Earth Justice Announcement
Feds Agree to Decide on Endangered Species Protections for Wolverine by August 31
Settlement orders U.S. Fish & Wildlife to act following four years delay
July 2, 2020
Missoula, MT — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will be required to decide whether wolverines in the lower-48 states should be protected under the Endangered Species Act by Aug. 31, 2020, in accordance with a legal agreement filed in court today with conservation groups.
The agreement stems from a lawsuit that conservation organizations filed in March to prod the agency to determine the fate of wolverines after four years of delay. That delay followed a 2016 court ruling that directed the Service to take action on requests to grant legal protection to the wolverine “at the earliest possible, defensible moment in time,” stressing that “[f]or the wolverine, that time is now.”
“Recent scientific information has underscored that wolverines face threats from trapping, disruption of their winter range, and — most of all — destruction of their snowy habitat due to climate change,” said Tim Preso, Earthjustice attorney, who represented the conservation groups in the lawsuit. “It is past time for the government to take action to preserve this iconic species.”
There are fewer than 300 wolverines left in the contiguous United States. The animals are severely threatened by climate change, which reduces the spring snowpack they need for denning, and habitat loss caused by snowmobiles, roads and other development. Protection under the Endangered Species Act would trigger new conservation efforts for wolverines.
The agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Clearwater, Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Idaho Conservation League, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, and Rocky Mountain Wild.
“We’re hopeful the Service will recognize that Endangered Species Act protection is needed to put these rare and imperiled animals on the road to recovery,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal protection for wolverines is long overdue.”
“Wolverines are legendary for the ferocious spirit that we all need to embody in order to protect our ecosystems and communities,” said Skye Schell, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. “So it pains us to know that wolverines are ever-more threatened by habitat loss and now climate change. We call on the Fish and Wildlife Service to put science over politics and finally give wolverines the protections they deserve under the Endangered Species Act.”
“If you’ve ever seen a wolverine in the wild, you’re one of a very lucky few,” said Brad Smith of the Idaho Conservation League. “We’re fortunate to have them in Idaho, but their numbers are critically low. Let’s not lose these iconic wild animals when we have the means to ensure they receive the protections they need to survive.”
“Climate change and habitat fragmentation are pushing wolverines to the brink,” said Jonathan Proctor, Rockies and Plains program director at Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fish and Wildlife Service has a moral and legal obligation to protect these animals, and we are here to ensure it performs its duty without further delay.”
“The decline of the wolverine on the West Coast is telling us that we must take bold action to stop climate change,” said Joseph Vaile of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center. “Without deep snowpack, the wolverine’s range will continue to retract until it winks out entirely.”
“The Clearwater Basin is prime wolverine habitat and has a population of this rare species, yet it is threatened by global warming and the actions of the Forest Service,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater. “The newly released Nez Perce — Clearwater National Forests draft forest plan would endanger security habitat for wolverines.”
“While wolverine are as tough and rugged as their wilderness home, they face dire threats from a warming climate, shrinking snowpack, and an increasingly fragmented habitat,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest. “Endangered Species Act protections will help marshal the resources and recovery actions to ensure wolverine have a future in the west’s wild country.”
Native Plant Conservation Campaign News
Studies elevate concerns about trillion trees planting campaigns to fight climate change
July 2, 2020
New studies confirm the dangers of popular “trillion trees” programs to plant trees to fight climate change. Scientists call instead for (i) most important, massive reductions in fossil fuel consumption, and (ii) large scale conservation and restoration of native forests.
What has been described as “tree planting mania” has been going on since the earliest attempts to confront climate change. It was proposed in the 1992 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement. It accelerated sharply after an article published last year in the journal Science suggested that a trillion new trees could absorb two-thirds of the CO2 that humans have added to the atmosphere.
The approach was widely challenged within the scientific community for the accuracy of the estimates of CO2 absorption and for the potential for trees to be planted in areas not naturally forested, such as African grasslands, among other reasons. In fact, this article was so widely criticized that the authors issued a correction in May, 2020.
Despite the criticisms, tree planting has continued to gain powerful support. The World Economic Forum launched a Trillion Tree Initiative at this year’s meeting. Conservation groups like the World Wildlife Federation have offered their own campaigns. Further, The oil giant Shell has asked UK drivers to pay a surcharge on their gasoline to pay for tree planting. The Bonn Challenge, an international agreement to add 1.35 million square miles of forests to by 2030, is on track. Marc Benioff has started his own trillion-tree crusade. Even Donald Trump is talking about planting trees!
Sadly, this very attractive idea turns out to be dangerous. Recent studies have revealed some of the problems.
First, many international schemes involve commercial plantations of nonnative trees. An April assessment in the journal Nature reviewed tree planting proposals from 43 countries. Researchers found that 45% would create plantations of acacia, eucalyptus and other nonnatives. Such plantations are frequently harvested, making them net sources rather than sinks of CO2 over time. The assessment estimated that on average, natural forests are 40 times better than plantations at storing carbon. They concluded that plantations should no longer be classified as “forest restoration”.
Lead author, University of Edinburgh professor Simon Lewis said in an interview, “There is a scandal here… [P]olicy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’. And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.” Acclaimed author and botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger put it differently: ““We need to know what we are doing, and you can’t go all asswise about stuff [like tree planting] .”
Second, overzealous plantation projects sometimes replace natural ecosystems. For example, a case study from Chile published in the June issue of Nature found that biodiversity may have actually been reduced as government-subsidized plantations replaced native forests. Similar problems have occurred in Ireland. Some have even called for planting trees in tropical grasslands and wetlands, which would disrupt local wildlife and water supplies.
Finally, carbon absorption estimates are uncertain because forests are increasingly vulnerable to diseases, pests and fire, which accelerate with climate change and exotic species invasions. These natural destructive events, like timber harvest, turn forests from greenhouse gas sinks into sources. Moreover, because of their homogeneity, plantations have been found more likely to succumb to these threats than more diverse natural forests.
EPA Plans To End Controversial COVID-19 Enforcement Policy
By Hailey Konnath
Law360 (June 30, 2020) –The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday said it would be ending its controversial policy that suspended monitoring and reporting requirements for certain entities during COVID-19, according to a memorandum from the agency.
The policy, which was put in place in March, has drawn criticism from conservation groups who say it gives polluting industries discretion to determine whether to comply with requirements under laws such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and threatens already imperiled species. A coalition of nine states led by New York sued over the policy in May.
EPA Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine said Monday that the policy would end Aug. 31, citing the relaxing or lifting of state and local social-distancing restrictions. As those restrictions ease, “so too may the restrictions that potentially impede regulatory compliance, reducing the circumstances in which the temporary policy may apply,” she said.
The August termination date recognizes that the circumstances are changing but also provides adequate time to adjust, according to the memorandum. Bodine revised the policy to include a provision on termination, which noted that the policy could end earlier if the circumstances call for it.
“As stated in the temporary policy, entities should make every effort to comply with their environmental compliance obligations and the policy applies only to situations where compliance is not reasonably practicable as a result of COVID-19,” Bodine said. “These situations should become fewer and fewer.”
A trio of House Democrats on Tuesday praised the move, saying in a joint statement that it had “no business being put into effect.”
Reps. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Betty McCollum, D-Minn., said in the statement that the policy “gave license to companies to violate our environmental laws and needlessly weakened public health protections at a time when they were needed most.”
“While we’re glad the Trump EPA finally responded to our repeated demands to end this reckless policy, the agency either doesn’t know or will not reveal its impacts to either Congress or the American people,” the representatives said. “We will continue to conduct oversight until EPA answers for this and all of its failed policies.”
The EPA issued the temporary policy to various state, tribal and local government partners in response to potential worker shortages and travel restrictions. The pandemic could limit how they can carry out reporting obligations and other requirements, the EPA said at the time.
It generally divides compliance obligations into two tiers: businesses that show they can’t meet routine compliance monitoring and reporting requirements are given significant leeway while those at risk of allowing discharges or emissions that could damage health and the environment are scrutinized more closely.
Earlier this month, the Center for Biological Diversity, Waterkeeper Alliance Inc. and Riverkeeper Inc. said they intended to challenge the policy in court, saying the EPA failed to take necessary and reasonable steps to ensure it wouldn’t jeopardize endangered species. The conservation groups also claimed the EPA failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests for all communications with the American Petroleum Institute and others that resulted in the policy, according to the group’s announcement.
In the states’ suit over the policy, they said it incentivizes industrial pollution at a time when low income and minority communities, in particular, are also suffering disproportionately from COVID-19. Aside from New York, the states challenging the policy are California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia and Vermont.
Richard Webster, the legal director for Riverkeeper, said in a statement Tuesday that the organization is pleased that the EPA will withdraw the policy.
“Its withdrawal at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic further illustrates that it was entirely arbitrary and unnecessary in the first place,” Webster said. “We will continue to remain vigilant until it is actually withdrawn and we will continue to contest any similar abdications of EPA’s duty to enforce environmental laws in the future.”
Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, told Law360 that the organization remains concerned about the unregulated and unreported pollution that occurred while the policy was in effect and the EPA’s “complete failure to ensure that such pollution will not jeopardize imperiled species.”
“[T]he EPA policy does not require polluters to ‘catch up’ with reporting, so there is no way for it to know whether habitat for endangered species has been adversely affected,” Margolis said. “We have provided notice to EPA of its violation of the Endangered Species Act, and will need some time to now consider our options moving forward.”
Counsel for the Waterkeeper Alliance and the coalition of states didn’t immediately return requests for comment Tuesday.
(Additional reporting by Kelly Zegers, Joyce Hanson and Juan Carlos Rodriguez)
Worldwide slowdown in fishing unlikely to save rare species
By PATRICK WHITTLE and CHRISTINA LARSON Associated Press, June 29, 2020
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Commercial fishing taking place worldwide has dipped since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but scientists and conservation experts say it’s unclear if the slowdown will help endangered species of marine life recover.
Hours logged by fishermen at sea fell by nearly 10% around the world after the March 11 declaration of a pandemic, and in some hard-hit countries such as China, fishing completely stopped. The fishing decline has spurred questions about food security, ocean management and global trade.
As countries begin to resume fishing, new questions are emerging about whether an extended fishing slowdown could help rare ocean animals, such as the North Atlantic right whale. The whale numbers only about 400 and is vulnerable to fatal entanglement in fishing gear.
Less fishing could also help jeopardized fish stocks of the Mediterranean Sea, which is home to the overfished Atlantic bluefin tuna. And many rare species are vulnerable to accidental catch, called bycatch, in fishing gear.
But it’s too early to hail the respite from fishing lines and nets, said David Kroodsma, director of research and innovation for the nonprofit Global Fishing Watch. And since millions of people rely on fishing for their livelihoods and sustenance, any benefit to sea life has come at a cost, he said.
“I don’t think we should be celebrating anything here. Not by making people suffer incredibly,” Kroodsma said. “I bet what we’ll find is, it is not sufficient for rebuilding stocks in places they have to rebuild.”
Fishermen around the world logged about 6.8 million hours at sea from March 11 to April 28, down about 700,000 hours from averages the previous two years, according to data compiled by Global Fishing Watch. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said the pandemic has brought “changing consumer demands, market access or logistical problems” that could keep fishing difficult indefinitely.
The time spent with boats docked was much more severe in countries such as Italy, Spain and France, which suffered large virus outbreaks, Kroodsma said. Fishing in those countries was down 50% to 75%, he said.
Fishing dropped off because of concern about spreading the virus on boats and because of decreased demand for seafood. Two-thirds of the U.S. seafood spending is in restaurants, according to a study in the June 2020 journal Nutrients, and thousands of those remain shuttered by social distancing rules.
As a result, some fishermen are bringing less catch to the docks so far this year. The American catch of Atlantic herring was down more than a fifth — almost 3 million pounds (1.4 million kilograms) — through the end of May, according to federal statistics. Herring is a key species because it’s used as human food and as bait for more profitable fisheries, such as lobster.
None of this necessarily means fish populations are rebuilding, said Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute trade group. American fisheries are managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the plans to help species recover can be highly technical and take years to implement, Gibbons said.
“It’s much more specific than just give fish a break and they’ll rebuild,” he said.
But in some corners of the world, there is hope less fishing will help fragile ecosystems recover. In the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar, Wildlife Conservation Society’s Marine Conservation Director Ravaka Ranaivoson said that overfishing, along with climate change, threatens the health of coral reefs.
“We’re always concerned about people using illegal fishing gear, and not respecting rules about the size of fish catches and other restrictions,” Ranaivoson said, adding that her team has worked with local communities to try to implement more sustainable practices.
But the virus has also created many disruptions for Madagascar’s fisheries, a key piece of the economy.
First, communities that generally follow good fishing practices are hurting financially because their regular customers, especially tourist hotels and restaurants, don’t need to buy as many fish, leading to lower prices. “The price of fish has dropped 50-70%,” Ranaivoson said.
On the other hand, more people without regular work need to somehow feed themselves.
“In some areas, people who live there are afraid to go outside because of the virus — but sometimes people from outside come to the area to fish,” and they are less concerned about the long-term health of the fisheries, she said.
A study in the journal Marine Policy this year stated that somewhat less lobster fishing won’t necessarily harm fishermen economically, but it could help the endangered right whale. The authors, who performed the study before the pandemic took its toll on fisheries, said fishing less yet more efficiently could actually lead to more profitability for lobster boats.
Co-author Hannah Myers, a graduate student at University of Alaska Fairbanks, said the virus outbreak represents “an unfortunate natural experiment” that is sure to impact fisheries.
The long-term impacts of the fishing slowdown remain to be seen, though with coastal communities starting to return to work, they could wind up being short lived.
“We’re definitely seeing cleaner water, fewer ships out and fewer entanglements,” said Jake Bleich, a spokesman for the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. “We’ll see what happens when the economy restarts.”
News Release, June 25, 2020
Earthjustice: Forest “Mis-Management” Bill Invites More Harm to Imperiled Species and Their Habitat
New Senate effort to skirt Endangered Species Act requirements introduced today
Washington, D.C. — Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) today introduced legislation that would require federal agencies to ignore Endangered Species Act (ESA) requirements for land management plans when new species or habitat are protected.
Daines’s legislation would permit Trump administration officials in the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to ignore their responsibilities to evaluate the effects of land management plans on newly listed endangered species or newly designated critical habitat. His bill would contravene a federal court ruling that affirmed the need for the agencies to review new information about endangered species and habitat when managing our public lands.
The following is a statement from Blaine Miller-McFeeley, senior legislative representative handling forestry policy for Earthjustice:
“Some Senators want to prevent the Forest Service and BLM from doing their job to protect imperiled species and our forests. Congress should respect the science on land management; no lawmaker seriously concerned with the biodiversity crisis on this planet, or the rule of law, should embrace this proposal.”
The Endangered Species Act requires that all federal agencies, including the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, engage in a robust review with the federal expert fish and wildlife agencies of all their actions. This process of ESA consultation ensures the input and analysis of expert fish and wildlife agencies before potentially harmful activities go forward.
Consultation is a classic “look before you leap” tool that has been part of the ESA for over 40 years.
Forest plans provide the framework for forest management. Forest plans determine where, when, and how certain projects can take place — big picture decisions that are not revisited at the site-specific level. It is simply wrong to say that reinitiating consultation at the programmatic level is “unnecessary and redundant.”
Engaging in ESA consultation at the programmatic level is more efficient and cost-effective than starting consultation for the first time when individual actions are planned. Rather than reinventing the wheel with each new project, programmatic consultation allows agencies to establish a baseline for species protection that can be applied, with necessary modification, to site-specific projects.
Center for Biological Diversity
News Release–June 25, 2020
Newly Discovered Wetland Flower in North Carolina Already Extinct
Protection Needed for Imperiled Species Throughout Region
NORTH CAROLINA— Scientists in North Carolina have determined that a species of riverbank wildflower conservationists have fought to protect since 2010 is actually two separate species — and the “new” flower has been extinct for a century. This marks the 53rd plant known to be lost to extinction in the United States and Canada.
The Center for Biological Diversity and allies petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 to protect Appalachian Barbara’s buttons, a member of the daisy family, under the Endangered Species Act. In 2011 the Service determined that protection may be warranted but has not moved forward in enacting protection. Earlier this month scientists examining museum specimens of the flower determined it’s actually two different species, one of which was last seen in 1919.
“It’s sobering that Appalachian Barbara’s buttons is the fifth southeastern species conservationists have tried to get endangered protection for that’s been declared extinct in the past decade,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “Many more plants and animals will be lost soon if we don’t prioritize protecting rare species and wild places.”
The name Appalachian Barbara’s buttons now refers to the lost species, which was found only in western North Carolina in Henderson and Polk counties. The surviving species in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia and Pennsylvania has been renamed “Beautiful Barbara’s buttons” and is under review for federal protection.
The flower grows only along stream banks that are periodically scoured by high flows including the Big South Fork, Casselman, Cumberland, Obed, Tygart and Youghiogheny rivers. These riverside communities are threatened by dams, development, trampling by recreationists, and invasive plants.
Scientists estimate that there are around 435,000 species of land plants, 37% of which are exceedingly rare. Globally at least 600 plant species are known to have been lost to extinction since 1900. The International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that 41% of plants that have been assessed are threatened.
More than 220 freshwater species from the southeastern United States are under consideration for Endangered Species Act protection, including 55 plants.
“Plants and animals that depend on freshwater habitats are at heightened risk of extinction and should be high up on the list for getting protection if we want to keep the planet livable for future generations of wildlife and humans,” said Curry.
Hi-Desert Star (Yucca Valley, CA)
Our Joshua trees deserve protection
Claudia Sall Pioneertown, June 23, 2020
The western Joshua tree deserves “threatened” status under the California Endangered Species Act. With Joshua trees being familiar “neighbors,” we assume they will always grace our landscape. Termed a “living hotel” because they provide food and shelter for a variety of desert wildlife, recent scientific studies document that western Joshua trees are unable to colonize new habitat, further cautioning that they are disappearing due to a changing climate with invasive species and altered fire cycles.
Climate change is already impacting the area where the plant’s range is most protective — Joshua Tree National Park. One study found that over 99 percent of Joshua trees would be eliminated from the park in the future under current warming scenarios.
Presently, the Joshua tree is not protected under the federal endangered species act, so the Center of Biological Diversity has submitted a petition to the state of California. Western Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia brevifolia) will be under consideration to be listed as a “threatened” species at the next California Fish and Game (CFG) Commission meeting on June 24-25. The CFG Code 2067 define a “threatened” species as, “A native species or subspecies of a … plant that, although not presently threatened with extinction, is likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future in the absence of special protection and management efforts.
The town of Yucca Valley and Hi-Desert Water District, agencies that develop/approve projects, have written letters of strong opposition citing concern for property owners. Keep in mind, however, their concerns are about proposed mandates affecting their agencies’ priorities and mission, not yours.
Post a comment of support to the Fish and Game commissioners (firstname.lastname@example.org) that a “threatened” listing under CESA can help save the western Joshua tree, a first step to ensuring that future generations can continue to enjoy this iconic, quirky plant!
New monkey species found hiding in plain sight
Three Southeast Asian leaf monkeys are distinct species, new research shows – which makes two of them some of the rarest, most endangered primates.
By Rachel Nuwer, June 23, 2020
For more than a century, scientists considered banded langurs, a type of reclusive, tree-dwelling monkey, to be a single species—but new research points to three separate ones. They’ve been hiding in plain sight, due to differences that couldn’t be readily observed.
Found throughout Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, the monkeys were not considered at risk of imminent extinction, in part because of this broad range. But the new findings, published in June in Scientific Reports, reveal that two of the new species are among the most endangered primates in the world, in urgent need of protection.
The research highlights the ability of cutting-edge genetic sequencing tools to correct centuries-old taxonomic errors that could be concealing conservation emergencies. In this case, the researchers worked with DNA found in monkey droppings, a non-invasive technique that could be more widely used in this field of science.
“We want this paper to encourage more research on these totally different species of monkeys in Asia,” says Andie Ang, a National Geographic explorer and research scientist at the Wildlife Reserves Singapore Conservation Fund. “There’s definitely a lot more diversity out there than we know of—and if we don’t know about it, we risk losing it.”
A long-time hunch
A decade ago, Ang, a co-lead author of the new study, began studying Raffles’ banded langurs, a small, dark-coloured monkey. Nineteenth-century records classified Raffles’ banded langurs as a subspecies of banded langurs, Presbytis femoralis, along with two other primates: the East Sumatran banded langur and the Robinson’s banded langur. Judging solely by looks, the classification error is understandable. All three subspecies are black, with only subtle differences in white markings around their faces and bellies.
From the beginning, though, Ang suspected that Raffles’ banded langurs were actually a distinct species. “Just looking at its morphology and the descriptions of it made in the past, it seemed like they were a different species, but I didn’t have any information to support that,” she says.
Following up on her hunch would not be easy. Langurs are notoriously difficult to observe—rare, flighty, spending most of their time in treetops. They usually depart at the first sign of human intrusion, making them difficult to photograph or dart to collect blood samples, a method that also risks stressing or injuring them.
To get around these challenges, Ang and a team of international colleagues turned to faecal samples. Animal scat, Ang says, is an under-utilised resource for scientists: It contains a wealth of information ranging from an animals’ DNA to evidence of its diet, microbiome, and parasite load.
Searching for scat
But doing so is easier said than done: collecting these samples is difficult and time-consuming. The researchers located groups of langurs in the forest, then quietly waited, sometimes for hours, until the troop moved on so they could check beneath the trees for faeces.
“Sometimes we’d go the whole day and they didn’t poop, or we couldn’t find the poop because the forest floor looked exactly like the poop we’re looking for,” Ang says. “Or sometimes the flies and dung beetles would get there before us.”
By processing these samples, Ang and her colleagues managed to sequence the whole genome of 11 individual langurs, and compared them to a genetic database of prior samples as well as to each other. To be considered different species, the mitochondrial sequences of mammals typically must differ by about five percent. In this case, the researchers found a six to 10 percent difference among the three langurs.
They calculated that the species diverged from one another three million years ago, prior to the Pleistocene. “They’re not even closely related,” Ang says.
For two of the monkeys, the Raffles’ banded langur (Presbytis femoralis) and the East Sumatran banded langur (Presbytis percura), the new species classification brings urgent conservation concerns, as they now qualify as critically endangered due to small populations and limited ranges.
Ang estimates that the Raffles’ banded langur’s total population hovers around just 300 to 400 individuals, about 60 of which live in Singapore. The rest live in the southern states of peninsular Malaysia, where forests are quickly being converted to oil palm plantations. Researchers have no idea, however, how many East Sumatran banded langurs are left. They live only in the Riau Province of Sumatra, in an area at high risk for forest fires and poaching, and also experiencing steep rates of deforestation.
The Robinson’s banded langur (Presbytis robinsoni), on the other hand, is more widespread, and is still classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“At the moment, they’re not really under threat” of extinction, Ang says. But with urban development and deforestation accelerating, the Robinson’s banded langur will likely eventually find itself in the same urgent predicament as the other two species, she adds.
While the threats facing these monkeys aren’t new, the full species label might mean the primates’ survival will be taken more seriously.
“Public conservation awareness is mainly on species, not subspecies, so showing that previously classified subspecies are actually distinct species helps to raise money for conservation work,” says Christian Roos, a primate geneticist at the Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen, Germany, who was not involved in the research. (Related: What we lose when species go extinct.)
Ang and her colleagues are now working with partners at universities and nonprofit organisations in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore to encourage more studies of the new species and to campaign for heightened protections at the governmental level.
The researchers also suspect that many more species, including primates, are hiding behind the subspecies label, awaiting discovery. They are currently pursuing a follow-up study of an additional langur subspecies, the Riau pale-thighed langur, also found only in Sumatra’s Riau Province, that likely constitutes another new, critically endangered species. Fecal samples, as the new study shows, can be key to unlocking such revelations.
“This method is currently used infrequently in taxonomy, but it has a huge potential,” says Vincent Nijman, a conservationist at Oxford Brookes University and coauthor of the new paper. “If it poops, we can collect DNA.”
Canada’s National Observer
How Nova Scotia naturalists forced the province to uphold its Endangered Species Act
By Zack Metcalfe, June 22nd 2020
The Nova Scotia government just lost a 16-month lawsuit to a flower, moose, turtle, two birds and a tree, which, it goes without saying, has never happened before.
In January 2019, the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, the Blomidon Naturalists Society and the Halifax Field Naturalists joined with Juniper Law to request a “judicial review” of the province’s failure to uphold its 1998 Endangered Species Act. And quite a failure it’s been.
To date, the majority of species listed under the act have yet to receive all of its guaranteed protections, such as the establishment of recovery teams, the publishing of recovery plans and the identification of core habitat. Protections for some species, such as the ram’s head lady slipper, are more than a decade overdue.
And on May 29, Justice Christa Brothers of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia declared these failures “chronic and systemic” in her final ruling on the case.
Brothers has ordered the province’s Department and Lands and Forestry to fully accommodate the six species specified in the lawsuit — the ram’s head lady slipper, the mainland moose, the wood turtle, the eastern Wood pewee, the Canada warbler and the black ash — and referenced the 65 other species languishing under the act.
“It’s a pretty strong ruling by the judge here, identifying a systemic, chronic failure,” said lawyer Jamie Simpson of Juniper Law. “No minister wants to hear that about their department.”
While Justice Brothers ultimately ordered the province, specifically Lands and Forestry Minister Iain Rankin, to uphold the Endangered Species Act, she did not impose a deadline for the province to do so, nor did she agree that the province should be monitored by the court throughout the process, as Simpson had requested.
“I understand where she’s coming from,” said Simpson, admitting such measures are at least uncommon. Should a return to court on behalf of species at risk become necessary, he said, his case for such deadlines and monitoring would be much stronger.
“Time will tell,” he said. “(This is) a win for some of Nova Scotia’s more vulnerable wildlife. … For a number of years, people have been pointing out these shortcomings to the department, with different, well-assembled reports from (various) organizations, and still nothing happened. To finally have this decision from a judge, it’s very gratifying.”
This is the first time Nova Scotia’s Endangered Species Act has been the subject of legal action, and the first time such legislation has been upheld in a Maritime court, setting several legal precedents that could have enormous consequences for regional conservation.
The Nova Scotia government just lost a 16-month lawsuit to a flower, moose, turtle, two birds and a tree, which, it goes without saying, has never happened before.
The first precedent is that the Endangered Species Act is non-discretionary, meaning the province absolutely must fulfill all its obligations to every listed species — recovery teams, recovery plans with regular reviews, core habitat, etc.
While unsurprising, this point is remarkably contentious in the history of species-at-risk legislation. Canada’s Species at Risk Act was the subject of an Ecojustice lawsuit in 2014, for example, which ultimately forced the federal government to catch up on several overdue provisions for various species.
Time and again, ministers across the country have decided not to apply these acts where inconvenient, largely without backlash.
The second precedent of note in the Nova Scotia lawsuit was the right of citizen organizations — in this case, a trio of naturalist clubs — to take legal action on behalf of at-risk species. It was argued in court by the province’s lawyer that naturalists should not have this right, since the act and its provisions didn’t impact them directly. Justice Brothers responded to this suggestion specifically in her decision this May.
“(These) species need people like Mr. (Bob) Bancroft (president of the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists) and organizations like the other applicants and (Ecojustice) to take such action and speak for them,” she wrote. “It would be absurd if no person or interested entity could bring such reviews under the Endangered Species Act to hold government to account. How else would the mainland moose, ram’s head lady slipper, Canada warbler, black ash, wood turtle or eastern wood pewee find protection when and if a government failed to reasonably execute its duties and responsibilities?”
Simpson said that his naturalist clients were originally very cautious in launching this lawsuit, but expects their victory has had the effect of emboldening them and others in the pursuit of justice.
“What I think this decision has done,” said Simpson, “is show to these individual citizens … and these non-advocacy groups, that (legal action) isn’t such a bad thing. It’s legitimate for (them) to request the assistance of the courts to uphold the rule of law.”
Soren Bondrup-Nielsen, president of the Blomidon Naturalists Society, echoed that point earlier this June, saying he and his board are very willing to return to court if the Lands and Forestry department doesn’t do what it was instructed to do.
“We’re certainly going to keep our eye on them,” he said. “I think there’s an appetite among people to not accept the status quo anymore.”
He said that, in his estimation, the global pandemic presently upsetting the foundations of modern life has empowered people to think differently, and to be less complacent about the shortcomings of society. The Black Lives Matter march in Wolfville, N.S., which Bondrup-Nielsen and a thousand or so others attended, made this point very clear to him.
“I think there are so many social and environmental issues that are coming together, I hope, so that we will see real change,” he said. “It’s an exciting thought, but maybe I’m too optimistic. I think the Endangered Species Act is a step in the right direction. It’s not the solution (to our biodiversity crisis), but it’s certainly a step.”
There is a 30 day-period after Justice Brothers formally signs her decision in which the provincial government will be able to appeal, an outcome Simpson and Bondrup-Nielsen both consider unlikely.
“I would be surprised if they decided to appeal it,” said Simpson, “but you never know.”
In the meantime, Juniper Law is preparing for another lawsuit against the Department of Land and Forestry for its controversial decision to delist Owls Head Provincial Park on the province’s eastern shore, and attempt to sell it to a developer for the construction of three golf courses, thus undermining the sanctity of other protected areas across the province.
This move was done without public consultation and without public knowledge until it was revealed months after the fact by an investigative reporter with the CBC.
In this new case, filed in late January, Simpson’s clients are Bob Bancroft, president of the Federation of Nova Scotia Naturalists, and Eastern Shore Forest Watch, an organization dedicated to the protection of land on the province’s eastern shore. Bondrup-Nielsen and the Blomidon Naturalists Society were very nearly clients for this lawsuit as well, but the board meeting at which they voted to join was held after the suit was filed.
This lawsuit and the one concerning species at risk were afforded by way of fundraising and crowdsourcing.
If the lawsuit over Owls Head Provincial Park is given permission by the court to proceed, it will likewise set precedent in Nova Scotia law.
Threatened species are ‘laundered’ in Japan’s exotic pet trade, study finds
Stop The Wildlife Trade: Species like slow lorises, owls and pythons are sought for private collections and social media is playing a role in driving demand.
Louise Boyle/New York June 18, 2020
Alarming numbers of threatened species are being smuggled into Japan and “laundered” into the exotic pet trade, a new study has found.
The country’s weak legislation and porous borders are not only a boon for traffickers but the flow of species poses a risk of zoonotic diseases that can “jump” from animals to humans, as the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted with devastating effect.
Exotic pet markets also threaten the survival of many wild species and can disrupt native biodiversity by introducing foreign, invasive species.
The Independent’s Stop The Wildlife Trade campaign is calling for an end to high-risk wildlife markets and an international effort to regulate the trade in wild animals to reduce our risk of future pandemics.
Historically, Japan has been one of the biggest consumers of exotic pets with a demand for hundreds of rare species like slow lorises, owls and pythons for private collections.
There have been booms in demand for “iconic” species driven by the media and social media, researchers noted.
“Historically, exotic pets have received relatively limited comprehensive global policy and law enforcement attention compared with their megafauna counterparts like elephants, rhinos and tiger,” said the researchers from TRAFFIC, an NGO specialising in monitoring the wildlife trade.
The report, published last week, is the first, detailed look at Japan’s exotic pet trade.
“Those smuggling wildlife are risking heavy fines or imprisonment while their actions directly threaten the species concerned and carry with them the very real risk of introducing zoonotic diseases, which as the world knows potentially has dire consequences,” TRAFFIC’s Dr Richard Thomas told The Independent.
The study was based on analysis of seizures by Japan Customs, media reports and conviction records, including cases resulting from police investigations after animals had passed through borders.
The researchers noted that their findings represent “only a fraction of actual smuggling into Japan’s domestic exotic pet market”.
Of great concern is the fact that under current Japanese law, most wild animals can be effectively “laundered” into legal, domestic trade if smugglers avoid border controls.
In Japanese law, there are only minimal regulations for nonnative species – those listed in Appendix I of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
This accounts for just 931 of the world’s estimated 8.7 million species and focuses on those threatened with extinction, for example, gorillas, sea turtles and giant pandas.
Japan’s own native, endangered species are also being negatively impacted by the international pet trade, the study found.
Between 2007 and 2018, Japan Customs made 78 incoming seizures involving 1,161 animals of species listed in CITES.
There were no more than ten seizures each year over the past 12 years. It is believed that these animals were destined for the exotic pet trade.
Reptiles accounted for the majority (71%) of seizures. Mammals made up 19% and birds (6%). Additionally there were small numbers of arachnids, insects, amphibians and fish.
Among the mammals seized were 185 primates and ten bats, both strictly banned for import under the Infectious Disease Control Law.
“These animals are known to be potential reservoirs or intermediaries for viruses that can cause human disease outbreaks including Ebola Virus Disease (bats and primates) as well as SARS, MERS, and the most recent Covid-19 (probably bats),” the researchers noted.
Some 43 seizures contained no more than five specimens, and most of the rest had between six and 30 specimens. There were four exceptionally high volume incidents involving freshwater turtles and Chinese crocodile lizards.
The report noted that “virtually all species in seizure records can be sold legally in the domestic market” in Japan.
The average market value for each animal is 1.5–3.6m Japanese yen ($14,000 – $33,000). Between 2014 and 2018, the total value of seized exotic species was between JPY54.1–125.6m ($492,000 -$1.1m).
Species were mainly trafficked into Japan from Thailand and mainland China, followed by Indonesia and Hong Kong.
Almost two-thirds of the animals were smuggled on passenger planes which landed at international airports in Tokyo and Osaka, and around one-quarter were sent by mail to those large urban areas.
To a lesser extent, traffickers used commercial air cargo and in one instance, a cruise ship that docked on the island of Okinawa.
Since 2007, 18 defendants, all Japanese citizens, have been prosecuted following investigation into 12 smuggling cases.
Four were pet shop owners in Japan. Another four were found to be involved in separate wildlife crimes in Japan or other countries, suggesting “some level of criminal professionalization”.
One notable characteristic, researchers found, was the involvement of young Japanese female suspects, possibly recruited as mules by criminal organisations to smuggle wildlife across borders.
A university student, 22, was arrested in 2017 for attempting to smuggle otters from Thailand and a year later, a 27-year-old female was convicted for attempting to smuggle 19 Shingleback Skink lizards from Australia.
At least eight out of 25 smuggling cases investigated between 2012-2018 resulted in customs officials pressing criminal charges.
TRAFFIC said that the convictions “reflects increased recognition of the gravity of trafficking of live animals by Japan’s authorities” despite the low conversion rate.
Japan’s Customs Act recommends fines instead of criminal charges for violations.
Although conviction rates were high, just three individuals were jailed. The maximum sentence handed down was for one year and ten months and a fine of 800,000 Japanese Yen ($7,447).
Media reports on smuggling seizures outside of Japan revealed 28 occasions, totalling 1,207 creatures, where Japanese nationals were involved.
These incidences happened in Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Venezuela and involved at least 500 non-CITES listed species, according to the report, such as Australian reptiles and South American beetles.
Illegal export of exotic pets was also taking place from Japan but only eight incidents were identified from media reports. Three cases have taken place in the last five years, involving 461 Japanese reptiles and amphibians.
In 2015, some 391 native freshwater turtles were found in the luggage of two Chinese nationals leaving from Chubu International Airport, just outside of Nagoya. (The researchers say that it is unclear whether the turtles were meant for pets or consumption, or both).
In 2018, 60 Ryukyu black-breasted leaf turtles from Japan were seized in Hong Kong. The Japanese smuggler was sentenced to one-year imprisonment by a Hong Kong Court.
Among their recommendations, TRAFFIC called for the Japanese government to review import and export regulations, along with the laws on domestic sales of live animals.
The NGO also suggested that Japan work with other countries, particularly in Asia, on enforcement and engage airlines along with others in the transport sector in training staff to detect wildlife smuggling.
Center for Biological Diversity
News Release/June 16, 2020
Rural Residents, Hunters Join Nationwide Effort to Save Mexican Wolves
Groups Request Dramatic Decrease in Killings, More Releases of Captive-born Wolves
SILVER CITY, N.M.— Hunters, rural residents and thousands of others in New Mexico and Arizona today joined a call to dramatically restrict trapping and shooting of endangered Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. Instead, they said, the focus should be on recovering the species — among the most endangered mammals in North America — and releasing more captive-born wolves into the wild.
New Mexico Sportsmen, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance and the White Mountain Conservation League signed on to the Center for Biological Diversity’s letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the agency works on a court-ordered rewrite of a wolf management rule.
“Mexican wolves are beloved by so many people from so many walks of life,” said Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate at the Center. “This rule-making process should show the government both the breadth of public support for our wolves and the depth of scientific concern over their survival.”
In addition to the groups’ 176-page letter, most of which consists of scientific studies that should be considered, more than 20,000 of the Center’s supporters submitted comments prior to Monday night’s commenting deadline, as did tens of thousands of other individuals.
“Most rural residents in southwestern New Mexico support recovery of the Mexican gray wolf,” said Carol Ann Fugagli of Upper Gila Watershed Alliance. “The government is definitely not representing us when it traps or shoots wolves or refuses to release family packs that could thrive and enhance the genetics of this faltering population.”
Twenty wolves have been shot by the government since reintroduction began and dozens more taken into captivity on behalf of the livestock industry.
