NOITS

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 that FWS has been violating the Endangered Species, Marine Mammal Protection, and National Wildlife Refuge Administration acts "by actively facilitating significant physical harassment of manatees through issuing Special Use Pcrmits ("SUPs") to commercial dive shops for "swim with" programs within the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (''NWR''). Additionally, FWS has violated the law by failing to designate Kings Bay, Three Sister Springs, and Homosassa Springs as critical habitat for the Florida manatee under Section 4(b)(2) of the ESA, and by failing to provide sufficient sanctuary and refuge protection areas as mandated by the ESA and MMPA."

"Visitation at the refuge has increased dramatically in recent years, from 67,000 recorded visitors in 2010 to over 265,000 in-water visitors in 2014," PEER said. More than 30 dive shops have Special Use Permits and operate commercial "swim-with" programs at Crystal River, "with tourists touching and otherwise harassing the manatees."

Scroll down for PEER's links. Here is a link to one of the tour companies.

PRESS RELEASE

NEW MANATEE PROTECTION LAWSUIT IN THE WORKS

Posted on Mar 09, 2015

Washington, DC — Safeguards for the endangered Florida manatee need to be significantly strengthened, according to a Notice of Intent to Sue filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). One principal objective of the action is to prohibit so-called “swim-with” tours that bring hundreds of swimmers into small shallow warm-water lagoons to touch otherwise resting manatees.The Florida manatee is one of the most endangered marine mammals in our coastal waters. Despite their size, they have low levels of body fat and a very slow metabolism, making them extremely vulnerable to cold and unable to survive long in water colder than 68ºF. Yet, the rare shallow warm-water springs manatees need in the winter are precisely those targeted by these increasingly popular swim-with tours.

Together with a group of naturalists and eco-tourist professionals, PEER charges the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service with violating the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Refuge Administration Act, which governs management of federal wildlife refuges. Today’s notice gives the Service 60 days to take action before the PEER-group is eligible to file suit in federal district court.

“Five years ago, we served a similar notice but agreed to hold off suing because the Service promised to make improvements,” stated PEER Counsel Laura Dumais who filed today’s notice. “In the succeeding years, the problems have only gotten worse and it has become clear that the Service has no intention of taking meaningful corrective action.”

Last week, the Fish & Wildlife Service issued a Final Environmental Assessment for Manatee Wildlife Viewing on Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Three Sisters Springs which contains very limited restrictions on human access and will likely make matters worse by concentrating the hordes of flailing swimmers in areas that the manatees must traverse to reach the limited protected zones. By contrast, the PEER action would –

• Ban “swim-with” programs and all other contacts that would put humans within 10 feet of a manatee, not just at Crystal [River] National Wildlife Refuge but all across the state;

• Expand no-human-access sanctuary areas so that manatees would have unimpeded access to Crystal Springs and Three Sisters Springs throughout the winter; and

• Designate the entire Kings Bay, Three Sister Springs, and Homosassa Springs as critical manatee habitat – something the Service has long admitted was warranted but has yet to do.

“People do not need to pet manatees to learn about or appreciate them,” added Dumais, noting that the Service recently issued a news release threatening fines for harassment of manatees by drones flying high above refuge waters while ignoring daily harassment by swimmers in the water directly on top of them. “We aim to ensure that the Service can no longer avoid addressing this widespread, obvious, and illegal harassment of endangered marine mammals.”

 

Jan 142015
 

Two conservation groups have signaled their intention to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Forest Service over approved "take" of 15 grizzly bears in two Biological Opinions.

In a news release issued today, Earthjustice, the law firm representing Western Watersheds Project and Sierra Club, said:

In decisions issued over the past 15 months under the Endangered Species Act, FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing would remain within sustainable levels. However, FWS, the Park Service and the Forest Service all neglected to consider  the fact that the killing of these 15 grizzlies, when added to the amount of other grizzly “taking” anticipated by FWS around the Yellowstone region, could exceed sustainable levels for females by more than three times, pushing the population into decline.

