Steve Davies

Steve Davies is editor and publisher of Endangered Species & Wetlands Report, which he started in 1995. Davies began his professional journalism career as a copy editor for the weekly Gazette Newspapers in Gaithersburg, Md., before becoming a reporter there. He then moved to Carlisle, Pa., covering Cumberland County government for the daily Sentinel. He returned to the Washington area to cover Congress and federal regulatory agencies for a series of trade newsletters before starting his own publication, which is an independent venture. Click LinkedIn for more detail.

Feb 192015
 

Statement by Hollie Cannon, executive director of the Klamath Water and Power Agency, in response to the whistleblower complaint filed by PEER (received and posted Feb. 19)

This is nothing more than a petty and spiteful attack on the Klamath Basin’s family farms and ranches from a disgruntled former BOR employee and an organization that is prone to hyperbole.

KWAPA was formed to assist the federal government and the irrigation community in preparation for implementation of a landmark water sharing agreement, which was negotiated amongst farmers, ranchers, conservation organizations, refuge interests, tribes and governments.

This action won’t help the environment or any individual; it will only hurt struggling farms and ranches reeling from a third consecutive year of drought. Unfortunately, it is these sorts of malicious union attacks that give good public employees a bad name.

The specific allegations concerning authority of Reclamation to engage with KWAPA in the WUMP will have to be addressed by Reclamation. However, the allegations that the Water User Mitigation Program (WUMP) did not attain the task of “benefit of fish and wildlife habitat” is absolutely false.  The Lower Klamath Lake National Wildlife Refuge (LKLNWR) gets all the attention because it has suffered greatly since the impacts of ESA-caused water shortages beginning in 2001. PEER and others should also keep in mind what the situation [would be] without the WUMP.  Without question, the WUMP has provided water that allowed the LKLNWR to receive water it would not have in 2010, 2012 and 2013.  The Tulelake National Wildlife Refuge has been 100% watered (this refuge also provides habitat for endangered suckers).  Crops grown on private land provide tremendous benefit to wildlife for shelter and food.  Without the WUMP there would have been thousands of acres of farmland that would not have produced crops and the associated wildlife benefit.

As far as the administration of the WUMP by KWAPA, we are very careful to adhere to the requirements of the Office of Management and Budget.  An independent audit of the KWAPA financials is conducted each year and is available for public review.  Reclamation conducted a Procedures Review of the WUMP in 2013 as well.

Feb 182015
 

The Ninth Circuit affirmed a district court decision that upheld the Forest Service’s approval of a small fuels treatment/commercial timber harvest project on the Umatilla National Forest (The Lands Council v. U.S. Forest Service, 14-35176). (South George Vegetation and Fuels Management Project)

The brief, unpublished decision rejected claims brought under the National Forest Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

Excerpts (full decision below):

“The Forest Service concedes that some units within the project area do not meet the 3-large-snag retention specification, but notes that the project accounts for this deficiency by prohibiting harvest of large snags in these units and retaining smaller snags and large live trees that will one day turn into snags.”

The environmental appellants argued that the project “violates the NFMA because the project’s proposed tree removal in a Riparian Habitat Conservation Area fails to comply with the Forest Plan’s timber management standard. See 16 U.S.C. § 1604(i); Great Old Broads [for Wilderness v. Kimbell], 709 F.3d at 850 [9th Cir., 2013]. The Forest Service responds that the project is not required to satisfy the Forest Plan’s timber management standard because the Project meets the Forest Plan’s fuels treatment standard instead. Although the Project’s plan documents are not a model of clarity, the documents contain multiple references to fuel management and the reduction of forest fires in connection with the proposed tree removal.”

“Third, plaintiffs-appellants argue that the Forest Service violated the NEPA’s hard-look requirement by excluding land within 300 feet of all forest roads from wilderness area consideration. See 42 U.S.C. § 4332; W. Watersheds Project v. Abbey, 719 F.3d 1035, 1047 (9th Cir. 2013) (holding that the NEPA’s “hard look” requirement mandates “a ‘full and fair discussion of significant environmental impacts’ in the EIS” (quoting 40 C.F.R. § 1502.1)). In the EIS, the Forest Service analyzed whether it should include the land within 300 feet of all forest roads as wilderness, as plaintiffs-appellants propose. Because the Forest Service considered this alternative, it had the discretion to choose a different boundary-marker.”