While 20 newborn pups were released from captivity over the past two months to be raised by wolves already in the wild, the last release of a well-bonded male/female wolf pair with pups occurred in 2006. Genetic diversity has plummeted in the population in the intervening years because only one of the 30 pups released in previous years is known to have yet successfully reproduced, and because wolf killings and removals have taken out genetically rare wolves.
The letter also requests concrete steps to prevent private citizens from shooting or trapping wolves.
“Sportsmen respect wolves and appreciate their vital role in keeping the natural balance,” said Oscar Simpson of New Mexico Sportsmen. “A hunter shouldn’t evade the law by claiming they thought they were killing a coyote. The federal government needs to eliminate this cover for a person who intentionally wants to kill wolves.”
“Those of us in the mountains of eastern Arizona where wolves were first released in the 1990s know that the wolves play a vital role in the balance of nature,” said Tom Hollender of the White Mountain Conservation League. “These imperiled animals must be managed with far greater care than we’ve seen thus far.”
In 2018 a federal court ordered a rewrite of a 2015 management rule that harms the wolves. This fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will release a draft environmental impact statement and proposed rule for public review and comment. The agency must finalize a new rule by May 17, 2021.
Researchers Argue That Earth Is In The Midst Of A Modern, Human-Made, Sixth Extinction
David Bressan, Contributor, June 14, 2020
An estimated 99% of all species ever living on planet Earth are now extinct. Extinction is part of life’s history, and the extinction of single species happens all the time. Over time lost species are eventually replaced as natural selection acts on the survivors, evolving new species. Mass extinctions in the geological record are defined by the loss of a large part of biodiversity in a (geologically speaking) short interval, like a few hundred to thousands of years.
Paleontologists recognize five big mass extinction events in the fossil record. At the end of the Ordovician, some 443 million years ago, an estimated 86% of all marine species disappeared. At the end of the Devonian, some 360 million years ago, 75% of all species went extinct. At the end of the Permian, some 250 million years ago, the worst extinction event so far happened, with an extinction rate of 96%. At the end of the Triassic, some 201 million years ago, 80% of all species disappeared from the fossil record. The most famous mass extinction happened at the end of the Cretaceous, some 65 million years ago, when 76% of all species went extinct, including the dinosaurs.
Scientists are still debating the factors driving mass extinction. Factors contributing to the disappearance of a species can be natural disasters, like volcanism, meteorite impacts, or climate change, but also biological ones, like competition, diseases, or depletion of resources.
In the last 400 years, many mammal, bird, amphibian, and reptile species went extinct. Research comparing recent extinctions with past extinctions shows that the current extinction rate is higher than would be expected from the fossil record. Researchers argue that the Earth is in the midst of a modern, human-made, sixth extinction.
A newly published study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science evaluated the extinction risk of 29,374 land-based vertebrates. The study identified 75 mammal, 335 bird, 41 reptile and 65 amphibian species on the brink of extinction, with populations of fewer than a thousand individuals. More than half of the species on the list have fewer than 250 individuals remaining. The majority of these critically endangered animals are concentrated in tropical and subtropical regions, where biodiversity is highest. Critically endangered species include the Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus), one of the rarest mammals in the world, of which fewer than 100 individuals survive in the wild. Of New Zealand’s flightless, nocturnal, kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), only 200 individuals survive, after the introduction by humans of foreign predators, like rats, and habitat destruction caused a population crash. According to a summary report from the United Nations, amphibians are among the most vulnerable group among vertebrates, with 40% of the studied species at risk of extinction. Most studies investigating drivers of extinction risk have focused on vertebrates. The conservation status of invertebrates is still poorly studied, and some estimates put 27% of known species are at risk. Recent surveys have also shown a dramatic decline in insect populations.
According to the report, only a quarter of Earth’s surface is still largely untouched by humans, but human activities spread wide and fast. Even the most remote corners of Earth are no longer pristine, as plastic debris found on the bottom of the 36,000 feet (11.000 meters) deep Mariana Trench shows.
On June 14, 2016, the Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat (Melomys rubicola) became the first mammal species to be declared extinct as a consequence of human-caused climate change. Living only on a vegetated coral reef located at the northern tip of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, now inundated by rising sea-levels, living individuals have last been seen in 2009.
Humans contribute to the current extinction crisis by habitat destruction and fragmentation, poaching, illegal trade, overharvesting, the introduction of non-native and domesticated species into the wild, pathogens, pollution, and climate change. “The ongoing sixth mass extinction may be the most serious environmental threat to the persistence of civilization, because it is irreversible,” the authors of the most recent study write.
Four poachers arrested for killing endangered silverback gorilla
By Brooke Seipel – 06/12/20
Four poachers have been arrested for their alleged role in the killing of a beloved silverback gorilla in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where gorilla treks are a popular attraction for tourists.
Uganda Wildlife announced Friday that four people had been arrested in connection with the death of Rafiki, the leader of a famous gorilla group, the Nkuringo. He was believed to be about 25 years old, and the group he led is one often visited by tourists on safari.
Rafiki’s body was found on June 2, a day after he had been reported missing, and is believed to have been killed with a spear.
Officials say one of the poachers arrested, Byamukama Felix, admitted to killing Rafiki with a spear but said it was in self-defense after the gorilla charged him.
The four men are being held in prison and awaiting trial, though the statement on Friday did not make clear their exact charges.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to nearly half the world’s mountain gorilla population, a critically endangered species. According to a 2010 report from the United Nations, their numbers are dwindling and projections estimate they will mostly disappear from the Congo Basin before 2030 without action to preserve their habitat and stop poachers.
Study on shorebirds suggests that when conserving species, not all land is equal
Morgan Kelly, Princeton Environmental Institute
June 9, 2020
Princeton University researchers may have solved a long-standing mystery in conservation that could influence how natural lands are designated for the preservation of endangered species
Around the world, the migratory shorebirds that are a conspicuous feature of coastal habitats are losing access to the tidal flats — the areas between dry land and the sea — they rely on for food as they travel and prepare to breed. But a major puzzle has been that species’ populations are plummeting several times faster than the rate at which coastal ecosystems are lost to development.
Nowhere is the loss of tidal flats and shorebird species more acute than along the East Asia-Australasian Flyway (EAAF). An estimated 5 million migratory birds from 55 species use the flyway to travel from southern Australia to northern Siberia along the rapidly developing coast of China — where tidal flats can be more than 6 miles wide — at which birds stop to rest and refuel.
Since the 1980s, the loss of tidal flats around the Yellow Sea has averaged 1.2% per year. Yet, the annual loss of the most endangered bird species has averaged between 5.1 and 7.5%, with populations of species such as the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpipers (Calidris pygmaea) climbing as high as 26% each year.
In exploring this disparity, Princeton researchers Tong Mu and David Wilcove found a possible answer — the birds don’t use all parts of the tidal flat equally. They discovered that migratory shorebirds overwhelmingly rely on the upper tidal flats closest to dry land, which are the exact locations most often lost to development.
They report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B that China’s upper tidal flats provided more than 70% of the cumulative foraging time for the species they studied at two Yellow Sea sites along the EAAF. The middle and lower flats that birds are increasingly pushed toward by human activity were less frequently foraged upon due to the tide cycle, which may be impacting species health and breeding success. The findings stress the need for integrating upper tidal flats into conservation plans focused on migratory shorebirds, the authors reported.
“This is a new insight into Asian shorebirds, but I suspect that the upper intertidal is disproportionately important to shorebirds in other places, too, such as the East and West coasts of North America,” said Wilcove, who is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and public affairs and the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI).
“People start at the upper zone and work their way outward, so the best spots for the birds are the first to go,” he said. “It would probably be best to extend current developments farther into the intertidal zone rather than keep building parallel to the coast, which consumes more of the upper intertidal. Think of it as advocating for a rectangle with the long side pointing into the sea versus a rectangle with the long side hugging the shore.”
The findings also suggest that protecting species and their habitats may mean more than designating land for wildlife — it may require identifying the right land to set aside by gaining a detailed understanding of exactly how animals interact with the landscape.
“Recognizing the importance of a kind of habitat to specific species or groups of species takes time, effort and thought,” said Mu, who is the paper’s first author and a Ph.D. candidate in ecology and evolutionary biology.
“Sometimes we just don’t know what to look for, or looking requires challenging some prevalent and maybe false perceptions,” he said. “But the situation is getting better and better. People are paying more attention to environmental issues, and the advances in technology are helping us gain more and newer insight into these questions.”
Mu conducted fieldwork between September 2016 and May 2017 at two well-known stopover sites — one outside of Beijing, the other near Shanghai — for migratory shorebirds in the Yellow Sea region. He focused on 17 species of birds, noting where along the tidal flat the animals preferred to feed. A key difference to this approach, Mu said, is that most previous research focused on the low-tide period when all the tidal flats are exposed and the full range of intertidal species can be observed.
“It makes sense from an ecological point of view. During the high tides when only a portion of the tidal flats is accessible, the relationship usually still holds for the exposed area,” Mu said. “So, there’s little incentive to look at the periods other than low tide when researchers can get a more complete picture.”
What Mu thinks was missed, however, was that the upper tidal flats provide the most amount of foraging time for birds that have places to be. Even if the lower half of a 6-mile wide mudflat is set aside for migratory birds, they’re not getting the energy they need for the trip ahead during the high tide, he said.
“The value of the tidal flats comes from not only their size, but also how much foraging time they can provide,” Mu said. “The upper tidal area is exposed for a longer period during tidal cycles, compared to the middle and lower areas, which I think permits shorebirds to forage for a longer time and thus get more energy.”
The preservation of shorebirds should be driven by how integral the animals are to the health of intertidal zones, Mu and Wilcove said. In turn, tidal flats are not only vital to other marine life, but also provide people with seafood such as clams and crabs and protection from storms and storm surges that cause coastal flooding.
“Shorebirds facilitate the energy and nutrient exchanges between land and sea,” Mu said. “Because a lot of them are long-distance migrants, they also facilitate the energy and nutrient exchanges across different ecosystems and continents, something that is usually overlooked and underappreciated.”
Wilcove and Mu cited recent research showing that more than 15%, or more than 12,000 square miles, of the world’s natural tidal flats were lost between 1984-2016.
“Some of the greatest travelers on Earth are the shorebirds that migrate from Siberia to Southeast Asia and Australia,” Wilcove said. “Now, they’re declining in response to the loss of the tidal areas, and the full range of benefits those tidal flats provide are in some way being diminished.”
(The paper, “Upper tidal flats are disproportionately important for the conservation of migratory shorebirds,” was published June 3 by the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2020.0278). This work was supported by the High Meadows Foundation.)
White House faces suit on order lifting endangered species protections
By Rebecca Beitsch – 06/09/20
An environ mental group on Tuesday said it will sue the White House if President Trump doesn’t walk back an executive order that waives endangered species protections along with a host of other environmental laws.
The Thursday order from Trump relies on emergency authority to waive the requirements of a number of environmental laws, arguing the U.S. needs to fast-track construction projects to fight the economic fallout tied to the coronavirus pandemic.
The order could be a boon to controversial projects that have lingered while agencies undertake environmental reviews, ranging from pipelines to oil and gas drilling to highway construction.
Weighing how those projects might impact imperiled plant and animal life is just one of the considerations.
But the suit from the Center for Biological Diversity argues the Trump administration is violating laws that allow for sidestepping environmental review only in fast-moving emergencies like an environmental disaster.
“Congress made the deliberate decision not to elevate general economic activity and ordinary infrastructure projects above the interests of imperiled species but, rather, to ‘afford’ listed species ‘the highest of priorities’ even above the ‘primary missions’ of federal agencies,” the Center wrote in its letter of intent to sue.
The letter follows guidelines requiring a 60 day notice before filing a suit.
“President Trump has used his lawful executive authority to expedite infrastructure projects and the economic recovery while protecting the environment, and CBD is misreading the plain text of the order to push a radical, Green New Deal-like agenda,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email, using an abbreviation for the Center.
The Trump administration has taken a number of steps to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
A rule finalized by the administration in August dramatically scales back America’s landmark conservation law, limiting protections for threatened species and how factors like climate change can be considered in listing decisions. It also curbs the review process used before projects are approved on their habitat.
The Thursday order also lifts environmental review required under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act — all of which Trump argued was necessary.
“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”
However, numerous legal experts have expressed concern over the use of emergency authority by the White House, and additional lawsuits are likely.
“Trump’s authoritarianism seems to reach deranged new levels every week,” Kierán Suckling, the Center for Biological Diversity’s executive director, said in a release.
“The president’s not above the law. Inciting federal agencies to violate the Endangered Species Act is part of a pattern he’s displayed throughout his presidency. He’s encouraging officials to ignore the rules and obey his whims,” he added.
Rachel Frazin contributed.
Extinction breeds extinctions”: How losing one species can wipe out many more
Humans are causing a mass extinction. And humans can stop it.
By Umair Irfan June 6, 2020
Earth is now in the middle of a mass extinction, the sixth one in the planet’s history, according to scientists.
And now a new study reports that species are going extinct hundreds or thousands of times faster than the expected rate.
The researchers also found that one extinction can cause ripple effects throughout an ecosystem, leaving other species vulnerable to the same fate. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they write in their June 1 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
With the accelerating pace of destruction, scientists are racing to understand these fragile bits of life before they’re gone. “This means that the opportunity we have to study and save them will be far greater over the next few decades than ever again,” said Peter Raven, a coauthor of the study and a professor emeritus of botany at Washington University in St. Louis, in an email.
The findings also highlight how life can interact in unexpected ways and how difficult it can be to slow ecological destruction once it starts. “It’s similar to climate change; once it gets rolling, it gets harder and harder to unwind,” said Noah Greenwald, the endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity, who was not involved in the study. “We don’t know what the tipping points are, and that’s scary.”
It’s worth pausing to reflect on what “extinction” means: a species completely and forever lost. Each one is an irreparable event, so the idea that they are not only happening more often but also might be sparking additional, related extinctions is startling. And these extinctions have consequences for humanity, from the losses of critical pollinators that fertilize crops to absent predators that would otherwise keep disease-spreading animals in check.
So researchers are now looking closely at which animals are teetering on the edge of existence to see just how dire the situation has become, and to figure out what might be the best way to bring them back.
Hundreds of animals are on the brink of extinction over the next two decades
There is tremendous biodiversity on earth right now. The number of species — birds, trees, ferns, fungi, fish, insects, mammals — is greater than it ever has been in the 4.5 billion-year existence of this planet. But that also means there is a lot to lose.
The new study examined 29,400 species of vertebrates that live on land — mice, hawks, hippos, snakes, and the like. These species from all over the world were cataloged by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Out of those examined, 515 species — 1.7 percent of those studied — were found to be on the brink of extinction, meaning fewer than 1,000 individuals were left alive. These species include the vaquita, the Clarion island wren, and the Sumatran rhino. And half of these 515 species have fewer than 250 individuals left. If nothing is done to protect them, most of them will go extinct over the next 20 years.
But these species on the precipice of the abyss are not spread evenly across the world; they’re concentrated in biodiversity hotspots like tropical rainforests. That makes sense because tropical forests have the most variety of species to begin with and they have the highest rate of habitat destruction. “About two-thirds of all species are estimated to occur in the tropics, and we know less about them than those in other parts of the world,” said Raven. “[Y]et more than one-quarter of all tropical forests have been cut in the 27 years since the ratification of the Convention on Biological Diversity.”
Losing one endangered species can endanger many others
The species teetering on the edge of eternal loss often live alongside other endangered species, even if they are present in greater numbers. The species on the brink then serve as loud sirens of the possible bigger threat to other life in their environs. As species within a pond, forest stand, or watershed die off, others soon follow.
In many cases, species interact with others in complicated and often unforeseen ways that aren’t recognized until they are gone. For example, if a plant-eating insect dies off, the plants it eats could run rampant and choke off other vegetation. Meanwhile, the birds that feed on the insect could be without an important food source. Each of these subsequent changes could have myriad other impacts on distant species, and so on and so on. The disruption can continue until the ecosystem is hardly recognizable.
Scientists have observed these kinds of rippling disruptions in ecosystems for decades in places like the Amazon rainforest, watching what happened when species went extinct in a given area or when a habitat fractured into pieces.
As these ecosystems degrade or collapse, humans stand to lose a lot of functions from nature they take for granted, like forests that generate rainfall for aquifers or mangroves that shield coasts from erosion. Many land vertebrates, for instance, are critical for spreading the seeds of trees. Without them, the makeup of a forest could transform.
Even if a less diverse prairie, forest, or desert were to remain, it would be more vulnerable to shocks like fires and severe weather. Diverse ecosystems act as buffers against environmental extremes, and without them, humans will face more risks of phenomena such as heat waves without vegetation to cool the air, or they may suffer more coastal inundation without mangroves to absorb waves.
And as humans build closer to areas that were once wild, they face higher risks of exposure to threats such as animal-borne disease and wildfire. So the economic and health costs of runaway extinctions could be immense.
Humans are the problem, and humans are the solution
The new study is part of a steady stream of grim news for endangered species. In 2019, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a massive 1,500-page report on global biodiversity. The report concluded that up to 1 million species are at risk of extinction, including 40 percent of all amphibian species, 33 percent of corals, and about 10 percent of insects.
And a unifying theme among the various studies of extinctions is that humans are to blame.
Through destroying habitats, spreading disease, raising livestock, dumping waste, overharvesting, overfishing, and climate change, the 7.5 billion humans on this planet have become their own force, unlike any that exists in nature.
“We are in no sense simply a part of the global ecosystem anymore, living in a broad, wide world,” said Raven. “[W]e are one species, totally dominant, among the millions of others that exist.”
It’s true that species do go extinct naturally, but the rate of extinction now is thousands of times higher than the expected background rate. It can be difficult to tease out whether an organism disappeared as a direct consequence of human activity or because a species it depended on was wiped out by people, but both types of losses stem from humanity. “We can’t easily reverse the trend but can learn as much as we can in the time we have left,” Raven said.
However, the fact that human activity is driving the vast majority of these extinctions means that changing human activity can help pull back vulnerable species from annihilation.
Conservation policies have already proven effective at thwarting some permanent losses, like the Endangered Species Act in the United States. It’s even spurring the recovery of several species, like the bald eagle. And there is still time to rescue other species that are on the brink. But saving what’s left will require concerted action, and time to act is running out.
“You do not want to get into a deep depression. You want to get involved and do the very easy things we can do to prevent us from destroying the planet,” said Stuart Pimm, a professor of conservation at Duke University and president of Saving Nature, an environmental conservation nonprofit. “The important story is there is a lot we can do about it.”
Since humans are causing most of the destruction that is driving extinctions, humans can change their behaviors in ways to protect life. One of the most effective steps people can use to protect endangered species is to protect the environments where they live, shielding them from mining, drilling, development, and pollution.
“We can definitely make a difference. We can slow the pace of extinction,” Greenwald said. “We know how to do that. We can set aside more area for nature.”
Another tactic is building corridors for connecting fragmented ecosystems, creating larger contiguous areas. That can allow the synergy between species to grow and build a more resilient ecosystem that could better withstand the disappearance of a species and restore those in decline.
However, the threats to so many species have been building for years and they can’t be reversed overnight. It will take a sustained global conservation effort to protect the precious few and restore them to the multitudes that once swam, flew, and walked the earth.
Study highlights which endangered species should be prioritized for conservation
By James M. Patterson, June 5, 2020
A new study maps for the first time the evolutionary history of the world’s terrestrial vertebrates: amphibians, birds, mammals and reptiles. It explores how areas with large concentrations of evolutionarily distinct species are being impacted by our ever-increasing “human footprint.”
Research for the study was led by Dr. Rikki Gumbs of the EDGE of Existence Programme at the Zoological Society of London and Imperial College London and Dr. James Rosindell of Imperial College London in collaboration with Prof. Shai Meiri of the School of Zoology at Tel Aviv University’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences and Steinhardt Museum of Natural History and other colleagues. The study was published in Nature Communications on May 26.
“Being ‘evolutionarily distinct’ means that you have no close living relatives,” explains Prof. Meiri, who generated and interpreted the reptile-related data for the study. “In other words, you are alone on your branch of the evolutionary tree of life. Aardvarks, crocodiles, and kiwis were all separated from their closest evolutionary relatives tens of millions of years ago and bear a unique evolutionary history.
“The new research will provide a clear understanding of how best to protect nature given the current threats to specific locations and endangered species.”
The researchers developed two new metrics that combine phylogenetic diversity and the extent of human pressure across the spatial distribution of species — one metric valuing regions and another prioritizing species. They evaluated these metrics for reptiles, which have been largely neglected in previous studies, and contrasted these results with equivalent calculations for all terrestrial vertebrate groups. The researchers found that regions under high human pressure coincided with those containing irreplaceable reptilian diversity.
“Our analyses reveal the incomprehensible scale of the losses we face if we don’t work harder to save global biodiversity,” says Dr. Gumbs, the lead author on the paper. “To put some of the numbers into perspective, reptiles alone stand to lose at least 13 billion years of unique evolutionary history, roughly the same number of years as have passed since the beginning of the entire universe.”
Using extinction-risk data for around 25,000 species, the researchers found at least 50 billion years of evolutionary heritage to be under threat, as well as a large number of potentially threatened species for which we lack adequate extinction risk data. This suggests that the calculation underestimates the number of species that may be affected.
According to the study’s calculations, the Caribbean, the Western Ghats of India, and large parts of Southeast Asia — regions that are home to the most unique evolutionary history — are facing unprecedented levels of human-related devastation.
“This new study highlights which species should be prioritized for conservation, based on their evolutionary uniqueness and the intense human impact on environments where they are thought to dwell,” Prof. Meiri says.
According to the research, the greatest losses of evolutionary history will be driven by the extinction of entire groups of closely-related species, such as pangolins and tapirs, and by the loss of highly evolutionarily distinct species, such as the ancient Chinese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus); the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex), a gigantic bird that stalks the wetlands of Africa; and the Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), a nocturnal lemur with large yellow eyes and long spindly fingers.
The study highlights several unusual species as urgent conservation priorities, including the punk-haired Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus), the Purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), and the Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus). It also highlights many lesser known species, about which little is now understood by scientists, as priorities for further research. Adequate extinction risk data is currently lacking for more than half of the priority lizards and snakes identified.
“These are some of the most incredible and overlooked animals on Planet Earth,” says Dr. Gumbs. “From legless lizards and tiny blind snakes to pink worm-like amphibians called caecilians, we know precious little about these fascinating creatures, many of which may be sliding silently toward extinction.”
The study also identifies regions where concentrations of irreplaceable diversity are currently under little to no human pressure, particularly across the Amazon rainforest, the highlands of Borneo, and parts of southern Africa.
Co-author Dr. Rosindell concludes, “Our findings highlight the importance of acting urgently to conserve these extraordinary species and the remaining habitat that they occupy — in the face of intense human pressures.”
US moves forward with plan to end wild bird protections
The Associated Press
MATTHEW BROWN, June 5, 2020
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Trump administration moved forward Friday with plans to scale back a century-old law protecting most American wild bird species despite warnings that billions of birds could die as a result.
Officials said in a draft study of the proposal that it could result in more deaths of birds that land in oil pits or collide with power lines or other structures.
More than 1,000 species are covered under the law, and the changes have drawn a sharp backlash from organizations representing an estimated 46 million U.S. birdwatchers.
The study did not put a number on how many more birds could die but said some vulnerable species could decline to the point where they would require protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe and independent scientists have said the change could cause a huge spike in bird deaths — potentially billions of birds in coming decades — at a time when species across North America already are in steep decline.
The proposal would end the government’s decades-long practice of treating accidental bird deaths caused by industry as potential criminal violations under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Industry sources kill an estimated 450 million to 1.1 billion birds annually, out of an overall 7.2 billion birds in North America, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and recent studies.
The 1918 migratory bird law came after many U.S. bird populations had been decimated by hunting and poaching — much of it for feathers for women’s hats.
It was one of the country’s first major federal environmental laws, enacted just after the conservation movement embodied by President Teddy Roosevelt had emerged as a new force in American politics.
Over the past half-century, as new threats to birds emerged, the law also was applied against companies that failed to prevent foreseeable bird deaths, such as oil companies that did not put netting over toxic waste pits despite warnings from federal officials.
However, the Trump administration has said the deaths of birds that fly into oil pits, mining sites, telecommunications towers, wind turbines and other hazards should be treated as accidents not subject to prosecution.
A final decision is expected following a 45-day public comment period.
A Department of Interior legal decision in 2017 already had effectively ended criminal enforcement under the act during Trump’s presidency. The pending proposal would cement that interpretation of the law into government regulation, thus making it harder to reverse by subsequent administrations.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said the proposal was meant to match up with the 2017 legal decision.
“We believe this is the only viable alternative in line with this legal conclusion,” the agency said in a statement.
National Audubon Society President David Yarnold said the administration was ignoring the potential devastation to some species from scaling back protections and siding with corporations over the environment.
“While America is in turmoil, the Trump administration is continuing its relentless war on nature,” Yarnold said.
Eight states led by New York and numerous conservation groups including Audubon have challenged the 2017 decision in U.S. District Court.
They contend birds already are being harmed by the administration’s policies, most notably in the destruction last fall of nesting grounds for 25,000 shorebirds in Virginia to make way for a road and tunnel project. State officials had ended conservation measures for the birds after federal officials advised such measures were voluntary under the new interpretation of the law.
The highest-profile enforcement case bought under the migratory bird act resulted in a $100 million settlement by BP, after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 killed approximately 100,000 birds.
Federal courts have been split on whether companies can be prosecuted, with appeals courts ruling in favor of industry three times and siding against companies twice.
Climate and Environment
Trump signs order to waive environmental reviews for key projects
New executive order would affect how agencies apply laws such as the Endangered Species Act, National Environmental Policy Act
By Juliet Eilperin and Jeff Stein
June 4 , 2020
President Trump signed an executive order Thursday instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects given the current economic “emergency.”
Declaring an economic emergency lets the president invoke a section of federal law allowing “action with significant environmental impact” without observing normal requirements imposed by laws such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. These laws require agencies to solicit public input on proposed projects and analyze in detail how federal decisions could harm the environment.
In the order, the president said setting aside these requirements would help the nation recover from the economic losses it has suffered since the outbreak of the coronavirus: “Unnecessary regulatory delays will deny our citizens opportunities for jobs and economic security, keeping millions of Americans out of work and hindering our economic recovery from the national emergency.”
It is unclear how the directive will affect individual projects, especially since developers are often wary of legal challenges they could face from environmental or public interest groups. Jason Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said in an email that “companies would be reluctant to rely on such an executive order,” knowing they would later have to prove that they were operating in an emergency.
Jason Redd, an engineer in the power sector based in Alabama, tweeted: “Project developer here…there is *NO WAY* I would turn a shovelful of dirt based on this Order.”
Trump’s desire to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act predates the eruption of the pandemic in the United States. In early January, the president proposed fundamental changes to 50-year-old regulations to narrow its scope. Those changes would mean that communities would have less control over some projects built in their neighborhoods. Environmental groups, tribal activists and others have used the law to delay or block infrastructure, mining, logging and drilling projects since it was signed by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970.
Those proposed changes are under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget and could be finalized within weeks. In addition, earlier this week the Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule making it harder for states, tribes and the public to block pipelines and other projects that could pollute their waterways.
The order will also accelerate civil works projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and instruct the Interior, Agriculture and Defense departments to use their authorities to speed up projects on federal lands.
Just in the past month, Trump signed an executive order instructing agencies to ease regulatory requirements whenever possible to bolster the economy. The energy industry has argued these steps will provide critical aid to businesses during the current downturn.
“Removing bureaucratic barriers that stifle economic growth is paramount to getting American energy workers back in their jobs and spurring business investment that gets our economy moving again,” said American Exploration and Production Council chief executive Anne Bradbury, whose group represents the country’s shale industry and large producers of oil and gas. “We value the importance of these reforms now, and underscore the need for finalizing rules across regulatory agencies that will implement permanent reforms.”
American Gas Association President Karen Harbert said the directive “rebalances the permitting process to consider environmental impacts and the need for infrastructure, jobs and affordable energy.”
But Thomas Jensen, a partner at the firm Perkins Coie, said in an email that any decisions made in response to the executive order could be challenged in court. He noted that the National Environmental Policy Act was enacted 50 years ago partly to prevent arbitrary federal decisions such as building highways through parks and communities of color and that the current administration cannot simply set aside laws aimed at protecting vulnerable Americans or the environment.
“I will not be surprised to see many observers comparing this move — declaring an emergency to shield agency decisions from the public — to the order to clear Lafayette Square on Monday evening,” Jensen said, referring to actions in a Washington park this week. “It’s just one more face of authoritarian ideology, with a clear link to issues of race and equality and government accountability.”
The age of extinction/Endangered species
Sixth mass extinction of wildlife accelerating, scientists warn
Analysis shows 500 species on brink of extinction – as many as were lost over previous century
Damian Carrington Environment editor, June 1, 2020
The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists who warn it may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilisation.
More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years. In comparison, the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. Without the human destruction of nature, even this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years, the scientists said.
The land vertebrates on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 individuals left, include the Sumatran rhino, the Clarión wren, the Española giant tortoise and the harlequin frog. Historic data was available for 77 of the species and the scientists found these had lost 94% of their populations.
The researchers also warned of a domino effect, with the loss of one species tipping others that depend on it over the edge. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they said, noting that unlike other environmental problems extinction is irreversible.
Humanity relies on biodiversity for its health and wellbeing, scientists said, with the coronavirus pandemic an extreme example of the dangers of ravaging the natural world. Rising human population, destruction of habitats, the wildlife trade, pollution and the climate crisis must all be urgently tackled, they said.
“When humanity exterminates other creatures, it is sawing off the limb on which it is sitting, destroying working parts of our own life-support system,” said Prof Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in the US, and one of the research team. “The conservation of endangered species should be elevated to a global emergency for governments and institutions, equal to the climate disruption to which it is linked.”
“We are facing our final opportunity to ensure that the many services nature provides us do not get irretrievably sabotaged,” said Prof Gerardo Ceballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, who led the research.
The analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined data on 29,400 land vertebrate species compiled by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International. The researchers identified 515 species with populations below 1,000 and about half of these had fewer than 250 remaining. Most of these mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians were found in tropical and subtropical regions.
Scientists discovered that 388 species of land vertebrate had populations under 5,000, and the vast majority (84%) lived in the same regions as the species with populations under 1,000, creating the conditions for a domino effect.
Known examples of this include the overhunting of sea otters, the main predator of kelp-eating sea urchins. A boom in urchins devastated kelp forests in the Bering Sea, leading to the extinction of the kelp-eating Steller’s sea cow.
The researchers said their findings could aid conservation efforts by highlighting the species and regions requiring the most urgent attention.
Prof Andy Purvis, at the Natural History Museum in London, and not part of the new analysis, said: “This research provides another line of evidence that the biodiversity crisis is accelerating. The hardest problem [the researchers] faced is that we don’t know more about the history of species’ geographic distributions. They only had that information for 77 of the species on the brink, and we can’t know for sure how typical those species are.”
“But that doesn’t undermine the conclusion,” he said. “The biodiversity crisis is real and urgent. But – and this is the crucial point – it is not too late. To transition to a sustainable world, we need to tread more lightly on the planet. Until then, we are essentially robbing future generations of their inheritance.”
Prof Georgina Mace, of University College London, said: “This new analysis re-emphasises some startling facts about the extent to which vertebrate populations have been reduced worldwide by human activities.” But she said she was not convinced that simply having a population less than 1,000 was the best measure of a species being on the brink. A declining trend for the population is also important and both factors are used in the IUCN Red List, she said.
“Action is important for many reasons, not least of which is that directly and indirectly we rely on the rest of life on Earth for our own health and wellbeing,” she said. “Disrupting nature leads to costly and often hard-to-reverse effects. Covid-19 is an extreme present-day example, but there are many more.”
Mark Wright, the director of science at WWF, said: “The numbers in this research are shocking. However, there is still hope. If we stop the land-grabbing and devastating deforestation in countries such as Brazil, we can start to bend the curve in biodiversity loss and climate change. But we need global ambition to do that.”
US states defend Endangered Species Act lawsuit
27 May 2020 / North America
A group of attorney generals from 17 US states and New York City led by California have successfully defended a legal challenge filed in September to overturn proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Judge Tigar from the US District Court in California sided against David Bernhardt, the US secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) in his attempt to dismiss the lawsuit.
Last year the US DOI and the Department of Commerce announced landmark revisions to the ESA designed to make the act less draconian and less prescriptive – much to the scorn of environmental NGOs (EA 21-Aug-19). In September a California-led lawsuit against the administration’s proposals was launched. This legal battle was the first skirmish of the lawsuit.
In his decision, Judge Tigar said the states made an adequate case that they would be harmed by the rule, causing an injury-in-fact [a wrong which directly results in the violation of a legal right]. Their challenge argues that the three final rules published by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service in the Federal Register in August “fundamentally undermine and contradict” requirements of the ESA. They also said the rules violate the National Environmental Policy Act – which is also facing a major overhaul (EA 15-Jan-20). The states are asking the court to invalidate the rules and reinstate the previous regulations.
The federal administration states the changes to ESA will streamline and reduce red tape; and provide a mechanism allowing the economic aspects of species listings to be considered. The rule change also limits how other aspects such as climate change can be considered in weightings.
How to preserve biodiversity: EU policy
By Newsroom, May 26, 2020
In order to preserve endangered species, the EU wants to improve and preserve biodiversity on the continent.
In January, Parliament called for an ambitious EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy to address the main drivers of biodiversity loss, and set legally binding targets, including conservation of at least 30% of natural areas and 10% of the long-term budget devoted to biodiversity
In response, and as part of the Green Deal, the European Commission presented the new 2030 strategy in May 2020.
MEP chair Pascal Canfin, chair of Parliament’s environment committee, welcomed the commitment to cut pesticide use with 50% and for 25% of farm products to be organic by 2030 as well as the 30% conservation target, but said the strategies must be transformed into EU law and implemented.
What has been done to safeguard biodiversity and endangered species in Europe?
EU efforts to improve biodiversity are ongoing under the 2020 Biodiversity Strategy, which was introduced in 2010.
The EU’s 2020 Biodiversity Strategy
•The Birds Directive aims to protect all 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the EU
•The Habitats Directive ensures the conservation of a wide range of rare, threatened or endemic animal and plant species, including some 200 rare and characteristic habitat types
•Natura 2000 is the largest network of protected areas in the world, with core breeding and resting sites for rare and threatened species, and rare natural habitat types
•The EU Pollinator’s Initiative aims to address the decline of pollinators in the EU and contribute to global conservation efforts, focusing on improving knowledge of the decline, tackling the causes and raising awareness
Additionally, the European Life programme brought for example the Iberian Lynx and the Bulgarian lesser kestrel back from near extinction.
The final assessment of the 2020 strategy has yet to be concluded, but according to the midterm assessment, approved by Parliament, the targets to protect species and habitats, maintain and restore ecosystems and make seas healthier were making progress, but had to speed up.
The objective to combat the invasion of alien species was well on track. In strong contrast, the contribution of agriculture and forestry to maintain and enhance biodiversity had made little progress.
The Natura 2000 network of protected nature areas in Europe has increased significantly over the past decade and now covers more than 18% of the EU land area.
Between 2008 and 2018, the marine Natura 2000 network grew more than fourfold to cover 360,000 km2. Many bird species have recorded increases in population and the status of many other species and habitats has significantly improved.
Despite its successes, the scale of these initiatives is insufficient to offset the negative trend. The main drivers of biodiversity loss – loss and degradation of habitat, pollution, climate change and invasive alien species – persist and many are on the increase, requiring a much greater effort.
The EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy
An important part of Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s Green Deal commitments, the Commission launched the 2030 Biodiversity Strategy, to go hand in hand with the Farm to Fork Strategy.
For the next 10 years, the EU will focus on an EU-wide network of protected areas on land and at sea, concrete commitments to restore degraded systems, enable change by making the measures workable and binding and take the lead in tackling biodiversity on a global level.
The new strategy outlining the EU ambition for the post-2020 global biodiversity framework was due to be adopted at the 15th UN Convention on Biological Diversity in October 2020 in China, which has been postponed.
Once adopted, the Commission plans to make concrete proposals by 2021.
May 26, 2020
Israel seals bat caves for visitors to shield endangered species from virus
More evidence emerges about human to animal COVID-19 transmission, prompting officials to introduce latest conservation effort; inspectors to enforce distancing between visitors and wildlife in nature reserves.
Nature and Parks Authority on Tuesday banned the entry of visitors to a host of caves across the country that serve as a natural habitat for bats, due to fear humans might transmit coronavirus and harm the flying mammals.
According to a statement, the order is a precautionary measure meant to safeguard the health of mammal populations, including bats, and especially endangered species, which, according to available scientific data, may be susceptible to COVID-19.
According to existing data, the virus was most likely first transmitted to humans from an unknown animal.
The statement said that contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence to support bats were involved in transmitting the virus to humans.
Despite several recorded incidents of humans transmitting the virus to wild animals, such as a tiger that has tested positive at a New York zoo, the authority claimed that the scope of the danger is still unknown.
At the same time, inspectors will also make sure visitors keep a safe distance from endangered wildlife populations across the nation’s natural reserves to spare them from contracting the virus.
