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.

Sep 112014
 

A challenge to development of part of the Rosebud Mine in Montana has been rejected as unripe by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) and Sierra Club v. Stone-Manning, 13-35107).

The circuit judges on the panel were Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, Andrew J. Kleinfeld and Marsha S. Berzon. O’Scannlain wrote the opinion. The named defendant is Tracy Stone-Manning, director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

According to a summary prepared by court staff, the panel “held that the plaintiffs lacked standing, and their claims for declaratory and injunctive relief were not ripe. The panel concluded that the plaintiffs’ alleged injury was not imminent because, even assuming arguendo that the Director would not do a proper cumulative hydrologic impact assessment under the Act, the plaintiffs’ allegations did not establish a substantial risk that the Director would grant the permit application at all. Without deciding whether the firm prediction rule applied under the circumstances of this case, the panel held that the rule’s standards for ripeness were not met because the panel could not make a firm prediction that the Director would grant the mining permit application.”

“Even if we assume that MEIC can bring this suit on behalf of its members, see Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 181, its members do not have standing. They have not suffered an ‘actual or imminent’ injury in fact. Id. at 180,” the court said, adding in the next sentence, “Analyzing the sufficiency of MEIC’s complaint under the constitutional ripeness standard yields the same answer for
the same reasons.”

Links

Western Environmental Law Center page

WELC press release on filing of lawsuit  | Complaint

 

Sep 112014
 

A GAO review of 203 rules classified as “major,” “significant” and “economically significant” found that the federal agencies could do a better job of explaining why those classifications were justified. (Full report) (HTML)

From a summary of the report, issued Sept. 11:

GAO’s review also found that for the majority of the 109 significant rules reviewed, the rulemaking process is not as transparent as it could be. This is because 72 percent of these rules included no language to explain why the rule was designated as significant. Some agency officials indicated that the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs did not always provide a reason for changing a rule’s designation to significant. The rulemaking process could be more transparent if significance designations were explained and communicated.

GAO “reviewed 109 significant rules and 57 economically significant rules. Estimates of these populations are based on these sample data and are subject to sampling error. To supplement the rule review and to answer our second objective, we conducted roundtable discussions with 17 of the 32 independent We also reviewed the population of all 37 major rules issued by independent regulatory agencies within the same time frame.”

Included in the review were the following rules:

FWS

Revision of critical habitat designation for the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, 78 Fed. Reg. 344

Migratory Bird Hunting; 2011-12 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations, 76 Fed. Reg. 58,682

Migratory Bird Hunting; 2011-12 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations, 76 Fed. Reg. 59,271

Migratory Bird Hunting; 2012-2013 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations, 77 Fed. Reg. 58,444

Migratory Bird Hunting; 2012-2013 Migratory Game Bird Hunting Regulations, 77 Fed. Reg. 58,628

DOI Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

Increased Safety Measures for Oil and Gas Operations on the Outer Continental Shelf, 77 Fed. Reg. 50,856

NMFS

High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act; Identification and Certification Procedures to Address Shark Conservation, 78 Fed. Reg. 3338

Revision of Critical Habitat Designation for the Endangered Leatherback Sea Turtle, 77 Fed. Reg. 4170

EPA

Regulation To Establish No-Discharge Zone in California State Waters Under CWA 312(f)(4)(A), 77 Fed. Reg. 11,401

Sep 112014
 

FWS has revised its critical habitat designation for Canada lynx, and changed the Distinct Population Segment boundaries to “where found” in the lower 48. The service took the actions to comply with a couple of settlement agreement. See http://www.eswr.com/latest-listings for the relevant Federal Register notices, filed on Public Inspection.

FWS also has listed as threatened a plant from Georgia and Alabama — Georgia rockcress. The service also designated 723 acres in the two states as critical habitat for the plant. Go to the same link above for FR notices.

Lastly, today’s date makes me think of Rich Guadagno, a Fish and Wildlife Service wildlife refuge manager (and enforcement agent) who was on Flight 93. Click the link for a two-year-old piece I posted on this website.

Rich Guadagno (from training.fws.gov)

Some more links

USFWS remembers Rich Guadagno

United Flight 93 heroes

National Park Service link

San Francisco Bay Area Flight 93 memorial page

Jacksonville father remembers son killed in 9/11 attacks (by Lewis Turner)

Sep 102014
 

Thirty-five Democrats joined 227 Republicans in approving a bill (H.R. 5078) to block an EPA/Corps proposal to define “waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act. The final vote was 262-152.

One Republican, Chris Smith of New Jersey, voted against the bill, which will give its supporters the ability to claim in their re-election campaigns that they are looking out for farmers and others who say the proposed regulation would hurt them economically. A similar bill introduced in the Senate by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) has 38 co-sponsors.

Many of the Democrats backing the bill are not normally considered environmentalists, but some, like Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), are usually found on the green side of such issues. Farr has a lifetime 95 percent score from the League of Conservation Voters.

Adam Russell, spokesman for the congressman, said in an email that Farr “is a strong supporter of good environmental policy and smart environmental regulations. His vote on this bill was an attempt to compel competing interests to find a middle ground on a long standing dispute. That matter has been deadlocked for years. A vote on this bill was the only way to advance the issue so the two rival camps would have a legislative vehicle to act upon and move toward consensuses. Regulations that satisfy only one camp and a bill that satisfies only another is not the answer. We have to move to the middle.”

