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”.

Just_a_little_closer.jpg

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.

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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.”

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.

Unprecedented Conservation Efforts Keep Greater Sage-grouse Off Endangered Species List

http://www.audubon.org/news/unprecedented-conservation-efforts-keep-greater-sage-grouse-endangered-species

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Greater Sage-grouse, an iconic bird of the American West, does not warrant listing under the Endangered Species Act.

Conservationists, ranchers, politicians, and industry have been on edge for months in anticipation of the decision, which was announced just days before a court-ordered September 30 deadline. The possibility of a listing had sparked fears of huge economic losses in the sage-grouse’s expansive habitat out West, as it would have restricted energy development, livestock grazing, and residential construction. States and federal agencies that control public lands have scrambled to create updated sage-grouse recovery plans in order to avert a listing. And many conservationists worried that a formal listing could undermine the serious—and pioneering—voluntary efforts taken to protect the bird’s sagebrush habitat in recent years.

Indeed, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell confirmed in a video released on Twitter this morning that a major factor in the determination was the cooperative efforts of federal agencies, states, private landowners, industry, and green groups to safeguard the chubby, chicken-sized bird. That includes the Bureau of Land Management’s 14 new sage-grouse recovery plans—consolidated from 98 distinct land use plans, all of which were officially formalized today—that will conserve 35 million acres of federal lands across 10 states.  In total, the collective plans to protect the bird “significantly reduced threats to the Greater Sage-grouse across 90 percent of the species’ breeding habitat,” enabling the organization to conclude that the bird did not warrant listing, FWS stated in their release announcing the decision.

“This is truly a historic effort—one that represents extraordinary collaboration across the American West,” Jewell said in FWS’s statement. “It demonstrates that the Endangered Species Act is an effective and flexible tool and a critical catalyst for conservation—ensuring that future generations can enjoy the diversity of wildlife that we do today.”

“This is a new lease on life for the Greater Sage-grouse and the entire sagebrush ecosystem,” said National Audubon Society President and CEO David Yarnold. “Unprecedented cooperation by private landowners, states, and the federal government has created a framework for conservation at a scale unique in the world.”

When FWS first announced that the bird would be considered for a federal listing in 2010, regional conservation efforts had already been underway. “This is exactly what Audubon has been working toward for 10 years,” says Brian Rutledge, VP and Central Flyway policy advisor for Audubon. Rutledge and his team helped create a science-based approach to sage-grouse protections that significantly reduces disturbance in core habitat—an approach that’s been adopted in state and federal plans alike. “This is the kind of cooperation the Endangered Species Act was designed to encourage,” he says. “It wasn’t intended to list everything under the sun; it was to motivate conservation before listing became necessary.”

Photo: Daly Edmunds

The Enormous Effort to Stave Off a Listing

The sagebrush steppe is an old-growth forest in miniature, with some species of the fragrant shrubs living for more than a century. Development has cut the habitat to half its historical size, and today it spans 173 million acres across 11 states. The sage-grouse is inextricably linked to this sagebrush ecosystem: The plants provide cover from raptors and other predators, serve as shelter for nesting birds in the summer, and supply the grouse’s sole source of food in the winter—in fact, the birds actually gain weight eating the leaves during the harsh winter months. But as the habitat has shrunk, the birds’ numbers have plummeted, from millions a century ago to between 200,000 and 500,000 today. (Scientists count males at leks, or mating grounds, to extrapolate a rough population estimate; obtaining an exact count is impossible because the birds are essentially invisible in the vast sagebrush sea.)

A sunset view on the sagebrush-covered top of Pinedale Mesa and the magnificent Wind River Range. Sublette County, Wyoming. Photo: Dave Showalter

The Greater Sage-grouse is an indicator species of the health of this entire ecosystem. The desire to keep the bird off the list—and stave off the many restrictions that come with a threatened or endangered status—has generated a rare show of cooperation from those interested in using the habitat for drilling, ranching, or other economic endeavors. In consultation with conservation groups and government agencies, they have made ambitious commitments to protect enough space for the bird while still permitting some development. Today’s announcement is a ratification that the approach is working. “We’re seeing landscape-scale conservation like we’ve never seen before,” says Audubon’s Rutledge.

