Real News

The following news reports/announcements (some longer than others) are from various media outlets and other organizations.

Center for Biological Diversity

News Release, Dec. 2, 2020

Emergency Petition Seeks to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales From Fishing Gear

Entanglements Are Killing, Seriously Injuring Species Facing Extinction

WASHINGTON— Conservation and wildlife-protection groups today filed an emergency rulemaking petition to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales from becoming entangled in commercial fishing gear.

“North Atlantic right whales are in crisis, and these critically endangered animals need protection from deadly entanglements now,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Federal officials need to immediately prohibit the use of vertical fishing lines in the whales’ important habitat areas.”

New scientific information shows the population now consists of 356 animals, only about 70 of whom are breeding females. The species has suffered nearly a 25% population loss in less than a decade. Entanglements are the leading cause of skyrocketing rates of right whale deaths and serious injuries and are also preventing them from reproducing, pushing calving rates to historic lows.

“At least 32 right whales have been killed by human activities in the last three years alone, yet the federal government is still sitting on its hands,” said Erica Fuller a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. “The window to save this species is closing. We’re left with no other option but to file this petition. The federal government must declare this situation what it is – an emergency – and take action to protect these animals now.”

The petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to find that entanglements in the vertical buoy lines used in commercial fisheries are having an immediate and significant adverse impact on right whales and to issue emergency regulations to address that impact. This includes closing waters off Southern New England to trap/pot and gillnet gear.

It also requests that the agency allow the use of on-demand fishing gear (also known as ropeless or pop-up buoy gear) during the emergency closures. These new technologies eliminate the vertical buoy lines that are so dangerous to right whales while allowing fishing to continue.

“Four out of every five North Atlantic right whales has suffered from entanglement at least once,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Yet the government refuses to act as an entire species teeters on the brink of extinction. We must give these whales some breathing room in the areas where they feed and mate, oblivious to the dense maze of entangling fishing lines surrounding them.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife were among the groups that filed the emergency petition under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

In April 2020 the petitioners won a lawsuit challenging the Fisheries Service’s management of the American lobster fishery for failing to protect endangered right whales from entanglements. The agency has until May 31, 2021 to issue new regulations to reduce entanglement risk. But in the meantime there are no new mitigation measures in place. The petition seeks to ensure additional protections are in place while the Service develops long-term regulations.-

******

Oregon Public Broadcasting (OBP)

Tufted puffins denied Endangered Species Act protections

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the tufted puffin unworthy of federal protection, despite declining population in Oregon and elsewhere.

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore., Dec. 2, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday denied Endangered Species Act protections for the tufted puffin, a whimsical, wobbly seabird found up and down the northern Pacific Coast of North America and Asia.

Tufted puffins’ colorful plumage and wry antics have long attracted onlookers at Cannon Beach on the Oregon Coast. Haystack Rock boasts the largest tufted puffin breeding colony in Oregon.

John Underwood helped start the Protect Our Puffins campaign with the Friends of Haystack Rock. He’s been visiting the beach to watch the birds for nearly 60 years.

“They’re so iconic for Cannon Beach,” Underwood said.

The population of tufted puffins has declined over the years primarily in the southern reaches of the birds’ range — from British Columbia down to Northern California.

A study of the entire Oregon coastline in 1988 turned up nearly 5,000 breeding tufted puffins. That number was down to just 142 in 2008.

Puffins’ plummeting population prompted the Fish and Wildlife Service to consider the bird for Endangered Species Act protection. The agency determined that, despite glaring losses in some areas, the large majority of the range-wide population of 3 million is either stable or increasing.

Underwood has watched puffins slowly disappear from Cannon Beach over the years.

“We need to do something about that,” he said. “We can’t just let them disappear.”

Underwood and his wife have helped Friends of Haystack Rock sell puffin-themed sweatshirts to raise money for further study of the seabirds. Now you can even buy puffin merch online.

The Protect Our Puffins campaign today is helping fund research to determine if puffins in the Pacific Northwest are genetically distinct from those closer to Alaska. If so, puffins of the southern variety may warrant federal protection.

The bird has protected status in Oregon, Washington and California. Japan listed the bird as endangered in 1993.

The Fish and Wildlife Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

******

Washington Post

Threatened pine tree to get Endangered Species Act protections

By Associated Press, Dec. 1, 2020 (KidsPost)

Climate change, hungry beetles and disease are threatening the survival of a high-elevation pine tree that’s a key source of food for grizzly bears and found across the Western United States, federal officials said Tuesday.

A Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposal to be published Wednesday would protect the whitebark pine tree as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, according to documents posted by the Office of the Federal Register.

But the agency said it doesn’t plan to designate which areas are critical to the tree’s survival, guidance some environmentalists say is needed.

The trees can live up to 1,000 years and are found at elevations up to 12,000 feet — conditions too harsh for most trees to survive. They have been nearly wiped out in some areas, including the eastern edge of Yellowstone National Park, where their cones are a source of food for threatened grizzly bears.

Environmentalists had petitioned the government in 2008 to protect the trees that grow in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada and western Canada.

Grizzlies raid squirrel caches of whitebark pine cones and devour the seeds within the cones to fatten up for winter.

A nonnative fungus has been killing whitebark pines for a century. More recently, the trees have proved vulnerable to bark beetles that have killed millions of acres of forest and to climate change, which scientific studies have said are responsible for more severe wildfire seasons.

FWS’s proposal described the threats to the trees as “imminent” and said whitebark is one of many plants expected to be impacted as climate change moves faster than they are able to adapt.

“Whitebark pine survives at high elevations already, so there is little remaining habitat in many areas for the species to migrate to higher elevations in response to warmer temperatures,” Fish and Wildlife Service officials wrote.

The officials added: “Overall, whitebark pine stands have seen severe reductions in reproduction and regeneration. . . . High severity wildfires, white pine blister rust, and mountain pine beetle all act on portions of whitebark pine’s range.”

An attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which submitted the 2008 petition for protections, said the government was slow to act but said the proposal was worth celebrating.

“This is the federal government admitting that climate change is killing off a widely distributed tree, and we know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are many species threatened,” said Rebecca Riley, legal director for the environmental group’s nature program.

******

Patch (CT)

AG Tong Adds Endangered Species Act Claim To Trump Lawsuit

The suit challenges the administration’s revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act.

By Press Release Desk, News Partner, Dec 1, 2020

Press release from AG’s Office, Dec. 1, 2020

(CT) Attorney General William Tong today joined a multistate coalition in amending their complaint challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful revised regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The new complaint alleges that the regulations also violated the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

On July 15, 2020, the Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a final rule upending NEPA’s requirement that federal agencies comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. Shortly after, the coalition filed a lawsuit arguing that the rule abandoned informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protections in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and NEPA.

Today, the coalition claims that the Trump Administration also violated the ESA by failing to consult with federal wildlife agencies to assess impacts to listed species during the rulemaking process. Connecticut has 23 federally listed endangered species that would be directly affected by this Trump Administration rollback.

“This rule completely obliterates our bedrock environmental protections, allowing developers to push through major energy and infrastructure projects with no regard to science, environmental harm and endangered species. We will not allow the Trump Administration to silence science, facts, and our voices. This rule was pushed through with complete disregard for legal processes and procedures and by an entity with no statutory authority to make these sweeping changes. We join with states across the nation in asking the court to block this rule,” said Attorney General Tong.

“This lawsuit is necessary to prevent the elimination of NEPA as a foundational tenet of environmental law and protection. Endangered species protections are one of the many environmental safeguards substantially ignored by the revised regulations,” said DEEP Commissioner Katie Dykes. “We at DEEP join with Attorney General Tong and strongly support this action to reverse a decision that threatens to erode the protections NEPA has promoted over the past 50 years. We cannot risk our state’s endangered species and their vulnerable habitats, which are vital to a healthy and resilient ecosystem.”

Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the ESA is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” Section 7 of the ESA requires a federal agency to engage in formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service when a proposed federal action “may affect a listed species or critical habitat.”

The Trump Administration failed to consult with federal wildlife agencies regarding the impacts that the final rule might have on federally listed endangered and threatened species, as required by Section 7. Bypassing the ESA’s formal consultation process, the Trump Administration concluded that the final rule, which makes significant changes to how federal agencies review the environmental impacts of their actions, will have “no effect” on listed species or designated critical habitat. The Trump Administration did not provide any meaningful analysis or supporting evidence for this conclusion.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Snook and Assistant Attorney General Matt Levine, Head of the Environment Department, assisted the Attorney General in this matter.

(This press release was produced by AG’s Office. The views expressed here are the author’s own.)

******

LocalNews8.com (Idaho Falls, ID)

Whitebark pine proposed for Endangered Species Act protection

By News Team, December 1, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. (KIFI/KIDK) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed threatened species protection for the whitebark pine Tuesday. The pine is found at high elevation in seven western states, including Wyoming and Idaho.

However, the tree was denied a designation of “protected critical habitat,” based on regulations put in place by the Trump administration last year. Those rules specify that only species where habitat destruction is the primary threat can achieve such protection.

It would have been the most widely distributed tree to gain protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The tree’s seeds provide critical food for grizzly bears and a host of other species, but it is rapidly dying from an introduced disease called white-pine blister rust. It is also threatened by climate change, which is fostering extensive outbreaks of mountain pine beetle, which kills the pine. That allows competing tree species to take over high elevation habitat. And, experts believe that could lead to higher danger from severe fires.

“Recognition of whitebark pine as a threatened species shows just how profoundly climate change and introduced diseases are changing our world,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These beautiful and important trees need our help. I’m relieved they’re getting the strong protections of the Endangered Species Act, because it’s our best tool for stemming the tide of the extinction crisis.”

Greenwald said the critical habitat designation could have provided an additional tool for protecting whitebark pine by identifying places it is likely to survive and protecting those places from development.

“The loss of whitebark pine and its impact on grizzlies and high-elevation forests shows how tightly knit the world is,” said Greenwald. “If we don’t address the extinction crisis by protecting more places, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and better regulating trade in plants and animals, the natural world and our way of life will unravel before our eyes.”

******

One Green Planet

Plastic Pollution #1 Killer Of Marine Wildlife According To Research

By Ian Carey, November 28, 2020

The international nonprofit advocacy organization, Oceana, released a new report this month that lists plastic pollution as the #1 killer of marine wildlife. The team of researchers surveyed government agencies, organizations, and institutes to collect data on how plastic pollution is impacting marine life.

What they found was startling. Since 2009, there is evidence of nearly 1800 marine animals across 40 different species having swallowed or becoming entangled in plastic. Of those animals, 88% of them were from species that are listed under the Endangered Species act as endangered or threatened.

“Despair is what you feel as you read through these sad cases,” said Oceana’s senior scientist Kimberly Warner. “The descriptions of what was found inside these animals, and how painful it must have been to be entangled or to starve from ingesting plastic is just terrible.”

“The large majority of the animals in this report — 88% — are already threatened with extinction. That was eye-opening. Many of the animals we are protecting in U.S. waters (from harvest, habitat alteration and impacts to their forage food) are actually suffering from plastic pollution entanglements and deaths,” Warner continued.

The researchers say the biggest problem they found was animals consuming plastic. This can happen due to an animal mistaking plastic for food or inadvertently swallowing plastic materials while swimming. Becoming entangled in plastic was also listed as a frequent problem. This can lead to the animal choking, suffering physical trauma, or not being able to feed properly.

The report makes several recommendations to help curtail the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans. They include:

*Companies must reduce the production of plastic, especially single-use plastics.

*Companies must offer consumers plastic-free alternatives.

*Governments should pass legislation reducing the production of single-use plastics.

*Companies and governments should act to establish widespread reusable containers and packaging.

*Federal agencies tasked with protecting threatened species should standardize and require reporting of all plastic interaction cases.

*Congress must defend and fully fund the implementation of the Endangered Species Act.

Oceana is also asking all concerned US citizens to send a letter to Congress asking them to support The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act.

******

New Hampshire Union Leader

Trump administration moves to weaken migratory bird protections

Reuters, Nov. 28, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration took a step on Friday toward rolling back protections for migratory birds and reducing penalties for companies that inadvertently kill them, the latest effort to finalize regulatory rollbacks before President Donald Trump leaves office in January.

The Fish and Wildlife Service published its final environmental impact statement for regulations governing the killing of migratory birds. This bolstered the administration’s proposal to reinterpret the 1918 migratory bird statute by limiting the definition of an illegal “taking” under the law to deliberate actions, so shielding from penalty energy companies, developers and others who inadvertently kill birds.

The policy that had been in effect since the early 1970s defined an illegal “taking” under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as any action that caused the death of a protected species, whether deliberate or accidental.

“It is in the public interest to apply a national standard that sets a clear, consistent and articulable rule for when a person or operator commits a criminal misdemeanor violation of the MBTA,” the final EIS says.

The final EIS will enable the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a final rule as soon as the end of December, locking in the changes before Trump hands off to President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20.

The analysis concedes that while the changes to the rule would increase legal certainty for companies, companies would be less inclined to implement “best practices” to reduce inadvertent bird takes, resulting in “increased bird mortality.”

Environmental groups said the move will harm migratory birds at a time that they are most vulnerable due to climate change and other environmental risks.

“The Trump administration’s decision to give polluters carte blanche to kill birds is not just illegal, it’s cruel,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“With scientists warning birds are disappearing from our skies, now is not the time to relax rules on killing them.”

******

Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Scientists: Rise in sea turtle population unrelated to reduced tourism

By MICHAEL BRESTOVANSKY, November 28, 2020

While tourism in Hawaii has declined during the COVID-19 pandemic, sea turtle populations have increased — but scientists say the two are unrelated.

The global decrease in travel throughout 2020 has led to speculation that lockdowns and quarantines have allowed the environment to partially recover from human activity. But while endangered sea turtle populations have seen a rebound in Hawaii this year, experts caution against correlating the two factors.

“It’s true that there has been a large increase in the number of green sea turtle nests,” said Ryan Jenkinson, head of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Aquatic Resources Division Protected Species Program. “But that’s totally independent of what’s happening with COVID.”

Sea turtles, Jenkinson said, do not reproduce so quickly that a single summer can reverse their declining population, and there is not enough data to suggest what impact, if any, the global lockdown has had on their population.

While Danielle Bass, sustainability coordinator for the state’s Office of Planning, told the state House of Representatives Tuesday that green sea turtle nests on Oahu have been particularly successful over the summer — Marine Corps Base Hawaii reported more than 13 nests on Bellows Beach on Oahu in June, and that 95% of hatchlings survived — Jenkinson said it would be hasty to attribute that success to COVID impacts.

“Turtles don’t make annual schedules,” Jenkinson said.

Jenkinson explained that green sea turtles tend to nest where they themselves hatched, but if that site is unavailable — for example, if there are too many people on a beach between the ocean and the nesting site — they simply find other sites. A high number of turtle nests on one beach, therefore, does not indicate that the number of sea turtles has increased, merely that a greater-than-average number of turtles chose that beach to nest, for whatever reason.

Jenkinson pointed out that certain nesting sites on the minor Hawaiian islands and reefs have been irrevocably lost to climate change, necessitating a search for other sites on the larger islands.

Alex Gaos, research biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Fisheries Science Center, said a decrease in human activity could potentially benefit specific sea turtle nests — “there could be fewer lights to confuse the hatchlings, or maybe there’s fewer drivers running over nests or something,” he said — he pointed out that the lack of human activity could just as easily create false positives.

“If there’s fewer people on the beach, that means hatchlings’ tracks couldn’t be obscured as much, so it might look like there’s more of them,” Gaos said.

In short, Jenkinson said, any increase in the green sea turtle population around Hawaii this year is more likely attributable to years of conservation work dedicated to the recovery of the endangered species, rather than a single summer with fewer tourists than average.

As for hawksbill sea turtles, the critically endangered species also found in Hawaii’s waters, even less can be concluded. Jenkinson said the DLNR researchers monitoring hawksbill populations were unable to make observations this year — ironically, because of COVID.

******

NBC CH 4 (Universal City, CA)

UCLA Study Rebuts Beliefs on Survival of Relocated Species, Offers New Conservation Tool to Increase Survival Rates

The study upends the conventional wisdom that a transplant’s success improves if it comes from a nearby habitat, as the data showed no connection between geography and survival.

By City News Service, November 27, 2020

Building on a 20-year tortoise relocation effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, UCLA researchers have found that individual genetic variation was the key to a transplanted species’ survival, in research published Friday in the peer-reviewed journal Science.

The study upends the conventional wisdom that a transplant’s success improves if it comes from a nearby habitat, as the data showed no connection between geography and survival.

“It flies in the face of what we know from other translocation studies, but lots of genetic variation was hands-down the best predictor of whether a tortoise lived or died,” said UCLA professor Brad Shaffer, a conservation ecologist and senior author of the study.

Climate change increasingly makes relocating threatened species necessary, despite the tactic’s frequently low success rate. UCLA’s research offers a fast, inexpensive new conservation tool to increase survival rates when moving endangered plants and animals.

The researchers sequenced the DNA of Mojave desert tortoises that were relocated around the same time period. They found that survivors averaged 23% greater genetic variation, or heterozygosity, than those that perished.

From 1997-2014, U.S. Fish and Wildlife translocated approximately 9,100 threatened Mojave desert tortoises that were abandoned as pets or pushed out by development. They were relocated to a 100-square kilometer site in Ivanpah Valley, southeast of Las Vegas. The threatened species, native to the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico, is under consideration for endangered status in California.

(Copyright CNS – City News Service)

******

The Western News (Libby, MT)

Federal and state officials investigate illegal grizzly bear killing

By WILL LANGHORNE, November 27, 2020

Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and game wardens with Montana, Fish, Wildlife and Parks are investigating the illegal killing of a grizzly bear near the Yaak.

Authorities found the carcass of an adult female grizzly bear Nov. 20 about four miles south of the Yaak on Pipe Creek Road, according to Dillon Tabish, regional informational and education program manager for FWP Region 1.

Tabish said some parts of the bear were missing. He could not provide additional details, citing the ongoing investigation.

“We are encouraging anyone with possible information to call our hotline,” Tabish said.

Residents with tips may call 1-800-847-6668. Tabish said callers will remain anonymous and may be eligible for a financial reward depending on their information.

Grizzly bears are federally protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. It is illegal to harm, harass or kill these bears, except in cases of self-defense or the defense of others.

*******

Science Daily

Study of threatened desert tortoises offers new conservation strategy

Animals with more genetic variation are more likely to survive relocation

Source:  University of California – Los Angeles: November 27, 2020

A new study supports a new conservation strategy. Climate change increasingly makes relocating threatened species necessary, despite the frequently low success rate. The study found tortoises with lots of genetic variation were much more likely to survive after their relocation. The research supports this fast, inexpensive conservation tool, and upends the conventional wisdom suggesting that tortoises from areas moved from close by would fare best.

In Nevada’s dry Ivanpah Valley, just southeast of Las Vegas, a massive unintended experiment in animal conservation has revealed an unexpected result.

From 1997 to 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service moved more than 9,100 Mojave desert tortoises to the 100-square-kilometer (about 39 miles square) Large Scale Translocation Site. The newcomers, many of which were abandoned pets or had been displaced by development, joined nearly 1,500 desert tortoises already living there.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that tortoises from areas closest to the translocation site would fare best. But a new UCLA study, published today in Science, found no connection between the tortoises’ place of origin and their chances of survival. It did, however, uncover a far better predictor.

Tortoises with lots of genetic variation were much more likely to survive after their relocation, said UCLA conservation ecologist Brad Shaffer, the study’s senior author. Like most organisms, tortoises have two copies of their entire genome, with one copy from each parent. The more those copies differ from each other, the higher the organism’s heterozygosity.

The researchers compared translocated tortoises that lived or died over the same time period after being relocated to the site. They found that survivors averaged 23% greater heterozygosity than those that perished. Simply put, tortoises with more genetic variation had higher survival rates.

“It flies in the face of what we know from other translocation studies, but lots of genetic variation was hands-down the best predictor of whether a tortoise lived or died,” said Shaffer, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the UCLA La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science. “Relocating endangered plants and animals is increasingly necessary to counteract the effects of climate change, and this gives us a new tool to increase survival rates.”

Although the relationship between heterozygosity and survival was well supported by the study, it’s unclear why greater genetic variation is linked to survival rates, said former UCLA postdoctoral scholar Peter Scott, the study’s lead author.

“Potentially, individuals with higher heterozygosity have more genomic flexibility,” said Scott, who is now an assistant professor at West Texas A&M University. “It’s likely that tortoises with more variation have a better chance of having one copy of a gene that works really well in stressful or new environments compared to those individuals with two identical copies that only work really well in their environment of origin.”

The researchers wanted to make tortoise conservation efforts more effective, and uncover trends that would help other species as well, Scott said.

“Oftentimes, the chances of success for relocating plants or animals is pretty dismal,” he said. “We wanted to understand why, and use that understanding to increase survival.”

Over the years, tortoises that were given up as pets, or removed from places like developments in suburban Las Vegas and solar farms in the desert, were surrendered to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The agency took blood samples to screen for diseases and marked each animal before releasing them into the Ivanpah Valley site, which enabled the animals to be tracked in later surveys. The UCLA researchers sequenced blood samples drawn from 79 tortoises that were released to the site and were known to be alive in 2015, and from another 87 known to have died after they were released at the site.

Although the Large Scale Translocation Site provided an intriguing dataset, it’s not the same as a controlled experiment. Additional studies would be needed to understand why more heterozygous tortoises had a higher survival probability and precisely how much of an increase in genetic variation improves a tortoise’s odds of surviving.

“The only reason we could do this study was because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was incredibly forward-thinking when they set up the translocation site and tracked who lived and died,” Shaffer said. “Many died, and no one was happy about that. But we can learn a lot from that unfortunate result to help conservation management improve.

“When thinking about moving animals or plants out of danger, or repopulating an area emptied by wildfire, now we can easily and economically measure genetic variability to better gauge the survival probability of those translocated individuals. It’s not the only criteria, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle.”

(Story Source: Materials provided by University of California – Los Angeles. Original written by Alison Hewitt. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.)

******

Earth.com

Understanding Chinese medicine could protect endangered animals

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com staff writer, November 26, 2020

By gaining a better understanding of traditional Chinese medicine, conservationists will be more capable of protecting endangered animals like rhinos and tigers, according to a team of researchers led by the University of Queensland.

“The consumptive use of wildlife is often rooted in traditional beliefs and customs,” wrote the study authors. “Many people around the world rely on traditional forms of medicine for their health and wellbeing.”

“These diverse medical systems make use of an array of wild plants, animals and fungi, often ones that are locally available and that are not threatened. However, some traditional medical systems make use of products derived from endangered species, including Traditional Chinese Medicine.”

Study lead author and phD candidate Hubert Cheung said efforts to shift entrenched values and beliefs about Chinese medicine are not achieving conservation gains in the short term. He explained that a better understanding of traditional practices was critical for conservationists to form more effective strategies.

“The use of endangered species in traditional Chinese medicine threatens species’ survival and is a challenge for conservationists. Pushing messages of inefficacy, providing various forms of scientific evidence or promoting biomedical alternatives doesn’t seem to be drastically influencing decisions and behaviors.”

Cheung pointed out that while many practices and treatments continue to be criticized for lacking scientific support, the World Health Organization approved the inclusion of traditional Chinese medicine in its global compendium of medical practices last year.

“The challenge now is for conservationists to work proactively with practitioners and others in the industry to find sustainable solutions,” said Cheung. “However, most conservation scientists and organizations are unfamiliar with traditional Chinese medicine, which makes it difficult to devise effective and culturally-nuanced interventions.”

In an effort to make traditional Chinese medicine more accessible, the researchers have examined the core theories and practices. They hope this study may influence policy and campaigning.

“Today, traditional Chinese medicine is formally integrated into China’s healthcare system, and has been central to China’s response to the ongoing pandemic,” said Cheung. “In fact, the Chinese government’s COVID-19 clinical guidance has included recommendations for the use of a product containing bear bile, which has raised concerns among conservation groups.”

According to study co-author Professor Hugh Possingham, traditional Chinese medicine is now not only entrenched in the social and cultural fabric of Chinese society, but also gaining users elsewhere.

“A better understanding of traditional Chinese medicine will empower conservationists to engage more constructively with stakeholders in this space,” said Professor Possingham.”We’re hoping that this work can help all parties develop more effective and lasting solutions for species threatened by medicinal use.”

The study is published in the journal People and Nature.

******

M Live/Michigan

Sleeping Bear Dunes piping plover spotted in South Carolina, heralded as “true survivor”

By Emily Bingham, ebingham@mlive.com, November 26, 2020

NORTH MANITOU ISLAND, MICH. — After a troublesome nesting season for some Great Lakes piping plovers, one little bird’s big trip this fall is being celebrated as a victory.

A first-year fledgling born this summer on Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s North Manitou Island was recently spotted on Kiawah Island, South Carolina — a popular wintering ground for the Great Lakes plover population.

What makes the sighting so remarkable? This particular fledgling — which was banded by researchers for ID purposes, as nearly all Great Lakes plovers are — was the sole survivor of three separate nesting attempts on the part of the bird’s father.

According to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, the first and second nests were wiped out by egg predation and the remnants of Tropical Storm Cristobal, respectively. Three eggs from the third nest successfully hatched, but two were snatched up by a merlin — a type of small, fierce falcon — within just a couple days.

That left just this one fledgling, who not only survived the rest of its summer on the island, but this fall traveled roughly 920 miles (as the plover flies) to South Carolina — a seemingly extraordinary feat for a creature that weighs less than two ounces.

The news of the bird’s arrival at its wintering grounds was announced on Facebook by the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, which called him “a true survivor.”

This wasn’t an easy year to be a Great Lakes piping plover. The endangered species, which has been making a slow comeback since its numbers dipped to an all-time low of about a dozen breeding pairs in 1990, had its beachfront nesting grounds besieged by the unprecedented high water levels affecting coastal communities around the Great Lakes.

On top of that, according to Sleeping Bear Dunes wildlife biologist Vince Cavalieri, only about half of all plovers that fledge from the Sleeping Bear area end up being sighted at their winter homes — and of those first-year birds, roughly 35 to 40 percent make it back north to their breeding grounds in the following spring.

Those are some tough odds, but it’s not uncommon for migratory birds to have high first-winter mortality rates, Cavalieri explained — and the plovers’ survival rate rises to 80 percent or higher after a plover makes it through that difficult first year.

“For a bird to make it all the way to South Carolina and then we see it again at Sleeping Bear the next year, it’s really an accomplishment for that plover — and perhaps for the conservation community as well,” Cavalieri said.

Historically, plovers were widespread throughout the Great Lakes states and Ontario, with as many as 800 nesting pairs in the region around the turn of the 20th century. But their numbers rapidly declined in the ensuing decades due to habitat loss, as their preferred nesting grounds — wide beaches and cobbled lakeshores — were gobbled up as prime real estate.

When the birds were placed on the federal endangered species list in the 1980′s, a large network of agencies, research institutions and individuals launched an intensive recovery effort to bring the species back, through projects ranging from habitat preservation and restoration to salvage-captive rearing, in which abandoned eggs are hatched and reared in captivity to be released when the fledglings are ready to be on their own.

In recent years, the Great Lakes piping plover population has held steady between 65 to 75 pairs: A number that puts the sighting of that one little plover into perspective.

“They’re a lot more secure now than they were in 1990,” Cavalieri said. “But they’re still very rare, so seeing one any time is interesting and especially seeing young birds on their wintering grounds is always a really cool thing.”

******

Greenwire

EPA: Over 90% of species put at risk by common weedkiller

Marc Heller, E&E News reporter, November 25, 2020

The widely used weedkiller glyphosate is likely to adversely affect endangered species, but mainly from non-agricultural uses, EPA said today.

In a draft biological evaluation for glyphosate, the environmental agency said the uncertainty and lack of available data about uses in non-farm settings is the main driver of the chemical’s risk to a variety of wildlife and critical habitats.

The evaluation is available on the agency’s website in a series of documents.

More than 90% of various mammals, bird and invertebrates EPA evaluated are likely to be adversely affected, the agency said, with most of those determinations having moderate evidence. The greatest risk is to aquatic invertebrates, with high risks also to fish, the agency said.

Risks are more moderate for mammals, according to the draft evaluation.

“There have been over 1,000 reported ecological incidents involving glyphosate use for birds, fish, terrestrial invertebrates, and terrestrial plants,” EPA said.

The draft evaluation, open to a 60-day public comment period, is part of EPA’s periodic review of glyphosate — a process it follows for all pesticides. The document doesn’t delve into human health effects such as the ongoing debate about whether glyphosate causes cancer.

It also doesn’t discuss limits on glyphosate’s use or potential changes to its label restrictions, a step that would come later in the process if agencies determine that risks to species warrant it. The review is part of a revised method EPA has adopted this year for evaluating pesticides’ risk to endangered or threatened species, the first step of an interagency consultation.

EPA reapproved glyphosate’s registration in an interim decision earlier this year, leading the Center for Biological Diversity to accuse the Trump administration of allegiance to its manufacturer, Bayer/Monsanto.

The administration was “clearly willing to bend over backwards, including disregarding its own guidelines for evaluating cancer risks, to give the industry what it wants,” the center said at the time. The Natural Resources Defense Council and Pesticide Action Network North America are among the groups suing EPA to stop the use of glyphosate (Greenwire, March 23).

Glyphosate, widely known by the brand name Roundup, is the most widely used weed killer in the United States, applied regularly to crops such as corn and soybeans that have been genetically modified to tolerate it. Between 2013 and 2018, farmers applied about 280 million pounds to 285 million acres, EPA said.

More than 21 million pounds of glyphosate are applied to non-agricultural sites annually, the agency said. Much of that is at the consumer and residential level, EPA said, a use that’s hard for the government to track.

Other popular uses in non-farm settings are along public roadways and in forestry, EPA said.

******

Science Daily

Ghost fishing threatens endangered river dolphins, critically endangered turtles, otters

Waste fishing gear in the River Ganges poses a threat to wildlife including otters, turtles and dolphins, new research shows.

University of Exeter, November 25, 2020

The study says entanglement in fishing gear could harm species including the critically endangered three-striped roofed turtle and the endangered Ganges river dolphin.

Surveys along the length of the river, from the mouth in Bangladesh to the Himalayas in India, show levels of waste fishing gear are highest near to the sea.

Fishing nets — all made of plastic — were the most common type of gear found.

Interviews with local fishers revealed high rates of fishing equipment being discarded in the river — driven by short gear lifespans and lack of appropriate disposal systems.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Exeter, with an international team including researchers from India and Bangladesh, was conducted as part of the National Geographic Society’s “Sea to Source: Ganges” expedition.

“The Ganges River supports some of the world’s largest inland fisheries, but no research has been done to assess plastic pollution from this industry, and its impacts on wildlife,” said Dr Sarah Nelms, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“Ingesting plastic can harm wildlife, but our threat assessment focussed on entanglement, which is known to injure and kill a wide range of marine species.”

The researchers used a list of 21 river species of “conservation concern” identified by the Wildlife Institute for India.

They combined existing information on entanglements of similar species worldwide with the new data on levels of waste fishing gear in the Ganges to estimate which species are most at risk.

Speaking about the why so much fishing gear was found in the river, Dr Nelms said: “There is no system for fishers to recycle their nets.

“Most fishers told us they mend and repurpose nets if they can, but if they can’t do that the nets are often discarded in the river.

“Many held the view that the river ‘cleans it away’, so one useful step would be to raise awareness of the real environmental impacts.”

National Geographic Fellow and science co-lead of the expedition Professor Heather Koldewey, of ZSL (the Zoological Society of London) and the University of Exeter, said the study’s findings offer hope for solutions based on “circular economy” — where waste is dramatically reduced by reusing materials.

“A high proportion of the fishing gear we found was made of nylon 6, which is valuable and can be used to make products including carpets and clothing,” she said.

“Collection and recycling of nylon 6 has strong potential as a solution because it would cut plastic pollution and provide an income.

“We demonstrated this through the Net-Works project in the Philippines, which has been so successful it has become a standalone social enterprise called COAST-4C.”

Professor Koldewey added: “This is a complex problem that will require multiple solutions — all of which must work for both local communities and wildlife.”

Dr Nelms’ work was partly funded by the ExeMPLaR Project, and was supported by access to the analytical facilities of the Greenpeace Research Laboratories.

******

KOTZ Radio (Kotzebue, AK)

Federal officials reject state petition to delist Arctic ringed seals from Endangered Species Act

November 25, 2020 / WESLEY EARLY

On Wednesday, the National Marine Fisheries Service ruled against a petition from the state of Alaska to delist the Arctic ringed seal from the Endangered Species Act.

Last year, the state of Alaska partnered with several North Slope entities to write the petition, arguing that keeping the ringed seal listed as endangered could negatively impact economic opportunities for the state, as well as subsistence rights.

“Although we provided substantial new information to the service, they argued that information was considered in other ways, even though that information wasn’t available previously,” said Chris Krenz, the State Wildlife Science Coordinator. “We are disappointed that they took that tact with this petition.”

Krenz says the state believes that the ringed seal isn’t threatened. Officials noted the ringed seal population, which is in the millions, despite measurable losses in sea ice. Though climate scientists with NMFS predict that by the year 2100, there will be little to no sea ice in the Arctic, Krenz argues that looking that far ahead doesn’t constitute the foreseeable future.

“There is way too much uncertainty to really understand how ringed seals will adapt or not to changes in our environment,” Krenz said. “We’ve also documented additional information that indicates ringed seals may have higher resilience than initially anticipated.”

The Obama administration listed the Arctic ringed seal under the Endangered Species Act in 2012, citing the effects of climate change on the ringed seal’s sea ice habitat. Kristen Monsell is the Oceans Legal Director for the Center for Biological Diversity. She agrees with the ruling from NMFS.

“The best available science shows that within the foreseeable future, so much of their habitat will be destroyed — it will just melt away from greenhouse gases — that the species will not be able to withstand that loss,” Monsell said.

Monsell says the fact that the ruling came from the Trump administration underscores the need for federally protecting the Arctic ringed seal.

NMFS will soon begin a five-year review of the Arctic ringed seal to determine whether or not the species should still be listed under the ESA. Krenz with the state of Alaska says this will provide an opportunity for the state to continue to make their case for delisting.

******

News 4/JAX (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Suit: Feds ignore risk of huge spills to endangered species

Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press, November 24, 2020

NEW ORLEANS – Environmental groups asked a federal court Wednesday to throw out the Trump administration’s assessment of oil and gas activity’s likely effects on endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico, saying it dismisses the chance of another disastrous blowout like the BP spill of 2010.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s 700-page analysis greatly underestimates both the likely number and size of oil spills, according to the suit filed by Earthjustice for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity,Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Even though the study was prompted by the 2010 spill, it “essentially pretends the Deepwater Horizon spill never happened — that there was nothing to learn from that disaster,” Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton said in an interview Tuesday.

The federal agency said it left the possibility of an extremely large spill like BP’s out of its calculations of likely effects because a Bureau of Offshore Energy Management analysis found little chance of another during the next 50 years.

The previous analysis, in 2007, also estimated that “such a large spill was extremely unlikely,” the lawsuit noted. That analysis had estimated that “the largest spill possible would be at most 15,000 barrels,” or 630,000 gallons (2.4 million liters).

The 2010 spill, which started with a blowout that killed 11 men, was hundreds of times bigger than that. Estimates of the amount of oil spewed into the Gulf for 87 days varied from from nearly 176 million gallons (666 million liters) to less than 103 million gallons (390 million liters). A federal judge calculated damages based on 134 million gallons (507 million liters) in the Gulf.

The chance of such a spill is even higher now, the lawsuit said, because “Gulf drilling is moving into deeper waters, which increases the possibility of a catastrophic well blowout and extremely large oil spill.”

The study also failed to consider the increased frequency, due to climate change, of hurricanes that can severely damage oil and gas facilities, nor did it take into account recent research about the danger of underwater landslides that can cause extremely large oil spills, the lawsuit said.

In addition, it said, the analysis left out the BP spill’s effects on the corals and other animals and their habitats, using population estimates and other information from before the spill.

The groups asked a federal court in Maryland to make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service write a new report, called a biological opinion.

The fisheries service does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Allison Garrett said.

The federal agencies that regulate offshore oil operations are required by the Endangered Species Act to insure that their actions aren’t likely to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or damage their critical habitat. Offshore oil regulators asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for a new analysis on June 30, 2010, while BP’s well was still gushing.

Ten years later, the result is “just another hand out to Big Oil,” Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, said in a news release.

Larry McKinney, chair for Gulf strategies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, called the NOAA Fisheries analysis one of the most detailed he’s ever seen.

“Overall, I think they did as good a job as you can do with something like that,” McKinney said.

He predicted the litigation will be lengthy because both the report and suit cover a huge area and many species.

It will be largely a battle of experts, he said, but allegations about ignoring large spills are a strength of the suit. “That’s a straightforward question: Did you do that or not? Then you can have debate about whether it’s important,” he said.

NOAA Fisheries estimated that oil and gas activities would affect many endangered and threatened animals over 50 years, including more than a million sea turtles hit by vessels. Its recommendations include measures to protect turtles from seismic surveys and to reduce the chance of vessels hitting endangered Bryde’s whales.

The report estimated the largest spills would average about one-third the size of BP’s because regulators indicated that equipment required since then can cap wells at any depth within 30 days.

The suit said NOAA underestimated the largest spill likely. It said the agency’s analysis arbitrarily started with 1996, omitting Mexico’s Ixtoc I spill of more than 126 million gallons (477 million liters) in 1979. The suit also contended argued that the analysis ignored the slow spill that has continued since a hurricane in September 2004 caused an undersea mudslide at at a group of wells owned by Taylor Energy off Louisiana.

Lois Epstein, a civil engineer at the Wilderness Society who served on a government advisory committee after the BP spill, wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit but faulted the federal study for not considering the likelihood of spills like Taylor’s.

However, Epstein said the government’s 30-day capping estimate seemed reasonable: “There are capping devices that we didn’t have” in 2010.

Eaton of Earthjustice said in a news release Wednesday, “This administration is convinced that if they ignore something, it will go away. It’s not working for the climate crisis and it’s not going to work for oil spills.”

******

National Geographic

Endangered primates face high risk of catching COVID-19

Dwindling species such as Sumatran orangutans and western lowland gorillas could more easily catch coronavirus, a new study predicts.

BY PAUL NICOLAUS, November 23, 2020

As the coronavirus pandemic rages across the globe, much of the focus centers on the growing human death toll, which has climbed above one million. But experts caution that a handful of our closest living relatives in the animal kingdom are also in jeopardy from SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. 


A recent analysis of more than 400 vertebrate species, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, predicts that critically endangered primate species such as the northern white-cheeked gibbon, the Sumatran orangutan, and the western lowland gorilla—as well as the endangered chimpanzee and bonobo—are particularly vulnerable to infection due to their genetic similarities to humans.

Study leader Harris Lewin set out to identify animals that might serve as a host for the coronavirus—the ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have emerged in a bat species native to China and may have infected another (or more) animal species before crossing over to humans. But as his research progressed, the data began to reveal that humans could be a vector, spreading the disease to wild animals. (Read about COVID-19’s impact on the animal kingdom so far.)

“The potential for COVID-like disease outbreak in either captive or wild populations of endangered primates is pretty high,” says Lewin, distinguished professor of ecology and evolution at University of California, Davis. It’s a particular concern for rare animals in captive settings, similar to the eight infected lions and tigers at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. He says it’s likely they picked up the virus from their human keepers.

Infected humans could transmit the virus in parts of the world where wild animals come in close contact with people, such as in parts of Africa, Lewin cautions.

As the basis of their study, Lewin and his team looked more closely at the evolution and structure of the protein receptor ACE2, where the coronavirus attaches and subsequently enters human cells. They studied the protein across hundreds of vertebrate species, which allowed them to determine the relative risks of each to contracting the virus.

The researchers examined the type and number of changes at 25 key positions of the ACE2 receptor and created a categorical ranking system ranging from very high to very low risk based on similarities and differences found at those spots. Animals with all 25 positions matching the human protein are thought to be most susceptible. Those predicted to be at very low risk, on the other hand, have ACE2 receptors that are quite different from that of the human.

Among the 103 species that scored as very high, high, or medium risk, 40 percent are classified as threatened on the International Union of Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, according to the study, published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The 18 very high-risk animals are all Old World primates and great apes. Yet some high-risk endangered species—like the baiji, a freshwater dolphin, Pere David’s deer, and the narrow-ridged finless porpoise whale—surprised the researchers, because they’re distantly related to humans.

Less lethal

The researchers warned against overinterpreting their results, noting that true risk needs to be confirmed with experimental data. And the possibility that infection may occur through a cellular pathway other than ACE2 cannot be ruled out, as there’s more than one way the virus can penetrate the body, Lewin says.

While several species are theoretically susceptible to catching the virus, only a handful of captive animals—domestic dogs, domestic cats, lions, tigers, and minks—have so far been infected, notes Dalen W. Agnew, a professor in the Department of Pathobiology and Diagnostic Investigation at Michigan State University. (Read more about the hunt for the next potential coronavirus animal host.)

In experimental settings, rhesus macaques, cynomolgus macaques, and African green monkeys caught the virus, but most demonstrated relatively mild clinical disease, according to a recent study. Similar studies have shown domestic ferrets have mild or undetectable signs of illness, Egyptian fruit bats show no symptoms, and Syrian hamsters experience mild-to-moderate disease.

Even though the virus does not appear to be as lethal to animals as it is to humans, study co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli, a research associate at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, points out that mink can die as a result of contracting SARS-CoV-2. (Read how mink are spreading coronavirus to humans more than thought.)

As it stands, he says there simply isn’t enough information available to fully understand why the virus can lead to increased mortality in some species compared with others. (Buddy, the first dog confirmed with coronavirus, died a few months after his diagnosis, though the exact cause is unknown.)

There’s no evidence that the coronavirus is currently spreading to or within populations of wild animals. Still, some say we probably aren’t aware of all infections similar to the way plenty of human cases have likely gone undetected throughout the pandemic.

It is difficult to determine the extent to which the virus is actually spreading to animals, says Andrew Bowman, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at the Ohio State University. “It’s certainly something to keep an eye on,” he says, especially vulnerable populations or those at the human-animal interface.

Preventing the spread

Not only are our closest animal kin more susceptible due to genetics, like us their highly social behavior also puts them in peril.

Koepfli notes one animal of concern is Africa’s eastern gorilla, of which fewer than 5,000 remain, divided into small populations and subspecies, including the well-known mountain gorilla. If these great apes, which live in close-knit family groups, became infected and died at similar rates to humans, he adds, it could further endanger the animals.

Because of the ramifications, both Koepfli and Lewin say precautionary measures are key. In settings such as national parks, staff should be regularly tested, because any contact could lead to the beginning of a pandemic in Old World primate species. It is also crucial that zoos continue to carry out their robust management plans to prevent spread from caretakers to animals.

“Maybe we were lucky that the virus spilled over into tigers,” says Lewin, “because if it had spilled over into primates, the results might have been quite different and possibly devastating to the Old World primates in captivity at the Bronx Zoo.”

******

Greenwire

Biden names John Kerry climate envoy

Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter, November 23, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate longtime adviser Antony Blinken to be secretary of State and name John Kerry special presidential envoy for climate, the transition team announced today, a pair of picks with massive implications for climate diplomacy.

Blinken will be at the center of Biden’s efforts early next year to rejoin the Paris climate agreement and renew U.S. engagement on clean energy and climate adaptation abroad.

Kerry, secretary of State under President Obama, will sit on Biden’s National Security Council in a role dedicated entirely to climate issues.

“America will soon have a government that treats the climate crisis as the urgent national security threat it is,” Kerry said on Twitter this afternoon.

“I’m proud to partner with the President-elect, our allies, and the young leaders of the climate movement to take on this crisis as the President’s Climate Envoy.”

Biden’s transition team also said the president-elect will nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield to be United Nations ambassador and name Jake Sullivan his national security adviser.

Biden has long pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement in the opening days of his presidency, and today’s picks will contribute considerable foreign policy and political experience to international climate talks that could get complicated in the coming years.

Kerry, for weeks rumored to become Biden’s climate czar, was one of the Paris deal’s architects and has spent his post-Obama years advocating for climate policy.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, welcomed Kerry’s appointment.

“John Kerry’s appointment is an encouraging signal that the U.S. will make the climate emergency a matter of national security, but it’s only a step in what must be a bold new strategy,” he said.

While Kerry’s role appears to be largely international, Sunrise Movement Executive Director Varshini Prakash, who worked with Kerry on the Biden-Sanders climate task force earlier this year, said the president-elect should also have a climate czar for domestic issues.

“What good is it to engage in diplomacy abroad if we’re not doing everything we can at home?” Prakash said in a statement, calling Kerry’s appointment an “encouraging commitment.”

“The next White House must also include a domestic counterpart reporting directly to the President to lead an Office of Climate Mobilization, who can marshal, convene, and push federal agencies, departments, states & local governments, industry, and civil society to use every tool at their disposal to address the climate crisis,” Prakash said.

Scott Segal, partner at the Washington law firm Bracewell LLP, which advocates for energy sector clients, pointed to Kerry’s experience but also the uncertainty about the job.

“Those interested in a sensible climate policy should welcome a figure with political experience and substantive expertise,” he said.

“However, the details have yet to emerge regarding the contours of the new post,” Segal said. “It will be interesting to see how the envoy will interact with other components of the U.S. government that possess statutory portfolios related to climate change.”

Blinken is a longtime Biden confidant, and observers say his presence will be crucial as the new administration deals with a long list of foreign policy challenges inherited from President Trump.

Blinken served as staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden chaired the panel in the early 2000s

He was later a deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of State under Obama. He was foreign policy adviser to Biden’s campaign.

‘The one truly existential issue’

Even though rejoining Paris is an obvious first step for Biden, State Department officials will have a difficult job once the United States is back in the agreement.

The country is not currently on track to meet its original nationally determined contribution. More ambitious emissions targets are due for 2030.

As the Biden administration prepares to grapple with renewed climate diplomacy, having a trusted adviser like Blinken at State “shows that the president will be more directly involved,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former consultant for the Department of Energy’s International Program who served on the board of Clean Energy for Biden.

“That’s a pretty obvious thing, but I think it’s not unimportant because the U.S. is going to be under remarkable pressure to deliver on its existing Paris pledge, let alone take a more ambitious one for 2030,” Bledsoe said.

Blinken, for his part, has called climate change “arguably the one truly existential issue that we face.”

“By definition, even if we do everything just right at home, that doesn’t solve the problem if the rest of the world is 85% of global emissions,” Blinken said at an event with the Hudson Institute earlier this year.

“The benefit of getting things right at home is we can then leverage our economic and moral authority to push the world to take more determined action,” he said.

Blinken said at the event in July that Biden would “convene a summit of the world’s major carbon emitters, to rally countries not just on sticking with Paris, but to actually raise their ambitions and try to push progress further and faster.”

“We’d also look to do a number of other things: for example, locking in enforceable commitments to reduce emissions in global shipping and aviation, pursuing stronger measures to make sure that other nations can’t undercut the United States economically as we meet our own commitments,” Blinken said.

******

The Guardian

EU and US block plans to protect world’s fastest shark

The population of shortfin mako, mainly caught as bycatch but also prized by sports fishermen, is facing an alarming decline

Karen McVeigh, 23 Nov. 2020

Conservationists accused the EU and the US at negotiations of Atlantic fishing nations this week of blocking urgently needed plans to protect the world’s fastest shark species.

The strength and speed of the shortfin mako, which can swim up to 43mph, makes it a target for sports fishermen, particularly in the US, while its highly prized meat and fins have led to the shark being overfished globally – and dangerously so in the north Atlantic.

The population could take five decades to recover even if fishing were to stop immediately, according to scientists at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), a fisheries management organisation.

The majority of mako caught in the north Atlantic in 2019 were landed by EU vessels, mainly from Spain and Portugal followed by Morocco. Most mako sharks are bycatch – accidentally caught by boats hunting different species.

Last year, international governments voted to regulate trade in the endangered species, under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, after the EU co-sponsored a proposal.

But there was no outright ban, and this week Britain – in its first official act as an independent member of ICCAT – backed a proposal by Canada for such a ban. The UK said it was extremely disappointed that no agreement had been reached in 2019.

The EU and the US, however, refused to back the ban, saying it would not in itself stop mako mortality as bycatch. Each suggested separate proposals that would allow boats to continue to land mako in certain circumstances. Given the lack of consensus, the ICCAT committee chairman said he had no choice but to postpone any decision on mako catches until 2021.

“North Atlantic mako depletion remains among the world’s most pressing shark conservation crises, yet the EU and US put short-term fishing interests above all else and ruined a golden opportunity for agreeing a clear and simple remedy,” said Ali Hood, director of conservation for the Shark Trust.

Grantly Galland, an officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ fisheries team, said the delay in adopting a ban would speed the decline of a species already at dangerously low population levels.

“The only real advice from scientists to ICCAT is to have a no-retention policy. Another year of catching at the current level will leave the population in the north Atlantic in even worse shape,” Galland said.

Scientists warned last year that the important predator was declining faster than previously thought. They recommended annual landings of mako in the north Atlantic be reduced from 3,000 tonnes to 300, to allow the population to recover.

Ian Campbell, associate director of policy for Project Aware, a non-profit working with sports divers in ocean protection, said: “It has been heartbreaking to watch the US devolve from a global shark conservation leader to a primary obstacle to international, science-based protections for endangered makos.” He urged the incoming Joe Biden and Kamala Harris administration to “restore US commitment to science and the precautionary approach”, particularly for vulnerable marine life.