Specifically, the legislation prohibits either agency from “developing, finalizing, adopting, implementing, applying, administering, or enforcing

(i) the proposed rule described in the notice of proposed rule published in the Federal Register entitled `Definition of `Waters of the United States’ Under the Clean Water Act’ (79 Fed. Reg. 22188 (April 21, 2014)); or

(ii) the proposed guidance submitted to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget for regulatory review under Executive Order 12866, entitled `Guidance on Identifying Waters Protected By the Clean Water Act’ and dated February 17, 2012 (referred to as `Clean Water Protection Guidance’, Regulatory Identifier Number (RIN) 2040-ZA11, received February 21, 2012); or

(B) using the proposed rule or proposed guidance described in subparagraph (A), any successor document, or any substantially similar proposed rule or guidance, as the basis for any rulemaking or decision regarding the scope or enforcement of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq.).”

Democrats

Barber
Barrow (GA)
Bishop (GA)
Bustos
Cleaver
Clyburn
Costa
Cuellar
Enyart
Farr
Fudge
Gallego
Garamendi
Garcia
Green, Gene
Hastings (FL)
Horsford
Kelly (IL)
Kirkpatrick
Loebsack
Matheson
McIntyre
Negrete McLeod
Owens
Peterson
Rahall
Richmond
Ruiz
Schrader
Scott, David
Sinema
Thompson (MS)
Veasey
Vela
Walz

Sep 102014
 

The House Natural Resources Committee has put FWS Director Dan Ashe and Interior Solicitor Hilary Tompkins on the hot seat regarding what Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) is calling the “shameful” behavior of the service in releasing subpoenaed documents.

Ranking minority member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said, however, that the committee is “chasing imaginary scandals.”

“We’re searching for a conspiracy where one doesn’t exist,” he said at the hearing.

Ashe said the service has made “exceptional efforts” to be responsive to the committee’s request, including an offer to allow in camera review of law enforcement documents.

The committee is webcasting the hearing live. Here’s a link to a page with written testimony.

 

Sep 092014
 

The Fish and Wildlife Service is giving $35 million in grants to states to conserve endangered species habitat.

Here’s the first paragraph of the news release that went out today:

WASHINGTON – Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe today announced nearly $35 million in grants to 20 states to enable collaborative efforts to conserve many of America’s imperiled species, ranging from the red-cockaded woodpecker in the Southeast to a variety of bat species in the Midwest to a colorful flower in the Rocky Mountains.

Here’s the list of projects and the amount of money awarded:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
FY 2014 Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund
Project Descriptions Arranged by State

Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) Land Acquisition Grants by State:

California

Santa Clara Valley HCP/NCCP (Santa Clara County) – $2,000,000

This grant will support the acquisition of 1,881 acres in Santa Clara County that will protect key serpentine grassland habitat and associated species, such as the federally listed Bay checkerspot butterfly, as well as other listed species, including the California tiger salamander and California red-legged frog. The property is not only a key acquisition for the HCP/NCCP, but it also fits into a local assemblage of publicly and privately protected lands that complement a suite of other organizations’ conservation goals for the Mount Hamilton region, including The Nature Conservancy, Peninsula Open Space Trust, Silicon Valley Land Conservancy and others. Purchase of this property will secure a vital linkage between the Santa Cruz Mountains and Mount Hamilton Range through the Coyote Valley, and will ameliorate the effects of climate change on covered species by providing a range of environmental gradients.

Shell Oil Company/Metropolitan Water District HCP (Los Angeles County) – $2,000,000

This grant will support the acquisition of approximately 56 acres of land in Los Angeles County. Los Angeles and Orange Counties are largely urbanized, and all remaining open space is highly vulnerable to urban development. The remaining natural open space in the area contains a surprising diversity and abundance of wildlife and plant species. These factors combine to create an urgent need to conserve remaining available natural open space to support populations of native species and habitats, as well as to ensure recovery of listed species. This grant will help conserve habitat in eastern Chino/Puente Hills for an important population of federally threatened coastal California gnatcatcher, and will help protect important habitat for the cactus wren, listed by the State of California as Species of Concern.

Western Riverside Multispecies Habitat Conservation Plan* (Riverside County) – $1,500,000

This grant will support the acquisition of approximately 1,025 acres of land in Riverside County. This acquisition will benefit numerous sensitive species including federally listed species such as the California gnatcatcher, Arroyo southwestern toad and Quino checkerspot butterfly. The acquisition will support the assembly of the 500,000-acre preserve that is part of the Western Riverside MSHCP by protecting large blocks of coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and grassland habitats.

City of Carlsbad Habitat Management Plan (HMP) Northwest San Diego County Multiple Habitat Conservation Plan (San Diego County) – $2,000,000

This project will purchase up to 133 acres of important biological core habitat areas for the coastal California gnatcatcher. The purchases will also benefit numerous listed and unlisted species covered by the Carlsbad HMP, including the least Bell’s vireo, California least tern, western snowy plover and numerous plants. The proposed acquisitions support a larger landscape-level conservation initiative and will greatly enhance the conservation goals of the Carlsbad HMP by securing key regional wildlife linkages and preserving core habitat in the three target areas. The proposed acquisition parcels support a  mosaic of high quality, native riparian and upland habitats.

East Contra Costa County Habitat Conservation Plan/Natural Community Conservation Plan (HCP/NCCP) (Contra Costa County) – $2,000,000

These funds will purchase approximately 700 acres of important habitat land for many of the species covered in the HCP/NCCP, including federally listed species such as the San Joaquin kit fox, California red-legged frog, and vernal pool tadpole shrimp. The acquisition of these properties adds to the reserve system and provides protection for lands that have rich on-site resources and support a diverse mosaic of habitat types.