Endangered shorebirds unsustainably hunted during migrations, records show
More than 30 species, including nine that are threatened, are being hunted unsustainably, report finds
Graham Readfearn, May 22, 2020
More than 30 shorebird species that fly across oceans each year to visit Australia – including nine that are threatened – are being hunted during their long migrations, according to a study that analysed decades of records from 14 countries.
The study, which experts said filled a major gap in the world’s knowledge about the impact of hunting on declining shorebird numbers, found that more than 17,000 birds from 16 species were likely being killed at just three sites – Pattani Bay in Thailand, West Java in Indonesia and the Yangtze River delta in China.
Prof Richard Fuller, a co-author on the study, said that figure was “terrifying”.
“We know hunting is going on at hundreds of other sites around the flyway. It’s highly likely that unsustainable hunting levels are being executed for many species,” Fuller said.
All the birds use the East-Asian-Australasian Flyway – one of nine recognised migratory routes around the globe. Two species – the far eastern curlew and the great knot – are listed as critically endangered under Australia’s environmental law.
Great knots breed in the high Arctic and far eastern curlews in south-east Russia and north-east China – all more than 10,000km from their summer layovers in Australia.
Eduardo Gallo-Cajiao, a researcher at the University of Queensland, coordinated the study, which took five years to complete and appears in the Biological Conservation journal.
More than 100 logbooks, newsletters, citizen science projects, academic studies and “dusty old technical reports” going back to 1970 were gathered from 14 countries.
“We knew since the 1980s that hunting was still going on, but there was an idea that hunting wasn’t really a concern. It has gone under the radar for a long time,” Gallo-Cajiao said.
“Because these birds fly across vast areas, hunting needs to be measured and monitored considering the cumulative levels of hunting at various places throughout the region.
“Up to now, all we had was bits and pieces of data on hunting from different individual sites, but nobody had pooled them together to get a better picture. It was just like assembling a jigsaw puzzle.”
He said the only place where hunting records came from regulated activity was in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta in Alaska, where indigenous people hunted bar-tailed godwits for food.
Much of the remaining hunting along the flyway – which stretches across 22 countries and Taiwan – was unregulated and likely illegal, he said. Some 61 species were being affected, 37 of which were seen on Australian shorelines.
Migrating shorebirds tend to gather in high concentrations to rest and feed as they make their long migrations, making them predictable and easy to hunt.
As recently as 2019, there was evidence that far eastern curlews were being shot in the Kamchatka peninsula in eastern Russia as they gathered among larger flocks of whimbrels.
The study found there was a lack of coordinated monitoring along the flyway, despite at least 12 of the 61 species appearing on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s red list of threatened species.
“We need to have a conversation among the many countries in the flyway,” Gallo-Cajiao said.
Two taskforces have been formed to look at hunting impacts – one as part of a voluntary organisation of countries covered by the flyway and another under the UN’s convention on migratory species.
“Hunting is a hidden threat that we’ve known about, but haven’t been able to quantify just how big the problem is,” Fuller said.
Birds were being hunted for subsistence, he said, as well as to trade for food.
Shorebird numbers are declining and Fuller said developments around the Yellow Sea – where many of the migrating birds stop to rest – had robbed them of about two-thirds of the intertidal mud-flats over the past 50 years.
Far eastern curlew numbers had crashed by about 80% in the past 30 years, he said, and the species was listed as critically endangered in Australia in 2015.
He said the hunting records were still too sparse to be confident of the impact on the shorebirds, but at least three-quarters of the 61 species that use the flyway were likely being hunted.
Other hunted shorebirds that visit Australia and that appear on an international list of vulnerable species are the bar-tailed godwit, black-tailed godwit, red knot, curlew sandpiper, red-necked stint, Asian dowitcher and grey-tailed tattler.
Prof Richard Kingsford, a UNSW ecologist who coordinates an annual waterbird survey, said: “This study has filled a major gap.
“It’s great that we are getting a handle on this issue, but it’s not a good story. We know these birds are in trouble anyway, so this is a big concern.”
Dr Steve Klose, manager of the migratory shorebird program at BirdLife Australia, said the flyway could be seen like a pipeline and potential “leaks” from hunting had “moved into focus” in the past two years.
“We can see that the flow to Australia is diminishing and we have suspicions that there are holes somewhere. We know populations are going down and we are heading for extinctions,” he said.
Court Nixes Groups’ Endangered Species Suits, OKs State Case (3)
May 18, 2020
*Judge said groups didn’t show rules would harm them
*Court allows groups to refile, keeps state case on track
Environmental and animal advocacy groups haven’t shown they have legal standing to challenge the Trump administration’s revised Endangered Species Act regulations, but a lawsuit from a coalition of states can move forward, a federal court ruled Monday.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California tossed a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and other groups, and a similar suit from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, but gave them 21 days to file an amended complaint with more information to support their claims that the regulations harm their members.
Defenders of Wildlife attorney Jason Rylander said the environmental coalition plans to do so.
“We’ll be turning to filing an amended complaint this week, and we’re confident that we’ll meet the requirement to move forward,” he told Bloomberg Law.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Cristina Stella said her group also plans to file an amended complaint.
In a late Monday order, the district court kept a related case from California, Maryland, Massachusetts, and several other states on track, rejecting the Trump administration’s bid to derail the challenge.
The three cases involve an August 2019 decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to adopt new regulations for how the government protects threatened and endangered species.
The new rules change how the government designates critical habitat for at-risk plants and animals; ends a longtime practice of automatically extending the same protections to threatened species as to endangered species; and allows agencies to conduct some economic analysis of protections—though the agencies say costs won’t factor into their final decisions.
The environmental coalition filed suit shortly after the Trump administration adopted the new regulations last year.
The administration moved to dismiss the case, saying the groups hadn’t shown they’d face any concrete harms from the rules—a legal bar for filing a lawsuit.
Judge Jon S. Tigar noted that the groups had spelled out direct alleged harms in declarations from their members, but hadn’t included that information in the underlying complaint.
The complaint “fails to establish a concrete and particularized injury in fact with respect to Conservation Group Plaintiffs’ members,” Tigar wrote, adding that the groups also didn’t meet the bar for other categories of legal standing.
The Sierra Club is involved in the case. The group has received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable organization founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.
Tigar issued a similar order in the case brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
But in the case from more than a dozen states, Tigar concluded the plaintiffs had adequately demonstrated that they had standing to pursue their claims.
“A review of State Plaintiffs’ complaint, however, reveals detailed allegations that demonstrate injury-in-fact, causation, and redressability with respect to both their substantive and procedural claims,” he wrote.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, a Democrat, praised the decision.
“We commend the court for moving this challenge onward and look forward to continuing our strong fight against these unlawful rules,” he said in a statement.
The cases are Ctr. for for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, N.D. Cal., No. 4:19-cv-05206, 5/18/20, Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Interior, N.D. Cal., No. 4:19-cv-06812, 5/18/20, and California v. Bernhardt, N.D. Cal., No. 4:19-cv-06013, 5/18/20.
KAKE (ABC).Com (Wichita, KS)
Rare blue bee scientists thought extinct rediscovered in Florida
Posted: May 16, 2020
(CNN) – An extremely rare blue bee that was last seen four years ago has been rediscovered by a researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
The metallic navy insect, a blue calamintha bee, had only been previously found in four areas “totaling just 16 square miles of pine scrub habitat at Central Florida’s Lake Wales Ridge,” the Florida Museum said in a news release.
The discovery marks an incredible breakthrough as scientists race to learn more about the blue bee, which is currently listed by Florida’s State Wildlife Action Plan as a species of greatest conservation need.
“I was open to the possibility that we may not find the bee at all so that first moment when we spotted it in the field was really exciting,” postdoctoral researcher Chase Kimmel, who found the bee, said in the release.
Kimmel spotted the bee, known for its unique way of collecting pollen, when he and a volunteer were installing a bee condo in the Lake Wales Ridge near some Ashe’s calamint — another threatened species that blue calaminthas depend on for food.
“We observed a shiny little blue bee grabbing the flower and rubbing its head on the top portion of the flower two or three times before moving on to another flower,” Kimmel told CNN.
“In reading about this unique behavior we were pretty shocked to see it.”
After catching the bee in March, the researcher used macrophotography and checked in with lead authors who studied the species to confirm the insect was a blue calamintha.
Surviving in a disappearing ecosystem
While finding a blue calamintha has reassured scientists that the bee is still present despite the impact humans have had on their environment, there is still little known about the species’ behavior, biology, and habitat needs.
Kimmel and his adviser, Jaret Daniels, are currently working on a two-year research project to determine the blue calamintha bee’s current population and the species’ nesting and feeding habits.
Before the discovery, the blue bees were only found in four locations along the southern portion of the Lake Wales Ridge. This spring, Kimmel was able to record the blue bee in seven new areas they were never spotted in before, proving their known range is larger than scientists thought.
“It is still very rare and can take many hours and days to find it which reinforces how rare it can be. Its presence is highly associated with Ashe’s calamint, so the bee may influence how well the plant is pollinated which can affect the plant’s survivorship,” Kimmel told CNN.
“It is very important to continue investigating the relationship between the bee and the plant host or hosts and its influence on the environment itself.”
Kimmel and Daniels also discovered another plant the bee visits when it cannot find Ashe’s calamint. However, the threatened plant species isn’t the only risk to the bee’s survival.
Blue calamintha bees are endemic to Florida, and have only been found in scrub habitat in the Lake Wales Ridge — one of the nation’s fastest-disappearing ecosystems.
“It’s one thing to read about habitat loss and development and another to be driving for 30-40 minutes through miles of orange groves just to get to a really small conservation site,” Kimmel said. “It puts into perspective how much habitat loss affects all the animals that live in this area.”
Part of the pair’s project, funded by a grant administered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, will help determine whether blue calaminthas qualify for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
A solitary native bee, the blue calamintha does not live in a large colony. Each female builds a nest, and does not care for its young. The project will also allow scientists to learn more about the bee’s nesting habits and preferences, none of which is currently known to scientists.
Center for Biological Diversity Announcement, May 15, 2020
Trump Administration Forced to Review Coal-mining Threats to Endangered Species Nationwide
WASHINGTON— In response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity and allies, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement agreed today to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by October 16 to review the impacts of coal mining across the country on endangered species and ensure their survival is not being jeopardized.
Today’s critical legal agreement may help to secure new protections for species, from endangered crayfish in West Virginia to native trout in Wyoming.
“As Trump officials slash environmental protections, it’s a major victory that endangered wildlife will get new safeguards at coal mines across the country,” said Tierra Curry, a Center for Biological Diversity scientist. “Greater protections for endangered animals will also benefit human communities that are harmed by coal pollution every day.”
In May 2019 the Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy challenged the federal agencies’ ongoing reliance on a biological opinion from 1996 that fails to ensure that mining does not jeopardize endangered species.
The 1996 opinion was invalidated by the Obama administration’s stream-protection rule, but when that rule was blocked by Congress, the old opinion was reinstated by the Trump administration. Today’s agreement requires a new national biological opinion.
“Protections for endangered wildlife should be based on sound science and not on industry demands,” said Ben Luckett, an attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “This new opinion should benefit people and animals that rely on clean air and water.”
The agencies must also adopt specific new guidance to prevent harm to the endangered Guyandotte River crayfish in West Virginia, which is on the brink of extinction due primarily to pollution from coal mining.
“It’s important to protect tiny critters like the Guyandotte River crayfish both for their own value within the ecosystems they support and because protecting crawdad habitat will also protect headwater streams and rivers that people rely on too,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
Numerous scientific studies have linked coal mining to declines in birds, fish, salamanders, crayfish, insects and freshwater mussels. Mining also threatens nearby communities with air and water pollution and an increased risk of flooding.
“Real protective measures for the wildlife and human communities of West Virginia are long overdue, and getting new rules for protecting endangered species are a big step in the right direction,” said Vivian Stockman, executive director of OVEC.
More than two dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies have now linked mining pollution in Appalachia to health problems, including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects.
“For West Virginia to stay ‘wild and wonderful,’ as residents like to describe their state, we have to protect our animals from extinction, so it’s important that federal agencies actually do their job and take steps to make that happen,” said Jim Kotcon, conservation chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.
Earth Island Journal
What’s Happening With Those Revisions to the Endangered Species Act?
The pandemic is hampering implementation of the revised rules as well as suits challenging the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the ESA.
Charles Pekow, May 12, 2020
Lost protection for threatened and endangered species may be brought back from extinction. At least that’s what wildlife advocates are currently trying to accomplish through the courts and Congress, even though the initial momentum around lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been throttled by the ongoing pandemic.
Last year, the Trump administration published regulations weakening more than 45 years of protection provided under the ESA. While no species has lost protection during the first six months that the new rules have been in effect, defenders of the ESA argue that just the fact that the agencies are using the new rules is enough to prove injury, as in, the regulations themselves cause harm. A threat of injury is enough, they say for plants and animal species at risk of dying out.
The new rules governing ESA, which took effect in October, remove automatic protection for “threatened” species, that is, species that are at risk of becoming endangered. And they allow agencies to consider the economic impacts when determining whether or not a plant or animal needed protection, whereas the original law required only scientific considerations. And the new rules limited the FWS’ ability to designate “unoccupied” critical habitat — that is, areas where an endangered or threatened species does not currently live, but which may be part of its historical range and therefore critical to the species’ future survival.
The change may prevent FWS from placing restrictions on some property owners.
Conservation groups and several states have wasted no time filing lawsuits against the revisions to the ESA, while sympathetic legislators are pushing legislation to overturn them. The ESA requires the federal government to write and enforce regulations to protect species in danger of or “threatened” with extinction in the “foreseeable future” and their habitat. The federal agencies charged with implementing the ESA are the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which is responsible for plants, wildlife, and inland fisheries, and the Commerce Department’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), which implements the ESA with respect to ocean-going fish and marine mammals.
Right now, there are three lawsuits challenging the revisions pending before federal Judge Jon Tigar, an appointee of President Barack Obama, in Oakland, California. The arguments on both sides so far focus on legal procedure, rather than the merits of defending plants, wildlife, and habitat. Plaintiffs charge that the government didn’t follow the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to take into account the potential environmental consequences of any construction project — ranging from highways to airports, to dams and pipelines, to management of federal lands — that they commission or fund; and the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which governs how federal agencies go about implementing rules.
A coalition of environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), Earthjustice, Defenders of Wildlife, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), filed the first suit, charging that the “revised rules violate the plain language and overarching purpose of the ESA; they also lack any reasoned basis and are arbitrary and capricious under APA.” The groups also complain that the final rules include matters not included in the original proposal that the public didn’t get a chance to comment on.
The California-based Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed another suit, alleging the same violations. ALDF complains that a provision removing automatic protection for threatened species and replacing it with a policy of writing species-specific rules won’t work, as there’s no requirement to come up with such rules, let alone timetables to write them. ALDF also charges that the new criteria don’t include “recovery” as a reason for “delisting,” or ending protection for a species.
Finally, 19 states, plus the District of Columbia, and New York City filed the third suit. The states are making a similar case as the conservation groups, arguing that they have a vested interest in protecting their environments and species within state boundaries, such as the California condor in the Golden State, whales in Washington State, the Mojave desert tortoise in Nevada, and the whole balance of the New Mexico desert.
California’s AG, Xavier Becerra, for instance, says the state chimed in with the conservation groups because the “state of California has a sovereign interest in its natural resources and is the sovereign and proprietary owner of all the state’s fish and wildlife and water resources, which are state property held in trust by the state for the benefit of the people….”
On the other hand, several farmer and other landowners groups and 13 other states have asked to join the defense, saying they can’t rely on the federal government to represent their side because a new administration could change policy. Unsurprisingly, all the plaintiff states are represented by Democratic attorneys general (AGs), while all those seeking to back the government are represented by Republican AGs.
The federal government, in its response to the suits, says the plaintiffs haven’t proved injury and lack standing to sue. It said the plaintiffs did not show that any harm has been done because of the new rules. “Plaintiffs speculate how the services will apply these revisions in future administrative processes, yet it is far from clear that this application will ever harm plaintiffs’ interests,” the federal response brief states. “The revisions are not retroactive and do not change any current protections for already-listed species.”
Federal lawyers also say APA and NEPA requirements don’t apply because the changes are “of a legal, technical, or procedural nature,” and that any potential impacts were “too broad, speculative and conjectural for meaningful analysis” and that “no extraordinary circumstances were present.”
Judge Tigar conducted a hearing on the feds’ motion to dismiss the suits in February but hasn’t yet ruled on it.
“Judge Tigar was very engaged, questioning all parties closely,” Earthjustice lawyer Kristen Boyles said via email. The Covid-19 crisis appears to be delaying action, she suggested.
Lawsuits filed previously to force FWS to comply with the ESA have faced mixed results. As reported in Earth Island Journal last spring, NRDC sued to force FWS to set aside habitat for the rusty patched bumblebee, which the agency never did though the species had already been listed as endangered. FWS settled the case, agreeing to propose habitats to set aside by July 31 of this year and finalizing them by the same date next year.
But a federal judge in Alaska ruled in September against CBD in its suit charging that FWS improperly failed to protect the pacific walrus when the agency in 2017, reversed its 2011 decision that the walrus should get listed as an endangered species. Judge Sharon Gleason ruled the FWS had adequately updated its projection of sea ice loss and she accepted FWS’ determination that walruses could adapt to projected loss. CBD is appealing the decision.
“The walrus appeal is moving forward, but [we have] no updates so far,” says Noah Greenwald, CBD endangered species director.
And if courts won’t act to protect the ESA, Congress might. In late January, the House Committee on Natural Resources approved the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish In Need of Conservation Act of 2019, or PAW and FIN Act, (HR 4348), which would undo the Trump Administration’s revisions to the ESA. The bill would restore automatic protection for threatened species and prohibit consideration of economic impact when determining whether to list species.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) introduced a companion measure in the Senate (S. 2491) last September. Nineteen other senators, all Democrats, signed on as co-sponsors. The bill is pending before the Committee on Environment and Public Works. But Republicans control the Senate and haven’t moved the bill.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Western Caucus introduced a set of 17 bills it says are designed “to modernize ESA to better protect species, and to treat property owners, states and local stakeholders as partners rather than obstacles.” The bills would make it easier to delist species based on information gathered from outside groups such as state governments, as opposed to federal studies. It would also require consultation with states before listing species and remove deadlines for FWS to reply to petitions if too many unsupported ones stack up. The caucus of representatives dedicates itself to fighting for private property rights, energy security, and local control. It has made “modernizing” ESA a priority this year.
Business and landowner groups have endorsed the package, including the US Chamber of Commerce, National Home Builders and the Family Farm Alliance. But Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) has no intention of bringing the bills up, Committee Communications Director Adam Sarvana says.
The revisions, incidentally, took effect a month late — on October 28 last year instead of Sept. 28 as had been scheduled — since the FWS and NMFS found they needed more time to train staff about Section 7, which requires coordination with other federal agencies when implementing ESA regulations. Section 7 requires that other federal agencies, such as the National Park Service, examine whether any projects they undertake could kill or endanger protected species or critical habitat. If these agencies find a problem, they have to work with FWS or NMFS to ensure that the protected species and habitat are not harmed.
“Section 7 can be complex even on a good day. We needed an extra 30 days to explain it, to do a full roll out,” says FWS Public Affairs Specialist Brian Hires.
And now, given the Covid-19 pandemic, which is creating a greater logjam than usual in courts, enforcement of the new rules, as well as any rulings on these lawsuits may be delayed even further.
FWS, however, is still publishing notices in the Federal Register of its actions, but agency officials aren’t in their offices answering phones. When asked about how the crisis is affecting work, spokespersons for both FWS and NMFS did not respond to telephone or email inquiries other than to say they would get back to us.
“The Trump administration was doing its best to not enforce the ESA prior to Covid-19, so I imagine that is continuing and likely even less is getting done to help wildlife,” Greenwald says.
Any effort to overturn the revisions by Congress, too, has been delayed by the crisis. Congress effectively went on extended recess in April, as the Capitol complex became a haven for transmitting the coronavirus. It resumed session in early May but is preoccupied with dealing with the economic fallout and public health issues caused by the contagion, leaving little time for non-deadline issues.
Courthouse News Service
Suit That Says Bear Baiting Harms Grizzlies Advances
DAVID REESE, May 7, 2020
(CN) — A federal judge refused Thursday to dismiss a challenge of the practice of baiting black bears in Idaho and Wyoming national forests.
WildEarth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project and Wilderness Watch brought the lawsuit in June 2019, alleging that the use of bait while hunting black bears results in incidental killing of grizzly bears, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
These incidental deaths, it’s alleged, trigger the responsibility of the U.S. Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and review the policy of black bear baiting.
Wyoming and Idaho are the only two states that allow black bear baiting on national forests.
In a cross-motion for summary judgment, the plaintiffs also argue that the government’s environmental analysis on black bear baiting from 1995 is outdated and needs to be supplemented with new information.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale in Idaho ruled Thursday that the case can continue under the first count, using the Endangered Species Act rules, but she dismissed the second count.
In 1994, the Forest Service proposed a national policy to allow states to decide whether bait can be used in national forests, although the service acknowledged the proposal would likely affect grizzly bears, which remain listed as threatened with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
The Forest Service adopted the proposed policy in 1994 with its “Finding of No Significant Impact,” which determined that no environmental impact statement was needed because the proposed policy was not a major federal action and it would “not significantly affect the quality of the human environment.”
Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found a remote possibility that a grizzly bear could be killed due to black bear baiting in national forests, the service issued an incidental take statement at the time that requires the service to have a continuing duty to regulate black bear baiting in national forests, with “no incidental take” of grizzly bears allowed.
If any single killing of a grizzly occurs, the Forest Service must initiate formal consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service.
Several environmental groups sued three months later, claiming that the Forest Service violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to formally consult with Fish and Wildlife Service, and violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to first prepare an EIS — rather than an Environmental Assessment — on the issue.
In August 1996, the District Court granted summary judgment to the Forest Service and rejected both claims. The plaintiffs appealed the decision, but the D.C. Circuit affirmed in 1997.
In the current case, the federal defendants contend the first count fails to state a claim for relief against the Fish and Wildlife Service, because the agency does not have the authority to reinitiate consultation under the ESA.
The Forest Service asserted the second count must be dismissed as there is no major federal action remaining to occur, and it has no duty to supplement the environmental analysis under NEPA.
WildEarth Guardians alleges at least 10 grizzly bears have been killed due to black bear hunting using bait in national forests in Idaho and Wyoming, triggering the requirement to reinitiate consultation.
WildEarth alleges that these incidental takes require both agencies to reinitiate consultation, and new information reveals effects of the action not previously considered.
“States should not allow baiting that can attract grizzlies and lead to their deaths,” Pete Frost, attorney for the Western Environmental Law Center, said. “Grizzlies have been shot near bait, and more may die, unless the Forest Service properly acts.”
While the Forest Service did not dispute it was a proper defendant in the first count, the Fish and Wildlife Service argued it was not, and urged dismissal because it lacked the legal authority to initiate consultation. The FWS claimed the authority to initiate consultation lies solely with the action agency — the U.S. Forest Service, in this case.
Dale disagreed. “While the federal agencies’ arguments might be compelling if this was an issue of first impression, the Ninth Circuit has already addressed this precise issue multiple times and confirmed that both the action agency and the consulting agency have a duty to reinitiate consultation,” he wrote.
Dale ruled that, after an agency has prepared an environmental assessment and has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact, an agency must supplement its environmental analysis if there are “significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and bearing on the proposed action or its impact.”
Dale ruled that there is no ongoing or proposed federal action that requires supplementation.
Montana Free Press
9th Circuit hears appeal on protections for Yellowstone grizzlies
By Johnathan Hettinger, May 6
The future of grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is now in the hands of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Tuesday, May 5, the court heard video arguments in the federal and state governments’ appeal of a 2018 decision that restored Endangered Species Act protections for the bear in the three-state region.
The court has not indicated when it will issue a ruling. The ruling, when it comes, will not likely change the bear’s listing status, but could impact how the federal government moves forward with grizzly management. Regardless of any decision regarding listing status in the GYE, other grizzly populations would remain protected under the Endangered Species Act.
In 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ruled that the species was recovered in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and no longer needed federal protections. The GYE, which includes parts of Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, has a population of about 700 grizzly bears that has been expanding geographically in recent years — a sign, the service said, the bear has recovered.
A coalition of tribes and environmental groups appealed the decision, and in September 2018 U.S. District Court Judge Dana Christensen ordered the protections restored, saying the service’s ruling had not properly considered the effect delisting would have on all grizzly bears in the Lower 48, and was arbitrary and capricious in its application of science. Christensen ruled that the agency had given too much deference to the states, deprioritized the best available science, and illogically conflated two studies to determine that the GYE population possessed sufficient genetic diversity for survival.
The federal government appealed Christensen’s decision, as did the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Wyoming is appealing Christensen’s entire decision. The federal government is appealing portions of the decision. Montana has joined in the federal government’s appeal.
Fish and Wildlife has acknowledged that it erred in not properly considering the impact removing protections from the Yellowstone grizzly would have on other grizzly populations in the Lower 48.
Eyewitness News (ABC/7-Los Angeles)
April 30, 2020
Trump administration considering extra protections for endangered whales off California coast
Eighty-eight whales have died from ship strikes in California since 2006, according to officials
The Trump administration announced it is looking at new ways to protect endangered whales off the California coast after environmental groups threatened to sue over regulations of shipping lanes that they say violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
Citing shipping lanes in Los Angeles and Long Beach, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Friends of Earth send a letter to the Trump administration on March 2 notifying officials that they would sue the administration if it continued to ignore evidence that a growing number of whales are being injured by ships along the state’s coast.
At least 10 whales in California were killed in 2018 by ship strikes, which is one of the leading causes of death and injuries to whales who migrate along California’s coast, according to a joint statement from the two environmental groups.
Eighty-eight whales have died from ship strikes in California since 2006, they said.
U.S. Coast Guard officials said they are consulting with the National Marine Fisheries Service to create new regulations, which may include mandatory speed limits in shipping lanes. The regulations would also protect sea turtles, another endangered species that has fallen victim to ship strikes in California.
“Science should guide how shipping lanes are selected and managed. Speed limits on our highways save lives, and we need speed limits in shipping lanes too, to protect endangered marine animals,” said Catherine Kilduff, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The environmental groups also expressed concern about shipping lanes in the San Francisco Bay.
City News Service contributed to this report.
New York Times
U.S. Court Ruling Could Threaten Pipeline Projects With Delays
By Reuters, April 28, 2020
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK — Several major U.S. oil and natural gas pipeline projects could be at risk of delays after a U.S. district judge in Montana this month said the Army Corps of Engineers had inappropriately used a national permit program, energy analysts said on Tuesday.
Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled on April 15 that the Army Corps violated federal law by issuing the so-called Nationwide Permit 12 that allows pipelines to cross water bodies because it did not adequately consult with other federal agencies on risks to endangered species and habitat. The ruling halted work on pipelines through streams and waterways, but allows other construction to continue.
It’s the latest setback to TC Energy Corp’s plans to build the long-delayed Keystone XL crude pipeline to bring heavy Canadian oil from Alberta to the U.S. Midwest. But the decision could impact other projects that rely on the permit too, including the Atlantic Coast, Mountain Valley and Permian Highway projects, according to analysts.
The U.S. Department of Justice and the Army Corps filed a motion on Monday to limit the scope of the order by May 11, but it is unclear if the motion is likely to succeed.
“Left unchecked, this ruling could lead to delays on several pipeline projects,” Josh Price, an analyst at Height Capital Markets in Washington, said in a note to clients.
Analysts at ClearView Energy Partners said “we think it may be unlikely that (Judge Morris) will reverse course … and narrow the applicability of his ruling.”
Several pipeline companies said they were monitoring the case, but were continuing to work as normal on their projects in the meantime.
“At this point, it is not stopping us from continuing our construction,” on the Permian Highway natural gas pipeline in Texas, said Katherine Hill, a spokeswoman for Kinder Morgan Inc. The pipeline is still expected to enter service in early 2021, she added.
Natalie Cox, of Equitrans Midstream Corp, said the ruling had not changed the expected completion date of its Mountain Valley gas pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia.
“At this time, (Mountain Valley) continues to target a late 2020 in-service date and will await further developments to understand any potential impacts,” she said.
Ann Nallo spokeswoman for Dominion Energy Inc, which is building the Atlantic Coast gas pipeline run from West Virginia to North Carolina, said “we’re following the developments to assess any impact.” The company said it still expects the project to start up on schedule by early 2022.
TC Energy did not immediately respond to a request for comment but said on April 15 that it was committed to building Keystone XL.
Group Says EPA Enforcement Policy Harms Endangered Species
April 21, 2020
Environmentalists are preparing another lawsuit against the EPA for its enforcement discretion policy amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Center for Biological Diversity notified the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday that the group will head to court if the agency doesn’t address alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act within 14 days.
The threat comes less than a week after other environmental groups challenged the policy under the Administrative Procedure Act.
The EPA announced its enforcement approach in March, telling companies they wouldn’t face penalties if the pandemic caused them to fall short of some pollution reporting and monitoring requirements.
The Center for Biological Diversity says the policy will “needlessly place endangered and threatened species at risk.”
Sockeye Salmon, Shortnose Sturgeon
For example, the Tuesday letter says, a halt on certain sampling under Clean Water Act permits could harm endangered sockeye salmon, steelhead, and shortnose sturgeon “by allowing unmonitored and unreported (and hence unrestricted) contamination of waterways such species depend on.”
The agency pushed back in a statement, saying Tuesday that its “enforcement authority and responsibility remains active and does not allow for any increases in emissions. Any claims made to the contrary are just false.”
In a follow-up note, an EPA spokesperson said the policy only waives penalties for not conducting routine record keeping and monitoring and if “on a ‘case-by-case’ basis, EPA agrees that the public health emergency was the cause.”
“This means a facility can take steps to protect workers, even if some routine sampling or reports won’t be completed,” the agency said. “For all other COVID-19 caused noncompliance, the policy only says EPA will consider the circumstances when determining an appropriate response.”
April 20, 2020
Endangered Mediterranean monk seals aided by unique intervention
by Nathan Williams, Fauna & Flora International
Conservationists are celebrating exciting new footage that reveals an endangered Mediterranean monk seal making use of an artificial breeding ledge they have created to aid in the species’ recovery. The footage, which shows a young adult female, is the first time that this species has been recorded using an artificial ledge, raising hopes that this unique habitat restoration effort will boost efforts to save monk seals from extinction.
Mediterranean monk seals breed in caves within Gökova Bay, part of the Aegean Sea off the south-west coast of Turkey, over 300 square kilometers of which is an actively managed marine protected area. Historically, monk seals would have hauled out on beaches across the Mediterranean to breed, but human disturbance, persecution and predation have pushed them to more marginal habitats such as marine caves. In recent years earthquakes in the area have collapsed a number of caves, reducing suitable breeding sites. Due to these cave collapses, loss of beach habitat and successful conservation efforts that have resulted in a growing monk seal population, there are now more seals than there are suitable breeding caves in the bay, hindering their further recovery. Until conservationists intervened, only three suitable breeding caves could be found across the entire 400 km stretch of coastline in Gökova Bay.
The species needs very specific light conditions and a small, sheltered pool within the cave where mothers can teach their pups how to dive and feed—as well as a dry ledge to give birth on. With support from Fauna & Flora International (FFI), the artificial ledge was constructed by Akdeniz Koruma Derneği (AKD) conservationists in August 2019 and a young adult female monk seal was found to be using it in February this year.
A novel approach to seal conservation
The creation of an artificial ledge for seals to use within caves has not been tried in the Mediterranean before and it is hoped that it can be replicated in other areas along the coastline. The conservationists have identified other caves that are suitable for the installation of an artificial ledge.
“We were incredibly excited when we found a seal using our artificial ledge for the first time,” says Zafer Kizilkaya, AKD President. “As an endangered species, Mediterranean monk seals need all the help they can get from conservationists, and the lack of breeding sites challenged us to think creatively about how to solve this problem. The installation of an artificial ledge for a monk seal is a first in the Mediterranean but we hope it will not be the last—we have identified other caves and will be looking to install further ledges. We hope Gökova Bay will be home to many more seal pups in the years to come.”
The female has made the cave her home and the hope is she will use it to give birth in—this season or in future breeding seasons—and use it to raise her pups. Unlike other seal species that have weaning periods of mere days, the weaning period for a Mediterranean monk seal is around four months.
It is thought that there are as few as 400 adult Mediterranean monk seals remaining globally, mainly in a small fragment of their original range between Turkey and Greece. The primary threats to these seals are habitat loss and deliberate killings by fishers who resent the damage they can cause to fishing nets. Conservationists have worked hard with the fisher community over many years, raising awareness and driving educational efforts, and as a result this threat has been significantly reduced.
Ten years after the BP oil spill many species have not recovered
WWL Newsroom (New Orleans, La)
April 20, 2020
Today marks ten years since the BP Oil Spill ravaged the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, and environmental scars exist still to this day.
National Wildlife Federation Gulf of Mexico Restoration Director David Muth says the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was recovering as a species before 2010 but since then they’ve been backsliding.
“A lot of females were killed, and so there are fewer females nesting, but there are also possible long term health effects,” says Muth.
Muth says Coastal bottlenose dolphins have seen their successful birthrate remain less than a quarter of what it was before their habitat was poisoned by the spill.
“Females giving births to stillborn and sick babies, and we still see malnutrition and lower weight, and other various effects of the toxicity in dolphins,” says Muth.
The spill also killed off 17 percent of the Gulf’s Bryde whales, an impact that’s seen them be added to, and remain on the endangered species list since.
Muth says the overall ecological impact remains horrific, but the one silver lining to result from the calamity was the more than 16 billion in fines that paid for coastal restoration projects across south Louisiana, including most of the Barataria Bay islands. He says Louisiana received over eight billion dollars in payments as a result of the spill.
Keystone XL Pipeline Permit Canceled Over Concerns for Endangered Species
By MATTHEW BROWN / AP
April 15, 2020
(BILLINGS, Mont.) — A U.S. judge canceled a key permit Wednesday for the Keystone XL oil pipeline that’s expected to stretch from Canada to Nebraska, another setback for the disputed project that got underway less than two weeks ago following years of delays.
Judge Brian Morris said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately consider effects on endangered species such as pallid sturgeon, a massive, dinosaur-like fish that lives in rivers the pipeline would cross.
The ruling, however, does not shut down work that has begun at the U.S.-Canada border crossing in Montana, according to attorneys in the case. Pipeline sponsor TC Energy will need the permit for future construction across hundreds of rivers and streams along Keystone’s 1,200-mile (1,930-kilometer) route.
“It creates another significant hurdle for the project,” said Anthony Swift with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that challenged the permit.
“Regardless of whether they have the cross border segment … Keystone XL has basically lost all of its Clean Water Act permits for water crossings,” he said.
TC Energy was reviewing the ruling but remained “committed to building this important energy infrastructure project,” spokesman Terry Cunha said.
Officials with the Army Corps of Engineers did not have an immediate response to the ruling.
The Keystone authorization came under a so-called nationwide permit issued by the Corps in 2017, essentially giving blanket approval to pipeline or similar utility projects with minimal effects on waterways.
The cancellation could have broader implications because it appears to invalidate dredging work for any project authorized under the 2017 permit, said attorney Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity, another plaintiff in the case. It’s unclear what projects would be included.
Morris is holding a court hearing Thursday on two other lawsuits against the $8 billion pipeline. American Indian tribes and environmental groups want him to halt the construction at the border while a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s approval of the pipeline last year works its way through the courts.
The pipeline was proposed in 2008 and would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily to Nebraska, where it would be transferred to another TC Energy pipeline for shipment to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.
It was rejected twice under the Obama administration because of concerns that it could worsen climate change, then Trump revived it.
TC Energy’s surprise March 31 announcement that it intended to start construction amid a global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic came after the provincial government in Alberta invested $1.1 billion to jump-start the work.
Tribal leaders and some residents of rural communities along the pipeline’s route worry that thousands of workers needed for the project could spread the virus.
As many as 11 construction camps, some housing up to 1,000 people, were initially planned for the project. TC Energy says those are under review amid the pandemic and won’t be needed until later in the summer.
Work on two camps, in Montana and South Dakota, could start as soon as this month, according to court documents filed by the company this week.
Bloomberg Law/ Environment & Energy Report
Endangered Species Program Challenge Pushed to Appeals Court
April 13, 2020
Environmentalists are heading to a federal appeals court in a bid to put biologists, not bureaucrats, in charge of reviewing endangered animals and plants.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of appeal April 10 to challenge a recent court decision upholding the Interior Department’s process for analyzing scientific information related to Endangered Species Act protections.
The case centers on the agency’s Species Status Assessment program, which synthesizes scientific information about at-risk species and informs subsequent decisions about protections.
The Center for Biological Diversity says Interior should have consulted the public on its implementing guidelines for the program, which they say leave too much decision-making power to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regional directors and other leaders instead of scientists.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in February concluded the Center for Biological Diversity lacked standing to bring the case. The center is taking the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
The case is Ctr. for Biological Diversity v. Bernhardt, D.C. Cir., No. 1:18-cv-02576, notice of appeal 4/10/20.
