North Cascades Grizzly Letter

Dear Editor,

Bushwhacking through a trail-less valley in the heart of North Cascades, I came across some enormous tracks and a huge pile of scat that, having not seen their maker, I attributed to either Bigfoot or a grizzly bear. But that was over 35 years ago and I haven’t seen hide nor hair, nor heard of many sightings of either of them since then.

I hate to tell Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, but a “conservation ethic” is something we should have before a species is hunted and trapped practically to extinction and is in need of augmentation—as is the case with Washington’s grizzly bears. Now that would be a real success story. And the few hundred specimens in the Greater Yellowstone area do not add up to a recovered species for the lower 48.

Yet, no sooner did our current Administration remove the imperiled bears from the Threatened Species List did the state of Wyoming set a plan to hunt 24 grizzlies this fall season. Meanwhile, Idaho, with an even lower population of grizzly bears, felt they could sacrifice one to five of them to trophy hunting, if only to get their goose-stepping foot in the door on the issue.

It’s worth noting that B.C. recently banned trophy hunting of grizzlies, and Montana has not yet made plans for a sport hunt on that species. The question for Washington is, which neighbors will we emulate now that the bears have lost their ESA protections?

And what’s next for the Northwest, a trophy hunt on Sasquatch? Believe me, you don’t want that smelly hominid hide hanging on your wall—not if you ever want to have house-guests.

Jim Robertson

 

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Endangered Science

2016-05-30-1464631104-7599176-StandingUpForScienceWolfBanner.jpg

As Americans enjoy this long weekend of remembrance, many will find their way to a national or state park hoping to see wildlife in their natural habitats. Last year over 300 million people visited the national parks alone, the highest number on record. Tourists photographed bears and bobcats, bison and moose, foxes, wolves, prairie dogs, coyotes, eagles, owls, and more.

What most visitors didn’t see is the work that goes on behind the scenes to make sure that our wildlife is protected, and species on the brink of extinction don’t disappear. Project Coyote is just one of many organizations committed to protecting our public lands and public trust, ensuring that the wild animals visitors hope to see receive the protections they deserve, as outlined in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) decades ago.

One of the fundamental requirements of the ESA is that decisions about protecting wildlife are based on the best available science. This sounds obvious, but in order for science to be credible, it must be independent, which means free of political or commercial interests.

Unfortunately, respect for independent science within wildlife management ranks is as endangered as the animals we try to protect. One of many examples includes the Department of Interior’s alarming decision in 2014 to declare gray wolves recovered nationwide because the Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) claimed the wolves occupied most of the remaining suitable habitat in the U.S. In truth, nearly two-dozen states in the historic range were, and still are, vacant. The FWS declared them unsuitable on grounds that human tolerance for wolves was low there and that wolves would be poached by citizens or killed by government agents seeking to protect livestock interests. This is the same year we witnessed wolves returning to their native home of California where they had not been seen since 1924. If FWS policy had been implemented, California might not have seen this important and historic return.

The fact is that none of the available science supported the FWS claim, and what evidence there was actually showed that tolerance for wolves was even higher outside their current range.

According to the ESA, our federal wildlife managers are supposed to address threats that may push a species to extinction, not circumvent the threat by redefining “suitable habitat.” It is required to combat threats and recover listed species, as the ESA states, “across all or a significant portion of range.” (ESA 16 USC § 1531)

Instead, FWS pointed to a non-peer-reviewed analysis suggesting the northeastern U.S. was not gray wolf habitat because a new species had lived there. The criticism that followed eventually led to an independent scientific review process that “unanimously decided that the FWS’s earlier decisions were not well supported by the available science.”

Project Coyote Science Advisory Board members Adrian TrevesJeremy BruskotterJohn Vucetich, and Michael Nelson co-authored this study refuting these assumptions, and there are more examples of FWS ignoring science, including the department’s recent delisting decisions about wolverines and grizzlies that not only omitted independent scientific review, but rejected the recommendations of agency biologists.

If we look at the history of decisions about carnivores under the ESA, we see similar disregard for the best available science. Since 2005, the FWS has lost nearly a dozen federal court cases trying to remove protections for wolves, grizzly bears, and wolverines. In each case, the courts sided with plaintiff’s claims that the Department of the Interior misinterpreted the ESA or did not follow the ESA mandate to base its decisions on the best scientific data available.