Coachella Valley Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan (MSHCP)* (Riverside County) – $893,000

The grant will result in the acquisition of up to 8,686 acres that will greatly enhance the existing Coachella Valley MSHCP by securing key regional wildlife habitat linkages and sand transport areas, and preserving core habitat areas. The land acquisition will benefit many sensitive species, including federally listed species such as the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, desert tortoise and peninsular bighorn sheep. The proposed acquisition will complement and greatly enhance the ecological value of the many other acquisitions that have previously occurred in these areas in the last few years.

Montana

Haskill Basin Watershed Project (Whitefish & Flathead Counties) – $2,000,000

A conservation easement on the Haskill Basin property will complement conservation efforts for the landscape-scale Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation HCP.  It will prevent impacts to grizzly bear and Canada lynx habitat from imminent development and ensure vital linkages for these species. This acquisition will address some of the remaining unprotected habitat in a large partnership effort to conserve much of the Crown of the Continent, including working lands, in northwestern Montana.

North Carolina

Red-Cockaded Woodpecker Longleaf Pine Ecosystem Protection and Corridors (Richmond and Scotland Counties) – $1,085,000

This grant will enable the acquisition of up to 1,761 acres of longleaf pine habitat in the Sandhills region of North Carolina used by the federally endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Acquisition, restoration and protection of this property will promote connectivity among woodpecker groups to expand managed areas in and around the Fort Bragg and Camp Mackall woodpecker populations, and throughout the North Carolina Sandhills.

Washington

Heart of the Cascades 2014 (Kittitas County) – $2,000,000

The objective of this project is to protect strategic habitat parcels in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. This habitat plays a major role in the connectivity and recovery of the federally listed northern spotted owl, gray wolf and bull trout in Washington, and complements the Plum Creek Central Cascades HCP. This private forest landscape would otherwise be vulnerable to fragmentation and loss  of habitat due to dispersed real estate development and industrial logging. In addition to species listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the project will benefit steelhead and Chinook salmon, both listed by the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as the northern goshawk and numerous other birds and mammals. Addressing climate change, landscape connectivity, and water quality and quantity are other important objectives of this project. This project will build on numerous past and on-going investments in conservation in the I-90 corridor by protecting up to an additional 4,000 acres of important habitat lands.

Mountain View 4-0 Ranch 2014 (Asotin County) – $2,000,000

This phase of the ongoing acquisition project in Asotin County encompasses 2,100 acres, including 1.3 miles of the Lower Grande Ronde River and 2.3 miles of its tributaries. Federally threatened bull trout, spring and fall Chinook, and steelhead use the Grande Ronde River as well as some of these tributaries. In addition, interior redband trout, Pacific lamprey and many other aquatic species are present in these tributaries. This project is part of a large, multi-phased acquisition that, once completed, will protect 13,072 acres and 15 miles of stream. To date, approximately 6,433 acres have been purchased. The project is bordered on the north by national forest and on the south and east by Bureau of Land Management property. This rare acquisition of a large, ecologically intact and diverse landscape will also protect many upland habitats including cliff and talus habitats, meadows, springs, curl-leaf mahogany shrubland, interior grassland, and ponderosa pine.

Wisconsin

Karner Blue Butterfly HCP Land Acquisition Project (Adams County) – $460,000

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will purchase 1,533 acres of land in the Glacial Lake Wisconsin Recovery Unit for the Karner blue butterfly. This acquisition will permanently protect the area with a conservation easement, ensuring protection from development and an ability to manage for the butterfly and other species within the barrens ecosystem in perpetuity. A previous grant allowed the state to protect 1,659 acres of the 3,192-acre conservation easement project. This year’s grant will be used to purchase the remaining 1,533 acres of the project.

HCP Planning Assistance Grants by State:

California

Bakersfield Regional HCP (Kern County) – $717,271

The HCP for Metropolitan Bakersfield seeks to balance conservation of species and habitats with impacts from urban development. The plan provides a unique opportunity to address take avoidance and minimization efforts for threatened and endangered species that have become accustomed to the urban environment. A key element of the new plan would be to establish standardized avoidance and take minimization measures for the San Joaquin kit fox, a federally listed endangered species that utilizes the urban environment within the City of Bakersfield.

City of Antioch HCP/NCCP (Contra Costa County) – $688,131

The proposed HCP/NCCP plan area will encompass the city’s jurisdiction area and include its surrounding areas. Anticipated growth in Antioch could impact key habitats and linkages needed to protect a variety of state- and federally-listed threatened, endangered and special-status species, including the Antioch Dunes evening primrose, Lange’s metalmark butterfly, Contra Costa wallflower, San Joaquin kit fox, California red-legged frog and California tiger salamander. The proposed Antioch HCP/NCCP plan area supports a variety of habitats and natural communities, including annual grassland, alkali grassland, chaparral, oak woodland, oak savanna, riparian woodland and scrub, wetlands, ponds, streams and sensitive riverine sand dunes.

Feather River HCP (Sutter, Placer, and Butte County) – $735,379

To restore habitats while also providing for needed flood control, the State of California Department of Water Resources is developing an HCP to support implementation of the 2017 Central Valley Flood Protection Plan and Central Valley Flood System Conservation Strategy within the plan area. This HCP will contribute to species recovery through conserving lands and making improvements to riverine and floodplain ecosystems and associated habitats (aquatic, riparian and marsh) and species including: Valley elderberry longhorn beetles, greater sandhill cranes, giant gartersnake and others. The plan area includes approximately 59% of the lower Feather River sub-basin, a significant tributary to the Sacramento River. The HCP will provide a science-based conservation approach to conserving ecosystem functions while also satisfying the federal and State Endangered Species Act requirements.