The Link Between Virus Spillover, Wildlife Extinction and the Environment
The Same Processes That Threaten Wildlife Increase Our Risk of Spillover
Kat Kerlin on April 7, 2020 in Human & Animal Health
As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, a common question is, can infectious diseases be connected to environmental change? Yes, indicates a study published today from the University of California, Davis’ One Health Institute.
Exploitation of wildlife by humans through hunting, trade, habitat degradation and urbanization facilitates close contact between wildlife and humans, which increases the risk of virus spillover, found a study published April 8 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Many of these same activities also drive wildlife population declines and the risk of extinction.
The study provides new evidence for assessing spillover risk in animal species and highlights how the processes that create wildlife population declines also enable the transmission of animal viruses to humans.
“Spillover of viruses from animals is a direct result of our actions involving wildlife and their habitat,” said lead author Christine Kreuder Johnson, project director of USAID PREDICT and director of the EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics at the One Health Institute, a program of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. “The consequence is they’re sharing their viruses with us. These actions simultaneously threaten species survival and increase the risk of spillover. In an unfortunate convergence of many factors, this brings about the kind of mess we’re in now.”
The common and the rare
For the study, the scientists assembled a large dataset of the 142 known viruses that spill over from animals to humans and the species that have been implicated as potential hosts. Using the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, they examined patterns in those species’ abundance, extinction risks and underlying causes for species declines.
The data show clear trends in spillover risk that highlight how people have interacted with animals throughout history. Among the findings:
*Domesticated animals, including livestock, have shared the highest number of viruses with humans, with eight times more zoonotic viruses compared to wild mammalian species. This is likely a result of our frequent close interactions with these species for centuries.
*Wild animals that have increased in abundance and adapted well to human-dominated environments also share more viruses with people. These include some rodent, bat and primate species that live among people, near our homes, and around our farms and crops, making them high-risk for ongoing transmission of viruses to people.
*At the other end of the spectrum are threatened and endangered species. This includes animals whose population declines were connected to hunting, wildlife trade and decreases in habitat quality. These species were predicted to host twice as many zoonotic viruses compared to threatened species that had populations decreasing for other reasons. Threatened and endangered species also tend to be highly managed and directly monitored by humans trying to bring about their population recovery, which also puts them into greater contact with people. Bats repeatedly have been implicated as a source of “high consequence” pathogens, including SARS, Nipah virus, Marburg virus and ebolaviruses, the study notes.
“We need to be really attentive to how we interact with wildlife and the activities that bring humans and wildlife together,” Johnson said. “We obviously don’t want pandemics of this scale. We need to find ways to co-exist safely with wildlife, as they have no shortages of viruses to give us.”
Study co-authors include Peta Hitchens of the University of Melbourne Veterinary Clinic and Hospital, and Pranav Pandit, Julie Rushmore, Tierra Smiley Evans, Cristin Weekley Young and Megan Doyle of the UC Davis One Health Institute’s EpiCenter for Disease Dynamics.
The study was supported by funding through the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threat PREDICT program and the National Institutes of Health.
NOAA to Use Cloud and AI to Help Protect Endangered Species
The agency is partnering with Microsoft to study and safeguard endangered animals.
By Phil Goldstein, 4/1/20
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, the number of species classified as endangered has steadily risen every year for the past 20 years.
Part of the wide-ranging mission of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is to study and protect endangered species, and with the help of Microsoft, the agency is getting a leg up in doing so.
Last month, NOAA and Microsoft announced a partnership for the agency to leverage Microsoft’s artificial intelligence and cloud technology this spring to more easily and accurately identify animals and population counts of endangered species.
The tools will be used “to help monitor endangered beluga whales, threatened ice seals, polar bears and more, shaving years off the time it takes to get data into the right hands to protect the animals,” according to a Microsoft blog post.
“The teams are training AI tools to distinguish a seal from a rock and a whale’s whistle from a dredging machine’s squeak as they seek to understand the marine mammals’ behavior and help them survive amid melting ice and increasing human activity,” the post notes.
Dan Morris, Microsoft’s principle scientist with its AI for Earth program, tells Nextgov that AI tools “empower scientists like our NOAA collaborators to spend less time on tedious data annotation, and more time answering urgent environmental questions.”
How AI Tools and Cloud Can Aid NOAA Scientists
The partnership had its genesis in an experience Erin Moreland, a research biologist in NOAA’s Marine Mammal Laboratory, had in 2018 during jury duty.
When Moreland set out to become a research zoologist, “she envisioned days spent sitting on cliffs, drawing seals and other animals to record their lives for efforts to understand their activities and protect their habitats,” according to the blog post.
However, she wound up spending hours sifting through thousands of aerial photographs of sea ice as she looked for animal life in Alaskan waters. By the time she had finished each survey, the information was outdated. She wanted a better way to do her work.
“Scientists should be freed up to contribute more to the study of animals and better understand what challenges they might be facing,” she says in the blog post. “Having to do something this time-consuming holds them back from what they could be accomplishing.”
While serving on a jury two years ago, Moreland overheard two fellow jurors discussing AI during a break in the trial, and she began talking with them about her work. One of them connected her with Morris, who suggested Moreland pitch the problem as a challenge that summer at the company’s hackathon. Eventually, 14 Microsoft engineers signed up to work on the problem.
“Moreland’s project combines AI technology with improved cameras on a NOAA turboprop airplane that will fly over the Beaufort Sea north of Alaska this April and May, scanning and classifying the imagery to produce a population count of ice seals and polar bears that will be ready in hours instead of months,” the Microsoft blog post notes.
The issue is that, while there are machine learning models that can recognize people in images, there were none that could find seals, especially in real time in aerial photography. However, the hundreds of thousands of examples NOAA scientists had classified in previous surveys helped Microsoft technologists train the AI models to recognize which photographs and recordings contained mammals and which didn’t.
Cloud computing tools from Microsoft will help NOAA process all of that data.
“Part of the challenge was that there were 20 terabytes of data of pictures of ice, and working on your laptop with that much data isn’t practical,” Morris says in the blog post. “We had daily handovers of hard drives between Seattle and Redmond to get this done. But the cloud makes it possible to work with all that data and train AI models, so that’s how we’re able to do this work, with Azure.”
NOAA Aims to Take Advantage of Tech to Advance Its Mission
Morris tells Federal News Network that Microsoft has taken all that data NOAA collected on flights in 2016 and that NOAA scientists had already put all that time in to labeling. The goal is to train the machine learning models to annotate the images so that humans do not have to. The other aim is to “run these AI models on the plane instead of back at home base.”
“Then, hopefully you could come back with only mostly interesting images and never even store all those extra images in the first place,” Morris tells Federal News Network. “Which not only gives you fewer images to deal with, but hopefully lets you move eventually to a paradigm where you can take many, many more flights on unmanned aircraft and really scale your ability to collect data, not just save people time, which is really important, but scale your ability to collect it in the first place.”
Meanwhile, a colleague of Moreland’s, Manuel Castellote, a NOAA affiliate scientist, will use a similar algorithm to analyze the recordings he’ll pick up from equipment scattered across the bottom of Alaska’s Cook Inlet.
Castellote’s work will allow him to quickly decipher how the shrinking population of endangered belugas spent its winter, according to Microsoft. The data will be confirmed by scientists, analyzed by statisticians and then reported to people such as Jon Kurland, NOAA’s assistant regional administrator for protected resources in Alaska.
Kurland’s office oversees conservation and recovery programs for marine mammals in Alaska and its waters and helps advise all the federal agencies that issue permits or carry out actions that could affect animals that are threatened or endangered.
The office also issues recommendations to “help mitigate the impact of human activities such as construction and transportation, in part by avoiding prime breeding and feeding periods and places,” the blog post notes.
However, those initiatives have been hurt by a lack of timely data. “There’s basic information that we just don’t have now, so getting it will give us a much clearer picture of the types of responses that may be needed to protect these populations,” Kurland says in the blog post. “In both cases, for the whales and seals, this kind of data analysis is cutting-edge science, filling in gaps we don’t have another way to fill.”
NRDC gears up to sue over Trump rollback of Obama water law
By Rebecca Beitsch and Rachel Frazin – 03/30/20
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) plans to sue the Trump administration over a rollback to a controversial Obama-era water law, arguing leaders failed to consider how it would impact endangered species.
The January policy from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) replaces the already-repealed Waters of the United States rule (WOTUS), crafted under President Obama, which expanded the types of waterways protected by federal law.
President Trump’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule limits that scope, removing protections for smaller bodies of water, even some seasonal ones caused by snowmelt, that environmentalists say must be protected in order to stop pollution from reaching larger sources, including those used for drinking water.
Wetlands, important habitat for a number of species, face reduced protections under the Trump-era rule, as do the intermittent streams that serve as important water sources for protected desert species.
NRDC argues the EPA violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to review how those protected animals might fare under the new rule.
“Because the Rule removes Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and streams that endangered and threatened species depend on for habitat and food, there is no question that the rule ‘may affect’ ESA-listed species,” the NRDC writes in its letter.
That impact requires the EPA to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before rolling out nay new regulations, they argue. The letter gives the agency a 60-day timeline to do so before they file suit.
The EPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suit touches on two laws that have been rolled back by the Trump administration.
In August of last year the Trump administration finalized a roll back of the Endangered Species Act, limiting the protections afforded by America’s landmark conservation law.
Meanwhile, numerous environmental groups have vowed to sue over Trump’s water rule, arguing it ignores science showing the interconnectivity of water.
Pollution that reaches small water bodies protected only by state and local regulations will eventually enter the larger bodies of water still regulated by the federal government, they argue.
The EPA’s independent Science Advisory Board reviewed the rule when it was first proposed, writing in a draft report that “aspects of the proposed rule are in conflict with established science … and the objectives of the Clean Water Act.”
Coronavirus: Eco-tourists told to stay away from endangered wild gorillas amid fears they could contract Covid-19
People have been warned to stay away from wildlife tourism hotspots in Africa due to fears that humans could pass on the deadly coronavirus to mountain gorillas, potentially putting the endangered species at greater risk of extinction.
By Ilona Amos, Tuesday, 24th March 2020
Conservationists have closed down protected sites where the remaining gorillas live in Rwanda in a bid to prevent cross-contamination, since the primates have been shown to be susceptible to other respiratory diseases found in humans.
We share about 98 per cent of our DNA with gorillas, so human-origin diseases from common colds to coronavirus represent a persistent threat to them.
Mountain gorillas are found in high-altitude forests in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the total population estimated to be around 1,000.
A bit more than half of them live in the Virunga mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes that border the three countries, with the other half in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
But as humans have increasingly moved into their territory the great apes have been pushed further up into the mountains for longer periods, forcing them to endure extreme and sometimes deadly conditions.
Now, though, conservation efforts carried out over the past couple of decades are showing signs of success.
Despite ongoing civil conflict in the region, poaching and an encroaching human population, numbers have begun to increase.
In 2018, the mountain gorilla – a subspecies of the eastern gorilla – was reclassified from critically endangered to endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
The International Gorilla Conservation Programme (IGCP), a coalition that currently consists of Conservation International, Fauna & Flora International and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), formed in 1991.
Members work in partnership with the respective protected area authorities in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.
Income from gorilla tourism supports local and national economies and has helped transform government attitudes towards conservation.
Of 20,000 visits to Volcanoes national park in Rwanda in 2008,17,000 were to see mountain gorillas.
Now eco-tourists are being told to stay away in case the coronavirus pandemic affects this fragile population of apes.
“The recent gains in mountain gorilla numbers could rapidly reverse if disease is introduced, so protection is key at this critical time,” said WWF UK’s Africa conservation manager, Cath Lawson.
“Mountain gorillas are known to be susceptible to other human respiratory illnesses, so we have to assume that they are susceptible to the virus which causes the disease Covid-19 in humans.
“That means that right now minimising human-mountain-gorilla interaction and the opportunity for disease transmission is the priority.”
Field workers are currently carrying out only essential monitoring, wearing face masks and staying at least 10 metres away from the animals.
March 19, 2020
Win for conservation as African black rhino numbers rise
Slow recovery due to relocating groups and stronger protection through law enforcement
Numbers of African black rhinos in the wild have risen by several hundred, a rare boost in the conservation of a species driven to near extinction by poaching.
Black rhinos are still in grave danger but the small increase – an annual rate of 2.5% over six years, has swollen the population from 4,845 in 2012 to an estimated 5,630 in 2018, giving hope that efforts put into saving the species are paying off.
The painstaking attempts to save the black rhino have included moving some individuals from established groups to new locations, increasing the species’ range and ensuring viable breeding populations, as well as protecting them through stronger law enforcement efforts. Numbers of all of the three subspecies of black rhino are now improving.
“The continued slow recovery is a testament to the immense efforts made in the countries and a powerful reminder that conservation works,” said Grethel Aguilar, acting director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which compiles the global red list of species under threat.
“[But] there is no room for complacency as poaching and illegal trade remain acute threats. It is essential that the ongoing anti-poaching measures and intensive, proactive population management continue, with support from national and international actors.”
The outlook for the other African rhino species is still troubled, according to the update to the red list published on Thursday.
White rhinos are more numerous in Africa but categorised by the IUCN as near-threatened. The outlook for them has worsened in recent years, driven by high levels of poaching in South Africa’s Kruger national park. White rhinos have larger horns than their black counterparts, making them more attractive to poachers, and they are easier to find as they prefer more open habitats.
Although white rhino numbers grew between 2007 and 2012, the numbers of the southern white rhino subspecies fell by 15% during that period, from an estimated 21,300 to 18,000, cancelling out previous growth.
Poaching levels appear to have declined again in the last few years, down from a peak in 2015 when an average of 3.7 rhinos were killed every day. Estimates for 2019 suggest poaching has declined further, owing to governments taking stronger measures against the organised crime gangs behind poaching.
“With the involvement of transnational organised crime in poaching, rhino crimes are not just wildlife crimes,” said Richard Emslie, a coordinator for African rhinos at IUCN. “If the encouraging declines in poaching can continue, this should positively impact rhino numbers. Continued expenditure and efforts will be necessary to maintain this trend.”
The impacts of the coronavirus crisis are also worrying experts, as the halt to tourism will reduce resources for conservation. “The impact of Covid-19 on global tourism is likely to have significant negative impacts on private commercial wildlife operations and state national parks and game reserves that conserve rhino,” said Emslie. “Those in the field paying for all the conservation work on the ground may need more financial support so that they can maintain current efforts despite the virus.”
The costs of keeping rhinos safe have risen greatly in the last decade, however, and live sale prices have fallen, reducing incentives for private landowners and communities to keep rhinos. About half of white rhinos and nearly 40% of black rhinos are on private land or land managed by communities. If the rhinos are viewed as a cost, that will further hamper efforts to protect them.
Thursday’s update to the red list showed that more than 31,000 species around the world are threatened with extinction. The red list is likely to be updated at least three more times this year.
One of Darwin’s evolution theories finally proved by Cambridge researcher
by University of Cambridge, March 17, 2020
Scientists have proved one of Charles Darwin’s theories of evolution for the first time—nearly 140 years after his death.
Laura van Holstein, a Ph.D. student in Biological Anthropology at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and lead author of the research published today (March 18) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, discovered mammal subspecies play a more important role in evolution than previously thought.
Her research could now be used to predict which species conservationists should focus on protecting to stop them becoming endangered or extinct.
A species is a group of animals that can interbreed freely amongst themselves. Some species contain subspecies—populations within a species that differ from each other by having different physical traits and their own breeding ranges. Northern giraffes have three subspecies that usually live in different locations to each other and red foxes have the most subspecies—45 known varieties—spread all over the world. Humans have no subspecies.
van Holstein said: “We are standing on the shoulders of giants. In Chapter 3 of On the Origin of Species Darwin said animal lineages with more species should also contain more ‘varieties’. Subspecies is the modern definition. My research investigating the relationship between species and the variety of subspecies proves that sub-species play a critical role in long-term evolutionary dynamics and in future evolution of species. And they always have, which is what Darwin suspected when he was defining what a species actually was.”
The anthropologist confirmed Darwin’s hypothesis by looking at data gathered by naturalists over hundreds of years ¬- long before Darwin famously visited the Galapagos Islands on-board HMS Beagle. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, was first published in 1859 after Darwin returned home from a five-year voyage of discovery. In the seminal book, Darwin argued that organisms gradually evolved through a process called ‘natural selection’ – often known as survival of the fittest. His pioneering work was considered highly controversial because it contradicted the Bible’s account of creation.
van Holstein’s research also proved that evolution happens differently in land mammals (terrestrial) and sea mammals and bats (non-terrestrial)¬ because of differences in their habitats and differences in their ability to roam freely.
van Holstein said: “We found the evolutionary relationship between mammalian species and subspecies differs depending on their habitat. Subspecies form, diversify and increase in number in a different way in non-terrestrial and terrestrial habitats, and this in turn affects how subspecies may eventually become species. For example, if a natural barrier like a mountain range gets in the way, it can separate animal groups and send them off on their own evolutionary journeys. Flying and marine mammals—such as bats and dolphins—have fewer physical barriers in their environment.”
The research explored whether subspecies could be considered an early stage of speciation—the formation of a new species. van Holstein said: “The answer was yes. But evolution isn’t determined by the same factors in all groups and for the first time we know why because we’ve looked at the strength of the relationship between species richness and subspecies richness.”
The research acts as another scientific warning that the human impact on the habitat of animals will not only affect them now, but will affect their evolution in the future. This information could be used by conservationists to help them determine where to focus their efforts.
van Holstein explained: “Evolutionary models could now use these findings to anticipate how human activity like logging and deforestation will affect evolution in the future by disrupting the habitat of species. The impact on animals will vary depending on how their ability to roam, or range, is affected. Animal subspecies tend to be ignored, but they play a pivotal role in longer term future evolution dynamics.”
van Holstein is now going to look at how her findings can be used to predict the rate of speciation from endangered species and non-endangered species.
Notes to editors: What Darwin said on page 55 in ‘On the Origin of Species’: “From looking at species as only strongly-marked and well-defined varieties, I was led to anticipate that the species of the larger genera in each country would oftener present varieties, than the species of the smaller genera; for wherever many closely related species (i.e species of the same genus) have been formed, many varieties or incipient species ought, as a general role, to be now forming. Where many large trees grow, we expect to find saplings.”
Scientists Say Global Plan to Protect Endangered Species Has Major Flaw
By Cardiff University March 9, 2020
A global group of scientists is calling for an urgent rethink on a draft action plan to safeguard biodiversity.
The provisional action plan , unveiled in January, will form the basis of a 10-year plan to protect nature.
But in a letter published today in the journal Science, experts — including scientists from Cardiff University’s School of Biosciences and Sustainable Places Research Institute — warn the suggested targets are not broad enough.
They say the plan neglects genetic diversity despite a wealth of scientific evidence to back up the crucial role it plays within species for ecosystem resilience, species survival, and adaptation, particularly in the face of threats imposed by global change.
Professor Mike Bruford, Dr. Pablo Orozco-terWengel and Dr. Isa-Rita Russo are among the signatories to the letter which outlines “deep concern” that goals around genetic diversity — the building block of evolution and of all biological diversity — are “weak.”
“This letter is a timely warning that at a time when the world’s conservation community is taking critical steps to halt the further loss of global biodiversity, genetic variation must be maintained and enhanced where possible,” said Professor Bruford, who is co-chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Conservation Genetics Specialist Group.
“If not, we risk a world where genetically inviable, poorly adapted and vulnerable populations will increasingly struggle to avoid extinction.”
The Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) released the first version of its plan — dubbed the zero draft of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework — in January.
The CBD is an international treaty under the United Nations Environment Programme, formed at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and is currently signed by 195 nations plus the European Union.
The CBD’s post-2020 framework document describes the urgent need to halt biodiversity loss by 2030 and to live in harmony with biodiversity by 2050.
New concrete targets and commitments for biodiversity conservation for the post-2020 period are currently being discussed by governments and non-governmental actors for a vote scheduled for October 2020.
The document is designed to guide countries’ actions in conserving biodiversity and assessing their progress.
It sets out five objectives — protecting ecosystems, species, and genes, advancing sustainable development and ensuring equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biodiversity and traditional knowledge.
The scientists say maintenance of genetic diversity is included — but the indicators of progress focus on domesticated and cultivated species and on wild relatives of “useful” species.
They recommend the post-2020 framework document should explicitly commit signatories to maintain genetic diversity of all species, not just useful ones, and to implement strategies to halt genetic erosion and preserve the adaptive potential of populations of wild and domesticated species.
In their letter, the scientists propose improved indicators for monitoring the genetic diversity of species, based on genetically efficient population sizes and the risk of loss of genetically differentiated populations.
“It is encouraging that the CBD post-2020-draft includes genetic diversity in one of five main goals. However, including explicit protection for genetic diversity in wild as well as domestic species, and strategies to measure the effectiveness of efforts toward that goal, will ensure that signatories prioritize this important aspect of biodiversity conservation,” they said.
1. Provisional Action Plan “ZERO DRAFT OF THE POST-2020 GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY FRAMEWORK” PDF
2. Post-2020 goals overlook genetic diversity Science
Stony Corals Seem to Be Preparing for a Mass Extinction, Scientists Report
By Jordan Davidson
Stony corals provide habitat for an eye-popping one-fourth of the ocean’s species. They serve as the centerpiece of a rich and diverse ecosystem, which is why their recent behavior has scientists concerned. New research shows that stony corals around the world are hunkering down into survival mode as they prepare for a mass extinction event, according to a new study published in Scientific Reports.
The international research team was composed of scientists from New York, California, Israel, England and Germany. They noticed a suite of behaviors that correspond to a survival response commensurate with how they behaved during the last mass extinction 66 million years ago, according to the new study.
“When we finally put all this together and saw the result, for me it was that moment when the hair on the back of your neck stands up,” said marine biologist David Gruber, from The City University of New York, to Newsweek. “It was like, Oh my goodness, [the corals] are doing exactly what they did back then.”
The researchers had a rich-history of corals to compare with modern species. Coral skeletons leave an indelible, time-stamped fossil record for scientists to examine the conditions that led to their dying. The scientists were able to compare those fossils with the 839 coral species on the red list of threatened species recognized by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as Newsweek reported.
The scientists looked at the traits of corals that survived the last major extinction event. They found that the colorful, wavy corals that attract scuba divers did not last. The ones that did survive are the ones that form small colonies and seek out deep water, which are the same ones showing signs of thriving today, as Newsweek reported.
“It was incredibly spooky to witness how corals are now exhibiting the same traits as they did at the last major extinction event,” said Gruber, in a statement put out by the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center. “Corals seem to be preparing to jump across an extinction boundary, while we are putting our foot further on the pedal.”
Coral reefs around the world are struggling. Recently, a mysterious virus has wiped out large swaths of Caribbean corals, a marine heatwave is threatening the health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the climate crisis threatens to wipe out most corals by 2100, and corals in the Red Sea are struggling to spawn, according to recent research, as Earth.com reported.
Researchers who monitored coral spawning in the Red Sea for four years found that males and females were acting erratically and missing each other’s spawning events, leading to fewer juvenile coral, which paves the way toward extinction, as Earth.com reported.
“Regardless of the exact cause leading to these declines in spawning synchrony, our findings serve as a timely wake-up call to start considering these subtler challenges to coral survival, which are very likely also impacting additional species in other regions,” said Tom Shlesinger, one of the lead researchers on the Red Sea study.
As for the mass extinction that corals seem to be preparing for, Gruber told Newsweek, “We can put a person on the moon, we can come up with all these amazing technologies. We can reverse this in due time if we have the motivation. But what the data is showing is that we’re not doing that. We’re putting our foot further on the pedal, whereas the corals are reacting and changing.”
Vulnerable species safest on federally protected lands
By Brooks Hays
March 2 (UPI) — Vulnerable species are most at risk on private lands, according to a new study. On federally protected lands, rates of habitat loss and extinction are diminished.
For the study, scientists at Tufts University and the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife surveyed three decades of earth satellite images for evidence of habitat loss. The data, detailed Monday in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, showed habitat loss for endangered species was twice as great on private lands than on federally protected lands.
The study suggests protections offered by an endangered species listing and land use regulations are beneficial to vulnerable species.
Instead of looking at a specific species, confined region and certain king of habitat, researchers set out to measure the nationwide impacts of local land regulations and conservation policies on habitat loss for 24 endangered vertebrate species.
Scientists first mapped the ranges of the 24 species, which comprised 49 percent of the country and encompassed all major ecosystems. Then, researchers used the Google Earth Engine LandTrendr algorithm to identify habitat change across the ranges.
The species lost 3.6 percent of their habitat on federally protected lands and some 8.6 percent of their habitat on private lands without protections. Lands managed by states and lands protected by non-governmental organizations featured habitat losses measuring roughly 4.5 percent.
Because some of the species included in the study were classified as endangered during the course of the 30-year time frame, scientists were able to measure the effects of the listing on habitat loss. The data showed species lost less habitat on federal lands after the official endangered designation.
In other words, the Endangered Species Act is a boon to vulnerable species in the United States.
The data suggests federal land protections alone aren’t as helpful. The combination of land-use regulations and an official endangered designation works best. Efforts to coordinate state land protections with federal land protections could further insulate vulnerable species for habitat loss, according to the new study.
“We know from research conducted by other scientists that development surrounding protected areas can reduce the effectiveness of those protections for animals,” first study author Adam Eichenwald, a biology graduate student at Tufts, said in a news release.
Authors of the new study acknowledged that federal lands could become less effective as climate change alters the ranges of vulnerable species.
Global climate change can force species to move, which we worry may eventually result in areas designed to protect species without any of their protected occupants,” Eichenwald said.
Though the new research suggests federal regulations are helpful to vulnerable species, federal lands still host small amounts of habitat loss. Researchers suggest more needs be done to curb habitat loss and protect important ecosystems.
“At a time when the planet faces a looming extinction crisis, we need every tool available to protect species and their habitats,” said study co-author Jacob Malcom, director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife. “This research illustrates the critical importance of America’s federal lands system for conserving wildlife habitat and the urgent need for better protections on other land ownerships. Biodiversity and the services it provides to society can be conserved through concerted effort and transformative change; protecting habitats must be an essential part of that effort.”
Trump Has Been Very Bad for Vulnerable Animals. The Administration May Finally Have to Change Its Behavior.
The species at risk include the northern spotted owl, the tufted puffin, and, my personal favorite flora, Venus’ flytrap.
Jackie Mogensen, 2/27/20
In the past three years, the Trump administration has targeted rules and regulations critical for wildlife survival from every angle: It has stripped long-standing protections and instituted new hoops to jump through in the name of economic growth. It has made it easier for polluters to dump pesticides in lakes and rivers. It has opened public lands for oil drilling. It has approved seismic testing in the Atlantic. In all, President Trump and his allies in Congress have made dozens of attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act since the president took office.
But of all the ways the federal government has failed to protect vulnerable species, one of the most damaging may be by doing nothing at all.
In order for a species to be protected under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government must officially consider it for listing. Under Trump, officials have simply failed to rule on many cases, despite creating a specific work plan to do so—piling onto an enormous backlog of more than 500 species waiting to be listed as threatened or endangered, or granted other safeguards, like habitat protection. Most of those species have been in limbo since the Obama or Bush administrations, but the Trump administration, environmentalists allege, “consistently failed” to meet its own deadlines to address the backlog.
Now, an environmental group is trying to get the Trump administration to act—via a new lawsuit that could secure safeguards for potentially hundreds of species.
Filed on Thursday in the Washington, DC, district court by the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit that advocates for endangered species, the lawsuit represents 241 species that have been awaiting protections for, in most cases, years—including the eastern spotted skunk, the northern spotted owl, the tufted puffin, and Venus’ flytrap (my personal favorite flora). By the numbers, it’s one of the largest lawsuits ever filed over alleged Endangered Species Act violations.
Ironically, the suit is a result of a plan that the US Fish and Wildlife Service created in part to avoid getting sued by environmental groups, according to Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. Back in 2016, the agency introduced a plan to address the backlog of proposals left behind by its predecessors. But it’s failed to carry out its own plan. According to the lawsuit, the agency missed its own work plan’s deadlines for 30 species in 2017, 78 species in 2018, and 46 species in 2019.
The Center for Biological Diversity calculates that the Trump Interior Department has only approved 21 species to be listed (on average, less than seven per year), which the center says is the “lowest of any administration at this point in the presidential term”—a performance slightly worse than President George W. Bush, whose administration listed about eight species per year. It’s not a perfect comparison—administrations deny and approve listings for different reasons— but for reference, the Obama administration approved an average of 45 species per year and the Clinton administration approved 65 species per year.
Greenwald claims that the reason for the backlog of pending Endangered Species Act petitions comes down to “political interference at multiple levels,” especially at the Interior Department, where the Fish and Wildlife Service oversees the listing process. “There are these various political appointees in different positions [there] who have a very long record of opposition to the protection of endangered species, and I think they just end up hanging up decisions by asking questions: ‘Well, are we sure about the range of the species?’; ‘Are we sure this threat is really impacting them?’”
The influence of corporate interests at the Interior Department has also been heavily documented. As my colleague Rebecca Leber wrote in January, a report from consumer advocacy group Public Citizen found that past clients of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a former energy lobbyist, have spent $30 million lobbying the administration since Trump took office. “Under Trump, insiders have taken control over virtually every agency,” Public Citizen’s Alan Zibel, the report’s author, said at the time, “and the Interior Department is one of the far most egregious examples.” According to a survey of 360 staffers at the Fish and Wildlife Service conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2018, 69 percent of staffers felt that political interests were a “burden to science-based decisionmaking” at the agency.
But according to the Interior Department, lawsuits from environmental groups are the real problem. “By continually filing lawsuits, frequent filers like CBD [Center for Biological Diversity] want to have the courts impose CBD’s priorities for species protection rather than Fish and Wildlife Service experts,” an Interior spokesperson tells Mother Jones in an email. (The Center for Biological Diversity has sued the Trump administration nearly 200 times since the president took office.)
For species on the brink of extinction, a listing under the Endangered Species Act can be a critical lifeline. At least 47 species have gone extinct while on the waitlist since the Endangered Species Act became law in 1973—a faster rate than species that have been listed. Just in the past decade, Greenwald says, officials have declared at least five once-waitlisted species or subspecies to be extinct, including two freshwater snails, two beetles, and the Tacoma pocket gopher, a gopher subspecies once found in the Pacific Northwest. “[The Trump administration] is not making progress in listing species,” Greenwald says. “Delays in listing results in extinctions in some cases, or further declines in species. It’s serious.”
The lawsuit, Greenwald hopes, will jolt the administration into action—if Trump still occupies the White House by the time the case closes. Victory for environmentalists may, after all, come in another form: a new administration in 2021. “It’s been a setback these four years,” Greenwald says. “Another four years seems devastating.”
NY Times, Feb. 20, 2020
California Sues Trump Administration Over Alleged Failure to Protect Species
(Reuters) – California is suing the administration of President Donald Trump for what it calls the administration’s failure to protect endangered species in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the California Natural Resources Agency, and the California Environmental Protection Agency filed the lawsuit on Thursday against the Trump administration in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The attorney general said the Trump administration was adopting “scientifically challenged biological opinions that push species to extinction” and harm natural resources and waterways.
The lawsuit stressed the Trump administration’s alleged failure to protect endangered fish species from federal water export operations.
In October, the Trump administration announced a plan to divert water to California farmers, fulfilling a campaign promise made by the president.
However, some experts and federal biologists said the diversion would harm fish and drive endangered salmon closer to extinction.
Last August, the administration said it would change the way the Endangered Species Act was applied, making it harder to protect wildlife from multiple threats posed by climate change.
“We are challenging the federal biological opinions, which do not currently govern water project operation in the delta, to protect highly imperiled fish species close to extinction,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said.
California has challenged the Trump administration over its environmental policies on dozens of occasions.
Last month, it sued the administration over a plan to open up more than a million acres of public land to oil and gas drilling.
Thursday’s lawsuit was filed as a “complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief”, the court filing showed.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Bald eagles across the United States are dying from lead poisoning
By Alaa Elassar, CNN
Updated February 16, 2020
(CNN)Bald eagles across the United States are dying from lead bullets — but it’s not because they’re being shot.
The Cape Fear Raptor Center, North Carolina’s largest eagle rehab facility, has treated seven eagles in the past month for lead poisoning, executive director Dr. Joni Shimp told CNN.
Since November, at least 80% of the eagles the facility has euthanized were put down because of lead poisoning.
Hunters use lead bullets to kill deer and other animals. Although the hunters aren’t targeting eagles, the birds are still indirectly affected when they consume animals shot with those bullets.
“Hunters in no way, shape or form intentionally try to kill an eagle, vulture or any other species,” she said.
“If the deer isn’t killed immediately and runs and the hunter can’t find the deer, the eagles and vultures find it and ingest the lead.”
Once absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, the lead becomes toxic.
The latest incident for the center occurred Friday, when Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation found an eagle showing symptoms of lead poisoning and transported it to the Cape Fear Raptor Center for treatment. Dehydrated and too weak to move, the bird died the same night, said Lou Browning, president of the rehabilitation center.
Lead poisoning can cause a “lack of judgment when flying across roadways, the inability to take flight quickly resulting in being hit by cars, seizures and death,” Shimp said.
Depending on the severity of the poisoning, some eagles survive after veterinarians use chelation therapy, injecting the birds with a drug that binds the toxins in their bloodstream and allows it be removed from their bodies.
Those in too much pain are put down. Many die despite treatment.
It’s a national problem
Millions of birds across the United States, including bald eagles, are poisoned by lead every year, according to the American Bird Conservancy.
“It’s an overall US problem. The lead poisoning increases during deer season but we see it all year,” Shimp said. “Some times it’s chronic low-grade exposure over time that also brings them down.”
Shimp said she believes the only solution is to educate hunters on the importance of using of non-lead ammunition.
Copper bullets can be purchased online but are more expensive and difficult to find in stores, she said.
“We need to target the big chain stores and get them to carry copper bullets,” Shimp said. “Then I can set up education days at these stores, with a vulture, red tail (hawk) or eagle and show the hunters and point them to the copper ammo. Then we can start to win this war … the war on lead, not on hunters.”
The Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, established in 1940, prohibits possessing, selling or hunting bald eagles. Federal, state and municipal laws continue to protect these animals even after they were removed from endangered animal lists in 2007.
Climate change may eradicate ⅓ of animal and plant species in 50 years, study suggests
By Li Cohenm, February 15, 2020 CBS News
In 50 years, Billie Eilish will be turning 69 years old, technology will likely be unrecognizable, and the world may have lost ⅓ of all its plant and animal species. A new study has found that warming temperatures will likely cause hundreds of species to go extinct
Researchers at the University of Arizona analyzed 538 plant and animal species from around the world, 44% of which already faced local extinctions in at least one area in the world. What they discovered is that the areas that suffered from species extinctions had “larger and faster changes in hottest yearly temperatures than those without.”
Last month was the hottest January in the 141 years of climate record-keeping history, and scientists expect that 2020 will “very likely to rank among the five warmest years on record,” according to a statistical analysis by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. The previous decade was the hottest on record.
Cristian Román-Palacios, one of the researchers, said in a statement that they also estimated how quickly populations can move in an attempt to escape increasing temperatures. They found that species can only tolerate increasing maximum temperatures to a point. If the maximum temperature increased by more than 32.9 degrees Fahrenheit, 50% of the species they analyzed suffered from local extinction. Areas where the temperature increased by more than 37.22 degrees Fahrenheit saw a local extinction rate of 95%.
“When we put all of these pieces of information together for each species, we can come up with detailed estimates of global extinction rates for hundreds of plant and animal species,” he said.
The researchers expect that the animals likely to face the worst rates of extinction are those that live in the tropics. Tropics-based species are two to four times more likely to face extinction than those in temperate areas. Most of the U.S. is in the temperate region, but species in the southern states may feel the brunt of the impact.
“This is a big problem, because the majority of plant and animal species occur in the tropics,” Román-Palacios said.
As stated in their paper’s abstract, which is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers have come to a single conclusion: “The response of species to climate change is of increasingly urgent importance.”
“In a way, it’s a ‘choose your own adventure,'” said researcher John J. Wiens. “If we stick to the Paris Agreement to combat climate change, we may lose fewer than two out of every 10 plant and animal species on Earth by 2070. But if humans cause larger temperature increases, we could lose more than a third or even half of all animal and plant species, based on our results.”
Urgent measures to protect threatened species on the table as delegates gather for 13th CMS conference
News provided by International Fund for Animal Welfare
Feb 14, 2020,
WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Proposals to improve protection for jaguars, elephants, sharks and other species will be on the agenda as the 13th Conference of the Parties (CoP) of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) begins on Monday (17) in Gandhinagar, India.
The ability of many migratory animals to survive across their range will be affected by decisions taken at the meeting by attending government representatives of most of the 130 member parties. The conference is scheduled to run until next Saturday (22).
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and head of IFAW’s delegation at CMS, said: “Habitat loss and other human-made threats, as well as lack of consistent national legislative protection for many species which cross national boundaries, has decimated some animal populations which are now at a tipping point for future survival. CMS offers a unique opportunity to ensure we step up to protect these animals across their range states and the place they call home. It is vital that countries seize this opportunity to safeguard some of our most vulnerable species.”