Related: A History of Audubon and the Greater Sage-grouse

See a timeline of Audubon’s involvement in this critical conservation issue.

Rutledge helped create a Wyoming sage-grouse management plan that allows sage-grouse and industry to co-exist. The state is home to 37 percent of the sage-grouse population, and is also a major producer of coal, natural gas, and beef—all of which rely on the same sagebrush habitat. Under Wyoming’s plan, surface disturbance—from roads to wind turbines to gas wells—in areas critical to sage-grouse are limited to a maximum of 5 percent per square mile. Since Wyoming adopted the scheme in 2010, it has successfully protected 15 million acres of sagebrush habitat. Following this success, other states put similar plans in place, thus reducing threats to birds on tens of millions of acres while still allowing for development.

More: http://www.audubon.org/news/unprecedented-conservation-efforts-keep-greater-sage-grouse-endangered-species

Battle over landmark law already raging out of public eye

https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060053165

With most of Washington focused on fights over government funding, Obamacare and Russian meddling, a few congressional aides and outside advocates are quietly preparing for what could be an epic battle over the Endangered Species Act.

The contentious conservation law was protected by President Obama’s veto from Republican efforts to ease restrictions on farmers, energy companies and developers.

But with Republicans now controlling Capitol Hill and the White House for the first time since 2004, the endangered species law — which hasn’t been significantly updated since 1988 — appears vulnerable.

On one side of the fight are staffers for House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who said last year that he wants to repeal and replace the law (E&E Daily, Dec. 9, 2016).

But in the 115th Congress, Bishop is instead focused on narrow sections of the ESA that Republicans and industry groups find problematic.

His first hearing this year centered on a provision requiring input from the Fish and Wildlife Service or National Marine Fisheries Service — agencies that jointly administer the ESA — on government-approved or -funded projects that could “jeopardize the continued existence of any endangered species or threatened species, or result in the destruction or adverse modification of [critical] habitat of such species”(E&E Daily, March 29).

The hearing was held by the increasingly important Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, a panel Bishop created after winning the Natural Resources gavel two years ago (E&E Daily, Jan. 14, 2015).

Led since January by Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), Oversight has seven full-time GOP staffers — more than any other Natural Resources subcommittee, according to data from LegiStorm, a congressional staff tracking service.

Oversight staff director Rob Gordon, a veteran of the Hill’s periodic ESA fights, and counsel Megan Olmstead, a relative newcomer, will provide Republican lawmakers with most of the legislative ammunition they need. They and many other staffers featured in this story were not made available for interviews.

Gordon, who spent seven years at the conservative Heritage Foundation before returning to the Natural Resources panel when Bishop took over, also served as the Trump transition team’s advisor on regulatory reform (E&E Daily, Jan. 22, 2015). He has been working for decades to overhaul the law.

At the time, Gordon was the executive director of the National Wilderness Institute. The Vanderbilt University graduate left the oil industry-funded environmental group in 2004 to support the failed ESA reform efforts of former Resources Chairman Richard Pombo (R-Calif.).

Olmstead is working closely with Gordon on the committee’s reform efforts. After graduating a decade ago from the University of Portland, a Catholic school in Oregon, she bounced between Capitol Hill, the Idaho governor’s office and the University of Notre Dame’s law school before ending up with Natural Resources in September 2015, her profile on the social networking site LinkedIn shows. In law school, she studied the gray wolf’s status under the ESA.

Senate players

Across the Capitol, staffers for Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) are also formulating an overhaul strategy.

So far, Barrasso has held one hearing that sought to build bipartisan consensus for ESA reform and marked up a bill that he introduced with ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) that would revive and bolster several wildlife protection programs and launch annual innovation prizes for endangered species management and other conservation challenges (Greenwire, April 5).