Kern County Valley Floor HCP (Kern County) – $354,771

This plan is being designed to address the protection of 25 federal and state threatened, endangered and candidate species including, but not limited to, the San Joaquin kit fox, blunt-nosed leopard lizard, Buena Vista Lake shrew, giant kangaroo rat, Bakersfield cactus and many other species. Significant ecologically important, undisturbed natural areas containing saltbush scrub and valley sink scrub, as well as larger expanses of non-native grasslands, afford important habitat to species covered under the plan. The conservation strategy is designed to conserve these important habitat areas, which are largely in private ownership, through a landscape-level, incentive-based approach, that will compliment several individual conservation planning efforts that are currently underway or proposed.

Placer County Conservation Plan (Placer County) – $337,500

This funding will support the Placer County Conservation Plan in northern California. Placer County is currently developing a comprehensive, multi-species HCP and Natural Community Conservation Plan. The county has partnered with other local, state and federal agencies to develop the plan, the primary objective of which is to balance development with the conservation of the County’s natural resources, and provide for the protection of sensitive species and their respective habitats. Numerous listed and sensitive species will benefit from this plan including the vernal pool fairy shrimp, giant garter snake and American peregrine falcon.

South Sacramento HCP (Sacramento County) – $195,000

The South Sacramento Habitat Conservation Plan provides a regional approach to balancing development with conservation and protection of habitat, species, open space and agricultural lands. Several local jurisdictions are involved in efforts to complete the HCP and guide new urban growth into suitable areas, thereby protecting the most vulnerable natural resources and species populations within Sacramento County. The HCP will protect a broad diversity of species and habitats in a regionally coordinated manner that provides the greatest opportunity for long-term viability of native species populations, conserves and enhances ecosystem functions, and will establish a meaningful system of preserves that are located in areas of the highest quality habitat. Species protected will include California tiger salamander, vernal pool tadpole shrimp, slender orcutt grass and others. The HCP will provide large, linked preserves that will connect the existing patchwork of small and noncontiguous preserves.

Upper Santa Ana HCP (San Bernardino and Riverside Counties) – $675,345

The Upper Santa Ana River HCP seeks to balance conservation of primarily aquatic species with the effects from water infrastructure and maintenance activities. The Upper Santa Ana River HCP will include conservation and restoration of habitat at different locations throughout the Santa Ana River watershed in San Bernardino and Riverside counties. Conservation efforts associated with the HCP will focus on restoring aquatic, riparian and adjacent upland habitat and protecting the proposed 16 or more covered species including Santa Ana Sucker, coastal California gnatcatcher, Delhi Sands flower-loving fly and others.

Yuba & Sutter Counties HCP/NCCP (Yuba and Sutter Counties) – $725,000

This plan seeks to balance conservation with urban development. Although much of the plan area remains undeveloped or in agricultural uses that benefit natural communities and the species they support, most of the land is in private ownership without protection. Many undeveloped areas within the plan area are anticipated to accommodate population growth over the next few decades. The plan is a unique opportunity for the plan participants to develop a comprehensive, multi-species conservation plan addressing both listed and non-listed but sensitive species including vernal pool fairy shrimp, Northwestern pond turtle, tricolored blackbird, and others. The plan will provide a regional framework for conservation including natural land and agricultural use preservation.

Florida

Statewide Habitat Conservation Plan for Florida Beaches (35 Coastal Counties Statewide) – $750,000

This grant will assist stakeholders in assimilating acquired data into a detailed draft of the HCP. Activities in the coastal area and their threats to listed species will be analyzed. The goal of the HCP is to allow ongoing beach structure protection measures while limiting and mitigating the adverse effects to federally listed nesting loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback, green and hawksbill sea turtles, five beach mouse subspecies, and shorebirds, including wintering piping plovers. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is leading this effort in conjunction with builders groups, municipalities and others.

Massachusetts

Development of a Habitat Conservation Plan for the Piping Plover in Massachusetts  $188,694

The Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife is leading an effort to develop an umbrella habitat conservation plan for federally listed piping plovers that is intended to incentivize landowners, beach managers and the public for sound management of piping plover nesting beaches (totaling over 43,000 acres) as well as foster and maintain community support for recovery efforts. The HCP will incorporate minimization and mitigation measures that will improve the conservation status of piping plovers in Massachusetts and in the New England Recovery Unit. A stakeholder group comprised of six towns and four private conservation organizations is engaged in the development process. The towns together protect, manage and monitor nearly 75 percent of the piping plovers in Massachusetts. Managing conflicts between recreational beach use and piping plovers is an annual issue in Massachusetts, which receives a lot of public attention.

Multi-State

Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan for Cave-Dwelling Bats (State-wide Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin) – $750,000

The Departments of Natural Resources in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin propose to develop an HCP for several species of cave-dwelling bats. The plan would focus on forest management on state, county and private lands. The species include the endangered Indiana bat, the northern long-eared bat (proposed as endangered), the little brown bat and the tri-colored bat. The project will result in a better understanding of species distribution and summer habitat use by cave-dwelling bats, species currently severely threatened by white-nose syndrome. Once the plan is complete, the states will work with landowners and conservation groups to encourage the conservation of cave-dwelling bats.