Which is why the recent Endangered Species Day was the perfect occasion for me to join with members of Project Coyote’s Science Advisory Board in collaboration with the Union of Concerned Scientists, to compel Interior Secretary Jewell and Commerce Secretary Pritzker to enforce the ESA and serve the public trust by using the best available science. We submitted a petition with the signatures of nearly 1,000 US scientists and scholars, and our request was simple: respect the law and put the independent scientific community back in charge of determining the best available science.

All Americans can be proud of the cooperative vision that produced the Endangered Species Act in 1973, and protects the abundance of wildlife and beautiful landscapes that our federal agencies are charged to steward. Let’s not be the generation that allowed standards to slip so far that, for some species, it’s beyond recovery. When independent science is threatened, so are our keystone species, and the healthy ecosystems we all depend on to survive and thrive.

Learn more about the ways scientists are working for wildlife by visiting Project Coyote’sScience and Stewardship Program and Notes from the Field blog.

This is the World’s Last Male Northern White Rhino — And He’s Sick

https://www.livescience.com/61900-last-male-northern-white-rhino-is-sick.html

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This is the World's Last Male Northern White Rhino — And He's Sick
Sudan, the last Northern White Rhino

Credit: Glyn Edmunds/REX/Shutterstock

The last male northern white rhinoceros is sick.

Sudan, a 45-year-old rhino and the last male of his subspecies (Ceratotherium simum cottoni), is ailing in the wake of two infections on his back right leg, according to Ol Pejeta Conservancy, the wildlife sanctuary in Kenya where the last three northern white rhinoceroses on the planet live.

“At the advanced age of 45, his health has begun deteriorating, and his future is not looking bright,” Sudan’s caregivers posted on Ol Pejeta’s Facebook pageRhinos usually live between about 30 and 40 years, according to a follow-up comment by the caregivers, and Sudan’s problems are age-related. [In Photos: The Last 5 Northern White Rhinos]

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https://www.facebook.com/OlPejetaConservancy/posts/10160033482610324&width=500Sudan’s problems started with an infection on his back right leg near the end of 2017, according to Ol Pejeta. His veterinary team treated him, and he was back to normal in January. But since mid-February, vets have discovered that there is a deeper infection underlying the original one, and Sudan is not responding as quickly to treatment this time.

“We are very concerned about him — he’s extremely old for a rhino and we do not want him to suffer unnecessarily,” Ol Pejeta caretakers wrote on Facebook.

Even before this health setback, the chances of Sudan fathering new northern white rhinoceroses in his lifetime were basically nil. This subspecies of rhinoceros used to roam across Uganda, Chad, Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to Ol Pejeta, but poaching and chaos from years of civil war in the region sent the population plummeting. The last time a northern white rhinoceros was seen outside of captivity was 2007, and the subspecies is presumed extinct in the wild.

Since then, the population of captive white rhinos has been falling one by one, largely due to old age. In 2014, after the deaths of a male named Suni at Ol Pejeta and a male named Angalifu at the San Diego Zoo, Sudan became the sole surviving northern white rhino male.

Sudan is one of only three northern white rhinoceroses left in the world, period. A female, Nola, died of old age and infection at the San Diego Zoo in November 2015, leaving only Sudan and two females, named Fatu and Najin, at Ol Pejeta. Najin is Sudan’s daughter, and Fatu is his granddaughter; both have conditions that make carrying a pregnancy impossible. What’s more, in 2015, Sudan’s sperm count was discovered to be very low, making him unlikely to father offspring naturally.

Conservationists are using artificial measures in attempts to save the species. For example, they’re using sperm and eggs extracted from northern white rhinoceroses, including Sudan and recently deceased individuals, to try to develop rhinoceros in vitro fertilization (IVF). This strategy depends on managing to fertilize a northern white rhinoceros egg in a lab and successfully implant it in a surrogate mother from the southern white rhinoceros subspecies (Ceratotherium simum simum), which was once at the edge of extinction but made a comeback thanks to intensive conservation efforts.

Borneo has lost half its orangutans due to hunting and habitat loss

‘Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape’

Borneo has lost more than 100,000 orangutans in the space of just 16 years as a result of hunting and habitat loss, according to a new report.

Logging, mining, oil palm, paper, and linked deforestation have been blamed for the the diminishing numbers.