Matt Leggett, the committee’s deputy chief counsel, and Andrew Harding, who took his first Hill job as counsel in September 2016, are two of Barrasso’s lead ESA reformers.

Leggett began working for the chairman in 2012 as policy counsel for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, which Barrasso then led. The University of Virginia and Vanderbilt University Law School graduate also worked in corporate law and served on the House Agriculture Committee and in the offices of Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) and former Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). As an intern, Leggett worked with Robert Spencer, when he was U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Erskine Bowles, when he was chief of staff to President Clinton.

Soon after joining the committee, Harding helped get last year’s water infrastructure bill (S. 612) passed into law. He is now mainly focusing on wildlife and oceans policies.

Harding previously worked for corporate law firms, President George W. Bush’s Energy secretaries and USA Synthetic Fuel Corp., a bankrupt coal liquefaction company. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Washington and Lee University and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, according to LinkedIn.

The counselors’ efforts are overseen by staff director Richard Russell, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Yale University, and deputy staff director Brian Clifford, who has worked for Barrasso in a variety of roles over the past decade.

Any reform legislation Barrasso’s team produces will need to secure the votes of at least eight Democrats on the Senate floor to beat a filibuster. Their first challenge, however, will be winning over Mary Frances Repko, Carper’s deputy staff director.

“If you have dealt with the environment, if you have dealt with energy, or if you have dealt with the history of the Senate and the House on energy legislation and environmental legislation over the last 20 years, you know Mary Frances Repko,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a January floor speech honoring her for a decade of service in his office. The Maryland Democrat also noted she had worked closely with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on “fighting partisan anti-environment riders.”

Repko headed to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the following month, the committee she staffed from 2003 until 2007, when she left to join Hoyer. She has also served on the staffs of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and former Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.).

Prior to coming to the Hill, Repko worked on water issues for the World Wildlife Fund, a conservation group, and the Great Lakes Commission. The native of East Lansing, Mich., earned her bachelor’s degree at Johns Hopkins University and a master’s from the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.

Outside voices

Republicans’ push for an ESA overhaul is likely to draw support from the Western Governors’ Association.

Under the leadership of Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) in 2016, the conservative-leaning organization began advocating for ESA changes. At the same time, WGA endorsed a policy position urging Congress to reauthorize the law and this year convinced the National Governors Association to adopt a similar resolution (E&E News PM, March).

While Mead is no longer WGA chairman, policy adviser David Willms is still leading a series of meetings with a broad coalition of participants that aim to produce a specific set of recommendations that could make the ESA work better.

“We took some of the ideas that came out of that first year and have made them the subject of work sessions during the second year of this initiative,” Willms said in a phone interview from Cheyenne, Wyo., which he, his wife and two young daughters call home.

The sessions will wrap up in May, and the WGA hopes to have a list of fixes ready to promote by midsummer.

“Whether that is a set of recommendations that is taken to the Fish and Wildlife Service for regulatory changes, whether it includes recommended statutory changes, policy changes — all of that is to be determined,” he said. “But that’s what we’re moving towards, is seeing if there are places where there is consensus.”

The recommendations are being put together by representatives from state and federal government as well as groups representing sportsmen, environmentalists and the energy, lumber and agriculture industries. But Willms, who has also served in the Wyoming attorney general’s office and worked in private practice, declined to say exactly who is involved at this point.

One unlikely participant: the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife.

“I certainly believe fundamentally that the Endangered Species Act could work better,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, the president and CEO of Defenders. “And if there are ways to work better, we want to help that effort.”

But if a GOP reform bill emerges, Rappaport Clark — who often works seven days a week and uses a treadmill desk when she’s in the office — is ready to lead the fight against it.

“I don’t see a reform effort strengthening the law” in this Congress, she said. “I can only see a reform effort that will undermine and weaken the law’s ability to achieve its purposes.”