Jaguars will be prominent on the agenda at CoP13, with a proposal to list them on both appendices of CMS to increase protections across their range, which covers 19 states. Urgent action is vital with 40% of jaguar habitat having been lost over the last 100 years. Further destruction of habitat and critical migratory corridors likely poses the greatest threat to the survival of the iconic species.
While the jaguar is classed as ‘Near Threatened’ globally, 13 range states have declared the jaguar to be ‘Endangered’, four ‘Vulnerable’, while two have already suffered local extinctions. Co-proposed by six countries in Latin America, this is the highest ever number of co-proponents for a proposal at CMS, excluding those sponsored collectively by all EU member states. This demonstrates the strength of regional support for this flagship species.
Collis added: “IFAW is strongly supportive of the proposal to list the jaguar and therefore provide vital protection for this animal which is emblematic of the problems facing many migratory species. An Appendix I and II listing will encourage greater regional cooperation, particularly for management of transboundary populations, maintenance or creation of key migratory corridors for isolated populations and prevent further jaguar habitat loss and population declines.
“It is critical that CMS puts these safeguards in place for this species – the largest native cat in the Americas – if we are to help sustain it in both the shorter and longer term.”
The mainland Asian elephant has been proposed for listing for the first time by host country India. Classified as ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN, Asian elephants suffer threats from habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal killing for ivory and other products or in retaliation due to human-elephant conflict, or deaths through contact with human infrastructure, such as collisions with trains.
“The inclusion of Asian elephants under CMS can be the catalyst for a regional agreement by Asian elephant range states, where CMS member and non-member states can take collective actions to protect the many populations of Asian elephant that are transboundary,” said Collis.
Also proposed for listing is the oceanic whitetip shark, once considered one of the most common tropical sharks in the world, but now one of the most endangered sharks in the ocean. Its drastic decline is due in part to overfishing, particularly for the lucrative shark fin soup trade, which has decimated populations throughout its range. With its Red List status updated last December to critically endangered, its losses average a shocking 98-100% worldwide.
Collis added: “Although it can’t be legally caught or retained by most international and regional fisheries management organisations, this species may still go extinct because of its depleted population. Its status and the threat of imminent extinction shows the urgent need for better global protection.”
Other key species which will be considered for action to protect them include the giraffe, undergoing a ‘silent extinction’ as numbers have plummeted by up to 40% over the last 30 years, as well as guitarfish and wedgefish (the most endangered group of sharks) and African carnivores, including the highly trafficked cheetah.
IFAW works in more than 40 countries, to rescue and protect animals and their habitats, for a world where animals and people can thrive together. A team of IFAW experts will be attending CMS CoP13 and are available for interview throughout.
Nearly $1 million worth of illegal shark fins seized by wildlife inspectors in Florida
Friday, February 7, 2020
MIAMI, Fla. — Officials have confiscated about $1 million worth of shark fins.
The shipment includes roughly 1,400 pounds of the animal products that were hidden in 18 boxes.
“An estimated one million sharks are killed every year for their fins,” said Eva Lara with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.
On Jan. 24, federal authorities intercepted a shipment of nearly 1,400 pounds of shark fins at Miami International Airport.
“Wildlife inspectors of the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service are the nation’s frontline defense against illegal wildlife trade,” Lara said.
Officials said this is one of the largest illegal shark fin seizures ever.
“The shipment originated in South America, and it was in transit in the United States on its way to a final destination in Asia,” Lara said.
The president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund responded by saying in part that this case “speaks to the worldwide crisis facing sharks.”
She goes on to call for action in the US Senate and said “sharks are worth more alive than in a bowl of soup.”
“Studies will tell you that there is no scientific evidence that shark fin soup has any medicinal purposes or benefits to humans whatsoever,” said Zachary Mann with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Authorities said they are hoping this sheds a light on the dangers of the illegal shark fin market.
“Unable to swim and move water through their gills, the shark sinks to the bottom of the ocean and slowly suffocates, and some bleed to death and others are eaten by scavengers,” Lara said.
About a third of the shark species in the world are threatened.
Officials said the fins violate the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.
Climate change could push bumblebees to extinction
The future is looking even more dire for bees
By Justine Calma Feb 6, 2020
Bumblebees are vanishing at a rate consistent with widespread extinction, and climate change is playing a big role. The dire analysis comes from a new study published in the journal Science today. The authors found that the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in any given place within North America and Europe has dropped by an average of 30 percent as temperatures have risen.
Pesticides, habitat loss, and pathogens have already hit bumblebee populations hard. The new study, however, is able to isolate the effect that hotter temperatures are having on bumblebees. Sadly, bees are having a hard time adapting to a warming world.
“If things continue along the path without any change, then we can really quickly start to see a lot of these species being lost forever,” lead author of the study Peter Soroye tells The Verge. That’s not just a tragedy for the bees. It’s also bad news for all the plants that they pollinate and for humans who eat the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. “We also lose out on a lot of color on our plates,” Soroye says. Tomatoes, squash, and berries are just some of the crops we can thank bees for pollinating. Animal pollinators like bees, birds, and butterflies could be responsible for up to 1 out of every 3 bites of food we eat, the US Department of Agriculture says.
For this study, Soroye and colleagues examined data from 1900 to 2015 on 66 species of bumblebees across North America and Europe. They mapped the places bees called home and how their distribution changed over time. They found that bees were vanishing in the areas that had heated up beyond the limit in which the bumblebees had historically been able to survive. Some bee populations are colonizing new territories that were previously too cold. But those gains are overshadowed by losses in areas where the bees once thrived but are now too hot.
These are just the latest findings pointing to an uncertain future for bees since climate change is only piling on top of other stressors. The relative abundance of four different species of bumblebees in the United States dropped by up to 96 percent, while their geographic range shrank by up to 87 percent in as little as 20 years, according to a 2011 study. The rusty-patched bumblebee, which is found across the Midwest and East Coast of the US, was classified as an endangered species in 2017. Seven other species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees became the first bees on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list in 2016. And the American bumblebee ought to be considered critically endangered in Canada, a study by York University found last year. (Canada has ranked it as having a lower level of risk of extinction.)
“It’s really hard sometimes in that these papers are very devastating and depressing to read,” says Rebecca Irwin, director of the Biology graduate program at North Carolina State University, who was not involved in the study. “This seems to be a strong pattern that’s been observed across a number of studies now, and so it is very worrying,” Irwin says. She and the report authors hope that this research can spur conservation efforts.
“Basically what we study is the end of the world, extinction being the end of a species’ world,” says Jeremy Kerr, a biologist at the University of Ottawa and co-author of the study. “We need some good news too.”
He hopes that by figuring out why species of bumblebees are in decline, researchers will be able to pinpoint ways to help bring bee numbers back up and potentially avert extinction. One small measure that home gardeners can take, the study says, is to also include trees or shady areas where bees can cool down. Sometimes, even the bees need a break.
CBD Release: 1/29/20
House Democrats Advance Legislation to Undo Trump’s Attack on Endangered Species Act
WASHINGTON— The House Natural Resources Committee today voted to approve legislation that would reverse the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks of the Endangered Species Act, one of the most successful and popular environmental laws in the country.
The committee advanced the Protecting America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act largely along party lines. The bill can now be considered by the entire U.S. House of Representatives.
“The world loses more unique animals and plants to the extinction crisis every day we don’t take action,” said Stephanie Kurose, an endangered species policy specialist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re grateful lawmakers have taken this important step to reverse the Trump administration’s cruel attack on the Endangered Species Act. Once a species is gone, it’s gone forever.”
The Trump rollbacks, which went into effect September 2019, weakened protections for critical habitat and made it harder to add species to the lists of threatened and endangered species. The changes reduce protections for any species listed as “threatened” and gut the federal consultation process designed to protect species from harmful federal agency activities.
The new rules were finalized just months after the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, known as IPBES, warned governments around the world that 1 million species are now at risk of extinction because of human activity. IPBES scientists said that urgent actions are needed to avert mass extinction in the coming decades.
“The scale and pace of this extinction crisis is like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” said Kurose. “Congress must restore the crucial protections America’s animals and plants desperately need, but it can’t stop there. Bold solutions are needed to truly address this extinction crisis.”
Earlier this month the Center released a new plan, calling on the United States to invest $100 billion to save species and fund the creation of 500 new national parks, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries. The plan, Saving Life on Earth, also calls for restoring endangered species policies revoked by Trump, dedicating public lands to wildlife conservation, ending illegal international wildlife trade, significantly reducing pollution and plastics, controlling invasive species, and renewing American leadership to develop a global strategy to stem the extinction crisis.
Grijalva says Republican bills would destroy landmark law
Kellie Lunney, E&E News reporter • E&E Daily: Friday, January 17, 2020
The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee yesterday pushed back against a renewed Republican effort to reform the Endangered Species Act, indicating the legislation won’t go anywhere.
“At this point, I don’t have any compelling interest to have a hearing” on the bills, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) told E&E News yesterday.
“This is an effort to destroy ESA from some of the more extreme people,” the chairman said, of a 17-bill legislative package unveiled Wednesday by the GOP-led Congressional Western Caucus.
Grijalva said Democrats are readying their own efforts to counter what they view as attacks on the 46-year-old law by several Republicans and the Trump administration. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) has been “tasked with that,” the chairman said.
The Arizona Democrat and New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall (D) in September introduced a bill that would repeal Trump administration changes to the Endangered Species Act that they say weaken the 1973 law.
Grijalva said he had not been approached yet about hearings for the Republican ESA reform bills.
“I’m sure the administration would want to testify on these,” the chairman said. Grijalva long has complained about administration officials not providing information or testimony on a range of issues to his committee.
The legislative package from the Western Caucus, which has been unveiled in recent days, is nearly identical to draft legislation the group floated last fall during a Capitol Hill roundtable on the ESA. The lineup is a mix of new legislation filed this month and bills that have been introduced before.
“This package of bills would protect private property rights, encourage voluntary conservation, improve forest health in order to protect species and local communities, increase multiple use activities and protect critical infrastructure,” said Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) in a statement Wednesday in the midst of the package push.
Gosar and other Republicans have said the ESA’s 3% recovery rate during the statute’s lifetime is not indicative of success, and as a result, Congress needs to revamp the law.
The GOP bills would modify and streamline various aspects of the ESA, from altering the delisting designation process to allowing the Interior secretary to proclaim a petition backlog if too many complaints are filed.
Other bills would codify some of the final ESA rules the Trump administration released in August, which Democrats and green groups have decried.
H.R. 5557 from Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck would enshrine into law the Trump regulation scraping the so-called blanket 4(d) rule giving the Fish and Wildlife Service flexibility to provide identical protections to threatened and endangered species.
Another measure, H.R. 5591 from Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.), would codify a different Trump rule related to listing species and designating critical habitat under the ESA.
As it relates to critical habitat, the administration’s final rules add a requirement that, “at a minimum, an unoccupied area must have one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species in order to be considered as potential critical habitat,” language based on a narrow 2018 Supreme Court ruling involving the dusky gopher frog.
Johnson’s bill also would define the term “foreseeable future” for threatened species listings “to reduce speculation and use of bad science in the process,” according to a summary of the legislation.
‘Finish the job’
Groups like Earthjustice blasted the caucus’s ESA bills.
“The Trump administration put the first nail in the coffin for wildlife facing extinction, and now the Western Caucus is pulling out its hammer to try and finish the job,” said Marjorie Mulhall, Earthjustice’s legislative director for lands, wildlife and oceans.
Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said the overall legislative package would “weaken” the ESA but that “not all the ideas in these bills are unreasonable.”
Still, Leahy said, “Congress should focus on getting wildlife managers the funding they need to keep species from becoming threatened or endangered.” He said the best way to do that is to pass the bipartisan “Recovering America’s Wildlife Act” and fully funding the ESA (E&E News PM, Dec. 5, 2019).
Other legislation included in the caucus package would increase the role of state and local governments in the petition and listing processes and require scientific data used in listing and delisting decisions to be made more readily available to the public.
Another bill would bar privately owned land being designated critical habitat, unless the landowner agrees to it or the Interior secretary “certifies there is endangerment or extinction of the species without such designation.”
Rep. Pete Olson’s bill, H.R. 5585, would require a review of the economic cost of adding a species to the list of endangered or threatened species.
“Protecting endangered species can and should be done in a practical way,” the Texas Republican said. “The government should have the flexibility to act quickly and practically on listing and delisting petitions.”
Natural resources priorities
In addition to blocking GOP efforts to reform the ESA, Grijalva will juggle several other natural resources priorities for Democrats in the coming months.
The chairman told reporters Wednesday he’s had “a lot of communications” with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, about coal miners’ pension issues, for instance.
Grijalva said upcoming House committee markups likely will feature legislation related to indigenous communities on such issues as tribal consultation and sacred sites.
Those are some of the bills still in the hopper that he’d like to see part of the discussion on a year-end public lands package, which Manchin and ENR Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are working on, he said.
“We haven’t had an opportunity for all the corners to get together” yet, Grijalva said, referring to himself, Murkowski, Manchin and Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, the top Republican on the Natural Resources Committee.
Grijalva’s panel also plans to have a hand in crafting and shepherding legislation based on recommendations, expected in March, from the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Scientists Seek Rare Species Survivors Amid Australia Flames
By The Associated Press
Published Jan. 17, 2020Updated Jan. 18, 2020, 7:36 a.m. ET
Australia’s unprecedented wildfires season has so far charred 40,000 square miles (104,000 square kilometers) of brushland, rainforests, and national parks — killing by one estimate more than a billion wild animals. Scientists fear some of the island continent’s unique and colorful species may not recover. For others, they are trying to throw lifelines.
Where flames have subsided, biologists are starting to look for survivors, hoping they may find enough left of some rare and endangered species to rebuild populations. It’s a grim task for a nation that prides itself on its diverse wildlife, including creatures found nowhere else on the planet such as koalas, kangaroos and wallabies.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a single event in Australia that has destroyed so much habitat and pushed so many creatures to the very brink of extinction,” said Kingsley Dixon, an ecologist at Curtin University in Perth.
Not long after wildfires passed through Oxley Wild Rivers National Park in New South Wales, ecologist Guy Ballard set out looking for brush-tailed rock wallabies.
The small marsupials resemble miniature kangaroos with long floppy tails and often bound between large boulders, their preferred hiding spots.
Before this fire season, scientists estimated there were as few as 15,000 left in the wild. Now recent fires in a region already stricken by drought have burned through some of their last habitat, and the species is in jeopardy of disappearing, Ballard said.
In prior years, his team identified a handful of colonies within the national park. After the recent fires, they found smoking tree stumps and dead animals.
“It was just devastating,” said Ballard from the University of New England in Armidale. “You could smell dead animals in the rocks.”
But some wallabies, his team discovered, were still alive. “All you can do is focus on the survivors,” he said.
Australia’s forests and wildlife evolved alongside periodic wildfires. What’s different this year is the vast extent of land burned — an area as big as Kentucky — against a backdrop of drought and searing temperatures attributed to climate change. Last year, among the driest in more than a century, saw temperatures that routinely topped 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).
Not all animals will perish in the blazes. Some can shelter in rock crevices or hide deep in underground burrows. Yet when survivors emerge into a fire-scorched wasteland, they will face hunger, thirst and non-native predators, including introduced foxes and feral cats.
Since fires swept through parts of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park nearly two months ago, there’s been little rain and no green shoots.
So Ballard’s team has trekked through the ash-covered forest carrying water and sacks of sweet potatoes, carrots and food pellets.
“There are so few left that, with a species this rare, every individual counts,” he says.
Elsewhere in New South Wales, conservation workers are dropping vegetables from airplanes into scorched forests, hoping that wallabies and other species find a meal.
In the state of Victoria, authorities estimate that brush-tailed rock wallabies lost 40% of their habitat as did another rare marsupial, the long-footed potoroo, according to a preliminary damage assessment.
The full toll on Australia’s wildlife includes at least 20 and possibly as many as 100 threatened species pushed closer to extinction, according to scientists from several Australian universities.
“The worry is that with so much lost, there won’t be a pool of rare animals and plants to later repopulate burnt areas,” said Jim Radford, an ecologist at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
The fires could knock out rainforest species dating back to the time of the Gondwana supercontinent, before the modern continents split apart, he said.
University of Sydney ecologist Christopher Dickman estimated that more than 1 billion animals have been killed so far. His calculations took previously-published animal density numbers for different vegetation types and multiplied that by acreage burned.
He says that number does not include bats, amphibians, insects or other invertebrates.
The wildlife toll includes tens of millions of possums and small marsupials known as gliders, which live in tree tops and can leap extraordinary distances by using a parachute-like membrane of skin between their ankles and wrists. State officials in Victoria predicted more than a 25% reduction in glider numbers from the fires.
“The implications for some species are pretty grim,” Dickman said. “If we can’t protect them here, they’re gone. No one else has them.”
The Australian government announced Monday that it was spending $50 million on emergency wildlife rescue efforts and habitat recovery.
Fires are still burning in the Blue Mountains, a UNESCO World Heritage site west of Sydney — one of the last strongholds of the regent honeyeater, an elegant black and yellow bird that has already lost 95% of its breeding habitat since European settlers arrived in Australia.
There are only 300 to 400 of the birds left in the wild, says Ross Crates, an ecologist at Australia National University. They are dependent on nectar from certain eucalyptus tree blossoms, but the dry weather has meant that many trees are producing no nectar.
After the wildfires subside, Crates plans to survey what’s been newly scorched. “Even for birds that survive the fires, we are concerned about how they will feed and nest.”
In recent months, areas that don’t usually burn went up in flames. Some rainforests dried up in the drought and extreme heat, allowing fire to sweep through them.
Few images have tugged at heartstrings more than koalas clinging to burnt trees. Unlike birds or ground mammals, they cannot fly away or burrow underground.
While koalas are not classified as vulnerable to extinction, their populations in some fire-ravaged areas may have been snuffed out. “We know there’s been a massive reduction of their overall habitat, and we’re not even at the end of fire season,” said Mathew Crowther, an ecologist at the University of Sydney.
“Koalas won’t go extinct in the next few years, but if their habitat is destroyed bit by bit, it could eventually be death by a thousand cuts. We have to look at long-term trends — what will the temperatures and wildfires be like in the future?”
(Brown reported from Billings, Mont. and Larson from Washington, D.C.)
Majority support ban on fishing of endangered species, Govt subsidies: Survey
By Daily Excelsior –
NEW DELHI/GENEVA, Jan 9: A large majority of seafood consumers across the world, including in India, support a ban on fishing of endangered species altogether, while a majority is also in support of banning government subsidies to fisheries contributing to overfishing and illegal fishing, a global survey has found.
The survey, commissioned by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and conducted by Ipsos Group, showed that three out of four adults who regularly buy seafood support a ban on fishing of endangered species (77 per cent). The support for such a ban was found to be the highest in Columbia (91 per cent) and lowest in Japan (47 per cent), while 66 per cent in India supported it, as per the survey.
Globally, 73 per cent favoured stopping government fisheries subsidies that lead to overfishing and illegal fishing — the highest being 87 per cent in Peru and the lowest in Japan at 48 per cent. In India, 66 per cent supported a ban on such subsidies.
Also, 77 per cent globally supported banning restaurants and stores from selling endangered species of fish, while this percentage was also 66 per cent in India. The survey, based on responses from nearly 20,000 adults in 28 countries, found that seven in ten adults globally buy fish at least once a month, while at least one in four consumers in some countries buy fish several times a week.
It found India is the country with the highest proportion of consumers who never buy fish (32 per cent). Geneva-based WEF, which describes itself as an international organisation for public-private cooperation, said the poll has showed an overwhelming public support for ban on fishing for endangered species at a time when the World Trade Organization (WTO) members are facing pressure to end fisheries subsidies that deplete fish stocks and threaten food security for millions of people.
It said over USD 2.5 million per hour — USD 22.2 billion a year — of public money was spent on harmful fisheries subsidies last year.
Negotiations at the WTO are at a critical stage for a deal for ending harmful fisheries subsidies by mid-2020, which is also one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by all UN member states.
According to the World Bank, improvement in global fisheries management can also bring economic gains estimated at USD 83 billion.
In terms of fishing subsidies given in 2018, China topped the charts, followed by the EU, US, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
Over 59 million people work in fisheries and aquaculture and hundreds of millions more rely on seafood as their primary source of protein. These livelihoods and people’s food security are at risk from declining fish stocks.
“The results of this poll show overwhelming support among global citizens for an end to overfishing and policies that threaten the health of the ocean. Billions of dollars’ worth of seafood is illegally taken from the ocean every year — stolen from communities, countries and scientific management,” said Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean and Co-Chair of Friends of Ocean Action (FCA).
The FCA is a group of more than 50 global leaders, convened by the WEF and the World Resources Institute.
Thomson said consumers should not and do not wish to be receivers of stolen goods.
“More than USD 20 billion of public funds are spent every year on harmful fisheries subsidies, over 80 per cent of which go to industrial fleets. These fleets are out there chasing diminishing stocks of fish and are in some cases engaged in illegal fishing. These funds would be far more usefully spent on climate-proofing coastal communities,” he added. (PTI)
Australia’s Wildfires Could Wipe Entire Endangered Species Off the Planet
Some species were barely surviving in the wild before the fires burned their habitats to the ground.
by Tim Marcin
08 January 2020
Roughly one billion animals, many of them endangered and already at risk, have now died in the Australian bushfires, experts have estimated.
Chris Dickman, an ecologist at the University of Sydney, updated his original estimate of 480 million in an interview with HuffPost, saying it was now at least 800 million — and that’s just for the state of New South Wales (NSW) and doesn’t include bats, frogs, and invertebrates.
“If 800 million sounds a lot ― it’s not all the animals in the firing line,” Dickman said in the article published Tuesday.
Animals that were already critically endangered ― such as the bright yellow southern corroboree frog, the mountain pygmy possum (a small marsupial that sort of looks like a mouse), and the glossy black cockatoo ― could reportedly be wiped out completely by the fires.
Prior to the fires, there may have been fewer than 200 southern corroboree frogs, including 115 that were released in December to accompany the estimated 50 that were left in the wild. Also prior to the fires, there were an estimated 2,000-3,000 mountain pygmy-possum in the wild and some 370 glossy black cockatoos on Kangaroo Island, the main place the bird has survived.
The 100-mile-long Kangaroo Island, which is located just off mainland South Australia, is largely dedicated to conservation and has become a haven for species like koalas and the glossy black cockatoos. About one-third of the island has been scorched. Even if any of the birds managed to escape, they’ve still lost key survival areas.
“They have few places to nest and have lost their food supply. Their survival will depend on an intensive recovery effort,” Dr. Gabriel Crowley, a scientist who has worked on the cockatoo conversation project for two decades, told the Guardian.
The fires have likely endangered animals that weren’t previously on the brink.
“We will have taken many species that weren’t threatened close to extinction, if not to extinction,” Kingsley Dixon, an ecologist and botanist at Curtin University, in Perth, told the New York Times.
Graphic videos and photos from Australia show countless dead animals that were caught up in the fires and smoke. Agriculture market analysis company Mecardo estimated there were 8.6 million sheep and 2.3 million cattle in the areas affected by fire.
Even an iconic Australian animals like the koala could face a tough road ahead.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that up to 30% of the koalas in the region could’ve been killed because “up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed.”
“We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made,” she said around Christmastime.
Blazes in NSW and Victoria both grew over the weekend as temperatures climbed and winds picked up. At least two dozen people have been killed, while about 12 million acres — an area larger than Switzerland — have been burned.
Rain provided temporary reprieve on Monday but didn’t put the fires out. It’s expected the blazes will grow again when weather conditions worsen later this week.
Interior wordsmiths ‘habitat’ with eye on regulatory reach
Jennifer Yachnin, E&E News reporter, December 27, 2019
The Interior Department is moving to formally define “habitat” in the Endangered Species Act, part of an anticipated second wave of changes to the bedrock conservation law under the Trump administration.
According to a notice published Monday by the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the addition to the ESA is undergoing interagency review.
Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s NOAA Fisheries are overseeing the proposed revisions.
The issue became a point of contention during a legal battle over FWS plans to protect the dusky gopher frog in Louisiana and the rights of private landowners, including timber giant Weyerhaeuser Co.
Although the Supreme Court directed a lower court to examine the meaning of “habitat” in the ESA, the federal government and plaintiffs in the case reached a settlement and left unresolved questions over how “habitat” should be defined in the law (Greenwire, July 8).
The Trump administration issued final rules amending the ESA earlier this year — including language requiring “critical habitat” to have “one or more of the physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species” — but it did not address the broader habitat issue.
“The new regulations are going to define habitat,” Interior Deputy Solicitor for Parks and Wildlife Karen Budd-Falen told E&E News at that time (Greenwire, Aug. 22).
In that final rule, however, FWS and NOAA Fisheries laid out similar requirements for future “habitat.”
“The final rule has been modified in response to the decision to make clear that unoccupied habitat must be ‘habitat,’ by requiring reasonable certainty that at least one physical or biological feature essential to the conservation of the species is present,” the agencies wrote.
The document continued: “While the [FWS and NOAA Fisheries] are considering further clarification of the meaning of habitat through separate rulemaking, we find that the [agencies’] and public’s interests are served by clarifying the existing regulatory framework in this final rule without delay.”
Environmental activists have raised concerns that too narrow a definition could impede efforts to protect endangered wildlife.
“It could have really big consequences depending on how the definition comes down,” said Jacob Malcom, director of the Defenders of Wildlife Center for Conservation Innovation.
Malcom, who said he had not seen a draft of the proposed rule, noted that since its adoption in the early 1970s, the ESA has never had a specific standard for “habitat.”
“Every listing has gotten its own evaluation,” Malcom said, adding: “You know habitat when you see it.”
He asserted that the new definition must be flexible enough to include “indirect areas” of habitat, such as watersheds where a species may not live but that significantly impacts its range. Malcom also said that any definition should address imminent shifts to habitat, including those caused by climate change.
“A definition of habitat has to consider where that habitat would be out to the horizon of the foreseeable future,” he said.
Endangered Species: New IUCN List Shows 10 Of Them May Be Making A Comeback
Maddie Blaauw , The Rising, December 24, 2019
This past month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released an update to its Red List of Threatened Species, the most complete compilation of species at risk. The IUCN makes updates multiple times yearly and includes species globally. To the excitement of conservationists worldwide, ten endangered species had shown an increase in numbers since the last report.
It is rare enough to have an improved outlook for a single animal species. Improvement in the classifications often suggests that humans are getting better at identifying habitats with species in need and addressing that need.
The Improved Endangered Species
A few of the ten species that had a reversed outlook include the Echo Parakeet and the Guam Rail. Two Australian species, the Australian trout cod and the Pedder galaxias, a freshwater fish, improved in numbers.
The latter two are especially exciting because of the current environmental crisis in Australia. The population in Australia has pushed for major changes to preserve their land and the diverse, unique species that live there as the threat of climate change has become more real.
The new data from the IUCN confirms that efforts for two species have succeeded.
Reclassification of the Guam Rail, a flightless bird previously listed as extinct in the wild, represents a victory over invasive species.
The bird had fallen prey to an invasive species of tree snake, and which hunted them to the point of extinction in their natural habitat.
However, captive breeding programs were able to bring the bird back from the brink of total extinction, and eventually accumulate enough of the animals to reintroduce them into the wild.
This is the second time that researchers have been successful in reintroducing a bird to a native habitat with this procedure, representing improvements and fine-tuning in the process increasing probabilities of favorable outcomes.
Success of Breeding in Captivity
The Guam Rail isn’t the only species in the recent past that has benefited from captive breeding programs.
A mammalian species native to England, the harvest mouse, was discovered to have a thriving community after scientists initially thought their reintroduction efforts had failed. In 2004, a PhD student released 240 harvest mice from a captive breeding program to Northumberland.
It was not until a decade and a half later, in the fall months of this year, that researchers found mice nests near the area of release.
Scientists are currently conducting studies to quantify populations of mice in the area.
Overall, however, these two cases provide evidence that captive breeding programs, followed by calculated reintroduction to the wild, is a technique that we can use to save animals in danger of going extinct completely.
While certainly not a plan we should rely on or expect to fix all decimation of wildlife, it can help reduce senses of helplessness and encourage sentiments of activism.
Not All Good News
Unfortunately, the IUCN conference did not bring only good news. Along with the 10 species that had improved outlooks, researchers announced that 73 species had a decline in classification.
The IUCN now lists, in total, 112,432 species as some form of threatened, and about a quarter of these are about to go extinct.
The Trump administration is not helping the matter, heightening conditions to approve federal protections for endangered species.
Trump has also approved an extremely low number of species to become classified as “endangered” in the United States. Only 21 species have joined the list since his inauguration day nearly three years ago.
In the same time period, President Obama added 71. President George W. Bush approved 25, and attention to climate change was less during his terms.
This statistic comes after a rollback of endangered species protections in August.
These new changes allow for economic considerations to be weighed when deciding how much protection to give an animal. The rollback allows for industry, such as oil, foresting, and farming, to come before the protection of biodiversity.
What We Can Do To Help Endangered Species
Protection of endangered species is perhaps, in terms of legislation, one of the less complicated matters of climate change.
With proper protection and effort from the humans who live around them, animal species at risk can rebound. We have ten pieces of proof that this is possible.
Reinstatement of recently lifted restrictions protecting endangered species is incredibly important to save animals in the United States.
However, political charge makes it unlikely that these changes will be reversed soon. A less politically-divisive step to take in the meantime is to merge several disjointed lists of endangered species data into a single, more comprehensive list.
Currently, separate classifications for species exist at the state, federal, and international levels (such as the IUCN Red List).
States can list a species as endangered, without the federal government doing so. As such, the animal will not receive federal protections. By joining these three levels of lists, we can protect the greatest number of animals.
Once a species is gone, we cannot get it back. The human race has already let go of an unknowable amount of biodiversity.
We are developed enough as a society to know the impact we are having on habitats and their inhabitants. But we must decide if we are going to put in the effort to protect them or not.
Species ‘Redlist:’ 1 in 4 Species Threatened With Extinction
IUCN Update Trumpets Successful Endangered Species Act Recovery Effort for Guam Rail
(Center for Biological Diversity news release) 12/10/19
More than 1 in 4 species assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature are facing extinction, according to a report released today. The group also noted some successes, including reintroduction of the Guam rail to Cocos Island, moving the species status from “extinct in the wild” to “critically endangered.”
The flightless rail is only the second bird species to be reintroduced after going extinct in the wild. The first was the California condor, reintroduced in the mid-1990s after a successful captive-breeding program.
“We’re in the midst of a staggering wildlife extinction crisis that humans have never witnessed before,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We also have some of the most powerful tools on the planet to combat this crisis, especially the Endangered Species Act. It’s saving the Guam rail and it can save other species, but we have to act fast and be bold.”
The new report updates the “Red List of Threatened Species,” identifying 30,178 species as threatened with extinction out of 112,432 assessed (27%). The list is a limited sampling of species on the brink. Earlier this year the United Nations estimated that 1 million species worldwide face extinction in the coming decade.
The last Guam rail was killed on its namesake island by an invasive brown tree snake in 1987. Following a 35-year captive-breeding effort under the Endangered Species Act, the species was successfully reintroduced to neighboring Cocos Island, which is free of the bird-eating snakes.
Sadly, the IUCN also announced, a Hawaiian bird called the po‘ouli is now considered officially extinct, along with three other bird species: the cryptic treehunter, Alagoas foliage-gleaner and Spix’s macaw. The po‘ouli was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1975 and last seen in 2004. Like many of Hawaii’s honeycreepers, it was driven extinct by habitat loss and the introduction of mosquitoes that carry avian malaria and pox.
“The loss of the po‘ouli shows us we have to do more to protect species from extinction, including dramatically increasing funding and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act,” said Greenwald. “Instead the Trump administration has issued regulations weakening the Act and has undercut its implementation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies.”
The previous update of the IUCN Red List found 26,840 species threatened with extinction, out of 96,951 then assessed. Climate change continues to be an important driver of species imperilment, with a number of species found to have declined in part due to our warming world, including the shorttail nurse shark and Dominica’s imperial parrot.
A total of 1,630 species are identified as threatened in the United States. Amphibians continue to be the most imperiled group of animals, with 41% threatened worldwide.
Rate of new endangered species listings declines under Trump
The Hill, By Miranda Green – 12/05/19
The rate of listing new endangered and threatened species has slowed under the Trump administration, a trend that highlights an administrative push to shrink the number of animals ultimately placed on the endangered species list.
Nearing the end of Trump’s third year in office, the president has finalized just 21 species for federal protections, less than a third of the number finalized under former President Obama during the same time period and fewer than previous Republican presidents.
During the same time period, from his Inauguration Day to the Dec. 1 nearly three years later, Obama listed 71 species. Before him, former President George W. Bush listed 25 and President George H.W. Bush listed 146, according to public figures collected by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD.)
Environmentalists and conservationists assert that the drop in listings under Trump is an indicator of the administration’s tight relationship with industry, preferring to keep species delisted rather than protected.
“I think that it is related to an antipathy in the Trump administration for protecting endangered species or for environmental protections all together,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the CBD.
The administration does not reject that it favors fewer listings under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), a law codified in 1973 to act as a last ditch effort to save diminishing plant and animal species. Recent moves have indicated a desire to place less weight on the ESA and to give protections provided under it less weight as well.
The Trump administration in August finalized a controversial rollback of protections for endangered species that included allowing economic factors to be weighed before adding an animal to the list. That could include how protecting a species or its habitat might hinder the operations of the oil and gas industry, foresters and many other operations that work on or near federal lands.
The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which handles the listings, says that under Trump the priority is to stop listings from occurring in the first place, arguing that the endangered species list alone is not an accurate indicator of federal action being taken for species protection.
“The differences with this administration is the reliance of proactive conservation work,” said Gavin Shire, FWS chief of public affairs. “There’s an emphasis on looking at species in decline and stopping them from ever getting on the endangered species list.”
The FWS did not dispute the CBD numbers.
“Putting the species on the list is not in and of itself a goal or a measure of success,” Shire said. “In fact, it’s a measure of failure.”
Under the law, the FWS must investigate whether a species listing is warranted when a group or individual petitions for its listing under the ESA.
Shire said that under Trump, FWS has been more proactive in engaging with industry and other stakeholders about struggling species in order to come to an agreement on best methods to thwart listing. He said those actions cannot be depicted in raw data.
“It’s better for the species and far more cost effective to activate partners, whether they be state or private or a [nongovernmental organization] to do proactive measures,” Shire said.
“So there have been many species we’ve been able to come up with ‘not warranted’ findings because of those proactive efforts,” he continued.
Another reason why the numbers of previous administrations might be higher, Shire said, is because they were sifting through a backlog of species that were already designated as “warranted” for a listing, but had not been finalized.
Under Trump, most of that backlog was already cleared, Shire said, so instead, the administration focused on “fresh petitions,” which were largely unwarranted. He also said the department under Trump found that nearly 75 percent of all petitions were not warranted for ESA listing under guidelines.
However, Greenwald argued that there still remain many species on the petition list which have not been prioritized for review, a trend he expects to continue.
“The reason that FWS has only listed 21 species is the administration’s opposition to protecting endangered species, not to mention our air, water, climate and land,” he said.
“The Obama and Clinton administrations also processed a lot of negative findings, but still managed to list 360 and 523 species, respectively,” he added.
American Bar Association, October 25, 2019
As legal challenges loom, impact of new Endangered Species Act rules remains uncertain
James Rusk and Daniel Maroon
In August 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) (together the Services) finalized amendments to the federal regulations implementing the Endangered Species Act (ESA), after receiving more than 200,000 public comments, and more than a year after the Services formally proposed the changes. The final rules include nearly all of the key changes the Services proposed in July 2018, including the elimination of automatic protections for species newly listed as threatened, changes to the standards for designating unoccupied critical habitat, and revisions to the procedures for interagency consultation. But, with environmental advocacy groups already challenging the rules in federal court, and significant questions about how the Services will implement the new provisions, the impact of the closely watched rulemakings remains uncertain.
The three final rulemakings—two issued jointly by the Services, and one issued by the USFWS alone—appeared in the Federal Register on August 27, 2019, and became effective on September 26, 2019.
Rescission of the “blanket 4(d) rule”
The USFWS finalized, without change, the proposed revisions to its so-called “blanket rule” issued under ESA section 4(d), which by default extended to threatened wildlife species the “take” prohibition and most other protections that apply to endangered species under the ESA. Under the new rule codified at 50 C.F.R. § 17.31, those protections will apply to species the USFWS lists as threatened after the rule’s effective date only to the extent the USFWS makes them applicable through a species-specific “special rule.” The blanket rule will continue to apply to species the USFWS previously listed.
Environmental advocates have said the change will undermine protections for threatened species. But whether that actually occurs will depend on the USFWS’s adoption of special rules. The preamble to the final rule notes that, even with the blanket rule in place, the USFWS has adopted more than two special rules per year over the last decade. It states that, under the new regulations, the USFWS intends to promulgate special rules when listing or reclassifying species as threatened, and that the rules will be tailored to stressors that threaten the species, while facilitating conservation efforts. The preamble notes that the NMFS has long followed a similar approach.
Amendments to listing and critical habitat rules
The Services finalized most of the proposed changes to the regulations at 50 C.F.R. Part 424, which govern listing of species and designation of critical habitat under ESA section 4. Key provisions of the final rulemaking include:
A new definition of “foreseeable future”—important for listing decisions because the ESA defines a threatened species as “any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.” The final rule changes the language but retains the substance of the proposed rule, providing that the foreseeable future “extends only so far into the future as the Services can reasonably determine that both the future threats and the species’ responses to those threats are likely.” Commenters have suggested the change will curtail the Services’ reliance on long-range climate change projections to justify the listing of threatened species.