******

ClimateWire

Trump slams Paris accord at Group of 20 summit

Published: Monday, November 23, 2020

President Trump railed against the Paris climate accord yesterday, telling world leaders at a virtual summit that the agreement was designed to cripple the U.S. economy, not save the planet.

“To protect American workers, I withdrew the United States from the unfair and one-sided Paris climate accord, a very unfair act for the United States,” Trump said in a video statement from the White House to the Group of 20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia. His comments came during a discussion among the world’s largest economies on safeguarding the Earth.

President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office in January, has said he will rejoin the global pact that the U.S. helped forge five years ago.

Trump contended the international accord was “not designed to save the environment. It was designed to kill the American economy.”

Trump, who has worked to undo most of President Obama’s efforts to fight climate change, said that since withdrawing from the climate agreement, the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions more than any nation.

That is true, but not that remarkable. With its giant economy, the U.S. has far more raw emissions of climate-damaging carbon dioxide to cut than any other country except China.

A more telling measure of progress in various countries is to look at what percentage of emissions a county has cut. Since 2005, the United States hasn’t been even in the top 10 in percentage of greenhouse gas emission reductions.

More than 180 nations have ratified the accord, which aims to keep the increase in average temperatures worldwide “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and ideally no more than 1.5 C (2.7 F), compared with preindustrial levels. Scientists say that any rise beyond 2 C could have a devastating impact on large parts of the world, raising sea levels, stoking tropical storms, and worsening droughts and floods.

The U.S. formally exited the Paris pact on Nov. 4. On Saturday, the U.S. formally left the Open Skies Treaty, which permits 30-plus nations to conduct unarmed observation flights over each other’s territory. Those overflights were set up decades ago to promote trust and avert conflict.

The administration said it wanted out of the treaty because Russia was violating the pact, and imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from U.S. or commercial satellites.

During the discussions at the climate session, President Xi Jinping of China, the world’s largest emitter, said the G-20 should continue to take the lead in tackling climate change and push for the full implementation of the Paris accord.

“Not long ago, I announced China’s initiative to scale up its nationally determined contributions and strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060,” he said. “China will honor its commitment and see the implementation through.”

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said “climate change must be fought not in silos, but in an integrated, comprehensive and holistic way.” — Deb Riechmann and Aya Batrawy, Associated Press. Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

******

The New Daily

‘Threatened species’ push as report shows up to a third of platypus population wiped out

Samantha Dick, Reporter, November 23, 2020

Australia’s platypus population has declined so drastically that scientists now say the elusive egg-laying mammal should be classified as a threatened species.

The platypus, known for its paddle-shaped tail and flat bill, is being driven out of rivers at alarming rates, a new report by the University of NSW shows.

Last summer’s bushfires have further threatened their survival.

The 2019-2020 bushfires took a devastating toll on Australian wildlife, killing an estimated 1.25 billion animals and destroying 10 million hectares of bush habitat.

The east coast – NSW’s south coast and Victoria’s Gippsland – was the worst-affected region.

On Monday, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley will announce an $18 million koala assistance package that will go towards veterinary work, habitat restoration and a ‘census’ to find out how many koalas survived after the Black Summer fires.

Considering the distressing videos and photos of burnt koalas that came out during the fires, it’s understandable public focus has been on the recovery of land animals.

The platypus, which lives in Tasmania and along the east coast of the mainland, has now emerged as a hidden victim.

Modelling by the UNSW researchers suggests about 13.5 per cent of platypus habitat was damaged by the bushfires.

The overall decline in platypus populations has been the most distressing in New South Wales, where scientists noted a 32 per cent reduction, and Queensland (27 per cent) since studies began in 1990.

Victoria recorded a statewide decline of seven per cent, however, there have been reductions of 18 to 65 per cent in some Melbourne catchments since 1995.

Disturbed by their findings, the scientists – along with the Australian Conservation Foundation, World Wildlife Fund Australia and Humane Society International Australia – have nominated the platypus to be listed as a threatened species under Commonwealth and NSW processes.

The assessment of species as threatened fauna or flora is the first step to promoting their recovery under Commonwealth law.

“Platypus are declining and we need to do something about threats to the species before it is too late,” said Professor Richard Kingsford, a lead author of the report and the director of the Centre for Ecosystem Science at UNSW.

“There is a real concern that platypus populations will disappear from some of our rivers without returning, if rivers keep degrading with droughts and dams.

“We have a national and international responsibility to look after this unique animal and the signs are not good.”

In a statement to The New Daily, a spokesman for Ms Ley said the threatened species nomination will be considered under new processes aimed at fast-tracking the nominations of bushfire-affected species, including the platypus.

“The Morrison government has already – under the $200 million Bushfire Wildlife and Habitat recovery package – invested around $1 million into projects that support the platypus and its habitat, as well as a number of other species found in similar locations,” the spokesman said.

The elusive platypus has perplexed scientists for years.

Not only is it an important freshwater carnivore, it is one of the last remaining monotremes – or egg-laying mammals – left on Earth.

In 2010, Australian scientists discovered the semi-aquatic animal’s milk contained a protein strong enough to fight superbugs and found a hormone in their venom that could help cure diabetes.

The platypus is also an intrinsic part of many Aboriginal cultures, featuring in ancient Dreamtime stories still shared today.

But without action, we’re at risk of losing these special creatures forever.

The animals have increasingly struggled to survive in places where natural river systems and water flows have been altered by humans, like the Murray-Darling Basin.

New dams, land clearing, pollution and an increase in housing developments are partly to blame, as well as the over-extraction of water from rivers, the researchers found.

Attacks by foxes and dogs, getting caught in yabbie-catching traps, and the effects of climate change such as drought have also added to the animal’s hardship.

Endangered Australian animals at risk of extinction include the black-flanked rock wallaby, the rainbow-coloured Gouldian finch and the furry northern quoll.

******

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Sage grouse meets lame duck: New rules loosen restrictions on grazing, mining and drilling

By Bradley W. Parks (OPB), Bend, Ore. Nov. 21, 2020

The Trump administration followed through on a promise to loosen restrictions on grazing, mining and drilling on public lands — perhaps to the detriment of an imperiled bird.

The Trump administration announced plans Friday to lessen protections for sage grouse in Oregon and six other Western states.

The announcement is in line with the administration’s long-stated goal to clear the way for drilling, mining and grazing on public land. The latter of those three has historically gained the most attention in Oregon.

Some in the state are cheering the new rules for easing the burden on ranchers, helping them partner in protecting grouse and their habitat. Others say the new rules put the bosomy bird in more danger and torpedo a collaborative protection plan that hasn’t gotten a fair chance.

The game of regulatory tug of war over the sage grouse has gone on for decades as its population has plummeted. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2010 decided the grouse warranted protection under the Endangered Species Act, but did not list it as a protected species under the law.

A coalition that included ranchers, scientists, environmentalists and policymakers struck a deal in 2015 to avoid Endangered Species Act protections for sage grouse. It was a historic compromise that stakeholders felt would save the bird from extinction without gutting and fileting rural Western economies.

“They weren’t perfect,” said Jeremy Austin, policy manager for the Oregon Natural Desert Association, “but they were something that a lot of different stakeholders came together to work on and found a solution, collaboratively, to move conservation forward for sage grouse.”

After President Donald Trump took office in 2017, his first of two Interior Department secretaries, Ryan Zinke, quickly moved to reopen discussion of the deal. Zinke’s successor, former oil industry lobbyist David Bernhardt, put forth new rules to open up oil and gas drilling on sage grouse habitat across the West. Oregon’s sage grouse acreage was largely spared, but it’s never been much of a target for oil and gas anyway. The rules did, however, also ease restrictions on grazing.

This spring, nearly two dozen of the nation’s top sage grouse scientists wrote a letter to the Bureau of Land Management saying that the proposal “appears to be ignoring current science, which threatens its federal trust responsibility to conserve and manage our natural resources and may have severe consequences for sage-grouse.”

A federal judge rejected those rules and temporarily blocked them from taking effect last year. New rules announced Friday were supposed to address the court’s concerns, but an Associated Press analysis found no significant differences between the two plans.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s annual sage grouse census for 2020 recorded the second-lowest population estimate since monitoring began in 1980.

Austin, with the Oregon Natural Desert Association, said that should be reason enough to give the 2015 deal room to operate.

“Those need to be fully implemented now in order to prevent further decline of the sage grouse population,” he said.

In Oregon, invasive species, wildfire and overgrazing all pose threats to the bird’s habitat. Some ranchers, though, think grazing is part of the solution.

“If you graze well, it’s really not a conflict at all,” said John O’Keeffe, a land owner representative on Gov. Kate Brown’s sage grouse council and former president of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association.

There’s evidence to support that grazing public lands helps ranchers and sage grouse.

If ranches remain economically viable, they’re less likely to be sold off for other development. O’Keeffe also pointed to efforts by private ranchers to slow the encroachment of juniper and the creation of rural fire associations to more thoughtfully manage fire.

Matt McElligott, who chairs the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association’s public lands board, said conservation can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

“What may work in Lakeview may not work in Baker,” he said.

Further restrictions on grazing, he added, threaten both sage grouse and rural economies.

“It’s an economic driver for small rural communities and even large communities,” McElligott said. “Without ranching, without grazing, we don’t have that economic driver to sustain us.”

The new rules extend far beyond grazing, though. More drilling and mining on public lands may not pose as much of a threat to grouse in Oregon, but it could splinter habitat in other states included in the plan.

Friday’s announcement leaves room for the new rules to go into effect before Trump leaves office, but they’re hardly the end of the discussion — especially with the Joe Biden administration incoming. The rules may also be subject to further litigation.

For now, the announcement could signal another environmental rollback in a long line of rollbacks in this lame duck session.

******

Axios 

New research suggests global wildlife may avoid a biodiversity catastrophe

Bryan Walsh, author of Future, November 21, 2020

New research indicates endangered wildlife around the world may not yet be headed toward an extinction wave.

Why it matters: From climate change to widespread habitat destruction, the wildlife with which we share this planet are under tremendous stress. But their apparent resilience gives us hope that we won’t leave this planet biologically impoverished.

Background: In a world where there are more than 8 million estimated species — the vast majority of which haven’t even been identified yet — it’s difficult to really know just how endangered endangered species are.

  • But some alarming analyses in the past estimated that on average vertebrate species had declined by more than 50% since the 1970s, enough to put the planet on track for what’s been called the “Sixth Extinction.”

Yes, but: In a study published in Nature this week, researchers used advanced statistical tools to try to discover the true rate of decline in vertebrates.

  • They found a more hopeful picture: less than 3% of vertebrate species are catastrophically declining, and once they are removed from the picture, “the picture changes dramatically,” Brian Leung, a biologist at McGill University and the lead author of the paper, told Cosmos.

Details: Those earlier pessimistic estimates had been driven by the relatively small number of species that truly are on a highway to extinction.

  • Instead of a global biodiversity catastrophe, the researchers behind the new study found a few geographic clusters of systematic losses, but no clear trend for most species.
  • Those clusters mean conservation efforts might best be targeted at specific geographic areas that are under threat, like the Indo-Pacific region, which is home to severely endangered birds and freshwater mammals.

The bottom line: As long as humans continue to spread out across the planet and warm the climate, pressure will grow on endangered species. But the situation is far from hopeless.

******

Greenwire/AP

Chilly weather brings surge in cold-stunned sea turtles

November 20, 2020

The onset of cold weather in New England has led to a surge of cold-stunned turtles becoming stranded on Cape Cod beaches, marine scientists said yesterday.

The New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, Mass., had taken in more than 40 turtles in the last two days alone, a large number in a short period of time. That brings to 66 the number of turtles that have already been treated at the aquarium.

The turtles — Kemp’s ridleys, loggerheads and leatherbacks — are treated for life-threatening medical conditions that are a result of weeks of hypothermia and the inability to feed. Once they’re well enough, they are released back into the ocean.

Staff and volunteers with Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary have been walking the beaches in search of cold-stunned turtles but are being hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, which requires them to maintain social distancing.

“The lingering warm temperatures this autumn kept the water temperature just above the threshold for sea turtles. The sudden drop in temperature and winds on Tuesday seemed to kick-start the season, which is now well underway,” Connie Merigo, marine animal rescue department manager, said in a statement. — Associated Press

******

The Guardian

Endangered animals get entangled in plastics that riddle US oceans – study

Oliver Milman, Thursday 19 Nov 2020

More than 1,800 marine animals from 40 species suffering from contact with plastics over the past decade

Endangered marine mammals and sea turtles are routinely being entangled in or are swallowing pieces of plastic that now riddle the oceans off US coastlines, a new report has found.

The plastic-induced toll stretches from Florida, where a manatee was found dead with a stomach filled with plastic bags and straws, to Virginia where a sei whale died after swallowing a DVD case causing stomach lacerations, to California, where a juvenile elephant seal was discovered with a packing strap wrapped around its neck. In South Carolina, a loggerhead sea turtle defecated out almost 60 pieces of plastic while being rehabilitated.

In total there is evidence of more than 1,800 marine animals from 40 species suffering from contact with plastics over the past decade, according to the first formal tally drawn from government and NGO data. Some examples of this phenomenon become well known – such as the whale that washed up with 40kg of plastic in its stomach last year – but the true toll is certainly far higher, with most entanglements unseen by humans.

“We may never know the true number but the details we do have are heartbreaking,” said Kimberly Warner, a senior scientist at Oceana, the conservation organization that collated the report. “The plastic is everywhere, even within deep-diving animals that you rarely see, and it is getting worse.”

Animals can inadvertently swallow floating pieces of plastic while feeding or may even mistake the pieces for food. The Oceana report found that plastic bags, balloons, recreational fishing line, plastic sheeting and food wrappers were the most commonly ingested items, causing internal injuries or hampering the ability of the animals to feed.

Other pieces of plastic can become wrapped around necks, fins or flippers, causing deep injuries or hampering movement. In Hawaii, a monk seal was found with a plastic water bottle stuck on its snout while in California a food wrapper was discovered lodged in the esophagus of a dolphin. This blight could prove a material threat to the viability of some species, with the Oceana report finding that 88% of creatures recorded with plastic on or in them are from species listed as threatened or endangered by the US.

Around 11m tonnes of plastic flow into the oceans a year, with this amount set to nearly triple to 29m tonnes a year by 2040 – the equivalent of 50kg for each meter of coastline in the world – if current trends continue. The plastic often breaks down into tiny pieces and is now ubiquitous in our oceans, found from the deepest reaches of the marine world to even sea ice in the Arctic.

The Trump administration has blamed countries such as China and Vietnam for pumping large amounts of plastic into the seas but research has suggested the US is the planet’s third largest contributor to marine plastic pollution. United Nations talks were recently held on a new global treaty to tackle plastic pollution but without any signal of support from the US or UK, two of the largest per-capita waste producers in the world.

Some jurisdictions within the US have moved to phase out plastic straws or bags – New York is now finally enforcing a ban on plastic bags after a pandemic-related delay – but advocates are hoping to push Joe Biden’s incoming administration to more aggressive national action.

“We need to quit blaming other countries and pass laws limiting the use of single-use plastics,” said Warner. “I know Biden is very concerned about climate change and plastic is a huge supplier of greenhouse gases. I’m hoping the US will finally come to the party and do something about this.”

******

Wlfi.com/News 18 (West Lafayette, IN)

WOLF PARK: FEDERAL PROTECTIONS NEEDED FOR GRAY WOLVES IN U.S.

Gray wolves in the lower 48 states were recently removed from the federal Endangered Species Act, and Wolf Park Executive Director Karah Rawlings says that’s a move in the wrong direction.

Posted By: Joseph Paul, Nov 19, 2020

BATTLE GROUND, Ind. (WLFI) – Gray wolves in the lower 48 states were recently removed from the federal Endangered Species Act, and Wolf Park Executive Director Karah Rawlings says that’s a move in the wrong direction.

“The size of the population we don’t feel has fully recovered to warrant that and we’re concerned about how states will manage their wolf populations,” Rawlings says.

Gray wolves have been federally protected since the 1970s and their population has rebounded since then to about 6,000 wolves.

“It also just leaves the door open for wolf hunting to be allowed in greater numbers and other things that have historically happened when protections have been loosened,” Rawlings says.

Purdue Extension Wildlife Specialist Brian MacGowan says states now will have more power to manage their gray wolf populations.

“Just because something is delisted doesn’t mean the state’s going to automatically go to, OK, we’re going to open up a trapping and hunting season on it,” he says. “It’s really a biological decision.”

MacGowan says only 30 species have been delisted since the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973.

“You want to get a population to a point that it’s no longer dependent on the protections of the Endangered Species Act itself, so in other words, delisting, and it’s not really a cut-and-dry kind of a thing,” he says.

MacGowan says many ranchers turn to hunting to protect their livestock. But Rawlings says there are non-lethal ways to manage wild wolf populations.

“Our hope is that the states choose those management techniques over hunting, but historically speaking, hunting has been typically the route that is taken,” Rawlings says.

News 18 reached out to the U.S. Department of Interior for comment. The department provided a news release stating gray wolves have “exceeded all conservation goals for recovery.”

******

E&E News

Sage grouse rider draws greens’ opposition

Scott Streater, E&E News reporter, November 18, 2020

A coalition of more than 100 environmental groups is urging congressional appropriators to reject a provision in the Senate Interior-Environment fiscal 2021 funding bill prohibiting regulators from listing the greater sage grouse for federal protection.

The Senate Appropriations Committee’s $35.81 billion Interior-Environment spending bill unveiled last week includes language forbidding the Interior secretary from using any appropriated funding “to write or issue” a rule listing the greater sage grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act (E&E News PM, Nov. 10).

Congress has included similar language in previous spending bills, usually targeting the Fish and Wildlife Service — the agency responsible for determining what species are listed for ESA protection.

House appropriators didn’t include the sage grouse language in the $36.75 billion Interior-Environment fiscal 2021 funding bill, H.R. 7608, it approved last summer.

“This provision has been included in final Interior bills since 2014,” the coalition of groups wrote in a letter sent today to top appropriators in both chambers, including Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.).

“It is imperative that this exemption not be included in the final FY 2021 bill,” they wrote.

The coalition’s letter indicates the groups believe the Fish and Wildlife Service has ample evidence that the sage grouse needs ESA protection.

“It is long past time for Congress to allow the FWS to do its job and to finally stop denying protections to this iconic keystone species. Again, we urgently request that this destructive rider be removed from the final FY 2021 appropriations bill,” they concluded.

The letter comes about a month after 59 House Democrats sent a similar letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other senior House leaders urging them to block attempts by Senate Republicans to include the sage grouse ESA restrictions in the final spending package (E&E Daily, Oct. 21).

The House and Senate approved stopgap spending bills in September that kept federal agencies funded through Dec. 11, while appropriators in both chambers negotiate and approve final spending legislation.

******

Greenwire

FWS proposes protections for ‘small, stout’ catfish

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, November 18, 2020

Some but not all members of a colorfully named catfish species — the frecklebelly madtom — merit federal protections, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced today.

Acting on a petition filed a decade ago, and pressed by subsequent litigation, the agency proposed listing the species’ Upper Coosa River distinct population segment as threatened.

Along with listing the population under the Endangered Species Act, the service proposed designating 134 miles of river in Georgia and Tennessee as critical habitat.

“Degradation from sedimentation, physical habitat disturbance, and contaminants threaten the habitat and water quality on which the frecklebelly madtom depends,” FWS stated.

For instance, the frecklebelly madtom was eliminated from much of the main stem of the Tombigbee River after the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

At the same time, the service determined that “listing the frecklebelly madtom as an endangered or a threatened species throughout all of its range is not warranted.” The fish also inhabits parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

“The Upper Coosa River representation unit … only represents a small portion of the frecklebelly madtom’s historical and current range and does not represent a significant portion of the frecklebelly madtom’s range,” the agency reasoned.

The designated Upper Coosa River area includes the entire watershed upstream from the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers.

The frecklebelly madtom is described as a “small, stout catfish” that reaches 3.9 inches in length and is “armed with venomous pectoral and dorsal spines used to defend against predation.”

FWS scientists note there are “several potential risks associated with long-term climate change” but also “uncertainty” about how the frecklebelly madtom will respond to these risks.

“The species occupies some tributaries throughout its range, but the frecklebelly madtom has a preference for habitat in larger rivers and this may provide a buffer to changes induced by climate change, particularly from issues associated with drought,” the agency said.

In 2010, FWS was petitioned by the Center for Biological Diversity and others to list 404 aquatic species in the southeastern United States, including the frecklebelly madtom, under the ESA.

In 2015, the agency and environmentalists filed a settlement that said a frecklebelly madtom decision would be published no later than Sept. 30, 2020 (E&E News PM, Sept. 9, 2015).

“Recognition of the unique frecklebelly madtom as threatened shows we need to do more to care for our rivers and streams,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Decades of damming, channelization and pollution have taken a toll on these catfish.”

******

E&E Daily

Lawmakers squabble over offshore drilling ban, fisheries

Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter, November 18, 2020

House Natural Resources Committee lawmakers clashed over offshore drilling and fisheries management yesterday in what could be the panel’s final hearing of the 116th Congress.

At issue was H.R. 8632, the “Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act,” a broad package of bills cobbled together by Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) that would create programs to boost marine ecosystems and ban new offshore drilling, a proposition that does not sit well with Gulf Coast Republicans.

“It’s really embarrassing to continue to see legislation like this that is so offensive to the people that I represent and simply doesn’t respect the science or on-the-ground conditions,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.).

While Grijalva said he plans to move the bill forward over Republican opposition — and to reintroduce it in the 117th Congress — the hearing was emblematic of the hurdles the Democratic climate agenda faces heading into next year.

The Senate is likely to remain in Republican hands after January’s runoff elections in Georgia, and even if Democrats end up in control with a 50-50 split, some of their most ambitious ideas may end up as little more than messaging.

Still, Grijalva said, “it’s incumbent on us in the House of Representatives at least to lay a template out about how we need to respond to climate change, and this is one of them.”

The “Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act” compiles a list of smaller bills that were introduced separately, many of which the committee also considered yesterday.

In addition to the moratorium on new offshore drilling, the bill would set national goals of 12.5 gigawatts by 2025 and 25 GW by 2030 for offshore renewable energy generation.

The measure would also establish a new Blue Carbon Program at NOAA to map and manage coastal ecosystems that sequester carbon and authorize billions of dollars for coastal restoration projects.

In the past, climate policy has focused on land, onshore energy and transportation, but oceans have massive potential to help meet emissions targets, Jane Lubchenco, an environmental scientist and professor at Oregon State University, told the panel.

“We know that the ocean also has powerful solutions that might provide as much as 20% of the emission reductions we need to achieve the 1.5-degree target by 2050,” she said. “And until recently, these solutions were not even on our radar screens.”

An expanded offshore wind industry could also generate thousands of jobs and billions for the economy, witnesses told the panel.

The American Wind Energy Association — the industry’s primary trade group — estimates that 30 GW of offshore wind deployment by 2030 would create 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in economic output.

“We continue to be saddled with a very unfortunate framing that many people have bought into that we have to choose between the economy and the environment, and I think that’s absolutely false,” Lubchenco said.

But the legislation could also, eventually, curb royalties from offshore oil and gas, currently the major source of funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and for various coastal restoration projects under the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act.

While some of that revenue could theoretically be replaced by offshore wind, Graves said people in Gulf Coast communities reliant on offshore drilling — as well as coastal restoration projects to deal with sea-level rise — oppose the legislation.

At one point, Graves pressed Grijalva to respond to hurricane victims who would lose out on offshore royalties for coastal projects and derided Democrats for writing legislation from “little towers” away from energy-reliant communities.

“If any state is affected by sea rise and the symptoms of climate change, it’s the people that I represent, and so we have a great stake in assuring that we have sustainable coastal communities; that we have a clean energy future; that we have sustainable, affordable energy policies,” Graves said. “But this legislation really doesn’t even do that.”

Indeed, the Louisiana Legislature passed a resolution last month specifically opposing the bill, and other Republican members of the state’s delegation have spoken out, as well.

Republicans also pointed to opposition from the fishing industry, which has taken issue with several items in the bill, including a provision that proposes to protect 30% of the nation’s waters by 2030.

In a letter to Grijalva yesterday, hundreds of fishermen and industry executives said the bill would “undermine” the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the nation’s primary fisheries law.

“Basically anyone who knows about fishing, uses fishing or eats fish is in opposition,” ranking member Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said during the hearing.

Ray Hilborn, a professor at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, similarly testified that “fixed marine protected areas are simply the wrong tool to adapt to climate change.”

“We don’t need a fixed set of closed areas. We need adaptive response to climate,” Hilborn said. “In the years ahead, it will be important for fisheries management to be more flexible, allowing for changes in the distribution and productivity of marine species.”

Still, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Water, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee, called the bill “a starting point.”

“It’s probably the biggest, most ambitious ocean and climate bill this committee has ever considered,” he said. “And it’s not perfect.”

******

Greenwire

World’s last known white giraffe gets GPS tracking device

Published: November 17, 2020

The only known white giraffe in the world has been fitted with a GPS tracking device to help protect it from poachers as it grazes in Kenya. But despite its singular status, the lonely male doesn’t have a name.

The white giraffe now stands alone after a female and her calf were killed by poachers in March, the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy said in a statement today.

A rare genetic trait called leucism causes the white color, and it makes the one surviving giraffe stand out dangerously for poachers in the arid savannah near the Somalia border.

Now the GPS tracking device, attached to one of the giraffe’s horns, will ping every hour to alert wildlife rangers to its location.

The conservancy has thanked the Kenya Wildlife Service along with the Northern Rangelands Trust and Save Giraffes Now for the help.                    — Associated Press

******

Cronkite News (AZ PBS)

Mount Graham red squirrel makes comeback, but not out of the woods yet

By Claire Chandler/Cronkite News, Nov. 16, 2020

WASHINGTON – An endangered squirrel that was driven to the brink of extinction by wildfire just three years ago in southern Arizona has seen its numbers more than triple following federal, state and local preservation efforts.

The Mount Graham red squirrel population was cut from 252 to just 33 squirrels in the wild after the Frye fire destroyed much of their habitat in 2017. But a survey released last month by state and federal agencies estimated there are now at least 109 squirrels on the mountain.

Advocates welcomed the improvement, but said the squirrel, which was put on the endangered species list in 1987, is not out of the woods yet.

“It’s a good sign that it’s heading in an upwards direction rather than stagnating or … heaven forbid, going down,” said Marit Alanen, a biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Alanen points to a long list of factors threatening the squirrel’s mountain forest habitat, including fires, both natural and man-made, insect infestations and competition from the Abert squirrel, which was introduced in the 1940s. But wildfires have been the biggest threat, reducing the number of trees available to the squirrels and leaving them exposed to predators.

“We’ve been seeing these fires that have just gotten bigger and bigger over the years and have been of higher severity,” said Alanen. She said the Peak fire in 1996, the Nuttall Gibson fire in 2004 and the Frye fire “have impacted at least 95% of the squirrel’s habitat to some degree.”

That reduction in the forest has led to a “habitat bottleneck,” with squirrels competing for fewer suitable trees, said Robin Silver, cofounder of the Center for Biological Diversity. It’s one reason the center filed suit against the Fish and Wildlife Service in September, in an effort to force an expansion of the squirrels’ critical habitat.

“Never before have they faced this combination of human structures, human roads, past logging, wildfires, intentionally set fires and climate change,” said Silver.

Silver said one of the biggest problems is man-made structures in the critical habitat, such as a Bible camp, cabins and observatories on the mountain, including the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope. He said those structures are more likely to be protected when there is a fire, and that prescribed burns meant to protect the structures in the first place do so at the expense of squirrel habitat.

Silver said that as long as there’s structures on the mountain, we’re never going to be able to save squirrels.”

“When you’re in a habitat bottleneck, then what you need to do is protect all the surviving habitat that you can, and then hope that the squirrels can then get through this habitat bottleneck until other habitat recovers,” Silver said. “And then that’s how they survive and recover.”

Alanen said the habitat takes around 100 years to recover from a devastating fire, but federal and state agencies are working to help speed the process. But it’s not as easy as just planting more trees, she said.

“When you talk about tree planting as a restoration effort, it actually becomes kind of more complicated, because you can’t just go out and get seeds from anywhere because those trees aren’t adapted to this mountain range,” Alanen said. “And you might be bringing in genetics that may be detrimental to the trees that are up there.”

To keep that from happening, the U.S. Forest Service collects seeds from trees on the mountain and sends them to a nursery in Idaho to be raised until they can be planted on the mountain.

Trees are not the only genetic concern at issue: The Mount Graham red squirrels have been cut off from other species for around 10,000 years, Alanen said, which has led to a lack of genetic diversity in the population.

After the 2017 fire, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Coronado National Forest, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Arizona and the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation – Phoenix Zoo, teamed up to save the squirrel. Those included a feeding program to help the squirrels that remained on the mountain, efforts to remove the Abert squirrel and a breeding program that has led to some discoveries about the squirrel’s specific breeding behaviors in the wild.

“It’s definitely been a joint effort to try to bring the squirrel back from 35, and hopefully continue moving it towards recovery,” she said.

******

News 4/JAX (Jacksonville)

Endangered right whale calving season is now underway

Calving season started over the weekend and lasts through March

Danielle Uliano, Meteorologist and reporter, November 16, 2020

Right whales are an endangered species that usually migrate south along the Georgia and Florida coastline to give birth to their calves.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced over the weekend that calving season is now underway and lasts through March.

Every fall, right whales can travel up to 1,000 miles from their feeding grounds up north to the shallow calving waters down south. They stay there through the winter months to give birth.

In the 2020 calving season, there were 10 calves born, which was up from seven in the 2019 season. Despite the increase in calves, the species is still endangered. Right whales have been listed under the endangered species list since 1970.

To put it in simple terms, the calving rate is not keeping up with the mortality rate.

According to the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, there are an estimated 356 right whales left.

hese whales like to swim close to shore and tend to stay by the surface, making them susceptible to being struck by vessels and caught up in fishing nets.

To try and help avoid vessel strikes, there are speed restricted zones to slow down and keep an eye for the whales. These zones can be seasonally monitored when the whales migrate.

According to Oceana, a ship cannot maneuver to avoid a whale at its normal operating speed, putting the whales at great risk for vessel strikes. If the ship’s speed is slowed down to 10 knots or less in the restricted areas where they may encounter a whale, they can reduce the death from collision rate by 86%.

If you’re along the coast and see a right whale and it’s a calf, it’s very important to give them space — 500 yards to be exact.

******

Greenwire

Bezos announces millions for environmental groups

Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter, November 16, 2020

Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos said today he is doling out $791 million to 16 environmental organizations, the first tranche of money from his widely publicized $10 billion Earth Fund.

The Environmental Defense Fund, Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, World Resources Institute and World Wildlife Fund will all get hefty $100 million grants.

Other organizations are taking in smaller sums from the fund, including the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists, which are slated to receive $10 million and $15 million, respectively.

“I’ve spent the past several months learning from a group of incredibly smart people who’ve made it their life’s work to fight climate change and its impact on communities around the world,” Bezos said in an Instagram post announcing the grants. “I’m inspired by what they’re doing and excited to help them scale.”

Bezos, the world’s richest person, first announced the Earth Fund in February, stirring speculation that he would pump cash into the climate movement despite environmentalists’ criticisms of Amazon.

But until he announced the first tranche of grants this morning, Bezos had been silent on how the money would be spent, except to say it would go toward “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”

The $100 million contributions represent a massive chunk of change, even for major environmental groups.

NRDC, for instance, brought in just over $170 million total in grants and contributions in 2018, according to its tax filing. EDF’s total operating expenses in 2019 were $201 million, according to the group’s website.

The Nature Conservancy is the largest of the bunch, having raised more than $1 billion in 2019.

NRDC said some of the money would be used for its work on state and regional climate policy, while another chunk would go to the NRDC Action Fund, the group’s political affiliate.

“With new resources and growing political will, NRDC, alongside partners across the country, will advance equitable climate solutions and build a brighter future for us all,” NRDC President Gina McCarthy said in a statement.

EDF, WRI, WWF and the Nature Conservancy all plan to use the money for more specific projects.

EDF said it will help fund the launch of a new satellite to track methane emissions, while WRI plans to use it for programs to monitor carbon emissions and spur the electrification of U.S. school buses.

“We are honored to be included in the first round of funding, which will accelerate climate progress,” EDF President Fred Krupp said in a statement.

“As people experience more damaging wildfires, air pollution, stronger hurricanes, and deadlier droughts and heat waves, a window of opportunity for action is opening in the U.S. and around the world,” Krupp said.

The Nature Conservancy, meanwhile, will use the cash to protect Emerald Edge, a massive coastal rainforest spanning through the United States and Canada and an important carbon sink.

The WWF similarly said it would use its grant for nature-based climate solutions, including restoration and protection of more than 2 million acres of mangroves.

At the same time, some of the grantees have been at odds with Amazon in the past, and Bezos and his company have faced plenty of criticism from progressive green groups.

For one thing, environmental groups like NRDC that are active in the political arena through their affiliates overwhelmingly support Democrats and frequently push for tighter environmental regulation.

Even as Bezos has ramped up his climate advocacy and public relations campaigns since 2019, Amazon’s political action committee has given heavily to Senate Republicans, many of whom oppose efforts to expand regulation and legislate on climate change (E&E Daily, Oct. 14).

And while Amazon publicly supports efforts like the Paris climate agreement, it has just one lobbyist working on sustainability issues — a former Republican staffer whose other clients include French oil giant Total SE (Climatewire, Nov. 16).

The company has also fought climate-related shareholder proposals, despite its corporate pledge to go carbon neutral by 2040.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of Amazon workers that has pushed the company to do more on climate change, said today’s $791 million announcement raises questions about whether Bezos and the company will “continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis.”

“We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” the group said in a statement.

“The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells?”

******

Southern Environmental Law Center

Conservation groups sue USFWS to save wild red wolves

Agency continues to violate law, court ruling as wild red wolves face extinction

SELC Announcement, November 16, 2020

On behalf of Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute, today SELC sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina for violations of the Endangered Species Act caused by new, illegal agency policies that bar the use of proven management measures to save wild red wolves.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is managing this species for extinction,” says Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver. “Faced with a wild population of only seven known animals, the Fish and Wildlife Service is now claiming—without basis—that it’s not allowed to take proven, necessary measures to save the wild red wolves.”

Continues Weaver, “The service urgently needs to restart red wolf releases from captivity, which it did regularly for 27 years. Otherwise we’re going to lose the world’s only wild population of this wolf.”

Two years ago, in November 2018, a federal court found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service  had violated the Endangered Species Act by suspending proven conservation measures for wild red wolves after we went to court on behalf of the same conservation organizations.

Rather than resolving those violations, the agency has doubled down on its abandonment of those measures and invented a new, illegal policy that it claims does not permit it to release red wolves from the captive population into the wild. The agency also now claims that its rules do not allow the agency to address hybridization with coyotes. As a result, the world’s only population of wild red wolves is now on the brink of extinction.

“Under the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mismanagement, the world’s most endangered wolf has only moved closer to extinction,” says Jason Rylander, senior endangered species counsel at Defenders of Wildlife. “We have given the service every opportunity to reverse course and supplement the last wild population of red wolves with captive releases. Sadly, with only seven collared wolves left in the wild, it’s apparent we can’t wait any longer.”

No red wolf pups were born in the wild in 2019 or 2020 for the first time since 1988. Meanwhile, the captive red wolf population continues to increase with more new pups being born every spring, even as the agency refuses to reinstate red wolf releases.

We hope the USFWS will look closely at its red wolf conservation policies and enact the necessary changes that will make the survival of wild red wolves a priority,” says Red Wolf Coalition Executive Director Kim Wheeler.

Following successful conservation efforts and reintroductions from captive populations, America’s red wolves rebounded from extinction in the wild to number about 100 animals in the early 2000s. That population level persisted for approximately a decade in eastern North Carolina. Since 2018, however, the wild red wolf population has plummeted by 70 percent.

“The ESA requires USFWS to carry out programs for the conservation of the red wolf and to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the species’ continued existence,” says Johanna Hamburger, director and senior staff attorney for the Animal Welfare Institute’s terrestrial wildlife program. “The agency is failing on both counts. The current lack of action, by USFWS’ own admission, will cause the extinction of the wild red wolf population unless the agency immediately restarts conservation efforts.”

******

Times of San Diego

Joint Effort to Rescue Endangered Native Pond Turtles Proves Successful

Posted by DEBBIE L. SKLAR ON November 14, 2020

A team of biologists — including members from the U.S. Geological Survey, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Forest Service, University of California, Los Angeles, Endemic Environmental Services Inc., Citrus College and San Diego Zoo Global — worked together recently to find and rescue the last remaining reproductively viable population of southwestern pond turtles (Actinemys pallida) in the San Gabriel Mountains.

The area, which was devastated by the Bobcat Fire over the last two months, is at risk of mudslides and debris flows that could have an extremely negative impact on the aquatic habitat for the turtles.

The team spent days in the field, with the goal of removing some individuals of the native species from the river, racing against time before winter storms place the little reptiles in danger.

“Seventeen of the 20 largest California wildfires have occurred over the past 20 years,” said Rich Burg, environmental program manager, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Megafires like these have created devastating ecological conditions even after the fires have been extinguished. In this case, we have a situation where there is little or no vegetation left on the slopes, impacting terrestrial habitat. It is likely that there will be significant sediment flows into the West Fork of the San Gabriel River, which could fill in existing refugia pools and change water chemistry. This can negatively impact the pond turtle population.”

The pond turtles include two recently recognized species that together comprise the only freshwater turtles native to California, and they are thought to be increasingly at risk of extinction. Both species are currently being assessed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for potential listing under the Endangered Species Act. The southwestern pond turtle, which is distributed in coastal freshwater habitats from the San Francisco Bay Area to northern Baja California, Mexico, is now rare in Southern California. It faces major risks to its survival, including habitat loss, invasive nonnative predators, and competitors like crayfish, bullfrogs, African-clawed frogs, and largemouth bass, which compete for natural resources and often consume the tiny, quarter-sized turtle hatchlings.

“We have become increasingly concerned over the status of our native pond turtles,“ said Ann Berkeley, U.S. Forest Service. “They are a small species with a great deal of charm, and their presence in our local creeks is important to maintaining the biodiversity in small waterways that are found throughout our Southern California mountains.”

Wildlife biologists were able to locate and rescue eight southwestern pond turtles over two weeks. “This is not the first such effort, and almost certainly will not be the last,” said Brad Shaffer, UCLA distinguished professor and director of the La Kretz Center for California Conservation Science. “These turtles will also be part of a range-wide genomic analysis of variation across the species that we are conducting with the CDFW and USGS to better understand and conserve the population, which is the last known of this species in the San Gabriel River.”

The turtles are being relocated to San Diego Zoo Global.

“San Diego Zoo Global and other California zoos have been working to headstart western pond turtles for a number of years,” said Robert Fisher, a supervisory research biologist with the USGS.  “Ten years ago, we collected gravid female pond turtles from the Sweetwater River at the Sycuan Peak Ecological Reserve and brought them to the San Diego Zoo to lay their eggs. The offspring were head started at the Zoo, then released back into the reserve, and are doing well.”

The San Gabriel Mountain turtles will be cared for at the San Diego Zoo until an assessment of their habitat is made after this year’s rainy season. When their habitat is deemed secure, they will be returned to the wild. A similar effort removing turtles from Lake Elizabeth in eastern Los Angeles County and returning them after a year in captivity at UCLA and the Turtle Conservancy in Ventura County was also successful.

“The effort to save these small turtles, and the bigger effort to save California’s at-risk species, is not something any one of us can do alone,” said Paul A. Baribualt, president/CEO, San Diego Zoo Global. “Working together, as allies, we are working to save these little reptiles—and we hope that our communities will join our efforts, and help all of us to make our local habitats safe for these species in the future.”

******

Jurist

California court rules insects not protected by Endangered Species Act

Nadia Murray-Ragg | Victoria U. Wellington Faculty of Law, NZ, November 14, 2020

The California Superior Court in Sacramento ruled Thursday that bees are not fish and that the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) does not cover insects.

Ruling in Almond Alliance of California v. California Fish and Game Commission, Judge James P. Arguelles agreed with a group of petitioners including the Almond Alliance of California and the California Association of Pest Control Advisors. The petitioners argued that the California Fish and Game Commission (the Commission) was not authorized by the CESA to give four species of bumblebees candidate-species status because the legislature was clear in the CESA that insects were not protected.

The Commission and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife unsuccessfully argued that bees and other insects and invertebrates are covered under the CESA because “invertebrates” are included within the definition of “fish” in Section 45 of the Fish and Game Code (FGC). The FGC codifies the CESA in Chapter 1.5 of Division 3, section 2050.

The case follows a 2018 petition from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Food Safety to the Commission to add the four bumblebee species to the list of endangered species under the CESA. The four species of bumblebee were the Crotch, Franklin’s, Suckley cuckoo, and Western bumblebee. The bumblebees became candidate species, meaning “a native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile or plant that the Commission has formally noticed as being under review”, when the Commission accepted the petition in June 2019. The court’s Thursday ruling set aside the Commission’s decision.

“Bumblebees are among the most iconic and well-understood group of native pollinators in North America,” the 2018 petition noted. “They are generalist pollinators that play a valuable role in the reproduction of a wide variety of plants … Pollinators are critical components of our environment and essential to our food security.”

******

Chemical & Engineering News

Common herbicide likely to harm endangered species, US EPA says

Atrazine has potential to affect numerous species and their habitats

by Britt E. Erickson, November 14, 2020

The widely used herbicide atrazine is likely to adversely affect more than 50% of threatened and endangered species and 40% of habitats critical for those species, the US Environmental Protection Agency reports in a draft biological evaluation released Nov. 5. The findings come less than 2 months after the agency declared that atrazine can stay on the US market.

Chronic exposure to atrazine is linked to growth and reproductive effects in humans and wildlife. The herbicide is not approved for use in the European Union because of concerns about water contamination. Atrazine is commonly used in the US to control grasses and broadleaf weeds on corn and sorghum fields and weeds on residential lawns.

The EPA’s draft biological evaluation relied on an approach criticized by environmental groups, which claim that it minimizes risks by ignoring pesticide runoff into waters where some endangered species live. Even with the updated method, the EPA found risks to numerous species.

“With this troubling finding, even the EPA has been forced to acknowledge the unacceptable harm caused by atrazine,” Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in a statement.

The EPA is accepting public comments on the draft evaluation until Jan. 5. If the final evaluation finds that atrazine may impact any endangered species, the EPA is required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. Those agencies would then determine whether atrazine adversely impacts any endangered species and, in cases where it does, suggest ways to minimize those risks.

******

Greenwire

Migratory bird rule likely in Trump’s final days

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, November 12, 2020

The White House this week began final review of a controversial narrowing of Migratory Bird Treaty Act protections, foreshadowing action in the final days of the Trump administration.

Flying in the face of a mobilized opposition and an adverse court decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday submitted the MBTA proposal to the regulatory gatekeepers at the Office of Management and Budget.

Once OMB’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs has finished its work, the administration can pull the trigger on the migratory bird rule that will restrict the law’s reach to intentional take.

“I’m sure it’s on their bucket list, and I’m sure they will want to get it out more than 30 days before the inauguration so it can’t just be suspended by the Biden administration,” Jason Rylander, senior endangered species counsel with Defenders of Wildlife, said today.

The exact timing for the final review is not clear, though it shouldn’t be overly time-consuming if officials are motivated.

On Sept. 14, for instance, the Fish and Wildlife Service submitted for review a proposed rule to remove the gray wolf from Endangered Species Act protections. The review concluded Oct. 26, and the delisting was announced three days later (E&E News PM, Oct. 29).

By contrast, review of a proposed Interior Department rule described as “Revisions to the Requirements for Exploratory Drilling on the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf” that began last April took six months to conclude, OMB records show.

Prior to the Trump administration, FWS considered actions that directly and foreseeably resulted in the death of a migratory bird as potential criminal conduct, even if unintentional. Courts have been split on the issue.

An Interior solicitor’s opinion issued in December 2017 reversed the Obama administration’s interpretation and asserted that the law covered only intentional killings.

The proposed regulation now under review would help lock in the opinion of the Interior solicitor’s office that incidental bird take resulting from an otherwise lawful activity is not prohibited under the MBTA.

“A legal opinion of the Department of the Interior does not provide the public or other federal departments and agencies with the certainty of a codified regulation,” a draft environmental impact statement explained (Greenwire, July 20).

An Interior solicitor’s opinion would also be easier for the incoming Biden administration to withdraw than a full-blown regulation that has gone through the formal rulemaking process.

Public opponents of the proposed rule include Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), a leading contender to be President-elect Joe Biden’s Interior secretary, as well as officials with the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at the New York University School of Law, whose deputy director, Elizabeth Klein, is on Biden’s Interior transition team.

In August, Judge Valerie Caproni of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York struck down Interior’s opinion that removed penalties for activities or hazards, such as oil pits or power-line electrocutions, that result in the accidental taking of a migratory bird.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule “will be immediately vulnerable to legal challenge given the substance of the SDNY ruling,” Rylander said.

The Trump administration has announced that it’s appealing.

******

Westword (Denver)

Colorado Voters Howl for Wolves, Just Delisted as Endangered

SAGE MARSHALL | NOVEMBER 12, 2020

Colorado voters narrowly approved Proposition 114, which directs Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce gray wolves in the state. This victory marked the first time that voters have dictated the reintroduction of a species anywhere in the United States; if the results hold, a significant population of thirty to forty gray wolves will put their paws on the ground in this state over the next three years.

“Together with biologists, ranchers, wildlife watchers and hunters, we will lean in to craft a future where co-existing with wolves is a widely shared value,” promises Rob Edward, president of the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund. “We will put science to work to build understanding and trust. As we do, wolves will quietly get to work, restoring balance to our Western wildlands and vitality to our elk and deer herds.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is already working to meet the proposition’s guidelines, which call for a restoration plan by the end of next year. “CPW is committed to developing a comprehensive plan and, in order to do that, we will need input from Coloradans across our state,” says CPW director Dan Prenzlow. “We are evaluating the best path forward to ensure that all statewide interests are well represented.”

The initiative was overwhelmingly supported by voters on the state’s populous Front Range, while the majority of residents in more rural areas opposed it. Wolves have been considered extirpated since 1945 in Colorado. While a handful of wolves have made their way down to the state from Wyoming, reintroduction advocates say that number is not enough for a self-sustaining population.

For Edward and others, the move to the ballot box was a last-ditch effort. For years, they expected the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to reintroduce wolves in Colorado as part of the broader gray wolf recovery effort in the western United States. But when it became clear that the federal government had no such plans, they decided to take the matter directly to voters.

And just days before the election, the feds took another action regarding the future of the animal. On October 29, the Fish & Wildlife Service announced the delisting of gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA), in a move directed by the Trump administration.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” announced U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt, a native of Colorado.  Gray wolves were reintroduced in central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in 1995. That move, along with strict Endangered Species Act guidelines that prevented the killing of gray wolves, among other measures., led to a gray wolf population in the lower 48 states that now exceeds 6,000 wolves, according to the FWS.

“Colorado Farm Bureau’s members are happy to hear about the decision to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List,” says Don Shawcroft, president of the Colorado Farm Bureau, which opposed 114. “It’s a good thing any time a species can be brought back from the brink to healthy population levels.”

But a coalition of gray wolf advocates, including the Western Environmental Law Center, considers the delisting premature — and has filed a notice of intent to sue the FWS.

WELC attorney Kelly Nokes points out that while the wolf population may have recovered in the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies, wild populations have not yet made a full recovery in their historical range, which spanned most of the U.S. except for the Southeast. In its suit, WELC plans to argue that Fish & Wildlife did not consider proper science or struggling populations in places like the Pacific Northwest in its decision to delist the gray wolf.

“Wolves are a keystone species whose presence on landscapes regulates animal populations and improves ecosystem health — something the [Fish & Wildlife] Service has acknowledged for at least 44 years,” says Nokes.

By delisting wolves, the FWS is renouncing its authority over gray wolf management. State governments will be able to craft their own management plans without having to meet the ESA’s stringent protections. Colorado’s existing wolf management plan was created in 2004 and reaffirmed in 2016; it was expressly crafted to manage wolves that wandered into the state — not reintroduce them. Under Proposition 114, the CPW must create a new management plan that reintroduces gray wolves by December 31, 2023.

The delisting of wolves as an endangered species won’t directly impact Colorado’s management plan to restore wolves, except that the state will no longer need to coordinate with the FWS during the reintroduction process.

While the CPW moves forward with its plan in the state, WELC will push its lawsuit against the feds.

“Proposition 114 is a really big step forward for reintroducing wolves in Colorado,” Nokes says. “Absent of federal protections, [wolf management] is all in the states’ hands. We’re really pleased that Colorado voters have voted to restore this keystone species.”

******

NBC News

Trump’s border wall endangered ecosystems and sacred sites. Could it come down under Biden?

Opposition to border wall construction in Arizona became emblematic of battles waged across the country to stave off projects that could threaten the environment.

By Erik Ortiz, November 11, 2020

In March, after construction crews blasted and bulldozed through the remote desert terrain of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, an ecological reserve on the Arizona-Mexico border, Christina Andrews observed the transformation in disbelief.

Dozens of miles of towering border wall ordered by the Trump administration were rising across the rugged landscape in southern Arizona, displacing century-old cacti and cutting off migratory paths for jaguars and wolves. Ancestral lands and sites considered sacred by local Native Americans were also threatened after the administration declined to consult tribal groups as normally required under federal law.

