Center for Biological Diversity

May 182015

Filing a listing petition would not be as easy as it traditionally has been, under a new proposal  announced today by the Fish and Wildlife and National Marine Fisheries services.

In a move that could be interpreted as a response to congressional criticism that the FWS gives state input short shrift, FWS is proposing that petitioners "solicit information from relevant state wildlife agencies prior to submitting a petition to the services [and] include any such information provided by the states in the petition," according to a joint press release sent out by email.

The requirement would apply only to petitions submitted to FWS.

The move was hailed by the Association of State and Wildlife Agencies, but environmental groups (we're just guessing here) are probably not going to like it, because the proposed rule would require that listing petitions include a "certification" that state input was sought, which could delay the submission of petitions.

[Update: Holy moly! Our crystal ball worked: The Center for Biological Diversity took just a few hours to issue a press release that said the new regulations "would place crippling burdens on citizens filing petitions to protect species as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, ultimately making it more difficult for imperiled species to get lifesaving protections."

[“These regulations are a lousy solution to a problem that doesn't exist,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Endangered Species Act already has a lengthy comment process that gives states ample opportunity for input. All these regulations would do is cut the public out of endangered species management and burden an already overburdened process for species to get the protection they need to avoid extinction.”]

If received, said input should be included in the petition. The proposal includes no timeline for states to provide feedback or information on petitions, but it does require that petitions be sent to affected states 30 days before they are sent to FWS.

In addition, petitions could no longer address more than one species:

"Although the services in the past have accepted multi-species petitions, in practice it has often proven to be difficult to know which supporting materials apply to which species, and has sometimes made it difficult to follow the logic of the petition. This requirement would not place any limitation on the ability of an interested party to petition for section 4 actions, but would require petitioners to organize the information in a way (on a species-by-species basis) that will allow more efficient action by the services."

The proposal is expected to be published later this week in the Federal Register.

PRESS RELEASE - May 18, 2015

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, NOAA Propose Actions to Build on Successes of Endangered Species Act

Initiatives will increase regulatory predictability, increase stakeholder engagement, and improve science and transparency

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Building on the success of the Obama Administration in implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in new and innovative ways, today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) announced an additional suite of actions the Administration will take to improve the effectiveness of the Act and demonstrate its flexibility. The actions will engage the states, promote the use of the best available science and transparency in the scientific process, incentivize voluntary conservation efforts, and focus resources in ways that will generate even more successes under the ESA.

The Endangered Species Act is an essential tool for conserving the nation’s most at-risk wildlife, as well as the land and water on which they depend for habitat. The Act has prevented more than 99 percent of the species listed from going extinct, serving as the critical safety net for wildlife that Congress intended when it passed the law 40 years ago. In addition, the Act has helped move many species from the brink of extinction to the path to recovery, including California condors, Florida panthers and whooping cranes. The Obama Administration has delisted more species due to recovery than any prior administration, including the Oregon Chub, the Virginia northern flying squirrel, and the brown pelican.

“The protection and restoration of America’s proud natural heritage would not be possible without the Endangered Species Act and the close collaboration among states, landowners and federal agencies that the Act promotes,” said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. “These actions will make an effective and robust law even more successful, and will also reinforce the importance of states, landowners and sound science in that effort.”

“For decades, the Endangered Species Act has helped protect threatened species and their habitats,” said Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “The changes announced today by the Services amount to an improved way of doing business, one that advances the likelihood of conservation gains across the nation while reducing burdens and promoting certainty.”

In furtherance of ESA improvements first outlined in 2011, the Services took steps today to ensure that states are partners in the process by which imperiled species are considered for listing under the Act. The proposed change – open for public comment today – would require petitioners to solicit information from relevant state wildlife agencies prior to submitting a petition to the Services, to include any such information provided by the states in the petition.

Larry Voyles, President of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, notes, "Consistent with the intent of the ESA that listing decisions be based on the best available science, we appreciate the Service's due recognition of, and requirement to, incorporate the data and information of state fish and wildlife agencies for the formulation of listing petitions."