New standards for designating unoccupied critical habitat. The final rule retains the “two-step” approach of the proposed rule, under which the Services will designate unoccupied habitat only after a determination that occupied habitat is inadequate for conservation of the species, and only if there is “reasonable certainty” that the area will contribute to the species’ conservation. The final rule adds a requirement that unoccupied habitat contain at least one of the “physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species”—responding to the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent holding in Weyerhaeuser Co. v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 139 S. Ct. 361 (2018), that all critical habitat must first be “habitat.” The final rule abandons a provision in the proposed rule that would have allowed designation of unoccupied critical habitat where a designation limited to occupied habitat would result in “less efficient conservation.”
A revision allowing (but not requiring) the Services to present information on the economic impacts of listing decisions. The preamble to the final rule acknowledges that the Services cannot consider economic impacts in making listing decisions, but states that Congress and the public have expressed a “strong and growing interest” in this subject, suggesting that economic-impacts information could be intended to support consideration of future legislative action.
Other provisions in the final rule clarify the standards for delisting species and for finding that designating critical habitat is not prudent. Overall, these changes do not mandate a sea change in the Services’ implementation of the ESA, but they could support a more parsimonious approach to listing and critical habitat designations in certain circumstances, particularly for species that are primarily threatened by loss of habitat due to long-term climate change.
Technical changes to section 7 consultation regulations
The Services finalized amendments to the regulations for interagency consultation under ESA section 7. Most of the proposed amendments were technical in nature, or intended to clarify existing practice, such as those that define “effects of the action” and “environmental baseline” for purposes of the Services’ biological opinions, and those dealing with reinitiation of consultation on programmatic federal land management plans. The final rule largely adopts the proposed changes with non-substantive revisions. Notably, the final rule implements a new, 60-day time limit for informal consultation, and adds a provision for expedited consultation on federal actions with minimal or predictable adverse effects on listed species.
Challengers to the rules are lining up
Environmental advocacy groups have strongly criticized the amendments since the Services issued the proposed rules, and a group that includes the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the NRDC filed suit in federal court in the Northern District of California in August to block the final rules. Seventeen states, the District of Columbia, and the City of New York filed another suit in the same court in September, also challenging the final rules. The outcome of these challenges, together with the approaches to ESA implementation taken by current and future federal administrations, will determine the impact of the amended regulations.
World Animal Day: Shocking Statistics Show the State of Global Wildlife Trade
By Aristos Georgiou On 10/4/19
Researchers have released shocking statistics which highlight the huge scale of the global wildlife trade in time for World Animal Day—an international day of action to raise awareness for animal rights and welfare.
One study published in the journal Science found that at least one in five vertebrate species—animals with a backbone—are bought and sold on the wildlife market.
A team of researchers, led by Brett Scheffers from the University of Florida and Brunno Oliveira from Auburn University at Montgomery, suggest that this is between 40 and 60 percent higher than previous estimates.
“This is a shockingly high number of species that are commercially valued,” David Edwards, another author of the study from the University of Sheffield in the U.K., told Newsweek.
The wildlife trade is a multi-billion dollar industry which involves wild animals being captured or intensively farmed to be sold as exotic pets, or slaughtered to be turned into various products, such as meat, traditional medicines and furniture.
Scientists know that this trade poses a severe threat to the planet’s wildlife, however, much less is known about its scale and the exact implications for global biodiversity.
To try and shine a light on this issue, the team examined nearly 32,000 bird, mammal, amphibian and reptile species using data from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
They found that 5,579 of the species studied—18 percent of the total—are currently being traded internationally. The authors note that the trade has a particularly large impact on certain groups—such as birds and mammals—as well as threatened species. Furthermore, its impacts are felt more severely in some parts of the world over others.
“Our study shows that sheer magnitude of the global wildlife trade,” Scheffers told Newsweek. “Approximately one in five species are traded as pets and/or products. Importantly, the trade tends to be concentrated in the biologically diverse tropical regions of the world.”
“Trade is uniquely different from other human disturbances in that it is governed by supply and demand economics and so there is a market force that is intensively focused on individual species. As a result, species that were once safe just 10-15 years ago are now critically endangered,” he said. “The issue is that we did not know who was being traded or where the epicenters of trade occur and that is what our study accomplished.”
Using a specially developed model, the researchers also predicted that more than 3,000 of the species they studied which are not currently traded could be at risk in future, due to their similarities with animals already involved in the market.
“We hope that our identification of so many traded species will further raise the profile of this critical conservation issue,” Edwards said. “Our list of species at risk of future trade can support a more proactive than reactive approach to dealing with wildlife trade, with more rapid acknowledgement of the arrival of species in trade, including via targeted searches on online sales platforms.”
The team also suggest that nearly 9,000 species could be at risk of extinction soon, highlighting the need for conservation strategies to tackle the impact of the global trade.
“Action need to be taken at on the supply and demand sides, as well as via enhanced monitoring of trade,” Edwards said. “On the supply side, we need to support poor local people engaging in wildlife collection to develop alternative economic opportunities and we need to better enforcement targeting middle men who are illegally trading wildlife.”
“On the demand side, we need to make people more aware of the fact that they are purchasing wild caught products and pets, and that there are potential risks to the long-term conservation of such species,” he said.
In addition to the worrying findings published in the Science paper, another study conducted by experts from non-profit World Animal Protection has revealed the scale of the global animal trade with regard to ten African animal species which are being particularly badly affected.
The report reveals that between these ten species alone, 2.7 million animals were legally traded between 2011 and 2015. Most are being captured from the wild and bred in commercial farms to be traded for their skin and to be sold as pets.
The report splits these animals up into the “Big Five” and the “Little Five.” The former are the Nile crocodile, the cape fur seal, Hartmann’s mountain zebra, the African elephant and the common hippopotamus.
The latter are the ball python, the African grey parrot, the emperor scorpion, the leopard tortoise and the savannah monitor lizard.
The report highlights the immense suffering that these species are forced to endure, ranging from the initial traumatic capture, cramped export conditions, poor conditions in captivity, poor treatment when sold as exotic pets, and slaughter.
Below are some of the key observations detailed in the report. It is important to note that this is all happening legally:
- Nile crocodiles are intensively farmed so that they can be slaughtered and skinned for their leather. Between 2011 and 2015, more than 189,000 skins were exported around the world annually, on average.
- Every year, Cape fur seals are subjected to a horrific hunting tradition in Namibia. “Thousands of pups are rounded up and clubbed and suffocated to death. Adult seals are shot or clubbed, and sometimes even skinned alive, due to demand for wild fur in fashion accessories.”
- Elephants are killed in the wild for their ivory and skin, which are used for jackets and car interiors, among other applications. When poachers shoot these animals, a humane death isn’t guaranteed due to their large size. Bullets that miss their intended target often result in a prolonged and agonizing death.
“When people hear of Africa’s famous ‘Big 5’ and ‘Little 5’ they probably think of the iconic wild animals tourists hope to see on a wildlife safari. But after reading this report, I hope they’ll remember a different ‘Big’ 5′ and ‘Little 5’—those African wild animals that are being greedily exploited the most by consumers around the world,” Neil D’Cruze, Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare at World Animal Protection, said in a statement.
“Trading animals in this way may be legal, but it doesn’t make it right. These are wild animals—not factory-produced goods. This cruel industry hurts wild animals and can damage Africa’s biodiversity with devastating long-term impacts on livelihoods and economies too,” he said. “How did we get to the point where animals are exported and greedily exploited for our personal pleasure? Does the life of an animal mean nothing at all?”
(This article was updated to include additional comments from Brett Scheffers and David Edwards.)
17 states sue feds over Endangered Species Act rules
By GENE JOHNSON September 25, 2019
SEATTLE (Associated Press) — Seventeen states sued the Trump administration Wednesday to block rules weakening the Endangered Species Act, saying the changes would make it tougher to protect wildlife even in the midst of a global extinction crisis.
The lawsuit, in federal court in San Francisco, follows a similar challenge filed last month by several environmental groups, including the Humane Society and the Sierra Club.
The new rules begin taking effect Thursday. They for the first time allow officials to consider how much it would cost to save a species. They also remove blanket protections for animals newly listed as threatened and make it easier for creatures to be removed from the protected list.
“It’s a death by a thousand cuts for the Endangered Species Act,” said Democratic Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, announcing the lawsuit in a Seattle news conference.
The law, signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973, has been credited with helping prevent the extinction of more than 220 species, including bald eagles, grizzly bears and humpback whales. It requires the government to list species that are endangered or threatened. The law also protects about 1,600 plant and animal species, designates habitat protections for them, and assesses whether federal activities will hurt them.
Critics have long complained that the environmentalists have weaponized the law to block economic activity such as logging and mining, infringing on property rights. The Trump administration and congressional Republicans have said the new rules will improve the law’s enforcement.
The revisions “fit squarely within the President’s mandate of easing the regulatory burden on the American public, without sacrificing our species’ protection and recovery goals,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said when the changes were announced last month.
Scientists say that globally about 1 million species are at risk of extinction, mainly because of habitat destruction by humans, overfishing and climate change.
The states challenging Trump’s rules are California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington. The District of Columbia and New York City were also named as plaintiffs.
They argue that the rules changes contradict the goals of the Endangered Species Act and that the administration failed to provide a reasoned basis for the changes or analyze their environmental impacts as required by federal law.
The lawsuit cites challenges faced by creatures that include piping plovers in Rhode Island, orca whales in Washington state and desert tortoises in the Mojave Desert in Nevada.
“We are running out of time,” said Michael Ross, vice chairman of the Snoqualmie Indian Tribe in Washington. “These changes aren’t in the right direction.”
Birds are vanishing from North America
By CARL ZIMMER
New York Times, Sep 21, 2019
The skies are emptying out.
The number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by 29% since 1970, scientists reported Thursday. There are 2.9 billion fewer birds taking wing now than there were 50 years ago.
The analysis, published in the journal Science, is the most exhaustive and ambitious attempt yet to learn what is happening to avian populations. The results have shocked researchers and conservation organizations.
In a statement Thursday, David Yarnold, president and chief executive of the National Audubon Society, called the findings “a full-blown crisis.”
Experts have long known that some bird species have become vulnerable to extinction. But the new study, based on a broad survey of more than 500 species, reveals steep losses even among such traditionally abundant birds as robins and sparrows.
There are likely many causes, the most important of which include habitat loss and wider use of pesticides. “Silent Spring,” Rachel Carson’s prophetic 1962 book about the harms caused by pesticides, takes its title from the unnatural quiet settling on a world that has lost its birds: “On the mornings that had once throbbed with the dawn chorus of robins, catbirds, doves, jays, wrens, and scores of other bird voices, there was now no sound.”
Kevin Gaston, a conservation biologist at the University of Exeter, said that new findings signal something larger at work: “This is the loss of nature.”
Common bird species are vital to ecosystems, controlling pests, pollinating flowers, spreading seeds and regenerating forests. When these birds disappear, their former habitats often are not the same.
“Declines in your common sparrow or other little brown bird may not receive the same attention as historic losses of bald eagles or sandhill cranes, but they are going to have much more of an impact,” said Hillary Young, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not involved in the new research.
A team of researchers from universities, government agencies and nonprofit organizations collaborated on the new study, which combined old and new methods for counting birds.
For decades, professional ornithologists have been assisted by an army of devoted amateur bird-watchers who submit their observations to databases and help carry out surveys of bird populations each year.
In the new study, the researchers turned to those surveys to estimate the populations of 529 species between 2006 and 2015.
Those estimates include 76% of all bird species in the United States and Canada, but represent almost the entire population of birds. (The species for which there weren’t enough data to make firm estimates occur only in small numbers.)
The researchers then used bird-watching records to estimate the population of each species since 1970, the earliest year for which there is solid data.
“This approach of combining population abundance estimates across all species and looking for an overall trend is really unprecedented,” said Scott Loss, a conservation biologist at Oklahoma State University who was part of the new study.
While some species grew, the researchers found, the majority declined — often by huge numbers.
“We were stunned by the result — it’s just staggering,” said Kenneth V. Rosenberg, a conservation scientist at Cornell University and the American Bird Conservancy, and lead author of the new study.
“It’s not just these highly threatened birds that we’re afraid are going to go on the endangered species list,” he said. “It’s across the board.”
Among the worst-hit groups were warblers, with a population that dropped by 617 million. There are 440 million fewer blackbirds than there once were.
Rosenberg said he was surprised by how widespread the population drop was. Even starlings — a species that became a fast-breeding pest after its introduction to the United States in 1890 — have dwindled by 83 million birds, a 49% decline.
Europe is experiencing a similar loss of birds, also among common species, said Gaston, of the University of Exeter. “The numbers are broadly comparable,” he said.
The new study was not designed to determine why birds are disappearing, but the results — as well as earlier research — point to some likely culprits, Rosenberg said.
Grassland species have suffered the biggest declines by far, having lost 717 million birds. These birds have probably been decimated by modern agriculture and development.
“Every field that’s plowed under, and every wetland area that’s drained, you lose the birds in that area,” Rosenberg said.
In addition to habitat loss, pesticides may have taken a toll. A study published last week, for example, found that pesticides called neonicotinoids make it harder for birds to put on weight needed for migration, delaying their travel.
The researchers found some positive signs. Bald eagles are thriving, for example, and falcon populations have grown by 33%. Waterfowl are on the upswing.
For the most part, there’s little mystery about how these happy exceptions came to be. Many recovering bird species were nearly wiped out in the last century by pesticides, hunting and other pressures. Conservation measures allowed them to bounce back.
The sheer scale of the bird decline meant that stopping it would require immense effort, said Young, of the University of California, Santa Barbara. Habitats must be defended, chemicals restricted, buildings redesigned. “We’re overusing the world, so it’s affecting everything,” she said.
The Audubon Society is calling for protection of bird-rich habitats, such as the Great Lakes and the Colorado River Basin, as well as for upholding the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which the Trump administration is trying to roll back.
The society and other bird advocacy groups also suggest things that individuals can do. They urge keeping cats inside, so they don’t kill smaller birds. Vast numbers of birds die each year after flying into windows; there are ways to make the glass more visible to them.
World Wildlife Conference Acts to Protect Threatened Species
By Lisa Schlein, Voice of America
August 28, 2019
GENEVA – A World Wildlife Conference is wrapping up Wednesday, after adopting dozens of resolutions aimed at protecting some of the reported 1 million animal and plant species threatened with extinction.
CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, also has revised the trade rules for dozens of wildlife species whose sustainability is threatened by overharvesting, overfishing or overhunting, and has expanded the capacity to fight illegal trade.
CITES Secretary-General Ivonne Higuero said illegal traders remain a threat, and praised the actions taken by representatives at the conference to combat the growing menace posed by the rapid pace with which wildlife crime is moving online.
“For example, you adopted decisions on strengthening enforcement efforts for tortoises and freshwater turtles,” she said. “You will also support efforts to tackle illegal trade in the sub-regions of West and Central Africa. This illegal trade affects elephant ivory and species such as pangolins, parrots and rosewood. Another important decision was to establish the CITES Big Cat Task Force.”
The mandate of that task force, she said, is to improve enforcement, tackle illegal trade and promote collaboration on conserving tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars and leopards. The illegal trade in wildlife is estimated to be worth up to $20 billion a year.
Higuero said more needs to be done to assist countries in strengthening their criminal justice systems, adding that more vigorous action will have to be taken to combat wildlife crime linked to the internet.
“I am pleased to note that CITES has now started to open a new digital front, both to more effectively regulate legal trade and to combat illegal trade,” she said. “This will lead to more efficient border controls using modern technology-based approaches, such as electronic risk management and targeted inspections.”
CITES noted that vicuna populations in Bolivia, Peru and parts of Argentina have been revived through sustainable use. As a result, the conference downlisted a regional vicuna population in Argentina to permit sustainable trade, instead of banning all commercial trade in the species.
The recovery of the American crocodile population of Mexico, which is seen as another conservation success, has been similarly downlisted.
Environmental groups sue Trump administration over changes to Endangered Species Act
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY, Aug. 21, 2019 |
Several environmental groups sued the U.S. Department of the Interior on Wednesday in order to block a significant rollback of the Endangered Species Act.
Last week, the Trump administration announced a major overhaul to the Endangered Species Act that it said would reduce regulations.
The administration’s changes ended blanket protections for animals newly deemed threatened and allowed federal authorities for the first time to take into account the economic cost of protecting a particular species.
The groups involved in the lawsuit include the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Biological Diversity, EarthJustice, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Humane Society of the United States.
“In the midst of an unprecedented extinction crisis,” said Rebecca Riley, legal director for NRDC, “the Trump administration is eviscerating our most effective wildlife protection law.”
The Endangered Species Act protects more than 1,600 species in the USA and its territories. Since being enacted in 1973, it has saved 99% of listed species from extinction and has brought species like the gray wolf and bald eagle back from the brink.
Wednesday’s lawsuit makes these claims against the Trump administration’s new rules, according to EarthJustice:
- The Trump administration failed to publicly disclose and analyze the harms and impacts of these rules in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
- The administration inserted new changes into the final rules that were never made public and not subject to public comment, cutting the American people out of the decision-making process.
“Trump’s rules are a dream-come-true for polluting industries and a nightmare for endangered species,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Scientists around the world are sounding the alarm about extinction, but the Trump administration is removing safeguards for the nation’s endangered species. We’ll do everything in our power to stop these rules from going forward.”
This is the first set of claims in what will be a larger legal challenge, the Humane Society said.
In a comment about the lawsuit, the Department of the Interior told USA TODAY that “it is unsurprising that those who repeatedly seek to weaponize the Endangered Species Act – instead of use it as a means to recover imperiled species – would choose to sue. We will see them in court, and we will be steadfast in our implementation of this important act with the unchanging goal of conserving and recovering species.”
How monarch butterflies could be harmed by Trump’s endangered species rules
Nation Aug 14, 2019
GREENBELT, Md. (AP) — Hand-raising monarch butterflies in the midst of a global extinction crisis, Laura Moore and her neighbors gather round in her suburban Maryland yard to launch a butterfly newly emerged from its chrysalis. Eager to play his part, 3-year-old Thomas Powell flaps his arms and exclaims, “I’m flying! I’m flying!”
Moore moves to release the hours-old monarch onto the boy’s outstretched finger, but the butterfly, its wings a vivid orange and black, has another idea. It banks away, beginning its new life up in the green shelter of a nearby tree.
Monarchs are in trouble, despite efforts by Moore and countless other volunteers and organizations across the United States to nurture the beloved butterfly. The Trump administration’s new order weakening the Endangered Species Act could well make things worse for the monarch, one of more than 1 million species that are struggling around the globe.
Rapid development and climate change are escalating the rates of species loss, according to a May United Nations report. For monarchs, farming and other human development have eradicated state-size swaths of native milkweed habitat, cutting the butterfly’s numbers by 90% over the past two decades.
With its count falling 99% to the low tens of thousands in the western United States last year, the monarch is now under government consideration for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. But if the Trump administration’s latest action survives threatened legal challenges, there will be sweeping changes to how the government provides protections, and which creatures receive them.
Administration officials say the changes, expected to go into effect next month, will reduce regulation while still protecting animals and plants. But conservation advocates and Democratic lawmakers say the overhaul will force more to extinction, delaying and denying protections.
The administration will for the first time reserve the option to estimate and publicize the financial cost of saving a species in advance of any decision on whether to do so. Monarchs compete for habitat with soybean and corn farmers, whose crops are valued in the low tens of billions of dollars annually. For mountain caribou, sage grouse, the Humboldt marten in California’s old-growth redwoods and other creatures, it’s logging, oil and gas development, ranching, and other industry driving struggling species out of their ranges.
Another coming change will end across-the-board protections for creatures newly listed as threatened. Conservation groups say that will leave them unprotected for months or years, as officials, conservationists and industries and landowners hash out each species’ survival plan, case by case.
The rule also will limit consideration of threats facing a species to the “foreseeable” future, which conservation groups say allows the administration to ignore the growing harm of global warming. Along with farming, climate change is one of the main drivers of the monarch’s threatened extinction, disrupting an annual 3,000-mile migration synched to springtime and the blossoming of wildflowers. In 2002, a single wet storm followed by a freeze killed an estimated 450 million monarchs in their winter home in Mexico, piling wings inches deep on a forest floor.
A decision on whether the monarch will be listed as threatened is expected by December 2020.
In the meantime, volunteers like Moore grow plants to feed and host the monarchs, nurture caterpillars, and tag and count monarchs on the insects’ annual migrations up and down America.
For Moore, a tutor who has turned her 20-by-20-foot yard over to milkweed, fleabane and other butterfly nectar and host plants, the hope is that grass-roots efforts of thousands of volunteers loosely connected in wildlife organizations, schools, and Facebook groups will save the monarch, at least.
“People having an interest in it might reverse it. It’s encouraging,” said Moore, who also raises extra milkweed to give away. If the monarch can’t be saved, she said, “it would be kind of sad. What it would say about what we’re able to do.”
Some animals — like a shy mountain caribou species that went extinct from the wild in the lower 48 states last winter, despite protection under the Endangered Species Act — struggle and disappear out of sight. Monarchs can serve as reminders of the others, says Karen Oberhauser, director of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum, and a conservation biologist who has studied monarchs since 1984. That was before a boom in soybeans, corn and herbicide wiped out milkweed in pastures converted to row crops.
“One of the reasons I think it’s so important to focus on monarch conservation is monarchs connect people to nature,” Oberhauser said. “They’re beautiful, they’re impressive, people have seen them since we were children.”
“If the changes that humans are causing are leading to the decline of species that are as common as the monarchs, it’s scary,” Oberhauser said. “The environment is changing such a lot that monarchs are declining. And I think that doesn’t bode well for humans.”
The Interior Department did not provide comment for this article about the plight of the monarch despite repeated requests.
For corn and soybean farmer Wayne Fredericks in Osage, Iowa, the monarch’s seemingly vulnerable life cycle is a mystery.
“Who would design a little creature that depends on one weed? Overwinters in one little spot?” Fredericks asks.
He takes part in federal government programs that pay farmers to seed islands of native wildflowers and grasses on their land. Coming through the corn rows on his 750 acres this spring, Fredericks is thrilled to see the full result: Orange and black wings fluttering among seeded prairie flowers.
“This year, it is just awesome,” he says.
As farmers, however, “we’ve evolved to have clean fields,” and have used tractors, potent weed killers, and weedkiller resistant crops to make them that way, Fredericks said. “And unfortunately it killed the milkweed.”
Butterflies are pretty, he said, but persuading farmers to work around aggressively spreading milkweed will take money. “When it’s made economical sense to do so, it happened right away,” he said.
For farmer Nancy Kavazanjian, who includes solar panels and patches of pollinator-friendly wildflowers amid her corn, soybean and wheat in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, “If we’re going to be sustainable, we have to pay the bills.”
Should supporters win federal protections for monarchs and their milkweed habitat, “the devil is in the details, isn’t it?” Kavazanjian said. “The wording and the enforcement and you know, I mean, again, if invasive species meets endangered species, then what happens?”
“We’re trying to do what we can,” said Richard Wilkins, a Delaware grower who shuns the federal farm habitat programs, but hopes that leaving what weeds and wildflowers survive in hard-to-mow areas helps the wildlife. “I think you’ll find there’s lots of farmers” who feel that way.
For Oberhauser, the Wisconsin biologist, “it’s really important here we not blame farmers.”
“What we need instead of pointing fingers is, we need to make up for that,” as with the programs that pull unproductive lands out of farming and into set-aside patches for wildlife, she said.
In the U.S. West, where monarchs spend the winter rather than migrate to Mexico, their numbers have plummeted from 4.5 million in the 1980s to fewer than 30,000 last winter.
Tierra Curry, an Oregon-based senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity conservation advocacy group, said because the monarch was once so common, most people her age — early 40s — believe “there’s no way monarchs can be endangered.”
But for her 14-year-old son, it’s already almost a post-monarch world. Despite the more than a dozen milkweed plants that the family plants in their yard, “we haven’t seen one yet,” she said.
Associated Press writers Carrie Antlfinger in Beaver Dam, Wis., and Carolyn Kaster in Greenwood, Del., contributed to this report.
New Trump rules would curb U.S. endangered species protections
By Adam Aton, E&E NewsAug. 12, 2019 , 2:10 PM
Science, Originally published by E&E News
President Donald Trump’s administration announced changes to Endangered Species Act (ESA) rules today that complicate efforts to protect at-risk animals and plants by requiring higher standards for government action.
The new rules will apply only to future listing decisions. Plants and animals with existing protections won’t be affected unless their status changes.
Administration officials hailed the reforms as balancing conservation with economic interests.
“The best way to uphold the Endangered Species Act is to do everything we can to ensure it remains effective in achieving its ultimate goal—recovery of our rarest species. The Act’s effectiveness rests on clear, consistent and efficient implementation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement.
“An effectively administered Act ensures more resources can go where they will do the most good: on-the-ground conservation.”
Environmentalists promised to challenge the changes in court, and Democrats promise to attack them on Capitol Hill.
The rules track with the administration’s draft regulations in making the biggest change in a generation to a broad swath of the federal conservation regime.
Some of the regulations’ biggest impacts deal with the difference between threatened and endangered species.
Wildlife is deemed threatened when it’s at risk of becoming endangered in the “foreseeable future.” The administration wants to consider only future factors that it deems “likely,” not just possible.
The draft regulations would have also allowed the government to disregard some data from computer models; it’s not clear whether the final rule keeps that provision.
“We’ll look out in the future only so far as we can reliably predict and not speculate,” said Gary Frazer, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s assistant director for ecological services.
There’s no exact time frame the government will follow, he said, adding that the new standard will codify the Interior Department solicitor’s opinion that the government currently relies on.
“It’ll only go so far as we can reasonably determine that the threats—so this might be climate-induced changes in the physical environment—and the species’ responses to those threats are likely. That we’re not speculating about those,” Frazer said.
Threatened and endangered species have enjoyed some identical protections since 1978, when the Fish and Wildlife Service used its flexible authority to automatically grant threatened species the same safeguards as endangered ones from harm or disturbance. That’s known as the “blanket 4(d) rule.”
The administration is ending that. FWS will now have to craft individual regulations for each threatened species.
Administration officials said that provision would encourage better conservation plans, including more voluntary programs. Conservationists predict the extra work will worsen the service’s backlog.
The regulations call for greater emphasis on economic impact analysis, even as environmental groups note the law forbids anything except science from influencing a listing decision.
The regulations allow the government to present economic impacts alongside a listing decision. To stay within the law, separate teams would work in parallel on the listing decision and the economic analysis, officials said.
The rules also change the way officials designate critical habitat for a species’ recovery. Officials would have to consider protecting areas already occupied by the species before considering unoccupied habitat. Those decisions had been made in tandem in the past.
GOP cheers as enviros threaten lawsuits
Republicans, who have long struggled to push ESA changes through Congress, cheered the new regulations while urging even more action.
“Under the previous administration, the Endangered Species Act strayed woefully far from its original intent. The Act was morphed into a political weapon instead of a tool to protect wildlife. Secretary Bernhardt’s dogged dedication to righting this wrong is again made apparent today,” Representative Rob Bishop (UT), the House Natural Resources Committee’s top Republican, said in a statement.
“These final revisions are aimed at enhancing interagency cooperation, clarifying standards, and removing inappropriate one-size-fits-all practices,” he said. “I look forward to supporting efforts in Congress to enshrine these revisions into law.”
Some Senate Republicans struck an even more forceful tone.
“These final rules are a good start, but the administration is limited by an existing law that needs to be updated. I am working in the Senate to strengthen the law, so it can meet its full conservation potential,” Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R–WY) said in a statement.
Environmentalists were promising legal action even as they combed through the regulations’ specifics.
“These changes crash a bulldozer through the Endangered Species Act’s lifesaving protections for America’s most vulnerable wildlife,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity in Tuscon, Arizona.
“For animals like wolverines and monarch butterflies, this could be the beginning of the end. We’ll fight the Trump administration in court to block this rewrite, which only serves the oil industry and other polluters who see endangered species as pesky inconveniences.”
Others pointed to the waves of die-offs happening around the world, which some scientists have called a mass extinction.
“The impacts of this action are bad enough on their own—but the decision also signals continued willful ignorance from the Trump administration about the looming impacts climate change will have on the American landscape,” said Rebecca Riley, legal director for the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who is based in Chicago, Illinois.
“Many parts of the Endangered Species Act could be helpful in taking a more forward-looking perspective on climate impacts to wildlife, but that seems like an impossibility from this president,” Riley said.
Arizona Representative Raúl Grijalva, the Democratic chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, said these changes will only worsen the ongoing “mass extinction.” Grijalva suggested he would use his panel to probe the changes.
“These rollbacks of the ESA are for one purpose only: more handouts to special interests that don’t want to play by the rules and only want to line their pockets. This action by the Trump administration adds to their ongoing efforts to clear the way for oil and gas development without any regard for the destruction of wildlife and their habitats,” said Grijalva.
“I have serious questions on whether inappropriate political influence was exerted over decisions that should be based on the best scientific information.”
Senator Tom Udall (D–NM), chairman of the spending subcommittee with jurisdiction over Interior, said Democrats would look for tools to undo the administration’s action, including possible use of the Congressional Review Act.
Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from E&E News. Copyright 2019. E&E provides essential news for energy and environment professionals at http://www.eenews.net
Trump overhauling enforcement of Endangered Species Act
Bird Life International
7 Aug 2019
Top threats to seabirds identified
Scientists reviewed more than 900 studies and found that seabirds face big threats both on land and at sea. This helps explain why they are one of the most threatened group of vertebrates.
By Maria Dias
Seabirds are in danger. Taken as a whole, they are one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates in the world. Steep declines in seabird populations have been noticed almost everywhere, from albatrosses in the southern ocean to puffins in the North Atlantic. Even once abundant species, including some penguins, are now facing extinction. What is causing these declines? A new study is providing some answers.
For a long time we have known the general threats to seabirds – fisheries, invasive species, pollution – but we haven’t known which threats are the most dire, or had a big-picture understanding of how all seabird species are affected. A new study led by BirdLife scientists in collaboration with researchers from the British Antarctic Survey, the Centre for the Environment, Fishery and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the University of Washington and the Global Penguin Society, has changed that, by analyzing the problem at a global scale. For the study, scientists reviewed publications on threats to all 359 seabird species worldwide, identified the main drivers of seabird declines and quantified the magnitude of the impact of each threat.
“This study builds on work done in 2012, when we published a global analysis of threats to globally threatened seabird species – those listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable on the Red List” says Cleo Small, Coordinator of the BirdLife International Marine Programme. “Not only have we updated these results, but we have also assessed threats to the other 249 seabird species that are not currently globally threatened, as these are potentially the threatened species of the future unless we act now”.
The results confirm that some of the usual suspects – invasive species, bycatch and climate change – are the top three threats, affecting 46%, 28% and 27% of all seabird species respectively. Hunting, egg collection and disturbance at breeding colonies are also driving declines in many species. Overfishing is affecting fewer species, but with high impacts on the species it affects.
The study also contradicts popular opinion, by concluding that plastic pollution is not yet a major cause of population declines of seabirds globally. It found only one report so far of plastics causing a significant impact at this level.
“Plastic ingestion is predicted to have a higher impact on small species that spend most of their time on the open ocean,” says Lizzie Pearmain, Marine Technical Officer at BirdLife International. “Many of these species’ population sizes and trends are poorly known, which makes it difficult to understand the real impact of plastics at population level.”
The analyses reveal other worrying news: many common seabirds are exposed to the same dangers as threatened species. In other words, if we don’t act to curb these threats now, we will soon see many other seabird species facing extinction.
The authors translated this conclusion into alarming numbers. The study estimates that more than 170 million individual birds (over 20% of all seabirds) are currently exposed to the individual impacts of bycatch, invasive alien species and climate change/severe weather, and that together over 380 million (around 45% of all seabirds) are exposed to at least one of these three threats.
It sounds desperate, but it’s not all bad news. The problem is big, but the solutions are (almost all) well known. We know how to mitigate the impact of bycatch on seabirds and other animals, how to eradicate invasive species from infested islands, and how to use the ocean’s resources sustainably. Climate change is arguably the most difficult challenge to address – but the impacts of climate change are usually exacerbated by the other top threats. Therefore, by solving problems posed by bycatch, invasive species and overfishing, we are also giving seabirds greater resilience, helping them to face the challenges of a changing ocean.
Grizzly Bears Are Back—on the Endangered Species List
Feds finally comply with court ruling and return protections to Yellowstone bears
By James Steinbauer | Aug 4 2019
Two years ago, for the second time in a decade, officials at the US Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to remove protections for grizzly bears in and around Yellowstone National Park. And, for the second time in a decade, a federal judge in Montana again told them, yeah right. Now, nearly a year later, the Feds have finally complied with the judge’s court order, announcing on July 31 that they have relisted the grizzly as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. “It must have been a slow day for the Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Mike Garrity, executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, an organization that has fought against the delisting of grizzly bears for years.
In 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service delisted Yellowstone grizzlies and transferred the job of managing them to the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, which planned to open a limited grizzly hunting season. The agency’s decision was on shaky ground. The Fish and Wildlife Service had tried to delist the Yellowstone grizzly in 2007, but were ordered to relist it after conservation organizations, including the Sierra Club, successfully argued that the government hadn’t considered the bears’ rapidly declining food sources.
A handful of conservation organizations and Native American nations once again sued to stop the delisting—and once again prevailed. Last September, a federal district court judge in Montana, Dana Christenson, ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service failed to examine how removing protections for Yellowstone grizzlies would affect the species in other parts of the country and ordered it to relist the bear.
In another move that echoes the legal battle of administrations past, the Fish and Wildlife Service has appealed the court order to the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco. “The court stated that FWS must conduct a ‘comprehensive review of the entire listed species’ on remand,” attorneys for the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote in the appeal, “an unwarranted, burdensome directive that goes well beyond requiring that FWS address the effect, if any, that delisting a [distinct population segment] has on the rest of the species.” Conservation organizations and tribes are set to respond to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s appeal.
While animosity toward bears is perhaps age-old—a fear of large carnivores is written into the national imagination of the West—ranchers and big-game hunters around Yellowstone have only been fixated on removing protections for grizzlies since 2007. That year, conflicts between bears and elk hunters in the heart of Yellowstone, and with ranchers on its periphery, skyrocketed. The Fish and Wildlife Service argues that this is evidence the bears have fully recovered and are expanding their habitat. Conservation groups and scientists point out Yellowstone’s population of adult females—the engines of population growth and the promise of any future the species might have—plateaued in the early 2000s and has remained stagnant ever since.
“Even if you were to buy the argument that there are more bears, that’s still not enough to explain the magnitude of the increase of their distribution,” said David Mattson, a retired research wildlife biologist for the US Geological Survey who studied Yellowstone grizzlies for more than a decade.
Instead, Mattson argues, the loss of key food sources due to climate change—including whitebark pine nuts and army cutworm moths—and the loss of Yellowstone Lake’s cutthroat trout population to invasive lake trout is driving grizzlies farther into human-dominated landscapes in search of calories. Outside the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, bears are confronted by an environment dramatically different than the one that existed 200 years ago but a culture that hasn’t changed much at all. Bear deaths—the top cause of which is conflict with people—have increased at a rate of 9 to 11 percent each year. “In my mind, when you weave all these various threads of evidence together, it creates an impeccable story,” Mattson said.
Before 1800, an estimated 50,000 grizzly bears roamed from the Great Plains to the California coast, and south into Texas and Mexico. When the Fish and Wildlife Service first listed the grizzly bear as threatened in 1975, that number had dropped to fewer than 1,000. As part of their recovery plan, government scientists highlighted six ecosystems, or “recovery regions,” with enough habitat to accommodate the bears. Grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem—a more than 30,000-square-mile area containing parts of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, with Yellowstone National Park at its core—have made an impressive recovery from fewer than 150 to around 700 today.
Other than Yellowstone, the recovery region where grizzlies have had the most success is the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem, which includes Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness in northwest Montana; there are more than 1,000 bears there. The other recovery areas have significantly less: There are around 50 in the Cabinet-Yaak in Montana’s far northwest; 40 in the Selkirk Mountains in northern Idaho; and less than 10 in the North Cascades. A male grizzly recently wandered into the Bitterroot Ecosystem in central Idaho, bringing the total population in that recovery area to one.
When the Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the grizzly in 2017, it essentially tried to carve the Yellowstone population out of the larger whole. Conservation organizations feared that delisting one population of grizzlies would provide a precedent for forces hostile toward ESA protections, such as the Trump administration, to remove protections for the entire species. “That’s a real threat,” said Josh Purtle, an associate attorney in Earthjustice’s Northern Rockies office. “And the Fish and Wildlife Service never contemplated that possibility.”