“It felt like someone took a dagger and drove it through my heart,” said Andrews, a chairwoman of the Hia-Ced O’odham, or Sand People, a community living near the national monument that is seeking tribal recognition from the federal government.

But with Democrat Joe Biden’s projected win over President Donald Trump, Andrews and environmental activists and conservationists are pinning their hopes on a new administration’s reversing certain policies, halting construction and going as far as to rip down the new sections of border wall.

“Think about someone building a wall in your home, separating your family and severing your life resources needed for survival: prayer, plant, water and animals,” Andrews said. “If there was a way for the wall to come down to free those vital things you love and need, wouldn’t you want it gone?”

Opposition to the wall in Arizona, which led to protests, road blockades and federal agents’ use of tear gas on members of the Tohono O’odham Nation last month, is emblematic of battles waged across the country to preserve ecologically fragile areas and stave off projects that could do irreparable environmental and cultural damage, environmental justice advocates say.

Over the past four years, the Trump administration has approved oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, rolled back protections to allow commercial fishing at a marine conservation area off the New England coast and pushed for federal regulatory changes that have benefited industrial companies, including a mining project that environmentalists fear could jeopardize Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp, the largest national wildlife refuge in the eastern United States.

“There’s about 100 different protections that this administration has worked to dismantle,” said Nat Mund, the director of federal affairs at the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center, which has sued the Trump administration over issues such as climate change and clean water.

“Vice President Biden ran on a platform of strong environmental protections, strong commitment to combating climate change and a strong commitment to improving environmental justice,” Mund said. “We’re certainly hoping he’ll pick people who will advance those causes. But to be frank, if his administration is not moving in that direction, we’ll be in court with them, too.”

During the campaign, Biden pledged to stop the border wall, Trump’s signature project and the cornerstone of an immigration policy of “zero tolerance” for anyone caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally.

“There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,” Biden told National Public Radio this year, although he would not commit to tearing down parts of the wall that the Trump administration has added since January 2017.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., a critic of the border wall whose district includes the Tohono O’odham Nation, urged Biden to “listen to the diverse voices of the borderlands that have been ignored for the past four years.”

Through 2020, the coronavirus pandemic has not slowed the pace of the wall construction, which is costing taxpayers $15 billion, most of it diverted from military funds.

As of this week, about 400 miles of new border wall or replacement barriers have been built along the southern U.S. border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the agency that oversees the projects. Much of the new construction is to replace older fencing or low-slung vehicle barriers, which lined part of the border at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument until it was swapped out with 30-foot-high steel bollard walls.

The agency said Tuesday that it “continues with the construction of new border wall system” and that the “majority of contracts have been awarded and construction is well under way” for the more than 700 miles of the total project.

But as Trump continues to challenge the results of the election, the fate of the wall and its timelines remain unclear.

Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity in Arizona, said roughly 20 to 30 miles of the border wall project in the state must still be completed. Over the past year, he has documented the obliteration of land to make way for the wall and construction crews’ destruction of saguaro cacti, which would normally be a felony.

“Right now they’re blasting away mountains and destroying huge amounts of habitat but not putting up the actual wall very quickly,” Jordahl said. “It’s frivolous destruction at this point, as there’s no way they’ll be able to get all those stretches of wall up by Jan. 20th [Inauguration Day], yet they’re still blowing up pristine wilderness.”

Biden will have the power to stop any outstanding construction, said Jared Orsi, a professor of history at Colorado State University focusing on environmental and borderlands history.

Furthermore, he said, Biden could restore the legal processes the Trump administration avoided to advance Trump’s border wall project. The Department of Homeland Security waived dozens of federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

“The Biden administration can say we don’t just put up a wall. Instead, we’re going to study the hydrology of a region, the environmental impact, the impact on historic Native American graves before we start any project,” Orsi said. “All those were circumvented under Trump.”

Finally, the Biden administration could agree to review environmentally sensitive places affected by the wall and potentially fund restoration projects, like at Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

The desert oasis, which is home to endangered species like the Sonoyta pupfish and the mud turtle, is considered sacred to the Tohono O’odham and the Hia-Ced O’odham, with the springs’ use dating back some 10,000 years. Tohono O’odham leaders said bone fragments appearing to be human were found near Quitobaquito Springs last year, which they add was reason enough to halt work on the wall.

A coalition of scientists is also concerned that the construction of the wall and contractors’ use of the groundwater may have lasting effects on the already depleted water level.

Still, Orsi said, “Quitobaquito is one of many places around the country that can be saved if there’s the political will.”

Jordahl said the extent of the damage to the environment at the border must be assessed to determine which species were harmed, how their habitats were impaired and how culturally significant areas appeared to have been desecrated.

“We’re talking a scale of centuries before nature that was destroyed grows back,” he said. “It’s so devastating to see that one person’s pet project will inflict damage that will take longer than our, our children and our grandchildren’s time to heal.”

******

CNN

Scientists discover new endangered primate species, with only 260 left

By Jessie Yeung, CNN, November 11, 2020

The Popa langur, a newly discovered primate species in Myanmar that is critically endangered.

(CNN) Scientists have discovered a new primate species in the jungles of Myanmar — and it’s already at risk of extinction.

The Popa langur is a type of monkey with a long tail, rings around its eyes, and a crest of fur on top of its head. There are only an estimated 200 to 260 left, according to a news release by the London Natural History Museum, which collaborated on this study.

The research team named the Popa langurs after the sacred extinct volcano Mount Popa and classified them as “critically endangered.”

“Sadly this is a bittersweet discovery due to the limited number of individuals left in the wild and fragmented populations,” said Roberto Portela Miguez, a senior curator at the Natural History Museum, in the release.

“The hope is that by giving this species the scientific status and notoriety it merits, there will be even more concerted efforts in protecting this area and the few other remaining populations.”

The scientists, spanning three organizations, published their findings on Wednesday in the journal Zoological Research.

In the study, researchers at Fauna and Floral International (FFI) and the German Primate Center (GMC) carried out field surveys of the langurs, whose scientific name is “Trachypithecus popa.” They also gathered samples and DNA of all other Trachypithecus species — cousins of the Popa langur.

They combined the data from these surveys and samples, as well as data from specimens in other museums, confirm the existence of the new species, said the news release.

One of the crucial parts of the puzzle was a 100-year-old specimen that had been stored at the London Natural History Museum. In the early 20th century, British zoologist Guy C. Shortridge collected thousands of specimens, including a 1913 Trachypithecus specimen that the Popa langur team re-examined.

“Monkeys are one of the most iconic groups of mammals, and these specimens have been in the collections for over a hundred years,” said Miguez. “But we didn’t have the tools or the expertise to do this work before.”

There were other clues that the Popa langur was an entirely new species, like differences in its tail length, fur color, and skull shape — but genetic analysis confirmed it.

“This study demonstrates that natural history collections are a valuable and key resource for genetic research and in the context of the current biodiversity crisis, they are clearly even more relevant and important today than ever before,” said Miguez.

The Popa langurs were likely once widespread across central Myanmar, according to the study, which analyzed historical records like museum specimens and travel notes — but only a few groups survived. Now, the remaining individuals only live in four isolated populations.

The largest population is on Mount Popa, home to more than 100 langurs. Mount Popa, a sacred pilgrimage site, is also home to an important wildlife sanctuary — but threats remain for the endangered Popa langurs.

“Although Mount Popa is a national park, meaning the species that occur there are legally protected, hunting and deforestation for the timber industry and fuelwood still occur,” said Miguez.

Other threats include agricultural encroachment, environmental degradation, and other disturbances to the land like free cattle grazing, said the study.

The study urged international agencies like the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to add the Popa langur to their lists of threatened species.

“Improved protected area management, in particular improved law enforcement … is essential to stabilize the two largest known populations,” said the study. “The forests in Bago Yoma are severely degraded and fragmented, but could still provide the largest, contiguous habitat if deforestation and forest degradation are reversed through improved forest protection and restoration.”

******

Capital Press

Trump expected to reduce spotted owl critical habitat

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI, Capital Press, Nov 10, 2020

The Trump administration will likely decrease the threatened Northern spotted owl’s critical habitat before the end of his first term, though the reduction may fall short of the timber industry’s hopes.

To comply with a legal settlement with timber interests, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed cutting the bird’s 9.5 million-acre critical habitat designation by more than 200,000 acres.

While environmental groups argue even this reduction would be excessive, the American Forest Resource Council — which represents timber companies — believes 2.7 million acres should be slashed from the owl’s critical habitat.

If the federal government doesn’t deviate much from 200,000 acres in the final revision, which is due in late December, “we’d be disappointed, particularly given the record we’ve put together,” said Lawson Fite, attorney with AFRC.

At this point, though, the organization is hopeful the Fish and Wildlife Service is still open to a steeper reduction to the owl’s designated critical habitat, which receives added protection under the Endangered Species Act.

“I think it was basically just trying to get the process started,” Fite said of the 200,000-acre proposal.

The AFRC is urging the federal government to exclude younger forest stands from the designation because they don’t currently serve as habitat for the owl, as well as certain “fire-prone dry forests” where habitat is vulnerable to burning.

“You get forests that get nuked and that doesn’t do owls any good,” Fite said.

Within “critical habitat” that’s not actually inhabited by spotted owls, unlogged timber would amount to $750 million to $1.2 billion in lost revenues over 20 years, according to an economic analysis commissioned by AFRC.

Under a Supreme Court decision from 2018, the federal government cannot designate critical habitat for a species that it can’t actually occupy.

That ruling served as the catalyst for the legal settlement over spotted owl critical habitat between the Fish and Wildlife Service and timber groups earlier this year.

The group’s analysis determined that excluding the 2.7 million acres sought by AFRC — which would bring the owl’s critical habitat to its original 1992 designation — would increase gross domestic product by $100 million along the West Coast.

Reducing the critical habitat by that amount would also contribute to nearly 1,300 jobs and $66 million in worker wages in Oregon, Washington and California, where the spotted owl lives, according to AFRC’s study.

“We really dug into the data and economic impacts. We think it’s a good basis for exclusion,” Fite said.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which opposes the 200,000-acre critical habitat reduction, also expects the federal government will finish the revision before the end of Trump’s first term, said Ryan Adair Shannon, attorney for the environmental group.

No revisions to the spotted owl’s critical habitat are actually necessary, as the Fish and Wildlife Service determined the entire 9.5 million-acre designation is essential for the recovery of the species, Shannon said.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, has warned the agency that its 200,000-acre reduction is “neither legal nor prudent” due to the accelerated decline of spotted owl populations.

Even so, the proposed revision is much smaller than a previous reduction by the Bush administration in 2008, which cut the critical habitat from 6.9 million acres to 5.3 million acres, Shannon said.

“That’s what they think they can get away with, based on the best available science,” he said of the currently proposed revision.

Timber interests should “not get too greedy” in asking for a significantly bigger reduction in critical habitat, since courts tend to look askance at such major changes between proposed and final rules, Shannon said.

Under federal law, a final regulation must be a “logical outgrowth” of the proposal, he said. “If it’s a complete 180 or a large expansion, that’s enough to set them up for a legal challenge.”

******

NM State KRWG (NPR)

The 10 public lands and wildlife protections most likely to be removed by Trump

By The Center For Western Priorities, November 10, 2020

Commentary: The Center for Western Priorities today released an updated tracker identifying 70 policy changes that the Interior department hopes to complete before the end of the Trump administration. Those policies include advancing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, reducing protections for endangered species and migratory birds, and dramatically expanding drilling opportunities on public lands, despite weak demand and a surge of bankruptcies across the industry.

“The nation and the world is looking forward to the leadership of a Biden administration, but the next ten weeks are fraught with danger,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director at the Center for Western Priorities. “We expect Interior Secretary Bernhardt to unleash a torrent of policies and rule changes that would have been politically toxic before the election.”

In addition, the Interior Department has publicly identified plans to remove or downgrade protections for dozens of plants and animals under the Endangered Species Act. Those changes come after the department removed protections for the gray wolf despite near-unanimous calls from the public and scientists to keep the wolf on the endangered species list.

The Center for Western Priorities started tracking the Interior Department’s rule changes at the beginning of 2020. Since then, the department has finalized 20 of those policies, including land use plans to allow increased development in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and weakening air quality standards for offshore drilling.

“Over the remaining 72 days of the Trump administration, Secretary Bernhardt will no doubt be racing to finalize even more controversial policies that benefit his former and future clients in extractive industries,” Prentice-Dunn added.

The Center for Western Priorities identified the ten rule and policy changes with a realistic possibility of being finalized that pose the most risk to America’s public lands and wildlife:

*Approving seismic testing and auctioning oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

*Allowing oil and gas companies to inadvertently kill migratory birds, including in oil spills, without penalties under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

*Further weakening the Endangered Species Act by limiting which habitat can be protected

*Amending long-term management plans to expand drilling and mining opportunities on public lands in the following areas:

-Northeast New Mexico, including around Chaco Canyon

-Southwest New Mexico, including the Permian Basin

-Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve

-Vast swaths of Western Alaska

-Lands managed under the California Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan

-Western Idaho

*Reopening loopholes to allow oil, gas, and coal companies to skirt royalties owed to taxpayers

*Weaken safety regulations for exploratory offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic

*Reducing environmental and regulatory reviews to speed the process of timber sales on public lands

*Allowing baiting of brown bears and increased trapping in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge

*Expanding opportunities to privatize services in national parks

*Allowing property owners to veto listings on the National Register of Historic Places

******

Forbes

Study Shows Endangered Marine Mammals Are At Risk Of Contracting Covid-19

Liz Allen, Contributor, November 10, 2020

Through a process dubbed “reverse zoonotic transmission”, scientists worry SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, could jump from humans to marine mammals. Specifically, there are concerns that untreated wastewater could function as a vessel for coronavirus.

Wastewater is known to carry the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In fact, cities around the world are testing wastewater to gauge the extent of local coronavirus outbreaks. Wastewater is often treated before it enters the ocean to kill microbes, like viruses and bacteria. However, untreated wastewater is occasionally released into waterways when treatment plants reach capacity, such as during a heavy rain event. In these situations, wastewater treatment facilities may release wastewater that has not been fully treated. When over-capacity wastewater treatment plants release untreated effluent during the current pandemic, the virus that causes COVID-19 enters marine habitats.

Unlike other marine life, marine mammals are more susceptible to the ‘jumping’ of human diseases due to our comparatively recent divergence evolutionarily. In other words, humans are much more closely related to marine mammals than other ocean dwellers. The genetic similarities between marine mammals and humans make it more likely for an infectious agent, like a virus, to find a shared weakness. For the same reason, scientists are actively researching which mammal the SARS-CoV-2 virus may have come from, while concerns over future infectious ‘jumps’ between wildlife and humans are mounting.

To understand just how susceptible marine mammals – particularly endangered species – may be to infection by SARS-CoV-2, scientists at Dalhousie University searched through genetic data for the key the amino acids that make up the proteins the virus uses to start an infection. Without a good amino acid match, the virus would not be expected to cause an infection.

Based on these amino acid patterns, researchers found that at least 15 marine mammal species are susceptible to infection by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Of these, over half are already at-risk globally.

“Many of these species are threatened or critically endangered,” explains Dr. Graham Dellaire, who led the study. “In the past, these animals have been infected by related coronaviruses that have caused both mild disease as well as life-threatening liver and lung damage.”

Indeed, coronavirus infections have been reported in marine mammals prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. While no infections by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus have been documented in marine mammals to date, the results of this research reveal a key susceptibility among marine mammals to infection by the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

The study specifically identified the risk untreated wastewater in Alaska poses to vulnerable populations of beluga whales and sea otters and identified concerns broadly for marine mammals in waters near developing nations that may not have wastewater treatment facilities in place.

“Monitoring susceptible species in these high-risk areas around the world will be pertinent for protecting wildlife during and post-pandemic,” explains Saby Mathavaraja, a co-author of the study. Marine mammals, like humans, are social creatures, which makes them similarly vulnerable to having infections spread throughout an entire population.

By highlighting these vulnerabilities among marine mammals to infection by the SARS-CoV2 coronavirus, the researchers hope to shape policy decisions regarding wastewater management around the world to help protect at-risk marine mammal species that may be exposed to this coronavirus.

******

Washington County News

Endangered woodpecker species recovering two years after Hurricane Michael

Staff Report, November 9, 2020

TALLAHASSEE – In 2018, Hurricane Michael made landfall in the Florida panhandle and the 570,000 acre Apalachicola National Forest. Approximately 113,000 acres of the forest were impacted by the storm and of these acres, more than 24,000 were severely impacted. Debris left by the storm created hazards and increased fuels that complicated efforts to use prescribed fire to manage and clear the landscape. Downed trees were strewn across the landscape, blocking roads and prohibiting access to areas of timber that had been planned for harvest. One of the most significant results of this hurricane was the impact that it had on the habitat of the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW), a species the US Fish and Wildlife Service had declared endangered.

Despite the damage, progress is visible on the forest and the results of the hard work are becoming apparent. Work to stabilize the population of red-cockaded woodpeckers has proven successful, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) recently proposed downlisting the RCW from endangered to threatened.

The RCW excavates cavities exclusively in living pine trees; preferably old pine trees with heartwood softened by fungal disease. It can take years for the birds to excavate the cavities they use for nesting and roosting. Hurricane Michael downed 1,409 trees with RCW cavities; this created an immediate threat to the endangered species. Interagency partners moved quickly to address the problem.

The US Forest Service and partners from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, USFWS and the Long Leaf Alliance worked to install 692 cavity inserts to serve as pre-fabricated replacements for the nesting sites that were lost in the storm. The boxes were inset into trees in a manner that mimicked natural cavities. The RCW found and utilized a number of the cavity inserts.

In the spring of 2019, biologists were surprised to see that this had been one of the most productive nesting seasons on their records. Nearly half of nesting attempts were found in the cavity inserts. 80% of the chicks that researchers banded fledged, and many established in other cavity inserts.

The USFWS describes the red-cockaded woodpecker as a “territorial, non-migratory bird species of the southeastern and southern United States.” The birds were once common throughout the longleaf pine ecosystem, but the types of mature forests the species prefers have declined; and that habitat loss has been reflected in declining RCW populations. Today, the world’s largest population of RCWs resides on the Apalachicola NF. Biologists believe that the quick installation of the inserts minimized disruption and made the difference in the RCW’s nesting success.

******

National Geographic

Could endangered species and other animals fare better under Biden?

The last four years were a setback for wildlife protection and animal welfare policy. Here are 6 things Biden might do to change course

BY NATASHA DALY AND DOUGLAS MAIN, November 9, 2020

WITH JOE BIDEN declared president-elect, many advocates and conservationists are hopeful that animals in the U.S.—wild, captive, and farmed—may become better protected.

As with many policy areas, Biden declined to talk on the campaign trail about what his administration might do around safeguarding animals, and a Biden spokesperson did not respond to National Geographic’s request for comment on the subject.

But many animal and wildlife advocates anticipate that initial efforts will involve reversing course on Trump-era policies, which they argue ushered in a dramatic regression in protecting animals.

“Every administration comes in and undoes a little something, and you’re back battling something you thought you’d taken care of. But [these regressions] have been wholesale,” says Nancy Blaney, director of government affairs at the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute.

Blaney and others say the Trump Administration’s tenure has been characterized by regulatory rollbacks and a pervasive lack of transparency. After his first year in office, the League of Conservation Voters—widely considered a reliable appraiser of politicians’ environmental leanings—issued a statement: “If there was anything worse than an ‘F’, President Trump would get it.” According to the group, the Trump Administration’s rating never improved.

As a long-time senator and two-term vice president to Barack Obama, Biden has earned a lifetime score of 83 percent from the League of Conservation Voters, suggesting a strong record on environmental and wildlife issues. He was endorsed for president by the Humane Society Legislative Fund for his robust voting record on animal welfare, having co-sponsored bills to protect horses from slaughter, ban animal fighting, and prohibit the trophy hunting of captive animals. Biden will also bring the first-ever shelter dog to live in the White House. The Bidens adopted Major, one of their two German shepherds, from the Delaware Humane Association in 2018.

What might Biden do upon entering office? We break down where the U.S. stands on animal-protection issues, and how the Biden Administration might approach policy changes.

  1. Enforce the Endangered Species Act.

Among the most concerning of Trump’s policies, scientists say, is a massive shift in the way the Endangered Species Act is enforced.

These changes, announced in August 2019, include taking economic considerations into account when enforcing the act; not giving automatic protections to threatened species; making it more difficult to designate critical habitat for endangered species; and not considering the impact of climate change in making recommendations for species protection.

These “amazingly comprehensive changes” have been “antithetical to the purpose of the Endangered Species Act,” says Kristen Boyles, a staff attorney with conservation nonprofit Earthjustice who works on wildlife issues. She says she hopes a Biden Administration would consider changing these policies, which wouldn’t be too difficult since they can be made by the secretaries of Interior and Commerce.

In response to these changes, Biden tweeted on August 12: “For decades, the Endangered Species Act has protected our most vulnerable wildlife from extinction. Now, President Trump wants to throw it all away. At a time when climate change is pushing our planet to the brink, we should strengthen protections—not weaken them.”

  1. Consider climate change.

In such statements, Biden has made it clear he believes climate change is an “existential threat” to our planet. This is good news for his approach to wildlife, says Jacob Malcom, a conservationist with the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife.

According to Malcom, our country “badly needs leaders” to tackle this issue, which is one of the three most important drivers of the biodiversity crisis, in addition to habitat loss and overexploitation. (Read about actions Biden can take to address climate change and protect the environment.)

  1. Protect species in need.

The Trump Administration has made common practice of delisting endangered and threatened species, and has resisted protecting them. In the past few weeks alone, the administration delisted gray wolves and denied federal protections for the wolverine.

Biden has generally supported protections for endangered species throughout his 35-year career as a senator from Delaware—including listing species, when appropriate—and it’s reasonable to expect this will continue, experts say. He has a long record on these matters, starting when he voted for passage of the original Endangered Species Act of 1973, and similar laws in years since.

During his eight years as vice president, Biden had a relatively strong track record on endangered species protections. When Obama and Biden took office on January 20, 2009, they reversed some laws and rules that environmentalists had criticized under President George W. Bush.

For instance, the Obama Administration rewrote a recovery plan for the endangered northern spotted owl, which lives in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest. The Bush Administration had changed the plan in a way that favored logging interests, Boyles says.

“Any administration that believes in science, the huge danger of climate change, that has already spoken out about how we should strengthen protections for endangered species… that’s going to be a good thing for wildlife,” Boyles says.

  1. Prevent bird deaths.

There are about 3 billion fewer birds in North America now compared with 1970, due to habitat loss, pesticides and other factors. Since 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act has been an important piece of legislation for protecting these animals. Among other things, it imposes fines on companies for killing most types of birds. In a break from how the law had always been enforced, the Trump Administration’s Department of the Interior changed its interpretation of the law to stop fining unintentional killing.

“It basically let industry totally off the hook for killing birds,” says Noah Greenwald, an endangered species advocate with the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. Greenwald thinks it’s likely that Biden would restore the traditional interpretation of the act.

With this issue and others, “It’s like we lost four years under the Trump Administration that we didn’t really have to lose… and we’re hopeful that Biden will get us back on track, not just reversing the bad things but moving us forward,” Greenwald says.

  1. Ramp up enforcement of animal welfare violations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, which regulates the treatment of animals sold as pets and used for research and exhibition, and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, which governs standards for slaughter of animals (except chickens and other birds, which aren’t regulated). There are no federal laws that govern the treatment of animals on farms; that’s left to the states, as are most matters of animal welfare not covered by the two laws above.

Two weeks after Trump was inaugurated in 2017, his administration set the tone for its animal welfare policy. The USDA purged its entire public database of animal welfare violation records—inspection records and annual reports for every commercial animal facility in the U.S., including zoos, breeders, factory farms, and laboratories.

The USDA, following sustained public pressure, eventually restored the database in February 2020, in the process revealing that enforcement had plummeted under Trump. The USDA issued 1,716 citations for violations of the Act in 2018, compared with 4,944 issued by the Obama Administration in 2016.

  1. Improve welfare standards for farmed animals.

The Trump Administration killed speed limits for how many pigs can legally be slaughtered per hour, which, critics argue, means the factory line can move so fast that pigs are sometimes not properly stunned before being killed—meaning their throats are slit or they’re dropped into boiling water while still conscious.

The administration killed a rule put in place by the Obama Administration stating that the “organic” label can only be used on animal products that have met specific welfare standards in their treatment of animals while alive, including access to fresh air and sunlight and having enough space to turn around comfortably; the rule also prohibited cutting chicken beaks and cow tails. The Trump Administration declined to complete an Obama-era initiative to ban horse soring, the deliberate act of injuring a show horse’s legs to increase the height of its step.

“An easy thing [for Biden] to start with is horse soring. Get it published—easy peasy,” says Blaney, since the Obama Administration already did much of the legwork. As a senator, Biden co-sponsored several horse-protection bills.

Blaney is hopeful Biden will change course from Trump’s approach. That could mean restoring and building upon Obama-era efforts to protect animals, as well as working with Congress to pass firmer federal animal welfare laws. (Read about how states across the U.S. have taken bold steps to protect animals)

“It used to be really like pulling teeth to get someone to introduce a bill and take it seriously. Now, every [lawmaker’s] office has an animal welfare staffer,” she says. “There’s just more interest and sensitivity to the lives of animals and how important they are to people.”

******

E&E Daily

Dems demand Bernhardt turn in errant projects list

Jennifer Yachnin, E&E News reporter, November 9, 2020

Congressional Democrats voiced increasing frustration over Interior Secretary David Bernhardt’s failure to meet a deadline for implementing a landmark public lands law, with one lawmaker accusing the Trump administration of a “vendetta against conservation funding.”

Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D) and New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland (D) on Friday joined the chorus of critics accusing the Trump administration of fumbling the rollout of the Great American Outdoors Act, after neither the Interior nor the Agricultural departments submitted lists of priority projects due to Congress on Nov. 2 (E&E Daily, Nov. 3).

“With three months of notice, and years’ worth of backlogged projects sitting on the shelf, it’s disappointing that the Department of Interior and Forest Service were not able to produce a list,” Tester wrote in a letter to Bernhardt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

He warned that continued delays could threaten projects that would benefit from Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars made available by the new law.

“Every day that passes runs a risk that a local stakeholder, a private landowner, or another partner may not be able to keep their lands, matching funds, or other resources available for a project,” Tester wrote.

The complaint echoes statements from Montana Sen. Steve Daines (R). A spokeswoman for Daines said last week that the GOP lawmaker has likewise reached out to the Interior and USDA, and other Trump administration officials (E&E News PM, Nov. 5).

The Great American Outdoors Act, signed into law in August, granted the LWCF permanent annual funding of $900 million, while also creating a five-year trust fund to address the $20 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects at national parks and other public lands.

The law instructed Interior and the Forest Service to submit to Congress separate lists detailing both deferred maintenance projects and LWCF endeavors — which include outdoor recreation projects as well as federal land acquisitions — within 90 days of its enactment.

When the deadline hit last week, those agencies submitted proposals for 725 maintenance projects at a cost of $1.9 billion but opted out of requesting any LWCF projects (Greenwire, Nov. 3).

That’s because Interior’s leadership reads the law differently than many in Congress. It argues that the LWCF list is the responsibility of the president, via the Office of Management and Budget (E&E News PM, Nov. 5). OMB has not responded to email inquiries submitted to its press office.

New Mexico’s Haaland framed the decision to skirt the deadline as an affront to the nation’s federal lands.

“All Americans deserve the resources for their public parks and outdoor spaces but once again the Trump Administration is taking that away from our families,” Haaland said in a statement Friday.

“Though they took a campaign victory lap about the Great American Outdoors Act, I am astounded by their vendetta against conservation funding they celebrated just days ago,” she said. “It was obvious from the start that their support of the Great American Outdoors Act was a ploy to win votes in a close election year.”

Haaland’s statement was provided before President-elect Joe Biden (D) claimed victory in the race for the White House on Saturday.

Haaland asserted that Congress “will step in” to address the available LWCF funding if the Trump administration fails to meet its statutory responsibilities.

New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich (D) likewise vowed last week to appropriate funds under the new law in a lame-duck session this month, stating: “The good news is the law is the law,” he said (E&E Daily, Nov. 3).

******

Colorado Public Radio (CPR) News

Colorado Voters Want Wolves Back In Colorado. Now Comes The Hard Part

By Sam Brasch, November 6, 2020

Colorado wants its wolves back.

Seventy-five years after a government trapper killed Colorado’s last native gray wolf, voters have declared those efforts an ecological mistake by narrowly backing Proposition 114.

The measure directs state wildlife managers to reintroduce gray wolves to the Western Slope by the end of 2023. According to supporters, it’s the first time voters — in any state — have decided whether to bring back an endangered species.

Rob Edward, who led the campaign for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund, announced the news in a message to supporters Thursday afternoon.

“Now, together with biologists, ranchers, wildlife watchers and hunters, we will lean in to craft a future where co-existing with wolves is a widely shared value,” Edward said.

The Associated Press has not formally called the race, which is still separated by 30,000 votes. Opponents conceded Thursday after determining the outstanding votes likely would prevent them from overcoming the gap. Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the agency the ballot measure tasked with wolf reintroduction, expects the proposition to pass as well.

The margin has also exceeded the threshold to avoid an automatic recount.

In a message to opponents of the initiative, Patrick Pratt, deputy director for Coloradans Protecting Wildlife, said ranchers and hunters mounted an effective campaign, nearly overcoming wolf supporters despite a $1.3 million fundraising gap.

“While the election did not turn out as we had hoped, we are moving forward to continue to educate Coloradans about the importance of this issue. The election results demonstrate that nearly half of Coloradans agree with us,” Pratt said.

In a move criticized as “ballot box biology,” passage means Colorado will likely become the first state where voters direct reintroduction of gray wolves rather than the federal government. Those previous efforts have brought wolves back to the northern Rockies, New Mexico, Arizona and the Carolinas.

According to the ballot language, a plan for reintroduction must now be determined by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, which oversees Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Rebecca Ferrel, a spokesperson with the agency, said it’s important the agency has the time to come up with a plan based on science and public input, as directed by the ballot language.

“We want people to have a clear understanding that we won’t have a plan immediately,” she said.

In a small bit of irony, the wildlife commission has shot down four previous proposals to reintroduce gray wolves, most recently in 2016. While the ballot initiative directs the panel to restore wolves, it can largely determine the shape of a reintroduction program, including the source of Colorado’s future wolves, locations of releases on the Western Slope, and the ultimate number.

Gov. Jared Polis appoints the members of the citizen commission. The governor remained neutral on Proposition 114, but before the election, his press secretary said, “if voters decide to pass wolf reintroduction then Colorado Parks and Wildlife will be ready to implement their will.”

One big question hanging over future debates will be funding. Nonpartisan budget analysts estimated the wolf recovery could cost $800,000 for planning over the first two years. The state would need to spend roughly the same amount each year to implement the plan.

A more precise estimate won’t be possible until the commission lands on a reintroduction plan. It also depends on the amount of livestock killed by any future wolves, which must be compensated by a state program according to the ballot initiative.

In any event, the financial burden could land entirely on already strained state budgets. Edward said reintroduction supporters hoped to cover 75 percent of the cost with federal grants for programs to support endangered species. That likely can’t happen if the Trump administration succeeds in its attempt to remove gray wolves from the endangered species list. The Department of Interior announced the move last month, but a coalition of environmental groups is already planning to sue.

State Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat who represents Vail, said those financial concerns are likely the most significant barrier to any reintroduction program.

“Getting paws on the ground does have significant hurdles in front of it,” Donovan said. “This all comes in the unforeseen circumstance of a couple years where we know there will be no extra money within Colorados budgets, and this is certainly a cost that needs to be accounted for.”

Donovan tried and failed to pass a bill to keep the initiative off the ballot earlier this year. She said the bill attempted to fill in many of the details left blank in the initiative. For instance, what entity should pay compensation for lost livestock? What happens if wolves spotted in northwest Colorado last winter appear to breed and begin to build a viable population?

Edward said he wouldn’t be against lawmakers looking into those issues.

“I would expect that the legislature, especially a Democratic legislature, would have some interest in trying to make things better,” he said. “There’s only so much you can do within the confines of a single ballot initiative.

Meanwhile, any attempt to release wolves could face fierce local opposition in the Western Slope. While a narrow majority of Coloradans supported the initiative, commissioners in 39 of the state’s 64 counties voted against the plan.

Ray Beck, a county commissioner with Moffat County in northwest Colorado, said he remains against wolf reintroduction but doesn’t see a way for county governments to stop the state. As it moves forward, he hopes wildlife officials collaborate with local governments and livestock producers.

He said the Front Range should brace for the predators — not just parts of rural Colorado.

“If people think the wolves are just going to stay on the western side of the Continental Divide, I don’t see that. The animals are going to where they’re going to go,” he said.

******

Courthouse News Service

Next President Should Strengthen Endangered Species Act: Report

November 6, 2020, MARTIN MACIAS JR.

(CN) — Scientists have for years sounded the alarm on the wildlife extinction crisis. In the U.S., avoiding catastrophe will take more than reversing years of regressive policy-making — it will require bolstering landmark federal protections established decades ago, conservationists and scientists said in a report issued this week.

Numerous species of wildlife have disappeared at frighteningly rapid rates and it’s estimated that globally more than a million species face extinction, according to the policy report published in the journal Science.

For nearly five decades, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has been the primary U.S. policy tool for preventing a torrent of wildlife extinction and conserving both threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats they live in.

Under the 1973 law, federal agencies must consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that their actions don’t jeopardize the safety of plants and animals listed for protection.

Implementation of the act has prevented the extinction of multiple wildlife including the bald eagle, the California condor, the Alabama leather flower and Florida manatee. Today, the law protects 1,600 plant and animal species and designates millions of acres as critical habitat for their survival and recovery.

But the landmark legislation has been slowly gutted by the Trump administration, which issued new rules in August 2019 that it said would undo “unnecessary regulatory burdens” while maintaining safeguards for wildlife species.

The new rules allow economic factors to be considered when agencies are deciding whether to list species for protection under the act and also make it more difficult to protect areas where endangered wildlife is not found.

Scientists said in the report Thursday the changes make it more difficult for the federal government to conserve habitats that wildlife will depend on the era of rapidly accelerating climate change.

But simply rolling back Trump administration changes will not solve the regulatory problem facing the ESA, the report said.

University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman said in a statement released with the report that the ESA must be bolstered via bipartisan legislation in Congress that also has the support of energy industry leaders.

“It’s not enough to just go back to where we were eighteen months ago; we need reform,” report co-author Roman said. “We’re not talking about revising the act itself — that legislative can of worms — but it is clear that endangered species, wildlife agencies, landowners, and citizens would all benefit by updating the regulations and policies that are used to implement the law.”

The report says clarity is needed to guide implementation of the act, as is evident in the cases seeking protections for the Pacific walrus and the Arctic ringed seal.

While the loss of ice and snow cover has imperiled both animals, the Fish & Wildlife Service decided in 2017 not to protect the walrus. The agency found climate change projections beyond 2060 were “based on speculation, rather than reliable prediction.”

But five years earlier, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the seal as “threatened” using climate projections stretching to 2100 that sync with modeling guidelines for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Ya-Wei Li of the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, lead author of the report, said that ad hoc approach by the agencies can lead to dangerously inconsistent regulatory action under the act.

“This kind of ambiguity hurts everybody and invites political interference that undercuts protections for species, erodes public confidence, triggers lawsuits that are costly for all,” Li said. “It polarizes the ESA, a law that could enjoy far more support across the political spectrum.”

The Trump administration should disclose both data and political “principles” guiding wildlife regulation policy and explain their decisions to offer or not offer protections under act, the report said.

The administration should also clarify how it interprets “foreseeable future,” which is the categorical timeframe for determining whether to list a species as “threatened,” the report said.

“This ambiguity invites political intervention that undercuts species protection and public confidence in ESA decisions, triggers litigation that is costly for all parties, and polarizes the law,” the report said.

In another case, Fish and Wildlife extended protections to the Gunnison sage grouse on agricultural lands under the ESA 4(d) rule but declined protections for the lesser prairie chicken on the same kind of farmland.

“The agency may have had valid reasons for this discrepancy, but they never publicly explained those reasons,” authors wrote in the report.

Li said recommendations in the report will increase transparency over the Endangered Species Act process, fund sensing technology that can better track the impact of climate change and incentivize preservation of wildlife that exists on private lands.

“But we’re also advocating for new ideas that would bring better science and more flexible approaches to the decisions the wildlife services make,” Li said.

Report authors said most Americans see plants and wildlife as a “public good,” and whoever occupies the White House should take that into consideration.

“Think of what could happen if we got federal decision-makers, governors, conservationists, industry leaders to sit down together to help both species and landowners,” Roman said. “With the right leadership, you could get broad bipartisan support to make the Endangered Species Act an even better tool for preventing the loss of biodiversity.”

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview that while he agrees with the authors that Trump administration regulations should be rescinded, additional legislation isn’t necessary to improve the act.

“Given where Republicans stand on endangered species, there’s just not a lot of opportunity for bipartisan effort in Congress, nor is it needed,” Greenwald said, adding the act already has strong protections that need to be enforced in a nonpartisan manner.

Greenwald said “political interference” from Trump-appointed officials — who avoid recommendations from their own scientists — should not be the impediment to implementing the law.

“I hope the extinction crisis is an important priority for the Biden administration, if that’s in fact what we’re gonna have, because it really threatens our way of life.”

But Jacob Malcom, director of the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife, said more is definitely needed.

“In order to save endangered and imperiled wildlife from the damage of the past four years, reverting to Obama-era regulations is an important step but is not enough by itself. We have seen unprecedented changes that undercut the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act, two bedrock environmental laws that have protected species and their habitats for decades.

“There is a long list of additional actions needed to overturn the damage to our environment, such as restoring protections for migratory birds and halting oil and gas development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” he said in an email.

He noted the report — along with robust federal funding of the Endangered Species Act — would go a long way to “strengthen the ESA in ways endangered species desperately need.”

Greenwald’s group and others sued the Trump administration in August 2019 to stop the package of rule changes to the act, claiming the rules were not properly proposed to the public before they were finalized.

U.S. District Judge Jon S. Tigar dismissed the lawsuit this past May with leave to amend, finding the plaintiffs failed to adequately state how they would be harmed by the new rules.

Additional plaintiffs in that case include Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Parks Conservation Association, WildEarth Guardians and the Humane Society of the United States.

Also this past May, Tigar advanced a related California-led lawsuit seeking to block the Trump administration’s changes to the act, finding the states adequately established how the rules would affect their environmental and economic interests.

******

E&E Daily

ELECTION 2020

Legislative grappling begins absent a green wave

Nick Sobczyk, Jeremy Dillon and Geof Koss, E&E News reporters, November 5, 2020

The last two days did not go how environmental groups expected.

After greens headed into Tuesday night with their political allies polling favorably, climate change in the news and record election spending, congressional Republicans look likely to hang on to the Senate and gain seats in the House.

The results could easily move in the coming hours and days. But even if Democratic nominee Joe Biden holds his lead and wins the White House, the path for the kind of ambitious climate legislation that environmentalists have long hoped for looks narrower than ever.

Still, the legislative grappling is set to begin in the coming days, as both environmentalists and industry position themselves to make the most out of whatever governing coalition emerges.

“While the exit polls, even Fox’s exit polls, seem to suggest that many voters care about climate, it still is not really the issue that drives any given race,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

 

Several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, League of Conservation Voters and Sunrise Movement, were set to hold a joint press conference to discuss the results yesterday afternoon but instead postponed to today and issued a statement calling for every vote to be counted.

“The outcome of this election is up to the voters, no one else,” the groups said in a combined statement.

“Voters — the majority of whom want to see bold, ambitious action on climate — turned out in record numbers across race, place of origin, and zip code to stand with and for each other.”

Meanwhile, allies of President Trump claimed victory on energy issues, pointing to races in the heartland where pro-energy Democrats who won in 2018 lost their seats to Republicans, namely Reps. Xochitl Torres Small in New Mexico and Kendra Horn in Oklahoma.

“One thing is for certain: if Joe Biden shuffles into the White House, he will do so lacking any kind of mandate to make energy more expensive, restrict the use of our domestic natural resources, ban fracking on federal lands, or impose a carbon tax or other restrictive carbon policies on the American public,” American Energy Alliance President Tom Pyle, who served on Trump’s 2016 transition team, said in a statement yesterday.

Green groups clung to a handful of victories yesterday. Reps. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) and Mike Levin (D-Calif.), both of whom ran on climate change in 2018, held on to their seats, as did Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick — a carbon tax supporter and the only Republican endorsed by the LCV this year — likely held off his challenger in Pennsylvania’s suburban Bucks County.

The most progressive supporters of the Green New Deal also, unsurprisingly, emerged unscathed, but environmental groups and Democrats took losses in swing districts around the country, particularly in Florida and Texas.

Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-Fla.) lost to Republican Carlos Gimenez, the former mayor of Miami-Dade County, in a district heavily affected by climate change.

Gimenez’s win, as well as victories for Republicans active on climate and energy like Rep. Dan Crenshaw of Texas, made an encouraging two days, on the other hand, for conservative climate groups, which could also have a Republican Senate to work with.

While they lamented losing Sen. Cory Gardener (R-Colo.), who fell to former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, the results were “an affirmation of the work we’ve been doing,” said Quill Robinson, vice president of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition.

“The take-home message for Republicans is that they need to be getting into issues that help them be more competitive,” said Heather Reams, executive director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions. “No one likes the nail biting.”

‘Climate change isn’t going away’

Whatever happens in the next few days, environmental and industry groups are preparing for legislative and policy jockeying to come.

Should the GOP keep the Senate, Hartl said there’s little prospect for major climate legislation. If Biden is in the White House, that means the Center for Biological Diversity will turn its focus to the executive branch.

“We think that was always the primary area anyway,” Hartl said, adding that Democrats would have had to grapple with moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona even if they had taken the Senate.

The key, Hartl said, would be for a Biden administration to act early and aggressively with existing air pollution tools under the Clean Air Act. Using the law to extend other air pollution standards could have the side effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for instance.

“They should immediately revise all of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards super-aggressively,” Hartl said.

In Congress, more centrist groups and industry interests are turning their attention to some of the outstanding innovation and tax proposals from the 116th Congress and to a potential infrastructure bill.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s top lobbyist predicted yesterday that work on climate legislation will continue even in divided government, albeit more likely in a piecemeal fashion.

“The need to address climate change isn’t going away and only hastens with each passing day,” Chamber Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Neil Bradley told reporters on a conference call yesterday.

“I have no doubt this is going to be high on the priority list for Congress to begin addressing, and for an administration to address in different forms and fashion. It could be that it doesn’t take the form of one kind of comprehensive omnibus package. Instead … it becomes an element that is embedded in infrastructure.”

He suggested that the House and Senate could meet “somewhere in the middle” on their competing infrastructure packages early in the new Congress, noting that the Senate’s $287 billion highway bill, S. 2302, includes a climate title and water provisions while House Democrats’ $1.5 trillion infrastructure package, H.R. 2, contains renewable energy investments and broadband provisions in addition to the traditional highway spending.

“It’s going to be that type of kind of compromise that reflects both resiliency, connectivity and advancing solutions on climate change, kind of wrapped together,” Bradley said. “That’s where we think the sweet spot is in divided government in the first part of next year.”

There are also murmurs about a potential deal for some type of clean energy standard framework that could regulate carbon emissions while also keeping natural gas online.

Reps. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) are eyeing introduction this month of a bipartisan energy standard bill that would invest heavily in carbon capture and aim to reduce power sector emissions 80% by 2050 (E&E Daily, Sept. 18).

But a clean energy standard would be dead on arrival should Senate Republicans opt for an antagonistic approach to the Biden administration.

“Any type of thoughts around a national clean energy standard, low carbon standard or any other major policy intended to pursue a 0% carbon emission goal by 2035 … it’s hard for me to envision how you could get to that number without congressional action,” Ethan Zindler, the head of Americas at BloombergNEF, said during a postelection webinar.

“And it’s harder for me still to envision the Congress, as we think it’s going to be made up, to be very cooperative on something like that next year,” he added.

But in the postelection glow, some observers see signs for a bipartisan deal, especially as utilities already are adopting ambitious decarbonization goals that look to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

What that looks like or its potential remains to be seen. There could be some bipartisan interest in tax extenders, like the 45Q credit for carbon capture; hydrogen fuels; biofuels; or a credit to enable energy storage technologies to qualify for the investment tax credit.

Any climate or energy deal would need to rely on cooperation between Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Biden, a longtime creature of the Senate with a belief in the Senate’s ability to find compromise, Scott Segal, co-chair of Bracewell LLP’s Policy Resolution Group, said during a postelection webinar yesterday.

“On the major issues — tax packages, energy, climate change — we will see more modest attempts in my judgment in negotiated compromises, because that’s what an institutionalist like Joe Biden knows that is all he can get,” Segal said.

“The opportunity to work across that aisle absolutely could work,” he added.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Release—November 5, 2020

EPA: Widely Used Pesticide Atrazine Likely Harms More Than 1,000 Endangered Species

Finding Comes Two Months After Agency Reapproved Herbicide for 15 Years

WASHINGTON— The Environmental Protection Agency released an assessment today finding that the endocrine-disrupting pesticide atrazine is likely to harm more than 1,000 of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals.

The finding is a result of the agency’s first-ever nationwide assessment of an herbicide’s harm to protected species, an analysis that’s required by the Endangered Species Act.

The assessment’s release comes just two months after the EPA reapproved the pesticide’s use for another 15 years.

“Finally the EPA has been forced to acknowledge atrazine’s far-reaching harms,” said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. ”This alarming assessment leaves no doubt that this hideously dangerous pesticide should be banned in the U.S., just as it is across much of the world.”

Atrazine is a widespread pollutant of groundwater and drinking water, has been linked to increased risk of cancer and reproductive problems in people, and can chemically castrate male frogs at extremely low concentrations, including those allowed in drinking water.

Despite being banned in more than 35 countries, including the entire European Union, it remains the second-most used herbicide in the United States after glyphosate.

Today’s draft assessment is part of a legal agreement between the Center and the EPA. It found that atrazine is likely to harm 1,013 protected species, or 56% of all endangered plants and animals in the nation. Species harmed include the highly endangered whooping crane, California red-legged frog and San Joaquin kit fox.

The risk of ongoing widespread harm was found despite major changes to the pesticide’s use restrictions announced by the EPA in September that effectively ban atrazine in Hawaii, on forests, on Christmas tree farms and along roadsides. For endangered species found outside the proposed ban areas, the finding of harm was nearly 100%.

Today’s draft assessment was conducted using a guidance document finalized earlier this year by the Trump administration, dubbed the “Revised Methods,” that disregarded the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and ignored the mandate of the Endangered Species Act to give imperiled wildlife and plants the benefit of the doubt when evaluating the range of impacts caused by exposure to pesticides.

By using this new guidance — which precludes consideration of downstream runoff of pesticides into water bodies where endangered aquatic species, like fish and snails, live — the EPA has likely underestimated the true severity of the risk many species face from atrazine exposure.

Atrazine is widely present in U.S. surface waters and drinking-water supplies. Earlier this year the EPA granted a request from atrazine’s maker, Syngenta, to suspend monitoring atrazine in waterways for 2020. The EPA had denied Syngenta’s previous request to stop monitoring atrazine in waterways, because it “…has continued to show atrazine concentrations of potential ecological concern in the most vulnerable watersheds, even when stewardship programs are employed.”

“With this troubling finding, even the EPA has been forced to acknowledge the unacceptable harm caused by atrazine,” said Donley. “It’s beyond me how it can still be approved for such widespread use across this country.”

Draft evaluations for pesticides very similar to atrazine, simazine and propazine, were also released today.

In September the Trump EPA announced it would be reapproving atrazine for the next 15 years, eliminating longstanding safeguards for children’s health, and allowing 50% more atrazine to end up in U.S. waterways. The Center for Food Safety, Center for Biological Diversity and a coalition of public-interest groups sued to challenge that decision last week.

******

PHYS-ORG

After election: making the endangered species act more effective

by University of Vermont, November 5, 2020

Following the presidential election, a leading group of scientists are making the case that a ‘rule reversal’ will not be sufficient to allow the Endangered Species Act to do its job. Instead, they’re calling for deeper improvements to the rules federal wildlife agencies use to apply the law—aiming to make the Act more effective and to gain bipartisan and industry support in an era of accelerating climate change.

For forty-seven years, the Endangered Species Act has stood as the nation’s strongest and most effective law for protecting animals and plants threatened with extinction—from the bald eagle to the American burying beetle, the Alabama leather flower to the Aleutian shield fern.

In 2019, the Trump Administration made the most sweeping changes to the implementation of the Endangered Species Act in decades—making it harder for the federal government to protect the habitats that plants and animals will need in a warmer future. Many biologists and environmental groups have called for these rules to be reversed, to simply return to the Obama era rules.

Now a leading group of conservation scientists and ESA policy experts are making the case that a “rule reversal” will not be sufficient to allow the Act to do its job of protecting species. Instead, they’re calling for deeper improvements to the rules the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service use to apply the law—aiming to make the Act more effective and to gain bipartisan and industry support in an era of accelerating climate change.

The team’s analysis and policy recommendations were published on November 5 in the journal Science.

Into the foreseeable future

“It’s not enough to just go back to where we were eighteen months ago; we need reform,” says University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman, one of the co-authors on the new policy study. “We’re not talking about revising the Act itself—that legislative can of worms—but it is clear that endangered species, wildlife agencies, landowners, and citizens would all benefit by updating the regulations and policies that are used to implement the law.”