The changes would provide greater clarity to the public and states on what information would best inform the evaluation of a species’ status and result in better coordination with state wildlife agencies, which often have unique information and insights on imperiled species.

As part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts, the Services will also be unveiling additional proposals over the coming year to achieve four broad goals:

1. Improving science and increasing transparency. To improve public understanding of and engagement in ESA listing processes, the Services will:

  • Strengthen procedures to ensure that all information that can be publicly disclosed related to proposed listing and critical habitat rule notices will be posted online; and
  • Adopt more rigorous procedures to ensure consistent, transparent, and objective peer-review of proposed decisions.

2. Incentivizing voluntary conservation efforts. Voluntary conservation programs, such as Safe Harbor agreements and Candidate Conservation Agreements, can improve conditions for listed and at-risk species, and conservation banking can make listed species and their habitats assets for landowners. The Services will:

  • Update guidance on the use of these proactive tools to establish consistent standards; and
  • Adopt a policy promoting the expanded use of conservation banking and other advance mitigation tools.

3. Focusing resources to achieve more successes. The Services will work to focus limited resources on activities that will be most impactful. These actions include:

  • NOAA’s launch of a new initiative to focus resources on eight of the nation’s most vulnerable marine species with the goal of reducing, stabilizing, or reversing their rate of decline by 2020;
  • Proposed revisions to interagency consultation procedures to streamline the process for projects, such as habitat restoration activities, that result in a net conservation benefit for the species;
  • Updates to the Habitat Conservation Planning Handbook to make developing and permitting plans more efficient and timely.

4. Engaging the States. State fish and wildlife agencies, by virtue of their responsibilities and expertise, are essential partners in efforts to conserve threatened and endangered species. The Services will:

  • Implement the aforementioned revised petition regulations to give states an opportunity to provide input prior to submission; and
  • Update policy regarding the role of state agencies to reflect advancements in collaboration between the Services and the States.

These proposals add to other actions already in progress, such as finalizing a policy on prelisting conservation credits and on critical habitat exclusions. Efforts to make the ESA work better will also include additional future review and update of regulations and policy, consistent with President Obama’s Executive Order 13563, Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review, and is outlined in the Department of Interior’s Preliminary Plan for Retrospective Regulatory Review.

“The proposed policies would result in a more nimble, transparent and ultimately more effective Endangered Species Act,” said Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe. “By improving and streamlining our processes, we are ensuring the limited resources of state and federal agencies are best spent actually protecting and restoring imperiled species.”

“The ESA has prevented the extinction of many imperiled species, promotes the recovery of many others, and conserves the habitats upon which they depend,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “But more work needs to be done on all levels. We need everyone's help locally and globally to reverse declining populations and lift species out of danger.”

In the last six years, almost two dozen species have either been recovered and delisted, or are now proposed for delisting. There have also been more than a dozen imperiled species that were candidates for listing under the Act that have been conserved through proactive efforts and no longer require consideration for listing. They include the Bi-State population of the greater sage-grouse, the Montana population of arctic grayling, and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes tiger beetle.

The effort will focus on recovering species and strive to make administrative and regulatory improvements. The Services are not seeking any legislative changes to the Act, because the agencies believe that implementation can be significantly improved through rulemaking and policy formulation.

The Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1973 to protect plants and animal species threatened with extinction. Many of the regulations implementing provisions of the ESA were promulgated in the 1980s and do not reflect advances in conservation biology and genetics, as well as recent court decisions interpreting the Act’s provisions.

For more information on the proposed ESA petition regulations, go here. Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted on or before 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register. The rule is expected to publish in the Federal Register later this week.

Apr 082015

There are two ways of looking at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game's recent wolf monitoring report: The number of wolf deaths declined 24 percent (from 473 to 360) and the estimated number of wolves in the state increased from 684 to 770. Also, said the report, "The number of reproductive wolf packs (or pairs) in Idaho is far higher than the number of wolf packs documented to meet the federal breeding pair criteria." (IDFG press release)

But another take is that the documented number of wolves was actually down in 2014 from the year before. And, despite an increase in the number of documented breeding pairs (from 20 to 26), the number of breeding pairs is down significantly since Idaho began allowing the hunting of wolves.