Rappaport Clark, an avid equestrian who lives in Virginia horse country with her husband and teenage son, is already working to educate Democratic senators about the damage that Defenders fears Republicans could do to vulnerable species and habitats. She is also attempting to rally other more broadly focused conservation groups, which are busy fighting to prevent the rollback of climate protection regulations and other environmental policies.

Her pitch is that the ESA is essentially the law of last resort for the environment.

“When the Clean Water Act fails, when the land laws fail, the Endangered Species Act will save enough,” she said. “We’re not going to allow extinction.”

That should be enough to mobilize the progressive community of Democratic lawmakers, environmentalists, minority groups, labor unions, religious groups and human rights organizations, Rappaport Clark reasoned.

“If — maybe I should say, when — the Endangered Species Act is truly under an assault, I have every expectation that folks will be there with us,” she said, before tapping her desk for good measure. “Knock on wood, please. They’d better be.”

Latest: Gray wolves delisted in Wyoming

http://www.hcn.org/articles/latest-gray-wolves-are-no-longer-endangered

  • A gray wolf in Wyoming’s upper Gros Ventre drainage.

    Mark Gocke/Wyoming Game and Fish Department

BACKSTORY
In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced endangered gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, and they soon spread throughout the Northern Rockies. After a series of lawsuits, in 2011 Congress delisted wolves in Montana, Idaho and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah. (“How the gray wolf lost its endangered status— and how enviros helped,” HCN, 6/6/11). In Wyoming, wolves remained listed until 2012, when they came under state management. Conservation groups sued, and federal protection was restored in 2014.

FOLLOWUP
In a March 3 ruling, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision. Wyoming’s wolves will again be placed under state management, and Wyoming will implement its 2012 plan, which allows wolves to be shot on sight across most of the state. “This decision highlights that Congress should not step in to block judicial review under the Endangered Species Act,” wrote Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso in a statement. Plaintiffs say they may ask for a rehearing.

Border Wall May Negatively Affect 111 Endangered Species

http://www.wildlifelandtrust.org/news/press-releases/border-wall-may-negatively-2017.html
Ben Callison, president of the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust

No matter where you stand on the issue of the border wall between the United States and Mexico, we can all agree that the deleterious harms a border wall could have on wildlife is not getting the attention it should. Barriers currently cut across roughly 40 percent of the nearly 2,000-mile long border. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 precipitated the addition of a variety of fencing types, concrete vehicle barriers and sensors.

Researchers found that where barriers are already in place, wildlife is impaired. Impacts include disrupting their migration patterns and limiting the dispersal of populations, which promotes inbreeding between subpopulations of a species.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicts a wall may negatively affect 111 endangered species, such as jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundi and Mexican wolves, and 108 migratory bird species, including sparrows, warblers and hummingbirds. Four wildlife refuges, such as Lower Rio Grande Valley, Buenos Aires and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuges, and fish hatcheries could all be negatively impacted.

These protected species and all animals should be able to access food, water and safe habitat. Walls and fences already in place are destroying the habitat connectivity that wild animals depend upon to fulfill these basic needs. Essential migratory routes may span from country to country, as a means for animals to access appropriate habitats in different seasons. A herd of bison, for example, is known to visit a pond on Mexico’s side of a barrier—as it is the only year-round water in the area—and cross into the U.S. to feed on native grasses.

The ability to roam is important since access to mates and a healthy-sized population maintains genetic diversity. Walls and fences prevent animals from following natural migration patterns and divide healthy-sized populations, leading to inbreeding and a loss of genetic diversity. Resulting mutations can eventually weaken species, making them more vulnerable to diseases and disasters such as floods, fires and climate change.

North America’s cat species are among the species most imperiled by current and future barriers. Any hope for jaguars to repatriate part of their former U.S. range depends upon any remaining jaguars in the U.S. having access to jaguars in Mexico. Few ocelots still reside in the U.S., and a fence separates them from a larger, more genetically diverse population in Mexico. Jaguarundis have been protected in the U.S. since 1976, but the last known individual died on a Texas road in 1986. A population south of the border is the only hope for this species to again flourish in its former U.S. range.

