Critical habitat

May 062015
 

Hearing, live (from Senate EPW page)

Link to EPW page on hearing

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) also has introduced a bill, S. 1081, to ban the use of body-gripping traps in national wildlife refuges.

Center for Biological Diversity news release (click the links in the release for more information from THOMAS and the senators' web pages)

For Immediate Release, May 6, 2015

Contact Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121, bhartl@biologicaldiversity.org

Senate Republicans Take Aim at Endangered Species Act

Proposed Legislation Would End Protections for More Than 800 Species, Gut Critical Habitat, Politicize Science

WASHINGTON— The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a hearing today on eight Republican-sponsored bills attacking the Endangered Species Act, including one that would end federal protection for more than 800 endangered animals and plants around the country.

Several of the bills are nearly identical to legislation introduced by Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives last year that sought to limit public participation and citizen enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, and undermine the scientific basis for protection decisions for our nation's most imperiled wildlife. Two bills — one introduced by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and one introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. — would eliminate endangered species protections for hundreds of currently protected species and severely weaken habitat protections for many more.

“In the past four years Republicans have introduced more than 50 bills to weaken the Endangered Species Act and 100 bills going after individual species. Not a single one, though, would help save an endangered plant and animal,” said Brett Hartl, endangered species policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Polls consistently show a majority of Americans, including many Republicans, support protecting endangered species. These kinds of bills may please rich campaign donors – especially those exploiting the planet for profits – but they’re way outside the mainstream.”

Among the bills in today’s hearing:

S. 855, Sen. Paul’s so called “Endangered Species Management Self-Determination Act,” would eliminate all Endangered Species Act protections for species found only within one state. More than 800 endangered species, including all endangered species in Hawaii and Puerto Rico would lose federal protections if this bill were to pass. Another provision of this bill requires that all endangered species lose their protection every five years, after which they would only regain protection if Congress passes a joint resolution. No endangered species anywhere in the world has ever recovered in fewer than five years. The bald eagle took nearly 40 years to recover, as did the peregrine falcon and gray whale.

S. 112, Sen. Heller’s so-called “Common Sense in Species Protection Act of 2015,” would require the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider short-term economic costs when protecting critical habitat for endangered species and require the agency to exclude areas if the costs were deemed too high. If passed, such a bill would almost certainly reduce habitat protections for plants and animals. Research has shown that species with designated critical habitat are twice as likely to be recovering than those species without designated habitat

S. 292, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would require that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publish on the Internet all data used for an endangered species listing decision, including detailed maps that could lead to more illegal poaching or collecting.

S. 293, also introduced by Sen. Cornyn, would limit the ability of the Service to settle cases without allowing state governments to intervene and would limit the availability of attorney’s fees available under the Endangered Species Act. By changing the basic judicial rules on when parties can intervene in lawsuits, the Department of Justice will not be able to settle patently unwinnable cases, forcing it to waste taxpayer resources in futile litigation. By slowing down litigation, species will continue to wait in limbo for protection under the Act.

S. 736, introduced by Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., would redefine the “best scientific data” to automatically include data provided by states, tribal governments or localities even if those data are in fact the most inaccurate, out-of-date data available. This bill would result in the Service using poorer data and making worse decisions regarding whether or not to protect endangered species, and would spur countless lawsuits arguing over what information qualifies as the best-available science. [Enzi page: "endangered species" search]

The proposals in the last three bills were all introduced in the last Congress in the House of Representatives.

“Republicans seem to introduce crazier and crazier legislation just to establish their Tea Party credentials for their favorite funders — the Koch brothers and the American Petroleum Institute,” said Hartl. “It’s sad that they continue to attack our most vulnerable endangered wildlife rather than trying to find solutions — such as fully funding endangered species recovery activities — to benefit our environment and our wildlife. This latest spectacle in the Senate looks to be just the first of many wasted opportunities over the next two years.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Apr 212015
 

The Associated Press is reporting that the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided not to list the California-Nevada population of greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will formally announce the decision today. (Press release below)

Reported the AP's Scott Sonner:

Jewell said in remarks prepared for a 1 p.m. [Tuesday] announcement with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval in Reno that she intends to withdraw the earlier proposal to declare the bistate population threatened. "The collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development," she said.

