Environmental groups announced a couple of new lawsuits Monday, one against the Fish and Wildlife Service for withdrawing its proposal to lst the wolverine, and another against the Army Corps of Engineers for its use of nationwide permit 13.
The first was filed today in Montana (Center for Biological Diversity v. Jewell, no # or judge assigned yet), the second on Friday in Washington, D.C. (National Wildlife Federation v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, 14-1701, no judge assigned yet).
Press releases from the groups are pasted below
Climate change has led to loss of spring snowpack, endangering feisty predator
October 13, 2014
Missoula, MT — Eight conservation groups joined forces today in a legal challenge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to abandon proposed protections for the wolverine, a rare and elusive mountain-dwelling species with fewer than 300 individuals remaining in the lower 48.
In February 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list the wolverine as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act after the agency’s biologists concluded global warming was reducing the deep spring snowpack pregnant females require for denning.
But after state wildlife managers in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming objected, arguing that computer models about climate change impact are too uncertain to justify the proposed listing, in May 2014 the Service’s Regional Director Noreen Walsh ordered her agency to withdraw the listing, ignoring the recommendations of her own scientists. The reversal came despite confirmation by a panel of outside experts that deep snow is crucial to the ability of wolverines to reproduce successfully. The agency formalized that withdrawal in a final decision issued Aug. 13.
The coalition of eight conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, is suing to overturn that decision filed the lawsuit today in federal district court in Missoula, Mont.
“The wolverine is a famously tough creature that doesn’t back down from anything, but even the wolverine can’t overcome a changing climate by itself,” said Earthjustice attorney Adrienne Maxwell. “To survive, the wolverine needs the protections that only the Endangered Species Act can provide.”
The groups bringing the lawsuit are the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Rocky Mountain Wild.
“The denial of protection for the wolverine is yet another unfortunate example of politics entering into what should be a purely scientific decision,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “All of the science and the agency’s own scientists say the wolverine is severely endangered by loss of spring snowpack caused by climate change, yet the agency denied protection anyway.”
"The best available science shows climate change will significantly reduce available wolverine habitat over the next century, and imperil the species,” said Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance’s Siva Sundaresan. “As an agency responsible for protecting our wildlife, FWS should not ignore science and should make their decisions based on facts and data.”
“Wolverines in the Clearwater region are particularly vulnerable because the elevations here are less than those elsewhere in the Northern Rockies,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “It would be a great loss if this fearless critter were to disappear from the wild Clearwater country.”.
“One of the most important things that we can do to get wolverines on the road to recovery in the face of a warming climate is to get them back on the ground in mountain ranges where they once lived,” said Megan Mueller, senior conservation biologist with Rocky Mountain Wild. “We are disappointed by the Service’s decision not to list wolverines under the Endangered Species Act as protections would have helped to facilitate such efforts in Colorado and beyond.”
“The remote, rugged, and snowy North Cascades are ideal wolverine habitat,” said Dave Werntz, Science and Conservation Director with Conservation Northwest. “Protection under the Endangered Species Act will help wolverine survive a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and increasingly fragmented habitat.”
The wolverine, the largest land-dwelling member of the weasel family, once roamed across the northern tier of the United States and as far south as New Mexico in the Rockies and Southern California in the Sierra Nevada range. After more than a century of trapping and habitat loss, wolverines in the lower 48 have been reduced to small, fragmented populations in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Wyoming and northeast Oregon.
With no more than 300 wolverines remaining in these regions, the species is at direct risk from climate change because wolverines depend on areas that maintain deep snow through late spring, when pregnant females dig their dens into the snowpack to birth and raise their young. Snowpack is already in decline in the western mountains, a trend that is predicted to worsen. Wolverine populations also are threatened by trapping, human disturbance, extremely low population numbers resulting in low genetic diversity, and fragmentation of habitat.
The groups challenging the Service’s determination pointed out that the agency disregarded well-established scientific evidence, including the recommendations of its own scientists, in speculating that the wolverine might be capable of withstanding the projected loss of 63 percent of its snowy habitat in the lower 48 by the year 2085. Contrary to the Service’s speculation, every one of the 562 verified wolverine den sites in North America and Scandinavia occurred in snow; 95 percent of worldwide summer wolverine observations and 89 percent of year-round wolverine observations fell within areas characterized by persistent spring snowpack. Elimination of this snowy habitat due to warming temperatures presents a direct threat to the wolverine’s survival — a danger compounded by the increasing isolation and fragmentation of wolverine habitats that threatens remaining populations with localized extinctions and inbreeding.