Before grizzly bears are delisted, conservationists argue that the six distinct populations throughout the western United States need to be connected. Grizzlies occupy only 2 percent of their historic range in the contiguous United States, and each population is confined to its own island on dry land. “No isolated population has every really survived in the long term,” said Sarah Pawlowski, an organizing representative for the Sierra Club’s Greater Yellowstone Northern Rockies campaign. If the populations aren’t able to move between each other, the result will be inbreeding. At that point, they are lost.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service really failed to look at the bigger picture,” Pawlowski said. “If we’ve committed to restoring the grizzly bear population in the Lower 48, this is not how we. can go about it.”
(James Steinbauer is an editorial fellow at Sierra.)
Birth of 1,000th California Condor Chick Is a Sign of Hope for This Critically Endangered Species
Olivia Rosane Jul. 22, 2019
North America’s largest bird passed an important milestone this spring when the 1,000th California condor chick hatched since recovery efforts began, NPR reported Sunday.
The critically endangered species was down to just 22 birds in the early 1980s, according to The Guardian. The remaining birds were placed in a captive breeding program in 1987 and slowly reintroduced beginning in the early 1990s. The birth of the 1,000th bird highlights the success of this program in saving the species from extinction.
“We’re seeing more chicks born in the wild than we ever have before,” Peregrine Fund condor program manager Tim Hauck told NPR’s Scott Simon. “And that’s just a step towards success for the condor and achieving a sustainable population.”
There are now more than 500 California condors alive worldwide, with more than 300 of them in the wild, Hauck said.
The 1,000th chick was born in Utah’s Zion National Park, park biologists announced July 9. The egg was likely laid in March, and the new baby emerged in May. But scientists were only able to confirm the birth in July because condors, like other raptors, build their nests in steep cliffs, Zion biologist Janice Stroud-Settles explained to The Guardian. Researchers had to rappel off a cliff across from the nest to snap a photo of the new baby.
“When we confirmed it … it was just this feeling of overwhelming joy,” Stroud-Settles said.
The birth of a 1,001st chick was also confirmed this month in a nest near the north rim of the Grand Canyon, according to The Guardian.
The condor population was decimated during the 20th century due to hunting, habitat loss and lead poisoning from bullets left in the dead animals the condors would scavenge for food. Lead bullets still pose a threat; the mother of the 1,000th chick lost her first mate to lead poisoning in 2016, according to Zion National Park. She has been with the new hatchling’s father for two years.
In an attempt to protect condors and other wildlife. California became the first state to ban lead hunting ammunition in 2013, but the law just entered into effect this month.
In Utah and Arizona, conservationists are working with hunters to voluntarily reduce their use of lead ammunition, Peregrine Fund global conservation director Chris Parish told The Guardian.
“People aren’t inclined to follow rules they don’t understand, so here in Utah and Arizona we’re focusing on education and explaining to hunters why it’s important to cut down on lead bullets,” Parish said.
California condors roamed much of the North American continent 40,000 years ago, feeding on the remains of mammoths and giant sloths, according to Zion National Park. They now only live in Arizona, California, Utah and northern Mexico. They have a wingspan of 10 feet and live up to 60 years, the longest of any bird species, NPR reported. They were considered sacred by Native American groups.
The 1,000th chick should be ready to fledge, or fly on its own, in November. Its mother lost her first two chicks, according to The Guardian, the first in a failed attempt to fledge and the second when the death of her first mate impacted her ability to care for the baby.
“Now that she’s re-coupled with a new mate, we’re hoping this chick will successfully fledge once it’s old enough to fly–sometime in the fall,” Stroud-Settles said.
PHYS-ORG, July 18, 2019
Manmade ruin adds 7,000 species to endangered ‘Red List’
by Patrick Galey
Mankind’s destruction of nature is driving species to the brink of extinction at an “unprecedented” rate, the leading wildlife conservation body warned Thursday as it added more than 7,000 animals, fish and plants to its endangered “Red List”.
From the canopies of tropical forests to the ocean floor, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said iconic species of primates, rays, fish and trees were now classified as critically endangered.
The group has now assessed more than 105,000 species worldwide, around 28,000 of which risk extinction.
While each group of organisms face specific threats, human behaviour, including overfishing and deforestation, was the biggest driver of plummeting populations.
“Nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history,” said IUCN acting director general, Grethel Aguilar. “We must wake up to the fact that conserving nature’s diversity is in our interest.”
In May the United Nations released its generational assessment of the state of the environment. It made for grim reading.
The report warned that as many as one million species were now at risk of extinction, many within decades, as human consumption of freshwater, fossil fuels and other natural resources skyrockets.
It found that more than 90 percent of marine fish stocks are now either overfished or fished to the limit of sustainability.
The IUCN singled out a number of sea and freshwater fish that now occupy its highest threat category of “critically endangered”—the next step on the Red List is extinction.
Wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes, known collectively as Rhino Rays due to their elongated snouts, are now the most imperiled marine families on Earth.
The False Shark Ray is on the brink of extinction after overfishing in the waters off of Mauritania saw its population collapse 80 percent in the last 45 years.
Seven species of primate are closer to extinction on the new list, including the Roloway Monkey of Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, with fewer than 2,000 individuals left in the wild.
Prime culprits are humans hunting the animals for bushmeat and “severe habitat loss” as forest is converted to land to grow food.
40 percent of all primates in West and Central Africa are now threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN.
“Species targeted by humans for food tend to become endangered much more quickly,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List Unit, told AFP.
“Species in environments with lots of deforestation for agriculture end up being impacted.”
‘Millions of years of evolution’
The updated list shows that over half of Japan’s freshwater fish and more than a third of Mexico’s are threatened with extinction due to the loss of free-flowing rivers and increasing pollution.
More than 500 deep-sea bony fish and mollusks have been added to the list for the first time posing something of a conservation conundrum as the space they inhabit—1,000 meters (3,280 feet) beneath the surface—is often beyond national boundaries.
“The alarm bell has been sounding again and again concerning the unravelling crisis in freshwater and marine wildlife,” said Andrew Terry, director of conservation and policy at the Zoological Society of London.
“Many of these ancient marine species have been around since the age of the dinosaurs and losing just one of these species would represent a loss of millions of years of evolutionary history.”
New federal proposal would give states, tribes $1.4B to save endangered species
By Laura Lundquist (Missoula Current, MT)
July 12, 2019
In Montana, state biologists manage grizzly bears on a day-to-day basis. (Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks)
A new congressional bill aims to keep species off the endangered species list by helping states and tribes protect them before they’re in trouble.
On Friday, Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., rolled out a new version of the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which would allocate $1.4 billion for state and tribal governments’ voluntary efforts to conserve wildlife, particularly those species that seem poised to disappear.
Recent news that human activity could cause a million species to go extinct worldwide within the next few decades adds urgency to the effort, the legislators said.
“This is a strong commitment to addressing the current diversity crisis,” Dingle said. “But it uses innovative state-based management where a lot of the work has been done. And the states know what they need to do.”
But state biologists and wildlife managers sometimes lack the money to do that work. Nationwide, they’ve identified 12,000 species in need of conservation due to climate change, habitat loss and invasive species. State agencies depend on federal funding to bolster their coffers, especially when state legislatures put a squeeze on operating budgets.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks receives about $18 million a year in Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson funding, which accounts for about 20 percent of the agency’s annual budget, although the state must match the federal grants.
It’s fitting that Dingell would co-sponsor the bill – her father-in-law helped carry the 1950 Dingell-Johnson Act, which uses tax money from fishing tackle, boat motors and fuel to fund state management of fisheries. The Dingell-Johnson Act was modeled off the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, which uses tax money from guns and ammunition to augment state big game management.
Jeff Crane of the Congressional Sportsman’s Foundation said the two acts together have raised more than $62 billion for conservation over the past 80 years.
“But that’s not enough money. There are too many people, too much pressure on our environment. We need to supplement this,” Crane said.
The RAW bill would fill in the funding gap between PR and DJ to conserve wildlife that aren’t pursued by hunters or anglers but which are just as important to a fully functioning ecosystem. For example, in Montana, biologists have listed wolverines, pygmy rabbits, sage grouse and burrowing owls as species of concern, but it’s hard for FWP to find the money and time to study the health of nongame populations. The money could also cover conservation of plants, such as sagebrush, that are critical to wildlife habitat.
And up to 15 percent of the fund would be used for wildlife-related education and recreation.
The money would come from the federal general fund. That’s a switch from the version of the bill introduced last session, which proposed using revenue and fees from energy development.
Another big change this year is the allocation of $97.5 million specifically for tribal conservation. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes had a hand in that along with about 10 other tribes, said Tom McDonald, CSKT Wildlife Division manager.
“Once we caught wind of what was going on, we made noise,” McDonald said. “They need to add these governments that have been excluded in the past with Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson. I pay taxes, too.”
National Wildlife Federation spokesperson Lacey McCormick said this session’s bill already has 60 co-sponsors. Last session’s bill garnered 116 co-sponsors, but none of Montana’s delegation signed on before the bill died in the House Natural Resources committee.
Fortenberry said the bipartisan effort would encourage consensus around the goals of protecting ecosystems, enhancing communities and supporting recreation.
“This moves us upstream from the emergency room procedures of the Endangered Species Act when something goes wrong,” Fortenberry said. “Why not make something go right? Why not move from regulation and litigation to collaboration and conservation?”
Thousands of endangered animals seized in customs operation
By Thomas Adamson, Associated Press, PARIS — Jul 10, 2019,
Police and customs officials have carried out the most widespread anti-wildlife-trafficking operation ever in a joint global operation that’s led to the seizure of thousands of endangered animals and the arrest of nearly 600 suspects.
The World Customs Organization and Interpol said Wednesday that in June they conducted nearly 2,000 seizures in a historic joint-operation that helped local authorities round up nearly 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, nearly 1,500 live reptiles, 23 live apes, 30 live big cats, hundreds of pieces of elephant tusk, half a ton of ivory and five rhino horns.
“It’s landmark. It’s the first time such a large joint network has been mobilized — across 109 countries,” Interpol’s wildlife expert Henri Fournel told The Associated Press.
“What we lacked in tackling wildlife crime was a concerted network and this is what we have now,” he added.
Interpol released searing images from the global trafficking haul: Thousands of protected tortoises crawling over each other in a dark container in Kazakhstan; an inquisitive-looking white tiger cub concealed in a pick-up in Mexico; and elephant tusks lined up symmetrically on the ground in Kenya.
In a statement, Interpol Secretary General Juergen Stock said: “Wildlife crime not only strips our environment of its resources, it also has an impact through the associated violence, money laundering and fraud.” The illegal wildlife trade is a multibillion dollar industry, authorities say.
Operation Thunderball, which operated out of Interpol’s innovation complex in Singapore, led to the arrest of 582 suspects, it said.
Among the discoveries was a ray of hope that some trafficking is slowing: The WCO said it noted slight declines in the seizures of certain species, “a sign that continued enforcement efforts are bearing fruit.”
Conservations groups globally have applauded the anti-trafficking push.
“This massive disruption of criminal networks is key to saving endangered wildlife across the globe,” the Wildlife Conservation Society said in a statement.
It warned, however, that seizures and arrests are only a first step, and that “governments now must follow up with strong, meaningful prosecutions.”
Bumblebees Classified as Fish in Endangered Species Petition
July 8, 2019 Agri-Business, Regulation
A petition from the Xerces Society and the Defenders of Wildlife is calling for the consideration of four bumblebee species to be classified for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. The petitioners used some fairly creative reasoning for why the bumblebees should be protected under the California Endangered Species Act, which does not provide protection for insects.
“It’s sort of a ridiculous petition,” said California Citrus Mutual (CCM) President Casey Creamer. “The groups that are filing the petition are saying that because the ‘fish’ definition includes invertebrates, which several fish are, that that invertebrate also can be used for bumblebees or other classes of insects that are invertebrates.”
In a recent vote of 3-to-1 by the California Fish and Game Commission, the bumblebee species’ have now become candidates for listing. As AgNet West previously reported, the species that are being considered are Franklin’s, Western, Crotch, and Suckley cuckoo bumblebees. Until a final evaluation and determination is made, the bumblebee species’ will be receiving full protection under the California Endangered Species Act.
It is not the first time that a colorful argument has been used to consider a species for protection under the California Endangered Species Act. While it was ultimately rejected by the Office of Administrative Law, a similar petition was granted back in 1980. “I think petitions like this would lead the way for even more restrictions moving forward under protection of the California Endangered Species Act,” said Creamer. “It’s not just affecting farming, but construction, development, housing; I mean you can have all kinds of habitat where bees are which could prohibit that.”
To prevent “this ridiculous path from moving forward,” Creamer noted that CCM is working with a broad coalition of agricultural groups to oppose the petition through the assistance of an expert attorney in the field of species act litigation. “We’re optimistic that we think we’ve got a strong legal standing. Several ag groups have joined together to work jointly to have legal representation to challenge this decision,” said Creamer.
FWS sets new ‘recovery’ standards
Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter Published: Wednesday, June 26, 2019
The Fish and Wildlife Service now wants to nail down what “recovery” means for 85 protected species, including a slew in California.
Numbers will get a greater emphasis under the agency’s bid today to add quantitative criteria for assessing whether the plants and animals can be removed from the Endangered Species Act lists of threatened and endangered species.
The move is part of a broader FWS plan to set new goals for how to “delist” species that have recovered in population. Many species’ recovery plans detail when they can move from “endangered” to “threatened,” for instance, but don’t detail when the species is in the clear, fully recovered.
Take the desert pupfish, an endangered species found in California and Arizona (Climatewire, Aug. 19, 2014). The fish’s current recovery plan — written in 1993 — identifies benchmarks for downlisting the species to threatened but omits any specifics for full recovery and delisting. The proposed new plan spells out and justifies detailed delisting criteria over four pages.
It won’t be easy to make the grade, FWS suggests.
“Replenishing waters in desiccated areas specifically needed for recovery to replicate conditions where the species previously occurred and removing non-natives in critical areas required for the species recovery present significant technical and political challenges,” the proposed new plan cautions.
There are presently 11 known natural populations of desert pupfish, including five each in California and Arizona and one in Mexico.
ESA recovery plans are described by FWS as “non-regulatory guidance documents that identify, organize and prioritize recovery actions, set measurable recovery objectives, and include time and cost estimates.”
As part of an Interior Department-wide set of “priority performance goals,” FWS is committed to revise all ESA recovery plans to include quantitative recovery criteria by September 2019.
All told, the agency anticipates revising up to 182 recovery plans covering about 305 species listed under the ESA.
“The scientific and informational updates in these revisions reflect years of collaborative work with diverse recovery partners across the country and without which recovery would not be possible,” FWS said in a statement.
Ya-Wei Li, director for biodiversity at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, said today that, overall, “this is a good initiative” that can provide states and others with a clear road map of how much conservation is needed to recover a species.
“I believe it’s important for the service to provide this clarity so that its recovery partners have a goal to aim for, to know how much is enough,” Li said.
The Delhi Sands flower-loving fly, for instance, is an endangered species found in Southern California (Greenwire, Sept. 27, 2002). Its current recovery plan, from 1997, omits delisting data but includes downlisting criteria such as population trends and numbers.
The proposed new plan adds delisting standards, including “a statistically significant upward trend in the mean number of self-sustaining adults in each core population averaged over 20 years” and “at least nine occurrences with minimum population sizes of 200 adults of relatively equal sex ratios.”
In a similar vein, the 1997 recovery plan for the endangered Florida salt marsh vole did not include criteria for either downlisting or delisting.
The proposed new plan includes a requirement that “it can be demonstrated that despite sea level rise and other environmental influences, sufficient suitable habitat remains for [the species] to remain viable for the foreseeable future.”
Li pointed out, though, that “the delisting criteria for some of the species won’t be relevant anytime soon because the species continue to decline in status or remain far from recovery.” These include, he said, the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly.
“So while quantitative downlisting and delisting criteria are good to have, the more urgent question is what will the service do to stem the continued decline?” Li said.
News Release, May 31, 2019
Center for Biological Diversity
Top Wolf Experts Say Science Doesn’t Support Trump Plan to Strip Away Species’ Protection
WASHINGTON— Top wolf scientists said today that there are major flaws in the Trump administration proposal to end Endangered Species Act protection for gray wolves in nearly all the lower 48 states.
According to the peer reviews commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the agency’s proposal contains substantial errors and misrepresents the most current science regarding wolf conservation and taxonomy.
“The nation’s top wolf scientists just confirmed that the critical work of recovering this imperiled species is far from complete,” said Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This peer review is a major blow to the Trump administration’s blatantly political effort to prematurely end protection for wolves. The federal government should not allow these animals to be shot and trapped.”
The five reviewers unanimously criticized the delisting proposal, and four offered strong opposition. Dr. Carlos Carroll, a conservation biologist at the Klamath Center for Conservation Research, explained in his review that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s “omissions and errors” led the agency to “reach an erroneous conclusion.” And Dr. Daniel MacNulty, associate professor in Utah State University’s department of wildland resources, noted that “there are demonstrable errors of fact, interpretation, and logic.”
Peer review is critical in deciding whether to end endangered species protection for a species because it ensures outside experts agree that a species is truly able to stand on its own once protection is removed.
“It’s time for the Service to withdraw this disastrous proposal to end the very protection that saved wolves from extinction,” said Adkins. “The agency needs to develop a long-term plan to restore wolves to New England and the southern Rockies. Only then can wolves truly be considered recovered in the United States.”
In March the Service announced plans to strip gray wolves of Endangered Species Act protection. The proposal would remove federal protection from all gray wolves in the contiguous United States, except Mexican gray wolves.
If finalized the plan will allow trophy hunting and trapping of wolves in some areas and hamper wolf recovery in the lower 48 states.
Earlier this month a coalition of organizations submitted nearly 1 million comments opposing the proposal to remove wolf protection. This is the largest number of comments ever received by the federal government on an Endangered Species Act issue in the law’s 45-year history. The Fish and Wildlife Service has extended the formal public comment period on the delisting proposal until July 15.
Broad Changes to Endangered Species Protections Could Be Coming
Posted May 25, 2019
The Trump administration is preparing to unveil a broad final rule that could represent the most significant change to the Endangered Species Act since its inception in 1973.
The rule could be issued as early as Tuesday (May 28), according to a source familiar with the department’s thinking. The biggest question is whether the rule will let the government for the first time take economic considerations into account when weighing whether to give an animal or plant special protection.
Conservationists and business interests have been waiting for the Interior Department to issue it for months.
The changes set forth in the rule as it was proposed in July 2018 are many and varied, ranging from the impacts of climate change on endangered species to the blanket protections that species get once they’re listed as threatened.
Broadly, the changes are consistent with the administration’s goal of reducing regulation and bringing species protection into balance with business goals.
But the most contentious provision—if part of the final rule—would let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service for the first time consider economic factors in deciding whether to list a species as threatened or endangered.
Polar Bears, Ringed Seals, Whooping Cranes
According to the agencies, the inclusion of economic information would help inform the public about the impacts of new listings. The administration has also said it will continue to base its decisions on biological science.
Conservationists have countered that the Endangered Species Act specifically forbids listing decisions from being guided by anything other than science. They also say the listing process already gives the government plenty of chances to tell the public about economic impacts, and are suspicious of the notion that decision makers will contemplate economic factors, but then exclude them from their decisions.
Since the Trump administration proposed the rule, conservationists have warned it would lead to more species going extinct. Litigation from a broad coalition of environmental groups would almost certainly follow a final rule.
The changes would threaten a vast range of species, including polar bears, ringed seals, whooping cranes, and beluga whales, according to Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental legal group.
The Interior Department also listed several rulemakings in its May 22 regulatory agenda that conservationists say would reduce or strip protections from endangered species. But those proposals are targeted at individual species, whereas the new final rule would apply broadly to all candidate species.
In justifying its regulatory agenda, Interior said it only wants to study de-listing certain endangered species, and that any decisions it makes will be based on solid science.
Trump Plans to End Endangered Species Protections, Disregards UN Report
Newsweek/May 10., 2019
A United Nations report released this week found that one-eighth of the world’s animals and plants are at risk of extinction and that biodiversity was declining at an “unprecedented pace,” but David Bernhardt, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, said this dire portrait won’t stop the Trump administration from ending protections for endangered species in the United States.
“We didn’t start doing them to not do them,” Bernhardt said of the Department of the Interior’s policy revisions to limit protections for threatened animals and to factor the cost to corporations into protecting endangered species, in an interview with The Washington Post published Friday.
Bernhardt said that he had not yet been fully briefed on the United Nations report, but that he was aware of it.
The report, written by 145 researchers from 50 countries over the last three years, warned that the planet was already in the midst of a “mass extinction event” with more than 1 million species eradicated because of human actions. Climate change, a lack of environmental stewardship and mass industrialization have all contributed to the loss, said the report.
“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net,’” Sandra Diaz, co-chair of the report, said in a statement. “But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point.”
The Trump administration has long sought to ease protections for endangered species that hinder the gas and oil industry.
In July, the president proposed ending protections for species that are designated as “threatened” and not endangered. His administration also floated making it easier to remove species from the endangered list, and for the economic impact of protecting species to be considered before adding them to the list.
The Trump administration will also stop fining companies or individuals for the unintentional killing of birds, like the million-plus birds killed during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Endangered Species Act places “unnecessary regulatory burden” on companies, wrote Bernhardt in a Washington Post op-ed.
Environmental advocates say the White House is moving in the wrong direction, and some groups are prepared to challenge the regulatory rollback in court, if needed.
“The UN report shows that if we’re serious about protecting species not just for their own worth, but in order to save ourselves, we need to increase protections rather than decrease them,” said Drew Caputo, Earthjustice vice president of litigation for lands, wildlife and oceans, in a statement. “The administration’s attempt to gut the Endangered Species Act is, as this report shows, a full-speed-ahead course of action in exactly the wrong direction. It’s also totally illegal. If they finalize those rollbacks, we’ll see them in court.”
In March it was revealed that Bernhardt had worked to block a report by scientists at the Fish and Wildlife Service that found the use of three popular pesticides could “jeopardize the continued existence” of more than 1,200 endangered animals and plants. The report may have led to tighter regulations on the chemicals. Bernhardt, then deputy secretary of the interior, stopped the release of the report and instead instituted a new set of loose rules used to determine if pesticides were dangerous.
This is Bernhardt’s second stint at the Department of Interior. During President George W. Bush’s two terms in the White House, he filled a number of roles at Interior, including solicitor. Between leaving the department in 2009 and returning in 2017, Bernhardt worked as a lobbyist and lawyer for the oil industry.
May 4, 2019 (News Release)
Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES)
Nature’s Dangerous Decline ‘Unprecedented’
Species Extinction Rates ‘Accelerating’
Current global response insufficient;
‘Transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature;
Opposition from vested interests can be overcome for public good
Most comprehensive assessment of its kind;
1,000,000 species threatened with extinction
Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history — and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely, warns a landmark new report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the summary of which was approved at the 7th session of the IPBES Plenary, meeting last week (29 April – 4 May) in Paris.
“The overwhelming evidence of the IPBES Global Assessment, from a wide range of different fields of knowledge, presents an ominous picture,” said IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson. “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”
“The Report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” he said. “Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably – this is also key to meeting most other global goals. By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”
“The member States of IPBES Plenary have now acknowledged that, by its very nature, transformative change can expect opposition from those with interests vested in the status quo, but also that such opposition can be overcome for the broader public good,” Watson said.
The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services is the most comprehensive ever completed. It is the first intergovernmental Report of its kind and builds on the landmark Millennium Ecosystem Assessment of 2005, introducing innovative ways of evaluating evidence.
Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over the past three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors, the Report assesses changes over the past five decades, providing a comprehensive picture of the relationship between economic development pathways and their impacts on nature. It also offers a range of possible scenarios for the coming decades.
Based on the systematic review of about 15,000 scientific and government sources, the Report also draws (for the first time ever at this scale) on indigenous and local knowledge, particularly addressing issues relevant to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Prof. Sandra Díaz (Argentina), who co-chaired the Assessment with Prof. Josef Settele (Germany) and Prof. Eduardo S. Brondízio (Brazil and USA). “The diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems, as well as many fundamental contributions we derive from nature, are declining fast, although we still have the means to ensure a sustainable future for people and the planet.”
The Report finds that around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades, more than ever before in human history.
The average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900. More than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reefforming corals and more than a third of all marine mammals are threatened. The picture is less clear for insect species, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10% being threatened. At least 680 vertebrate species had been driven to extinction since the 16th century and more than 9% of all domesticated breeds of mammals used for food and agriculture had become extinct by 2016, with at least 1,000 more breeds still threatened.
“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Prof. Settele. “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”
To increase the policy-relevance of the Report, the assessment’s authors have ranked, for the first time at this scale and based on a thorough analysis of the available evidence, the five direct drivers of change in nature with the largest relative global impacts so far. These culprits are, in descending order: (1) changes in land and sea use; (2) direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution and (5) invasive alien species.
The Report notes that, since 1980, greenhouse gas emissions have doubled, raising average global temperatures by at least 0.7 degrees Celsius – with climate change already impacting nature from the level of ecosystems to that of genetics – impacts expected to increase over the coming decades, in some cases surpassing the impact of land and sea use change and other drivers.
Despite progress to conserve nature and implement policies, the Report also finds that global goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors. With good progress on components of only four of the 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets, it is likely that most will be missed by the 2020 deadline. Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% (35 out of 44) of the assessed targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land (SDGs 1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 13, 14 and 15). Loss of biodiversity is therefore shown to be not only an environmental issue, but also a developmental, economic, security, social and moral issue as well.
“To better understand and, more importantly, to address the main causes of damage to biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people, we need to understand the history and global interconnection of complex demographic and economic indirect drivers of change, as well as the social values that underpin them,” said Prof. Brondízio. “Key indirect drivers include increased population and per capita consumption; technological innovation, which in some cases has lowered and in other cases increased the damage to nature; and, critically, issues of governance and accountability. A pattern that emerges is one of global interconnectivity and ‘telecoupling’ – with resource extraction and production often occurring in one part of the world to satisfy the needs of distant consumers in other regions.”
Other notable findings of the Report include:
- Three-quarters of the land-based environment and about 66% of the marine environment have been significantly altered by human actions. On average these trends have been less severe or avoided in areas held or managed by Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities.
- More than a third of the world’s land surface and nearly 75% of freshwater resources are now devoted to crop or livestock production.
- The value of agricultural crop production has increased by about 300% since 1970, raw timber harvest has risen by 45% and approximately 60 billion tons of renewable and nonrenewable resources are now extracted globally every year – having nearly doubled since 1980.
- Land degradation has reduced the productivity of 23% of the global land surface, up to US$577 billion in annual global crops are at risk from pollinator loss and 100-300 million people are at increased risk of floods and hurricanes because of loss of coastal habitats and protection.
- In 2015, 33% of marine fish stocks were being harvested at unsustainable levels; 60% were maximally sustainably fished, with just 7% harvested at levels lower than what can be sustainably fished.
- Urban areas have more than doubled since 1992.
- Plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980, 300-400 million tons of heavy metals, solvents, toxic sludge and other wastes from industrial facilities are dumped annually into the world’s waters, and fertilizers entering coastal ecosystems have produced more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’, totalling more than 245,000 km2 (591-595) – a combined area greater than that of the United Kingdom.
- Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change – due to the projected impacts of increasing land-use change, exploitation of organisms and climate change, although with significant differences between regions.
The Report also presents a wide range of illustrative actions for sustainability and pathways for achieving them across and between sectors such as agriculture, forestry, marine systems, freshwater systems, urban areas, energy, finance and many others. It highlights the importance of, among others, adopting integrated management and cross-sectoral approaches that take into account the trade-offs of food and energy production, infrastructure, freshwater and coastal management, and biodiversity conservation.
Also identified as a key element of more sustainable future policies is the evolution of global financial and economic systems to build a global sustainable economy, steering away from the current limited paradigm of economic growth.
“IPBES presents the authoritative science, knowledge and the policy options to decisionmakers for their consideration,” said IPBES Executive Secretary, Dr. Anne Larigauderie. “We thank the hundreds of experts, from around the world, who have volunteered their time and knowledge to help address the loss of species, ecosystems and genetic diversity – a truly global and generational threat to human well-being.”
From bees to giraffes, 10 animal species are ‘imperiled’ by Trump administration, report says
Doyle Rice, USA TODAY Published 4:37 p.m. ET Dec. 19, 2018
From bees to giraffes and wolves to manatees, a new report from an environmental group says Trump administration proposals would weaken the Endangered Species Act.
Some of the most at-risk species include giraffes, red wolves, sea turtles, California condors and West Indian manatees.
“The Interior Department under President Trump has been especially cozy with the industries that are harming the very wildlife the department is supposed to protect,” said Leda Huta of the Endangered Species Coalition, which prepared the report.
Other animals on the list include rusty patched bumble bees, hellbinders (giant salamanders), San Bernardino kangaroo rats, western yellow-billed cuckoos and Humboldt martens (small tree-dwelling mammals).
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the administration is about to finalize rules that would make it harder to protect imperiled wildlife and important habitat.
Now 45 years old, the Endangered Species Act was a law that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, with votes of 92-0 in the Senate and 394-4 in the House. It was signed into law by President Richard Nixon.
“The Trump administration is systematically dismantling this landmark legislation through policies and a set of proposed regulations that weaken existing protections and make it difficult to establish new safeguards,” the Environmental Species Coalition said in a statement.
When asked to comment about the report, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said “the Endangered Species Act has done some incredible work for conservation; however, there are actions we can take to modernize and improve the act’s implementation.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service – which is the part of the Interior Department that oversees endangered species – also said that the proposed changes “will ensure our actions are clear and consistent and provide the maximum degree of regulatory predictability to those who are affected by the act.”
Lara Levison of the environmental group Oceana said “from the largest animal ever to live on earth – the blue whale – to the tiny creatures that build coral reefs, the Endangered Species Act protects a spectacular array of ocean life. Sea turtles have been swimming the world’s oceans almost 100 million years, but now the Trump administration’s proposals to weaken the ESA threaten their very survival.”
Of the 10 species, all but three – giraffes, hellbinders and Humboldt martens – are currently on the Endangered Species List, Huta said.
Other environmental groups advocated separately for other animals on the list. Steve Holmer of the American Bird Conservancy expressed concern about cuckoos: “Water diversions, housing developments and pesticide spraying on fields near breeding habitat continue to endanger the remaining birds.”
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Elly Pepper said “it’s hard to picture an African landscape without the image of willowy giraffes galloping across the savanna. Our country is partly responsible for their demise because we regularly import giraffe parts used for bone carvings, apparel and hunting trophies.
“The Trump administration must help prevent this activity by listing these iconic creatures under the Endangered Species Act, or face partial responsibility for their extinction,” she said.
Huta said all species could be in peril. “If the Trump administration has its way, the new regulations will put these species on a fast track to extinction.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
8 Bird Species Have Disappeared This Decade
The pace of bird extinction is picking up as their habitats vanish.
September 5, 2018 (National Geo)
When a species is whittled down to just a few, the world watches anxiously as the last member perishes. Such was the case with Sudan, the last male northern white rhino that died earlier this summer.
However, a new study published today in the journal Biological Conservation found that eight rare bird species may have already quietly disappeared.
Funded by the non-profit BirdLife International, the eight-year study statisticaly analyzed 51 critically endangered bird species and found that eight could likely be classified as extinct or very close to extinction: They found that three are extinct, one is extinct in the wild, and four are precipitately close to extinction if not already gone.
One species, the Spix’s Macaw, was featured in the 2011 animated film “Rio,” which tells the story of a captive Spix Macaw mating with the last known wild member of its species. By the study’s conclusions, the film was a decade late. They estimate that the last wild Spix’s Macaw perished in 2000, and around 70 exist in captivity.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a global database that tracks animal populations, and Birdlife International, which frequently provides assessments to the IUCN, is recommending that three bird species be formally classified as extinct: the Brazilian cryptic treehunter, last seen in 2007; the Brazilian alagoas foliage-gleaner, last seen in 2011; and the Hawaiian black-faced honeycreeper, last seen in 2004.
Since they began keeping records, the study’s authors estimate that a total of 187 species have gone extinct. Historically, species living on islands have been the most vulnerable. Just under half of extinctions the authors categorized were caused by invasive species, which can take hold more aggressively on islands. Nearly 30 percent of extinctions, they found, have been caused by hunting and trapping for the exotic pet trade.
But conservationists are concerned that deforestation from unsustainable logging and agriculture will be the next extinction driver.
“Our results confirm that there is a growing wave of extinctions sweeping across the continents, driven mainly by habitat loss and degradation from unsustainable agriculture and logging,” lead author and BirdLife Chief Scientist Stuart Butchart said in a press release.
In the Amazon, where many of these species were once abundant, deforestation is a growing concern. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that more than 17 million hectares of forest were lost between 2001 and 2012. An editorial published last March in Science Advances found that the Amazon is reaching an ecological tipping point—if 40 percent of the region is deforested, scientists say the ecosystem will be irreversibly altered.
Luisa Arnedo, a biologist and senior programs officer for the National Geographic Society, explained that birds can be especially susceptible to extinction when they face habitat loss because they live in ecological niches, eating only a specific prey or making nests in specific trees.
“As soon as the habitat is gone, they’re gone too,” she says.
Fewer bird species could exacerbate deforestation issues, she adds. Many birds serve as seed dispersers and pollinators and can help bring deforested areas back to life.
BirdLife says more research needs to be done to confirm with 100 percent certainty that the four species they say are highly likely to be extinct are in fact gone, but none have been seen in the wild since before 2001. While rare, animals once classified as extinct have seemingly come back from the dead.
Last year, the Vanzolini bald-faced saki monkey was seen alive 80 years after scientists thought it went extinct, making it a rare conservation victory in the vast Amazon rainforest.
Imperiled wildlife are caught in a political tug-of-war
The proposed bills and rule changes that would reshape the Endangered Species Act.
Carl Segerstrom | Analysis | Aug. 1, 2018 |
As temperatures climb to triple digits and fires rage from California to Colorado, Western lawmakers and the Trump administration are turning up the heat on the Endangered Species Act. On July 12, the conservative Western Congressional Caucus, which was founded to “fight federal overreach” and advocates for extractive industries, introduced a nine bill ESA reform package. And in a separate move, the Trump administration is proposing to change how federal agencies implement the law.
A common thread in the bills is a push to give more authority to the Interior Secretary and states. The proposed rule changes dial back federal agencies’ ability to pursue policies that hamper development. Taken together, these actions limit the creation and enforcement of endangered species protections while opening up new avenues of influence for special interests.
Since President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, it has led to the recovery of iconic animals, including the bald eagle and grizzly bear. Only 1 percent of species protected by the law have gone extinct, according to a 2012 analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. Environmental groups and congressional Democrats point to those successes in their opposition to ESA reform.
But critics say the law is out of date and bad for business, in part because of the impact protections have on local economies. The proposed reforms, which have been introduced to Congress but not voted on, have received broad support from industry. With Republicans in control of Congress and a president who has made cutting regulations a priority, this might be ESA reformers’ best chance for success in years.
One of the bills in the nine-bill package, the LIST Act, allows the Interior Secretary to de-list an endangered species if the secretary finds it has recovered, simply by filing a notice to the Federal Register. Currently, the delisting process requires the Fish and Wildlife Service to submit a biological opinion stating the grounds for delisting. The change could leave habitat protections and conservation funding increasingly vulnerable to the influence of a presidential appointee.
Several bills in the package carve out a greater role for states in ESA decisions. The EMPOWERS Act requires that states are consulted directly in the listing process and that federal agencies justify any listing to affected states. The LAMP Act would allow the federal government to cede its species recovery responsibilities to states.
Vesting more ESA authority in states raises alarm bells for Gary Mowad, who retired from the Fish and Wildlife Service in 2013 after disagreeing with a decision he felt undermined the ESA in the name of state politics. He cites the 2007 proposal to delist the endangered gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountains as an example of state influence hampering conservation. Federal officials couldn’t delist the wolves because Wyoming wouldn’t commit to recovery. “They told us they would shoot them as soon as they were delisted,” Mowad says. “You need to keep the listing process within the federal agencies, because I don’t think states can separate the political, environment and economic interests from conservation decisions,” he says.
As Congress looks to rewrite the ESA, new rule proposals, announced by the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in late July and open for public comment until September 24, alter how federal agencies implement the law by changing three key provisions. They would limit the authority of agencies to designate critical habitat, create different conservation requirements for threatened and endangered species, and strip language that forbids agencies from considering the economic costs of conservation.
Environmental organizations have cried foul at the proposed rule changes. “The very agencies that are charged with saving endangered species are proposing to weaken the bedrock protections of the ESA,” wrote Rebecca Riley, the legal director of the nature program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These proposed rules are a short-sighted attempt to appease developers and polluters at the expense of imperiled species.”
But Mowad says these rule changes aren’t as bad as many claim. “I don’t see a conservation issue and I’d be the first one to tell you if I saw a one,” Mowad says. The proposed rules rein in the Fish and Wildlife Service from overstepping its authority, Mowad says, such as when the agency designated nearly 800,000 acres of critical habitat for endangered jaguars in New Mexico and Arizona despite an apparent lack of breeding pairs in the region.
For 45 years the Endangered Species Act has served as a check against habitat-destroying development and a safety valve for imperiled species. And polls have shown there’s general public support for the ESA. But the act “can be a political tool for both sides,” says John Freemuth, the director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University. As political winds blow from the right and the left, “agency personnel get whipsawed” and spend more time reworking policies than doing actual conservation work, he says. When the ESA becomes a tool of partisan politics and is opened up to industry influence, the values underpinning the law itself face extinction.