Only around 100 Mexican gray wolves remain north of the border and a few dozen south of the border. Passing across the border is essential for the two populations to maintain genetic diversity. The ferruginous pygmy owl depends upon mating between populations in Arizona and Mexico, but only flies as high as 4.5 feet. The proposed height for a new wall would be impassable for many species.

Much is at stake for wildlife as well as the integrity and health of habitats situated on the borderlands. If it is decided that the expansion of the wall must happen, wildlife biologists and others must be consulted to guide the process so that any foreseeable harms to wildlife are minimal and habitat connectivity is preserved and restored wherever feasible. We need to explore creative options such as designing wildlife crossings, leaving gaps in barriers for small animals, and having removal barriers to allow for migration or breeding seasons.

When constructing national policy, there are many important issues facing decision makers, but we should take the needs of animals and conservation into account as well. Congress and President Nixon did as much in enacting the Endangered Species Act in 1973. “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us,” wrote Aldo Leopold. “When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

SAVE THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT FROM EXTINCTION

Earthjustice
The Endangered Species Act is one of the strongest, most effective wildlife protection laws in the world. It was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support more than 40 years ago to provide a legal safety net for wildlife, fish and plant species that are in danger of extinction. Now this Congress—which is shaping up to be the most anti-wildlife Congress we have ever seen—wants to slash the Endangered Species Act, threatening the very existence of the imperiled wildlife and ecosystems the Act protects.

We cannot allow this bedrock environmental law to be undermined by lawmakers who are in the pocket of polluting industries. Tell your representative to stand up for the Endangered Species Act now!

Biologists warn that our planet is facing a sixth wave of mass extinction. The Endangered Species Act, which has prevented 99 percent of the species under its care from vanishing, is precisely the kind of effective tool we need today. It has revived the bald eagle, the American alligator, the California condor and many others.

Yet anti-environment interests in the House and Senate are currently orchestrating some of the most serious threats ever posed to the Endangered Species Act. Some of the legislative proposals put specific imperiled wildlife species on the chopping block, while others attack core provisions of the Endangered Species Act itself.

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) has said he wants to “repeal and replace” the Endangered Species Act. Others are supporting legislative proposals that would make it harder for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resolve Endangered Species Act lawsuits.

Take action now to ensure this landmark law is not weakened by political attacks.

During the previous (114th) Congress, anti-wildlife representatives authored more than 100 bills and amendments to undermine the Endangered Species Act. Similar legislative attacks are already being introduced in the current (115th) Congress. These proposals would put imperiled species at greater risk by:

  • Establishing arbitrary land boundaries where species protections would not apply
  • Imposing limitations on the ability of citizens to help enforce the Endangered Species Act
  • Undermining the use of science under the Endangered Species Act
  • Declaring open season on individual species, including wolves and sage grouse, by blocking federal protections or denying existing protections

If anti-environment members of Congress get their way, the Endangered Species Act’s vital protections will be cast aside. Tell your congressional representatives and senators to oppose any legislation that hurts imperiled wildlife!

Earthjustice and supporters like you have been fighting to stop political attacks on the Endangered Species Act for decades. We can’t do it without you—we need your help to defend this important law.

TAKE ACTION! Don’t let anti-environment members of Congress cast aside the Endangered Species Act’s vital protections.
TAKE ACTION

 