Oregon

Deschutes Basin Multi-Species Habitat Conservation Plan (Crook, Deschutes, Jefferson, Klamath, Sherman, and Wasco Counties) – $675,000

This project will continue the development of an HCP for the Deschutes Basin Board of Control, member irrigation districts, and the City of Prineville that will benefit aquatic-dependent species in the upper Deschutes Basin, while meeting current and future irrigation and municipal water needs in a balanced, economically viable, and sustainable manner. Seven species will be covered under the HCP including the federally listed bull trout, as well as the middle Columbia River steelhead and the Oregon spotted frog, the latter is a candidate species. The districts and city have been working cooperatively with a multi-stakeholder group, including the Bureau of Reclamation to develop the HCP since 2009. When completed, the HCP will provide ecosystem benefits to over 10,700 square miles of the upper Deschutes River basin including 340 miles of the Deschutes River and its tributaries and serve as a model for similar projects throughout the western United States.

Pennsylvania

Habitat Conservation Plan for Indiana Bat and Northern Long-eared Bats Associated with Forest Management Activities on Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources State Lands (State-wide)  – $675,000

The Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources are developing an HCP that addresses impacts to Indiana and northern long-eared bats that may result from forest management activities on 3.8 million acres of state lands. The HCP describes activities associated with forest management that may cause incidental take of Indiana and northern long-eared bats, and analyzes the likely result from such takings, as well as outlines the conservation strategy avoidance, minimization and mitigation to address direct and indirect impacts to both species. The activities covered in the HCP are forestry (regeneration, intermediate/improvement, and salvage cuts), operations (fencing and firewood collection), roads and trails (road and trail construction, maintenance and use) prescribed fire (fire breaks and burning), and other activities associated with the HCP implementation. This forest management HCP will become a model for other states on how forest management should be conducted to be compatible with protecting ESA listed bat species.

Recovery Land Acquisition Grants by State:

California

Metcalf Meadow (San Bernardino County) – $1,197,000

The proposed project would acquire and permanently conserve land within Metcalf Meadow, one of the few remaining intact meadows on the southern shore of Big Bear Lake. The proposed parcels provide important habitat for the recovery of meadow and pebble plain plant species including the federally listed pedate checker-mallow, California taraxacum, San Bernardino bluegrass, and Bear Valley sandwort. The large, contiguous parcels are connected hydrologically with parts of Metcalf Meadow on nearby San Bernardino National Forest and are important to maintain given the sensitivity of meadow habitat to changes in hydrology that could occur if these lands were otherwise developed. Partial funding was granted in 2013 to facilitate acquisition of the adjacent parcel. Through this acquisition, 17.1 acres will be conserved in perpetuity.
 
Cameron Meadows Phase II (El Dorado County) – $332,475.  

This acquisition will permanently protect highly-developable habitat occupied by the federally listed Pine Hill ceanothus, Stebbins’ morning glory, El Dorado bedstraw and Layne’s butterweed and an assemblage of rare plants known from gabbro soil habitat. Conversion of gabbro soil habitat to urban and industrial uses has eliminated occurrences of these plant species. To prevent further habitat fragmentation, acquisition of land occupied by these rare plants is the most effective means of securing long-term protection. Acquisition of the property will also protect a corridor between two conserved properties of the Pine Hills Ecological Preserve.

San Diego Bay (San Diego County) – $272,757

This project will result in the acquisition and permanent protection of developable land located within the City of San Diego that abuts the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge. All of the parcels support habitat and provide for habitat restoration opportunities that would benefit listed and sensitive species including the state and federally listed endangered California least tern, light-footed clapper rail, salt marsh bird’s-beak, and the threatened western snowy plover. The parcels also provide habitat for the delisted California brown pelican, as well as multiple other species that are the focus of state and federal conservation efforts. Additionally, acquisition and restoration of these properties will provide a buffer between urban development and habitat important for the conservation of the species identified above.

Colorado

Pagosa Skyrocket Acquisition- Pagosa Springs* (Pagosa Springs and Archuleta Counties) – $494,137

Colorado Parks and Wildlife will acquire approximately 83 acres from Archuleta County to protect the endangered Pagosa skyrocket from planned development. This acquisition is key to the survival and recovery of this locally endemic plant because it will protect 90 percent of the largest and most important population of the species as well as designated critical habitat.

Florida

Conservation Easement for Florida Panther Dispersal Zone Project (Hendry County) – $1,500,000

This grant will enable the acquisition of a conservation easement on 1,520 acres to protect Florida panther habitat and expand the panther corridor established with the American Prime acquisition. This conservation easement will also serve to protect listed bird species, such as the Florida scrub jay and caracara, by protecting this open important nesting, roosting and foraging habitat.

Georgia  

Acquisition of the Ironstob Tract within the Raccoon Creek Basin, a Tributary to the Etowah River* (Paulding County) – $116,578

This grant will enable the acquisition of 320 acres along tributaries to Raccoon Creek in the Etowah Basin to benefit two federally listed fish, the endangered Etowah darter and the threatened Cherokee darter. Raccoon Creek has been identified as critical for the long-term survival of these fish, and acquisition of this tract will help meet recovery objectives for these species. Permanent protection of this tract will also provide important connectivity to other protected areas and benefit a number of other rare aquatic and terrestrial species in the watershed.