At the center of the team’s call for reform is a need for clarity.

Consider the divergent cases of the Pacific walrus and the Arctic ringed seal. Both animals face similar threats from rapid losses of sea ice and snow cover. But a 2017 decision not to protect the walrus was based on climate projections that went out only to 2060, because the Fish & Wildlife Service considered conclusions beyond this date to be “based on speculation, rather than reliable prediction.” However, five years earlier, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed the seal as “threatened” based on modeling that was presented as “reliable” out to 2100, the same time horizon as the authoritative modeling of the IPCC (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and others.

n short, the wildlife services have had an ad hoc and inconsistent approach to defining the “foreseeable future,”—and other ESA rules. “This kind of ambiguity hurts everybody,” says Ya-Wei (Jake) Li, an expert on the Endangered Species Act at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and the lead author of the new study in Science, “and invites political interference that undercuts protections for species, erodes public confidence, triggers lawsuits that are costly for all. It polarizes the ESA, a law that could enjoy far more support across the political spectrum.”

For example, once the National Marine Fisheries Service had “concluded that the extent of the of sea ice loss was reliably foreseeable to 2100, any conflicting decisions should explain why that conclusion was wrong,” write the team of scientists, including Li, Roman, David S. Wilcove at Princeton University, Timothy Male at the Environmental Policy Innovation Center, and Holly Doremus at the University of California, Berkeley. “What is required is consistency and transparency.”

New approaches

The federal wildlife services, the team argues, should clarify the principles that guide their decisions, provide more public access to the data behind decisions, and give clear explanations of how they exercise discretion in offering—or not offering—protections to threatened species.

In a puzzling case, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, using a so-called ESA 4(d) rule, offered the Gunnison sage grouse full protections on agricultural lands, but the related lesser prairie chicken was exempted from similar protections on the same kind of farmland. “The agency may have had valid reasons for this discrepancy, but they never publicly explained those reasons,” the team writes.

“The recommendations that we’re focusing on provide the public with more transparency—and transparency alone can really help reduce a lot of the controversy” that has mired the ESA in recent years, says Jake Li. “But we’re also advocating for new ideas that would bring better science and more flexible approaches to the decisions the wildlife services make.”

For example, in the wake of this presidential election, a new package of regulation and funding for working with landowners—to offer tax incentives for easements and land donations—could unlock recovery opportunities for the many threatened plants and animals that persist on private lands. And investments in remote sensing and other technologies could give a better view of how climate change will impact the nearly 2,400 species protected by the ESA.

“A strong majority of Americans supports the Endangered Species Act and sees wildlife and wild plants as a public good,” says Joe Roman, a professor in UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment & Natural Resources and Gund Institute for Environment. “So what will it take to help landowners protect these species? Think of what could happen if we got federal decisionmakers, governors, conservationists, industry leaders to sit down together to help both species and landowners. With the right leadership, you could get broad bipartisan support to make the Endangered Species Act an even better tool for preventing the loss of biodiversity.”

******

U.S. formally exits Paris climate change pact amid election uncertainty

The Associated Press, NBC News, November 4, 2020

BERLIN — The United States on Wednesday formally left the Paris Agreement, a global pact forged five years ago to avert the threat of catastrophic climate change.

The move, long threatened by President Donald Trump and triggered by his administration a year ago, further isolates the U.S in the world but has no immediate impact on international efforts to curb global warming.

Some 189 countries remain committed to the 2015 Paris accord, which aims to keep the increase in average temperatures worldwide “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), ideally no more than 1.5C (2.7 F), compared to pre-industrial levels. A further six countries have signed, but not ratified the pact.

Scientists say that any rise beyond 2 degrees Celsius could have a devastating impact on large parts of the world, raising sea levels, stoking tropical storms and worsening droughts and floods.

The Paris accord requires countries to set their own voluntary targets for reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. The only binding requirement is that nations have to accurately report on their efforts.

The United States is the world’s second biggest emitter after China of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and its contribution to cutting emissions is seen as important, but it is not alone in the effort. In recent weeks, China, Japan and South Korea have joined the European Union and several other countries in setting national deadlines to stop pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

While the Trump administration has shunned federal measures to cut emissions, states, cities and businesses in the United States have pressed ahead with their own efforts.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he favors signing the U.S. back up to the Paris accord.

With the United States outside the pact, it will be harder for the rest of the world to reach the agreed goals.

******

The Kentucky Standard

Threatened bat species found at Nazareth

Discovery part of ongoing biological survey

By Kacie Goode, November 3, 2020

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth received an early Halloween surprise when six species of bat — including three threatened species — were discovered on the Bardstown campus. The discovery is part of an ongoing series of biological surveys of the campus — conducted by experts and volunteers — to count and document all plants and animals inhabiting the land.

“The Sisters have never done a formal biological survey of the land, so this year has been a year of surveys,” said Carolyn Cromer, Nazareth’s ecological sustainability official. We’ve had amphibians, reptiles, birds, bats, snails, plants. And we are going to do small mammals and hopefully insects next year.”

Biologist Gary Libby recently visited the campus to survey bat populations as part of the effort. During his visit, Libby discovered several species of bats present at Nazareth, including the federally threatened Gray bat.

“There are no caves or cave-like dwellings at the study area (Nazareth), so these bats are likely coming from outside of Nazareth to forage and drink in the area,” Libby reported. “Gray bats are known to fly long distances during the night, sometimes as far as 30 to 40 miles.”

Little Brown bats and Tricolor bats are also among the species Libby believes is using the campus to forage and possibly roost. Both of those species are candidates for federal listing as well, as their populations decline due to illness and habitat disturbances.

“We have a wonderful habitat for bats because we have mature forests,” Cromer said. “They’ve been allowed to grow for close to 100 years without disturbance and that has allowed those forest ecosystems to be diverse and pretty rich in habitat. We have had many indications of that through the species we are finding.”

The survey included carefully trapping and releasing the bats as well as using devices to monitor ultrasonic echolocation calls to help identify species.

Others documented during the survey include the Big Brown bat, Eastern Red bat and Hoary bat. Cromer added the campus might also provide habitat for the Indiana bat, an endangered species, though they were not picked up in the initial survey.

“They often nest in shagbark hickory,” she said of the Indiana bat. “We have lots of shagbark hickory.”

Cromer said the SCNs were excited to learn of the discovery and want to continue managing the land to protect them.

“The goal for us is really to do more to help provide habitat for these species that are becoming increasingly driven out of their habitat by development,” Cromer said. To help, Nazareth is in the process of removing invasive species from the woods, which can pose a major threat to the health of the forest. They are also working to cull the deer population.

“Nelson County has a very high deer population and when it gets too high, deer are (feeding) on tree seedlings and that threatens forest regeneration,” she said.

Mostly, though, it’s what Nazareth is not doing that will help maintain the land.

“We are not logging the forest and we are not encroaching upon the forest,” Cromer explained, adding that in some areas, they’ve stopped mowing and are working to expand the woodlands.

This work is part of the SCN’s longstanding land stewardship over the last 200 years, but it is also part of a newer initiative called Visioning for Nazareth. The Sisters are discerning what they want the future of the campus to be, including how the land is used.

“Knowing what we have and managing it for those species that call Nazareth home is increasingly important,” Cromer said, and the surveys this year have showcased what the campus can offer.

“We found wetlands we didn’t know existed, we found woodland ponds we didn’t know existed,” Cromer said.

In a separate survey, Libby also discovered spotted salamander living near a man-made woodland pond on the campus, which was dug in the 1940s to water cattle.

As development continues in areas around Nazareth, director of communications Diane Curtis said providing a wildlife oasis becomes even more crucial.

“Neighborhoods are popping up” and land is being cleared to build homes, Curtis said. “Bardstown is just booming, and with all that growth, there really is a concerted effort by the Sisters to protect the green space they have by doing these surveys” and other conservation practices.

Another effort is taking place at the front of the campus property, where the Sisters are attempting to convert areas previously leased out to farmers into prairie habitats. This includes planting three native grasses and nine types of wildflowers. This flora will attract a variety of insects, including pollinators, and other wildlife to the area.

Cromer said the SCNs have called Nazareth home for nearly 200 years, but they share that home with thousands of different plants and animals. That message is beginning to resonate as the Sisters think about the land in a way they never have before: Understanding they are cohabitants.

“It’s a way of thinking I wish more people, more humans, would engage in because it might make a difference in the decisions we make about how we treat the land,” Cromer said.

******

OPB News

Washington to manage wolves within borders after federal delisting

By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS (Associated Press)

SPOKANE, Wash. Nov. 2, 2020/ The state of Washington will take over management of most wolves within its borders early next year after the U.S. government announced Thursday that gray wolves in the Lower 48 states would be delisted from the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife and Indian tribes have for years been managing a growing population of wolves in the eastern third of the state. The DFW often finds itself in the middle of conflicts between ranchers and environmental groups when wolves eat livestock.

That is likely to continue after the state and tribes take oversight of all gray wolves in Washington on Jan. 4, 2021.

“The department’s management of wolves in Washington makes it seem as though its mission is to preserve the livestock industry rather than conserving native wildlife,″ said Amaroq Weiss of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The state’s relentless killing of wolves in Eastern Washington for conflicts with livestock is a totally ineffective method of conflict prevention, and runs counter to sound science,″ Weiss said. “Now, with the removal of federal protections from the remainder of the state, we fear the department’s misguided approach will simply expand.”

Agriculture interests are pleased.

“This is great news for Washington state where our wolf population has reached recoverable levels,” Mike LaPlant, president of the Washington Farm Bureau, said of the Trump administration decision.

Numerous environmental groups say they plan to sue the government over the delisting.

“We absolutely plan to challenge it,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife. “We believe they’ve declared victory too soon.”

Of the 26 known wolf packs in Washington, 21 reside in the eastern third of the state where wolves have not been federally protected since 2013. Thursday’s decision to delist gray wolves applies to the western two-thirds of the state, where far fewer of the animals live.

“The state of Washington has facilitated wolf recovery for more than a decade and is well-prepared to be the management authority for wolves statewide,” the DFW said, adding it would continue to work on “reducing conflict between wolves and livestock.″

In addition, the federal government will monitor the state’s wolves for five years to ensure the continued success of the species and that it continues to meet the federal recovery objectives.

The DFW noted that gray wolves will remain listed as endangered under state law throughout the state. But that hasn’t stopped the agency from wiping out several wolf packs in the past decade for preying on livestock, drawing heavy criticism from environmental groups.

After some wolves were killed by the state earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in September directed the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission to draft new rules governing when the DFW can kill wolves involved in conflicts with livestock.

Since 2008, the state’s wolf population has grown by an average of 28% per year. The state counted 108 wolves in 21 packs last year and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation reported an additional 37 wolves in five packs during the same period.

Wolves were wiped out in Washington by the 1930s at the behest of the livestock industry. The animals began migrating back into the state from Idaho and British Columbia early in this century. Wolf recovery is popular with many urban residents of the state, but not as much in rural areas where the wolves live.

The Trump administration’s Thursday decision was hailed by Republican U.S. Rep Dan Newhouse, who represents central Washington in Congress.

“The gray wolf is an Endangered Species Act success story,” Newhouse said in a press release. “The federal government is recognizing the effectiveness of locally-led conservation efforts, basing management decisions on sound science – instead of politics.”

Environmental groups are not so sure.

“This is yet another example of the Trump administration ignoring science,” said Lindsay Larris, of WildEarth Guardians. “From climate change denial, to their gross mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, to rollbacks of environmental safeguards protecting clean air and water, this administration has proven time and time again that they’re only in it for themselves, even if it means ignoring and denying the facts.”

Prior attempts to weaken protections for gray wolves have been overturned by federal judges.

******

E&E News/ SUPREME COURT

Barrett makes debut in endangered species battle

Pamela King, E&E News reporter, November 2, 2020

On her first day of Supreme Court oral arguments, Justice Amy Coney Barrett searched for a legal test to determine what documents that inform EPA’s and other agencies’ rulemakings should be available to the public.

Her first case on the high court came today in oral arguments in Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, a fight between environmentalists and the federal government over a request to disclose a 2013 draft biological opinion and other documents supporting a 2014 EPA rule for cooling water intake structures at power plants.

Piggybacking on a question from Justice Brett Kavanaugh about whether federal agencies can evade the Freedom of Information Act by simply stamping “draft” on certain documents, Barrett asked a government attorney how a court might decide which records should be subject to disclosure.

“What other factors would a court consider?” the justice, who was confirmed last week, asked during this morning’s arguments, conducted via telephone due to the pandemic.

Assistant solicitor general Matthew Guarnieri, representing the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA Fisheries, suggested that the courts look at the treatment of a document in an agency process. There are circumstances, he said, in which lower courts have found that the federal government’s labeling of a document as a draft might be pretextual.

But that is not the case here, he said.

“There can be no real dispute on the facts of the case that the decisionmakers at the services did not make a final decision in 2013,” Guarnieri said.

Sierra Club managing attorney Sanjay Narayan told the court that the government’s stance essentially boils down to: “It’s privileged if we say it’s privileged.”

As a result of the 2013 draft biological opinion, which said that a proposed version of the EPA rule would jeopardize vulnerable species, EPA finalized a different version of the regulation.

The opinion is “complete and reached a conclusion,” Narayan said.

Justice Clarence Thomas was curious about the benefit to the Sierra Club of gaining access to the draft biological opinion now that EPA’s proposed rule — the regulation that the draft document addressed — is now void.

“What information are you trying to get?” Thomas asked.

Narayan said the final EPA rule allows for permit-by-permit determinations of harm to endangered and threatened species. He said the Sierra Club would like to know that those permitting decisions account for concerns raised by FWS and NOAA Fisheries in the 2013 draft opinion.

Industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation have also thrown their weight behind the Sierra Club’s calls for greater transparency (Greenwire, Oct. 30).

Like Barrett, the other justices spent much of the morning grappling with the legal test for determining when federal officials improperly invoked FOIA Exemption 5, which protects deliberative and predecisional records. They questioned both sides on the limits for withholding and disclosing documents.

The Supreme Court held in the 1997 case Bennett v. Spear that biological opinions, while they are technically advisory, have powerful influence over agency actions and are therefore reviewable by the courts, said Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“Why doesn’t a draft opinion have the same coercive effect?” she asked Guarnieri.

The government lawyer argued that Bennett dealt with final opinions, rather than draft versions.

In his rebuttal, Guarnieri told the court that until a final biological opinion is signed, the government should be able to keep that consultation under wraps.

“Any exceptions should be rare,” he said.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Announcement—November 2, 2020

Alabama Mussel Proposed for Endangered Species Act Protection, Protected Critical Habitat

BIRMINGHAM, Ala.— In response to a petition and 2016 lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect the Canoe Creek clubshell under the Endangered Species Act, with 36 river miles of proposed critical habitat in St. Clair and Etowah counties.

The Canoe Creek clubshell (Pleurobema athearni) is a freshwater mussel that lives only in Big Canoe Creek and Little Canoe Creek West, tributaries of the Coosa River in northeast Alabama.

“North America has already lost 35 species of freshwater mussels to extinction, so it’s great news that the Canoe Creek clubshell is finally getting Endangered Species Act protection,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “With a recovery plan and captive restoration program, the clubshell won’t become the next irreplaceable wild animal we lose forever.”

The Center, along with Alabama Rivers Alliance and other allies, first petitioned for protection of the mussel in 2010. The species is threatened by runoff from agriculture and forestry, water pollution from development around Ashville, Springville and Steele, and severe drought events from global climate change. There are two populations, but they are separated from each other by the H. Neely Henry Reservoir.

The Canoe Creek clubshell was first described in 2006, when scientists realized it differs from other similar species it had been grouped with historically. Only 25 mussels were found in recent surveys, and all were aging adults, indicating there’s no successful reproduction. Adult mussels live up to 35 years.

The Canoe Creek clubshell is about 3.5 inches long, with a dark-yellow to brown outer shell, an iridescent mother-of-pearl white inner shell and a salmon-orange soft body. It reproduces by releasing its larvae into little packets that look like fish prey items, but when fish eat them, the larvae attach onto the fish’s gills until they transform into tiny mussels and drop onto the creek bottom to begin life on their own. The Canoe Creek clubshell’s host fish are the Alabama shiner, tricolor shiner and striped shiner.

“Alabama should be just as proud of its diversity of freshwater animals as it is of its football team,” said Curry. “Alabama has more species of freshwater mussels than any other state, and mussels are important for water quality and in the food web. Roll Clubshell!”

The southeastern United States is the world center of freshwater mussel diversity, but the region has already lost 23 species to extinction. Nearly 70% of mussels are at risk of extinction due to dams, historical collection to make buttons, water pollution and climate change.

******

Los Angeles Times

Rescue operations underway in the San Gabriel Mountains for rare species marooned by wildfire

By LOUIS SAHAGÚN, NOV. 1, 2020

Just weeks after the Bobcat fire ravaged the San Gabriel Mountains, state and federal biologists are racing to salvage as many federally endangered species as possible before storms could inundate the animals’ last outposts with mud and debris.

Creating clouds of ashes and dust with every step in the shadows of skeletal trees scorched by the blaze, eight U.S. Geological Survey scientists on Wednesday made their way down to a vein of water at the bottom of steep Little Rock Canyon, armed with long-handled nets, backpack coolers and emergency rescue permits.

“This may be the last time in my life that I see wild mountain yellow-legged frogs in the last best place for them,” said biologist Robert Fisher, gazing at dozens of tadpoles browsing on algae at the bottom of a granite tub.

“This whole area,” he added in a voice full of sadness, “will soon be buried in mud.”

It was one of several hastily arranged search and rescue operations underway or in the planning stages across the ancestral habitats of many rare species that could be wiped out by winter rains in the fire zone: Southern California mountain yellow-legged frogs, Pacific pond turtles and such fish as Santa Ana suckers, speckled dace and arroyo chubs.

The efforts have presented state and federal wildlife authorities with daunting challenges that could leave some animals that are fully protected by law marooned indefinitely.

For example, the Geological Survey biologists managed to expedite the issuance of special permits to capture 30 adult yellow-legged frogs and 200 tadpoles from a milelong stretch of Little Rock Creek, about 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. But they were hard-pressed to find suitable locations elsewhere in which to release them, or facilities that had the space or ability to accommodate the basic needs of the unusually sensitive alpine amphibians even on a temporary basis.

“We have the support of all the responsible wildlife agencies,” said Adam Backlin, who led the Little Rock Creek rescue. “But almost every zoo we contacted was already at capacity and unable to help.”

Meanwhile, they were running out of time to complete the extensive research, preparations and permitting processes needed to translocate endangered frogs to alternative sites where they might thrive: cascading streams of cool, clean water devoid of predatory trout and bullfrogs and spared by the Bobcat and Station fires, which together charred 275,000 acres in just 11 years.

Cutting their losses, the biologists decided to limit their catch Wednesday to 50 tadpoles that would be transported in an aging sedan — before rush hour, if possible — to holding tanks at the Los Angeles Zoo, which had relocated some of its own menagerie in order to make room for the amphibian refugees.

The 30 adult frogs were to be carried on foot, in backpack coolers, across eight miles of roadless wilderness to a remote tributary of the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.

But a cold snap in the mountains earlier this week had sent the frogs into hiding. By the end of an exhaustive search, the scientists were able to catch only 15 of the estimated 100 frogs clinging to existence in the canyon.

Separately, state and federal biologists a week ago moved 150 federally endangered unarmored threespine stickleback fish that had been rescued after the 2016 Sand fire burned through Soledad Canyon in northwestern L.A. County and released in carefully selected areas of the Angeles National Forest.

Now, with those locations threatened by mudslides in new burn areas, the fish were returned, yet again, to Soledad Canyon, which over the past four years has become suitable for repopulation.

Critics of that recent recovery effort and others in the San Gabriels include Ileene Anderson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity, who described them as “a ridiculous way to try to recover a critically imperiled species that have been endangered for decades” due to urbanization, disease, drought, wildfires and nonnative predators such as crayfish, bullfrogs and trout.

“This hasty recovery plan provides no guidance for the stickleback’s new long-term reality of climate-change-driven drought and wildfire that create massive erosion and fill in streams,” she said. “Instead, the wildlife agencies are in panicky triage, with no real plan except to move the fish from one stream to the next to the next as their habitat dries up or fills in.”

The Center for Biological Diversity on Wednesday filed notice of its intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to force it to update what it claims is “an inadequate, 35-year-old recovery plan for a tiny, scale-less fish called the unarmored threespine stickleback.”

Still to be determined is what, if anything, can be done to save descendants of the estimated 23,000 rare native fish captured in the upper San Gabriel River in 2006 and relocated near the confluence of the West Fork of the San Gabriel River in order to make way for a massive sediment removal project in the San Gabriel Reservoir, about 18 miles north of Azusa.

Los Angeles County flood-control authorities are committed to protecting communities downstream by steering the impending flow of debris away from critical infrastructure, including Cogswell Dam, which controls the flow in an eight-mile stretch of the West Fork and helps recharge the metropolitan aquifer in the flatland below.

In the meantime, state and federal wildlife agencies are finalizing plans to rescue an isolated population of western pond turtles, a state-listed species of special concern, from a remote tributary of the West Fork that runs through the heart of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

“After frantic negotiations in recent days,” Fisher said, “the San Diego Zoo has agreed to move 21 pond turtles of unknown origin that it had been keeping in holding tanks to the Santa Ana Zoo.

“That enabled the San Diego Zoo to take in the wild pond turtles we hope to recover,” he added. “On Thursday, we received special permits from state wildlife authorities to proceed.”

Wildfire is a natural ecological phenomenon, biologists say. Decades ago, when hundreds of miles of streams throughout the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains were packed with pond turtles, fist-sized yellow-legged and red-legged frogs and Santa Ana suckers, they survived over time by recolonizing from neighboring populations.

Today, they are holed up in hard-to-reach streams, reduced by drought to ribbons of shrinking ponds and surrounded for miles in all directions by blackened skeletons of oak and pine trees.

The water rippled cold around the biologists’ knees Wednesday as they scooped up tadpoles from the pools at the base of mountains burnt to bare soil.

Giving the crew an approving nod, Fisher said, “We’re trying, man, we’re trying.”

******

The Guardian

October 31, 2020

Huge spider assumed extinct in Britain discovered on MoD training site

Described as ‘gorgeous’ by the man who found it, the great fox-spider has not been seen since 1993

One of Britain’s largest spiders has been discovered on a Ministry of Defence training ground in Surrey having not been seen in the country for 27 years.

The great fox-spider is a night-time hunter, known for its speed and agility, as well as its eight black eyes which give it wraparound vision. The critically endangered spider was assumed extinct in Britain after last being spotted in 1993 on Hankley Common in Surrey. The two-inch-wide (5cm) arachnid had previously also been spotted at two sites in Morden Heath in Dorset. These are the only three areas in Britain, all in the comparatively warmer south, where it has been recorded.

Mike Waite from Surrey Wildlife Trust discovered the elusive spider after two years of trawling around after dark looking for it on the Surrey military site, which the MoD is not naming for security reasons.

“As soon as my torch fell on it I knew what it was. I was elated. With coronavirus there have been lots of ups and downs this year, and I also turned 60, so it was a good celebration of that. It’s a gorgeous spider, if you’re into that kind of thing,” said Waite.

The great fox-spider is one of the largest members of the wolf-spider family, hunting spiders that do not use webs to catch prey. It chases down beetles, ants and smaller spiders before pouncing on them and injecting deadly venom. The prey is immobilised and its internal organs liquefy. The spider – which poses no risk to humans – feeds using fang-bearing jaws.

M0D sites are often kept open because military exercises cause minor disturbance to the vegetation, which stops succession of shrubs and trees. Waite used aerial photos to find bare sandy patches, which suit the spider’s ambush-style hunting techniques, and spotted the first one next to Jeep tracks. In total, he found several males, one female and some unidentifiable immature spiderlings.

Nick Baker, TV presenter and president of the British Arachnological Society, described the discovery as “the most exciting thing to happen in wildlife circles for quite some time”. He said: “It’s about as handsome as a spider gets, it’s big and now it’s officially a member of the British fauna again.”

The great fox-spider, a native species, was first found 120 years ago and has been seen only a handful of times since. Despite their size, the spiders are difficult to spot because they are mainly nocturnal and have effective mottled brown camouflage. During winter, they dig burrows under rocks and line them with silk, going into a sort of hibernation state.

The MoD heathland where the spider was found is managed by the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust. It is recognised as a nationally important site for populations of rare birds, reptiles and invertebrates, especially sand lizards, smooth snakes, Dartford warbler and nightjar. MoD sites are often good for wildlife because they are protected from human activity and are large enough to give wildlife space to move.

The great fox-spider likes warmer climates and is more common on the European mainland, particularly on coastal sand dunes in Holland and Denmark.

“It makes me think how hard have we looked for it on our coasts? Have we been looking hard enough?” said Waite, who believes the spider could be more widespread than people think.

Waite is now conducting nocturnal great fox-spider hunting expeditions on neighbouring sites and hopes one day to write a scientific paper about them. “It seems to be the most important thing I’ve done in a long career. It has inspired me to make something of it and find out as much as I can about this species in the UK,” he said.

 ******

Courthouse News Service

California Sued for Failing to Protect Shorebird From Off-Roaders

Conservationists blasted California over its continued refusal to protect the endangered snowy plover from being crushed by dune buggies and ATVs at Oceano Dunes State Park.

October 29, 2020, BIANCA BRUNO

(CN) — A day before Oceano Dunes State Park is set to reopen following a monthslong closure during the Covid-19 pandemic, conservationists sued California on Thursday on claims of violating the Endangered Species Act by failing to prevent an endangered shorebird from being crushed to death by off-road vehicles on the beach.

Oceano Dunes, which includes 1,500 acres of sand dunes and six miles of beachfront in San Luis Obispo County, is the only California beach which allows off-road vehicle recreation. Like most public parks, it has been mostly closed during 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is set to reopen Friday, with phase one allowing up to 1,000 “street legal” vehicles including jeeps and trucks on the dunes from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

In a complaint filed in the Central District of California on Thursday, the Center for Biological Diversity said allowing vehicles onto the sand after dusk is particularly dangerous for endangered western snowy plovers who remain on the beach after breeding season ends in September.

The Pacific Coast population of snowy plover has been listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act since 1993.

“Nesting generally occurs in Central and Southern California between March and September,” the Center for Biological Diversity claims in the 12-page complaint.

“During fall and winter, outside of the nesting season, many snowy plovers continue to inhabit these beaches and remain at risk from off-road vehicle use on beaches where they are foraging,” the group claims.

It’s during the fall and winter — after the State Parks Department has removed temporary fencing installed to protect birds during nesting season — that the most snowy plovers are killed by motorized vehicle activities on the beach, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

In 2016, four western snowy plovers were found dead in tire tracks between October and November, according to an annual report on Oceano Dunes prepared by State Parks cited in the complaint.

The Endangered Species Act requires an “incidental take permit” for activities that can cause harm, injury or death to listed animals or destroys their habitats. But the California Department of Parks and Recreation does not have the federal permit to allow continued off-road vehicle recreation at Oceano Dunes.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act in 2017 but held off a few years while waiting for a habitat conservation plan by State Parks to get approved.

So far, the plan is still in the works despite direction from the California Coastal Commission and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service ordering State Parks to mitigate western snowy plover deaths at Oceano Dunes.

“We don’t think they are operating in good faith at this point,” Center for Biological Diversity senior conservation advocate Jeff Miller said in an interview.

“I don’t understand why State Parks continues to go in the opposite direction they’ve been told to go in by Fish and Wildlife and the Coastal Commission, which have recommended that seasonal fencing be permanent,” Miller added.

Reopening the beach to vehicles following the months-long pandemic closure is particularly troubling to the Center for Biological Diversity and other conservationists as the snowy plovers took advantage of the beach closures and have expanded their nesting and foraging area in the vehicles’ absence.

“The current status quo on the ground at Oceano Dunes is that snowy plovers are nesting and foraging more widely along the beach and foredunes at Oceano Dunes than they have in years where off-road motorized vehicles were riding on the beach and the dunes and those and other motorized vehicles were parking on the beach and foredunes,” the center claims.

In an email, State Parks declined to comment on pending litigation but said it will continue its plan to reopen Oceano Dunes and adjacent Pismo Beach starting Friday.

The Center for Biological Diversity wants a federal judge to declare the state is violating the Endangered Species Act and to bar continued off-road vehicle use at Oceano Dunes without an “incidental take permit” issued by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

(The California Natural Resources Agency, also a named defendant in the complaint, did not respond to a request for comment by press time. An email seeking comment from off-road advocacy group Friends of Oceano Dunes was also not returned by press time.)

******

NPR

Gray Wolves To Be Removed From Endangered Species List

October 29, 2020

Gray wolves, a species that has long been vilified and admired, will no longer receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in the Lower 48 U.S. states, the Trump administration announced Thursday.

The long-anticipated move is drawing praise from those who want to see the iconic species managed by state and tribal governments, and harsh criticism from those who believe federal protections should remain in place until wolves inhabit more of their historical range. Gray wolves used to exist across most of North America.

“After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” said Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, announcing the delisting, which will revert management of wolf populations to local wildlife agencies.

Federal wildlife officials are hailing the move as a success story, similar to endangered species recovery stories such as the bald eagle and American alligator.

After being nearly wiped clean from the contiguous U.S. by the mid-20th century, there are now more than 6,000 gray wolves in the Lower 48 states, largely clustered in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes region.

Critics are calling the move premature, though, and are already promising to sue.

“This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery,” said Kristen Boyles, an attorney for Earthjustice. “Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast.”

Some critics are portraying the move as another environmental attack by the Trump administration, which has rolled back dozens of environmental regulations, including protections for endangered species and migratory birds. But wolves have a complicated history that doesn’t fit cleanly into the bipartisan rancor that now dominates U.S. environmental policies.

After being hunted, trapped, poisoned and harassed to the point of near extirpation in the contiguous U.S., all gray wolves south of Canada were given federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in 1978.

Under that protection, their numbers slowly recovered in the Great Lakes region, and in 1995 federal wildlife officials reintroduced gray wolves to central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park, where their population has since flourished.

In 2013, the Obama administration also proposed to delist gray wolves, saying that the species had rebounded to the point where they were no longer at risk of extinction and should be managed by state and tribal governments.

A couple of years earlier, wolf populations in Montana and Idaho were delisted by a congressional budget rider, authored by a Democrat and Republican senator in each of those states who were pressured by agricultural and sportsmen groups. Wolves are an apex predator that, at times, kill livestock. Subsequent lawsuits saw gray wolves get delisted, relisted and delisted again in Wyoming.

Today, state wildlife agencies manage wolf populations in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, and hunting of the species is permitted.

Similar hunting seasons are expected in some Midwestern states if the national delisting survives the anticipated court challenges, and wildlife groups contend that hunting seasons will limit wolves’ ability to repopulate other parts of the country.

Randy Johnson, a large carnivore specialist for Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources, told Wisconsin Public Radio this month that if wolf management fell back to the state, it would use all of the tools available to find a balance “between a healthy and sustainable wolf population, but also addressing those social concerns and livestock concerns when and where needed.”

******

The Guardian

Trump to gut protections in Alaska’s Tongass forest, the ‘lungs of the country’

October 28, 2020

The Trump administration has announced it will lift protections in Alaska’s Tongass national forest, permitting logging in the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest.

Experts call the Tongass the “lungs of the country” and one of nation’s last remaining bulwarks against climate change. Located on the southern coast of Alaska, it is made up of centuries-old western cedar, hemlock and Sitka spruce trees, and is home to immense biodiversity, including the largest-known concentration of bald eagles.

“It’s ironic that this administration is trying to tout this president’s environmental record when [Trump is] unwinding environmental safeguards all over the place,” said Ken Rait, project director of the Pew Charitable Trust, who two decades ago helped win the protections that Donald Trump is now undoing. “And lifting protections on the Tongass, the nation’s flagship forest, is about the most egregious of all of them.”

The administration’s decision ignores overwhelming public support for keeping protections in place on the Tongass, including resolutions from six south-east Alaska tribes and six south-east Alaska city councils against lifting protections. Of the public comments solicited on the plan, 96% were in favor of keeping protections in places.

Tribes also petitioned the government to protect customary cultural use areas of the Tongass. “All other avenues to protect our homelands have been exhausted, to little avail,” they wrote in their petition.

The Tongass has been safeguarded since 2001 by a “roadless rule”, which prohibits road construction, road reconstruction and timber harvesting in designated areas of national forests. It barred the construction of roads on some 58.5m acres, and in addition to the environmental benefits, the rule was motivated to protect US taxpayers from the costs of maintaining a web of US Forest Service roads “long enough to go to the moon and most of the way back with no way to maintain them”, said Rait.

Tourism has soared, and the forest support some of the last productive wild salmon runs in the world, and a billion-dollar commercial fishing industry. A 2019 scientific analysis showed that the Tongass absorbs more carbon than any other national forest, on a level with the world’s most dense terrestrial carbon sinks in South America.

After a brief private meeting between the president and the Alaska governor, Mike Dunleavy, aboard Air Force One in June 2019, Trump ordered his administration to lift all protections from the forest.

According to Rait, “between taxpayer expenses and the fact that the majority of logs cut on the Tongass will be exported to China and other Pacific Rim nations, today’s decision isn’t going to have robust economic benefits to anyone in this country.”

A recent report from the Center for Sustainable Economy documented taxpayer losses of nearly $2bn a year from federal logging programs, largely due to the fact that demand for timber has been flagging nationally.

“The Tongass is America’s Amazon,” Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement. “This presidentially directed move to gut roadless protections for our nation’s largest and most biologically rich national forest is a calamity for our climate, for wildlife and for the outdoor recreation economy of south-east Alaska.”

******

goAnacortes (Mt. Vernon, WA)

Department seeks comment on proposed whale watching rules

October 27, 2020

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is seeking public feedback on two proposals drafted on regulating motorized commercial whale watching, it announced in a press release Wednesday.

The proposals are aimed at reducing noise impacts caused by motorized commercial whale watching traffic on the Southern Resident orca populations, which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

Option A would limit the watching season of the Southern Resident orcas from July through September, from Friday through Monday and restrict the amount of commercial watching vessels with a group of whales to three.

Option B would do the same but also add a “shoulder season” of May through June and October through November, restricting watching days to Saturday and Sunday and allowing one vessel per group of Southern Resident killer whales.

Both proposals require motorized commercial whale watching companies to be licensed, have trainings and by 2022 require vessels to have real-time location tracking. Both options will create a year-round “no-go” zone restricted to whale watching on the western side of San Juan Island, which is an orca foraging area.

The Southern Resident orca population totals 74 whales as of October, according to the Center for Whale Research. There are 24 in J pod, 17 in K pod, and 33 in L pod, the center reports. The resident orcas’ population was halved in the 1960s and 1970s by captures for marine parks and, later, further reduced by environmental stresses and diminishing numbers of king salmon, which make up the bulk of their diet. It was named an endangered species in 2005, but has not recovered its numbers.

Because the original draft of Option A did not include language restricting watching to certain days, comments on allowing for daily viewing will also be heard, according to a following press release.

The public can submit written feedback online before Nov. 13 to be heard by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Submissions can be sent on the Fish and Wildlife website, http://www.wdfw.wa.gov. Public comments about the proposals can also be made during a virtual hearing on Dec. 4-5.

******

National Geographic

Why cracking down on the shark fin trade may be easier than we thought

 BY DAVID SHIFFMAN, OCTOBER 27, 2020

Every year the fins of up to 73 million sharks, ranging from endangered species such as scalloped hammerhead sharks and broadfin sharks to more common species from sustainable fisheries, are traded and sold to make shark fin soup, a traditional Asian delicacy. A common perception is that much of the fin trade comes from sharks caught in distant international waters—where rules governing fishing are a little less clear and a lot harder to enforce, complicating conservation efforts.

But a new study, published today in the journal Biology Letters, upends that notion by concluding that many of the fins found in markets in Asia, North America, and South America come from sharks caught closer to shore—within the territorial waters of just a handful of countries. That proximity, they say, may make it easier to control the shark fin trade than previously thought.

“If sharks are caught within a country’s exclusive economic zone [EEZ] and not in international waters, that’s potentially good news, because what happens in an EEZ is within somebody’s control,” says Kyle Van Houtan, the chief scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and lead author of the study. “It’s the sole responsibility of that one country.”

Van Houtan’s team used DNA analysis of samples taken from fins at fish markets combined with habitat modeling to pinpoint shark species and their origins.

“You can get a lot of insight about what species a shark fin comes from and where that shark lived, just by taking a small sample from an unlabeled fin in a market,” he says of improvements in DNA analysis, which has not only has gotten better at identifying species but also can match unique genetic signatures of samples to the known signatures of regional populations. “We’re finding a whole different group of coastal, rarer species in the shark fin trade that wouldn’t have been detectable using the older techniques.”

The research also found that many of the open-ocean species in the fin trade, such as blue sharks, thresher sharks, and oceanic white tip sharks, were likely caught within territorial waters, not in the open oceans, as expected. Van Houtan notes that while blue sharks are an open-ocean species, for example, they’re sometimes caught off a fishing pier not far from his office in Monterey, California.

“Every species has a preferred environment, a range of temperatures where they can survive, an optimal temperature where they can thrive, [and] extremes they avoid,” says Gabriel Reygondeau, a research associate at the University of British Columbia and the team’s habitat modeling expert. By combining knowledge of species’ preferred habitats with satellite data that measures where those conditions are found, the team predicted the most likely spots for a species.

The authors looked at more than 5,000 samples of shark fins from markets in Hong Kong, Vancouver, San Francisco, and Brazil’s northern coast. While the authors stress these samples are not meant to be a complete representation of the global trade, most fins they tested came from sharks caught in the territorial waters of just a few countries. This list includes some that are known for their shark fisheries, such as Indonesia, Japan, and Mexico, and some that surprised the authors: Australia and Brazil.

Diego Cardeñosa, a postdoctoral researcher at Florida International University who was not involved with this study, says that these results support a growing realization that it’s not just open-ocean shark species that are threatened but coastal species too. It also underscores the global nature of the trade.

The study findings and Cardeñosa’s own work on the genetic tracing of threatened shark species “highlight the need for stronger fisheries management in many regions around the world,” he said in an email. “The eastern Pacific [Mexico] is clearly a major source of CITES-listed shark species into Asian shark fin markets.”

CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, regulates the cross-border wildlife trade, and species on its list are those that the international community has agreed need stricter trade controls to prevent their numbers from dropping.

The conclusion that more sharks are caught in coastal areas offers hope in the sense that those fisheries can be more easily monitored and controlled than international waters. It could also mean that smaller boats, more numerous in coastal waters and harder to track than a handful of larger seagoing vessels, may play a more significant role.

“This study underscores key considerations for conservationists—that small-scale fisheries can have a significant impact on shark populations,” Sonja Fordham, president of the nonprofit Shark Advocates International, said by email. “Both national and international safeguards are needed to achieve sustainability.”

The biggest obstacle to shark conservation, she said, remains the lack of political will to restrict shark fishing to sustainable levels. “We need a lot more voices calling on decision-makers for concrete limits based on science and the precautionary approach—and demanding accountability.”

(David Shiffman, Ph.D., is a marine conservation biologist and science writer.)

******

Greenwire

SUPREME COURT

Barrett takes oath in time for endangered species showdown

Pamela King, E&E News reporter  •  Published: Tuesday, October 27, 2020

In a private, socially distanced ceremony at the Supreme Court this morning, Amy Coney Barrett officially took her place as the 103rd justice on the bench.

Among her first orders of business: oral arguments Monday morning in a legal battle for Endangered Species Act records underpinning a 2014 EPA rule.

It’s unclear whether that dispute will split the court along ideological lines. Industry groups like the American Farm Bureau Federation are standing alongside the Sierra Club in the case to argue for more government transparency.

Still, Barrett is widely expected to move the court further to the right on issues like climate and the environment.

Barrett and other new conservative judges are “threatening to strip away our right to breathe clean air, drink clean water and make personal decisions about our healthcare,” Leslie Fields, Sierra Club’s national director of policy advocacy and legal, said in a statement today.

Ideology isn’t a perfect indicator of how judges would rule in specific cases. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh have all voted with the court’s liberal wing in recent decisions that are thought of as favorable to environmental interests.

Still, Barrett, 48, is the court’s sixth conservative member and could dilute the power of a single justice to serve as a swing vote.

She replaces the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was known as the leader of the Supreme Court’s liberal wing and as a reliable vote for environmentalists who come before the bench.

Ginsburg died Sept. 18, launching a race by President Trump and Senate Republicans to name her replacement before Election Day.

Democrats were infuriated and cited GOP efforts to block President Obama’s pick to replace Barrett’s mentor, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, in an election year.

Barrett takes her seat after a divisive Senate battle that ended in a 52-48 vote last night in favor of her confirmation. Not a single Democrat voted to place her on the court, and one Republican voted against her.

Barrett is the first Supreme Court justice in modern history to be confirmed to the bench without bipartisan support.

Shortly after last night’s Senate vote, a group of GOP lawmakers traveled to the White House South Lawn to see Justice Clarence Thomas administer Barrett’s first oath (E&E Daily, Oct. 27).

“I know you will make us all very, very proud,” Trump told Barrett during last night’s ceremony.

Roberts administered her second oath this morning. A formal investiture ceremony will take place at a later date, a court spokeswoman said.

******

Desert Sun

Trade groups sue California to stop western Joshua tree’s threatened species listing

Mark Olalde, Palm Springs Desert Sun, Oct. 27, 2020

A month after the California Fish and Game Commission voted to make western Joshua trees a candidate for listing as a threatened species, several trade groups and a high desert town are suing to block the protections granted to the Mojave Desert’s iconic plant.

In September, the commission acted on the recommendation of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, giving the species — one of two Joshua tree varieties — legal protection for the next year while the state studies its viability. On Oct. 21, the California Construction and Industrial Materials Association, known as CalCIMA, and others brought the lawsuit in a state court in Fresno County, the trade group announced Monday.

The commission’s September decision was a major win for conservationists, as it marked the first time the California Endangered Species Act was used to shield a species threatened mainly by climate change. The last five years have been the five hottest in recorded human history, according to government scientists, and local researchers predict that rising temperatures could wipe out Joshua trees from wide swathes of Southern California by the end of the century.

If western Joshua trees are ultimately listed as threatened, the move will make it more difficult to permit projects that will kill the plants to clear land. Industrial interests have been pushing back against the listing since before it was approved.

“The California Legislature adopted very thoughtful and clear rules that the Commission must follow when determining whether a species should be protected under the California Endangered Species Act,” Robert Dugan, CalCIMA president and CEO, said in a statement announcing the litigation. “This lawsuit seeks to require the Commission to follow these rules.”

Joining CalCIMA in the lawsuit against the Fish and Game Commission are the California Business Properties Association, the California Cattlemen’s Association, the California Manufacturers and Technology Association, the High Desert Association of Realtors and the city of Hesperia.

The lawsuit is not challenging the merits of whether Joshua trees should be protected. Rather, it argues that the original petition to protect the species did not meet minimum requirements outlined under the law.

The commissioners who voted 4-0 on the petition heard and considered a number of challenges to its completeness during the public participation process. Brendan Cummings, the petition’s author and conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, was quick to blast the lawsuit.

“It’s unfortunate that these groups are wasting the court and state agencies’ time and resources on a lawsuit that ultimately will have little impact on the ultimate question of whether Joshua trees get the protection to which they are legally entitled and so desperately need,” Cummings wrote in an email to The Desert Sun. “They argue that they seek to have science-based decision-making, but what they are really doing is peddling a soft form of climate denial.”

When the commissioners voted to approved the western Joshua tree’s candidacy, they heard extensive comments from the solar industry, other business groups and local politicians in San Bernardino County who were concerned about the consequences of the listing. In response, the commission carved out 15 shovel-ready solar projects in Kern and San Bernardino counties that could move forward regardless of the plant’s new status.

At the time, Cummings said he accepted the compromise as a way to earn the commission’s votes.

These groups that are now suing “appear to see sensitive desert land as nothing more than a commodity to be bulldozed and developed into whatever provides them short-term profit,” he said.

The plaintiffs argued that they were also pro-environment but concerned that the law was being improperly applied.

“We have joined this lawsuit since the member companies of CalCIMA seek to operate in a manner of responsible stewardship on working lands, based on strict requirements of science and law, and in pursuance of societal goals and needs,” Dugan said.

Asked about the litigation, Melissa Miller-Henson, executive director of the Fish and Game Commission, said The Desert Sun’s request for comment was the first time she or the commission had heard of the lawsuit, as they had yet to be served.

The western Joshua tree’s status at the federal level will also be decided in the courts, as the environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians is fighting the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife’s refusal to list the species as threatened.

******

The Boston Globe

As their population plummets, right whales are on verge of extinction

By David Abel, October 26, 2020

In dire news for a critically endangered species, federal regulators on Monday substantially reduced their estimate for the number of remaining North Atlantic right whales.

Officials at the National Marine Fisheries Service estimated there were just 366 whales alive in January 2019 — an 11 percent decline from the year before. There are likely even fewer alive today.

Worse, the agency estimated the population included only 94 breeding females.

“Given the low population numbers … it is essential that we work together to protect every North Atlantic right whale in order to avoid extinction for this endangered species,” Colleen Coogan, the agency’s marine mammal take reduction team coordinator, wrote in an e-mail to members of a federal advisory board tasked with finding ways to reduce risks to the whales.

Since January 2019, there have been 11 right whales found dead, with four others seriously injured and likely to die.

Of the 13 whales born in the past two years, one was recently found dead and another is presumed to have died earlier this year after being hit by a vessel only hours after being born. It’s believed twice as many right whales perish each year than are found dead.

Coogan said the latest population estimate is considered preliminary. It will be reviewed further before being completed in next year’s federal assessment of the species.

“This preliminary number is lower than expected, in part, because updated photo-identification data now indicate the previous year’s estimate was too high,” she said.

Last year’s population estimate should have been 383, not 412, Coogan said.

The lowered estimate raised deep concerns among environmental advocates who have spent years trying to protect the whales.

“If we don’t act quickly, right whales are headed rapidly toward extinction,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director of The Humane Society of the United States. “It is appalling to think this nation would permit the extinction of a whale species in our waters. It’s time to stop talking and take action.”

Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the new estimate “heartbreaking and horrifying.”

This month two right whales were found severely entangled in fishing gear, one off the coast of Nantucket, she said. They are unlikely to survive.

“The Fisheries Service must take immediate, bold action to get vertical lines out of key right whale habitat areas,” she said. “The species can’t afford more deadly delays and half-measures.”

The Humane Society and the Center for Biological Diversity, as well as other groups, sued the Fisheries Service, arguing the agency violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to reduce the risk of right whales becoming entangled in millions of lobster lines in the Gulf of Maine.

Last spring, a federal judge ruled in their favor. The lines, which extend from traps on the seafloor to buoys on the surface, have in recent years been the leading cause of the whales’ deaths. Many have also died as a result of vessel strikes.

The judge gave the Fisheries Service until the end of May 2021 to issue new regulations to protect the whales. The agency has repeatedly delayed releasing the regulations, which are likely to mandate that lobstermen reduce the number of buoy lines they use.

Since its population hit a modern peak in 2011 at 481, about 218 right whales have died, an average of 24 a year, Coogan said. In that time, there have been only 103 births.

Scientists at the Fisheries Service say the species is unlikely to avoid extinction with as few as one death a year.

It’s unknown how many right whales are alive today, but Michael Moore, director of the Marine Mammal Center at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said there are likely to be fewer than 366.

“We only get to actually examine the tip of the right whale trauma iceberg,” he said. “The rest go AWOL.”

Since 2017, 31 right whales have been found dead and 11 have been seriously injured.

“The outlook is grim if we do not act today,” said Erica Fuller, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. “We know human activities are decimating this population. What will it take for federal fishery managers to finally take action?”

In her letter, Coogan said the Fisheries Service is considering whether it needs to modify its regulations to reduce vessel strikes and plans to issue regulations to reduce entanglement risks. It wasn’t clear when that would happen, and officials at the Fisheries Service declined to comment.

Coogan also said the agency is working with fishermen and others to test fishing gear that doesn’t require ropes to lift traps from the ocean floor. But environmental advocates say the Fisheries Service isn’t acting quickly enough.

In a letter to Wilbur Ross, the secretary of the US Department of Commerce, which oversees the Fisheries Service, several advocates this week called on regulators to use emergency authority to close areas to fishing.

“These new figures … add an exclamation point to this emergency,” said Peter Baker, director of northern oceans conservation at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Legal Agreement Protects California Wildlife Corridor for Santa Ana Mountain Lions

TEMECULA, Calif. (October 26, 2020)—Conservation groups approved a legal agreement today that will protect a critical wildlife corridor for local mountain lions and other wildlife, fund restoration efforts and ensure implementation of a regional conservation plan. The agreement comes after a judge issued a ruling this spring against the proposed 270-acre Altair development in Western Riverside County in California.

The agreement permanently protects the 55-acre “South Parcel” — a key part of one of the only passages left for endangered Santa Ana mountain lions to move between coastal and inland mountains. This lion population suffers from extremely low levels of genetic diversity due to limited wildlife connectivity.

“This agreement gives Santa Ana’s imperiled mountain lions a pathway to recovery,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Poorly planned highways and development have hemmed this population in, and these beautiful big cats are being driven toward extinction. Now they have a better chance at survival.”