"Unlike Montana and Wyoming, Idaho does not base its population estimate solely on observation of wolf packs by the state's biologists, but rather combines direct observations with extrapolated wolf numbers," the Center for Biological Diversity said.

"Idaho's biologists actually documented only 272 wolves in 43 packs, but the state claims 770 wolves in 104 packs based on hunter reports and an average pack size of 6.5 wolves. There are probably more than 43 packs, but because hunters likely report dispersing wolves or even coyotes and pack size varies considerably, the exact number is unknown. This is why both Montana and Wyoming present a minimum count of just the wolves that they themselves count."

Number of documented wolf packs and documented breeding pairs in Idaho, 1995-2014. Annual numbers were based on best information available and were retroactively updated as new information was obtained.

Number of documented wolf packs and documented breeding pairs in Idaho, 1995-2014. Annual numbers were based on best information available and were retroactively updated as new information was obtained. (from IDFG report)

Excerpts from the report:

Biologists documented 104 packs within the state at the end of 2014. In addition, there were 23 documented border packs counted by Montana, Wyoming, and Washington that had established territories overlapping the Idaho state boundary. Additional packs are suspected but not included due to lack of documentation.

Determination of breeding pair status was made for 43 packs. Of these, 26 packs met breeding pair criteria at the end of 2014, and 17 packs did not. No determination of breeding pair status was made for the remaining 61 packs. Reproduction (production of at least 1 pup) was documented in a minimum 55 packs. The year-end population for documented packs, other documented groups not qualifying as packs, and lone wolves was estimated at 770 wolves.

Mortalities of 360 wolves were documented in Idaho in 2014, 113 wolves (24%) less than in 2013. Human-caused mortality accounted for 342 of 344 (99%) wolf mortalities during 2014 where cause of death could be determined. Legal harvest was 256 wolves, agency removal and legal take was 67 wolves, and mortality from other human causes was 19 wolves. Sixteen wolf mortalities were attributed to unknown causes and two were attributed to natural causes.

The probability that a pack meets breeding pair criteria increases as pack size increases (Mitchell et al. 2008). Consistent with this relationship, the proportion of packs meeting the breeding pair criterion decreased noticeably as pack size diminished after harvest began in 2009. The increase in breeding pairs detected during 2014 was associated both with an increase in mean pack size, and with an increase in field effort during 2014.

Apr 012015
Judge criticizes Navy training exercises in Pacific

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 […]

Feb 172015
Negative 90-day finding issued on yellowtail damselfish petition

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 […]

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 […]

Feb 102015

Environmental groups file motion in 9th Cir. seeking stay of EPA approval EPA should have consulted with the Fish and Wildlife Service before approving a new herbicide for use in the Midwest, environmental groups and a food safety group argue in a motion filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (NRDC v. EPA, 14-73353). […]

Jan 282015

Here’s some coverage of and reaction to the offshore leasing proposal announced by the Interior Department Tuesday, Jan. 27: Interior’s Proposed Offshore Leasing Plan Will Place New Restrictions on Exploration of Alaska’s Waters  (Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, 1/27) Few industry cheers for proposal from industry  (Marine Log, 1/27) Draft Offshore Leasing Program Adds […]

CBD blasts offshore leasing proposal

 Posted by on January 27, 2015
Jan 272015
CBD blasts offshore leasing proposal

The Center for Biological Diversity issued a press release shortly after the Interior Department announced its offshore drilling proposal for 2017-2022. Here’s the release, pasted below: Obama Plan Will Open Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to Dangers of Drilling Obama Sacrifices Climate for Industry Profit For Immediate Release, January 27, 2015 Contact: Miyoko Sakashita, (415) 632-5308, […]

Dec 092014
Rufa red knot to be listed; teleconference set for today

Update 12/10/14: Final rule released for Public Inspection Update: FWS news release The Center for Biological Diversity has announced that the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to list the rufa red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) as threatened. FWS will hold a teleconference today at 2 p.m. (Eastern) to discuss the listing. FWS’s proposal is […]