However, researchers also found many orangutans have vanished from more intact, forested regions, suggesting that hunting and other direct conflict between orangutans and humans continues to be a chief threat to the species.

The report published in the Current Biology Journal found more than 100,000 of the island’s orangutans vanished in the period of 1999 to 2015.

“Orangutans are disappearing at an alarming rate,” said Emma Keller, agricultural commodities manager at the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF).

“Their forests homes have been lost and degraded, and hunting threatens the existence of this magnificent great ape.

“Immediate action is needed to reform industries that have pushed orangutans to the brink of extinction. UK consumers can make a difference through only supporting brands and retailers that buy sustainable palm oil.”

Around half of the orangutans living on the island of Borneo, the largest island in Asia, were lost as a result of changes in land cover.

Researchers said the Bornean orangutan’s survival is dependent on forging successful alliances with logging companies and other industries and raising public awareness of the issue.

Looking at predicted future losses of forest cover and the presumption orangutans are ultimately not able to stay alive outside forest areas, the researchers predict that over 45,000 more orangutans will be lost in the space of the next 35 years.

The report comes after an orangutan was shot at least 130 times with an air gun before it died earlier in the month, according to police in Borneo.

Wildlife Organizations Sue Trump Administration for Failing to Protect “El Lobo,” the Mexican Wolf

JOHN SCHLOSSBERG FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Lobo 0131wrp opt(Photo: Joel Cristian / Flickr)Environmental organizations filed a lawsuit on January 30, 2018, in U.S. District Court in Arizona against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), alleging the agency violated the Endangered Species Act (ESA) by ignoring science relevant to the recovery of the beleaguered Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi), a.k.a. “el lobo.” The legal action comes on the heels of USFWS’ November release of its long-anticipated Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan — a strategy conservation groups say appeases red state ranchers and falls flat in the face of science.

The lawsuit, filed by attorneys at the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) on behalf of Western Watersheds Project and WildEarth Guardians (Guardians), names Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and USFWS Acting Director Greg Sheehan. The complaint asserts the USFWS, an ancillary arm of the Interior Department, turned a deaf ear to its own scientists’ recommendations for the minimum number of wolves and the amount of habitat needed for recovery and removal from the endangered species list.

“This recovery plan was designed by politicians and anti-wolf states, not by independent biologists,” said Matthew Bishop of the Western Environmental Law Center. “It’s an affront to the ESA and Congress’ directive [is to] make decisions solely on the best available science.”

The Mexican wolf, a subspecies of the endangered gray wolf (Canis lupus), was granted endangered species status in 1976 after being hunted to near-extinction. At one point, el lobo almost blinked out entirely after plunging to a low of only 15 animals remaining in the wild. In 1982, the USFWS initiated the original Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan to determine a course of action for keeping the species alive. It included a captive breeding program, which in 1988, released three distinct lineages of the animal into the ecosystem.

In 2011, the USFWS’ Science and Planning Subgroup of the Recovery Team (the Subgroup), staffed by independent scientists, recommended that delisting only occur after a 750-wolf total is achieved in the wild. Additionally, the Subgroup recommended that lands in eastern Arizona/western New Mexico, the Grand Canyon region of northern Arizona and southern Utah, and the southern Rockies region of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado be allotted as Mexican wolf habitat for recovery efforts.

Despite these recommendations, state governments in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona have set substantial roadblocks in the way of recovery, including a demand that no wolves set foot north of I-40, which runs east-to-west across northern New Mexico and Arizona — meaning no wolves would be allowed to exist in Utah or Colorado whatsoever.

Today, the lobo population in the United States has rebounded slightly, hovering at around 113 animals, with an additional 31 living in Mexico. Yet, instead of following the scientists’ recommendations, the USFWS’ First Revision of the Mexican Wolf Recovery Plan concluded that 320 wolves would be sufficient for recovery, and in terms of habitat, it left out the Grand Canyon and southern Rockies regions for “geopolitical reasons,” a move environmental lawyers say is a fundamental violation of the ESA.

“The ecosystems in this region need wolves and the people in this region want wolves — polls overwhelmingly suggest that. So, to eschew the science-based pathway for recovery and instead implement a politically-driven and extremely flawed plan is an affront to people and place,” said Christopher Smith, Southern Rockies Wildlife Advocate for WildEarth Guardians, in an email to EnviroNews.