The agreement redesigns the development to minimize impacts on mountain lions, western pond turtles and other rare species. It also requires the developer to acquire other conservation lands for regional connectivity, establishes an education program for coexistence with wildlife, and allows for the future acquisition of more of the development site for conservation.

“We thank the city of Temecula and Ambient in helping us keep the parcels next to the headwaters of the Santa Margarita River intact, thus avoiding an impact that would have almost certainly ensured the extinction of the Santa Ana lions,” said Pam Nelson of the Sierra Club’s Santa Margarita Group. “Their fragile status indicates the health of all the species in our region. This agreement will give these magnificent creatures and struggling wildlife a chance.”

The legal agreement comes as state wildlife officials are studying whether to grant the Santa Ana mountain lions and five other cougar populations permanent protections under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The Center and Mountain Lion Foundation petitioned the state to protect these populations in June 2019, and in April 2020 the state Fish and Game Commission advanced these populations to candidacy under the Act.

“With our planet in the midst of an extinction crisis, we can no longer afford business as usual. This agreement includes significant measures to help to ensure the survival of our big cats, their habitat and the diverse wildlife species the lions support,” said Debra Chase, CEO of the Foundation.

Some Southern California lion populations could disappear in little more than a decade, according to a March 2019 study. This study, involving a large team of researchers from the University of Nebraska, UCLA, University of Washington, UC Davis, National Park Service, University of Wyoming and Northern Arizona University, warns that if continuing inbreeding occurs, the Santa Ana Mountains population could go extinct within 12 years and the Santa Monica Mountains population within 15.

“This agreement marks an important step in the fight to protect the Santa Ana mountain lions, and we look forward to collaborating on future efforts to plan and fund the restoration of corridors for these big cats,” said Vicki Long of Cougar Connection.

The conservation groups filed a lawsuit against the development in January 2018, with Endangered Habitats League filing a concurrent lawsuit. In March Judge Daniel Ottolia found that the development’s environmental review failed to properly account for impacts on the Santa Ana mountain lions. The ruling also found that the development was not consistent with Temecula’s general plan or the Western Riverside County Habitat Conservation Plan.

As part of today’s agreement, the conservation groups are dismissing their legal challenge to the development.

******

YubaNet.com

Bureau of Land Management Fast-Tracks Arctic Refuge Seismic Permits

by Defenders of Wildlife

WASHINGTON, DC, October 23, 2020 – The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is reviewing a permit application for seismic exploration for the fragile coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Seismic exploration would profoundly impact this important landscape for decades, scarring the tundra, damaging critical habitat for imperiled polar bears and potentially causing the death of denning mother bears with cubs.     The proposal calls for damaging 3D seismic surveys covering over 540,000 in the coastal plain, with mobilization beginning around December 31, 2020. The equipment to be mobilized includes 12 “thumper” trucks weighing 90,000 pounds, over 40 Tucker vehicles and tractors, and 50 camp trailers supporting a crew of 180 people through the end of May. The project would require the construction of temporary airstrips on the coastal plain, supporting an unspecified number of airplane landings and takeoffs. The proposed route to the survey area would entail a 136-mile trek through critical polar bear denning habitat, and the survey work area covers thousands of additional acres of critical polar bear habitat as well. Yet BLM is offering just a two-week comment period on the proposal and plans to prepare only a brief “environmental assessment” under the National Environmental Policy Act – a document that has not been shared with the public.   Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, issued the following statement:    “The Bureau of Land Management is rushing to rubberstamp risky and destructive seismic exploration in the home of one of the most imperiled polar bear populations in the world. Despite the significant impacts this will cause, the agency is attempting a hasty and superficial review of the damage it will cause to the refuge and polar bears, which are protected by the Endangered Species Act. What’s more, the exploration company is mired in bankruptcy, with former executives arrested and charged with multi-million-dollar accounting fraud. BLM must stop its reckless push to develop in the coastal plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and listen to Americans who want this area protected for future generations.”

Background–The Risks of Seismic

*Seismic would involve crews of people and vehicles driving across the tundra dragging sled camps, building temporary infrastructure, using significant water resources, and creating extensive noise, vibration and disturbance. The 90,000-pound seismic vehicles and pulling caravans of vehicles pulled on large steel runners to establish camps would leave deep, lasting scars across the coastal plain. Impacts to wildlife and wilderness would be severe.

*Oil exploration would occur during polar bear denning season, in critical habitat for the threatened Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population. These bears only number about 900 individuals, a 50% decline over the last two decades.

*Seismic testing could frighten mother bears from their dens, leaving cubs to perish, and seismic vehicles could even run over den sites, crushing bears to death, and contributing further to species decline.

*Executives that until recently headed the company that would do the seismic work, SAExploration, are facing charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission of a four-year $100 million dollar accounting fraud, and the company filed for bankruptcy in August.

******

Alaska Public Media/PBS

State withholds Prince of Wales wolf population estimate from subsistence council

By Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska  Juneau, -October 22, 2020

An estimate of Prince of Wales Island’s wolf population is complete and in the hands of state and federal wildlife managers. But officials refused this week to share their numbers with a regional council tasked with advising subsistence hunting and trapping on federal land. This comes as a petition is pending to list Southeast’s wolves as a threatened species.

There will be an open season for wolves on Prince of Wales Island, state officials said.

That was the message delivered to the Southeast Alaska Subsistence Regional Advisory Council, which is tasked with making key decisions on hunting and trapping on federal land and has a record in supporting the state’s wolf management.

But hard limits on harvesting wolves were eliminated last year. And that allowed hunters and trappers to redouble their efforts and take a record 165 wolves on and around Prince of Wales Island — nearly as many as estimated by biologists in the state’s 2018 estimate.

That’s led conservationists to cry foul and ask that this winter’s wolf season be cancelled. Hunters say the wolf population is healthy and blame the predator for keeping down the deer herds. Another view is that deer habitat has been lost to commercial clear cuts, especially on Prince of Wales.

But before any decision on the wolf hunt is announced, the state and feds need to release their 2019 population estimate to justify their strategy. That was supposed to happen last month. But state officials have blamed COVID-19 for delays in completing laboratory and field work.

Fast forward to Tuesday’s subsistence regional advisory council meeting where members expected to digest the latest 2019 wolf data.

“I’m not going to release a population estimate and we don’t have a specific plan for the trapping season,” Regional Wildlife Supervisor Tom Schumacher of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game told the council on Tuesday. He says that data wouldn’t be released until the details of the upcoming wolf season was finalized by his agency and the U.S. Forest Service.

“What I can tell you is that the 2019 fall estimate is higher than 2018,” Schumacher continued. “And there will be a trapping season. And that trapping season will be shorter than it was last year.”

That withholding of data didn’t sit well with members of the council.

“I’m a little unclear on the population estimate, because if that’s a piece of data and it’s final, we want to hear it,” said Bob Schroeder, a member of the council from Juneau. “I can understand how releasing a management plan depends on negotiations and agreement with Forest Service, but a piece of data — we need to see it.”

The state has provided that information in the past. But that hasn’t happened this year. And won’t happen until the length of the wolf season is announced, Schumacher said.

“Given the controversy surrounding this population — the population estimate, the management strategy and the context in which those fall; it’s all part of the same thing,” Schumacher said. “At this point, the department is not comfortable releasing that number. So I’m not going to do that today.”

A public records request for last year’s wolf estimate filed by CoastAlaska early Thursday is pending.

All this comes in the context of a recent petition by conservationists to protect Southeast Alaska’s Alexander Archipelago wolves under the Endangered Species Act.

It’s the third such petition since the 1990s. But Schumacher told the council on Tuesday the scuttlebutt is that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering it with a decision expected early next year.

“Our people at headquarters who deal with Endangered Species Act matters on a regular basis telling me that the bar for accepting a petition is relatively low,” Schumacher said. “And they think that Fish and Wildlife Service will accept that petition.”

He says the federal government could list the grey wolf subspecies as threatened.

“If they make that determination, that has some pretty serious implications,” Schumacher said.

In other words, no state or federal hunting or trapping season for Southeast’s wolves. And subsistence would be regulated by a different division of the Fish and Wildlife Service that manages hunting and trapping more conservatively.

Reached during a break in the council’s meeting on Thursday, the regional advisory council’s Chair Don Hernandez says the state agency still hasn’t shared its wolf population estimate with the council.

“We want to see a well-managed wolf population that, you know, allows for hunting and trapping, if the population numbers justify it,” he told CoastAlaska.

The Point Baker resident of Prince of Wales Island says the subsistence council had supported the state’s wolf strategy. But they’re supposed to take input from regional councils which are in close contact with residents affected by these decisions. Withholding information doesn’t make that possible.

“All these decisions are going to be made in the next few weeks,” Hernandez said. “And we’re meeting now — and we don’t have the information — and they do.”

The advisory council only meets twice a year with its next meeting tentatively scheduled for March.

******

Spectrum News 1

Bobcat Fire Aftermath Threatening Endangered Species

BY LA TIMES TODAY STAFF, OCT. 22, 2020

The Bobcat fire has destroyed more than 115,000 acres between the San Gabriel and Antelope valleys, scorching one of the most abundant wildlife habitats in Los Angeles County. Biologists and forest rangers are now devising plans to rescue the rare and endangered species that have been threatened by the wildfire.

LA Times staff writer Louis Sahagun wrote about the Bobcat fire’s toll on these species and joined anchor Lisa McRee on LA Times Today with more.

Sahagun was there when biologists and rangers were analyzing the ecological damage caused by the fire.

“It’s hard to describe how important it is in terms of abundance of rare species in a location that’s 18 miles north of 18-million people. And, now it’s in imminent danger of a landslide that will encase this canyon for all those incredible animals in mud,” Sahagun said.

Biologists and rangers say they’ve already transplanted some of the species from other fire areas into the West Fork, but now they will have to move them again.

“Catastrophic historic fires have created a situation now where biologists have to race to rescue creatures and move them to another location before the next fire or the next mudslide. Many of these creatures in the West Fork have been moved from elsewhere in the belief that they would be safe there,” Sahagun said.

County flood control authorities have prioritized safeguarding critical infrastructure that provides water and safety for millions of people living in downstream communities.

“Scientists will try and rescue as many animals as they can, but the number one priority is human lives downstream. Therefore, the animals are going to end up losing,” Sahagun said.

Losing even one endangered species could change many things for the downstream communities.

“There are many species in this canyon, western pond turtles, rosy boas, ring-necked snakes, yellow-legged frogs, and many species of protected fish are going to be wiped out,” Sahagun said.

Along with amphibians and fish, other species like Nelson’s bighorn sheep, mule, deer, mountain lions, and foxes struggle to find food and shelter in the middle of the destruction and ashes.

 “I have been covering fires for decades, and I have never seen the destruction, the desolation on the slopes overlooking the West Fork of the San Gabriel River — they are burned to bare dirt. And, all of that dirt is going to come into the canyon. It’s a remarkable and heartbreaking swathe of devastation,” Sahagun said.

******

PBS News Hour

 Lawsuit says Trump administration ignored risk of huge spills to endangered species

Oct. 21, 2020

NEW ORLEANS — Environmental groups asked a federal court Wednesday to throw out the Trump administration’s assessment of oil and gas activity’s likely effects on endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico, saying it dismisses the chance of another disastrous blowout like the BP spill of 2010.

The National Marine Fisheries Service’s 700-page analysis greatly underestimates both the likely number and size of oil spills, according to the suit filed by Earthjustice for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Even though the study was prompted by the 2010 spill, it “essentially pretends the Deepwater Horizon spill never happened — that there was nothing to learn from that disaster,” Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton said in an interview Tuesday.

The federal agency said it left the possibility of an extremely large spill like BP’s out of its calculations of likely effects because a Bureau of Offshore Energy Management analysis found little chance of another during the next 50 years.

The previous analysis, in 2007, also estimated that “such a large spill was extremely unlikely,” the lawsuit noted. That analysis had estimated that “the largest spill possible would be at most 15,000 barrels,” or 630,000 gallons (2.4 million liters).

The 2010 spill, which started with a blowout that killed 11 men, was hundreds of times bigger than that. Estimates of the amount of oil spewed into the Gulf for 87 days varied from nearly 176 million gallons (666 million liters) to less than 103 million gallons (390 million liters). A federal judge calculated damages based on 134 million gallons (507 million liters) in the Gulf.

The chance of such a spill is even higher now, the lawsuit said, because “Gulf drilling is moving into deeper waters, which increases the possibility of a catastrophic well blowout and extremely large oil spill.”

The study also failed to consider the increased frequency, due to climate change, of hurricanes that can severely damage oil and gas facilities, nor did it take into account recent research about the danger of underwater landslides that can cause extremely large oil spills, the lawsuit said.

In addition, it said, the analysis left out the BP spill’s effects on the corals and other animals and their habitats, using population estimates and other information from before the spill.

The groups asked a federal court in Maryland to make the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service write a new report, called a biological opinion.

The fisheries service does not comment on pending litigation, spokeswoman Allison Garrett said.

The federal agencies that regulate offshore oil operations are required by the Endangered Species Act to ensure that their actions aren’t likely to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or damage their critical habitat. Offshore oil regulators asked the National Marine Fisheries Service for a new analysis on June 30, 2010, while BP’s well was still gushing.

Ten years later, the result is “just another hand out to Big Oil,” Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, said in a news release.

Larry McKinney, chair for Gulf strategies at Texas A&M Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, called the NOAA Fisheries analysis one of the most detailed he’s ever seen.

“Overall, I think they did as good a job as you can do with something like that,” McKinney said.

He predicted the litigation will be lengthy because both the report and suit cover a huge area and many species.

It will be largely a battle of experts, he said, but allegations about ignoring large spills are a strength of the suit. “That’s a straightforward question: Did you do that or not? Then you can have debate about whether it’s important,” he said.

NOAA Fisheries estimated that oil and gas activities would affect many endangered and threatened animals over 50 years, including more than a million sea turtles hit by vessels. Its recommendations include measures to protect turtles from seismic surveys and to reduce the chance of vessels hitting endangered Bryde’s whales.

The report estimated the largest spills would average about one-third the size of BP’s because regulators indicated that equipment required since then can cap wells at any depth within 30 days.

The suit said NOAA underestimated the largest spill likely. It said the agency’s analysis arbitrarily started with 1996, omitting Mexico’s Ixtoc I spill of more than 126 million gallons (477 million liters) in 1979. The suit also contended argued that the analysis ignored the slow spill that has continued since a hurricane in September 2004 caused an undersea mudslide at a group of wells owned by Taylor Energy off Louisiana.

Lois Epstein, a civil engineer at the Wilderness Society who served on a government advisory committee after the BP spill, wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit but faulted the federal study for not considering the likelihood of spills like Taylor’s.

However, Epstein said the government’s 30-day capping estimate seemed reasonable: “There are capping devices that we didn’t have” in 2010.

Eaton of Earthjustice said in a news release Wednesday, “This administration is convinced that if they ignore something, it will go away. It’s not working for the climate crisis and it’s not going to work for oil spills.”

******

United States Congresswoman Debbie Dingell/News Release

Dingell, Grijalva, Beyer Lead Opposition to Weaken Endangered Species Protections for the Greater Sage-Grouse

Chairs of Endangered Species Act Caucus Lead 59 Members

Washington, DC, October 20, 2020–Today, the Chairs of the Endangered Species Act Caucus – House Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Debbie Dingell (D-MI) and Don Beyer (D-VA) – led a letter with 59 Members of Congress to House Democratic leadership requesting that the final fiscal year 2021 spending bill remain free from riders weakening Endangered Species Act protections for the greater sage-grouse.

“As you negotiate the final Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bill for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, we urge you to ensure that the rider from previous appropriations bills that prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from considering the greater sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act is not included in the final bill,” the lawmakers wrote. “The greater sage-grouse is a keystone species in the Sagebrush Sea ecosystem, which stretches across eleven western states and supports more than 350 other species of conservation concern. Today, sage-grouse range is half of what it once was, and populations have declined precipitously in recent years.”

“Congress has repeatedly inserted politics into what should be a scientific determination about whether the species warrants ESA protections.” the lawmakers continued. “Moreover, the Trump administration has been working to further upend this carefully crafted approach, rolling back critical conservation protections to allow for more oil and gas drilling and mining in essential sage-grouse habitat. It is important that FWS scientists be permitted to assess the current population conditions of the greater-sage grouse and be allowed to do their jobs, unencumbered by politics.”

The full text of the letter is available here & below.

The sage-grouse rider is one of many Republican legislative and executive actions intended to weaken Endangered Species Act protections in recent years. These include efforts by the Trump administration to limit ESA protections for threaten species, expand critical habitat exemptions, and ignore the impacts of climate change when making ESA determinations.

Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, and Chairwoman Lowey:

As you negotiate the final Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 appropriations bill for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, we urge you to ensure that the rider from previous appropriations bills that prohibits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from considering the greater sage-grouse for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is not included in the final bill. We very much appreciate that the House version of the Interior bill eliminated the rider and urge you to stand strong in upholding the House position in year-end negotiations on the appropriations bills.

The greater sage-grouse is a keystone species in the Sagebrush Sea ecosystem, which stretches across eleven western states and supports more than 350 other species of conservation concern. Today, sage-grouse range is half of what it once was, and populations have declined precipitously in recent years.

In 2015, the Obama Administration developed a series of collaborative conservation plans with stakeholders across the American West, engaging governors, farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and state and local officials in a public planning process to enhance sagebrush habitat and better manage resources across the range of the sage-grouse.

The desire to avoid the need to list the greater sage-grouse under the ESA was a strong motivator to keep stakeholders engaged in the collaborative process; unfortunately, that motivation has been removed as Congress has repeatedly inserted politics into what should be a scientific determination about whether the species warrants ESA protections. Moreover, the Trump administration has been working to further upend this carefully crafted approach, rolling back critical conservation protections to allow for more oil and gas drilling and mining in essential sage-grouse habitat. It is important that FWS scientists be permitted to assess the current population conditions of the greater-sage grouse and be allowed to do their jobs, unencumbered by politics.

Recent studies have found that about one million of the estimated eight million species on earth may be pushed to extinction, many within decades, while already a staggering three million birds have been lost since 1970. The ESA is one of our nation’s most important conservation laws. Given this extinction crisis, decisions about which species need protection should be based solely on science. It is long past time for the sage-grouse rider to be eliminated from the final appropriations bill.

We appreciate your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

******

WCIV/CH. 4 News

Lawsuit to stop harvesting of horseshoe crabs at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge

by Caroline Balchunas, October 19, 2020

HARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — Conservations groups are suing the federal government for allowing harvesting to take place at a wildlife sanctuary in the Lowcountry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is being sued for allowing the harvest of horseshoe crabs at Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

The Southern Environmental Law Center filed the suit on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife on Monday. The suit states the federal agency failed to consider the effects the harvest would have on migrating shorebirds, including the endangered red knot, who flock to Cape Romain to feast on crab eggs.

Commercial harvesters capture thousands of crabs each spring as they come ashore to lay eggs. The horseshoe crabs are then taken to a Charleston-area lab where their blood is drained for use in the medical industry. Its blue blood is unique and used to ensure products and vaccines are free of bacteria.

Catherine Wannamaker, one of the SELC attorneys involved in the filing, said this has been an issue since about 2014 and despite sending multiple letters of notice, she said nothing has been done to stop it.

“It’s critically important, it’s one of the reasons why it was designated as a wildlife refuge,” Wannamaker said. “Anecdotally people who are out there counting birds have seen significant decreases in the number of red knots passing in the refuge or stopping in the refuge in the last several years, something like up to 30-percent or fewer birds. So, it is a reason for concern, we think, and we think large part of the problem is the harvest of horse shoe crabs.”

She said horseshoe crabs are supposed to be released back into the wild after extracting their blood, but wildlife experts estimate about 30-percent die in the process and the ones that do survive are so exhausted, they do not produce a normal number of eggs, further contributing to the dwindling food source for the migratory birds.

The complaint was filed in a Charleston federal court on Monday. The lawsuit alleges the USFWS is in violation of the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act of 1997, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

“We think this lawsuit is precedentially important because imagine the implications if you allow any kind of commercial activity in a wildlife refuge and so we think the litigation serves a broader goal to make sure wildlife refuges stay wildlife refuges,” said Wannamaker. “We’re just trying to get the government to do its job basically and we think the Fish and Wildlife Service has a job to do here and has the authority to stop this, it hasn’t done so, we hope that this will prompt it to do so.”

ABC News 4 reached out to the USFWS on Monday but did not receive a response. Officials at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources said they cannot comment on Monday’s filing.

******

Union of Concerned Scientists

Gray Wolf Will Lose Endangered Species Protections Contrary to Scientific Evidence

JACOB CARTER, RESEARCH SCIENTIST | OCTOBER 19, 2020

We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I’d say it’s very imminent,” said Aurelia Skipworth, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), on delisting the gray wolf in August of this year. Skipworth’s comment is unfortunately true – the proposed delisting of the gray wolf sits with the Office of Management Budget and is expected to be released soon. This delisting is an unfortunate and politically driven decision as the best available science provides evidence that the gray wolf’s population is not fully restored throughout its historic range.

Proposal to delist skirts scientific peer-review

Peer-review is the bedrock of publishing scientific results. Scientists write up the results of their study in a paper that is then anonymously reviewed by peers in their field. The review ensures that the questions scientists are asking are addressed by the right methods and that results are interpreted correctly. If one, it only takes one, peer reviewer finds a major fault in your study, and the editor of the journal agrees that the fault is legitimate and should be addressed, then that fault must be addressed before the results can be published.

Five scientists who are experts on gray wolf taxonomy, ecology, and genomics reviewed the FWS’s proposed delisting of the gray wolf last year and found serious issues with the science. The scientists noted some alarming errors such as data being cherry picked, the results of scientific studies being misconstrued, and a lack of understanding about the underlying genetic structure of gray wolf populations. “It looks like they decided to delist and then they compiled all the evidence that they thought supported that decision. It simply doesn’t support the decision,” said Adrian Treves, an environmental studies professor at the University of Wisconsin. Dr. Treves served as one of the five scientists who peer-reviewed the proposed delisting of the gray wolf.

Another one of the peer reviewers, Dr. Carlos Carroll who is an ecologist with the Klamath Center for Conservation Research, wrote that the proposed delisting reflects broader efforts to change ESA regulations. This thought certainly aligns with a recent proposal to redefine “critical habitat” for a threatened or endangered species as only areas that are physically occupied by that species. Such a narrow definition will preclude the FWS from considering protecting foreseeable critical habitat – an issue that was alluded to in the peer review of the proposed gray wolf delisting as the proposal placed significant focus on the wolf’s “current range.” Dr. Carroll noted a similar issue in his review stating, “Even if the Service considers “range” (spatial distribution) only in terms of “current range”, that does not imply that they should only consider population abundance as of the year of the proposed rule, rather than over the foreseeable future.”

If the FWS had taken the peer-review seriously, the only conclusion they could have come to is that they gray wolf needs to remain on the endangered species list. By moving forward with a delisting decision, it is clear that politics are once again trumping scientific evidence.

What can you do?

A prior blog by Dr. Carlos Carroll pointed out many things that scientists and concerned individuals can do to protect the gray wolf. One way to ensure that science remains at the forefront of decision-making is to call your Congressional representatives and ask them to support the Scientific Integrity Act. An upcoming delisting of the gray wolf reflects what we have seen in (unfortunately) huge amounts particularly since 2017 – sidelining of science from important decisions like those made under the Endangered Species Act. We also have identified a number of ways to protect the use of science in decisions made at the Department of Interior, or other agencies, which you can discuss with your current representatives or candidates for those positions.

Decisions made under the Endangered Species Act are legally mandated to be based solely on the best available science. If the FWS moves ahead with delisting the gray wolf, they will be violating the law that they are responsible for implementing. A majority of people in the US strongly favor protecting endangered species – we should continue to call upon our leaders to remind them of our support.

******

Carlsbad Current-Argus

Federal judge upholds habitat protections for endangered New Mexico meadow jumping mouse

Adrian Hedden, Oct. 19, 2020

A federal judge upheld protection for the habitat of an endangered mouse in New Mexico, dismissing a lawsuit brought by two ranching groups.

The New Mexico meadow jumping mouse historically dwells along streams in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona.

It grows about seven to nine inches long, with its tail accounting for about half of its size.

The jumping mouse is also referred to as the “kangaroo mouse” in some parts of the southwest and leap up to two feet high.

It is nocturnal and hibernates for about nine months each year, consuming mostly plants and small fruits.

The long hibernation period of the mouse means it only has a short window in the summer to breed and gain weight to survive the winter, which requires habitats remain ideal when needed, providing tall, dense grass and forage found only along flowing streams.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the mouse’s habitat began a sharp decline, read the court’s decision, attributed to livestock grazing, drought and wildfires.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated 14,000 acres of land between the three states as “critical habitat” in 2016, restricting uses of the land and establishing requirements to maintain the areas for the jumping mouse’s survival.

In 2018, the Northern New Mexico Stockman’s Association and the Otero County Cattleman’s Association sued the Fish and Wildlife Service seeking to overturn the protections in New Mexico.

The groups cited the economic harm the restrictions on the land could have spread across Colfax, Mora, Otero, Sandoval and Socorro counties.

The lawsuit argued such impacts to the local ranching industry were not fully considered when the Fish and Wildlife Service made it designation, and the ruling could affect the water and grazing rights of nearby ranchers.

U.S. District Judge James Browning for the District of New Mexico ruled that the Fish and Wildlife Service had properly considered the economic impact of the critical habitat designations and that protecting the habitat was imperative to restoring the mouse’s population as required under its designation as an endangered species.

“At best, the elimination of such important protections could result in the perpetuation of the Jumping Mouse’s endangered status,” Browning wrote in his decision. “At worst, however, the disappearance of these important units of critical habitat designation could result in the irreversible extinction of the remaining Jumping Mouse populations.”

Ryan Shannon, staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity which filed one of the original petitions to list the mouse as endangered said the court’s decision would be instrumental in the animals recovery and survival.

“We’re thrilled that the judge upheld essential habitat protections for this adorable jumping mouse that stands on the brink of extinction,” Ryan Shannon said. “Hopefully now we can focus on its recovery, rather than defending it from cynical attacks.”

Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, managing attorney with the WildEarth Guardians said protecting the mouse would in turn lead to the restoration of its main habitat — rivers and streams throughout New Mexico.

“The imperiled New Mexico meadow jumping mouse is uniquely adapted to streams and wetlands habitats seriously threatened by livestock grazing, stream dewatering, and climate change,” she said. “Today’s ruling will give this endangered species a fighting chance at survival.”

WildEarth Guardians Conservation Director Sarah McMillan said the mouse already lost 70 percent of its range to cattle grazing and gathering near riparian areas and maintaining protections for its habitat was the only way to allow the animal to recover.

“Having been extirpated from over 70% of its historic range, this remarkable jumping mouse is threatened by cattle congregating in riparian areas, water mismanagement and climate change impacts- all while taking on the behemoth annual work of preparing for up to 9 months of hibernation,” she said.

“It’s time we gave the mouse some space.”

Conservation groups last year sought restrict logging in Lincoln National Forest they worried could threaten the meadow jumping mouse along with other species such as the Mexican spotted owl.

They called on the U.S. Forest Service to revise a plan to log more than 54,000 acres in the forest and add 125 miles of roads that could increase sediment and damage rivers and streams in the area.

Earlier this year, the Forest Service after multiple public hearings, agreed to add considerations for sensitive species to its management plans in Lincoln National Forest.

“Given the sensitivity of species like the Mexican spotted owl and the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse, it’s essential that any project of this scale carefully and concertedly lay out how it will impact forested and riparian habitats,” said Michael Dax, New Mexico representative for Defenders of Wildlife.

“The fact that this project remains so ill-defined is extremely troubling and makes it nearly impossible to determine the short and long-term impacts on these species.”

******

The Garden Island

Snail discovered was thought to be extinct

By The Garden Island, October 17, 2020

HONOLULU — Bishop Museum scientists and collaborators with the stateDepartment of Land and Natural Resources’ Snail Extinction Prevention Program and the University of Florida Natural History Museum have described what is considered to be the last living species of a group of native Hawaiian land snails that were previously thought extinct.

Their research shows that the new species, Endodonta christenseni, may be the sole surviving species of Endodonta — a land-snail genus that is endemic to the Hawaiian islands.

Although the newly described species was discovered in 1923 by museum researchers — including C.M. Cooke Jr., the first malacologist at the museum — it remained unnamed for nearly a century.

The article describing the species was published in the journal Bishop Museum Occasional Papers on Oct. 15, 2020, and is a substantial contribution to the conservation efforts of native Hawaiian land snails.

In addition to providing a name that can be used to advocate for it listing under the federal Endangered Species Act, it also raises awareness about how the process of describing species is critical to all of biology, but especially to conducting much-needed research to conserve biodiversity in the face of ongoing threats.

The genus Endodonta was once represented by 11 species endemic to the Hawaiian islands. Unfortunately, their ground-dwelling habits made this particular group of land snails extremely vulnerable to introduced predators such as ants, rats and carnivorous snails, and now all the Ital Endodonta except E. christenseni are extinct.

Although some fossil specimens have been used to describe extinct species, Endodonta christenseni, which lives only on the island of Nihoa, is the first living species of Endodonta described since 1905.

Nihoa is in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and part of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

In the published article, the authors note that “In describing this last Endodonta species, our hope is to inspire increased awareness and appreciation that facilitates and motivates conservation for this species and all other undiscovered and unnamed species threatened with extinction. Unless protection of this species is implemented, it may be extinct within the next decade and we will lose the last of a lineage that existed for millions of years, along with the stories it could tell about biodiversity in the Hawaiian islands.”

Ken Hayes, the director of the Pacific Center for Molecular Biodiversity and lead author on the study, explained, “This sort of work forms the foundation for all conservation efforts, and the gap in knowledge about biodiversity, which is especially severe for understudied and highly-threatened groups like snails and insects, prevents effective research needed to inform conservation actions.”

Since 1600, Pacific land snails have accounted for more recorded extinctions than any other group of animals. The Hawaiian islands were once home to some 750 species, with more than half of these now thought extinct as a result of habitat degradation, climate change and impacts from invasive species. Since 2004, the coauthors of this study and collaborators have conducted extensive surveys documenting native and non-native snails in Hawai‘i.

Over that time, more than 1,000 sites have been surveyed and more than 280 extant species recorded, which is nearly three times the number estimated just a decade ago.

Norine Yeung, malacology curator and coauthor on the study, added, “The results from these extensive survey efforts give us hope that there are still many species left that can be saved, but we need to act quickly and decisively if we are to beat the extinction clock that ticks louder with each passing day.”

The name Endodonta christenseni honors Bishop Museum scientist Dr. Carl C. Christensen for the many years he devoted to studying endangered land snails across the Pacific, and recognizes his efforts to bring attention to the status of this undescribed species.

(For more information about this study see hbs.bishopmuseum.org/pubsonline/pdf/op138.pdf.)

******

Earthjustice

Endangered Whale Protected From Life-Threatening Seismic Blasts

October 16, 2020

Atlantic Ocean marine life, including the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, won a reprieve from destructive seismic surveys earlier this month.

Together with dozens of organizations and thousands of coastal communities and businesses, Earthjustice has been fighting to stop fossil fuel companies from blasting seismic air guns in crucial underwater habitat for one of the world’s most endangered large whale species.

The work of Earthjustice and others has forced the companies to shelve their plans for the foreseeable future, and hopefully for good.

Why are the seismic surveys bad for whales and other marine life?

The seismic surveys would have involved continuously blasting air guns that would injure, harass, disrupt, and possibly even kill whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life across 200,000 square miles of ocean waters.

These air guns produce a noise louder than a rocket launch — and 16,000 times louder than a standard air horn — at 10-second intervals, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for months on end.

The calls that North Atlantic right whales use to hunt, navigate, and communicate with one another would be drowned out by the blasts. There are fewer than 400 of these creatures left in the world.

How did Earthjustice put seismic surveying on hold?

Earthjustice and its allies challenged the legality of permits issued by the federal government within days after they were issued in December 2018.

Over the nearly two years of litigation, industry was never able to secure final approval to proceed with the surveys.

These permits would have allowed the fossil fuel companies to proceed with seismic surveys even if they harmed marine mammals — and thereby avoid any legal responsibility for harming critically endangered ocean wildlife.

Why is Earthjustice involved in this fight?

These proposed seismic surveys pose a dual threat. They not only would harm whales, dolphins, and other marine life, but they also would pave the way for offshore oil and gas drilling.

Earthjustice is committed to protecting species like the North Atlantic right whale that are under the care of the Endangered Species Act. We will continue to fight to ensure this critical law realizes its promise.

Earthjustice also continues to fight irresponsible attempts to turn our oceans and public lands into gas stations.

What happens next?

The original permits expire at the end of November and can’t be extended.

If the companies later apply for and obtain new permits, Earthjustice will continue to fight in court.

Earthjustice also continues the fight to secure permanent protection from oil and gas drilling for these waters — the best way to ensure that whales and other marine life will remain safe from the threat of offshore drilling.

Is there anything I can do?

Yes! Help us defend the Endangered Species Act. Tell your congressperson to support the PAW and FIN Act. This important legislation will undo harmful changes made to the Endangered Species Act by the Trump administration. It is awaiting a vote in the House.

******

Patch

AG Opposes Trump’s Proposal Against Endangered Species Act

Press release from the office of the Attorney General of Connecticut: Oct. 15, 2020

Attorney General William Tong this week joined a multistate coalition filing a comment letter opposing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) proposal to establish a new, unlawful process for excluding areas from critical habitat designations under the federal Endangered Species Act. If finalized, the proposal is likely to drastically reduce the areas protected as critical habitat, further endangering the conservation of our nation’s most imperiled species. In the comment letter, the coalition of 17 attorneys general argue that FWS’s proposal is contrary to the plain language of the Endangered Species Act and arbitrarily limits its ability to protect endangered or threatened species as required by the Act.

“We cannot protect endangered species if we do not protect their habitats. The Endangered Species Act has been successful because its protections are based in science. This proposal invites all kinds of political and corporate meddling in a process that has always been rooted in biology. The Trump Administration is attacking the Endangered Species Act on multiple fronts, and we will continue to defend science and our environment at every step,” said Attorney General Tong.

For over 45 years, the Endangered Species Act has protected thousands of iconic and threatened species, including the Bald Eagle, California Condor, Grizzly Bear, and Humpback Whale. Enacted under the Nixon Administration in 1973, the ESA is intended “to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” In Connecticut, there are at least 14 species listed as endangered or threatened under the Act. Endangered species include the Indiana Bat, Eskimo Curlew, Roseate Tern, Leatherback Turtle, Atlantic Ridley Turtle, Shortnose Sturgeon, American Burying Beetle and the Dwarf Wedgemussel. Threatened species include the Northern Long-Eared Bat, Piping Plover, Loggerhead Turtle, Atlantic Green Turtle, Bog Turtle, Puritan Tiger Beetle and the Northeastern Beach Tiger Beetle.

Under Section 4(b)(2) of the Endangered Species Act, FWS is required to designate critical habitat for listed species based on “the best scientific data available” and after considering economic, national security, and other relevant impacts. Areas designated as critical habitat are provided with significant protections to ensure that species have the ability to recover to sustainable population levels so that they no longer need to be listed. FWS “may” exclude areas of critical habitat if the agency determines that the benefits of exclusion outweigh the benefits of designation.

On September 8, 2020, FWS published a proposed rule that would establish a new process for excluding areas of critical habitat. If finalized, FWS would be required to consider excluding areas from a critical habitat designation when a “proponent of excluding a particular area” presents “credible information” supporting exclusion. In conducting such an analysis, FWS would have to defer to outside “experts” and “sources” regarding “nonbiological impacts” that are outside the scope of FWS’s expertise. If FWS determines that the benefits of excluding a particular area outweigh the benefits of specifying that area as a critical habitat, FWS must exclude that area, unless it will result in the extinction of a species. This would be likely to drastically reduce the amount of critical habitat designated and protected under the Endangered Species Act.

In the comment letter, the coalition argues that FWS’s proposal is unlawful and should be abandoned because:

  • The proposal is contrary to the plain language and overarching conservation purposes of the Endangered Species Act;
  • The proposal is arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act because FWS fails to provide any reasoned explanation for the proposal; and
  • FWS incorrectly suggests that the proposal is subject to a categorical exclusion under the National Environmental Policy Act, or that it may complete review at a later date, despite its major substantive changes that are likely to cause significant environmental effects on imperiled species and their habitat.

Attorney General Tong is joined by the attorneys general of California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin, as well as the City of New York in filing the comment letter.

Assistant Attorneys General Daniel Salton and Matt Levine, Head of the Environment Department, assisted the Attorney General in this matter.

(This press release was produced by the office of the Attorney General of Connecticut. The views expressed here are the author’s own.)

******

Los Angeles Times

Imperiled desert tortoises join California’s ‘endangered’ list — for now

By Louis Sahagún, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 14, 2020

LOS ANGELES — The California Fish and Game Commission on Wednesday granted temporary endangered species status to the Mojave desert tortoise when it agreed to consider the dusty, armored herbivore as a candidate for permanent listing.

The protection came with the panel’s 4-0 decision to consider a petition filed by the Defenders of Wildlife, the Desert Tortoise Council and the Desert Tortoise Preserve Committee. The groups argued that elevating the reptile’s existing status from threatened to endangered could bolster efforts to “reverse the very real likelihood that the desert tortoise will become extinct in California.”

As a candidate for listing, a species is typically afforded the same protections as a state endangered species pending a final decision.

While there is no difference in the protections offered a species listed as threatened or endangered under the California Endangered Species Act, officials said, endangered species have higher priority and funding for conservation measures such as habitat protection, recovery efforts and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of projects.

“Anybody who has visited the Southern California desert over the past three decades knows this action is long overdue,” said Tom Egan, a biologist with Defenders of Wildlife. “What the state and federal governments have been doing to arrest their slide down the drain of extinction over the past three decades isn’t enough.”

Gopherus agassizii was listed as threatened under state law in 1989 and under federal law the following year based on a severe decline in the tortoise population within their ancient desert kingdom of trails, arroyos and hibernation burrows fringed with scrub brush.

A recovery plan for the tortoise and critical habitat prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was adopted in 1994. That plan was revised in 2011, however, to correct problems that responsible wildlife and land management agencies were having in implementing the plan’s recovery strategies.

A 2018 study found that adult tortoise populations had plummeted by 50% in some designated recovery areas since 2004, and by as much as 90% in some critical habitat management units since the 1980s.

Tortoise populations continue to be irreversibly fragmented and destroyed by many causes: vehicles, shootings, urban encroachment, military maneuvers, mining, collecting, diseases introduced by pet tortoises released into the wild, development of massive utility and green-energy facilities and hungry ravens.

Unlike their heavily armored parents, baby desert tortoises are saddled with soft, fingernail-thin shells that biologists say make them easy pickings for predators and reduce the chances that the imperiled species can be saved from extinction.

Rising temperatures and drought conditions are also taking a toll on the desert tortoise. Despite its name, the reptile is not well adapted to desert conditions. It evolved tens of thousands of years ago, scientists say, when the landscape was dominated by lakes edged with Joshua trees and junipers.

Scientists believe that large numbers of female desert tortoise carcasses discovered near Joshua Tree National Park may have been trying to ward off extinction due to prolonged drought with a potentially lethal response: exhausting their water and energy to lay eggs.

Drought conditions also kill off nutritious foliage and trigger a crash in populations of rodents that eat them. As a result, dogs and coyotes, which normally thrive on kangaroo rats and rabbits, turn to the lumbering tortoises for sustenance, according to surveys by state and federal biologists.

“This species is already listed as threatened ,” said Commission Vice President Samantha Murray before casting her vote. “But I do think it is important that its designation reflects reality.”

******

ABC News

Animal conservation groups to sue federal government over dwindling giraffe population

The government has failed to grant giraffes Endangered Species Act protections.

By Julia Jacobo, ‎October‎ ‎14‎, ‎2020‎

Multiple animal conservation and protection groups plan to file a lawsuit against the federal government over what they say is a failure to consider protections for giraffes under the Endangered Species Act.

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, the Center for Biological Diversity and other animal welfare groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday.

The groups petitioned for giraffe protections in 2017, and the USFWS determined last year that giraffes may qualify for protections under the Endangered Species Act after a separate lawsuit was filed, according to the Humane Society.

However, the agency has failed to make a decision or implement any protective measures, Humane Society officials say.

Worldwide, fewer than 69,000 adult giraffes are currently living in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, which classifies giraffes as vulnerable. Two giraffe subspecies are listed as “endangered” and another two were listed as “critically endangered” in 2018.

Their populations have dropped nearly 40% due to habitat loss, civil unrest and poaching, as well as international trade in bone carvings, skins and trophies, according to the Humane Society.

On average, the U.S. imports more than one giraffe hunting trophy a day, and imported more than 21,400 giraffe bone carvings between 2006 to 2015. The giraffe parts are often made into pillows, boots, bible covers and jackets, according to the Humane Society.

The U.S. has an “important role to play” in preventing giraffes from becoming extinct, Adam Peyman, wildlife programs director for Humane Society International, said in a statement.

The USFWS has the ability to stop American trophy hunters from accelerating the loss of the animal, Kitty Block, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote on her blog Wednesday.

“Today, we are warning the USFWS that unless it acts swiftly to protect our planet’s tallest land mammal, we will see it in court,” Block wrote. “We are putting the agency on notice today that we won’t stop hammering on this issue until it stops pandering to special interest lobbies at such great cost to the world’s wildlife.”

The Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, protects and recovers imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend.

Last year, the Trump administration announced changes to how the government handles endangered species, altering the requirements for how the government decides to add or remove species from the list of endangered animals that are regulated by the government, including limiting how much habitat can be protected.

The changes would require separate plans for protecting any new species listed as threatened instead of granting them the same protections as those listed as endangered, a move that advocates say could make it more difficult to protect species that are threatened by human activity and climate change.

“Giraffes are loved by people around the world, so it’s shocking and sad that the U.S. government is ignoring their tragic plight,” Tanya Sanerib, international legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “As giraffe populations plummet, these extraordinary creatures desperately need the Endangered Species Act’s sturdy shield. But three years after we petitioned for protections, federal officials are still stalling on safeguards for everyone’s favorite longnecked mammal.”

******

Los Angeles Times

CLIMATE & ENVIRONMENT

Bobcat fire aftermath threatens endangered species in San Gabriel Mountains

By LOUIS SAHAGÚN, OCT. 14, 2020

Up until a few weeks ago, the West Fork of the San Gabriel River was one of the most abundant wildlife habitats in Los Angeles County, a secluded and rugged area defined by its steep peaks, lush canyons and mixture of rare and endangered species.

Recently however, a team of federal biologists and forest rangers was aghast when it visited the stream following the Bobcat fire, which has burned more than 115,000 acres in the heart of the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.

Terrain that once resembled a High Sierra granite gorge now looked like ground zero after a nuclear explosion, and the usually clean mountain air was sharp with the stench of smoke.

Particularly unsettling were the bare and ashen slopes that were now primed to dissolve under pounding winter storms. A heavy mudslide, experts said, could reverse decades of conservation efforts by inundating the last outposts for such federally protected species as the Santa Ana sucker fish and Southern California mountain yellow-legged frog.

“There’s nothing left,” muttered U.S. Geological Survey biologist Adam Backlin as he surveyed the barren, ugly mountains overlooking Cogswell Dam, which controls the flow in an eight-mile stretch of the stream that provides some of the best fly-fishing in Southern California and helps recharge the metropolitan aquifer in the flatlands below.

“Armageddon,” said Leslie Welch, district wildlife biologist at the Angeles National Forest.

The Bobcat fire was 92% contained Tuesday, Forest Service officials said.

The exact toll on wildlife along the West Fork and throughout much of the range will not be known until the Forest Service‘s emergency response teams determine the extent of the damage in severely burned areas, which, for safety reasons, could remain closed for months to come, federal forest officials said.

Even without that information, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service are now scrambling to devise post-fire rescue operations to ensure the survival of protected species in the event canyon bottoms are buried in a slurry of rocks, uprooted trees and sediment this winter.

Their options include dispatching teams of state and federal biologists armed with electroshock wands and nets to scoop up as many fish and frogs as possible, then release them into suitable streams elsewhere.

Finding clear streams with cool rocky pools devoid of predatory invasive species will not be easy in an area within one of the most dangerous wildland fire environments in the United States.

“Moving these sensitive creatures around in order to keep them one step ahead of the next environmental disaster is not a strategy — it’s a last-ditch effort,” Welch said. “In an era of almost back-to-back wildfires and mudslides, we haven’t had the time to develop comprehensive survival plans for each one of our protected species.”

The preemptive rescues being proposed across the San Gabriels highlight the difficulty facing biologists and land managers in ensuring the survival of species clinging to existence in Southern California’s patchwork of isolated habitats — areas already hemmed in by urban development and scorched by more frequent and intense wildfires.

Looking ahead, they can only surmise that things will get worse. In a warming world, places such as California will experience whiplash shifts between extremely dry and wet periods — factors that exacerbated the unprecedented fire season this year across the state.

The life and times of mountain yellow-legged frogs embody the challenges facing endangered species — and biologists — in Southern California.

For thousands of years, yellow-legged frogs thrived in hundreds of streams across the San Gabriel, San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains. Over the past eight decades, the species has been decimated by wildfires, mudslides, pesticides, fungal infections, loss of habitat, flood control facilities and the appetites of nonnative trout, bullfrogs and crayfish.

Today, fewer than 400 are believed to exist in isolated populations, including a group of about 150 in a two-mile stretch of Little Rock Creek, near the resort community of Wrightwood.

Federal wildlife authorities in 2010 launched an ambitious recovery program that included captive breeding at institutions including the Los Angeles Zoo, trout removal in some of their ancestral haunts, and, in certain areas, barring public access.

The recovery program is a collaborative effort funded by donations, grants and California Department of Transportation funds to mitigate the effects of emergency work stabilizing a slope near frog habitat on California Highway 330 in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Backlin, who has been monitoring Southern California’s yellow-legged frog populations since 1998, could scarcely believe his eyes two weeks ago as he watched televised footage of flames marching down into the refuge at Little Rock Creek.

“I was yelling at the screen,” he recalled. “No! No! Stop!”

State and federal biologists are also worried about the loss of habitat for 150 federally endangered unarmored threespine stickleback fish that were rescued after the 2016 Sand fire burned through Soledad Canyon in northwestern L.A. County and then released in carefully selected areas of the Angeles National Forest.

Now, with those translocated fish threatened by mudslides in new burn areas, state and federal biologists plan to recapture most of them and return them, yet again, to Soledad Canyon, which over the past four years has become suitable for repopulation.

Then there are the descendants of an estimated 23,000 native fish that were captured in the upper San Gabriel River in 2006 and relocated near the confluence of the West Fork and Bear Creek to make way for a massive sediment removal project in the San Gabriel Reservoir, about 18 miles north of Azusa.

They included federally threatened San Ana suckers; Santa Ana speckled dace, a California species of special concern; arroyo chubs, also a California species of special concern; and thousands of unidentified minnows.

If the West Fork gets buried in mud, Forest Service officials said, it could hasten the decline of the fish species already on the verge of extinction.

In the meantime, in the mountains surrounding Cogswell Dam where the Bobcat fire started on Sept. 6, rare and common animals alike — Nelson’s bighorn sheep, mule deer, mountain lions, foxes and southern Pacific rattlesnakes — continue searching for food and shelter amid the snags and ashes.

“It broke my heart to see a bear with an injured paw and shoulder staggering out of a burned area,” recalled Steven Morgan, operator of the 95-year-old reservoir owned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works. “There’s no place for smaller critters to hide anymore, either. Rodents and squirrels have become easy pickings for owls and hawks.”

Aquatic creatures such as fish, frogs and western pond turtles, a state-listed species of special concern, face an even sadder and more diminished future when their domain downstream is slammed by winter flooding.

Overall, wildlife stands to lose in the collision of competing interests across the fire-scarred range, an oblong mass from Santa Clarita to San Bernardino that attracts 3.5 million visitors a year.

County flood control authorities have made a priority of safeguarding critical infrastructure, including catch basins and several man-made dams that provide water and safety for millions of people in downstream communities.

“The business of saving human lives and rare wildlife is suddenly more complicated than ever,” said Rossana D’Antonio, incident commander for the public works department’s Bobcat fire recovery effort.

“But our No. 1 goal is to protect constituents down mountain, secure our critical infrastructure and steer mud off the roadways,” she said.

Welch would not argue with any of that.

“Hastily packing up endangered fish and amphibians, then moving them out of harm’s way is not an ideal solution,” she said. “But it can buy us time to care for them for decades, or longer, if possible.”

******

AFP (Wash., D.C.)

Nature backs Biden over ‘disastrous’ Trump for US president

October 14, 2020

The journal Nature said Wednesday it was backing Democratic candidate Joe Biden for US president in a full-fronted attack on Donald Trump’s “disastrous” handling of the pandemic and undermining of global efforts to tackle climate change.

One of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications, Nature said that “no US president in recent history has so relentlessly attacked and undermined” vital institutions such as science agencies, the Department of Justice and the electoral system itself.

It excoriated Trump for pulling out of the 2015 Paris climate accord and the Iran nuclear deal, as well as for his attacks on the World Health Organization — something it labelled “unthinkable during a pandemic”.

“The Trump administration’s disregard for rules, government, science, institutions of democracy and, ultimately, facts and the truth have been on full display in its disastrous response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” it said.

“Despite having vast scientific and monetary resources at his disposal, Trump failed catastrophically when it mattered most.”

