
Dover, NH 03820
MEDIA: Credentialed members of the media are encouraged to RSVP here

Sep 092015
 

The Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to reject a land exchange to facilitate construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge has been upheld by a federal judge in Alaska (Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove v. Jewell, 14-110-HRH, D. Alaska).

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland's order is a significant development in the years-long battle over the road, which local residents argue is necessary to enable sick and injured people to get to the Cold Bay Airport.

"Perhaps Congress will now think better of its decision to encumber the King Cove Road project with a [National Environmental Policy Act] requirement," the judge said. As reported by Alaska Dispatch News, "The decision could be null if [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski (R-Alaska) is successful in passing language she has offered in congressional budget negotiations, which would approve the land exchange and remove [Interior Secretary Sally] Jewell’s approval from the process."

Environmental groups hailed the judge's decision in a news release issued yesterday.

"Izembek’s lagoon complex is a globally important ecosystem that contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, providing food and habitat for fish and crabs that feed migratory birds from multiple continents," the groups said. "Virtually the entire world populations of Pacific black brant and emperor geese, and a significant portion of the threatened Steller’s eider population visits the refuge to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations."

Holland said the service had not made up it mind about the land exchange and the road before choosing the "no action" alternative in an EIS it issued in February 2013. The proposed exchange was 206 acres of federal land in the Izembek NWR for 56,393 acres of State of Alaska and King Cove Corporation-owned land.

Here's the judge's conclusion:

In the [Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009] Congress recognized that a road from King Cove to Cold Bay would foster public health and safety and would present environmental concerns. Rather than make the hard choice between public health and safety and the environment itself, Congress left that decision to the Secretary, requiring that she comply with NEPA before approving the road and land exchange needed to construct the road. Given the sensitive nature of the portion of the Izembek Wildlife Refuge which the road would cross, the NEPA requirement for approval of the proposed road probably doomed the project.

Under NEPA, the Secretary evaluated environmental impacts, not public health and safety impacts. Perhaps Congress will now think better of its decision to encumber the King Cove Road project with a NEPA requirement.

Plaintiffs’ and intervenor-plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is denied, and defendants’ and intervenor-defendants’ cross-motions are granted. There has been no NEPA violation here, nor has there been any violation of the OPLMA. The clerk of court shall enter judgment dismissing plaintiffs’ and intervenor-plaintiff’s complaints with prejudice.

Excerpts:

Plaintiffs also argue that the Secretary [of the Interior] failed to consider the wildlife and environmental value of the offered lands in any meaningful manner. They argue that the Secretary summarily dismissed the value of the offered lands because she had decided that the 206 acres of federal land was irreplaceable.

To the extent that plaintiffs are contending that the FWS only considered the impacts that the proposed project would have on the 206 acres of federal land, plaintiffs are wrong. The FWS found that “[t]he impact of road construction on wilderness character would radiate far beyond the footprint of the road corridor.”88 Moreover, the FWS properly considered the wildlife and environmental value of the offered lands in comparison to the 206 acres. For example, although some of the state and local parcels offered for exchange have notable environmental values, none are home to the unique population of Tundra Swans that reside in the isthmus.

It is the court’s perception that plaintiffs’ arguments that the FWS did not take a “hard look” at land values are simply disagreements as to the relative weight that the FWS accorded the impacts.

Sep 092015
 

Delisting of the endangered dusky gopher frog is "not currently foreseeable" because of its restricted range, the small number of frogs remaining in the wild, and continued threats to the species' existence, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a recovery plan released today. (Click link for ECOS profile)

Instead, the plan's long-term goal is to downlist the frog from endangered to threatened.

The service designated critical habitat for the frog in 2012. The decision was challenged in court, but the judge "reluctantly" upheld the designation.

Here's more from the plan, posted on the service's website.

Dusky (Mississippi) gopher frog (Rana sevosa)

Recovery Strategy: The recovery strategy for the dusky gopher frog consists of maintaining and enhancing existing populations on tracts of public and private land; monitoring the status of existing populations; identifying and securing additional dusky gopher frog populations and habitat; establishing new populations through translocations or reintroductions; and supporting research that guides land management and provides demographic and ecological data.
Management plans should be developed and implemented for all sites where the dusky gopher frog occurs. Appropriate habitat management includes minimizing soil disturbance and loss of native herbaceous groundcover vegetation;  conducting prescribed burning, particularly during the growing season; maintaining open-canopied, grassy wetlands; and restoring degraded upland habitat. In addition, management plans should specifically address habitat modifications (e.g., filling of drainage ditches and plow lines, restoring native groundcover flora) necessary to improve and maintain appropriate habitat.

Monitoring programs to track population trends and the response of this species to habitat management activities are needed for all populations. Monitoring programs should be evaluated and revised as needed. Since recovery of the dusky gopher frog will necessitate finding or creating new, currently unknown populations, assessment of potentially suitable habitat within the range of the frog and additional presence/absence surveys are needed, especially in Alabama and Louisiana. If no additional dusky gopher frog populations are found, suitable habitat for translocations/reintroductions needs to be identified, and programs developed and implemented to establish and monitor these new populations and manage the habitat that supports them. We expect to conduct a Species Status Assessment (SSA) for the dusky gopher frog in the future and will make revisions to the recovery plan accordingly.