The Endangered Species Act is one of the strongest, most effective wildlife protection laws in the world. It was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support more than 40 years ago to provide a legal safety net for wildlife, fish and plant species that are in danger of extinction. Now this Congress—which is shaping up to be the most anti-wildlife Congress we have ever seen—wants to slash the Endangered Species Act, threatening the very existence of the imperiled wildlife and ecosystems the Act protects.
Biologists warn that our planet is facing a sixth wave of mass extinction. The Endangered Species Act, which has prevented 99 percent of the species under its care from vanishing, is precisely the kind of effective tool we need today. It has revived the bald eagle, the American alligator, the California condor and many others.
Yet anti-environment interests in the House and Senate are currently orchestrating some of the most serious threats ever posed to the Endangered Species Act. Some of the legislative proposals put specific imperiled wildlife species on the chopping block, while others attack core provisions of the Endangered Species Act itself.
House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) has said he wants to “repeal and replace” the Endangered Species Act. Others are supporting legislative proposals that would make it harder for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to resolve Endangered Species Act lawsuits.
During the previous (114th) Congress, anti-wildlife representatives authored more than 100 bills and amendments to undermine the Endangered Species Act. Similar legislative attacks are already being introduced in the current (115th) Congress. These proposals would put imperiled species at greater risk by:
  • Establishing arbitrary land boundaries where species protections would not apply
  • Imposing limitations on the ability of citizens to help enforce the Endangered Species Act
  • Undermining the use of science under the Endangered Species Act
  • Declaring open season on individual species, including wolves and sage grouse, by blocking federal protections or denying existing protections
If anti-environment members of Congress get their way, the Endangered Species Act’s vital protections will be cast aside. Tell your congressional representatives and senators to oppose any legislation that hurts imperiled wildlife!
Earthjustice and supporters like you have been fighting to stop political attacks on the Endangered Species Act for decades. We can’t do it without you—we need your help to defend this important law.
Mother Grizzly Bear with cub feeding on clamps. Katmai National Park, Alaska (Andre Anita/Shutterstock)
The Endangered Species Act has prevented 99 percent of the species under its care from going extinct.

Demand that your elected officials oppose all efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act now.

Why Destroy What We Most Need?

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/weblog_canada.php?p=5980&more=1

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate

Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative

Published 02/17/17

Wolf© Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources

When I was young, the world’s wealthiest man was reportedly Aristotle Onassis (1906-1975), who “earned” staggering wealth partly from owning shipping lines, from whaling, and from getting a start in business by selling tobacco. Like most billionaires, he ultimately had diverse business interests. The great whales whose deaths generated such fortunes are largely gone, but their destruction certainly contributed to his and others’ fortunes (and to the employment of sailors and whalers).

But now, far more than whales are at risk. There’s a growing number of American species that require protection—protection that was provided, until now, by the Endangered Species Act. Some legislators seem to think that making money is more important than protecting the environment, although nothing could be less true.

In fact, all wealth springs from the natural environment. From the steel of ships, trains, and aircraft, to the fossil fuels that drive them, to tobacco and whales, we see the products of nature: of natural geological and biological processes accessed through the technological innovation and the physical endeavors of workers. They transfer the raw produce of the planet into wealth that tends to accumulate up the economic pyramid to those at the top.

Taking any wealth without regard for the wolves, pupfish, bald eagles, jaguars, and other species that are rare, threatened, or endangered comes at costs that are shared by everyone. We all, more or less, equally need fresh water, productive oceans, and clean air to breathe. We also need our fellow plants and animals. However, they are in rapid decline now that we are changing the planet hundreds of times faster than in primal times.

And now, in 2017, I worry that the American government may dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency: an agency that protects not only Americans, but Canadians, too (as well as the migrating wildlife that doesn’t recognize human-imposed borders).

Yes, workers at the economic pyramid’s broad base may benefit in the short term—but we can’t eat, drink, or breathe money. We must focus on protecting the natural environment that makes this planet so rich.

Political shots fired as American lawmakers renew war on wolves

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http://blog.humanesociety.org/wayne/2017/01/political-shots-fired-american-lawmakers-renew-war-wolves.html

by Wayne Pacelle     January 19, 2017

Just days after the newly constituted Congress commenced its work in the new year, some legislators from the West and the Great Lakes region showed that they have their fangs out for wolves and other animals. They are threatening not just to enable a massive kill of the ecologically and economically beneficial native carnivores, but also to open the floodgates for a host of bills and riders to target other endangered species in the crosshairs of special interests. These legislators have introduced two bills, H.R. 424 and S. 164, dubbed the “War on Wolves Act,” designed to remove federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the northern Great Lakes states of Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, and to prevent federal courts from intervening to ensure wolf management is consistent with principles of sound conservation science. They will almost certainly deliver on that promise if Congress passes them and President Donald Trump signs a final bill.