Magdalena Skipper, Nature’s editor-in-chief, told AFP that Trump had “continually undermined” evidence-based decision making, contributing to public confusion on matters of scientific fact.

“He has undermined key science agencies including the Center for Diseases Control and the Environmental Protection Agency… leading to erosion of public trust in the institutions that are key to keeping people and the environment safe,” she said.

‘Astonishing’ failure –

In contrast, the Nature article praised Biden’s track record in the Senate as someone willing to pursue bipartisan deals, “a skill that will be needed now more than at any time in the recent past”, it said.

If elected, Biden has said he will restore the US to the Paris accord and take measures guided by science to try to bring Covid-19 under control. He would also have the opportunity to roll back many of Trump’s more environmentally damaging policies.

Nature said the Democratic candidate should seek to reverse “egregious” legislation passed by Trump concerning immigration and student visas, as well as to “hold the US to its international commitments”.

Skipper said Biden’s pledges on climate action were “among the most ambitious ever advocated by nominees from a major party”.

Last month, for the first time in its 175-year history, US magazine Scientific American endorsed a White House candidate, opting for Biden as Trump “rejects” science.

“We do not do this lightly,” the editors wrote in a scathing anti-Trump editorial published online for the magazine’s October issue.

“The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the US and its people — because he rejects evidence and science,” they wrote.

The New England Medical Journal earlier this month slammed the US’s “astonishing” failure to bring Covid-19 cases and deaths under control, but stopped short of explicitly endorsing Biden in next month’s election.

******

Native Plant Conservation Campaign News

State of World’s Plants and Fungi Report

-Mostly bad news but some progress and plans to move forward

October 13, 2020

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew has released a new Report that shows that the world’s plant species are more imperiled than ever.

The State of worlds plants and fungi 2020, based on research from more than 200 scientists in 42 countries, found that 2 in 5 (40%) of the planet’s plants are at risk of extinction. Previous assessments in 2016 had found that 1 in 5 (20%) of plants were at risk.

Food and Medicine Supply Threatened

These losses endanger humanity. For example, billions of people rely on herbal medicines as their primary source of healthcare. The Report found 723 plants used for medicine are at risk of extinction, with over-harvesting a problem in some parts of the world, including the U.S. Further, “[o]nly 7% of [known] plants have [been tested for use] as medicines. Therefore the world’s plants and fungi remain largely untapped as potential sources of new [cures for disease],” said Melanie-Jayne Howes, a research leader at RBG Kew told the Guardian. “So it is absolutely critical that we better protect biodiversity so we are better prepared for emerging challenges to our planet and our health.”

The same is true for food. Although just 15 plants provide 90% of all calories consumed by humans, there are actually over 7,000 edible plant species that could be used to secure the food supply against climate change, pests and disease.

As Mass Extinction Accelerates, Scientific Community Steps Up

Scientists say plant extinction is occurring up to 500 times faster than what would be expected naturally. A 2019 United Nations report found that up to 1 million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction. The UN revealed in September that the world’s governments have failed to meet any of the 20 targets to stem biodiversity losses that had been agreed to in Aichi Japan in 2010.

“We are living in an age of extinction”, Director of Science at Kew, Alexandre Antonelli told the BBC. “It’s a very worrying picture of risk and urgent need for action,” he said. “We’re losing the race against time because species are disappearing faster than we can find them. Many of them could hold important clues for solving some of the most pressing challenges of medicine and even perhaps of the emerging and current pandemics we are seeing today.”

The assessment also contained some good news. More than 4,000 species of plants and fungi were discovered in 2019. These included wild relatives of important food crops such as garlic, onions, spinach and two relatives of cassava, which could help “future-proof” the staple crop eaten by 800 million people. Wild relatives of medicinal species were found. Kew also reported that the he number of assessed plant species has doubled in recent years due to the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation.

Urban Green Spaces – More Green Spaces, More Diversity Needed

In additions to sections on medicinal and food plants, and on gaps and progress in plant science, the Report also contained a chapter focused on building resilient urban green spaces to provide ecosystem services in cities. The report notes the growing movement to plant trees and other locally appropriate native plants in gardens, roadsides and urban public spaces. City trees deliver valuable services, from clean air and water to flood protection. Ensuring they can withstand climate change, pests and diseases in the future requires the use of a wide range of species and the support of the pollinators and soil organisms they depend upon.

Greater diversity is badly needed in urban green spaces. Of 6,896,687 trees in 67 locations studied for the Report, ten genera made up almost 40%. Acer (maple) is the most widely grown genus, accounting for 20% of city trees. Many urban trees may be poorly suited to deal with climate change, so the Report recommends expanding both the species and genetic diversity of city trees to make urban plant communities more resilient and sustainable.

Read the full report.

******

NW News Network

Conservation Groups Vow Challenge After Federal Decision Not To Protect Wolverines

By Courtney Flatt • Oct 11, 2020

Conservation groups are vowing to again challenge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s decision not to add wolverines to the Endangered Species List. The groups say wolverines are iconic species in high mountain snowy habitat, which is greatly threatened by climate change.

Ten conservation groups had requested the federal government list the elusive predators.

There are likely fewer than 300 wolverines across its habitat across the Mountain West, which includes populations in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, where 90 percent of their habitat is on federally managed lands and wilderness areas.

Dave Werntz, with Conservation Northwest, says listing the elusive wolverines would “help bring a focus to wolverine conservation.”

“It would mean better planning, better consideration and – in some places – reducing the threats that are putting the wolverine at risk of extinction,” Werntz said.

Wolverines depend on remote, snowy habitat to burrow dens in the springtime. Climate change projections show that breeding habitat is at risk, according to Timothy Preso, an attorney with environmental advocacy group Earthjustice.

“Literally, the wolverines’ snowy habitat is melting away. There are things that can be done, short of stopping climate change, to help the wolverine,” Preso said.

For example, working on reintroduction efforts in areas that appear likely to stay snowy. Preso said those types of recovery efforts have been “held up” by the lack of federal protections.

Even though wolverines are known for their ferocity in the wildlife world, they’re greatly impacted by human disturbance – activities such as roads, forestry practices and snowmobile use.

The bear-like members of the weasel family are also threatened because their numbers are mainly in small, scattered populations. That means, if disease or some other natural disaster were to strike, it could wipe out large sections of the remaining wolverines, Werntz says.

Threatened and spotted

In Oregon, wolverines are listed as a threatened species. A few years ago, a wolverine was spotted in the Wallowa Mountains in the northeastern part of the state.

“What I think that indicates, is that if we give the wolverine a chance and lend them a hand, they can recover. They are incredibly resilient, and they are very tough. But they need some help to ensure that they have a future in this country,” Werntz said.

In Washington, wolverines are candidates to be listed as threatened. A wolverine mother and her kits were recently spotted at Mount Rainier National Park. Biologists hope that wildlife crossings and underpasses will allow wolverines to travel from the state’s North Cascades to other habitat further south in the Cascades.

This wasn’t the first time wolverines were spotted in Washington’s Southern Cascades. But researchers haven’t seen signs of the first wolverines in the area in years.

In Idaho, wolverines are listed as an “Idaho Species of Greatest Conservation Need.” Idaho’s Fish and Game Department says a threatened status is not warranted because there is “the high level of uncertainty related to climate change effects on wolverines and their habitat.”

Pushed toward extinction

Wolverines were pushed toward extinction by the early 1900s, from trapping and baiting for other predators. Trapping is still allowed in Canada. When conservation groups began petitioning to list wolverines, Montana still allowed anyone to trap one wolverine, according to Timothy Preso, the Earthjustice attorney. That is no longer the case, but he worries trapping could resume in Montana.

Conservation groups first filed a petition to add wolverines to the federal Endangered Species List in 2000. In April 2016, a judge ruled the federal government had to make a decision about the wolverines’ status, but it didn’t set a deadline. The groups sued again in March 2020.

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says threats to wolverines aren’t as significant as scientists believed in 2013, when it proposed to list wolverines as threatened. In a news release, the service said wolverine populations “remain stable.”

“In the time since our original proposal, the science on wolverine (sic) has been greatly advanced thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and researchers in the U.S. and around the world,” Noreen Walsh, regional director for the service, said in a statement.

The service also said wolverine populations in the lower 48 states are connected and “interact on some level” with those in Canada and Alaska. Therefore, it says, wolverines in the lower 48 do not qualify as distinct populations.

Preso says that reasoning doesn’t track. He points to other species protected under the Endangered Species Act that also have northern populations, such as bald eagles, grizzly bears and grey wolves.

“I don’t think most Americans want a future in which we are fine with writing off wildlife in the lower 48 because they still exist in Alaska,” Preso said. “That’s certainly not the vision that was enacted into law in the Endangered Species Act.”

He says the pushback against listing the wolverine under the Endangered Species Act stems from the national debate over climate change. Peer-reviewed studies show that 97 percent of actively publishing scientists agree that the warming climate is extremely likely caused by human activities.

Other species won’t fare well with climate change, from Canada Lynx also losing snowy habitat to coral facing bleaching, he said. That lack of acknowledgement is contributing to a worldwide wave of biodiversity loss, Preso says, which a UN report has called “unprecedented.”

Dave Werntz with Conservation Northwest says the Trump administration is “giving up and walking away from protecting the wolverine.”

Conservation groups say wolverine populations are indeed in trouble, and will remain so decades into the future as climate change threatens these high-elevation, snowy areas. That’s why Werntz believes it’s important to protect them now.

“When you protect the wolverine, you’re literally protecting that high country ecosystem and all of the plants and animals that depend on it,” he said.

(Courtney Flatt covers environmental and natural resource issues for Northwest Public Broadcasting. She is based in Washington’s Tri-Cities.)

******

Charleston Gazette-Mail

New recovery plan for nearly extinct red wolves due in 28 months

By Rick Steelhammer, Staff writer, Oct. 10, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has until Feb. 28, 2023, to complete an updated recovery plan for red wolves, only nine of which are known to exist in the wild today, following an agreement signed last Friday in U.S. District Court for Eastern North Carolina.

The agreement settles a lawsuit filed last November by the Center for Biological Diversity in an effort to end “foot-dragging” by the federal agency in updating a recovery plan for the red wolf, as required by the Endangered Species Act.

The red wolf once could be found from southeast Texas to southern Illinois, as far north as central Pennsylvania, and as far east as the coastal prairies of Virginia and North Carolina and southward to Florida.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the red wolf’s range once included all of West Virginia.

By the early 20th Century, the red wolf population had been decimated by habitat loss and hunting and trapping to collect bounties designed to reduce preying on farm animals.

By the 1960s, the range of the red wolf was limited to small populations along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

A few years after the red wolf was listed as an endangered species in 1973, only 17 were known to be living in the wild, according to the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem, New York.

That remnant population was captured and became the core of a captive breeding project.

In 1980, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the red wolf to be extinct in the wild, but within seven years, enough young wolves had been reared in captivity to re-introduce a portion of them into a segment of the species’ former range in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in northeast North Carolina.

By 2006, the number of red wolves living in the wild in North Carolina had risen to 130, but has steadily declined since then.

According to the Wolf Conservation Center, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stopped releasing young red wolves born in captivity into the wild, and failed to expand the number of release sites on public land.

The agency also allowed landowners to kill red wolves straying off the refuge and onto their property, and dropped a program that reduced the number of coyotes to prevent hybridization from harming the gene pool.

No red wolves have been born in the wild during the past two years.

Last October, the Center for Biological Diversity issued a report identifying 20,000 acres of federally managed lands in six states within the red wolf’s former range that could provide habitat for 500 breeding pairs of red wolves.

Included in that report were West Virginia’s 919,000-acre Monongahela National Forest and 124,000 acres of the George Washington and Jefferson National Forests that spill into West Virginia from Virginia.

Last November, the Center sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for failing to update a red wolf recovery plan, which the agency, following earlier litigation, had committed to completing by the end of 2018. The current recovery plan dates back to 1990.

The Oct. 2 agreement, signed by U.S. District Judge Terrance Boyle, is the result of the 2019 lawsuit.

“Time is running out to save red wolves and government foot-dragging has only made the problem worse,” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement announcing the agreement. “It’s frustrating that we’ve had to sue time and again to get action. Hopefully, this win finally gets these vulnerable wolves the help they need.”

Red wolves are smaller than gray wolves, which also once roamed the hills of West Virginia, and larger than coyotes, which moved into the state in the latter decades of the 1900s.

Red wolves are named for the reddish-brown hair found behind their ears and on the backs of their legs, but for the most part, their coats are buff or brown, with black streaks on their backs.

The last wild wolf known to exist in West Virginia — a gray wolf — was killed in 1897 in Webster County.

******

New York Times

Prince William Announces New Prize Aimed at ‘Repairing’ the Planet

By Elian Peltier, Oct. 8, 2020

LONDON — Prince William on Thursday announced the establishment of an environmental prize worth 50 million pounds, or $65 million, that will reward climate change solutions over the next 10 years, saying it was an effort to “turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism.”

Sir David Attenborough, the naturalist behind dozens of documentaries chronicling the planet’s biodiversity, has joined a council overseeing the prize and helped promote its launch through promotional videos and joint interviews with Prince William.

Prince William said the “Earthshot Prize” was inspired by President John F. Kennedy’s launch in 1961 of a decade-long research program, “Moonshot,” to send the first person to the moon.

It will comprise five awards of £1 million each for each of the next 10 years, centered on “earthshots,” or goals — fixing the climate, cleaning the air, protecting and restoring nature, reviving oceans, and tackling waste.

“We have to have a decade of change, a decade of repairing the planet so we can hand it on to the next generation and future generations,” Prince William said, adding that he didn’t want to “let down” his children by not acting.

“They don’t want to inherit a world that is full of doom and gloom,” he said.

The prize joins a long list of distinctions aimed at rewarding initiatives to tackle climate change. Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, promised to donate $500 million last year to close every coal-fired power plant in the United States.

Prince William launched the prize through the Royal Foundation, which supports charitable initiatives engaged in by him and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. It will be supported by a network of donors that include the Aga Khan Development Network, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Jack Ma Foundation, among others.

The Royal Foundation declined to offer additional information on the amount offered by each donor funding the prize, and did not say whether the British royal family would be donating any of its own money to the award.

In addition to Mr. Attenborough, other high-profile figures have also joined the prize council, including Christiana Figueres, the former United Nations climate chief, the actress Cate Blanchett, the Brazilian soccer star Dani Alves and the Colombian singer Shakira.

The prize comes amid growing concerns over climate change worldwide. Droughts have intensified in regions like the Middle East and Africa, and many areas keep registering their hottest months on record — September was just the latest example.

Wildfires and heat waves are expected to increase, and rising sea levels are set to affect hundreds of millions across the world as experts predict that by 2050, the Arctic’s ice could melt entirely in the summer.

Scientists have also predicted that global warming could trigger the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen, and warned that it might be too late to reverse the course of climate change.

Prince William said that although the planet was at a tipping point, he hoped that the prize would encourage innovators to find solutions quickly.

“If we don’t get our act together in the next 10 years, by 2030, it’s too late,” he said. In an interview with the BBC announcing the launch of the prize, Prince William said it was time for him to campaign for the environment the way his father, Prince Charles, has long done.

“I’ve always listened to and learned and believed in what he was saying,” Prince William said about his father’s longstanding commitment to environmental causes such as organic farming and finding alternatives to plastics.

The inaugural recipients of the prize will be announced next year in London, and could include individuals or groups of people, businesses, cities and countries, the Royal Foundation said.

Mr. Attenborough told the BBC that he hoped that there would be many applications for the prize, even those with “crackpot ideas.” In a tweet, he called it “the most prestigious environment prize in history.”

In a similar spirit to the “Moonshot” program, Prince William said the prize would reward “simple but ambitious goals for our planet which, if achieved by 2030, will improve life for us all, for generations to come.”

Experts say that tackling climate change requires changing people’s behaviors, and most important, galvanizing political will.

“We found over £190 billion worth to fix and help the recovery through Covid,” Prince William told the BBC about the British government’s spending on the pandemic, as he announced the creation of the prize. “We can do the same for the environment. It really isn’t that difficult.”

******

E & E News

FWS pulls wolverine protection proposal

Michael Doyle, E&E News reporter, October 8, 2020

The Fish and Wildlife Service today clawed back a high-profile proposal to list the North American wolverine under the Endangered Species Act, reigniting a fight that’s previously entangled climate science and politics.

The withdrawal marks the second time the agency has sought to retract a 2013 proposal to protect the snow-loving mammal, and comes following additional studies that officials say shed new light on the wolverine’s present condition and future prospects.

“In the time since our original proposal, the science on [the] wolverine has been greatly advanced thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and researchers in the U.S. and around the world,” Noreen Walsh, Mountain-Prairie regional director for FWS, said in a statement.

FWS noted that “the most significant stressor” on the species apparently remains “the effects of climate change, such as warming temperatures and loss of snowpack.”

But since the initial listing proposal seven years ago, FWS states in a new species status assessment, more refined snow modeling and new field research have “improved our understanding” of wolverine biology and the species’ needs.

Jodi Bush, Montana project leader with FWS, added in an interview that the agency “decided to go back and start from square one” to evaluate the species and the potential future it faces. As a result, she said, “we know more” about factors that include genetics, climate impact and the animal’s denning behavior.

“In particular, wolverine populations and wolverine dens have been observed outside previously modeled projections of spring snow cover,” the new status assessment states.

In an interview, FWS biologist Justin Shoemaker elaborated that precise wolverine population details are elusive but that “they are starting to occupy parts of their range that they haven’t been in in decades, if not longer.”

Environmentalists, though, insist the species requires protection, and they can mobilize. More than 120,000 public comments rained down on FWS during its prior wolverine go-around.

“Recent scientific information makes clear that wolverines face threats from destruction of their snowy habitat due to climate change,” said Earthjustice attorney Timothy Preso. “We intend to take action to make sure that the administration’s disregard of the real impacts of climate change does not doom the wolverine to extinction in the Lower 48 states.”

‘Immense political pressure’

The wolverine is the largest terrestrial member of the family that also includes weasels and minks, and, in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s words, it “resembles a small bear with a bushy tail.”

In 1994, the Predator Project and Biodiversity Legal Foundation filed the first petition to list the wolverine in the contiguous United States under the Endangered Species Act. It failed, but other petitions followed, as did litigation.

FWS proposed listing the wolverine in 2013, citing climate change models that forecast big reductions in the species’ mountainous, snowy habitat.

Five of seven peer reviewers supported the agency’s conclusions, while two were skeptical. A nine-person independent panel subsequently recommended the species be listed because of the predicted long-term habitat loss.

The Fish and Wildlife Service’s leadership rejected the recommendations and withdrew the proposal in 2014, noting uncertainties “about the degree to which we can reliably predict impacts to wolverine populations from climate change.”

In 2016, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ordered FWS to take another look at listing the wolverine as a threatened species (Greenwire, April 5, 2016).

“The wolverine’s sensitivity to climate change, in general, cannot really be questioned. In fact, many believe, similar to the polar bear, that the wolverine may serve as a land-based indicator of global warming,” U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen wrote.

Christensen added that a “possible answer” to why FWS reversed itself “can be found in the immense political pressure that was brought to bear on this issue, particularly by a handful of western states” that included Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

“The listing decision in this case involves climate science, and climate science evokes strong reactions,” Christensen wrote.

Bush, the Montana project leader with FWS, said yesterday that “there has not been any political pressure on this” and that the “recommendation came up from the field and was not political.”

Earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and more than a half-dozen other groups again sued to compel a final FWS decision.

******

The Korea Bizwire

Korea to Build New Facility for Endangered Species

Posted on October 8, 2020 by Korea Bizwire

The National Institute of Ecology announced Wednesday that an animal protection facility governed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) will be built in Seocheon County, South Chungcheong Province next April.

CITES sets global standards to restrict international trade of endangered species in order to protect them.

The new facility has been designed based on the three basic principles of ensuring comfortable space for the animals, utilizing renewable energy, and creating a viewing environment without obstacles.

The new facility will accommodate up to 1,000 animals, including desert foxes, tamarin monkeys, and others confiscated from illegal trade.

The facility will accept animals based on proper quarantine measures. Animals whose protection has expired will be sent to proper agencies for adoption.

******

The Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)

Eastern black rail gets federal protection under Endangered Species Act

By Tony Bartelme, Oct. 7, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Wednesday it will list the eastern black rail as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act, a move that gives the elusive bird new protections in South Carolina and other states where populations have declined or disappeared altogether.

Nicknamed the “feathered mouse,” the eastern black rail is one of the most secretive birds in North America, well-camouflaged with its black-and-brown plumage and tiny red eyes. Ardent birders covet chances to see one or hear its distinctive kickee-doo! The agency’s move, delayed for nearly a year, came in the wake of The Post and Courier’s special report last month, Ghost Bird, which detailed the bird’s plight.

But black rails are in deep trouble. They live on slivers of habitat along the East Coast, often hiding in dense marsh grass. As developers destroyed wetlands and rising seas gobbled even more, black rails declined by 75 percent in the past 10 to 20 years, the Fish and Wildlife Service said in a statement announcing its decision.

South Carolina has emerged as an important last bastion, especially areas in the ACE Basin and Santee Delta. Old rice fields, including many in state and federal wildlife refuges, are somewhat protected from rising seas.

Biologists with state Department of Natural Resources have done groundbreaking research in these areas — work that played a major part in the federal government’s decision this week.

State officials were encouraged to see the listing of this “critically imperiled species,” said Emily Cope, deputy director of DNR’s wildlife and freshwater fisheries division. She said the listing will help the public grow more aware of the bird’s vulnerable status and “increase the likelihood of its recovery.”

Christy Hand, a DNR biologist and black rail expert, said the federal listing could help fund long-term projects to save the bird. “Much of the habitat they rely on has disappeared,” she said. The federal listing could open doors to more grants and other money to manage areas for black rails and other rare birds.

The federal government’s decision is “a game changer” and “call to action for our society to rally around this species and turn the tide,” added Bryan Watts, director of The Center for Conservation Biology, a group in Virginia that has long pushed for protections. “Black rails do not suffer alone from sea-level rise. There are other species on that bus, but hopefully they can serve as an umbrella species for other marsh-nesting birds. It is a great acknowledgment of the situation. Now the work begins.”

The fight to save the black rail has been a long one. It began more than a decade ago when conservationists demanded that the federal government study the black rail’s decline.

In late 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed listing the bird as “threatened” instead of the stronger “endangered” level. This was so even though the bird had vanished from many parts of its range.

Scientists estimate that only 700 to 1,600 live along the Atlantic Coast, and 1,300 more on the Texas coast.

Christy Hand, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, has made important discoveries about the elusive black rail by stationing cameras in secret spots in the marsh. Tony Bartelme/Staff

The agency had one year to finalize its decision, but that deadline passed without any action. In March, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding the agency follow its own rules. A trial was scheduled in November.

On Wednesday, the agency declined to answer why it missed the deadline and decided to list the bird now, saying only, “We prioritize the most at-risk species.”

In the Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit, the group noted that black rails weren’t the only species waiting for protection; the suit alleges the agency had a backlog of more than 500 other decisions.

Meantime, the Trump administration in August weakened the way it enforces the Endangered Species Act, changing language that makes it easier to ignore threats from the accelerating forces of climate change, such as rising sea levels.

Stephanie Kurose, a policy specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the birds should have been deemed “endangered,” not just threatened.

“After a decade of being ignored, these shy, fascinating birds are finally getting some much-needed protections,” she said. But the federal government’s weaker designation was “a big blow to these little creatures,” especially when it comes to setting aside land specifically for rare birds, such as the black rail. “The failure to designate critical habitat gives developers and polluters a free pass to continue destroying rail habitat until there’s nothing left.”

******

Intermountain Farm & Ranch

Suit seeks to force listing of bistate grouse on NV-CA line

By SCOTT SONNER, Associated Press, Oct. 6, 2020

RENO, Nev. — Citing the government’s repeated reversals and refusals to protect a cousin of the greater sage grouse the last two decades, conservationists are suing again to try to force the federal listing of the bi-state sage grouse along the California-Nevada line.

The Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It’s the latest move in a legal and regulatory battle that dates to the first petition to list the bird in 2001 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The service is utterly failing in its duty to preserve and protect sage grouse,” said Laura Cunningham, California director of the Western Watersheds Project.

“Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will push these beautiful grouse to extinction,” said Lisa Belenky, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The hen-sized bird is similar to but separate from the greater sage grouse, which lives in a dozen Western states and is at the center of a dispute over the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back protections adopted under President Barack Obama. Threats to the survival of both include urbanization, livestock grazing and wildfires.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the bi-state grouse population is half what it was 150 years ago along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. Fewer than 3,500 are believed to remain across 7,000 square miles of mostly high desert sagebrush stretching from Carson City to Yosemite National Park.

Service officials are reviewing the lawsuit but had no immediate comment, the agency said.

Recent efforts to protect the birds have included installation of flagging on barbed-wire fencing and vegetation-removal projects, but have failed to stem their decline, the lawsuit said. Scientists estimate occupied habitat has decreased by more than 200 square miles (518 square km) over the past 11 years.

“The surviving bi-state sage grouse subpopulations are tiny, isolated and face imminent threats. There is no credible excuse for denying them the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected listing petitions in 2001 and 2005. Facing a series of lawsuits, it formally proposed threatened status for the first time in 2013 — along with the designation of nearly 3,000 square miles of critical habitat to be protected — but abandoned that proposal two years later.

The conservation groups sued again in 2016. A federal judge ruled in their favor in 2018 and ordered the agency to again re-evaluate the bird’s status. The judge said the service’s reliance on new population modeling contradicted its own admission that the results had to be interpreted “with caution.”

In April of 2019, the service announced the court-required reinstatement of the 2013 proposed listing rule before formally withdrawing the proposal in March.

The agency said its latest review indicated the bird’s status has improved, thanks in large part to voluntary protection measures adopted by state agencies, local ranchers and other interested third parties.

The new lawsuit says that decision was made “in the face of overwhelming evidence of the dire condition” of the species.

It says the acreage of habitat that were treated to improve conditions for grouse — or kept the same through application of conservation easements that limit future habitat destruction — affected only 6% of the 2,921 square miles USFWS proposed to designate as critical habitat in 2013.

******

Capital Press (Salem, OR)

Oregon to proceed with ‘habitat conservation plan’ process

By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI, Oct. 6, 2020

Oregon forest regulators have unanimously rejected the timber industry’s arguments against moving forward with a “habitat conservation plan” for several protected species on state forestlands.

On Oct. 6, the Oregon Board of Forestry voted in favor of proceeding with an environmental analysis of the plan, which timber advocates wanted to prevent due to fears of reduced logging and harm to rural economies.

The habitat conservation plan, or HCP, would aim to mitigate harm to 16 species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act or could gain federal protection.

However, the plan would absolve the Oregon Department of Forestry, which manages the forestlands, from liability for “incidental take” — the killing of protected species or destruction of their habitat.

Currently, ODF manages the affected 640,000 acres to avoid incidental take, which the HCP anticipates will be tougher to do in the future.

Representatives of the timber industry and rural communities argue the plan is too restrictive compared to similar HCPs on private and public property elsewhere in the Northwest.

“Do I care about endangered species? Yes, but there is already so much ground set aside for that now,” said Mike Pihl, a logger from Vernonia and president of the Timber Unity group, which advocates on behalf of rural communities.

Much of Oregon’s forestland is under federal ownership and effectively cannot be logged, while the state also has extensive regulations for harvesting timber on state and private lands, he said.

“We already have tons of protection in place,” Pihl said.

The plan ignores the economic and social needs of rural communities while taking a hands-off approach to management that has led to fire danger and other problems on federal property, said Rex Storm, lobbyist for the Association of Oregon Loggers.

“This HCP would repeat the failures of federal forest management, which are unacceptable to us,” Storm said.

Under the ODF’s interpretation, logging would initially decline under the HCP but the plan would eventually result in a larger volume of timber harvest over 75 years compared to the current “take avoidance strategies.”

The agency claims the HCP will provide “increased certainty” compared to other forest management methods, which will also likely result in reduced logging as more species are listed and more acreage must be protected.

The Oregon Forest & Industries Council, which represents the timber industry, counters that the HCP sets aside too much forestland for conservation without taking into account the adverse impacts to the threatened spotted owl from the more aggressive barred owl.

The organization also worries that ODF’s data models and logging projections are flawed, which will result in greater-than-anticipated restrictions on timber harvest when the HCP is implemented.

“We have a lack of confidence in the harvest numbers,” said Seth Barnes, OFIC’s forest policy director.

Representatives of state and federal agencies, which have been developing the HCP since 2017, testified in support of conducting a federally required environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Only after that NEPA evaluation is complete in mid-2022 will the Board of Forestry decide whether to implement the plan.

The HCP will reconcile competing demands for wildlife habitat, clean water, timber revenues and other public values, said Paul Henson, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s state supervisor for Oregon.

The plan “does the most benefit for the greatest group of folks,” he said.

Members of the Board of Forestry ultimately agreed with proponents of the HCP, voting 6-0 to proceed with the NEPA analysis at the conclusion of the Oct. 6 online hearing.

The environmental analysis will provide more information about the HCP and answer questions about societal impacts and other effects, said Cindy Deacon Williams, a fisheries biologist and board member.

Even so, the ODF’s evaluation of the plan has already been robust up to this point, she said. “I’ve never entered a NEPA process with this much done.”

James Kelly, a hardware entrepreneur and Grant County rancher, said he understands that timber communities are frustrated and distrustful of the plan, but the board doesn’t want to mismanage the state’s forests.

“Our job is to represent all the people of Oregon and I feel we take that quite seriously,” Kelly said.

Nils Christoffersen, executive director of the Wallowa Resources nonprofit, said that state forests are important for several types of jobs and reviving traditionally timber-dependent communities will require innovation.

“The harvest of trees is not going to solve the rural future,” he said.

******

RFD-TV (Nashville, TN)

Presidential candidates on the Endangered Species Act

Tuesday, October 6th 2020

President Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, each took time to respond to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s survey on agriculture issues.

Question from the American Farm Bureau Federation: Privately owned land provides habitat for the majority of our nation’s endangered and threatened species. As a result, landowners often face harsh regulatory restrictions on their ability to use the land or, worse, lawsuits or enforcement actions. Meanwhile, few species have actually been recovered under the law. It’s time to think about incentive-based programs that create a positive role for landowners in species recovery. As president, how would you fix the broken Endangered Species Act, and what role would you assign America’s landowners?

Trump: The Trump Administration worked with farmers and ranchers to improve regulations of the ESA which increased transparency and effectiveness bringing clarity to farmers, ranchers, water users, and landowners in how the law is administrated. The improved regulations among other items, deals with adding species to or removing species from the Act’s protections, designating critical habitat, and covers consultations with other federal agencies.

In the first term, the Trump Administration recovered and delisted more species under the Endangered Species Act than any other President in their first term.

The Trump Administration has also proposed a definition for the term “habitat” that would be used in the context of critical habitat designations under the ESA, which will further add clarity, and improve partnerships by improving consistency and predictability around critical habitat definitions.

The Trump Administration is committed to science-based conservation with common-sense policy designed to bring the ESA into the 21st Century, while allowing farmers and ranchers to be the most productive on their land. A Biden/Harris Administration will pursue a regulatory policy more like the state of California of fish and birds over farmers and business.

Biden: As President, I will uphold the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to ensure the protection of imperiled species and to maintain our nation’s wildlife heritage for future generations. The Act has prevented the extinction of more than 99% of the species it protects but with climate change and other challenges, continued success will require an increasing number of effective partnerships between federal agencies, the states, and private landowners. This includes voluntary agreements with landowners that provide appropriate incentives to improve habitat conditions for listed and at-risk species. I will invest in programs such as Working Lands for Wildlife within the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) at USDA that provide incentives, including regulatory certainty, for landowners to engage in voluntary restoration efforts on their lands which create or restore habitats where wildlife thrive and landowners in rural communities can prosper. The Sage Grouse Initiative, developed during the Obama-Biden Administration, is a good example of how our Administration will approach the Endangered Species Act. The Initiative created a productive partnership between the federal and state governments and ranchers to help protect key habitat and avoid the need to list the greater sage grouse as threatened or endangered under the ESA.

******

Fox40 TV (Sacramento)

Suit seeks to force listing of bi-state grouse on California-Nevada line

by: Associated Press, Posted: Oct. 5, 2020

RENO, Nev. (AP) — Citing the government’s repeated reversals and refusals to protect a cousin of the greater sage grouse the last two decades, conservationists are suing again to try to force the federal listing of the bi-state sage grouse along the California-Nevada line.

The Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco last week against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

It’s the latest move in a legal and regulatory battle that dates to the first petition to list the bird in 2001 under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“The service is utterly failing in its duty to preserve and protect sage grouse,” said Laura Cunningham, California director of the Western Watersheds Project.

“Without the legal protection of the Endangered Species Act, multiple threats will push these beautiful grouse to extinction,” said Lisa Belenky, a lawyer at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The hen-sized bird is similar to but separate from the greater sage grouse, which lives in a dozen Western states and is at the center of a dispute over the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back protections adopted under President Barack Obama. Threats to the survival of both include urbanization, livestock grazing and wildfires.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the bi-state grouse population is half what it was 150 years ago along the eastern front of the Sierra Nevada. Fewer than 3,500 are believed to remain across 7,000 square miles (18,129 square kilometers) of mostly high desert sagebrush stretching from Carson City to Yosemite National Park.

Service officials are reviewing the lawsuit but had no immediate comment, the agency said.

Recent efforts to protect the birds have included the installation of flagging on barbed-wire fencing and vegetation-removal projects, but have failed to stem their decline, the lawsuit said. Scientists estimate occupied habitat has decreased by more than 200 square miles (518 square km) over the past 11 years.

“The surviving bi-state sage grouse subpopulations are tiny, isolated and face imminent threats. There is no credible excuse for denying them the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Taylor Jones, an endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected listing petitions in 2001 and 2005. Facing a series of lawsuits, it formally proposed threatened status for the first time in 2013 — along with the designation of nearly 3,000 square miles (7,769 square km) of critical habitat to be protected — but abandoned that proposal two years later.

The conservation groups sued again in 2016. A federal judge ruled in their favor in 2018 and ordered the agency to again re-evaluate the bird’s status. The judge said the service’s reliance on new population modeling contradicted its own admission that the results had to be interpreted “with caution.”

In April of 2019, the service announced the court-required reinstatement of the 2013 proposed listing rule before formally withdrawing the proposal in March.

The agency said its latest review indicated the bird’s status has improved, thanks in large part to voluntary protection measures adopted by state agencies, local ranchers and other interested third parties.

The new lawsuit says that decision was made “in the face of overwhelming evidence of the dire condition” of the species.

It says the acreage of habitat that was treated to improve conditions for grouse — or kept the same through the application of conservation easements that limit future habitat destruction — affected only 6% of the 2,921 square miles (7,565 square km) USFWS proposed to designate as critical habitat in 2013.

******

Sustainability Times

AI can help us save the planet’s embattled orchids

By Daniel T Cross on October 5, 2020

Orchids are among the planet’s most beloved plants, celebrated for their flamboyant beauty. Their aesthetic appeal aside, orchids also serve vital roles in horticulture and the pharmaceutical industry.

Yet for all that, as much as a third of the estimated 29,000 orchid species around the planet could be facing imminent threats from habitat loss as wetlands, grasslands and forests are being converted into agricultural land. Illegal harvesting is also taking a toll on rare orchids.

And often we might not even know.

The reason is that many threatened orchid species remain unlisted by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in its Red List of Threatened Species, the world’s prominent database on vulnerable, threatened and endangered species of flora and fauna. Assessing the status of a rare species at risk of extinction often takes time and plenty of resources to locate, identify and document that species.

That is where a new method of automated assessment devised by biodiversity researchers from several institutions in Germany can help by speeding up the process of rigorous assessment required for inclusion in the Red List, which currently lists around 1,400 of the planet’s orchid species under various categories.

The international team led by researchers from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Leipzig University, and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research has come up with an automated assessment approach that relies on machine-learning algorithms, or deep learning.

“Deep neural networks are widely used in other fields such as image recognition, but they can also help with conservation assessments,” explains Alexander Zizka, one of the scientists. “With our method, we can incorporate additional aspects such as climate, geographic region or traits related to the respective species — and we can do this very fast.”

The researchers managed to assess the status of nearly a half of known orchid species, or 14,000 in all, regarding their various risk of extinction in the first large-scale assessment of the conservation status of orchids. Of those more than 4,300 are possibly threatened with extinction at an accuracy rate of 84.3%, according to the researchers.

In addition, the scientists identified areas where conservation efforts are most urgently needed, which include Madagascar, East Africa, Southeast Asia, and several oceanic islands.

“Ideally, all orchid species would have IUCN Red List assessments. This way, the ones most urgently in need of conservation efforts most urgently are identified, which is the critical first step in conservation,” says Pati Vitt, an expert on orchids at Northwestern University in Evanston in the United States.

A sense of urgency about the classification of all the world’s orchids according to their conservation status is warranted as two-thirds of plant species worldwide are threatened with extinction, according to the latest State of the World’s Plants and Fungi 2020 report by the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in the United Kingdom.

“Deforestation rates have soared as we have cleared land to feed ever-more people, global emissions are disrupting the climate system, new pathogens threaten our crops and our health, illegal trade has eradicated entire plant populations, and non-native species are outcompeting local floras,” the report warns.

******

The Daily Chronicle (Centralia, WA)

Orca-Focused Whale Watching Rules Taking Shape 

By Kimberly Cauvel / Skagit Valley Herald, Oct. 4, 2020

Between the announcements of two new Southern Resident orca calves in the Salish Sea during September, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife released a document examining options for licensing commercial whale-watching companies.

The state agency on Sept. 23 published a draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, outlining options for licensing, which is aimed at better protecting the endangered orca whales.

Licensing will be a new kind of oversight for the whale-watching industry, which includes boats of various sizes that take customers onto the Salish Sea to see iconic wildlife including orca, gray and humpback whales. The state Legislature directed Fish and Wildlife in spring 2019 to establish a licensing program as part of an effort to prevent extinction of the Southern Resident orcas.

On the heels of the draft EIS, Fish and Wildlife released an early draft of licensing rules on Oct. 1. The agency is taking public comment and has scheduled virtual public meetings for both documents.

“With two new orca calves born in the last month, we know people are excited and invested in helping create conditions that give these whales the best chance at survival,” Fish and Wildlife’s orca policy lead Julie Watson said in a news release.

After receiving public comment, Fish and Wildlife will produce a final EIS with a preferred alternative and present its recommendations to the Fish and Wildlife Commission in December. The commission will decide on a final rule for licensing, which is expected to take effect Feb. 1.

The Southern Resident orca population that is the focus of the licensing rules includes three family groups — called J, K and L pods — that each frequent the Salish Sea. The population was deemed endangered in 2005 but has continued to decline — from 88 when listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act to 74 now with the births of the two calves in J Pod.

The decline is thought to be caused by exposure to pollution and underwater noise from boat traffic, combined with not enough salmon to eat.

State licensing for whale watching is intended to reduce boat noise, allowing the orcas more time to rest and hunt for fish using echolocation.

“Vessels, including commercial whale-watching vessels, create noise and disturbance that can elicit behavioral disruptions such as reduced foraging behaviors, changes in swimming patterns, increased surface-active behaviors and, along with other stressors, this can threaten their viability in Washington waters,” a news release about the draft EIS states.

The EIS includes four alternatives. They range from no action to establish licensing to licensing that would limit all whale-watching operations to no more than four hours per day no more than two days per week, for up to 10 months of the year. During the remaining months of the year, the limits would apply only to Southern Resident orca viewing.

“We’re using the best available science to support the conservation of these iconic animals,” Fish and Wildlife’s Watson said in the release.

Among the rules in the draft released Wednesday is a requirement of annual licensing for any company offering whale watching by motorized boat, sailboat or kayak, including an annual training for all boat operators.

Whale-watching boats would have to stay more than a half-mile from Southern Resident orcas nine months of the year — October through June. During the remaining months, the more than half-mile distance must be maintained except for four hours of the day, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 3 to 5 p.m.

No more than three motorized whale-watching boats could be in the vicinity of a Southern Resident at the same time, according to the draft rules, which also outline new reporting requirements and penalties.

Starting May 1, whale-watching companies would be required to maintain and submit to Fish and Wildlife information on sightings of Southern Resident orcas. By Jan. 1, 2022, whale-watching boats would need to have automatic identification systems installed allowing state and federal authorities to identify the vessel and its position, course and speed.

An economic impact study suggests the proposed rules would not harm the whale-watching industry’s viability so long as it recovers from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most expensive part is expected to be installation of automatic identification systems, which the study concluded would cost less than 1% of the industry’s annual revenue.

As for penalties, violations of the licensing rules would come with fines between $100 and $500 per incident, according to the draft rules. The more incidents accrued per license holder and industry wide, the tighter restrictions on viewing Southern Resident orcas would become for the remainder of the month.

******

NNY 360 (Watertown, NY)

One of the world’s slowest animals survives two wildfires 

By MARK PRICE, Charlotte Observer, Oct. 2, 2020

Animals survive wildfires by running, so it would be safe to assume turtles don’t stand much of a chance.

Yet wildlife experts in Utah say they just discovered one particular Mojave desert tortoise that shows evidence of having survived not one, but two large wildfires.

That seems almost impossible, given the endangered species moves at about 0.2 mph, according to the National Park Service.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says staff found the tortoise while surveying wildfire damage in southern Utah.

“Not only did he survive the Turkey Farm Road fire in July (nearly 12,000 acres), but he also has old burn scars from the 2005 Mill Creek fire! (more than 14,000 acres),” the division said in a Sept. 23 Facebook post. “Take a look at the flaking layers of laminae on the … plates that cover the shell — those are old burn marks.”

Photos of the burn scars were posted, along with an image showing the tortoise is now living in a forbidding world of baked dirt and ashes.

The 2005 Mill Creek fire was particularly devastating to the species, burning 7,885 acres of known tortoise habitat and killing at least 57 tortoises, state officials report.

Mojave desert tortoises are a threatened species that weigh up to 15 pounds and can live 80 years, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They survive on a diet of grass, wildflowers and cacti, the service says.

The species is considered “one of the most elusive inhabitants of the desert,” which is probably how the tortoise survived two fires. The desert tortoise is known for “spending up to 95 percent of its life underground” to escape cold in winter and heat in summer, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Warm weather burrows are “only be a few inches from the surface,” while winter burrows may be three feet deep.

“In order for a tortoise to survive a wildfire, it must be in a stable deep burrow and, importantly, remain in the burrow until the surrounding ash cools,” Utah officials posted.

The division didn’t address how the tortoise sustained burns if it was under ground during the two fires, suggesting there is still a mystery to be solved.

******

Savannah Morning News

Offshore oil exploration with seismic testing halted off Georgia coast

By Mary Landers, Posted Oct. 2, 2020

Seismic testing appears to be dead in the water for now as companies involved in litigation about the controversial oil and gas exploration method said they won’t pursue it this year off the Atlantic coast, including off Georgia.

South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, One Hundred Miles and other nonprofit groups sued NOAA Fisheries over its issuance of incidental harassment authorizations, which are needed for seismic testing permits.

The authorizations are “basically permission for any company or an individual to harm or kill endangered species in the South Atlantic off the Georgia coast,” explained Alice Miller Keyes of One Hundred Miles.

Environmental groups like hers said the authorizations were too lenient and have demanded to see how NOAA Fisheries arrived at its conclusions.

But timing is running out on the authorizations anyway, as government attorneys acknowledged.

“The Incidental Harassment Authorizations that NOAA Fisheries issued on November 30, 2018 — and that are challenged in this case — will expire on or before November 30, 2020,” they wrote in a filing with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina Charleston Division dated Sept. 29.

With less than two months until the authorizations expire and a month required to allow states to issue “consistency orders,” the companies involved told the court verbally on Thursday they did not intend to move forward on seismic testing off the Atlantic coast this year.

President Donald Trump in early September extended a ban on new offshore drilling, but that ban did not cover seismic testing. However, with drilling off the table for the foreseeable future, exploration is less viable, too.

Ten Georgia municipalities including Tybee, Thunderbolt, Savannah, Richmond Hill and Hinesville have passed resolutions opposing seismic testing and offshore drilling. Environmental groups oppose the seismic testing because of the risk it poses to marine life and also because it provides a gateway to offshore oil drilling.

“This is a huge victory not just for us but for every coastal community that loudly and persistently protested the possibility of seismic blasting,” said Catherine Wannamaker, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, which is representing the environmental groups.

“There will be no boats in the water this year, and because this resets the clock, there will be no boats in the water for a long time. And we’ll continue fighting to keep it that way.”

Seismic testing is seen as a special threat to the 400 remaining North Atlantic right whales, which gives birth off the coast of Georgia and Florida.

“Everyone’s treasured state marine mammal is the North Atlantic Right Whale, which is critically endangered,” Keyes said. “But also there’s the impact of harming other endangered species like sea turtles, and even the non-endangered species that would be harmed.

“To do seismic testing would have a waterfall impact on the whole marine system that is really set up to function in a world that does not suffer from these loud blasts of air.”

******

Southern Environmental Law Center

SELC flags Endangered Species Act violation in EPA rule harming clean water

October 1, 2020

Today, the Southern Environmental Law Center notified the Environmental Protection Agency that it violated the Endangered Species Act when it cut back on the rights of states and local communities under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. SELC sent the notice on behalf of South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, South Carolina Native Plant Society, Amigos Bravos, Natural Resources Defense Council, Savannah Riverkeeper, and Waterkeeper Alliance.

The EPA has adopted new Section 401 regulations that eliminate the ability of states and their residents to ensure that projects requiring federal permits and licenses do not harm local clean water and natural resources.

In many instances, local communities have requested and states have put in place conditions that protect rare species in the areas impacted by federally permitted projects. The new EPA rules would restrict the ability of states and local residents to secure those protections. Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA was required to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before making changes that would harm endangered and threatened species, to ensure those changes would not jeopardize the species’ continued existence. EPA failed to do so.

“Over decades, states and local communities have required that federal permits include requirements to protect important natural resources, including rare fish, plants, and birds,” said Senior Attorney Frank Holleman. “In eliminating the rights of states and local residents to put in place these protections, the EPA has failed in its fundamental duty to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service before taking such harmful action.”

The notice informs the EPA of the organizations’ intent to bring suit for violation of the Endangered Species Act if the EPA does not comply with the Act in 60 days.

These organizations have previously sued the EPA in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina for violations of the federal Clean Water Act and Administrative Procedure Act when it adopted the new restrictive regulations under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. That suit is pending in Charleston, S.C.

******

The Davis Vanguard

Lifeline for Threatened and Endangered Species: Governor Newsom Signs Rodenticide Moratorium

by Debra Chase, October 1, 2020

By signing the California’s new rodenticide moratorium today, Governor Gavin Newsom has extended a lifeline to some of the state’s threatened and endangered species. The Mountain Lion Foundation celebrating the much-anticipated signing of Assembly Bill 1788, authored by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and supported by more than two dozen animal welfare and environmental protection organizations. The bill passed the Senate and the Assembly with strong votes (23-7 and 53-17, respectively) in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session. The new law prohibits most uses of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) statewide.

“Rodenticides are deadly for California’s mountain lions and other precious wildlife across the state,” said Governor Newsom. “My father was a naturalist and a strong advocate for the preservation of mountain lions, and I grew up loving these cats and caring about their well-being. He would be proud to know that California is taking action to protect mountain lion populations and other wildlife from the toxic effects of rodenticides.”

The law puts a moratorium on the use of first- and second-generation rodenticides while the Department of Pesticide Regulation works to deliver a definitive study of the poisons’ impacts on imperiled wildlife such as mountain lions. While final study results may take years to produce, supporters say the ban buys valuable time for California mountain lions currently under consideration for threatened species designation. The California Fish and Game Commission voted in April to advance the lions’ candidacy under the state’s Endangered Species Act, citing evidence that some of the state’s regional subpopulations face possible extinction from the impact of low genetic diversity and high human-caused mortality.

“After many years of studying the impacts of these chemicals, we know that these poisons pose a serious threat to our wildlife,” said Assemblymember Bloom. “Wildlife, especially our state’s Mountain Lions, can’t wait any longer. AB 1788 is a common sense measure that curbs the use of dangerous poisons until the re-evaluation can be completed. Today, I am grateful that hard pressed mountain lions and other animals will soon be a little safer.”

The bill will permit the use of certain poisons to protect public health and specifically names rodent infestations that pose a “significant risk” to human health. It also allows their use to protect water supplies; to eliminate non-native species that have invaded offshore islands; in food warehouses, slaughterhouses, canneries, breweries and wineries; and for certain other agricultural uses.

“By signing this bill, Governor Newsom has taken a bold step to prioritize wildlife health in the face of many growing pressures like climate change, wildfires, habitat fragmentation, and vehicle collisions, to name a few,” said Mountain Lion Foundation CEO, Debra Chase. “By pulling these four highly toxic rat poisons from the hands of pest control operators, California is giving sensitive species like mountain lions a bit of a fighting chance.”

Last month, National Parks Service researchers confirmed that a mountain lion and a bobcat each died in the Santa Monica Mountains as a direct result of rodenticide poisoning. Biologists have documented the presence of anticoagulant rodenticide compounds in 26 out of 27 local mountain lions they have tested, including in a three-month-old kitten. “Every mountain lion is important to the gene pool. A mountain lion lost to rodenticides is tragic, avoidable, and meaningful,” Chase said, adding that the removal of second-generation anticoagulants from consumer use in 2014 failed to decrease the rate of wildlife poisoning, which pointed to the need to remove the poisons from commercial use as well.