Conservation groups are suing on four causes of action they say violate the ESA and APA (Administrative Procedure Act), including having “no reasonable explanation for departure” from the Subgroup’s recommendations, “failure to provide objective, measurable criteria necessary for delisting” the wolf, “failure to utilize the best available science,” and “failure to provide site-specific management actions necessary for conservation.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service needs a plan that guarantees a large enough population of Mexican wolves to be viable over the long term, with sufficient habitat [for] wolves to flourish,” said Greta Anderson of Western Watersheds Project. “But the current recovery plan doesn’t do that, and instead the federal government seems more intent on appeasing anti-wolf political interests than in doing its job, which is recovering endangered species to healthy and secure population levels.”

The three aforementioned NGOs, which will be joined in the suit by the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance and the Wildlands Network, want the court to force the USFWS to have another go at the plan, but this time around, they want it to follow the law as stated by the ESA and ensure that science alone, not politics, guides the recovery of the Mexican wolf.

http://www.truth-out.org/buzzflash/commentary/wildlife-organizations-sue-trump-administration-for-failing-to-protect-el-lobo-the-mexican-wolf

Wolf decision could undermine plan to remove grizzly bears from endangered list

  • ROB CHANEY rchaney@missoulian.com
  • 2 hrs ago

Wolves often harass grizzly bears in the wild, and now they’re challenging bear recovery in the courtroom.

An appeals court ruling in a federal lawsuit challenging how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Great Lakes gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act list could unravel plans to delist grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

The possibility raised enough alarm within the agency that it sent out a request for public comment on the topic last week.

“We had put our final delisting rule out in July and within a week we got the court opinion,” FWS grizzly recovery coordinator Hillary Cooley said during a meeting of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee in Missoula on Tuesday. “The Great Lakes wolves were listed for the entire Lower 48 states, and then they carved out a DPS (Distinct Population Segment) and tried to delist them. That’s what we’ve done with the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, as well, so we thought we should take a look.”

Grizzly bears were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 1975. The Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has combined bear experts from the National Park Service, Forest Service, state wildlife agencies and other land managers for more than three decades on the task of removing threats to grizzly bear survival so the bears can be removed from the Endangered Species List.

In August, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed a lower-court ruling blocking the wildlife service’s plan to delist the gray wolf in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin while keeping the species protected in the rest of the continental U.S. The case was Humane Society of the U.S. v. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

In its species recovery plans, the wildlife service often uses distinct population segments to draw boundaries around places a plant or animal depends on. That three-state area was considered the Western Great Lakes DPS for gray wolves.

“The fundamental error in the Service’s decision is that, in evaluating whether gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region are a ‘distinct’ population segment, the Service failed to address the impact that extraction of the segment would have on the legal status of the remaining wolves in the already-listed species,” the appeals court judges wrote. They added that creating a DPS was a “one-way ratchet” that could increase protections, but not decrease them without additional justification.

“The Service’s power is to designate genuinely discrete population segments; it is not to delist an already-protected species by balkanization,” they added. “The Service cannot circumvent the Endangered Species Act’s explicit delisting standards by driving an existing listing into a recovered sub-group and a leftover group that becomes an orphan to the law. Such a statutory dodge is the essence of arbitrary-and-capricious and ill-reasoned agency action.”Grizzly bear recovery follows a similar pattern. In July, FWS published its final rule delisting the roughly 700 grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which is one of six DPS ecosystems the bears inhabit or could inhabit in the Lower 48 states. That action has triggered six lawsuits challenging it to date, several of which use the Western Great Lakes wolf decision in their arguments.

FWS is also working on a delisting rule for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which holds about 1,000 grizzlies in the Rocky Mountains between Missoula and Glacier National Park. But the remaining four ecosystems — the Cabinet-Yaak, Selkirk, Bitterroot and North Cascades — hold only handfuls of bears or none at all.

“The Lower 48 grizzlies were originally listed as all one population,” said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for Wildearth Guardians. “If you pull one DPS out, such as the Yellowstone, you have to consider how that affects all the other populations.”

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” she said of the agency request. “You can’t fix it by papering it over after the fact. You have to go back and withdraw the rule. It’s a glaring problem and they knew it back then.”