Hawai’i

Pupukea Mauka Watershed and Habitat Protection Project, O’ahu, Hawai’i (Honolulu County) – $1,183,750

The 3,716-acre Pupukea Mauka Watershed and Habitat Protection Project provides a unique opportunity to protect in perpetuity an entire watershed that contains the headwaters of a stream which flows undiverted into a protected marine life conservation district, unusual on Hawaii’s most populous island. The land acquisition will facilitate public and management access from the ocean (makai) to the mountains (mauka) in an area where access to mauka regions is limited but the need to conduct habitat management is critical. The parcel contains occupied habitat vital to the conservation of three critically endangered O.ahu tree snails, the endangered Hawaiian hoary bat, and more than 20 other threatened or endangered plants and animals. This parcel contains Priority I watershed habitat as identified in the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife’s Watershed Initiative plan, and is within the Service’s Pacific Islands Ecoregion’s Priority Ecosystem Conservation Areas.

Idaho

Spalding’s Catchfly Conservation* (Latah County) – $232,425

This project will protect four properties that will provide a critical link among existing conservation easements and connect some of the last Palouse Prairie or Grassland remnants. Palouse Grasslands are a critically-imperiled ecosystem with less than one percent of their former range remaining and these properties contain some of the largest and best remaining examples of this habitat. The protection of these properties will contribute to the recovery of Spalding’s catchfly, a federally listed species, along with eight species of greatest conservation need, as designated by the State of Idaho, five rare endemic plants, and a critically endangered ecosystem. Because most of the habitat for Spalding’s catchfly is on private land, ensuring long-term recovery will require securing permanent protection of key conservation areas, as defined in the species’ recovery plan. The four project properties are within the only key conservation area in Idaho’s Palouse Grasslands and constitute nearly 75% of this area.

Iowa

Indiana Bat Recovery Land Acquisition Project (Davis County) – $252,960

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources will use this funding to acquire 223 acres of existing and restorable maternity habitat for the endangered Indiana bat. The expected benefits include permanent protection, expansion, and management of essential summer habitat for the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat, and establishment a forested commuting corridor that connects 600 acres of Stephens State Forest with 500 acres of forest on the Soap Creek Wildlife Management Area.

Maryland

Acquisition of a Bog Turtle Site of Global Significance in Maryland* (Harford County) – $153,231

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources will purchase a 20-acre property in Harford County, home to the largest known population of bog turtles in the state. The location is one of the most significant in the species’ global range and securing its long-term protection will ensure continued connectivity to other bog turtle wetland sites in the area.

Michigan

Mitchell’s Satyr Butterfly and Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake Recovery Land Acquisition Project (Branch and Kalamazoo Counties) – $180,000

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy will purchase three parcels of land to protect and assist in the recovery of the endangered Mitchell’s satyr butterfly and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, a candidate for ESA listing. Land acquisition will occur within the Coldwater Fen Complex in Branch County and the Spring Brook Fen Complex in Kalamazoo County. The Coldwater Fen Complex is home to the second largest population of Mitchell’s satyr butterflies and contains two of the three properties proposed for acquisition. The conservancy will purchase land within the Spring Brook Fen Complex, which historically supported Mitchell’s satyr butterflies and currently supports eastern massasauga rattlesnakes.

Oregon

Beaver Creek Forest Acquisition Project (Lincoln County) – $980,000

The Beaver Creek Forest Reserve Acquisition Project will protect 160 acres of nesting habitat for the federally threatened marbled murrelet and northern spotted owl as well as the red tree vole, a candidate species. The parcel is located within one mile of the Pacific Ocean and contains pristine late seral coastal forest. The Beaver Creek Forest Reserve is part of a contiguous stand known to be occupied by marbled murrelets and is adjacent to designated reserve habitat for the species. The acquisition will become part of the adjacent Beaver Creek State Natural Area at Brian Booth State Park, joining an existing 1,414 acres of protected lands managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department, The Wetlands Conservancy and the Bureau of Land Management.

Tennessee

Scott’s Gulf: Protecting key habitat for endangered mammals, fish, mussels, and plants (Davidson County, Tennessee) – $800,000

This grant will enable the acquisition of 2,435 acres of important riparian and upland habitat adjacent to the Caney Fork River to directly benefit two federally listed endangered aquatic species, the bluemask darter and Cumberland pigtoe (mussel). This acquisition will also serve to protect endangered bats, such as Indiana and gray bats, by protecting important roosting and foraging habitat. This acquisition will help further by protecting natural springs and additional caves in the area to conserve habitat quality for these listed species.

Texas  

Land Acquisition of Fries Ranch, Bandera County, Texas* (Bandera County) – $1,246,937  

This grant will support land acquisition to connect The Nature Conservancy’s Love Creek Preserve and the Bandera Corridor Conservation Bank, which provide habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, black-capped vireo and Tobusch fishhook cactus. Acquisition of the 338-acre Fries Ranch as an addition to the Love Creek Preserve will add high quality habitat for both of these endangered songbirds and protect a population of Tobusch fishhook cactus. It will also protect approximately two miles of Clark Creek and several springs, which support salamanders and potentially the Love Creek roundnose minnow.

Virginia

Purchase of Lee County Cave Isopod Habitat, Mason Cave – Thompson Cave System and the Cedars Lirceus Autogenic Zone (Lee County) – $479,250

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, in partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, will use this grant funding to acquire three properties totaling approximately 300 acres in the globally important Powell River/Cedars area of Lee County. The lands include biologically significant caves, karst features and subterranean stream flows central to the recovery of the federally listed Lee County cave isopod. This acquisition, combined with proper land management of the acquired parcels, will assist Service in recovery efforts for the species. Once this critical habitat is acquired, the properties will be added to the existing Cedars State Natural Area.

