Sally Jewell

Sep 212015

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, joined by four Western governors, the directors of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Geological Survey, and the chiefs of the Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, "will make a major announcement related to the historic conservation effort for the greater sage-grouse" in Colorado tomorrow.

News organizations have widely reported that Jewell and the assembled agency heads (along with a rancher from Nevada and an executive with Audubon Rockies) will be announcing the long-awaited decision on whether listing of the greater sage-grouse is "warranted" under the Endangered Species Act.

Given the hoopla surrounding the event, the attendance by the governors of Wyoming, Nevada, Colorado and Montana, and the wording of the Interior Department's media advisory, it appears unlikely that the outcome can be anything other than "not warranted."

Of course, that is speculation, but it's informed speculation. Hardly a week has gone by in the last few months without a news release about a new commitment of money and or/land to conserve the iconic sagebrush species, along with a mention of the "unprecedented" landscape-scale effort undertaken by the feds, states and ranchers.

The advisory followed the same script.

"[T]he long-term decline of the greater sage-grouse and its sagebrush habitat has sparked an unprecedented collaborative, science-based conservation effort across 11 western states." It hardly seems possible that the dignitaries are showingup to hear about a proposed listing of the bird.

Indeed, last week Jewell told media attending a briefing sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor that she was "optimistic that a not warranted [decision] is possible," according to an article in the Washington Examiner with the wishful headline, "Interior chief sees no endangered species listing for sage grouse."

""What has happened in this collaborative work is really the way I think the Endangered Species Act should work," she said.

One example of that collaboration is the Colorado Habitat Exchange, announced by Gov. John Hickenlooper last week.

"The Colorado Habitat Exchange works to engage ranchers in voluntary conservation efforts by offering financial incentives to create, maintain and improve habitat on their property," the governor's office said in a news release. "Landowners earn conservation credits for these activities, which they can sell to industry to compensate for development, such as roads, oil and gas facilities and other infrastructure that impact species and habitat."

The state has asked FWS and BLM to "recognize" the exchange. “No one wants to see this bird on the Endangered Species List, and this program is our best chance of keeping the bird off the list, now and in the future,” said Terry Fankhauser, executive vice president of the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association.

But Erik Molvar, Sagebrush Sea Campaign Director for WildEarth Guardians, warned that although voluntary conservation is "laudable," conservation banking cannot be used "as an alternative to having real sage grouse protections."

So far, banking's track record is not enviable, he said, pointing to efforts for the lesser prairie-chicken as an example.

Molvar also said he doesn't know what the final decision will be. The government, he said is keeping the announcement "close to the vest."

"There is a growing sense, though no certainty, that the bird will not be listed — at least for now," a story in today's Los Angeles Times said.

More coverage:

Sep 092015

The Fish and Wildlife Service's decision to reject a land exchange to facilitate construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge has been upheld by a federal judge in Alaska (Agdaagux Tribe of King Cove v. Jewell, 14-110-HRH, D. Alaska).

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland's order is a significant development in the years-long battle over the road, which local residents argue is necessary to enable sick and injured people to get to the Cold Bay Airport.

"Perhaps Congress will now think better of its decision to encumber the King Cove Road project with a [National Environmental Policy Act] requirement," the judge said. As reported by Alaska Dispatch News, "The decision could be null if [Sen. Lisa] Murkowski (R-Alaska) is successful in passing language she has offered in congressional budget negotiations, which would approve the land exchange and remove [Interior Secretary Sally] Jewell’s approval from the process."

Environmental groups hailed the judge's decision in a news release issued yesterday.

"Izembek’s lagoon complex is a globally important ecosystem that contains one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world, providing food and habitat for fish and crabs that feed migratory birds from multiple continents," the groups said. "Virtually the entire world populations of Pacific black brant and emperor geese, and a significant portion of the threatened Steller’s eider population visits the refuge to rest and feed during spring and fall migrations."

Holland said the service had not made up it mind about the land exchange and the road before choosing the "no action" alternative in an EIS it issued in February 2013. The proposed exchange was 206 acres of federal land in the Izembek NWR for 56,393 acres of State of Alaska and King Cove Corporation-owned land.

Here's the judge's conclusion:

In the [Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009] Congress recognized that a road from King Cove to Cold Bay would foster public health and safety and would present environmental concerns. Rather than make the hard choice between public health and safety and the environment itself, Congress left that decision to the Secretary, requiring that she comply with NEPA before approving the road and land exchange needed to construct the road. Given the sensitive nature of the portion of the Izembek Wildlife Refuge which the road would cross, the NEPA requirement for approval of the proposed road probably doomed the project.

Under NEPA, the Secretary evaluated environmental impacts, not public health and safety impacts. Perhaps Congress will now think better of its decision to encumber the King Cove Road project with a NEPA requirement.

Plaintiffs’ and intervenor-plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is denied, and defendants’ and intervenor-defendants’ cross-motions are granted. There has been no NEPA violation here, nor has there been any violation of the OPLMA. The clerk of court shall enter judgment dismissing plaintiffs’ and intervenor-plaintiff’s complaints with prejudice.


Plaintiffs also argue that the Secretary [of the Interior] failed to consider the wildlife and environmental value of the offered lands in any meaningful manner. They argue that the Secretary summarily dismissed the value of the offered lands because she had decided that the 206 acres of federal land was irreplaceable.

To the extent that plaintiffs are contending that the FWS only considered the impacts that the proposed project would have on the 206 acres of federal land, plaintiffs are wrong. The FWS found that “[t]he impact of road construction on wilderness character would radiate far beyond the footprint of the road corridor.”88 Moreover, the FWS properly considered the wildlife and environmental value of the offered lands in comparison to the 206 acres. For example, although some of the state and local parcels offered for exchange have notable environmental values, none are home to the unique population of Tundra Swans that reside in the isthmus.

It is the court’s perception that plaintiffs’ arguments that the FWS did not take a “hard look” at land values are simply disagreements as to the relative weight that the FWS accorded the impacts.

Jun 022015

Afternoon update: A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit (technically, a petition for review) in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals challenging the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval of Shell’s exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea (Alaska Wilderness League v. Jewell). Scroll down for the petition. Here is the press release. * […]

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 […]

Mar 242015

Just the press release, m’am PRESS RELEASE Department of Energy, Department of the Interior and Army Corps of Engineers Renew Five-Year Partnership to Advance Hydropower WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of the Interior and U.S. Department of the Army for Civil Works announced today that the three agencies have extended […]

Mar 102015
Jewell issues wildland fire strategy for sagebrush for 2015 season

Here’s the release, and linked here     Date: March 10, 2015 Contact: Jessica Kershaw Secretary Jewell Issues Strategy to Protect, Restore Sagebrush Lands for 2015 Fire Season Report advances work with Federal, state, Tribal and non-government partners to protect economic activity and wildlife habitat vital to the Western way of life WASHINGTON, D.C. – […]

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 […]

Mar 042015

Go here to watch the hearing Murkowski on relocation of community in Alaska — Kivalina (WaPo coverage) costs in hundreds of millions We know that Kivalina is just one of many We need a full-on action plan, because it’s not just Kivalina we’re talking about. on to Shell and Chukchi… SJ: We are actively working […]

Feb 262015

Rep. Ken Calvert, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s Interior and Environment subcommittee, delivers his opening statement at the hearing on the president’s proposed Interior FY 2016 budget. Go to minute 3:00 for his views on the ESA.