The request is separate from another notice FWS published on Monday, requesting public comment on its “Supplement to the Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan: Habitat-Based Recovery Criteria for the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.”

The document explains proposed standards for delisting grizzly bears in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. That final action could take place next summer.

The FWS public comment request runs through January 8, 2018. Comments can be made online through the FWS website.

Camera-trap footage shows rare, much-debated red wolf in the wild

https://www.earthtouchnews.com/conservation/endangered/camera-trap-footage-shows-rare-much-debated-red-wolf-in-the-wild/

BY ETHAN SHAW NOVEMBER 09 2017

The status of the red wolf – that reddish-brown canid of the American Southeast that’s about midway in size and habits between a coyote and a grey wolf – has been in flux for decades, and these days it’s up in the air on a number of counts. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is reconsidering its strategy for recovering the animal, among the rarest of the world’s wild dogs, and meanwhile taxonomists continue to debate its position on the Canis family tree.

In light of all that political and scientific murkiness, it’s a pleasure to watch red wolves just doing their thing in the wild. Camera traps maintained by the Wildlands Network conservation group have collected some great video in the heart of the wolf’s precarious stronghold on northeastern North Carolina’s Albemarle-Pamlico Peninsula.

Ron Sutherland of the Wildlands Network told us all four clips here were taken in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, part of the 1.7-million-acre, five-county red-wolf recovery area that also encompasses Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and other federally managed holdings, state-owned lands, a government bombing range and private acreage.

Sutherland said the first video showed young wolves or possibly wolf-coyote hybrids, while the other three clips are most likely of the longstanding Milltail Pack.

The red wolf (Wa’ya to the Cherokee) once trotted over most of the American Southeast; where and how the boundaries of its range edged that of the grey wolf is one of many, well, grey areas of canid natural history in pre-Columbian North America. Weighing some 23 to 36 kilograms (50 to 80 lbs), red wolves were historically not only the grizzled chestnut colour that gives them their common name but also frequently black; early naturalists, for example, recognised a “Florida black wolf”.

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A red wolf in North Carolina’s Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (US Fish & Wildlife Service)

Wade into the taxonomy of the red wolf – and of the genus Canis in North America, for that matter – at your own risk. It’s a fascinating but thorny topic that’s far from settled, and loosely speaking involves about five canines: the Eurasian-evolved grey wolf (which may have colonised North America in multiple waves) and the New World-derived red wolf, Algonquin (aka eastern or Great Lakes) wolf, coyote, and the so-called “eastern coyote” (frequently referred to as a “coywolf”, though mammalogist Roland Kays takes some issue with that).

The species status of the grey wolf and coyote are firmly established; where the others fall in the Canis lineage is less settled, to say the least. A 2012 review concluded the red wolf, Algonquin wolf and coyote are likely relatives with a common ancestor; a 2016 genetic analysis, in turn, proposed red and Algonquin wolves derive from varying degrees of quite recent grey wolf/coyote hybridisation. Yet another assessment from last year, which scrutinised ancient canid remains from the American Southeast, suggested the red wolf may (a) have evolved from prehistoric coyote-wolf interbreeding, or (b) share a forerunner with the coyote.

Taxonomic inquiries such as this could have bearing on how the US government classifies and treats the red wolf as a conservation priority. (The USFWS continues to regard it as its own species.) But as many of the researchers who’ve lately studied red and Algonquin wolf genetics have pointed out, whether these wolves are hybrids, subspecies or distinct species doesn’t detract from their “ecological authenticity” as apex carnivores in eastern North America. (The eastern coyote, too, certainly seems to be filling a significant ecological role in its freshly colonised range.)

As the authors of the 2016 study suggesting either long-ago hybridisation or unique lineage for the red wolf noted, “If red wolves have an ancient hybrid origin, it would not preclude the species from protection, and furthermore, it emphasises the dynamic nature of canid evolution.”

“Whether these wolves are hybrids, subspecies or distinct species doesn’t detract from their ‘ecological authenticity’ as apex carnivores in eastern North America.”

Genetic fingerprinting of the red-wolf line is complicated because of the very small founder pool. By the early 1800s, the lithe deer-, raccoon- and rabbit-hunting wolves of southeastern forests and swamps were already vanishing. By the mid-20th century they were mainly restricted to the Gulf Coast of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana (earlier strongholds apparently included South Florida’s Big Cypress and the Okefenokee Swamp on the Louisiana-Florida line).