The notices of intent to sue are available here (for the "no jeopardy" conclusion in the Sept. 13, 2013, addendum to the Biological Opinion on the 2007 Bison and Elk Management Plan for the Jackson Hole National Elk Refuge and Grand Teton National Park) and here (for the "no jeopardy" conclusion in the Biological Opinion for the 2014 Supplement to the 2013 Supplement and 2010 Amendment to the 1999 Biological Assessment for Livestock Grazing on the Northern Portions of the Pinedale Ranger District, 06E13000-2014-F-0040, Sept. 3, 2014).

Full text of press release follows

Federally Approved “Take” of Grizzly Bears Threatens Recovery

Conservationists demand agency consideration of escalating mortality
January 14, 2015
Bozeman, Mont. —Recent federal approvals for the lethal “taking” of 15 grizzly bears in Grand Teton National Park and the Upper Green River area of northwest Wyoming threaten to push grizzly mortalities beyond sustainable levels in the Yellowstone region, according to conservation groups. Today, those groups gave notice of their intent to file suit to protect the grizzlies.Today’s Notice of Intent to Sue by the Sierra Club and Western Watersheds Project, represented by the public-interest environmental law firm Earthjustice, challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”), National Park Service and U.S. Forest Service over their recent decisions allowing the lethal “take” of 15 grizzly bears.

In decisions issued over the past 15 months under the Endangered Species Act, FWS reasoned that approved grizzly killing would remain within sustainable levels. However, FWS, the Park Service and the Forest Service all neglected to consider  the fact that the killing of these 15 grizzlies, when added to the amount of other grizzly “taking” anticipated by FWS around the Yellowstone region, could exceed sustainable levels for females by more than three times, pushing the population into decline.

“Killing 15 more bears in the Yellowstone region, including even in one of our nation’s premier national parks, could be the straw that breaks the camel’s—or, in this case, the grizzly’s—back,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso. “The Endangered Species Act requires federal officials to look at that big picture, yet they failed to do so.”

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has repeatedly increased the number of grizzly bears that can be killed, without looking at the broader impact on grizzly recovery in the region. Taken together, the anticipated 'take' would exceed the agency’s own limit for female grizzly bear deaths by more than three times,” said Bonnie Rice with Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. "With a slow reproducing animal like the grizzly bear, those numbers would have significant long-term consequences on grizzly recovery."

“The Fish and Wildlife Service has a responsibility to protect the endangered grizzly bear,” said Travis Bruner, Executive Director of Western Watersheds Project. “The Service continues to allow the killing of more bears without presenting sound scientific reasoning that considers the regional impact on the species. We demand that the government rethink its approach, and base its decisions on science rather than politics and the interests of private livestock owners that graze cattle on our public lands.”

Background:

Yellowstone-area grizzly bears are listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. Federal biologists acknowledge that the growth of the Yellowstone grizzly bear population level has flattened over the past decade.  At the same time,  the grizzly population has been faced with the loss of two of its most important food sources in the Yellowstone region—whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout—due to changing environmental conditions driven in part by a warming climate. In the wake of these changes, scientists have documented the bears’ transition to a more meat-based diet, but that diet leads to a greater potential for conflict with human hunting and livestock grazing activities.

Against this backdrop, FWS in September 2013 authorized the National Park Service to proceed with an elk hunt in Grand Teton National Park that is anticipated to cause the lethal take of four grizzly bears over a nine-year period. Then, in September 2014, FWS authorized the Forest Service to continue livestock grazing operations in the Upper Green River area of the Bridger-Teton National Forest that are anticipated to cause the lethal take of 11 more grizzly bears within any consecutive three-year period through the end of 2019.

In issuing these decisions, FWS reasoned that these impacts to the Yellowstone-area grizzly population would be acceptable because the anticipated bear mortalities would fall within limits established by federal biologists to ensure a sustainable grizzly population that does not slip into decline. However, FWS failed to acknowledge or consider the fact that the Grand Teton and Upper Green “take” determinations, when combined with similar “take” determinations issued by FWS and currently in effect for other actions around the Yellowstone region, anticipate the killing of as many as 65 female grizzly bears in a single year—a level that more than triples FWS’s own established mortality limit.

The conservationists contend that FWS cannot rely on compliance with sustainable grizzly mortality thresholds to justify additional killing of Yellowstone bears unless federal officials consider the impacts of all the grizzly bear mortality they have anticipated across the region.