Regulatory docket

All sage-grouse documents published in Federal Register over the years

PRESS RELEASE, April 21, 2015

Successful Conservation Partnership Keeps Bi-State Sage-Grouse Off Endangered Species List

Partnership among California, Nevada, Federal Agencies, & Landowners Helped Conserve Key Habitat, Reduce Threats to Bird

RENO, NV – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse does not require the protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Secretary Jewell joined with USDA Under Secretary Robert Bonnie, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval, California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird and other state and local partners to celebrate an extensive and long-term conservation partnership on behalf of the bi-state greater sage-grouse population. Federal, state and private partners have come together to proactively conserve key habitat and significantly reduce long-term threats to this distinct population segment of greater sage-grouse.

A key factor in the decision not to list the bird was the development of the Bi-State Action Plan, a conservation plan developed by partners in the Bi-State Local Area Working Group over the past 15 years and secured with $45 million in funding. This adds to nearly $30 million worth of conservation work USDA and other partners have already completed to implement this plan.

“Thanks in large part to the extraordinary efforts of all the partners in the working group to address threats to greater sage-grouse and its habitat in the Bi-State area, our biologists have determined that this population no longer needs ESA protection,” said Jewell. “What’s more, the collaborative, science-based efforts in Nevada and California are proof that we can conserve sagebrush habitat across the West while we encourage sustainable economic development.”

“This is welcome news for all Nevadans. I applaud the local area working group, private citizens, Tribes, the Nevada Department of Wildlife and our federal partners for their tremendous efforts to develop conservation actions that preclude the need to list the species while still allowing for sustainable economic development,” said Sandoval. “Today’s announcement highlights the critical partnerships that must exist for our conservation strategies to be effective and demonstrate that sage grouse and economic development can coexist in both the bi-state area and across the range of the greater sage-grouse.”

“Together, we’ve worked with ranchers, conservation groups, and local governments in Nevada and California to take proactive steps to restore and enhance sage-grouse habitat while also helping them improve their ranching operations,” Bonnie said. “The decision to not list the bi-state sage-grouse proves this work has paid off.”

“The efforts of the local working group and the partnerships they’ve built over the past decade are truly unprecedented,” said Dan Ashe, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director. “They have set the stage for the next generation of conservation and convinced us that the sage-grouse population has a bright future in the Bi-State region.”

“California is committed to continue working with our public and private partners in implementing this strong, science-based conservation plan into the future,” said Laird. “This partnership between California and Nevada serves as a model for effective conservation of the Greater sage-grouse in other Western states.”

As its name suggests, the Bi-State Distinct Population Segment straddles the California-Nevada border, where biologists estimate that between 2,500 and 9,000 of these ground-dwelling birds inhabit about 4.5 million acres of high-desert sagebrush. Greater sage-grouse are known for the males’ flamboyant springtime mating displays on traditional dancing grounds, also called leks. The birds use a variety of sagebrush habitats throughout the year on private, state and federal lands.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Bi-State population of greater sage-grouse a Distinct Population Segment (DPS) under the ESA in 2010 because genetic analysis shows it has been separated from other greater sage-grouse for thousands of years and the genetic differences are significant.

In October 2013, the Service proposed listing the Bi-State DPS as threatened under the ESA based on significant population declines due to the loss and fragmentation of its sagebrush habitat from urbanization and associated infrastructure development, encroachment of sagebrush by conifers, and a vicious cycle of wildfire and fire-adapted invasive grasses. These threats, combined with the relatively limited number of birds, the small population size and their isolation, were determined to pose a significant threat to the species.

The Service is withdrawing this proposal in large part because of the success of the Bi-State Action Plan. The plan is the product of the Bi-State Area Local Working Group, comprising federal, state and local agencies and landowners from Nevada and California, which has been pursuing sage-grouse conservation since the early 2000s. Since then, the working group’s technical advisory committee has finalized plans on nearly 80 science-driven conservation projects specifically designed to reduce identified threats and protect the sagebrush-steppe habitat.

The working group’s executive oversight committee has raised more than $45 million in federal and state funding to ensure the projects are implemented and completed over the next 10 years. Long-term projects implemented under the Bi-State Action Plan include population monitoring, urbanization abatement measures, livestock management, wild horse management, pinyon and juniper removal, disease and predation studies and other habitat improvement and restoration projects.

Each of the projects is tied to a specific population management unit within the region, led and funded by a specific agency or partnership, and ranked by the immediacy of the threat to the species.

The comprehensive plan and funding commitments give the Service confidence that effective conservation measures needed to address threats to the species are highly likely to be implemented.