The USFWS declared the red wolf endangered in 1967 and launched a recovery programme in 1973. Subsequently – with the future of the species in the wild deemed unlikely given habitat loss and interbreeding with coyotes – more than 400 wolf-like Gulf Coast canids were rounded up to initiate captive breeding. Only 14 of those several wild dogs were ultimately determined to be genetically “pure” red wolves, and the dozen of those that reproduced in captivity became the founders of today’s population.

In 1987, red wolves were reintroduced to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge: the first attempt anywhere to reintroduce a large carnivore to its former range. The following spring, biologists documented the first wild-born red-wolf pups in North Carolina since the animal’s extirpation.

Coastal North Carolina (as well as several southeastern islands where wolves are acclimated for release) has remained the outpost for wild red wolves in modern times; a 1990s reintroduction attempt in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the Southern Appalachians was abandoned after wolves dispersed outside park boundaries.

Last year, the USFWS announced a shift in its red-wolf strategy: restricting recovery efforts in the wild to publicly owned acreage in a single North Carolina county while attempting to double the captive population to 400. A number of conservation groups decried the announcement, and in September 2016, a judge barred the agency from removing red wolves that aren’t directly threatening pets or livestock from private lands.

Earlier this year, the USFWS solicited public feedback on the changes it was proposing. An analysis of the 55,000-odd comments received, conducted by the Wildlands Network and several other conservation organisations, suggested 99.8% supported efforts to restore wild red wolves in North Carolina. The conservation coalition noted in a press release from this August that this support extended to the local level.

“Zooming in to northeastern North Carolina, more than two-thirds (68.4%) of the comments from the current five-county recovery region were supportive of the Red Wolf Recovery Program, undermining claims that local residents oppose red wolf restoration,” they wrote.

You can read more about the USFWS’s approach to red-wolf recovery here.

The presence of red wolves makes the Alligator River and Pocosin Lakes refuges especially impressive expressions of North Carolina’s wild heart. To fully appreciate it, be sure to browse the camera-trap galleries of the Wildland Network’s Flickr page: a rich cast of other characters from the Albemarle-Pamlico backcountry – including white-tailed deer, bobcats, and lots and lots of black bears – make cameos.

Powerful lawmaker who wants to ‘invalidate’ the Endangered Species Act is getting close

http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/powerful-lawmaker-who-wants-to-invalidate-the-endangered-species-act/article_2594bbab-476b-5bd5-9e6a-93b087db0c8f.html

  • By Darryl Fears | The Washington Post
 The congressman who said he “would love to invalidate” the Endangered Species Act is closing in on his goal.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, recently shepherded five bills out of the Natural Resources Committee he chairs that would dismantle the law piece by piece. Many Republicans on the panel say the proposals are necessary changes that would modernize the 1973 law. Democrats and conservationists say the bills would whittle away the law’s ability to save wildlife from extinction.

One measure would force the federal government to consider the economic impact of saving a species rather than make a purely scientific call. Another would require the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which administers the act along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to defer to data collected by states as the “best scientific and commercial data available,” although state funding related to the act accounts for a small fraction of that supported by the federal government.

Under a third proposal, citizens and conservation groups would be stripped of a powerful tool that allows them to file court claims against the government when they believe its protections fall short. Among other actions, the remaining bills would also remove protections for gray wolves in Midwestern states and block courts from ruling on the validity of the government’s decisions.

The legislation is setting up a titanic clash over a law that forms the foundation of American wildlife protection and has been copied around the world.

“This will be a battle royal,” said Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C. “You’re going to see a strong, strong movement opposing cuts to the ESA. I don’t want to sound overly confident or cocky that we’re going to defeat this. It’s going to be the fight of my conservation career.”

Unlike earlier GOP attempts to weaken the act, Bishop is poised to realize his ambition because of Republicans’ control of both chambers of Congress and the White House. A Senate committee that previously held hearings on modernizing the act is preparing companion legislation, and a president who favors oil-and-gas development on federal land is more likely to sign it into law.

Bishop, who declined requests to comment for this story, exuded confidence about the bills’ prospects before the committee acted in July. “Hopefully, working with our colleagues in the Senate and the administration, we can lay a foundation for ESA reform that will do us well,” he said.