Feb 182015
 

Federal whistleblowers are alleging that the Bureau of Reclamation’s relationship with Klamath Basin irrigators has gotten too close, leading to the spending of nearly $70 million “without any apparent legal authority.”

A 2008 contract between BuRec and the Klamath Water and Power Agency “has morphed beyond any recognizable shape from a feasibility study into a direct subsidy bearing no relationship to fish and wildlife,” said Paula Dinerstein, senior counsel for Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which filed the scientists’ disclosure with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. “It appears KWAPA just sucked in more and more government funds with little oversight and for no discernible benefit to the general public.” (PEER news release)

ESWR has requested a comment from KWAPA and will post whatever we receive. Update: KWAPA’s Hollie Cannon responded to the charges, calling the complaint “nothing more than a petty and spiteful attack on the Klamath Basin’s family farms and ranches from a disgruntled former BOR employee and an organization that is prone to hyperbole.” He also said that “the allegations that the Water User Mitigation Program (WUMP) did not attain the task of ‘benefit of fish and wildlife habitat’ is absolutely false.” (Full response here.)

In its news release issued today, PEER said:

“A federal program that was supposed to help drought-stressed fish populations in the Klamath Basin has been hijacked for the sole benefit of select irrigators, according to a whistleblower disclosure filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Overall, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has spent nearly $70 million without any apparent legal authority to do so.”

The Office of Special Counsel has 15 days from today to decide whether the disclosure shows a “substantial likelihood of validity.”

“If so, the Special Counsel is supposed to direct the Secretary of Interior to conduct a formal investigation into systemic violations,” PEER said. “If the violations are confirmed it could result in the reimbursement of unauthorized payments as well as punishment for responsible Reclamation officials.”

More documents from PEER:

Oregon chub to be removed from T&E list

 Posted by on February 18, 2015
Feb 182015
 

The Oregon chub has recovered sufficiently to warrant removal from the list of threatened and endangered species, the Fish and Wildlife Service has announced.

Recovered — the Oregon chub (FWS photo)

A final rule is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register on Thursday, Feb. 19. It says:

“The Oregon chub (Oregonichthys crameri) is endemic to the Willamette River drainage of western Oregon. Extensive human activities in the Willamette River Basin (e.g., dams, levees, and other human development within the floodplain) have substantially reduced the amount and suitability of habitat for this species. Improved floodplain management and floodplain restoration by multiple conservation partners has reduced and mitigated adverse human-related impacts and resulted in significant improvements to habitat quality and quantity. As a result, threats to the Oregon chub have been largely ameliorated.”

Proposed delisting (2/6/14) and regulatory docket

Feb 172015
 

NOAA Fisheries (aka NMFS) will propose to expand critical habitat for “endangered North Atlantic right whales in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean, including areas that will support calving and nursing,” according to a news release.

“The area, proposed in compliance with a court order, would expand the critical habitat to roughly 29,945 square nautical miles, and include northeast feeding areas in the Gulf of Maine/Georges Bank region and calving grounds from southern North Carolina to northern Florida.”

NMFS said in its news release that it had issued the proposal Feb. 13, but it has not been published yet in the Federal Register or released online. The public comment period will not start until that happens.

Center for Biological Diversity release

Docket, with nothing in it yet

Right whale information from NMFS

Feb 172015
 

All FR notices, this year

Update: The NMFS staffer referred to below got back to me: “Thank you Steve, I am trying to get it fixed now. I will pass along your suggestion on emails.” Thank you! My admiration for the men and women in the civil service just went up a notch.

Just a side note to NMFS from ESWR editor Steve Davies: Howzabout putting your email addresses in your notices? That way I could have told you that the listing petition link in your damselfish finding doesn’t work (See below for a working link.) I know, I know, I should let such minor annoyances fly from my consciousness like a John Wall-led fast break. However, when agencies get something wrong in FR notices, they are often forced to correct them — which costs them time (and perhaps, a little bit of their, and our, precious money). Emails using about seven permutations of the NMFS staffer’s name in the damselfish notice have bounced back.