Wisconsin

Dwarf Lake Iris Recovery Land Acquisition Project (Brown County) – $40,500.  

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources will use these grant funds to purchase an 11.2-acre parcel of land within the Red Banks Alvar State Natural Area that harbors a significant population of the threatened dwarf lake iris and its associated habitat. The parcel is in an area undergoing rapid residential development and is threatened by accelerated ecological succession to conditions unfavorable to the iris.

Sep 092014
 

In what the National Audubon Society calls “the broadest and most detailed study of its kind,” the group is predicting that 314 bird species will lose more than half of their current “climatic range” by 2080. (The link is to “an overview of three papers that make up the report,” Audubon spokesman Nicolas Gonzalez said. “Those papers are currently in the late stages of peer review so we are not sharing the full report at the moment.”)

[Go here for the society's web page on the report.]

Of those species, the report classifies 126 as “climate-endangered,” Audubon says. “These birds are projected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2050. The other 188 species are classified as climate-threatened and expected to lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2080 if global warming continues at its current pace.”

Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold called the findings “heartbreaking.”

“Nearly half of the bird species in the United States will be seriously threatened by 2080, and any of those could disappear forever,” Yarnold said. “As global temperatures rise, as weather patterns shift, as vital bird habitats dwindle and disappear, familiar and beloved species will leave for more suitable locales or die out completely.”

Gary Langham, Audubon’s chief scientist, put it another way. “Half of the birds of North America are at risk of extinction,” he said.

But Yarnold called on citizens to act in any way they felt most comfortable — locally, regionally or nationally — and said that the model used by Audubon scientists “has identified so-called ‘strongholds’ — geographic areas that will offer shelter against the decades-long wave of climate change that is already washing over us. Those strongholds will be the key to many birds’ continued success in North America.”

Coverage/opinion

N.Y. Times

Op-ed by Yarnold and Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham, in which they write, “Conservation planning must take into account both the projected loss and potential shift in geographic ranges of bird species for the next 10 to 80 years. Our report shows, for example, that three-fourths of the most important habitats for climate-threatened species are not protected or even being considered for protection. We can buy birds time by protecting those places that the report describes as “strongholds,” areas identified as the most climatically stable for birds. They are the bridges to the future.”

National Geographic

Sep 042014
 

A federal judge has issued a decision finding “gross negligence and willful misconduct” on the part of BP Exploration in the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill (In re: Oil Spill by the Oil Rig “Deepwater Horizon” in the Gulf of Mexico, on April 20, 2010, MDL 2179).

Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

“Conducting a new negative pressure test is a precaution that imposed an extremely light burden compared to the foreseeable consequences that could, and did, result from the misinterpretation,” U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said in his Findings of Fact. “Consequently, [BP Well Site Leader Tom] Vidrine’s misinterpretation of the negative pressure test and subsequent failure to order a new one following his conversation with [fellow well site leader Mark] Hafle constitutes an extreme departure from the care required under the circumstances.”

Both Vidrine and Hafle “acted ‘recklessly’ with respect to the negative pressure test, which satisfies both parties’ definitions of ‘willful misconduct’ as well as BP’s definition of ‘gross negligence’ under the CWA,” Barbier said

Regarding Transocean’s role in the disaster, the judge said, “BP’s failures up to and including the negative pressure test created the catastrophic situation. Transocean’s failures, by contrast, largely concern its inability (due in part to further failures by BP) to stop the catastrophe BP set in motion.”

BP contracted with Transocean to drill the Macondo well.

Barbier found that “Transocean’s conduct was negligent and that Transocean’s share of liability is considerably less than BP’s.”

In addition, the conduct of Halliburton, which was contracted by BP to provide cementing services and mudlogging services, “was negligent,” but “Halliburton’s share of liability is considerably less than both Transocean and BP.”

All three companies are “liable under general maritime law for the blowout, explosion, and oil spill. BP’s conduct was reckless. Transocean’s conduct was negligent. Halliburton’s conduct was negligent.” The judge apportioned fault as follows:

BP: 67%
Transocean: 30%
Halliburton: 3%

Some excerpts:

505. BP, as the operator, was ultimately responsible for interpreting the negative pressure test and declaring it a success or failure. Don Vidrine, the BP Well Site Leader on the rig, concluded the test was successful and instructed the Transocean rig crew to fully displace the well to seawater, despite the fact that he would later tell investigators that the results looked “squirrely” to him. All of the experts—even BP’s—agree that Vidrine’s interpretation was erroneous and that the test could not be deemed successful. A reasonable company man in Vidrine’s situation would have concluded that the test was a failure and that it needed to be reconducted based on the anomalous pressure reading.

506. Moreover, about an hour after the test concluded, Mark Hafle, BP’s senior drilling engineer in Houston, told Vidrine essentially that the test could not be considered a success given the inconsistent pressure readings. At this point, Vidrine should have been well-aware that the negative test had failed. Significantly, when that conversation ended at 9:02 p.m., there were approximately 36 minutes before the critical moment when hydrocarbons rose above the BOP—plenty of time for Vidrine or Hafle to halt the displacement and order a new negative pressure test.