All of the measures, approved almost completely along party-line votes Oct. 4, are awaiting consideration by the full House.

Their passage would mark Bishop’s most significant legislative victory since the former high school teacher and debate coach entered politics in Utah, where he served as a charismatic leader of the state Republican Party and co-founded the Western States Coalition. The eight-term congressman has long been an opponent of the law, which is credited with saving the bald eagle, humpback whale, grizzly bear, California condor and the Florida manatee.

“It has never been used for the rehabilitation of species. It’s been used for control of the land,” Bishop said this year. “We’ve missed the entire purpose of the Endangered Species Act. It has been hijacked.”

Bishop’s disdain was clear in the hearings, Democrats say. On witness panels, they charge, farmers, dam operators, state wildlife managers and others opposed to the act got their say about its supposed shortcomings, without comparable opportunities for scientific and federal government experts to check those claims. The Interior Department even barred Fish and Wildlife staff members from meeting with the minority caucus’ staff members as they attempted to gather information for hearing preparations, according to lawmakers such as Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Ariz.

“The bias and the setup begins at the hearing,” said Grijalva, the Natural Resources Committee’s ranking Democrat. “We get one witness, they get three or four, and the drumbeat begins with the onerous things that are wrong with the act: It’s too cumbersome, it allows too many radical lawsuits, the states can do a better job, let them make the scientific and biological opinion of when wildlife should be listed.”

The law was essentially 73 years in the making. It followed the Lacey Act of 1900 that was passed to conserve wildlife after carrier pigeons that once filled America’s skies went extinct and bison nearly disappeared. Other conservation acts that preceded it were the Migratory Bird Treaty of 1929 and Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966.

Seven years later, that preservation act was strengthened to become the Endangered Species Act. The new legislation was approved by overwhelming and bipartisan margins — 355 to 4 in the House and 92 to 0 in the Senate. President Richard Nixon made it official with his signature that December.

The law gives the federal government control over regulating use of land that serves as habitat for endangered species, with assistance from states. It specifies that decisions should be based on only science, without consideration of the economic effect. The law also helps people sue for the protection of animals or plants through the Equal Access to Justice Act, which pays the attorney fees of individuals and organizations that take the government to court and win.

Today, more than 2,000 species are listed as endangered or threatened, including Loggerhead sea turtles in parts of the Atlantic Ocean, whooping cranes in the West and the Texas golden gladecress.

Over time, some lawmakers began to argue against the law’s species management and protection. Protecting animals such as the spotted owl and blue whale cordoned off enormous chunks of forest, ocean and desert. Private landowners were sometimes restricted or blocked from certain activities on their property, from logging and oil or gas drilling to cattle grazing and housing development.

This year, Sen. James M. Inhofe, R-Okla., noted that of the total species listed since 1973, only about 3 percent have been delisted. “As a doctor, if I admit 100 patients to the hospital and only three recover enough to be discharged, I would deserve to lose my medical license,” he said.

Peter S. Alagona, author of “After the Grizzly: Endangered Species and the Politics of Place in Southern California,” says some concerns about the law have never been sufficiently addressed. He thinks it is due for “an update,” but he disagrees with what he calls Republicans’ “false pretenses.”

 “If the complaint is [that] the recovery of a species takes too long, the question is for whom,” he said. The agencies responsible for the effort “have lacked resources” to address critical issues, “and part of the reason is they have been starved by the politicians who are now claiming it takes too long.”

GOP lawmakers argue that states better understand species within their borders and should take a leading role in protecting them. But Alagona and others say animal populations have withered over the decades because of neglect by states.

A 2016 study by the University of California at Irvine showed that state spending to protect endangered and threatened wildlife over the 10 years ending in 2014 was “negligible” compared with federal spending — a collective $57 million vs. more than $1.1 billion.

Most state regulations cover fewer species than the federal government does, and 17 states do not bother to protect plants. West Virginia and Wyoming have no legislation protecting species, the study said, although Wyoming allocates more than most states on species management. Half of the states do not require any scientific evidence as a basis to list species or remove them.

Conservationists are worried about the ESA bills now before the House, but they are especially concerned about the proposal that would require federal wildlife officials to consider the “likelihood of significant, cumulative economic effects” of listing an animal or plant. Its author, Rep. Pete Olson, R-Texas, who has characterized the act as “a political weapon for extreme environmentalists,” said potential revenue and job losses as a consequence of species protection can no longer be ignored.