Why does it matter? Well, for one thing, anyone accessing the notice online will be initially stumped if he or she clicks on the agency’s link. In addition, I have seen a number of “corrected” notices recently from different agencies because they 1) screwed up the date for the comment period or 2) had the wrong URL for some document,  among other problems. Reprinting, reopening, reposting –it all takes time and money. So make it easy, will ya? “Transparency” and all that.

NMFS issues negative 90-day finding on a petition to list yellowtail damselfish (Microspathodon chrysurus) | More on petitions in SE region | Reef fish page from NOAA | Petition

From aquariumdomain.com

NMFS submits ICR to OMB for approval. “The required information is used to evaluate the impacts of the proposed activity on endangered species, to make the determinations required by the ESA prior to issuing a permit, and to establish appropriate permit conditions.”

FWS receives endangered species permit applications

American burying beetle: ONE GAS, Inc., Tulsa, OK. and TOMPC, LLC, Edmond, OK, apply to participate in HCP

FWS to ask OMB to approve ICR: National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation

NMFS solicits nominations for new members to fill vacancies on the Atlantic and Pacific Scientific Review Groups (SRGs). There is also an Alaska SRG | More about SRG’s, which provide advice on a range of marine mammal science and management issues.

Feb 132015
 

Here is the press release from the American Bird Conservancy:

MEDIA RELEASE

Contact: Robert Johns, 202 888 7472, bjohns@abcbirds.org

Leading Bird Group Files Petition to Regulate the Wind Industry

(Washington, D.C., February 13, 2015) American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has filed a formal petition with the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) calling for the agency to establish new regulations governing the impacts of wind energy projects on migratory birds.

The ABC petition  was filed on February 12, 2015 and includes substantial revisions to an earlier petition filed by ABC in December 2011 that also called for wind industry regulatory action that would reduce the projected 1.4-2 million bird deaths expected to be caused by the industry when it reaches projected build out levels.

“This petition includes new information that further makes the case for wind industry regulation,” said Dr. Michael Hutchins, National Coordinator of ABC’s Bird Smart Wind Energy Campaign. “We have added examples of new science and prototype mechanisms that would make it possible to finally enforce the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).”

A key provision of the ABC petition would have the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) establish a permitting process that would significantly improve the protection of birds covered by the MBTA and would afford the wind industry a degree of regulatory and legal certainty that cannot be provided in the absence of such a process.

“This is the second time we have petitioned for improvements on the permitting issue—this time with new and even stronger arguments– and it appears that FWS is now starting a process that could lead to that becoming a reality,” Hutchins said in reference to FWS filing a Notice of Intent to take action, with the Office of Management and Budget this past week, on this issue.

“We recognize that properly sited and operated wind energy projects may be an important part of the solution to climate change, a contemporary challenge that indisputably poses a rapidly growing threat to species and ecosystems,” Hutchins said.

But ABC said further that, if not done right, wind energy also poses a serious threat to various species of birds, including birds of prey such as the Bald Eagle, Golden Eagle, Ferruginous Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, Short-eared Owl, and Flammulated Owl; endangered and threatened species such as the California Condor, Kirtland’s Warbler, Whooping Crane, Snail Kite, Marbled Murrelet, Hawaiian Goose, and Hawaiian Petrel; and other species of special conservation concern such as the Bicknell’s Thrush, Sprague’s Pipit, Cerulean Warbler, Oak Titmouse, Lewis’s Woodpecker, Brewer’s Sparrow, Long-billed Curlew, Bay-breasted Warbler, and Blue-winged Warbler.

“These species are impacted by existing wind energy projects and threatened by potential projects primarily through collisions with wind turbines and associated power lines and towers, and through loss or modification of essential habitat,” said Hutchins

Based on the operation of a mere 22,000 turbines, FWS estimated that at least 440,000 birds– including threatened and endangered species—were being killed per year by wind turbines in 2009. Since then, another peer-reviewed study expanded that estimate to 573,000 in 2012. By 2030 or perhaps even earlier, a ten-fold increase in the number of wind turbines in the United States is expected, which together are projected to kill between 1.4 -2 million birds each year. ABC believes this number will be exceeded significantly, especially because these estimates do not include mortality at associated power lines and towers, which are also undergoing massive expansion and currently kill over 6.8 million birds annually.  Further, wind energy projects are expected to impact almost 20,000 square miles of terrestrial habitat and another 4,000 square miles of marine habitat.