On May 17, the assistant director for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Rocky Mountain region recommended protection for the wolverine, concluding that the agency's scientists had not found “any other peer-reviewed literature or other bodies of evidence that would lead us to a different conclusion. While we recognize there is uncertainty associated with when population effects may manifest themselves, any conclusion that there will not be population effects appears to be based on opinion and speculation. In our opinion that would not represent the best available scientific or commercial data available.” Despite these strong conclusions, the Fish and Wildlife Service reversed course and withdrew proposed protection for the wolverine.
Press Release from the Southern Environmental Law Center and other groups
For Release: October 13, 2014
Nate Hunt, SELC, 404-521-9900 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jan Goldman-Carter, National Wildlife Federation, 202-797-6894
Emily Markesteyn, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, 866-942-6222
Tonya Bonitatibus, Savannah Riverkeeper, 706-826-8991
Conservation Groups Challenge Unlawful Permit to Prevent Further Shoreline Damage
Washington, DC—Conservation groups have filed suit in federal court challenging the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers’ use of a permit that allows construction of bulkheads, seawalls, and other hardened structures to be built in waters of the United States without adequately assessing their environmental impact.
Nationwide Permit 13 authorizes the construction of bank stabilization structures along shorelines with little environmental review and without public notice and review. Unlike individual permits issued by the Corps, Nationwide Permit 13 allows structures to be built close to two football fields in length without requiring prior approval from the Corps. Nationwide Permit 13 is currently being used by the Corps to authorize approximately 17,500 structures between 2012 and 2017.
“Although these projects are designed to reduce erosion at specific sites, there is a lot science showing that bulkheads and other structures accelerate erosion in our waters and destroy important shoreline habitat,” said Nate Hunt, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The negative effects are especially acute on our coasts as more cities, developers, and landowners are constructing bulkheads and sea walls to armor the shoreline in response to sea level rise.”
On behalf of the National Wildlife Federation, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, and Savannah Riverkeeper, the Southern Environmental Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the Corps in United States District Court in Washington, D.C, charging that the agency has violated federal law in failing to demonstrate that the projects authorized over the five-year period of the permit will only have minimal environmental effects as required by the Clean Water Act.
“The Corps’ use of Nationwide Permit 13 to rubber stamp the coastal armoring of our shorelines threatens important fish and wildlife habitat, including the nesting habitat of threatened and endangered sea turtles and shorebirds,” said Jan Goldman-Carter, senior manager and counsel with the National Wildlife Federation. “By requiring the Corps to carefully review the cumulative impacts of hardening shorelines and alternatives to these hard structures, we aim to encourage the use of living shorelines and other more natural approaches to decreasing erosion on our coastlines.”
As sea level rises, more coastlines are being armored by bank stabilization projects. Coastlines fixed by hard structures prohibit wetlands, marshlands, various aquatic ecosystems, and beaches from migrating inland in response to sea level rise.
Rather than inhibiting erosion, these structures redirect the wave energy downward and cause the ground at the base of the structures to wear away. As the area in front of the structures disappears, important habitat is lost to species that depend on this land and water interface to survive.
“The cumulative effect of hardened structures on our coast is causing irreversible damage to the natural ecosystem, its processes and functions, such as fish nursery habitat and pollution control, and the recreational use of waterways,” said Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn. “While we are not against any and all bank stabilization projects, we must ensure the Corps follows due diligence when assessing environmental impacts of these structures.”
Federal and state agencies, the conservation groups, and others filed extensive comments on the proposed permit, highlighting the scientific evidence on the significant environmental impact of shoreline armoring. The groups contend that the Corps failed to justify the use of Nationwide Permit 13 in the face of this scientific evidence.
“Our coastal regions are changing due to sea level rise, and development choices we make today can either help buffer us from the impacts, or worsen the impacts on ourselves and our neighbors,” said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus. “The Corps must be diligent in ensuring the solutions it permits do not cause or allow undue harm on surrounding coastal properties.”
About the Southern Environmental Law Center:
The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use. www.SouthernEnvironment.org
About the National Wildlife Federation:
National Wildlife Federation is America's largest conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future. Learn more at www.nwf.org.
About Ogeechee Riverkeeper:
Ogeechee RIVERKEEPER® exists for the Ogeechee, Canoochee, and coastal rivers, not the other way around. Accordingly, we measure our success not by totals of dues-paying members, dollars raised, or awards and recognitions, but by the quality of the water in the basin and the commitment of its citizens to protecting, preserving, and improving it. A hard-working, effective organization for the waters and people of the Ogeechee River basin: that is the vision for Ogeechee RIVERKEEPER®. www.ogeecheeriverkeeper.org
About Savannah Riverkeeper:
The Savannah Riverkeeper serves as the primary guardian of the Savannah River striving to respect, protect, and improve the entire river basin through education, advocacy, and action. We are a 501 c (3) non-profit organization funded by individuals and foundations that share our commitment to creating a clean and healthy river that sustains life and is cherished by its people.