******

Daily Freeman

New NY state law adds level of protection to endangered species 

By Paul Kirby, Sep 30, 2020

HUDSON, N.Y. — State Assemblywoman Didi Barrett says legislation signed last week by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will protect the state’s wildlife even if the federal government takes certain species off its endangered list.

Didi Barrett, D-Hudson, said the new law will go a long way toward saving New York’s endangered wildlife.

“The environment is in desperate need of protection, but the federal government has moved to make it easier to remove species from the endangered species list, ignoring climate change concerns and sound science,” Barrett, who sponsored the bill (A04077) in the Assembly, said in a prepared statement. “This law protects endangered species in New York state from federal policies that would remove them from the endangered list, regardless of if the state believes that they are still in need of protection. Now those protections will stay in place until the state has conducted its own review of the species’ viability.”

Barrett represents New York’s 106th Assembly District and is running for a sixth two-year term this fall against Dean Michael, R-Clinton.

Barrett said the new law, based on research by students at Pace University, requires that any endangered and threatened species, as designated by the U.S. secretary of the interior, continue to be subject to protections in New York state regardless of federal action.

“A species would only be removed from the list if it is determined to no longer be endangered or threatened by the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,” Barrett’s office said.

******

WLFI.com/News 18 (West Lafayette, IN)

Agency proposes protections for 2 Eastern US mussel species

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP)—September 29, 2020—Federal regulators Monday proposed listing as threatened two freshwater mussel species native to many eastern U.S. rivers and streams.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said longsolid and round hickorynut mussels have disappeared from some states and are doing poorly elsewhere. They are among roughly 300 species of freshwater mussels across the nation, two-thirds of which are in peril.

A designation of “threatened” means they’re likely to become “endangered,” or at risk of extinction, in the foreseeable future in much or all of their range.

Adding them to the federal list will raise awareness of their plight and generate resources and partnerships aimed at rescuing them, the fish and wildlife service said.

“Freshwater mussels are at the leading edge of the U.S. extinction crisis, so it’s a relief that these two important river dwellers are finally on their way to gaining the protection they need to survive,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned the agency in 2010 to protect the species and filed a lawsuit last year to enforce a decision deadline.

Freshwater mussels are important for healthy rivers and streams because they filter out pollutants and sediments as they feed.

The longsolid measures up to five inches (127 millimeters) long and can live up to 50 years in sand, gravel and cobble stream bottoms. It still is found in Alabama, Kentucky, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. It has disappeared from Georgia, Indiana and Illinois.

The round hickorynut is smaller, reaching three inches (76 millimeters) in length. It lives up to 15 years and prefers similar habitats in Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia. It is no longer found in Georgia, Illinois or New York.

Both species have been harmed by damaged and shrinking habitat due to poor farming practices and development, along with genetic isolation and invasive species.

The service also is proposing to designate “critical habitat” for the mussels along more than 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) of river. Federal agencies would have to consult with the service before doing work or issuing permits for certain activities in those areas. Many of the remaining longsolid and round hickorynut mussels are in places occupied by other protected species.

Also planned is an economic analysis of costs arising from the critical habitat designation.

Public comments will be accepted through Nov. 28.

“With animals whose range is spread across several states, it can be hard for any single researcher or biologist to gain an understanding of the big picture,” said Leo Miranda, director of the agency’s Southeast regional office. “But that’s exactly what we did over the course of several months, developing the first comprehensive look at the status of these mussels and their plight. This laid the foundation for our decision.”

The service said it decided against listing the purple lilliput, a small mussel in the same types of waterways. Although its numbers are declining, more than 100 populations are expected to remain in six major river basins for the next 20-30 years.

******

Smithsonian Magazine

A Quarter of All Reptile Species, Many of Them Endangered, Are Sold Online

A new study finds 75 percent of the species sold are not regulated by any trade agreement

By James Dinneen, smithsonianmag.com, September 29, 2020

Live reptiles are easy to buy online. Colombian redtail boas, Mt. Koghis Leachianus geckos, and even Southern New Guinea stream turtles, a species only known to science since 2015, can be bought with a few clicks. Some species are common; others are rare, unique to particular islands or hills. For many of these species, whether or not this mostly unregulated trade threatens their population in the wild is unknown.

A study published today in Nature Communications finds the scale of that online reptile trade is larger than previously thought, and that many reptile species are traded without protections from international regulations. After scraping the internet for data on reptiles for sale, the authors found that 3,943 reptile species—more than 35 percent of all reptile species—have been traded over the past 20 years, 2,754 of them online. “We were just overwhelmed by the sheer volume of species,” says Alice Hughes, an ecologist at Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden in Yunnan, China, and an author of the study.

More than 75 percent of the species being sold are not regulated by any trade agreements. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, the main body governing international wildlife trade, currently only regulates species that have been shown to be threatened by trade to ensure trade is sustainable. New or understudied species are left out, some of which could be threatened by the trade. Some species known to be threatened or endangered are also left out, as the complex process of negotiating trade regulations lags behind the science. “We didn’t expect it to be quite so easy to find so many endangered species that are openly available and legally available,” says Hughes.

To expand protection for these species, the authors suggest wildlife regulations be rewritten to require proof that a species can be traded sustainably before sale is permitted, rather than the inverse, in what they call a “precautionary approach.”

Mark Auliya, a biologist at Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum in Bonn, Germany, who was not affiliated with the study, said he was not at all surprised by these results. He believed the scale of the online trade was significant even if it had not been quantified in a robust way.

Of the thousands of reptile species described by science, more than 30 percent have not been assessed for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) RedList status, which is the most comprehensive global inventory of the conservation designation of species. Those assessments are used to determine if species are threatened, and if they are, what is driving their decline. Reptiles, says Hughes, have received less attention and funding than other groups of animals.

“There are huge data gaps,” says Janine Robinson, a conservation scientist at University of Kent in the U.K., who was not a part of the study. “A huge problem in terms of understanding sustainability for trade is that we just we just don’t have the information.”

In order to show how gaps in data on reptile species can lead to gaps in protections, the authors of the Nature study looked to add data from online reptile sales to data already collected on species tracked by CITES and other regulatory frameworks, like LEMIS, which regulates the wildlife trade in the United States. By combining this information they hoped to quantify the scale of the reptile trade not captured by existing datasets.

The scientists collected data from 151 reptile sites on which species have been sold over the past 20 years. The search was conducted in five different languages and did not include reptile sales that occurred on social media or on the “dark web.” Hughes says that for this reason, the thousands of species identified in the study still do not capture the entirety of the trade.

Because most reptile sites don’t report the origin of their inventories, the authors looked to CITES and LEMIS, which monitor regulated species, to map where the animals were coming from. The team identified Southeast Asia and the Amazon as hotspots for sourcing reptile species. “We found it staggering that even in the most diverse parts of the planet like the Amazon basin, about 50 percent of the species that are there are still in trade,” says Hughes.

The scientists also looked to CITES and LEMIS to understand where the animals ended up and why the animals were purchased. The United States and the European Union were the biggest buyers of reptiles. More than 80 percent of critically endangered species listed by CITES were traded for fashion purposes. About ten percent were traded live, mostly for pets. The remaining 10 percent were split between food, decorative, and medicinal uses. While many traded animals were bred in captivity, more than 90 percent of species monitored by LEMIS were sometimes captured from wild populations.

While experts do not have good estimates of the total volume of the reptile trade, or its dollar value, Hughes says CITES and LEMIS data suggest millions of animals have been traded over the past twenty years, with prices ranging from $10 or $20 for a common species, to thousands of dollars for a rare specimen.

Some of the species most at risk are newly described reptiles, which are both likely to have small populations and to be sought after for their novelty. “If you are finding a species in 2020, it’s probably going to be endemic,” says Hughes. “It’s probably going to have a small range. So we know that these species may already be critically endangered. And yet, it’s legal to trade them.”

The study found that the average time between a new species being described and it appearing for sale online was only eight years, with some species appearing for sale online less than a year after becoming known to science. According to one study cited by the authors, more than 20 newly described species had their entire wild population collected after description.

The problem is bad enough that conservation-minded taxonomists sometimes don’t list location information when they describe new species to prevent traders from seeking them out, says Shai Meiri, a zoologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel who wrote a 2016 article in the Journal of Zoology on how newly described species are likely to be vulnerable to overexploitation.

“It’s very possible that if you just go and collect specimens you’re making a real dent in the entire global population of this species,” says Meiri.

The authors of the Nature study advocate for wildlife trade regulations to adopt a precautionary approach, where species would not be allowed to be traded until trade was proven to be sustainable to CITES. They argue that this approach would protect rare, infrequently traded species better than current regulations and would protect species left vulnerable to trade by the lack of data about them.

Robinson pointed out that that approach could amount to a ban on trade for many species and might have unintended consequences. For example, a ban on a species might deprive the source country of revenue it was using to fund protections for that species, and take away a source of income for people who collect the animals. Banning trade for certain species could also push trade underground, making it more difficult to track and monitor. “It’s not always that simple. It doesn’t always make for, ‘We’ll ban the trade and then there won’t be an issue anymore’,” says Robinson.

She emphasized the need to understand impacts of regulations on the whole supply chain, from suppliers collecting from the forest for extra income to fashion industry buyers. Robinson also said there is a need for more information on all species, and what’s threatening them—whether it is international trade, habitat loss, or disease. “You can’t presume that all those species there are actually threatened by the trade, because you don’t have that information,” says Robinson. “So some of them may be. Some of them may not be.”

Hughes feels differently, arguing that a precautionary approach is justified by the urgency of the global biodiversity crisis and the lack of knowledge about how trade impacts reptiles. “We’re not against reptiles as pets,” says Hughes. “We’re just against taking them from the wild where there is no assessment of the impact.”

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Coastal California Sunflower Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success

Change of Status Proposed for Beach Layia, From Endangered to Threatened

EUREKA, Calif.—(Sept. 29, 2020) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to change the Endangered Species Act status of beach layia, a small sunflower that grows only in California’s coastal dunes, from endangered to threatened.

The largest populations of beach layia are found on the north coast in Humboldt County, where it grows in 15 locations — mostly around Humboldt Bay — and at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. In the central coast there are three small populations on the Monterey peninsula, and there is a small south coast population at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

“The lovely beach layia has benefitted immensely from protection under the Endangered Species Act and is headed toward recovery,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Their gorgeous white, yellow and purple flowers now adorn more than 600 acres of our coastal dunes.”

Beach layia was listed as endangered in 1992 because of damage to dunes habitat from human disturbances, particularly from off-road vehicles, agricultural activities, pedestrians and development.

Since a recovery plan was developed for the species in 1998, a significant amount of suitable dune habitat has been protected as preserves and conservation areas. Threats have been reduced, especially by prevention of off-road vehicle driving in the flower’s habitat. Beach layia has responded by increasing in abundance and there are now nine robust populations of the flowers that each had more than one million plants during 2017 surveys.

But beach layia still faces threats, mostly from invasive plants which compete for growing space on open areas of sandy dunes. Invasive plants can also artificially stabilize coastal dunes, disrupting natural dune movement and processes that layia plants depends on. They’re further threatened by livestock grazing, erosion and disturbance from off-road and equestrian recreation, rapid climate change, sea-level rise and pesticide use.

“The future looks better for beach layia, but its survival isn’t secure yet,” said Miller. “There are still many threats to this flower, including from invasive species, climate change and cattle grazing. It could also benefit from reintroducing plants to former sites where it once thrived, to expand its range and resilience.”

An estimated 20% of beach layia occurrences at Point Reyes National Seashore are subject to cattle grazing, which has caused a decline in the flower’s abundance. Livestock trample layia plants and also increase the spread of weeds. The National Park Service is finalizing a plan to continue unsustainable levels of cattle grazing at Point Reyes, over the objections of conservation groups that want to end commercial cattle ranching in the national park.

“There’s no excuse for allowing any cattle grazing in habitat for beach layia and other endangered plants at Point Reyes National Seashore,” said Miller.

Beach layia occurs on the north coast in five areas in Humboldt County, with the largest populations near Humboldt Bay and the mouth of the Mattole River. One of largest populations in size and acreage is at Point Reyes National Seashore in Marin County. Former layia populations have been eliminated from San Francisco, Point Pinos in Pacific Grove and two locations in Humboldt County.

******

High Country News

Endangered pygmy rabbit population halved by fast-moving fire

Carl Segerstrom, September 28, 2020

BACKSTORY

In 2001, scientists collected the last Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits they could find in the wild — just 16 animals — and embarked on a decades-long endangered species recovery project. About the size of a grapefruit, North America’s smallest rabbit relies on intact sagebrush steppe habitat in central Washington. This genetically unique population was decimated over the course of the 20th century by development, agriculture and worsening fire seasons. Bringing them back required interbreeding with pygmy rabbits from the Great Basin of the intermountain West and an intensely managed reintroduction program. (“After nearly going extinct, Washington’s pygmy rabbits need room to grow” HCN, 5/31/19).

FOLLOWUP

On September 7, roughly half of the existing population of Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits was wiped out as Washington’s Pearl Hill and Cold Springs fires, fueled by hurricane-force winds, swept over 60 linear miles in less than 24 hours. “There is little to no chance the wild rabbits could have escaped the fire due to its speed,” said Jon Gallie, who leads the rabbit recovery effort for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in an email. But because researchers had reintroduced rabbits to three different recovery areas, the remaining populations were spared from the blaze. “We have pygmy rabbits well distributed on the landscape in two other areas, so not all is lost,” Gallie said. “We will just have to chart a now more challenging path to recovery.”

******

Knau Public Radio (NPR) (Flagstaff, AZ)

Arizona’s Western Yellow-Billed Cuckoo To Remain Protected

A beloved cuckoo bird won’t go federally unprotected in Arizona.

By Associated Press • Sep 28, 2020

Experts are celebrating the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s recent decision to keep the western yellow-billed cuckoo under the Endangered Species Act. The Arizona Republic reports the agency ruled against a petition for its removal. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has listed the cuckoo breed as threatened since the late 1980s. In 2014, it was assigned the same designation under the federal Endangered Species Act. Opponents argue there is no difference between the western and eastern cuckoo birds. So, they are not endangered.

******

The Coastland Times

Feds want to relax protections for woodpecker endangered since 1970

By Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press, September 26, 2020

The red-cockaded woodpecker, a bird declared endangered in 1970 and surviving today in 11 states’ scattered longleaf pine forests – including in North Carolina, has recovered enough to relax its federal protection, officials said Friday. But not all wildlife advocates agree.

“The red-cockaded woodpecker has flourished to the point that today we can propose to downlist them from endangered to threatened under the Endangered Species Act,” Aurelia Skipwith, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said during a news conference Friday with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue.

But Ben Prater, southeastern director for the nonprofit Defenders of Wildlife, said nothing released to the public so far justifies the change announced Friday at Fort Benning, Georgia, one of 13 military installations working to conserve the cardinal-sized bird.

“We’re still short of recovery goals and certainly have not seen threats be abated,” he said.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the bird’s recovery “a tremendous victory for the Endangered Species Act” and not the Trump administration.

“Secretary Bernhardt, who is a former lobbyist for the oil and gas industry and other special interests, has been an absolute disaster for endangered species,” Greenwald said in a news release.

Although the Fish and Wildlife Service told landowners in April there was a chance of entirely dropping all protection for the woodpeckers, it didn’t do that. Still, it is also requesting comment on future “de-listing,” according to the news release.

The bird’s recovery from the brink of extinction is a great success story, but the birds still need continued protection, said Jeff Walters of Virginia Tech, co-author of a “species status report” about the woodpeckers. He said their survival if the proposal is approved will depend on rules still to be written.

The Trump administration changed Endangered Species Act rules to end automatic continued protection when a species is moved from endangered to threatened, he noted. Now a threatened species is only protected if special rules are written to describe such requirements.

“That allows us to carefully craft and carefully tailor a proposed rule that will focus our energy and resources and time we feel best to further the recovery of this one species,” Bernhardt said.

He did not go into detail. The news release said the government is proposing a rule to protect current habitat, forbidding damage to trees with woodpecker holes, harassment of the birds during breeding season and the use of insecticides near clusters.

The species status assessment will be published with the proposal in the Federal Register, triggering a 60-day period for public comment, the federal news release said.

The news conference came during a monthslong  push by President Donald Trump’s Cabinet chiefs into states where Democrat Joe Biden is making a strong play in the presidential race. Trump won Georgia by 5.1 percentage points in 2016, but some polls suggest a closer race this time, and it’s among several states where Biden is upping his campaign spending.

Once found from New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas and north to Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, red-cockaded woodpeckers now live only in coastal states from southern Virginia to eastern Texas, and parts of Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The federal government spent $408 million on red-cockaded woodpeckers from 1998 to 2016, making the species one of the most expensive on the endangered list.

It is the only North American woodpecker that carves living quarters inside live trees, which takes years. And because the longleaf pines it favors were logged out and replaced with faster-growing pines, the birds’ range nearly disappeared as the forests shrank from 90 million acres to about 3 million (36.4 million hectares to 1.2 million). Fire suppression in remaining forests let other trees grow too close for the birds’ comfort.

By the late 1970s, there were only 1,470 clusters — breeding pairs and young males which live nearby and help their parents care for nestlings. Fish and Wildlife experts now estimate there are nearly 7,800 clusters.

Scientists credit the recovery largely to two programs developed after 1989’s Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina and destroyed 87 percent of the woodpeckers’ trees in what was then their second-largest colony. One program installs prefabricated woodpecker houses flush into tall pines, or drills cavities for the birds. Another moves young woodpeckers into areas where only a few adults live.

The government also credited safe harbor agreements, in which landowners can manage their land with minimal federal oversight if they agree to help a protected animal on it.

Other programs have added more than 1.3 million acres (526,000 hectares) of new longleaf pine stands in the past 10 years, the news release said. The total is now 4.7 million acres (1.9 million hectares), according to the National Resource Conservation Service.

Those new stands won’t help the birds for decades, Walters said.

“The trees have to be 60 years old before they’re good to forage on and 100 years to be good for cavities,” he said.

(Janet McConnaughey reported from New Orleans. Ellen Knickmeyer contributed from Oklahoma City.)

******

The Minot Daily News

ND moose ruled not endangered

BLOOMINGTON, MINN. (Sept. 26, 2020 – After a thorough review the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the U.S. population of the northwestern subspecies of moose is not a distinct species population segment and does not warrant listing under the endangered species act. The subspecies is currently found in North Dakota, Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park in Michigan.

The agency received a petition from Honor the Earth and the Center for Biological Diversity to list the subspecies as a distinct population and protect it under the endangered species act in 2015. In 2016, the FWS published a finding indicating that the petition warranted further review.

Following a comprehensive analysis, the FWS determined that the northwestern subspecies of moose is stable and there is no information indicating a physical, physiological, ecological or behavioral difference between the U.S. and Canadian populations. Therefore, the agency determined that the subspecies is not a distinct species population and does not warrant ESA protection.

“Moose are the largest members of the deer family and play an integral role in human and environmental health,” said Lori Nordstrom, assistant regional director for ecological services in the FWS Great Lakes Region. “The FWS remains committed to conserving moose, and other native species, for generations to come.”

There are four subspecies of moose in North America. Moose were likely extirpated from the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan and the State of Wisconsin. Recent reintroductions in Michigan were of the eastern subspecies, which likely spread into Wisconsin. The northwestern subspecies of moose historically occurred in Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

******

Seven Days (Burlington, VT)

Vermont Moves Toward Banning Endangered Animal Parts

Posted By Kevin McCallumon, Sept. 24, 2020

A ban on the sale of endangered species parts appears headed for final approval by lawmakers this week despite strong objections from those who say it unfairly renders some Vermonters’ antiques worthless.

The Senate on Thursday advanced the bill, H.99, on a vote of 25-5, virtually ensuring that it would receive final passage on Friday before heading to the governor’s desk. The House passed the bill last week.

The vote followed a vigorous debate that pitted lawmakers who want Vermont to join 11 other states with bans against senators who feel the bill is an overreach that would do little to save the species it seeks to protect.

“This bill is about supply and demand,” Sen. Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) told her colleagues. “By reducing demand for items made of endangered species parts, Vermont will play a small but significant part in helping many endangered species survive.”

Clarkson explained that there is a federal ban on the importation of illegal animal parts, but trade within certain states, including Vermont, is still legal, making those places “complicit” in the damage done by poachers.

Banning the sales would reduce the incentive to import such products and, in turn, reduce the incentive to kill endangered species in the first place, she said.

Opponents said they supported the bill’s intent but felt the ban’s impacts on the illegal trade were too speculative to justify the state blocking people from selling private property they or their families might have owned for generations.

“This bill, by government fiat, expropriates the value of antiques and other property owned by Vermonters — from heirloom chess sets to scrimshaw collections,” said Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin).

The animal parts covered by the bill include those from cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, hippopotamuses, jaguars, leopards, lions and pangolins. Parts of extinct mammoths and mastodons are also covered because conservationists say such ancient tusks are similar enough to those of modern elephants to make enforcement difficult.

“To me, that’s like outlawing baking soda because it may appear to be cocaine,” Brock quipped.

The bill does provide an exemption for some antiques, but Brock said it was so narrow that it amounted to a “draconian” law that makes most such items unsellable. The bill would not affect a person’s right to own any such products.

The law would exempt antiques from the ban, but only if they were documented to be more than 100 years old and the parts in question were “a fixed component” of the antique weighing less than 200 grams.

Other exemptions include when the parts are integrated into a firearm, knife or musical instrument, or when they are in the possession of educational or scientific institutions or government agents.

Brock wasn’t the only lawmaker concerned about the impact of the law on the value of people’s property.

Sen. Jeanette White (D-Windham) said she had a friend with “a couple of magnificent pieces of ivory” that were older than 100 years but heavy — far more than the 200-gram limit. She said it concerned her that such pieces would not be able to be sold in the state.

Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington) said she’s been buying antiques for years in the hopes of becoming a dealer in retirement. She noted that she owns some antique umbrellas with carved handles and “a couple of African horn cups that I bought at a rummage sale in the bottom of a box.” She said it would be difficult for her to determine whether the items would fall into the antique exemption.

Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) said he worried his 1973 acoustic guitar would be unsellable because it had ivory pins fastening its 12 strings. Other senators assured him that such pins likely weighed just a few grams.

Because the law wouldn’t go into effect until January 2022, Clarkson noted that anyone who wanted to sell the valuable heirlooms could do so before then.

Some raised questions about whether the bill would somehow harm instead of help conservation efforts in Africa. Clarkson acknowledged that some conservationists in certain African countries oppose the bans because they harm trophy hunting, but she called such positions the exception.

Sen. John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) said he felt it smacked of “white privilege” for Vermonters to impose a ban that might affect an African person’s ability to make a living.

Clarkson turned that around and noted that the demand for such products is not coming from Africans themselves, but largely from Westerners.

“When you talk about privileged white people, who is affording to go on a trophy hunt? A privileged white person, for the most part,” she said.

******

CBS/CH. 2 TV (Los Angeles)

California Fish And Game Votes To Protect Western Joshua Tree As Threatened Or Endangered Species

By CBSLA Staff, September 23, 2020

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — In a unanimous 4-0 vote, the California Fish and Game Commission agreed to list the iconic western Joshua tree as a threatened or endangered species for at least a year.

The commission, which voted Tuesday, determined that the tree’s listing under the California Endangered Species Act may be warranted. The decision immediately lists the Joshua tree as a protected species and commences a one-year status review. At the end of that review, the commission will make a final decision on the Joshua tree’s status as a threatened or endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity had submitted a petition last year, asking the state to protect the Joshua tree, which they say is threatened by climate change, fire and habitat destruction from urban sprawl and other development in the Mojave Desert. The commission had put off the decision twice due to a huge volume of public comments for and against protecting the tree.

“This is a huge victory for these beautiful trees and their fragile desert ecosystem,” Brendan Cummings, conservation director of the Center for Biological Diversity and a Joshua Tree resident, said in a statement. “If Joshua trees are to survive the inhospitable climate we’re giving them, the first and most important thing we can do is protect their habitat.”

However, in the same meeting, the commission also agreed to authorize the developers of 15 solar energy projects that are expected to break ground within the year to kill Joshua trees. In exchange, those developers will be required pay about $10,000 for every acre of destroyed habitat into a state fund that will be used to purchase and permanently preserve Joshua tree habitat.

The Center Biological Diversity says they disagreed with the deal, but understand the commission’s decision.

“The best places to put solar panels are on rooftops, parking lots and degraded farmland, not pristine desert habitats,” Cummings said.

There are two species of Joshua trees, and Tuesday’s vote is specific to the western species. The western Joshua tree’s habitat stretches from Joshua Tree National Park to the edge of Death Valley National Park and into Nevada.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Lawsuit Challenges Federal Failure to Protect Caribbean Lizards as Endangered

Skinks Threatened by Habitat Destruction, Introduced Predators, Climate Change, Development Linked to Jeffrey Epstein

PETERSBURG, Fla. (September 23, 2020)— The Center for Biological Diversity sued Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for failing to protect eight rare species of skink, a type of lizard, under the Endangered Species Act. The skinks are found only on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and face extinction because of introduced predators, habitat destruction and climate change.

“Wildlife officials simply can’t put off endangered species protections for these rare and vulnerable lizards any longer,” said Elise Bennett, a Center attorney. “Skinks have been driven from their limited habitat by rampant development and human-introduced predators until many can no longer be found. Waiting much longer to protect these rare little animals would mean ratifying their extinction.”

The Center petitioned to protect the skinks in 2014 with Dr. Renata Platenberg, an ecologist specializing in Caribbean reptiles. In 2016 the Fish and Wildlife Service found the eight species might warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act, but the agency subsequently failed to make a determination within the required 12-month period. It has been more than five years since the agency missed this key deadline.

The skinks are threatened by habitat destruction, human-introduced predators like rats and mongooses, climate change and resulting sea-level rise and extreme storm events.

“These skinks are pretty special,” said Dr. Renata Platenberg. “They’re long and cylindrical with a metallic copper sheen, very different from the other lizards around them. They urgently need protection and recovery efforts to ensure they are still around even 10 years from now.”

Two of the skinks, the lesser Virgin Islands skink and Virgin Islands bronze skink, as well as the endangered Virgin Islands tree boa, are believed to occur on Great St. James, which Jeffrey Epstein purchased in 2016 to construct a sprawling compound with two homes, cottages and various other buildings connected by private roads.

At least some of the construction has taken place without government permits. Since Epstein’s death the fate of the island and the endangered animals is uncertain.

Scientists identified the skinks as separate species in a 2012 study. All are considered critically endangered or endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, and they are absent or extremely rare across most of their former ranges.

In addition to habitat destruction and non-native predators like cats, mongoose and rats, climate change is causing sea-level rise and extreme storm events like the deadly Category 5 Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, which damaged the limited habitat of these entirely island-dwelling species. As many of the skink’s islands are small and low in elevation, they are particularly vulnerable.

Background

Caribbean skinks, which can grow to be about 8 inches long, are unique among reptiles in having reproductive systems most like humans, including a placenta and live birth. They have cylindrical bodies, and most have ill-defined necks that, together with their sinuous movements and smooth, bronze-colored skin, make them look like stubby snakes with legs.

Three of the species included in today’s notice are found within the territory of Puerto Rico: the Culebra skink (Culebra and the adjacent islet of Culebrita), Mona skink (Mona Island) and Puerto Rican skink (Puerto Rico and several of its satellite islands). The remaining five are found in the Virgin Islands: the greater St. Croix skink (St. Croix and its satellite Green Cay), lesser St. Croix skink (St. Croix), greater Virgin Islands skink (St. John and St. Thomas), Virgin Islands bronze skink (St. Thomas and several of its islets, several British Virgin Islands) and lesser Virgin Islands skink (St. Thomas and two adjacent islets, several British Virgin Islands).

******

The Guardian

380 whales dead in worst mass stranding in Australia’s history

More than 450 long-finned pilot whales became stranded in harbour in Tasmania with rescuers managing to save about 50

Graham Readfearn, Wed 23 Sep 2020

About 380 pilot whales were confirmed dead in Tasmania’s west on Wednesday afternoon with rescuers fighting to save the remaining 30 that are still alive.

More than 450 long-finned pilot whales were caught on sandbanks and beaches inside Macquarie Harbour, with a rescue effort starting on Tuesday morning.

Some 50 whales have been rescued and coaxed back to the open ocean.

Rescuers were focused on 270 whales stranded near the town of Strahan, but on Wednesday morning a further 200 whales about 10km away in the same harbour were discovered from a helicopter. Officials later confirmed all had died.

The stranding is likely one of the largest on record globally and is the worst in Australia’s history.

Nic Deka, the coordinator of the rescue from Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service, said they were fighting to save the remaining 30 whales but focus was now turning to retrieval and disposal of the dead whales.

“We will try and rescue as many of the remaining live animals as we can.”

Dr Kris Carlyon, a marine conservation program wildlife biologist, said on Wednesday that the addition of 200 whales made this current stranding the largest in Tasmania’s history.

Records show some 294 whales, also long-finned pilots, stranded at Stanley on Tasmania’s north-west in 1935.

About 60 rescuers led by the Tasmanian government’s Marine Conservation Program entered the second day of the rescue on Wednesday focused on an area called Fraser Flats.

About 25 whales were lifted off sandbanks and pulled by boat to open waters on Tuesday, but two had returned to the main stranded pod. A further 25 were rescued on Wednesday.

Deka said the new group of 200 dead whales were in two bays between 7km to 10km south of the main rescue site.

They appear to have gone undetected and likely entered the harbour about the same time as the others. The harbour is about 35km long and about 8km wide.

Deka said: “From the air, most appear to be dead.”

Asked why they hadn’t been seen before, he said: “The water is a very dark tanin colour and maybe they stranded and then washed back in to the bay. From the air they did not look to be in any condition for rescue.”

He said even if those 200 whales had been seen late Monday when the group to the north was discovered, it was unlikely that it would have changed their strategy.

When the first 270 whales were discovered, about 90 were estimated to be already dead. “We would still have focused our efforts on Fraser Flats because they are the ones with the best chance of survival.”

On Tuesday, Deka told Guardian Australia that two methods were being considered. Burying the whales in a landfill was one, or towing them out into open water and using ocean currents to keep them offshore was another.

“We do know we can’t leave them in the harbour because they will present a range of issues. We are committed to retrieving and disposing.”

About 40 government staff and 20 volunteers, mostly from the harbour’s fish farming industry, are in chest-deep in water and manoeuvring large webbing under the whales and lifting them off the sand.

About 17 surf lifesavers with six inflatables and a jet rescue boat joined the efforts throughout Tuesday.

Tags are attached to the rescued whales to monitor them. Pilot whales are very social and need to be taken far enough away from the main group that they don’t turn around and go back.

Deka said it was disappointing that two whales saved on Tuesday had returned to the stranding site, “but the majority of the whales [we saved] are still out in deep water and are still swimming. We have been more successful than not.”

Carlyon said: “There’s nothing to indicate that this [stranding] is human caused. This is a natural event and we know strandings have occurred before and we know that from the fossil record.

“As far as being able to prevent this occurring, there’s little we can do.”

Even though Carlyon said the event was natural, there was a public expectation that the survivors should be helped.

Euthanising some animals was an option, he said, but it was not a simple practice and at this stage it was not being considered.

“We think we have a chance with the animals that are still alive.”

Dr Karen Stockin, an associate professor at Massey University in New Zealand, is an expert on whale and dolphin strandings globally and is on an International Whaling Commission expert panel on the issue.

She said the Macquarie Harbour stranding was likely Australia’s largest ever.

“It’s fair to say this will probably rank third or fourth globally [in terms of the numbers of stranded animals].”

Long-finned pilot whales, which can live for up to 40 years, were notorious for large strandings, Stockin said, because of the way they stick together in tight social structures.

“Some will remain within their pods their entire lifetime,” she said.

In a statement sent to the Guardian, Australia’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, said: “It is heartbreaking to see these stranded whales in Tassie. I want to thank the hard working rescuers and all the amazing volunteers on the ground.”

She said the Tasmanian government was leading the rescue, but the federal government had also offered support.

******

Forbes

Uncovering An Iconic Shark’s Secrets

Melissa Cristina Márquez, September 22, 2020

Hammerhead sharks are one of the easily identified sharks due to their oddly shaped heads. While it is astonishing to know there is one species in our oceans that looks so abnormal, there actually exist ten different hammerhead species! Many of these are severely overfished worldwide for their fins scientific data has been scarce – until now.

Thanks to a research team at Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Research Center and Guy Harvey Research Institute, the group is determining the migration patterns of smooth hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna zygaena) in the western Atlantic Ocean. A highly mobile species found worldwide in temperate and tropical waters, these active predators have been largely observed in shallow waters of up to 65 feet (20 meters) deep, but have been spotted even deep (up to 656 ft/200 m). A large species, they usually measure up to 11.5 ft (3.5 m) but have a maximum length of 14 ft (4.3 m). This particular hammerhead species is one of the least understood because of the difficulty in reliably finding them to allow for scientific study.

In collaboration with other institutions, the scientists attached satellite tags to juvenile smooth hammerhead sharks off the USA Mid-Atlantic coast and tracked them for a little over a year (up to 15 months). “Getting long-term tracks was instrumental in identifying not only clear seasonal travel patterns, but importantly, also the times and areas where the sharks were resident in between their migrations,” said Ryan Logan, Ph.D. student at NSU’s GHRI and SOSF SRC, and first author of the newly published research. “This study provides the first high resolution, long term view of the movement behaviors and habitats used by smooth hammerhead sharks – key information for targeting specific areas and times for management action to help build back this depleted species.”

The researchers were astounded to find that sharks acted like another migratory animals: birds. Like many species of birds who migrate seasonally, the tagged sharks were migrating between the coastal waters off New York in the summer and off North Carolina in the winter. But why were the sharks going to these two areas? Well, that’s where the surrounding environment comes into play- not only were there warmer surface water temperatures, but these were areas with high productivity (food-rich). “The high resolution movements data showed these focused wintering and summering habitats off North Carolina and New York, respectively, to be prime ocean ‘real estate’ for these sharks and therefore important areas to protect for the survival of these near endangered animals,” said Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., director of NSU’s GHRI and SOSF SRC, who oversaw the study.

The team is eager for two conservation targets to be met given the data they’ve received. The first is hoping that these areas of high residency for these sharks be designated as “Essential Fish Habitat.” Also known as EFH, includes coral reefs, kelp forests, bays, wetlands, rivers, areas of the deep ocean… basically any location that is necessary for fish reproduction, growth, feeding, and shelter. Congress established the EFH mandate in 1996 to improve the nation’s main fisheries law, and if these regions become EFH’s they could be subject to special limitations on fishing or development to protect such declining species.

The other conservation target? It’s all about where the hammerheads spend their time during the winter: the Mid-Atlantic Shark Area (MASA). This zone already federally closed for seven-months per year (January through July) to protect another endangered species from commercial fishermen. But this new tracking data showssmooth hammerheads arrived in December, while this zone is still open to fishing. “Extending the closure of the MASA zone by just one month, starting on December 1 each year, could reduce the fishing mortality of juvenile smooth hammerheads even more,” said Shivji.

This new study shows that tracking sharks with satellite tags not only allows researchers to figure out their migration patterns but can serve as a tool to better inform sustainable management efforts. “It’s particularly gratifying to see such basic research not only improving our understanding of animal behavior in nature but also illuminating pathways for recovery of species and populations that have been overexploited so we can try and get back to a balanced ocean ecosystem,” commented Shivji.

******

Two Missouri crayfish species may be listed as ‘threatened’ under Endangered Species Act

by Bryce Gray, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 21, 2020

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing two kinds of Missouri crayfish as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, as well as identifying “critical habitat” for their survival and recovery in the state’s southeast watersheds.

Both the Big Creek crayfish and the St. Francis River crayfish have seen their numbers contract since the introduction of nonnative woodland crayfish in the 1980s. While the invasive crayfish is seen as the “primary threat” to the native species, the agency said in its listing last week that they also contend with water quality issues, including those tied to the legacy of lead mining operations in their Ozark region habitat range.

Streams occupied by the lobster-like species include upstream portions of the St. Francis River, and tributaries in Washington and St. Francois counties.

The USFWS proposal would include a special rule to allow for unintentional capture of the crayfish under certain conditions. The proposed critical habitat designation would only impose new requirements in areas with federal funding, permits or approvals.

The proposal appeared Thursday in the Federal Register and is now subject to a 60-day public comment period.

Last year, Missouri granted protection to two other crayfish species that it considers endangered.

******

The Salem News (Danvers, MA)

Imperiled beetle loses some protections 

By Christian M. Wade, Sep 19, 2020

BOSTON — Wildlife officials say they have no plans to remove state protections for a beetle threatened by climate change, following a controversial decision by the Trump administration to strip the bug of its endangered status.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week down-listed the American burying beetle under the Endangered Species Act, citing ongoing conservation efforts in Massachusetts and eight other states as a sign the species is recovering. The beetle moves from “endangered” to “threatened” status, which loosens some of the environmental regulations around the species.

But wildlife experts say the decision was made at the behest of the petroleum industry, which has lobbied for years to remove federal protections. In states such as Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas, oil and gas industry officials have complained that production was constrained by the beetle’s protected status.

Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the change a “gift to the oil and gas industry.”

“It green-lights destruction of the beetle’s habitat and the emission of even more of the pollution that’s fueling the climate emergency threatening the beetle and people,” he said.

To be sure, a press release from the Fish and Wildlife Service announcing the changes included comments from oil and gas industry officials praising the move. Trump administration officials boasted that “no administration in history has recovered more imperiled species.”

“The down-listing of the American burying beetle clearly illustrates the value of our partnership-driven approach to conservation,” said Aurelia Skipwith, the agency’s director, in a statement. “By working with state agencies across the country, private landowners, zoos, tribes, the Department of Defense and other partners, we have helped preserve this unique and interesting species.”

The changes, at least for now, won’t affect the bug’s status in Massachusetts.

The burying beetle is still listed as “endangered” under the state’s Endangered Species Act. A spokesperson for the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife said it is “unlikely its listing status will change.”

The agency reviews the status of protected species every five years, and any formal review of the beetle’s status won’t be conducted until 2022.

The inch-long, black-and-orange beetles are referred to as “nature’s undertakers” because they bury dead mice and other animal carcasses to feed their larvae. Its lifespan lasts about a year, and it’s one of few species in which male and females both look after their offspring.

The bug, which has been on the federal endangered species list since 1989, was once widespread across the country. Experts say habitat loss, climate change and other factors have reduced its dwindling population to only nine states.

Massachusetts has a known colony of American burying beetles on Nantucket. There’s another on Block Island. Both are monitored by wildlife conservationists.

Lou Perrotti, director of conservation programs at the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island, said the beetle’s existence is still precarious, even with more than two decades of efforts to protect it locally. He was among a group of scientists who fought unsuccessfully to prevent the down-listing.

“It’s truly an endangered species and the down-listing was totally unwarranted,” he said. “It was a political move, unfortunately.”

Biodiversity groups, meanwhile, are gearing up for a legal challenge to Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision.

“We’re going to challenge it, because it just doesn’t make sense,” Greenwald said. “We can’t allow the oil and gas industry to drive this beetle to extinction.”

******

Independent Tribune (Concord, NC)

Massive damage of rare plants probed at Nevada mine site 

By SCOTT SONNER Associated Press, September 18, 2020

RENO, Nev. (AP) — State and federal authorities are investigating the mysterious loss of a significant swath of a rare desert wildflower that’s being considered for federal protection at a contentious mine site in Nevada with some of the largest untapped lithium deposits in the world.

The Australian mining company, Ioneer Ltd., and state biologists investigating the unprecedented incident believe small mammals most likely caused the damage to thousands of plants at the only place Tiehm’s buckwheat is known to exist.

Conservationists suspect a more sinister scenario: Somebody dug them up while federal wildlife officials consider listing the plant as an endangered species.

Nevada’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service are investigating.

“While the investigation is still underway and the cause has yet to be determined, the evidence reported to us is consistent with herbivore activity,” department spokeswoman Samantha Thompson said in an email to The Associated Press.

Thompson said the agency isn’t aware of any similar instance involving Tiehm’s or related species. She said there were no reports of tool marks.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned to list the plant earlier this year, reported “mass destruction” at the site about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Reno to state and federal officials Tuesday.

It estimates as many as 17,000 plants were lost — up to 40% of the entire population.

Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Nevada director, and Naomi Fraga, director of conservation at the California Botanic Garden in Claremont, discovered and photographed the damage Sept. 13. They believe the plants were removed with small shovels or spades.

“This appears to have been a premeditated, somewhat organized, large-scale operation aimed at wiping out one of the rarest plants on Earth, one that was already in the pipeline for protection,” Donnelly said.

He wasn’t aware at the time that researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno had observed the same phenomenon Sept. 8 and reported it to the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Division of Natural Heritage.

Elizabeth Leger, a UNR biology professor leading a research effort to try to transplant the wildflower , is among those who suspect small animals caused the damage at the site of the proposed mine with a projected value of more than $1 billion.

“The impact on the plants is very alarming, no matter what the cause,” said Leger, who directs UNR’s Museum of Natural History.

Ioneer executive chairman James Calaway doubts anywhere near 17,000 plants were impacted but said it could be in the “low thousands.”

He accused the Center for Biological Diversity of spreading “outlandish, false, inflammatory and irresponsible” statements about possible human involvement.

“It was some rodents that got hungry and thirsty,” Calaway said.

“We all agree it is a tragic event. We are out there working our tails off to try to understand what happened … and take steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “It shows that CBD and Patrick Donnelly are willing to literally say anything in order to stop the development of this project.”

Fraga, a co-signer of the federal listing petition, has never heard of buckwheats “being uprooted by a freak rodent attack.”

“I find it hard to believe that two species — buckwheat and rodent — that have lived at the same site for presumably for decades, centuries or even longer have an interaction that is catastrophic for the buckwheat for the first time at a time when protection of the species and the site is under serious scrutiny,” she said.

The center is urging the government and Ioneer to take steps to protect the remaining population, including fencing the site and posting a 24-hour security guard. It wants USFWS to immediately declare the flower endangered and Nevada to adopt rules to protect it.

Skeptics of the rodent theory include Benjamin Grady, an assistant biology professor at Ripon College in Wisconsin who wrote a technical report for the USFWS on buckwheat in 2015 and heads a national association of scientists who study the genus.

Grady, president of The Erogonum Society, said Tiehm’s has been monitored since the early 1990s “and to the best of my knowledge, damage like this has never been reported.” He hasn’t seen the damage first-hand but has been to the site numerous times and studied photographs of the damage.

“I have visited hundreds of different wild buckwheat populations from Colorado to California and New Mexico to Montana and have never seen herbivore damage anywhere close to this severe,” Grady said in an email to AP. “It seems very likely that this event was a deliberate human action.”

Dan Barton, chairman of the Wildlife Department at California’s Humboldt College who has studied rodents and rare plants in similar soils for seven years, said the photographs and observations don’t “appear consistent with any rodent damage I’ve ever seen.”

Calaway believes drought conditions could have played a role.

“We’ve never seen anything like that in the five years we have been out there,” he said. He said they observed rodent activity about six weeks ago in a small patch of plants they’ve been watering in an effort to bolster the population — “but not on this scale.”

The company has spent more than $1 million on conservation efforts at the site rich with lithium needed to manufacture such things as batteries for Tesla’s electric cars. It has also entered into a multiyear research agreement with UNR scientists to study the possibility of transplanting buckwheat grown in a campus greenhouse to the wild.

Calaway said it’s too soon to know but anticipates they’ll remain on schedule to get permits begin construction by next summer.

“We are in the investigative phase of these animal attacks and trying to understand it in a thorough way,” he said. “We don’t at this time really see any reason why it would slow down or change the timeline.”

******

Blazes scorch habitats for endangered species in western US

The New York Times, Sep 17 2020

The fast-moving fires that swept through Western United States have wiped out critical populations of endangered species and incinerated native habitats that may take years to recover, if they recover at all.

Fire is a critical part of ecosystems in the West, and many plants and animals depend on it to thrive, but the heat and intensity of the wildfires now ravaging California, Oregon, Washington and other Western states are so destructive that wildlife in some areas may struggle to recover.

“Some of these places we set aside may be fundamentally impacted by climate change and may not be able to come back,” said Amy Windrope, deputy director of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That’s just a reality.”

With millions of acres across the west blackened by fire, the effect on humans has been clear: Lives lost, tens of thousands of people forced to flee their homes, possessions and livelihoods destroyed, and state and federal fire fighting resources have been stretched beyond the limit.

Residents are even beginning to question whether the changing fire danger will make their hometowns too dangerous to inhabit. Less obvious is the long-term effects to native species.

Wildlife officials all over the West are grappling with how to respond now that the existence of habitats set aside for threatened species appear to be imperiled by megafires made worse by climate change.

“It’s important to make the connection between what’s happening now and climate change,” said Davia Palmeri, policy coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We now have to think about climate change when managing wildlife.”

Fire that raced through the sagebrush steppe country of central Washington this month destroyed several state wildlife areas, leaving little more than bare ground. The flames killed about half of the state’s endangered population of pygmy rabbits, leaving only about 50 of the palm-sized rabbits in the wild there.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Windrope said. “We have very little sage brush habitat left for them, and it will take decades for this land to recover.”

The fires also destroyed critical breeding grounds for endangered sage grouse and sharp-tailed grouse, and officials estimate the fast-moving flames may have wiped out 30 percent to 70 percent of the birds. The survivors are left without the critical brush cover they need to raise young.

The intensity of the fires this month has not been seen in generations, said Molly Linville, whose family has ranched in Douglas County, Washington, for nearly a century. Ranchers in the area were unable to get cattle out of the way, and many died. On the range they found deer and other wildlife staggering around, severely burned.

“One neighbor girl found a porcupine who had all his quills burned off. It took the longest time to even figure out what it was,” she said. “They took it in, and I think it’s going to be OK, but the land — it’s going to take years to come back.”

In Oregon, the fires have largely raged in western pine forests, prompting different concerns. Several endangered and threatened species, including the northern spotted owl and the weasel-like pine marten, depend on the mature mountain forests that bore the brunt of the fires.

“It’s too soon to tell the impact,” Palmeri said. “Birds can fly out of harm’s way, animals can seek refuge underground, but some wildlife may return to find the old-growth forests they rely on gone.”

The impact of hundreds of thousands of acres of barren slopes may spread well beyond the fires’ reach and remain once the flames are out. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is bracing for winter rains that could wash ash and silt into local streams and affect endangered salmon.

“We’re already thinking about how we can respond to that,” Palmeri said. “It’s important we do this restoration work now to try to minimize the impact.”

MILLIONS OF ACRES BURN IN CALIFORNIA AS WEATHER IMPROVES IN NORTHWEST

The prospect of scattered rain in the Pacific Northwest raised hopes for better firefighting conditions in Washington and Oregon on Wednesday, after weeks of oppressive heat, hazardous air and unpredictable fires that have grown with terrifying speed up and down the coast.

Although the storm system was not forecast to be significant, the possibility of rain clouds in coastal regions — instead of smoke plumes and falling ash — was a lifeline for residents after weeks of increasingly grim news. More than 30 people have died in wildfires in the past two months, hundreds of homes have been destroyed and thousands of people remain in evacuation shelters.

Inland and to the south, the forecast was less encouraging. Parts of Central Oregon were expecting gusts up to 35 mph in the afternoon that could contribute to a “significant spread” of new and existing fires, the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon, said. Up to 29 fires were active in the state Wednesday, spread over more than 843,500 acres.

And in California, there was not even temporary relief in sight, with the state fire agency saying Tuesday, “With no significant precipitation in sight, California remains dry and ripe for wildfires.” State leaders, facing not just this wildfire season, spoke about the need to face an indefinite future of fires worsened by climate change.

Firefighters themselves, with decades of experience, are telling me that they’ve never seen fires like this before because of the extreme aridity combined with wind,” Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington state said at a news conference Tuesday.

As of early Wednesday, there were at least 25 major wildfires and fire complexes, the term given to multiple fires in a single geographic area, burning in California, Christine McMorrow, a Cal Fire information officer, said.

More than 2.8 million acres have either burned since Aug. 15 or are on fire now, she said.

Late Tuesday, emergency officials reported progress on some of the biggest fires around the region. The growth of the Beachie Creek fire, which has burned more than 190,000 acres east of Salem, Oregon, had slowed, and the fire was 20% contained as of Wednesday morning. The August Complex fire, which has burned almost 800,000 acres north of Sacramento, was 30 percent contained, and the 220,000-acre North Complex fire, to its east, was 18 percent contained.

Inslee said that Washington state was now in position to help its neighbors, if in a small way, by sharing some of its resources with Oregon.

“We’re confident right now that we have enough personnel and equipment to protect our communities,” he said. “It’s not a lot but it is a gesture that, again, we are all in this together.”

But he also warned residents of Western states that stepping outside exposed them to some of the worst air conditions in the world. The air, he said, was at “historically polluted levels” and “unhealthy at best and hazardous at worst, according to our state health experts.”

Physical hazards remain even in areas where the fires are no longer active, authorities also warned. In addition to damaged structures and trees at risk of collapse, hundreds of electrical poles have been burned, leaving live wires on roadways or at risk of falling on pedestrians. And countless trees and branches are now dangers to anyone nearby. In a dashboard video tweeted by the Oregon State Police, a trooper’s car can be seeing driving through the haze of a forested road when a huge tree suddenly collapses on the vehicle.

******

The Regulatory Review

Regulating Tiger Kings

Lila Sevener, Sep 17, 2020

A proposed federal law would tighten regulation of private possession of big cats.