Olson’s bill would demolish a tenet that historically set U.S. species protections apart from those of other countries: Science should be a much stronger factor than money.

Dan Ashe, a Fish and Wildlife director under the Obama administration who is now president and chief executive of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, warns that putting economic interests first would be a serious blow to the law. The 2008 protection of polar bears under the George W. Bush administration, he said, is just one example of action that probably would not have happened.

“What a hard decision that was,” Ashe said. “If [agency officials] were required to consider the economic impact of the polar bear listing, would they have listed it? I think not.”

The drive to weaken the Endangered Species Act is coming at a crucial time, Ashe said. “Wide scientific consensus is that we’re living amid another great extinction crisis — people are calling it the sixth mass extinction,” he said. “Looking at these five bills, I see no sign that there’s a concern for improving the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.”

Tigers use corridors to traverse India-Nepal border

http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/tigers-use-corridors-to-traverse-india-nepal-border/article19650835.ece

17DFR Tiger who crossed the line   | Photo Credit: 17DFR Tiger who crossed the line

At least 11 tigers have re-colonised Nepal

Borders don’ faze these tigers: over a decade, at least 11 tigers moved from India into Nepal’ protected areas through the Terai, a landscape comprising agricultural areas and protected forest-grasslands in the Himalayan foothills. This reaffirms that tiger conservation requires not just protected areas but corridors too — especially across large landscapes — to ensure habitat connectivity and in turn, population growth.

Habitat loss

With protected areas becoming isolated due to habitat loss and conversion, large mammals including tigers have to now traverse human-dominated areas to disperse to new territories. North India’ Terai Arc Landscape, which shares a 700-km border with Nepal, spreads across more than 50,000 sq. km and has one of the world’s highest human population densities. Apart from agricultural fields and rural settlements, it also comprises 16 protected areas (five in Nepal and 11 in India) and six major trans-boundary corridors which connect Indian wild habitats with Nepal’s.

To test how effectively these corridors aid tiger movement, scientists from WWF-India and WWF-Nepal camera-trapped tigers for 38,319 days in the protected areas, covering an area of more than 9,000 sq. km in multiple surveys between 2005 and 2016. Identifying individual tigers, they found that at least 11 tigers used these corridors to re-colonise Nepal, thus aiding the recovery of tiger populations which had declined drastically in the mid 2000s due to severe poaching pressures.

Growth rates of the tiger population in Nepal’s Suklaphanta and Bardia national parks show that tiger numbers were far higher than would have been possible from just reproduction by the existing population. Connecting the locations that individual tigers were photographed from, the team found that one tiger had moved across an area of 248 sq. km, as opposed to the usual 20-sq. km-area in the Terai.

“This speaks volumes about the need to protect large landscapes, even agricultural ones which serve as crucial corridors,” says Pranav Chanchani, National Coordinator for Tiger Conservation, WWF-India. “Till the 1930s and 1940s, the now-fragmented protected areas were contiguous. But with increasing human settlement large parts of the Terai were cleared and patches that would have been corridors destroyed.”

Planned development near the protected areas — including two roads — could endanger the already-fragmented habitat, say the authors. They suggest that the tiger populations need to be conserved as a ‘metapopulation’, that is, populations that are physically separate, but interact with one another as animals migrate between them, helping populations persist over the years.

Protect our national monuments

From HSUS.org

Jim, the protection of millions of acres is under review by the Trump administration. The lands and waters being reconsidered were designated as national monuments or marine sanctuaries by previous administrations and a public comment period is underway to gather input on whether to keep or remove these protected area designations.

Those under review include eleven marine national monuments and marine sanctuaries that are important feeding and breeding areas for fish, birds, endangered turtles and marine mammals. Several of these protected areas contain unique species of corals and marine animals found nowhere else on earth. Continuing their protection ensures that the animals dependent upon these habitats will survive to be enjoyed by future generations.

Such a proposal is unprecedented; no president has ever revoked a national monument designated by his predecessors. You can use the sample copy below.

Please submit a comment by July 10, stating:

I oppose revising or removing protection for the national monuments under review, including the five island and undersea areas currently designated as Marine National Monuments.