Carl Segerstrom is an editorial fellow at High Country News
Trump Administration Proposes Revamping the Endangered Species Act
By Bloomberg July 19, 2018
A decades-old environmental law credited with saving the American bald eagle from extinction would be reworked under a proposal the Trump administration announced Thursday.
Enforcement of the Endangered Species Act, which seeks to prevent plans and animals from becoming extinct, would be changed to make it is easier to remove species from the list of protected ones. The proposal also makes changes that speed the approval process that federal agencies are required to complete before making changes that could harm endangered species, and would weaken protections for critical habitat.
“We are proposing these improvements to produce the best conservation results for the species while reducing the regulatory burden on the American people,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Principal Deputy Director Greg Sheehan, said in a statement. “One thing we heard over and over again was that ESA implementation was not consistent and often times very confusing to navigate.”
The effort underscores the ways the Trump administration is moving to change bedrock environmental laws in a manner long sought by industry. Last month the administration began the process of overhauling the National Environmental Policy Act which requires environmental reviews on projects ranging from oil fields to highways that require a federal permit. The Environmental Protection Agency, meanwhile, has used industry guidance documents and policy memos to dial back its oversight of air pollution under the Clean Air Act.
The Endangered Species Act was signed into law by Richard Nixon in 1973 after an environmental movement triggered by events such as a fire on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River and the public backlash over the use of insecticide DDT. It protects species like the gray wolf, grizzly bear, and spotted owl, by designating them as endangered and barring the destruction of their habitat and hunting. The law protects more than 1,600 plant and animal species.
While the law is opposed by many in the logging, mining, farming and oil-drilling industries, environmentalists say they consider it sacrosanct and say changes planned by the Trump administration will likely bring lawsuits.
“The Endangered Species Act is under attack because it is so effective. It’s the strongest environmental law the United States has probably ever passed, “said Brett Hartl, director of government affairs for the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group. “They have tried for a long time to weaken the law.”
The proposal changes the definition of the “foreseeable future,” addressing the law’s requirement that in a listing decision, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service must determine whether a species is “in danger of extinction, or likely to become so within the foreseeable future.” Under the proposal the definition of foreseeable future extends “only so far as we can reasonably determine that the conditions posing the potential danger of extinction are probable,” the Interior Department said.
The proposal also rescinds what’s known as the “blanket” Section 4(d) Rule, which would effectively require tailored — potentially narrower — protections for species listed as threatened rather than extending to those species the same broad protections applied to the more serious category of endangered species.
Carper Blasts the Trump Administration’s New Attempts to Undercut the Endangered Species Act
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee issued a statement after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries announced rollbacks of key sections of the Endangered Species Act (ESA):
“The new regulations included in today’s announcement undercut vital sections of the Endangered Species Act that may harm imperiled species and are yet more examples of the Trump Administration catering to industry instead of the interests of the American people,” said Senator Carper. “I’ve called on this Administration to work with Congress to fully fund the Endangered Species Act, instead of trying to weaken it because we know when the ESA is adequately resourced, it works. The Endangered Species Act, which is helping to recover the Red Knot and Piping Plover in Delaware, continues to be one of our country’s most popular and successful environmental protection laws. That’s why I’ll continue to fight misguided decisions like those announced today.”
Among other revisions to existing policies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries proposed regulations would:
- Remove the phrase “without reference to possible economic or other impacts of such determination” from the law when listing endangered species. This change could undermine best available science, which should remain the sole driver of listing decisions.
- Change how the Services consider “foreseeable future” when determining whether a species should be listed as threatened. This change could severely limit protections for endangered species most affected by climate change.
- The Services are also seeking comments on limiting input from federal agencies directly impacted by decisions made by other agencies in the Endangered Species Act consultation process.
On Tuesday, during an Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, Senator Carper raised concerns over changes to the Endangered Species Act proposed by Senate Republicans. He pointed out that the proposed changes could prevent the best science from guiding species management, especially in an administration that consistently denies and undermines science.
Dems slam proposed changes to Endangered Species Act
Senate Democrats on Tuesday criticized multiple GOP-backed changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA), saying they threaten the conservation program’s successes.
The debate came at a hearing examining Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso’s (R-Wyo.) major proposal to overhaul the law.
Barrasso’s bill aims to give states a bigger role in species recovery, mostly through “recovery teams” — at least half of whose members would represent state and local interests — with power to oversee an imperiled plant or animal’s recovery.
“The discussion draft elevates the role of states in partnering with the federal government in implementing the Endangered Species Act. It affords states the opportunity to lead wildlife conservation efforts, including through the establishment of recovery teams for listed species in development and implementing recovery plans,” Barrasso said at the committee’s hearing on the legislation.
“It provides for increased regulatory certainty, so stakeholders are incentivized to enter into voluntary conservation recovery activities,” he said. “It increases transparency. It codifies a system for prioritizing species listing petitions, so limited resources flow to the species most in need.”
The bill is modeled on an ongoing process by the Western Governors’ Association to recommend changes to the law, a process that has been endorsed by numerous GOP governors and one Democrat — Hawaii Gov. David Ige.
While Democrats on the Environment Committee recognized that the ESA might warrant some changes and expressed an openness to contributing to the process, they said Barrasso’s bill was unacceptable.
“The legislation proposes some changes to the act that cause, for me, some real concerns,” Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the panel’s top Democrat, said.
He pointed specifically to changes in the way the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would have to consider scientific findings in its decisions.
“This change could actually prevent the best available science from guiding species management, especially in an administration that consistently denies and undermines science,” he said.
Carper also criticized a provision limiting the ability of outside groups to sue the FWS when species are taken off the endangered or threatened species lists, which he characterized as limiting “the public’s opportunity to challenge delisting decisions that may not be supported by the best available science, or otherwise not fully compliant with the law.”
Carper, and many other Democrats, complained that the main change needed to better conserve species is additional funding, which Barrasso’s bill would not provide.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) said the world is in a “global extinction crisis,” and any ESA changes need to recognize that.
“I believe that we are considering a bill that in its total conception is taking us in the wrong direction,” he said.
“I just believe that this bill would move us away from the best available science and would delay and restrict, ultimately, judicial review.”
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) faulted a provision in which FWS would solicit feedback annually from state governors regarding individual FWS employees.
“There are going to be honest disagreements sometimes between Fish and Wildlife employees and state employees, and I’m not sure, why would we want to give people that cudgel over certain federal employees who are doing their job, some of whom, you know, have gotten death threats for their work on endangered species,” Van Hollen said to Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R), who was at the hearing to testify in support of the bill.
Many of the committee’s Republicans, however, said the legislation goes in the right direction.
Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said it’s right to give states a bigger role in conservation.
“A lot of times, people just have this knee-jerk reaction that because you’re delegating more authority to the states, you’re somehow weakening the law. I don’t necessarily believe that’s true. I think, in this case, it’s a good idea,” she said.
Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) wanted to go further and give states sole authority over species that are only within their borders, something he said is common in Alaska.
“I know there are issues across boundaries, where species are moving across boundaries,” he said, adding that federal involvement is appropriate there.
“What if you happen to be in a state that’s the size of a continent, in some ways, and there’s no cross-boundary issue, like my state,” he asked.
|House Unleashes Barrage of Bills to Weaken Endangered Species Act (7/17/18)|
Waashington, DC — In response to the release of 9 bills that would undermine the Endangered Species Act by House Republicans, the Endangered Species Coalition released the following statement from Program Director Tara Thornton:
“Rep. Bishop and other anti-wildlife Republicans in Congress are not content to try and sell our beloved public lands, but have been relentless in their efforts to undermine our most important safety net for fish and wildlife on the brink of extinction. The Endangered Species Act is one of our most successful conservation laws, having prevented the disappearance of hundreds of imperiled species. Thanks to Endangered Species Act, humpback whales still swim our coasts and bald eagles still soar our skies. It sad that some members of Congress and the special interests they take money from wish to deny future generations of Americans the opportunity to enjoy our amazing wildlife.”
Although some members of Congress have been seeking to weaken the Act, public opinion research indicates that the law continues to maintain broad, bipartisan, public support. A 2015 poll conducted by Tulchin Research found that 90 percent of American voters across all political, regional and demographic lines support the Endangered Species Act.
The Endangered Species Act was a landmark conservation law that passed with overwhelming bipartisan support: 92-0 in the Senate, and 394-4 in the House. In 2017, more than 400 organizations signed a letter to members of Congress opposing efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act, noting the law has a 99 percent success rate, including some of the country’s most exciting wildlife recoveries, like the bald eagles, humpback whales, American alligators, Channel Island foxes, Tennessee purple coneflowers, and more.
Scientific consensus indicates that we are in the sixth wave of extinction. The main tool in the United States to battle this human-caused crisis is the Endangered Species Act, which has been very effective in keeping species from sliding into extinction.
New Study Says Ancient Humans Hunted Big Mammals To Extinction
April 19, 2018, By Christopher Joyce
Over the past 125,000 years, the average size of mammals on the Earth has shrunk. And humans are to blame.
That’s the conclusion of a new study of the fossil record by paleo-biologist Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico.
Smith studied fossils going back 65 million years, when dinosaurs died and mammals came into their own. Many of the early mammals went on to get big. Among the giant creatures: “Llamas and camels and sloths and five species of pronghorn [antelope] actually,” she says, “and certainly mammoths. And then lots of really cool predators, like Arctodus, the short faced bear.” The short-faced bear stood 11 feet tall, about the shoulder height of some species of ancient camel.
And that was just North America.
Being big was just as successful as being small, and had some advantages when it came to surviving big predators. “Taken as a whole, over 65 million years, being large did not increase mammals’ extinction risk. But it did when humans were involved,” Smith found.
Looking back over the most recent 125,000 years of the fossil record, Smith found that when humans arrived someplace, the rate of extinction for big mammals rose. She says it basically came down to hunger. “Certainly humans exploit large game,” she says, “probably because they are tasty”–and because a bigger animal makes for a bigger meal.
But humans did other things besides hunting that hastened the disappearance of big mammals. They burned forests and grasslands that big mammals used. They competed with the big carnivores for game. They brought dogs with them that made them better hunters.
Over time, Smith says, the downsizing of mammals affected the environment in ways you might not imagine–for example, in the erosion of the land. “When a large animal walks up a hill,” Smith explains, “it zig-zags a lot, whereas a small animal walks up more directly, and that has an impact because water follows those game trails down, so erosion and vegetation and what-not are affected by that.”
Smith’s research appears in the journal Science. Fellow paleo-biologist Rebecca Terry at Oregon State University says the new study shows that human influence on mammal size started in Africa, where humans first evolved. The effect on mammals then followed their travels. “And eventually the spread of modern humans, Homo sapiens, (moved) into the New World,” she says, “and at that point pretty advanced weaponry was definitely present, and the extinctions in the New World in North America and South America were really extreme as a result.”
Indeed, the Americas had been the last holdout for really big mammals, since they were the last populated by humans.
We still have lots of furry little mammals on the planet. But the pattern is clear: 11,000 years ago, the average mass of a non-human mammal in North America was about 200 pounds. Now it’s about 15 pounds. And the researchers say they’re getting even smaller.
Copyright NPR 2018.
WH reviewing proposal that would roll back protections for threatened species
Washington (CNN—4/5/18) — The White House is reviewing a proposal that environmentalists fear would remove protections for hundreds of threatened species, according to a government database.
The proposal’s obscure name — “Removal of Blanket Section 4(d) Rule” — refers to protections covering approximately 300 animal and plant species, such as the northern spotted owl and manatee, that are at risk of becoming endangered.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has for 40 years used the blanket rule to cover the majority of threatened species, the category considered at risk of endangerment under the Endangered Species Act.
A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service told CNN that to suggest the rule would overturn the protections is inaccurate. But the spokesman, Gavin Shire, would not elaborate about how that characterization was incorrect or what the proposal calls for, and he declined to provide a copy of the document.
The proposal has not yet been publicly released, and Shire said it is a “draft” that is “under internal review.” He said it would be “premature” to discuss the proposal before the department releases it.
A listing in a government database shows the agency on Monday sent the proposal to the White House office that reviews proposed rules. The database entry includes only a one-line summary of the proposal.
The White House did not respond to a request from CNN to comment on the proposal.
The environmental group that noticed the database entry called the proposal “part of the larger regulatory rollback agenda of the (Trump) administration.
“This administration has more aggressively moved to roll back regulations for air, water and wildlife than any other administration,” said Noah Greenwald, who leads the endangered species project at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Greenwald said easing or removing the protections could help oil and agriculture companies who currently must avoid killing or harming the habitat of these at-risk species.
When naming a species as threatened, FWS decides whether to write specific protections for that species, or cover it with the blanket rule protections. About 70 species have specific rules, and 300 are covered by the blanket rule, Greenwald said.
FWS declined to say whether it would propose new protections if it lifts the blanket rule.
“Any proposed changes will go through a full and transparent public review process that provides ample opportunity for interested parties to provide input that we will consider to help us ensure these regulations are effective in furthering the ESA’s ultimate goal — recovery of our most imperiled species to the point they no longer need federal protection,” Shire, the FWS spokesman, said in a statement.
The proposal comes amid headlines that the administration official temporarily overseeing the Fish and Wildlife Service has previously opposed protections for endangered species.
Susan Combs has been named to that assistant secretary post while awaiting Senate confirmation for a higher-ranking Interior Department job, according to a report last week by the Austin American-Statesman, a Texas newspaper that covered Combs as a state official.
The paper reported that in 2013, Combs referred to endangered species protections as “incoming Scud missiles,” and said she “clashed often” with Interior and FWS officials over the Endangered Species Act.
The Interior Department spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment on the appointment.
MIT professor predicts Earth’s sixth mass extinction could be triggered by 2100
Sep 22nd 2017 12:28PM
A geophysics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has predicted that the Earth could start to undergo a sixth mass extinction by the year 2100.
According to a press release issued by the school, Daniel Rothman came to this determination after he “identified ‘thresholds of catastrophe’ in the carbon cycle that, if exceeded, would lead to an unstable environment, and ultimately, mass extinction.”
Based on current conditions, he found that the next trigger could occur when about 310 gigatons of carbon is added to the planet’s oceans—a level that could be reached by 2100.
“This is not saying that disaster occurs the next day. It’s saying that, if left unchecked, the carbon cycle would move into a realm which would be no longer stable, and would behave in a way that would be difficult to predict,” Rothman said. “In the geologic past, this type of behavior is associated with mass extinction.”
And while Rothman acknowledges that a link between carbon cycle disruptions and a significant wipeout of species is still unknown, he found that the dynamic nonetheless applied to the five past extinction events from the previous 450 million years—including the one believed to have killed the dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, another study released in July suggested, “there’s growing evidence that a sixth mass extinction is unfolding,” according to CBS News.
The team from Stanford University and the National Autonomous University of Mexico cited the shrinking populations of numerous animals around the world as proof; in fact, they went so far as to call it “biological annihilation.”
“All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life,” the researchers added.
Rothman has suggested that reducing carbon emissions and studying past cycles could be helpful.
Trump’s border wall ‘catastrophic’ for environment, endangered species: Activists
NBC News/Apr 22nd 2017 12:55PM
BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The promise of a “big, beautiful wall” along America’s southern border was a cornerstone of President Donald Trump’s campaign. From the moment he announced it during his candidacy kickoff address in June 2015, the proposal was hit with charges of racism and questions of effectiveness.
But during almost two years of heated debate over the wall, there has been an often overlooked issue — the potentially “catastrophic” environmental toll the wall could have on the hundreds of species that span the frontier, activists say.
“This would cause incalculable damage to the integrity of wildlife populations on either side of the border, as well as the massive societal disruption it would cause,” Defenders of Wildlife’s Senior Vice President of Conservation Programs Bob Dreher told NBC News.
Trump has called for a 30-foot solid, concrete wall along the border to curb illegal immigration, and although Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly recently acknowledged that a wall “from sea to shining sea” was unlikely, many experts said there was no way of telling the full impact on the surrounding environment. The wall would likely cost $22 billion and take more than three years to build, according to an internal DHS memo.
Scientists and conservationists said such drastic increases in border security could be devastating for hundreds of species, and potentially lead to extinction in the U.S. for endangered or threatened animals like jaguars, ocelots, and the Mexican gray wolf.
They say construction of an impenetrable divider could destroy or damage natural habitats, cut off animal populations who depend on the ability to roam at the border, prevent genetic diversity that’s important to sustaining animal populations and lead to a loss of natural resources.
More than 100 animals that are listed as threatened, endangered or candidates for such status under the Endangered Species Act from coast to coast could potentially be impacted by Trump’s proposal, according to a 2016 analysis of data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It will choke off life from both sides,” wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin told NBC News.
Corwin said that many species of animals and birds rely on the ability to traverse the border for everything from seasonal access to natural resources, nesting and reproduction sites to maintaining genetically diverse populations.
Last week, an environmental group and an Arizona Congressman filed what they say is the first federal lawsuit against Trump’s border wall plan, calling on the administration to assess the proposal’s environmental impact.
“It’s been more than 15 years since the government has done any complete analysis of its border security policy,” Randy Serraglio, a Southwest conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed the suit, told NBC News. “So, it’s long overdue.”
The center and Arizona Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Arizona on April 13, urging Department of Homeland Security to conduct an environmental analysis of the proposed border program under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Under NEPA, which was signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970, federal agencies must conduct an environmental review of major actions where there could be significant effects.
The lawsuit argues that it’s time for DHS to provide a supplemental environmental impact statement to the one conducted back in 2001.
“What really compels the timing now, of course, is that we have a proposal on the table to dramatically ramp up border security activities,” Serraglio said.
Gillian Christensen, the acting press secretary for DHS, said as a matter of policy the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
Grijalva, who said that 300 miles of his district runs along the border, added that it was “time to bring some accountability” to the administration.
“We need an environmental impact assessment and analysis as to what the intended and unintended consequences are going to be,” he said.
But the legal situation is complicated because of REAL ID, an act signed by President George W. Bush in 2005, which gives DHS authority to waive most environmental assessments — as well as many federal, state and local laws — in the name of national security.
Experts said REAL ID has kept scientists in the dark about the effects the fences and walls currently covering over 650-miles of the border have already had on the environment.
“There’s a big gap in our knowledge here scientifically in terms of what actual impacts could be or will be,” said Jesse Lasky, a biologist and professor at Penn State University who has conducted one of the few studies examining the effect of existing barriers on wildlife along the border.
“We would have a much clearer picture of it if some of the typical studies were done following the initial construction,” he said.
Lasky’s study, which was published in 2011, examined the impact of current and future barriers along the border for the range of 313 mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Among the species most at risk were four listed as threatened globally or by both border nations, plus an additional 50 species.
The study identified three regions that were most vulnerable — the two coastal regions along California and Texas as well as the Madrean Sky Island Archipelago, which is along the border in New Mexico and Arizona.
New barriers would increase the number of species already at risk, especially in those three regions, the study found, and Lasky said the effects could be much greater under Trump’s proposal.
“I mean what they’ve proposed is many times worse than what we’ve done,” he said, adding, “That kind of wall would stop any movement of anything that couldn’t fly above the wall and that would be hundreds of species of animals.”
The biggest threat to some larger animals along the border — including jaguars, ocelots, mountain lions, bears and wolves — was habitat “fragmentation,” Howard Quigley, Jaguar Program Executive Director and Puma Program Director for Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, said.
“Anytime you fragment or break up a habitat, you begin the demise of vertebrate populations,” he said.
If you step beyond the fence erected north of the Rio Grande that serves as the border between Texas and Mexico, you’ll find a nature preserve that preceded the fence and has been maintained, and resuscitated, to conserve the last of the state’s remaining natural growing Sabal Palm and all the wildlife that surrounds it.
“It would be catastrophic for the environment, because for the first time in the geological history of this natural corridor, which affects North to South America, there would be a barrier like that,” Corwin said.
Sprawling for nearly 2,000 miles from Texas all the way to California, conservationists say the border is home to valuable wildlife refuges, national parks, public lands and important biodiversity.
In Texas, where the Rio Grande Valley is dotted with areas that often go overlooked in the national discussions of life on the border, one of the poorest areas in the country has tried to preserve and promote its natural resources for ecological and economic purposes.
Yet once again, there is worry and uncertainty about what blow their conservation efforts will take as Trump moves forward in building the wall.
“I think there’s some trepidation and fear — what does building a wall through that habitat do? How much of it gets destroyed? How does it affect what people have spent decades trying to preserve and keep in its native habitat?” said former Brownsville Mayor Ygnacio Garza.
Alejandro Fierro Cabo, an assistant professor at the School of Earth, Environmental and Earth Sciences at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, told NBC News the wall wouldn’t just hurt animals, but plant populations critical to the area.
Collin O’Mara, president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation, told NBC News the Rio Grande Valley was “one of the most important habitats in the country.”
O’Mara said the NWF found that Trump’s proposal would affect as much as 75 percent of the valley’s national wildlife refuge complex.
A 34-mile area in the Rio Grande Valley of south Texas is the administration’s highest priority for a border wall, according to a draft of a report to the White House.
Already, some private land owners further west on the Rio Grande have received condemnation notices from the government notifying them they plan to build the border wall on their property.
O’Mara said he expected there would “a series of challenges” to Trump’s border proposals, both for its potential toll on wildlife and human beings.
“I think our hope is that there’s room for thoughtful conversation based on some science,” he said.
Lasky said the new lawsuit stands as long as the Trump administration hasn’t filled out any waivers regarding environmental laws.
“But it seems that as soon as they want to file those waivers, I don’t see the suit has much more power,” he said.
Dreher on the other hand, was more hopeful.
Back in 2008, Defenders and the Sierra Club turned to the Supreme Court after then-DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff waived 19 laws in order to speed up construction of over 300 miles of border.
Defenders argued that the secretary’s power was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court declined to hear their case, but Dreher said he hoped someone would once again take the mantle should the DHS pursue those waivers.
“It’s still ripe and if there are new waivers issued by the secretary of Homeland Security, my hope is that someone will lead that challenge up to the Supreme Court and that we will get a ruling on this sweeping waiver authority,” he said.
According to a statement from Defenders, this waiver power has already been invoked five times to exempt DHS from more than 35 environmental laws, which include the Endangered Species Act, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, NEPA, and the Antiquities Act.
But Corwin said his environmental concerns with Trump’s administration went beyond the proposed border wall.
“What I have come to believe is that the Trump administration is crafting the perfect extinction storm,” Corwin said.
The wildlife biologist cited the president’s appointment of climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt to head the EPA and his proposal to slash funding for governmental institutions “responsible for national environmental stewardship” and resource management — such as the EPA, the Department of the Interior and NOAA.
“I have seen nothing that gives me any comfort that this administration has remotely entertained the level of the conservation challenges that it faces,” he said.
Corwin argued that the country’s rich landscape, natural resources and biodiversity were part of “what makes America great.”
“Isn’t that part of what we have that no one else has?” he said. “I don’t want to lose that.”
Half of the world’s species could become extinct, biologists say
Mashable, by Maria Gallucci
Feb 27th 2017 10:25AM
Here’s the sobering truth: Around half the species on Earth today could disappear by middle of the century, unless we humans can tackle climate change and slow our population growth.
That’s a view shared by leading biologists and ecologists, many of whom are gathering in the Vatican this week for a wonky but optimistic-sounding conference: “How To Save the Natural World on Which We Depend.”
Scientists estimate that by mid-century, as many as 30 to 50 percent of all species could face extinction.
“The living fabric of the world … is slipping through our fingers without our showing much sign of caring,” the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which organized the conference, said on its website.
The Catholic Church has made ecological issues a top concern under Pope Francis.
The pontiff’s 2015 encyclical, called Laudato Si, urges the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics — and everyone else — to protect the environment and spare communities from climate change, water and food scarcity, and toxic pollution.
In a section on biodiversity, Pope Francis writes, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”
Starting Monday, scientists, scholars and Catholic leaders will focus on the threats to not only well-known species like polar bears and elephants, but other, less famous varieties of animal and plant life as well. Humans need biological diversity to ensure we still have abundant food supplies, disease-curing medicines, breathable air and drinkable water, among other vital benefits.
The conference will focus on the so-called “sixth extinction,” which our planet is likely experiencing right now.
During Earth’s 4.5-billion-year history, five major extinction events have wiped out nearly all the species on the planet, the geological record shows. The last die-off happened around 65 million years ago, when dinosaurs disappeared. Asteroid strikes, volcanic eruptions and natural climate shifts were likely to blame for those past events.
The planet may now be heading for a sixth mass die-off, this time because of humans.
Before today, about one to five species a year would become extinct due to natural causes. Scientists estimate we’re now lowering species at 1,000 to 10,000 times the normal rate, Harvard Medical School researchers found in a 2008 report.
Burning fossil fuels for energy, clear-cutting forests for agriculture, filling in wetlands to build cities, dumping pollution in the ocean — all these activities are making Earth less hospitable to microscopic organisms and majestic beasts alike.
Our soaring population, set to reach 11.2 billion people by 2100, only adds more planetary stress.
Estimates for extinction rates this century are far from certain and vary, though most are still troubling.
A 2015 study by University of Connecticut professor Mark Urban suggested up to one in six species — or 16 percent — could become extinct in 2100.
“The extinctions we face pose and even greater threat to civilization than climate change, for the simple reason they are irreversible,” Peter Raven, a biologist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, told the Observer ahead of the Vatican conference.
How the Endangered Species Act Helps Save Humans, Too
Feb 15, 2017
As some Republican members of Congress seek to roll back the Endangered Species Act, conservation groups have taken to familiar arguments about protecting wildlife.
But there’s one species that is often overlooked in that defense: Homo sapiens.
As it turns out, biodiversity protects against climate change and helps ensure a stable food supply. And those both have economic benefits that in some cases dwarf the value of developing land.
“There are other reasons to conserve things beyond just dollars,” says Brad Cardinale, a professor at the University of Michigan who studies biodiversity. “But there are many examples where conservation would have a huge economic valuation.”
Scientists say that while the Endangered Species Act focuses on individual species, it actually helps protect ecosystems that support those species. In turn, those can help keep air and water that people depend on clean, while also lowering costs on things like asthma caused by pollution.
Perhaps the greatest economic value of ecosystems is the role they play as greenhouse gas sinks that absorb climate change-causing pollutants like carbon dioxide. Cutting down forests currently represents more than 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But restoring forests would allow them to absorb up nearly a third of global carbon emissions. Of course, plants do the actual absorbing of gases, but animals, including those protected under the Endangered Species Act, play a key role in keeping ecosystems intact.
Many insect species also play a key role as pollinators that support the food supply. Bees, for instance, pollinate more than 90 commercial crops in the U.S. including nuts, fruits and vegetables, according to an Obama-era White House report. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the rusty patched bumblebee, which has lost 90% of its range in the last two decades, as an endangered species in January, but suspended that designation later in the month following instructions from the Trump Administration.
“A lot of people don’t associate species and species diversity with food because they go to the grocery store to buy their food,” says Cardinale. “But there were actually hundreds of species involved.”
A group of Republicans who now control both houses of Congress and the White House have pushed for the most significant reform to the law since the measure was adopted in 1973. The measure received wide bipartisan support at the time with only four members of Congress voting against it. Today, Republicans argue that the measure has failed at protecting endangered species—pointing to the fact that the vast majority of species listed as endangered have not been delisted—while also burdening landowners.
“The Endangered Species Act is not working today,” said Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, at a hearing on the Endangered Species Act Wednesday. “States, counties, wildlife managers, home builders, construction companies, farmers, ranchers, and other stakeholders are all making it clear that the Endangered Species Act is not working.”
Reform proposals remain in early stages, but they could include provisions that make adding a species to the list more difficult and requiring the involvement of affected states, according to an Associated Press report. In his testimony, Barasso said he hoped that the reform could be a bipartisan effort aimed at making the measure stronger. But conservation and environment groups aren’t buying it.
“In my over 35 years of experience, talk of modernizing the Endangered Species Act has amounted to one thing: a euphemism for undermining and weakening the statute,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Endangered Species Act is not broken. It does not need to be fixed.”
The Endangered Species Act: Uncertainty under Trump
The Hill—By Cassandra Carmichael – 01/27/17
Environmental preservation is an issue that has enjoyed bountiful support across all religions and party lines for more than a century, which is why it’s troubling to see today’s leaders using the Endangered Species Act — a bill championed by Republican President Richard Nixon meant to protect endangered species and their habitats — as a political football.
The previous Congress introduced over 250 amendments, bills, and riders aimed at stripping away provisions of the ESA, such as provisions that would limit lawsuits as a means to maintain protections for species or limit the number of species that can be protected. With the GOP firmly in control of both the House and Senate, it is likely these efforts will be renewed in earnest, and have a much better chance of succeeding. But these direct attacks on the ESA are not the only threat to our wildlife.
In light of recent nominations to his administration and their track record, we worry that President Trump is going to establish a precedent of overlooking the best available science and stray even further from his party’s traditional values of conservation in favor of commercial gains.
Trump’s nominee for Interior Secretary, Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Mont.), signals cause for concern. As head of DOI, Rep. Zinke would oversee a department that manages hundreds of millions of acres of land, numerous bodies of water, and the countless species of wildlife that inhabit them. He’ll also be responsible for leading the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in developing policies in line with the ESA – a law that he has a history of seeking to dismantle. During his short time in Congress, he has championed expanded oil and gas development on public lands, and moved to exempt agribusiness from ESA regulations.
Most disturbingly, he has led efforts on the federal level to take away protections for some of our majestic species, including wolves and lynx, and voted to block efforts that would have limited the black market ivory trade. He is inheriting a role designed to protect America’s public lands; yet, based on his past efforts to take away protections for endangered species, how can we trust Zinke to stand up to his Republican counterparts as they try to phase out the Endangered Species Act?
Protecting the environment and strengthening the economy are not mutually exclusive — in fact, study after study has shown that permanent protection for our public lands actually drives economic growth. The Bible tells us the story of Noah who was called on by God to build an ark for all species, big and small. The Endangered Species Act is today’s ark. Once again, we must prioritize saving each and every species before disaster strikes and opportunity is lost. This is, in the words of President Reagan, “our great moral responsibility.”
The National Religious Partnership for the Environment’s mission is to educate the public and policy-makers about with it means to uphold this responsibility in our daily lives, and how we can value the importance of every species present on this Earth. To this end, last month on Capitol Hill, we hosted the fourth in a series of roundtables and events on species protection featuring science and faith leaders — and in some instances, endangered animals themselves. The roundtables were an eye-opening opportunity to discuss the factors contributing to the rapid decline of species and how we can work together to move our political leaders to address this crisis.
It’s unacceptable to see lives, human or animal, being lost because of legislative roadblocks and political rivalries. The daily headlines — “Elephants disappearing,” “Bees near extinction,” “Coral reefs dying” — do not grant us permission to write off these calamities as business as usual. Rather, they must serve as urgent reminders that we are standing at a precipice. The path we take now as a nation will determine whether we uphold our charge to be stewards of God’s creation. Do we lose some of these species forever, or ensure that they are destined to be part of the thriving, diverse ecosystem of the future that we’ve envisioned for our children and grandchildren.
At this critical time for our country, it is imperative that people remember that from both a biblical and scientific perspective, a world out of equilibrium is the perfect stage for disaster. If Trump truly plans to “Make America Great Again,” he would be wise to embody his party’s values of common sense and tradition, and return to the days when Republicans stood for preserving our heritage – finned, feathered, four-legged and everything in between.
Cassandra Carmichael serves as Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, an alliance of four religious organizations and institutions committed to caring for God’s Creation. The Partnership is supported by individual, church, and organizational donations.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.
New Report Highlights 10 Species Conservation Priorities for the Trump Administration
Jaguars, Vaquitas, and Native Bees among List of Imperiled Species
Washington, D.C. – As the Obama Administration prepares to hand over the reins of the executive branch to President-elect Donald Trump, the DC-based Endangered Species Coalition released on Wednesday a “Top Ten” list of imperiled species in need of strong conservation measures. The report, “Removing the Walls to Recovery: Top 10 Species Priorities for a New Administration,” highlights some of the most significant threats to vanishing wildlife such as jaguars and elephants, and identifies important actions the next administration could take to slow their rates of extinction.
“Our native fish, plants and wildlife are critically valuable and part of the legacy we leave for future generations of Americans,” said Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition. “We hope the next administration takes seriously its responsibility to protect endangered species and habitat. The fate of species is in their hands. Their actions could dictate whether species such as the vaquita, the red wolf, and others, become extinct in the wild.”
Some of the species in the report, such as the Joshua tree and Elkhorn coral are foundational species, which play a critical role as building blocks for their ecosystems, but are threatened by global climate change.
Other critically important species in the report are keystone species, such as Hawaii’s yellow-faced bee, the jaguar, and the Snake River salmon. All keystone species have a disproportionately large impact on other species and ecosystems relative to their abundance. For instance, Hawaii’s yellow-faced bee is a pollinator impacted by habitat loss.
The jaguar of the southwest United States is a keystone predator. It is particularly threatened by habitat fragmentation caused, in part, due to impenetrable immigration barriers along the U.S. – Mexican border. The report urges Mr. Trump to abandon plans to further fortify the southern border, and to make existing barriers more wildlife-friendly.
Snake River Chinook salmon, meanwhile, are among the longest and highest-migrating salmon on the planet – often swimming 1,000 miles upstream and climbing more than 6,000 feet in elevation to reach their spawning grounds. More than 130 other species depend upon salmon, including orcas, bears and eagles.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declined to list the greater sage grouse—an umbrella species—as endangered in 2014, citing an unprecedented region-wide habitat conservation effort, tied to state and federal conservation plans. However, several appropriations riders offered in Congress in 2016 would block implementation of these conservation plans, as well as any future Endangered Species Act protections for the imperiled bird. Meanwhile, grouse numbers have declined by 90 percent from historic levels. Protecting umbrella species like sage grouse conserves habitats on which many other species rely.
The remaining species featured in the Endangered Species Coalition’s report include the African elephant, Bald cypress tree, the wolf, and the vaquita – a small endangered Mexican porpoise.
Endangered Species Coalition member groups nominated species for the report. A committee of distinguished scientists reviewed the nominations, and decided which species should be included in the final report. The full report, along with links to photos and additional species information can be viewed and downloaded from the Endangered Species Coalition’s website.
The Endangered Species Coalition produces a “Top 10” report annually, focusing on a different theme each year. Previous years’ reports are also available on the Coalition’s website.
The Endangered Species Act: Celebrating 40 years of a Great American Law
|<< Back to Apr/May 2013 Issue|
In the early years of American history, our countrywas blessed with a great abundanceof fish, wildlife and other creaturesthat both sustained our growingpopulation, and filled us with asense of wonder. Lewis and Clarkreported to our young Easterncountry about the diverse andabundant wildlife in the west, andnearly everyone thought it wasinexhaustible. As the years rolled by,however, we found that our excesses,in both hunting and development, resulted indepletion of the vast numbers of buffalo, salmon,waterfowl, and many other species we took forgranted—to the point where we began to drivespecies toward extinction. The bald eagle, ournational symbol, is a prime example.
In 1973 two Congressmen, Pete McCloskey (R-California) and John Dingell (D-Michigan) introduced legislation, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which created a multi-faceted approach to preventing American wildlife from going extinct—first by identification of species at risk (listing). Additionally, we must take action to recover them to self sustaining levels (recovery). Lastly, a part of the law designates land needed for survival (critical habitat)—a place they can call home. This was the first time in world history that a conscious decision to protect wildlife would be backed by a federal law. After near unanimous support in Congress, President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act into law.
2013 is the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act. Here in California we have the second longest list of threatened and endangered species in the U.S. Our state has many success stories since 1973—the California gray whale, southern sea otter, bald eagle, California condor, least tern, peninsula desert bighorn sheep, Aleutian goose, and many others. At times, protecting our wildlife heritage can be costly and/or inconvenient, but the Endangered Species Act makes us think before we act. Could the impacts of our actions result in extinction? If the answer is yes, we have to find other ways of acting.
It is considered an American value to respect and protect our outdoor heritage, and its inhabitants. Most citizens are willing to “go the extra mile” to make sure all creatures have a place to live. Beautiful art, life saving medicines, vibrant color schemes, new visions in architecture, and hundreds of new creations have origins traceable to nature and her creatures. The vibrant color in the hummingbird, the colorful spots in the California tiger salamander, the majestic flight of the bald eagle—all are part of this wonderful place we call home. America. California.
As President Nixon acknowledged when signing the Endangered Species Act into law, “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans. I congratulate the 93rd Congress for taking this important step toward protecting a heritage which we hold in trust to countless future generations of our fellow citizens. Their lives will be richer, and America will be more beautiful in the years ahead, thanks to the measure that I have the pleasure of signing into law today.”
This is a time to reflect on our love for our region’s vibrant and diverse wildlife, and the open spaces they live in. We should be proud of the Endangered Species Act, and the protections it provides, so we can pass this wildlife heritage on to our children and grandchildren.
Let’s celebrate our collective wisdom for having a law that protects all Nature’s creatures, and helps to preserve a living environment that sustains us all. Happy Birthday to the Endangered Species Act!
For more information on the 40th Anniversary, visit www.fws.gov/endangered/ESA40/
Dr. Mark Rockwell, D.C. is the California organizer and coordinator for the Endangered Species Coalition.