The War on Wolves Act strips the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service of its management authority over wolves and hands it off to state agencies whose past actions have shown a bias toward the bloodthirsty. These agencies have treated non-lethal co-existence measures as a sort of management oddity rather than the core of a sound strategy that balances the needs of wolves with the interests of wolf-country residents.

Lawmakers, quick to cater to the vocal minority that wants to hunt and trap wolves, are ignoring the best available science, which reveals that these apex carnivores occupy just a fraction of their original range and number only 5,000 across the entire lower 48 states. That science also shows that random killing of wolves – by trophy hunters and trappers – may actually lead to conflicts between wolves and livestock by disrupting and dispersing stable packs.

When the federal government delisted wolves in 2012 — and before federal lawsuits from The HSUS restored protections — trophy hunters and trappers, along with other causes of mortality, killed nearly a quarter of Minnesota’s wolves. Humans killed nearly one in every five wolves in Wisconsin that same year, including 17 entire family units, and half of the wolves killed in that state’s first season were pups. Michigan also conducted an ill-advised hunt, over the objections of the state’s own voters, in areas where common-sense measures would have prevented the few conflicts that had occurred with livestock and hunting dogs. In fact, between 2012 and 2014, 500 wolves had been killed in the Great Lakes states alone. Wyoming declared that over 80 percent of the state was a wolf “predator zone” — meaning that trophy hunters, trappers, and wildlife services agents had no restrictions on the manner of take, season for the killing, or even the age of pups or yearling animals. That policy is a prescription for local extinction.

This is not a sensible or conservation-minded plan and most definitely not a humane one – it is an all-out, barbaric assault on the forebears of the domesticated dog.

In 2014, two separate federal court decisions returned wolves in the Great Lakes region and Wyoming to protections afforded to them under the ESA. Because of this, the sponsors of the War on Wolves Act included an insidious provision that would prevent citizens from challenging wolf protections through the courts, removing judicial review and putting Congress squarely in charge of making a listing decision. As the Chicago Tribune pointedly remarked when this same attempt was made in 2016: “The only reason to bar court challenges, of course, is to avoid having the legal weakness of your case exposed.”

A study last year showed that most Americans hold positive or even “very positive” associations with wolves. A 2014 statewide survey of nearly 9,000 Wisconsin residents showed most residents believe that wolves are important members of the ecological community who keep deer in balance and should be enjoyed by future generations. Wisconsinites surveyed said they were proud they were “one of the few places in the United States with wolves” and most did not want to see their wolves hunted or trapped.

Upon their reintroduction to Yellowstone, wolves moderated elk from congregating and stripping away vegetation from life-bearing riparian areas. These effects are documented in a popular video called “How Wolves Change Rivers,” based on a lecture by journalist and environmental advocate George Monbiot. The video has attracted more than 31 million views on YouTube. Wolves are also an enormous draw in the Upper Great Lakes, generating millions in commerce, while providing ecological benefits that are incalculable.

If Democrats in Congress, such as Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Amy Klobuchar, continue to align with Republicans on this issue, they will not only destroy wolf families and produce enormous pain and suffering for individual wolves, but they will also cripple defensive efforts to protect other endangered species targeted by special interests who want to remove federal protections for them. This is dangerous stuff, at a time when the ESA is likely to face its most serious and sustained assault ever because of Republican majorities in both chambers and now with Trump in the White House.

Democrats should come to their senses, embrace active management of the occasional problem wolf, and defend both the decisions by scientists and judges to honor the provisions of the ESA. If they do not, we’ll see an emptying of the ark in the United States in this Congress, starting with wolves. We need to send a signal that the American public won’t go for this species-by-species gutting of our nation’s most important wildlife protection law.