The working group members include private landowners in California and Nevada, Nevada Department of Wildlife, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Nevada Division of Forestry, California State Parks, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension, nongovernmental organizations such as Nevada Wildlife Federation, Washoe Tribe of California and Nevada, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of Defense and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Conservation work on private lands – through easements and habitat restoration – has played an important role in connecting national forests and other public lands, working to keep habitat intact. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service has already invested nearly $20 million in conservation assistance to ranchers through this effort. This has helped ranchers protect 7,300 acres of key summer habitat through easements, with an additional 4,500 acres in process. This investment has also helped them remove invading juniper and pinyon trees, enhancing nearly 4,000 acres of important sagebrush-steppe habitat.

This summer, the Forest Service will begin treatments to improve sagebrush ecosystem health on 29,000 acres of key habitat for the sage grouse.

The USGS has been a key partner in monitoring the Bi-State population and interpreting data collected to assure the Bi-State partners are using the best science in their conservation efforts.

Along with withdrawing the listing proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is also withdrawing proposed rules under section 4(d) of the ESA and the proposed designation of critical habitat.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is concurrently conducting a separate status review for the greater sage-grouse across its 11-state range. In 2010, it determined the greater sage-grouse was warranted for protection but that action was precluded by higher priorities. A determination on whether the species still requires protection is due Sept. 30, 2015.

The deteriorating health of the greater sage-grouse and western sagebrush landscapes has sparked an unprecedented and proactive partnership across eleven states to conserve the uniquely American habitat that supports diverse wildlife, outdoor recreation, and ranching and other traditional land uses that form the cornerstone of the Western way of life.

For more detailed information on the Bi-State DPS of the greater sage-grouse and its habitat, along with more information about conservation projects that are being done to help protect this unique species, visit www.fws.gov/greatersagegrouse.

Mar 092015
 

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is planning to file a lawsuit to stop tours that allow people to swim with and touch “otherwise resting manatees,” the group said. The group sent a Notice of Intent to Sue today to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, FWS Director Dan Ashe, and FWS Southeast Regional Director Cindy Dohner,  contending […]

Jan 302015
 
ESA challenge to Zeb Mtn. mining's effects can proceed

Opinion A federal judge in Tennessee ruled Jan. 28 that the Zeb Mountain mining lawsuit against the Fish and Wildlife Service and Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement can move forward, even though mining at the site has ceased and the permit has expired (Defenders of Wildlife v. Jewell, 13-698-PLR-CCS, E.D. Tenn.). U.S. District […]

Dec 172014
 

The Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed a lower court order upholding federal agencies’ review and approval of the Beaverslide Project and its effect on the threatened Northern spotted owl (Conservation Congress v. Finley, 12-16916). See below for a summary of the decision, which addresses claims brought under the ESA, NFMA and NEPA. Follow the link in […]

Dec 032014
 

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton has approved a consent decree requiring the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate critical habitat for the New York Bight, Chesapeake Bay, Carolina, South Atlantic, and Gulf of Maine Distinct Population Segments of the Atlantic sturgeon (Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, 14-434-RBW, D.D.C.). Under the agreement, […]

Nov 172014
 

NMFS must reconsider whether petitions requesting federal protection for porbeagle sharks have enough data to justify development of a full-blown scientific review. In other words, the service will have to prepare a new 90-day finding in response to the ESA petitions, filed by the Humane Society and Wild Earth Guardians. WEG announced the Friday decision […]

Sep 052013
 
Bates keeps murrelet critical habitat designation in place while FWS completes review on remand

Here’s the opinion (PDF) from U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in American Forest Resource Council v. Ashe (12-111 JDB, D.D.C). Here it is in text format. Excerpts: The parties make much of FWS’s footnote interpreting the phrase “interbreeds when mature” in the ESA’s definition of “species.” In the footnote, FWS takes the position that […]

Oct 222012
 
BiOp, ROD on Wyoming-Oregon Ruby Pipeline tossed

(More links below) The Center for Biological Diversity — along with a passel of other petitioners — won a big decision in the Ninth Circuit today, as that court set aside a Biological Opinion and Record of Decision concerning the Ruby Pipeline, a conduit for natural gas that runs from Wyoming to Oregon (Center for […]

Jun 122012
 
En banc 9th Circuit says Forest Service must consult on mining NOI's in critical habitat

An en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the Forest Service must consult with FWS and/or NMFS before approving Notices of Intent to conduct mining in endangered species’ critical habitat (Karuk Tribe of California v. U.S. Forest Service, 05-16801, 6/1/2012). In its June 1 ruling, the court overturned a […]