507. At 9:08 p.m., the displacement did stop, not because anyone wanted to re-conduct the negative pressure test, but for a sheen test. Vidrine had to approve the sheen test before displacement would resume. Thus, the sheen test provided a perfect opportunity for Vidrine to order a new negative pressure test. Instead, at 9:14 p.m., Vidrine—having the benefit of Hafle’s crucial observation about the negative pressure test—affirmatively ordered that displacement resume.
508. Mark Hafle also did not order that the negative pressure test be reconducted. Granted, Hafle may have lacked some context given that he was in BP’s Houston office. To the extent this was the case, Hafle could have easily informed himself of either the current state of the well or the earlier readings from the negative pressure test by merely looking to his computer, and then called the rig and ordered the displacement stopped and the test reconducted. Hafle did not do this, which is inexplicable considering not only his statements to Vidrine but also the fact that he felt there was little chance the cement job would succeed.

509. The last sentence illustrates another point: context. As discussed, a negative pressure test conducted as part of a temporary abandonment of a deepwater well already demands a high level of care, but the actual circumstances surrounding the Macondo well pushed the standard of care even higher. Vidrine and Hafle, as well as other BPXP operational and engineering personnel, were well-aware that the Macondo well had been particularly troublesome to drill,200 and difficulties continued throughout the temporary abandonment process. Notably, BPXP personnel, including but not limited to Vidrine and Hafle, were aware of the problems with converting the float collar.201 A foreseeable risk of these issues is that the cement would fail to achieve zonal isolation, either because the cement might u-tube back into the casing from the annulus (due to an unconverted float collar) or would not be placed in the appropriate place in the annulus (due to a casing breach). Vidrine and Hafle’s knowledge of these difficulties and associated risks should have heightened their vigilance during the negative pressure test, given that it tests whether the cement and casing are providing a barrier to flow.

Sep 032014
 

The Ninth Circuit said an energy firm’s non-stormwater discharges of coal into Resurrection Bay in Alaska are prohibited by an EPA multi-sector general permit (Alaska Community Action on Toxics  v. Aurora Energy Services, 13-35709).

Here is the summary provided by the court:

The [9th Circuit] panel reversed the district court’s summary judgment entered in favor of Aurora Energy Services, LLC and Alaska Railroad Corporation in a citizen suit that challenged, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, defendants’ non-stormwater discharges of coal into Resurrection Bay, Alaska.

The panel held that the district court erred in concluding that the Multi-Sector General Permit for Stormwater Discharges Associated with Industrial Activity – a general permit under the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System – shielded the defendants from liability under the Clean Water Act for their non-stormwater coal discharges. The panel remanded for further proceedings.

And here’s a quote from the 11-page opinion:

The plain terms of the General Permit prohibit defendants’ non-stormwater discharge of coal. In Part 2.1.2.10, the General Permit states: “You must eliminate non-stormwater discharges not authorized by an NPDES permit. See Part 1.2.3 for a list of non-stormwater discharges authorized by this permit.” The referenced section (which is actually Part 1.1.3) lists eleven categories of non-stormwater discharge which are “the non-stormwater discharges authorized under this permit.” None of these categories cover defendants’ coal discharge.

Argument coverage

Opinion from ESWR site

Oral argument recording (from 9th Circuit website)

Sep 032014
 

U.S. District Judge Lawrence O’Neill rejected a request by California irrigators to stop extra flows provided by the Bureau of Reclamation to help prevent a die-off of chinook salmon in the Klamath River (San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority v. Jewell, 13-1232 LJO-GSA, Cal. E.D.).

“[T]he flow augmentation releases are designed to prevent a potentially serious fish die-off from impacting salmon populations entering the Klamath River estuary,” O’Neill said in his Aug. 27 order. “There is no dispute — and the record clearly reflects — that the 2002 fish kill had severe impacts on commercial fishing interests and tribal fishing rights, and that another fish kill would likely have similar impacts.”

The judge issued a similar ruling last year, when the same groups sought to stop increased flows to protect the fish.

“The Court finds that, although Reclamation has not presented an entirely consistent approach to determining the need for [Flow Augmentation Releases], the circumstances justify the planned 2014 FARs as a measure needed to prevent a fish kill that could significantly impact this year’s fall-run Chinook in the lower Klamath.”

Biologists’ principal concern is that the low water levels make the fish more susceptible to an epizootic outbreak of Ich, a fresh-water ciliated protozoan parasite.

In his conclusion, the judge wrote:

The Court concludes that, even though Plaintiffs are likely to (and in all likelihood soon will) succeed on the merits of at least one of their claims against Reclamation in connection with the 2013 FARs, the balance of the harms does not warrant an injunction at this time. Even if the Court were prepared immediately to issue a final ruling on the merits in favor of Plaintiffs, an injunction would not be automatic. The potential harm to the Plaintiffs from the potential, but far from certain, loss of added water supply in 2015 does not outweigh the potentially catastrophic damage that “more likely than not” will occur to this year’s salmon runs in the absence of the 2014 FARs.

In a “Note,” he added:

Federal Defendants are hereby on notice that the Court will view future FARs (and requests to enjoin them) in light of all the circumstances, including the fact that Federal Defendants repeatedly have treated as “emergency” circumstances that appear to merit a consistent, reasoned, policy rationale. All involved deserve a reasonable opportunity to challenge any such rationale, and all interested, including the Court, deserve to be able to give to these issues “the time and attention [they] deserve.” San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Auth. v. Jewell, 747 F.3d 581, 606 (9th Cir. 2014). Failure to heed this notice may disappoint Defendants in future orders.

Coverage (scroll over for hed)

Eureka Times-Standard (Jeff Barnard, AP, and Will Houston, Times-Standard) (8/27)

Bay Area Indy Media (Dan Bacher) (8/28)