The MBTA, Endangered Species Act (ESA), and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (BGEPA), prohibit “take” of migratory birds, endangered and threatened species, and Bald and Golden Eagles. (Federal regulations define the term “take” to include wounding or killing, or attempting to wound or kill.) Bald and Golden Eagles are protected under both MBTA and BGEPA, and many species listed under the ESA are also protected under the MBTA, such as Whooping Cranes, California Condors, Least Terns, Kirtland’s Warblers, Northern Aplomado Falcons, Roseate Terns, and Piping Plovers.

While the ESA and BGEPA provide mechanisms for FWS to regulate, and in some instances authorize, take of endangered and threatened species and Bald and Golden Eagles respectively, at present no such comparable mechanism exists under the MBTA to limit or authorize incidental take by wind power projects.

”In effect, the MBTA is not being enforced, except perhaps under very special circumstances,” said Hutchins. “This reality is particularly significant for the wind industry because wind energy projects will inevitably take birds protected under the MBTA.  In fact, because it is virtually impossible to operate a wind energy facility without killing or injuring at least some migratory birds, most operational wind energy projects are in ongoing violation of the MBTA, and are effectively breaking the law with impunity.”

In addition, federal officials are aware of other wind energy projects that are being planned that will also take migratory birds in violation of federal law. Many of those projects are located in or near Important Bird Areas (IBAs) or in major migratory bottlenecks, such as the south shore of Lake Erie or northern shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

The wind industry is now operating under “voluntary” instead of mandatory regulatory guidelines. These optional operating sideboards have paved the way for widespread disregard of the legal mandates the FWS is entrusted to enforce.  The ABC petition supports “Bird-Smart” wind energy, which requires independent, science-based risk assessment leading to careful siting; effective mitigation; independent, transparent post-construction monitoring of bird kills; and compensation if public trust resources are being taken. Bird-Smart wind energy is therefore designed to reduce and redress any unavoidable bird mortality and habitat loss.

Feb 122015
 

Two bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming.

They were immediately criticized by environmental groups. See below for releases.

Official text of the bills is not available yet, but should be soon (see below for “informal” copy of one of the bills). The first, H.R. 843, introduced by Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) on Feb. 10, has seven co-sponsors. The second, introduced by Reps. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Rep. Reid Ribble (R-Wis.) on Feb. 11, has 14.

Both bills were referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Links

  • H,R. 843 (Kline) (To prohibit treatment of gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan as endangered species, and for other purposes. )
  • H.R. 884 (Ribble, Lummis) (To direct the Secretary of the Interior to reissue final rules relating to listing of the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes and Wyoming under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and for other purposes.)

Text of H.R. 884

“Western Great Lakes – Before the end of the 60-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Interior shall reissue the final rule published on December 28, 2011 (76 Fed. Reg. 81666) without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule.  Such reissuance shall not be subject to judicial review.

“Wyoming – Before the end of the 60-day period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of the Interior shall reissue the final rule published on September 10, 2012 (77 Fed. Reg. 55530 et seq.) without regard to any other provision of statute or regulation that applies to issuance of such rule.  Such reissuance shall not be subject to judicial review.”

Feb 112015
 

The same day the Justice Department unveiled a new strategy for combating illegal wildlife trafficking, four animal protection groups petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protection for the African elephant by elevating its status to endangered.

Pic from IFAW web site

“Since the African elephant was originally listed as threatened in 1978, the species’ population has declined by about 60 percent, primarily due to poaching for the ivory trade,” they said in their news release. “Habitat destruction and unsustainable trophy hunting also contributed to the decline. Scientists say elephant mortality is outpacing the natural birth rate, fixing the species in a pattern of ongoing decline.”

Here are the groups: the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW; www.ifaw.org), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS, www.humanesociety.org), Humane Society International (HSI, www.hsi.org) and The Fund for Animals (www.fundforanimals.org).

Petition exec summary