Joe Exotic, the star of the widely watched documentary, “Tiger King,” reportedly owned more than 200 tigers on his compound in Oklahoma prior to being sentenced to jail for various criminal violations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that “the number of captive tigers in the United States alone likely exceeds the numbers found in the wild.”

Private possession of big cats poses risks to humans of brutal, deadly animal attacks. It also poses risks to the animals themselves who suffer from mistreatment and neglect.

Proposed bipartisan federal legislation would prohibit individuals who are not licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from possessing big cats—including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, and cougars. It also would prohibit public contact with big cats.

The legislation would allow current owners of big cats to keep them but would require registration of each animal so that law enforcement officers are able to respond quickly to an accident. Current owners would not be allowed to breed their big cats and would be prevented from allowing public contact with their cats.

The proposed legislation, known as the Big Cat Public Safety Act and sponsored by U.S. Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), has garnered support from over 200 representatives across party lines. Quigley argues that the legislation is needed to “address a serious issue that causes immeasurable animal suffering and introduces inexcusable threats to human safety.”

Although regulation of big cats currently occurs at international, federal, and state levels, critics argue that existing laws are not stringent enough and do not accomplish the goals of keeping humans and big cats safe.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty aimed at preventing international trade from harming endangered species. CITES provides a framework for nations to follow by stating that certain species of animals should not be traded unless certain circumstances apply. But CITES then leaves it to individual nations to create their own enforcement measures.

To comply with CITES, as well as other treaties, the United States enacted the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA prohibits people from “taking” endangered or threatened species, including harassing, harming, capturing, or trapping such species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service classifies all tigers as endangered, one subspecies of lion as endangered, and another subspecies of lion as threatened.

In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife closed a loophole in the ESA that exempted certain “generic tigers” from otherwise prohibited activities such as “interstate commerce and export.” The ESA does not, however, restrict movement or sale of endangered species within states. By banning breeding and non-licensed possession of big cats, the Big Cat Public Safety Act could help prevent sales of big cats.

Another federal law, the Animal Welfare Act, dictates minimum standards for exotic animal exhibitors and dealers. Using its authority under the Animal Welfare Act, USDA issued rules requiring exhibitors and dealers to obtain a license and to follow certain “humane handling, shelter, space requirements, feeding, watering, sanitation, ventilation, veterinary care, and transport” standards. Critics argue that the Trump Administration is failing to conduct adequate animal welfare inspections and that enforcement cases have declined 92 percent from 2016.

Under a law passed in 2003—the Captive Wildlife Safety Act—transporters, exhibitors, and owners of big cats do face the need to comply with some federal regulations. Under this law, no big cats are allowed to be transported across state lines for any reason, including for household moves or veterinary visits, unless the mover qualifies for an exemption. Exempt entities include individuals registered under the Animal Welfare Act, “state colleges and universities, state agencies, … state-licensed veterinarians, and wildlife sanctuaries.”

The Captive Wildlife Safety Act defines sanctuaries as non-profit organizations that do not sell big cats, their parts, or products made from them, do not breed big cats, and do not allow members of the public to have direct contact with big cats. Sanctuaries must keep records of transactions involving big cats as well as allow inspections of the facilities, records, and animals.

But neither the Captive Wildlife Safety Act nor the Animal Welfare Act prohibit private possession of big cats—nor do they require licensing for private owners. The Big Cat Public Safety Act would address both of those regulatory gaps.

Without such a federal law, regulation falls to the states. According to a 2019 report, four states do not regulate possession of dangerous wild animals at all, and six states do not ban possession of big cats as pets.

This is why proponents of the proposed federal Big Cat Public Safety Act say it is needed. They argue that “captive big cats … killed 20 adults and mauled scores of others” and that private ownership of big cats causes physical and psychological harm to the animals. These proponents explain that “the current regulatory patchwork is failing to protect public safety and animal welfare,” necessitating a federal ban on big cat possession.

Opponents of the proposed legislation argue that it would curtail “existing legal business activity.” U.S. Representative Rob Bishop (R-Utah) reportedly argued that “the proposal pits small, family-owned animal parks against big zoos, which would be able to keep their cats.”

******

New York Daily News

Migratory birds falling out of the sky dead en mass over New Mexico

Jessica Schladebeck ● September 16, 2020

A mystery is unfolding in New Mexico, where hundreds of thousands of migratory birds have dropped dead from the sky in recent weeks.

Based on photos, video and written observations from across the state, Martha Desmond, a professor at New Mexico State University’s department of fish, wildlife, and conservation ecology, speculated the death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands, “if not millions.”

She told the Las Cruces Sun News on Monday the mass die-off was “unprecedented,” noting that the ongoing incident could have been triggered by several different things. Desmond suggested drought conditions brought on by the wildfires raging nearby could be the cause while also noting the unseasonable chill and early snowfall in northern New Mexico could be a factor.

But southern parts of the state “shouldn’t be cold enough to kill birds,” she added. “Birds migrate … with cold fronts, so it’s actually these fronts that push them south, that help them move.”

In order to better understand the phenomenon, biologists from NMSU and White Sands Missile Range examined nearly 300 carcasses gathered at the range and in Doña Ana County. They will all be sent off for lab analysis, but the results will likely take weeks.

Residents meanwhile, have been asked to report any dead bird sightings in their area to an online database, and to collect the dead birds when possible so that researchers can study them more closely.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

Federal Protection Proposed for Two Missouri Crayfishes, Colorado Flower

DENVER—(September 16, 2020) The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed today to protect a rare plant in southwestern Colorado and two crayfishes in a single watershed in Missouri as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service also proposed to designate 3,635 acres in Colorado as critical habitat for the Chapin Mesa milkvetch, 1,043 river miles for the St. Francis River crayfish, and 1,069 river miles for the Big Creek crayfish. (Those river miles partly overlap.) After accepting and then analyzing public comments, the Service must issue a final rule within a year.

“High-desert flowers and headwaters crayfish illustrate the amazing ways that life can flourish in every conceivable habitat,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The wealth of nature is shrinking all around us, but Endangered Species Act protection can save the milkvetch, crayfishes and many more species for future generations to be enriched by their presence.”

The Endangered Species Act has been successful in preventing extinction of more than 99% of species that are listed as endangered or threatened. Also, research shows that species with critical habitat designated for them are twice as likely to be making progress toward recovery as those without designated critical habitat.

The federal government is prohibited from taking actions, such as issuing permits, that destroy or harm critical habitat.

The proposed protection for the Chapin Mesa milkvetch resulted, at least in part, from conservation groups’ actions, which has been the usual pattern behind many listing and critical habitat decisions since the 1990s. But the Service took action for the crayfishes with no prompting from private parties and solely on the basis of its own information that the survival of both species is imperiled.

Background on the Species

Hosting creamy-white flowers on a purplish-green stem, the Chapin Mesa milkvetch survives almost exclusively in Mesa Verde National Park and the Ute Mountain Tribal Park, at around 7,000 feet in elevation. It relies on pollination by large insects, whose habitats the Service describes as important in the conservation of the milkvetch’s habitat. The milkvetch imparts a subtle color to the vegetative understory in juniper-pinon pine woodlands with reddish soils.

The Chapin Mesa milkvetch was first identified as needing protection from livestock grazing and other threats in 1975, and the Service proposed it for protection the following year — but then failed to follow through. Legal actions by WildEarth Guardians and the Center have now led to renewed federal action 45 years later.

The milkvetch is threatened by invasive plants such as cheatgrass, fire as well as fire-fighting actions, global warming-induced drought, and infrastructure development.

The Big Creek crayfish and St. Francis River crayfish live in the upper St. Francis River watershed upstream from Wapapello Dam, in southeastern Missouri. Both crayfish are one to two inches long. The St. Francis crayfish is a darker shade of brown than the Big Creek crayfish and prefers life under small rocks or shallow burrows in swiftly moving streams, while the Big Creek crayfish prefers pools and backwater areas.

Both crayfish are imperiled by the non-native woodland crayfish, which can displace the native crayfish as well as interbreed with them. The St. Francis River and Big Creek crayfishes are also threatened by heavy-metal contamination of their streams caused by mining.

******

The Daily Sentinel (Grand Junction, CO)

Cuckoo’s threatened species status stands

By Dennis Webb, Sep 15, 2020

The western yellow-billed cuckoo will continue to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finding with local implications due to a proposal to designate critical habitat for the species along local rivers.

The agency said in a news release that after reviewing “the best available science and commercial information,” it has found that the bird will remain listed as a threatened species, meaning it continues to receive Endangered Species Act protection.

It was acting on a delisting petition by the group American Stewards for Liberty, after determining in 2018 “that information provided in the petition that the bird was using additional habitat was sufficient to initiate a full review of the species’ status,” it said in the release.

But the agency decided not to delist what’s called the western distinct population segment, or DPS, of the species after considering factors, including new information on the bird’s distribution, habitat and breeding areas.

“These data indicate that the primary threats to the species identified at the time of listing, including habitat loss and fragmentation, poor water quality, and invasive species, continue to impact the yellow-billed cuckoo western DPS. Recent mining projects in central and southern Arizona are also affecting the species,” the agency said in its release.

The species travels between wintering grounds in Central and South America and breeding grounds in 12 Western U.S. states and six states in Mexico.

Earlier this year the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed designating nearly 500,000 acres of critical habitat for the bird in several Western states. While it dropped a previous proposal that would have affected several rivers in Colorado, it continues to propose critical habitat on about 4,000 acres along 25 miles of the Colorado River in Mesa County, and additional critical habitat on a stretch of the North Fork of the Gunnison River between Hotchkiss and Paonia.

Mesa County commissioners have opposed the critical habitat proposal in the county. They question whether the bird frequents the area enough to warrant designating habitat, and worry about possible impacts to local agricultural operations.

Federal agencies are required to ensure actions they fund, approve or carry out aren’t likely to jeopardize endangered or threatened species or result in destruction or adverse modification of critical habitat. Private landowner activities in critical habitat that don’t involve federal action aren’t affected by the designation. Most of the proposed Mesa County acreage is owned privately or by the state, but the county is concerned that a designation could affect things such as maintenance and improvement of irrigation facilities and fuel-reduction projects to reduce wildfire risk.

“We’re grateful that this wondrous bird will continue to receive the life-saving protections of the Endangered Species Act,” Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity said in a news release. “Now it’s time to designate critical habitat to ensure that when the cuckoos migrate here each summer from South America, they’ll still have places to nest and fledge their chicks.”

******

Treehugger

Another Reason National Parks are Vital for Endangered Species

It’s all about functional diversity, which is vital for ecosystems.

By Mary Jo DiLonardo, September 15, 2020

With animal habitat constantly shrinking due to development by humans and the environmental losses due to climate change, national parks offer a safe refuge for endangered and threatened species.

But a new study finds that these protected areas preserve more than just species. They save what’s known as functional diversity, the critical variation of traits within species.

For the study, researchers at Rice University analyzed more than 4,200 photos from camera traps in the protected rainforest at Braulio Carrillo National Park in Costa Rica. Researchers assessed the species diversity of what they saw.

Species diversity is the number of species found in an ecosystem.

“Functional diversity on the other hand is a measure of the variety of traits (physical or ecological characteristics) that species in an ecosystem possess,” study co-author Rice PhD student Daniel Gorczynski explains to Treehugger. “For example, body size and diet are examples of traits. If you have a group of species that has a lot of different body sizes and a lot of different diets, it will have large functional diversity, regardless of how many species there are.”

However, he points out, if you have many species but they are about the same size with similar diets, then the functional diversity will be low.

“Ecosystems often require a wide variety of traits in order to continue working properly. This is why functional diversity is so critical, because it more directly measures the ecological consequences of diversity, not just the number of species,” he says.

No Decline Despite Deforestation

The images that Gorczynski and Rice assistant professor of biosciences Lydia Beaudrot examined were taken between 2007 and 2014. They found that the diversity of traits in mammals in the park didn’t decline, despite deforestation that fragmented forests on more than half of private lands surrounding the park. No mammals went extinct during that time either.

“We were pleasantly surprised by the results. In other studies, researchers have found that some species are declining in their population sizes in this particular Costa Rican protected area, so we were expecting that we might also see some declines in functional diversity as well. However, we didn’t end up seeing evidence of that,” Gorczynski says.

“Our measurement of functional diversity stayed the same over time, and we also found some functional redundancy among the mammals. This indicates that many species also share functional traits, and the functional diversity of the community may be maintained, even if some species do go extinct in the future.”

The results of the study were published in the journal Biotropica. The species analyzed in the study included jaguar, ocelot, tapir, tayra, coati, raccoon, javelina, deer, opossum, and several rodents.

“This gives us a better idea as to how tropical ecosystems and diversity may be changing (or not) under pressure caused by human development,” Gorczynski says. “This is the first time, to our knowledge, this type of study has been conducted for large mammals in a tropical rainforest protected area.”

Although the results are promising, the researchers say that it’s hard to say if other parks are showing similar resilience and preservation of species.

“This protected area in Costa Rica is fairly close to large human settlements and has experienced a good amount of forest loss in surrounding private lands, so the fact that we don’t see obvious changes in functional diversity is a good sign,” Gorczynski says.

“But at the same time many protected areas around the world have been shown to be losing species despite their conservation status, so we might expect loss of functional diversity to be more severe in those locations as well. Basically, we need more of this type of monitoring in protected areas around the world to know for certain how mammal functional diversity is changing.”

******

Southern Environmental Law Center

Fish and Wildlife Service violates Endangered Species Act, threatening red wolves with extinction

(SELC announcement), September 14, 2020

On behalf of the Red Wolf Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, and Animal Welfare Institute, SELC just notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with its policies and management of the endangered red wolf in eastern North Carolina, the world’s only population of wild red wolves.

“The wild red wolf is teetering on the brink of extinction. The Fish and Wildlife Service has both the expertise and the legal duty to stop that from happening, yet it refuses to act,” says Senior Attorney Sierra Weaver, a national expert in wildlife and endangered species issues.

The wild red wolf population, which steadily grew from its inception in 1987 and consistently numbered over 100 wolves between 2002 and 2014, is now down to only nine collared wolves in the wild.

Several years ago, the agency triggered this catastrophic decline by terminating its previously successful management measures of releasing captive red wolves into the wild population and sterilizing coyotes to prevent hybridization with wild red wolves.

Now, it has adopted and bound itself to a policy actively prohibiting the release of captive red wolves into the Red Wolf Recovery Area in North Carolina based on an unfounded claim. The Service has also failed to resume adaptive management of coyotes in the recovery area.

“With no red wolf pups born in the wild for the past two years, the Service’s current policies will lead to the extinction of America’s red wolf in the wild,” says Weaver.

USFWS is violating the ESA by failing to use its authorities to further red wolf recovery and failing to ensure its actions are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the red wolf in the wild.

Indeed, despite having been found in violation of  the ESA in November 2018 by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, the agency has gone on to commit further ESA violations over the past two years.

******

CNN

A clone of the endangered Przewalski’s horse is born of DNA saved for 40 years

By Lauren M. Johnson, CNN, September 12, 2020

CNN)A cloned colt born at a Texas veterinary facility could revive the endangered Przewalski’s horse.

The colt is a clone of a male Przewalski’s horse and the first successful cloning of the species, San Diego Zoo officials said in a news release on September 4. It was born August 6 to a domestic surrogate mother.

Przewalski’s horse are known as the last wild horse, according to the National Zoo. They were originally native to Europe and Asia, but the expansion of humans and environmental changes depleted their numbers.

Scientists said that the horse was formally extinct in the wild, and has been surviving for the last 40 years primarily in zoos. Some herds have been found in Mongolia.

“This birth expands the opportunity for genetic rescue of endangered wild species,” said Ryan Phelan, executive director of Revive & Restore, a wildlife conservation organization promoting biotechnologies that’s partnering with San Diego Zoo Global and ViaGen Equine on the cloning project.

“Advanced reproductive technologies, including cloning, can save species by allowing us to restore genetic diversity that would have otherwise been lost to time.”

The DNA used for the colt was cryopreserved in 1980 at the San Diego Zoo Global (SDZG) Frozen Zoo. The cloned stallion was born in 1975 in the United Kingdom and was transferred to the US in 1978. The zoo said he lived until 1998.

“As the new clone matures and successfully breeds, he can provide a valuable infusion of genetic diversity for the Przewalski’s horse population,” the news release said.

The baby horse was named “Kurt,” in honor of Kurt Benirschke, who was instrumental in founding the Frozen Zoo and the conservation research program at San Diego Zoo Global.

Kurt will be moved to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park when he is older to be integrated into a breeding species.

“This colt is expected to be one of the most genetically important individuals of his species,” said Bob Wiese, chief life sciences officer at San Diego Zoo Global.

“We are hopeful that he will bring back genetic variation important for the future of the Przewalski’s horse population.”

******

SouthCoast Today

Endangered orchid rediscovered in Bristol County

September 12, 2020

After nearly two decades, a small population of the state-endangered crested fringed orchid (Platanthera cristata) was recently rediscovered in Bristol County by a botanist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (MassWildlife). The diminutive orchid with striking orange blooms had not been seen in Massachusetts since 2001 despite repeated survey efforts by botanists. This is currently the northernmost known crested fringed orchid population in the United States and the only population known in New England. The next closest population is located on Long Island, New York, where it is a also a state-endangered species. Due to its rarity, the location of this plant is not being disclosed. The orchid population was found on public land that is partially protected, although habitat changes, invasive species, deer browse, and climate change are still threats.

“Although I locate many rare species every year, this find took my breath away,” said Dr. Robert (Bob) Wernerehl, State Botanist for MassWildlife’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. “Given the condition of the site, and the knowledge that many botanists have searched fruitlessly for this rarity for years, I was not at all expecting to find it. But while forcing my way through dense shrubby thickets laden with poison ivy, I kept reminding myself to move slowly and keep looking. Glancing down, a bright orange spot in the tangle of branches caught my eye, and as I bent over the plant, I knew immediately I had found it, but thought, can this really be happening?” It was indeed the elusive orchid and he was able to locate and record eight plants. Historically there have been only four documented records of this species on this site: 1905, 1908, 1987, and 2001 with only one or two plants found each time. In another nod to history, Wernerehl observed that the rediscovery of such a rare species this particular year was fitting; 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Massachusetts Endangered Species Act (MESA).

Blooming in August, the crested fringed orchid’s numerous small but showy orange blooms grow in a densely flowered spike 1–5 inches long. Flowering begins at the bottom of the spike and over time blooms open further up the stalk. A slender nectar-filled spur juts out from the back of the flower. The delicate and deeply fringed flower is pollinated by a bumblebee, but no doubt attracts hummingbirds and other pollinators. The orchids are usually found growing in the moist acidic soil of bogs, wet meadows, swamps, and depressions in pinelands habitats. In many cases, the habitats where the orchid is found are often associated with periodic fires. This rediscovered orchid population is in a shrubby wetland thicket of sweet pepperbush, swamp azalea, and poison ivy. Plants which typically grow in this habitat include rushes, irises, lilies, swamp rose-mallow, goldenrods, and marsh fern. Other plants associated with these orchids include asters, slough grass, wild cranberry, and Canada reed grass. Shrubs include viburnum, maleberry, and sheep laurel. Crested fringed orchids are found from southeastern Massachusetts south to Tennessee, central Florida, Arkansas and along the Gulf Coast to Texas.

******

The Humane Society

Breaking news: Washington becomes seventh U.S. state to outlaw wildlife killing contests

September 11, 2020

Washington has just outlawed wildlife killing contests—the seventh state to do so in the past six years. The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 7-2 this morning to pass a rule ending these gruesome spectacles where participants kill large numbers of wild animals simply for the thrill and for cash and prizes.

The new rule prohibits contests for animals like coyotes, bobcats, crows, foxes and raccoons. That is significant as these animals typically have few protections under state laws and are the most common victims at such contests, where winners are decided based on who kills the most, or the heaviest, or even the smallest animals. In Washington, for instance, contestants killed at least 1,427 coyotes between 2013 and 2018 during events that offered prizes for killing the “smallest dog,” and awards for participants who “Can’t Shoot ‘Fer S**t.”

The ban in Washington is the latest in a string of victories against wildlife contests nationwide in recent years and it shows that both concerned citizens and wildlife management officials no longer have the stomach for these vile events. The Humane Society of the United States has been on the frontlines of this fight, turning a red-hot spotlight on the problem with undercover investigations of wildlife contests in the states of Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Working with other organizations, wildlife advocates and our dedicated volunteers, we have helped ban such contests in Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Vermont.

Supporters try to rationalize the blood sport by claiming that by randomly killing coyotes they are protecting livestock or saving deer for hunters. But that argument is based on falsehoods. Far more cattle and sheep deaths are caused by weather, birthing problems and disease, and deer abundance is determined by the availability of good habitat. Scientists and state wildlife agencies have also stated time and again that wildlife killing contests provide no credible wildlife management service and can make problems worse by disrupting stable breeding structures, increasing conflicts and leading to an increase in the numbers of the animals who are targeted at the events.

What these contests do, however, is promote the sadistic notion that it’s fun to kill animals for a chance at prizes like cash, a champion belt buckle or an AR-15 gun. During one of our investigations in New York State earlier this year, a contestant bragged to our investigators about killing and cutting open a pregnant coyote. At a Maryland contest, also this year, children seemingly inured to the violence played among piles of dead foxes and even helped drag them to the judging area. Organizers have at times encouraged children as young as five years old to participate in the killing.

While thousands of such contests are still held around the United States, we now see a clear and positive trend among states to end them. Kudos to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for proposing the rule that passed today, and Commissioner Barbara Baker for supporting it and seeing it through to victory. The HSUS backed the rule all the way along with our allies, including the Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Northwest, Project Coyote and Wolf Haven International. Our focus will next move to other states that are considering similar measures, including New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Maryland and Oregon. Rest assured we will be on the job until these gruesome wildlife killing contests are a thing of the past.

******

EcoWatch

Conservation Works: At Least 28 Birds and Mammals Have Been Saved from Extinction Since 1993

By Olivia Rosane| September 11, 2020

A study published in Conservation Letters Wednesday found that efforts to protect endangered species of birds and mammals had saved at least 28 of them from extinction since 1993.

“We usually hear bad stories about the biodiversity crisis and there is no doubt that we are facing an unprecedented loss in biodiversity through human activity,” said study coauthor and Newcastle University professor of conservation science and policy Phil McGowan, reported Phys.org. “The loss of entire species can be stopped if there is sufficient will to do so. This is a call to action: showing the scale of the issue and what we can achieve if we act now to support conservation and prevent extinction.”

The research was led by Newcastle University and BirdLife International to assess the effectiveness of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which came into force in 1993, and specifically its Aichi Target 12, which set the goal to “prevent extinctions of known threatened species,” according to the study.

From 1993 to 2020, the lifetime of the CBD, conservation actions prevented 21 to 32 bird extinctions and seven to 16 mammal extinctions, for a total of 28 to 48 animals saved from the brink. Between 2010 and 2020, the timing of Aichi Target 12, conservationists prevented 9 to 18 bird extinctions and two to seven mammal extinctions.

Since 1993, 15 birds and mammals are sadly believed to have gone extinct. However, the research reveals that the extinction rates for both groups would have been 2.9 to 4.2 times higher without any action.

“These results show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved,” said study instigator and BirdLife International chief scientist Dr. Stuart Butchart, reported Phys.org. “This should encourage governments to reaffirm their commitment to halt extinctions and recover populations of threatened species in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework currently being negotiated. Such a commitment is both achievable and essential to sustain a healthy planet.”

The Guardian explained that researchers came to their conclusions by using information on population size, trends, threats and conservation efforts from 137 global experts. From there they narrowed a list of 17,046 bird and mammal species to 81 that were listed as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s red list. “The details were then used to calculate the likelihood that each species would have become extinct without conservation measures,” the Guardian reported.

Species saved included the Iberian lynx, California condor and pygmy hog. Some of these, like the California condor, are major success stories. Others, like the vaquita porpoise, are still struggling.

“It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well. Our analyses therefore provide a strikingly positive message that conservation has substantially reduced extinction rates for birds and mammals. While extinctions have also occurred over the same time period, our work shows that it is possible to prevent extinctions,” said lead study author Dr. Rike Bolam from Newcastle University, reported Phys.org.

******

Public News Service

Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council Makes Recommendations

September 11, 2020

HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Governor’s Grizzly Bear Advisory Council has released its recommendations to manage and protect the species, which the report notes has long ties to the state, both ecologically and spiritually.

Grizzlies still are listed under the Endangered Species Act, meaning they can’t be killed for any reason other than self-defense. Populations have increased in Montana in the last decade, and the state wants to reduce conflicts between bears and people.

Bonnie Rice, senior campaign representative for the Sierra Club Greater Yellowstone-Northern Rockies chapter, applauded the recommendations to increase resources to foster coexistence between people, livestock and grizzlies.

“Especially in places where grizzly bears are expanding their range,” she said, “to really get ahead of that in terms of outreach and education, conflict prevention, with people living in those communities, I think that’s really important.”

Rice said learning coexistence measures is the best way to keep people safe and help grizzly bears thrive. The Sierra Club would have liked to see a specific recommendation against a trophy hunt, if and when grizzly bears are taken off the endangered species list, she said. The Council acknowledged the importance of connecting grizzly recovery areas for the species’ long-term viability, but Rice was disappointed the recommendations weren’t more specific “in order to actually achieve that connectivity between recovery areas and ensure that Montana’s grizzly bear populations don’t remain isolated from each other, like they are now.”

The Council’s report said the increased presence of grizzly bears in Montana is a testament to the hard work of tribes, government agencies and conservation groups. Rice agreed, and said there’s more to do to ensure the long-term presence of Montana’s official state animal.

******

CBS News

Animal populations worldwide have declined nearly 70% in just 50 years, new report says

By Sophie Lewis , September 10, 2020

It’s impossible to deny — humans are destroying the natural environment at an unprecedented and alarming rate. According to a new report out Tuesday, animal populations have declined by such a staggering amount, that only an overhaul of the world’s economic systems could possibly reverse the damage.

Nearly 21,000 monitored populations of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians, encompassing almost 4,400 species around the world, have declined an average of 68% between 1970 and 2016, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report 2020. Species in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as global freshwater habitats, were disproportionately impacted, declining, on average, 94% and 84%, respectively.

Every two years, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) releases its landmark report, revealing how far species populations have declined since 1970 — an important marker for the overall health of ecosystems. The latest report indicates that the rate populations are declining “signal a fundamentally broken relationship between humans and the natural world, the consequences of which — as demonstrated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — can be catastrophic.”

“This report reminds us that we destroy the planet at our peril — because it is our home,” WWF U.S. president and CEO Carter Roberts said in a statement. “As humanity’s footprint expands into once-wild places, we’re devastating species populations. But we’re also exacerbating climate change and increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19. We cannot shield humanity from the impacts of environmental destruction. It’s time to restore our broken relationship with nature for the benefit of species and people alike.”

Humans are to blame

The report blames humans alone for the “dire” state of the planet. It points to the exponential growth of human consumption, population, global trade and urbanization over the last 50 years as key reasons for the unprecedented decline of Earth’s resources — which it says the planet is incapable of replenishing.

The overuse of these finite resources by at least 56% has had a devastating effect on biodiversity, which is crucial to sustaining human life on Earth. “It is like living off 1.56 Earths,” Mathis Wackernagel, David Lin, Alessandro Galli and Laurel Hanscom from the Global Footprint Network said in the report.

Climate Change

*Wildfires and weather extremes: It’s not coincidence, it’s climate change

*Greenhouse gas emissions back to pre-pandemic levels

*California wildfires burn 2.2 million acres — more than any year on record

The report points to land-use change — in particular, the destruction of habitats like rainforests for farming — as the key driver for loss of biodiversity, accounting for more than half of the loss in Europe, Central Asia, North America, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Much of that land is being used for agriculture, which is responsible for 80% of global deforestation and makes up 70% of freshwater use. Using this much land requires a vast food system that releases 29% of global greenhouse gases, and the excessive amount of land and water that people are using has killed 70% of terrestrial biodiversity and 50% of freshwater biodiversity. Many species simply cannot survive under the new conditions forced upon them when their habitats are altered by humans.

Destruction of ecosystems has threatened 1 million species — 500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects — with extinction, much of which can be prevented with conservation and restoration efforts.

The food industry needs an overhaul

Where and how humans produce food is one of the biggest threats to nature, the report says. Much of the habitat loss and deforestation that occurs is driven by food production and consumption.

One-third of all terrestrial land is used for cropping and animal breeding. And of all the water withdrawn from available freshwater resources, 75% is used for crops or livestock. If current habitats remain the same, researchers predict that cropland areas may have to be 10-25% larger in 2050 than in 2005, just to accommodate increased food demand. That increase is expected, despite more than 820 million people facing food insecurity, indicating that much of the agricultural strain is being wasted.

Meanwhile, food loss and waste cost the U.S. $1 trillion in economic costs, $700 billion in environmental costs and approximately $900 billion in social costs, according to the report.

Around the world, an estimated one-third of all food produced for humans is lost or wasted — about 1.4 billion tons every year. Food waste is responsible for at least 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions — three times more than that from aviation — and nearly one-quarter of those emissions come from wasted food.

The role of climate change

Species overexploitation, invasive species and diseases and pollution are all considered threats to biodiversity, the report said. However, human-caused climate change is projected to become as, or more important than, other drivers of biodiversity loss in the coming decades.

Climate change creates an ongoing destructive feedback loop in which the worsening climate leads to the decline in genetic variability, species richness and populations, and that loss of biodiversity adversely affects the climate. For example, deforestation leads to an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, warming the planet and exacerbating forest fires.

Just a handful of countries — Russia, Canada, Brazil and Australia — contain regions without a human footprint. But these wilderness areas are facing irreversible erosion, affecting other species and humans’ ability to adapt to climate change.

According to the report, no part of the ocean is entirely unaffected by overfishing, pollution, coastal development and other human-caused stressors. Humans depend on marine ecosystems to provide food, climate regulation, carbon storage and coastal protection — all of which are affected by these activities and are exacerbated by climate change.

“These places are disappearing in front of our eyes,” said James Watson, from the University of Queensland and WCS, Brooke Williams from the University of Queensland and Oscar Venter from the University of Northern British Columbia.

The link between the health of the people and the planet

Between devastating wildfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has made it clear that humans and nature have never been more intertwined. The report shows that the natural support for human life is rapidly declining — and that it’s up to citizens, governments and business leaders to come together at a scale never-before-seen to do something about it.

Experts expressed concern that many of the major gains in human health in the past 50 years — such as a decreased rate of child mortality and poverty and an increase in life expectancy — could be undone or even reversed due to loss of nature.

The rate of infectious disease emergence has increased dramatically over the past 80 years — and nearly half of these diseases are connected to land-use change, agriculture and the food industry. One study cited by the report suggests that diseases originating in animals are responsible for 2.5 billion cases of illness and nearly 3 million deaths every year.

“How humanity chooses to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it addresses the looming threats from global environmental change, will influence the health of generations to come,” wrote Thomas Pienkowski and Sarah Whitmee of the University of Oxford.

What can be done?

Similarly to the economic crash in 2008, lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic have reduced humanity’s demand by nearly 10% — a change that experts say is unlikely to last without major structural change.

While the report paints a tragic picture for the future of the natural world, it urges that current trends can be flattened, and even reversed, with urgent action. It emphasizes the need for world leaders to overhaul the food production and consumption industries — taking deforestation completely out of supply chains and making trade more sustainable, among other things.

In just the last year alone, natural disasters, from California’s wildfires to severe droughts in Australia, have cost billions of dollars globally. Experts warn that economic decision-makers need to take into account not only produced and human capital, but also natural capital when crafting public and private policy.

To feed 10 billion people by 2050, humans will need to adopt a healthier way of eating — both for themselves and for the planet. Diet-related disease risk is the leading cause of premature mortality globally and food production is the main driver of biodiversity loss and water pollution, also accounting for 20-30% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts recommend humans adopt a diet that consists of a balanced proportion of whole grains, fruits, nuts, vegetables, beans and pulses, with animal-derived products like fish, eggs, dairy and meat consumed in moderation.

The report calls the above changes “non-negotiable” to preserve human health, wealth and security and urges world leaders gathering virtually for the U.N. General Assembly beginning September 15 to address them — only then can humans “bend the curve” of biodiversity loss.

“While the trends are alarming, there is reason to remain optimistic,” said WWF global chief scientist Rebecca Shaw. “Young generations are becoming acutely aware of the link between planetary health and their own futures, and they are demanding action from our leaders. We must support them in their fight for a just and sustainable planet.”

******

Carlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico attorney general joins effort against proposed changes to Endangered Species Act

Adrian Hedden, Sept. 9, 2020

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas joined a group of 17 other attorneys general in voicing opposition to a proposal from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service to redefine “habitat” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and limit federal protections for areas use to facilitate the recovery of endangered species.

In the proposal, the federal agencies suggested that protections for “critical habitats” under the ESA be limited strictly to areas needed to prevent the ultimate extinction of a species.

The attorneys general argued that such a definition would only support protecting habitats to encourage the survival of the species rather than other areas that could be made suitable through restoration efforts enacted via the ESA.

It would exclude areas that are degraded and in need of restoration, the attorneys general argued, which might be current uninhabited by an endangered species but where a species could be moved to after restoration was complete.

“Both the proposed definition and the Services’ alternative definition are contrary to the plain language and broad conservation purposes of the ESA, lack any reasoned basis, and would arbitrarily limit the Services’ ability to recover imperiled species by reducing — in some cases potentially severely — the amount and type of critical habitat that can be protected under the Act,” read comments submitted by the group of attorneys general.”

The group also argued the proposal was “arbitrary and capricious” because the agencies did not offer an adequate explanation for the change and contradicted the ESA’s intentionally broad language by creating unduly restrictive regulations.

The attorneys general also accused the federal administration for attempting to move forward with the new definition without proper review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and argued that the expectation of a future NEPA review was not adequate for justifying the shift in policy.

“The Proposed Rule is yet another attempt by the Services to chip away at the ESA’s essential protections for endangered and threatened species and their habitat,” read the comments in opposition.

“The Services must abandon this proposal and instead focus on addressing the threats posed by habitat degradation and climate change in order to fulfill the ESA’s purposes of affording imperiled species the “highest of priorities” and providing for their recovery.”

In the Aug. 5 Federal Register listing of the proposed rule, the agencies cited a 2011 executive order issued by former-President Barack Obama that called for a review of federal regulation to remove policy that might by unduly burdensome.

The agencies said the definition change in the Federal Register for “habitat” was intended to clarify the requirements for an area to be deemed “critical habitat” and would provide regulatory certainty that such an area would provide food, water, cover or space needed by individuals of a species to function.

“Specifically, we interpret the statutory definition of ‘critical habitat’ as it applies to occupied habitat, to inherently verify that an area meeting that definition is ‘habitat,’” read the listing.

“By application of the statutory definition, such an area is by definition part of the species’ occupied range at the time of listing and contains one or more of the essential physical or biological features.”

******

Patch (Honolulu)

Hawaii Marines Are Now Guarding The Nests Of Endangered Species

Green sea turtles are now nesting at a windward Oahu beach where the military trains.

By Kevin Knodell, The Honolulu Civil Beat, Sept. 8, 2020

In June, Hawaiian green sea turtle nests were discovered at Bellows Beach. It was the first time that they had been documented on the beach since the military began keeping track.

The Marines train to fight on land, sea and air. But as they do, they are often navigating ecosystems that are home to a diverse mix of animal and plant life.

Since the 1970s, federal legislation has called on the military to pay closer attention to the environmental impact of their training, and to manage the land in its possession. To that end the Marine Corps employs specialists that include biologists, arborists and pest control specialists.

“There’s a whole broad range of things that we do,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Pochop, the active duty officer that leads the Environmental Compliance and Protection Division.

Pochop spent most of his career as a helicopter pilot flying sometimes dangerous missions around the globe. But he got his current job because he’d studied zoology and environmental management in college.

“It’s not just about the legal obligation,” Pochop said of his duties. For him this posting is a dream job, giving him a rare opportunity to simultaneously fulfill his passions for both service in the Marine Corps and environmental protection and research.

They work to document and protect endangered species, control invasive species and identify and preserve archaeological and cultural sites around the areas where Marines train.

While Hawaiian green sea turtles at Bellows are the first of that species the Marines have recorded, they’re not the first turtles that Lance Bookless has seen nesting on Marine training grounds.

Bookless, the senior natural resources manager at MCBH, notes that in 2009 he got to watch a nest of Olive Ridley turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean. The Olive Ridleys are more commonly associated with the Gulf of Mexico.

Bookless said that in the 1970s, the base had a single employee whose job it was to look after both environmental and cultural resources.

“It was still a pretty new idea for the military,” he explained. In 1982 it became a two-person role and has slowly grown to a much larger team with varied specialties. “I think we’re up close to 30 people in our department,” said Bookless.

Bookless himself is a Marine veteran. He first arrived at MCBH in late 1988 as a Marine officer on active duty. When he switched to the reserves he got a job at the Department of Land and Natural Resources as a survey forester.

When a job opened up protecting the land at MCBH in 1996 he jumped at the opportunity.

“We do a lot of outreach to try to inform folks of what’s around here and what their impacts are and how to mitigate those impacts,” said MCBH Natural Resource Manager Keith Roberts, an Army veteran turned biologist.

They evaluate the potential impacts of training exercises and construction projects. They also brief commanders and tell them what measures they have to follow to protect the environment as they train.

Bookless noted that among the species that’s been a top emphasis for monitoring is the red-footed boobie. When Marines trained to prepare to deploy for Operation Desert Storm a fire broke out that seriously threatened a colony of the seabirds.

Since then the Marine Corps has ramped up both conservation and monitoring of the birds, tagging and tracking them to learn more about nesting habits. “We got pictures of how these things fly out when they go out to sea,” said Bookless. “That is probably the (species) that’s been studied the most, at least for us here.”

Bookless said that the military culture has changed and that Marines on active duty today have a much better appreciation for environmental requirements.

“Every once in awhile you’ll get some of the more stubborn operators who don’t understand why they can’t just do whatever they want,” said Pochop. “In their mind, it’s military land and it’s meant for them to train.”

But he said that for younger Marines that’s usually not a problem. “Privates are pretty good at doing what they’re told,” Pochop said.

Bookless said that the team actually deals more with littering on the beaches from recreation than training.

Marines today are trained to pick up after themselves — as much for environmental reasons as to ensure that their enemies can’t track them when they’re deployed for battle.

But education is a constant process. When Hurricane Douglas approached Hawaii in July, Pochop said some base community members tried to fill sandbags to fortify their homes with sand from the beach. The environmental team had to stop them.

“This is living sand,” explains Pochop, noting that between turtles laying eggs, crabs and other critters burrowing and living in it the beach is a delicate and vital ecosystem.

“There’s also human remains,” he added. Traditional Hawaiian graves are scattered throughout the beaches and training areas — and Marines have orders not to disturb the dead.

But they reiterate that for the most part, outreach has worked — and that they depend on both Marines on base and people in the surrounding communities to help them preserve and manage the land.

“One of our biggest programs is a volunteer program,” Bookless said, noting that it’s helped the team with managing invasive species, monitoring the turtles and a variety of other responsibilities. “That’s really made a difference.”

Marines roped off 13 green turtle nests when they were first discovered in June. Since then even more nests have appeared at both Bellows Beach and at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

The Marines believe the turtles may have begun nesting in April when stay-home orders kept people off the beach. It’s also possible that the destruction of East Island during Hurricane Walaka in 2018 eliminated nesting grounds, leaving the turtles looking for alternatives for nesting.

As the Marines work to further document and understand the ecosystems on land they train on they frequently collaborate with University of Hawaii faculty and students.

Students often help them with research programs and the Marines have opened up parts of the base to students working on their own projects who want to study wildlife there.

Some of the members of the team have pet projects of their own as they study the ecosystems of military training areas. Roberts said his favorite species on the base is the Hawaiian gallinule, a black waterbird that resembles a chicken with a red shield on its face, that he believes is often overlooked.

“There’s very little publicity on it, but it’s very elusive,” he explains. “We know they’re there and we’re finding them increasingly around the base. So we’ve taken note of that. And we’re looking into doing more studies.”

******

Devdiscourse (Wellington, NZ)

Govt agrees to change law to help protect over 35,000 endangered species

“The changes will be made by amending the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 to ban the domestic sale of elephant ivory in New Zealand with some exemptions, and to improve the regulatory system at the border,” said Eugenie Sage.

September 8, 2020

The Government has agreed to change the law to help protect more than 35,000 internationally endangered species where unsustainable trade threatens their survival in the wild, Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage announced today.

“The changes will be made by amending the Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 to ban the domestic sale of elephant ivory in New Zealand with some exemptions, and to improve the regulatory system at the border,” said Eugenie Sage.

“This is a big step forward in strengthening the management of international trade in endangered, threatened and exploited species. The Cabinet decisions follow the release of a discussion document in September 2019 and public submissions.

“Currently there are no restrictions on domestic trade in elephant ivory in New Zealand. This is out of step with many countries such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, Taiwan and China which have already banned domestic trade in elephant ivory.”

“I am pleased to announce the proposal to ban the domestic sale of any items made with ivory from elephants killed after 1975, which is when elephants began to be protected from international trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

The import and export of all elephant ivory is also proposed to be banned, with narrow exemptions to ensure elephant ivory items can still be traded by museums, for DNA testing and testing to determine age, and that antique musical instruments with correct permits can still be carried across the border.

“The New Zealand market in ivory is small, but banning the sale of post-Convention elephant ivory in New Zealand will send a message that New Zealand does not want to receive elephant ivory that may have been poached or illegally traded,” said Eugenie Sage.

Other planned changes to the TIES Act focus on improving the way the Act is implemented to ensure the regulatory system at the border efficiently and effectively manages international wildlife trade and stops illegal trade.

“Proposed changes to the TIES Act will ensure that New Zealand can continue to protect significant plants and wildlife from around the world to the highest standard.”

The TIES Act will be amended to:

Regulate the domestic sale of elephant ivory, with elephant ivory from elephants killed before 1975 exempt;

place further restrictions at the border on importing and exporting elephant ivory;

update the definition of personal and household effects to ensure it functions as intended by not allowing items for commercial sale to qualify as personal or household effects;

include a regulation-making power enabling species-specific exemptions from permitting for personal and household effects;

enable a process to return seized items to individuals where there are permit irregularities in certain limited circumstances;

allow cost recovery for services provided to commercial traders; and

allow DOC to consider cases where there have been irregularities with permits issued by Management Authorities in other countries. There will be a process with strict conditions to consider errors, and decide whether to accept replacement or retrospective permits.

The Trade in Endangered Species Act 1989 will need to be amended to implement the changes. An amendment Bill will be drafted incorporating the proposed changes. It is planned for introduction to the next Parliament after the election to be referred to Select Committee after its first reading.

(With Inputs from New Zealand Government Press Release)

******

PHYS-ORG

Protected areas can ‘double’ imperiled species populations

by University of Queensland,  September 7, 2020

A University of Queensland-led research team has revealed that many endangered mammal species are dependent on protected areas, and would likely vanish without them.

Professor James Watson, of UQ and the Wildlife Conservation Society, said despite the success of protected areas, their popularity as a go-to conservation tool has started to wane.

“Since the 1970s, the global network of protected areas has experienced a fourfold expansion, and some of these protected sites have been crucial to protect and even enhance wildlife populations,” he said.

“However, there’s increasing debate around the role of the global protected area estate in sustaining and recovering threatened species. What our research has clearly shown is that protected areas, when well-funded and well-placed, are incredibly effective. In fact, 80 percent of mammal species we monitored in these protected areas have at least doubled their coverage in protected areas over the last 50 years. And 10 percent of the species analyzed live predominantly on protected land.”

The scientists compared current distributions of 237 threatened terrestrial mammal species from the 1970s to today, measuring changes in species’ ranges, then overlaid them with the protected area network.

“A great example is the greater one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), which now has 80 percent of its range in a protected area,” Professor Watson said.

“Their numbers have been decimated elsewhere—the species has lost more than 99 percent of its distribution in the last 50 years. Now about 87 percent of the remaining animals live in just two protected areas—Kaziranga National Park in India and Chitwan National Park in Nepal.”

Professor Watson said mammals were retreating into protected areas and more than ever, protected areas were vital to protecting the world’s biodiversity.

“There is little doubt that without protected areas we would have lost amazing species like tigers and mountain gorillas,” he said.

“This science clearly shows that to abate the extinction crisis, we need better funded and more protected areas that are well-supported and well-managed by governments and other land managers. At the same time, we need to reward efforts that ensure re-expansion and restoration of wildlife populations into territories beyond protected area boundaries. We must focus on retaining Earth’s remaining intact ecosystems that contain key protected areas and prioritize efforts to restore habitat corridors between isolated reserves, providing opportunities for movement and genetic exchange.”

(The research has been published in Conservation Letters.)

******

WDSU/6 News  (New Orleans, LA)

A killer whale who grieved her dead calf for 17 days is a mother again

By Hollie Silverman, CNN, September 7. 2020

The killer whale who swam with her dead calf for 17 days in an apparent act of grieving is a mother again.

Tahlequah, known to researchers as J35, gave birth to a calf last week, according to a news release from the Whale Research Center.

The two orcas were spotted swimming with their pod in the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca, between Washington state and Vancouver Island, over the weekend, the release said.

Tahlequah made headlines in 2018 when she swam about 1,000 miles of ocean with the body of her dead calf. The calf died a few hours after birth, but the mother prevented it from sinking for more than two weeks.

Both Tahlequah and her new calf, named J57, appear healthy, the Whale Research Center said.

“She was still capable of producing a live calf after an approximate eighteen-month gestation! Hooray!” the release said. “Her new calf appeared healthy and precocious, swimming vigorously alongside its mother in its second day of free-swimming life.”

Researchers believe the calf was born Sept. 4 because its dorsal fin was upright when it was spotted, a development that occurs about two days after birth because it’s folded over in the womb.

With the birth of J57, the endangered Southern Resident orca population is now 73, according to the Whale Research Center.

******

Center for Biological Diversity,  September 4, 2020

American Burying Beetle Loses Endangered Status Despite Major Threats From Oil Development, Climate Change

TULSA, Okla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced the downlisting of the American burying beetle from endangered to threatened despite the absence of the beetle from most of its range, ongoing habitat destruction from the oil and gas industry, and new information that climate change is decimating the species in the southern Plains.

The downlisting rule, released Sept. 3, also outlines exclusions that allow oil and gas companies to pursue developments within the beetle’s fragile habitat in Oklahoma.

“Far from recovering, American burying beetles are spiraling toward extinction as their habitat is sacrificed to oil and gas development that’s also making our world too hot for the species to survive,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration’s downlisting is an undeserved gift to the oil and gas industry. It greenlights destruction of the beetle’s habitat and the emission of even more of the pollution that’s fueling the climate emergency threatening the beetle and people alike.”

With its striking orange-and-black carapace, the American burying beetle once occurred in 35 states across the eastern half of the United States and parts of Canada. But its numbers have declined by more than 90%. It now lives in a small number of isolated populations in states on the fringes of its range, including Oklahoma, Nebraska and Rhode Island.

These highly imperiled beetles were protected as endangered in 1989, but the oil and gas industry has fought for years to end that protection. A 2015 petition from the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which sought to eliminate hurdles to oil and gas development in Oklahoma, prompted a review of the beetle’s status.

The Service’s rule acknowledges that the beetle has not met criteria for downlisting from the species’ 1991 recovery plan, which called for three populations of at least 500 individuals in each of four regions. In a flabbergasting example of government doublespeak, the Service now states that because new science shows 500 individuals not to be enough for population stability, this criterion no longer applies. The rule also acknowledges that climate change is likely to make the southern Plains inhospitable to the beetle, but somehow comes to the counterintuitive conclusion that it is less endangered.

“We frequently support and celebrate the recovery of endangered species,” said Greenwald. “But there’s nothing to celebrate here. We’ll challenge this nonsensical decision to strip the beetle of protection.”

******

ERDC/September 4, 2020

Interior Department Proposes Changes to Endangered Species Act

New Regulation Prioritizes Economic Analysis Over Species’ Habitat Needs

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed a regulation today that changes the process for considering critical habitat exclusions under the Endangered Species Act. The proposal would decrease designation of critical habitat based on economic costs, making way for developers, states, and local governments to prioritize oil and gas development and other industry over the value of restoring endangered species populations – at a time when our nation faces a biodiversity crisis. The move forces FWS to consider financial impacts that could significantly reduce critical habitat, based on developers’ cost analysis and what developers identify as the production lost as a result of designating critical habitat.

“This regulation puts a thumb on the scale for developers and fossil fuel interests, making the critical habitat analysis less about survival of a species and more about profits,” said Rebecca Riley, Legal Director of the Nature Program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The rule improperly shifts responsibility for economic analyses to industry as well as state and local governments, an abandonment of the agency’s responsibilities under the law. The nation’s endangered species are not simply ‘lost profits’ on a ledger, they are valued creatures in need of a home.”

 ******

North Coast Journal

Humboldt Martens Granted Threatened Species Status

Posted By Iridian Casarezon,, Sep 3, 2020

The Humboldt martens, a small, cat-like woodland creature once thought to be extinct, will now receive protection as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

According to Environment Protection Information Center (EPIC), the decision comes 10 years after EPIC and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the animals to have protected species under the Endangered Species Act and after they sued the Trump administration for its long delay in finalizing protections for this rare species.

“It’s about time Humboldt martens got the protections they so desperately need,” said Quinn Read, Oregon policy director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are perilously close to losing this incredible species forever. These protections provide a pathway to recovery, and we’ll do everything we can to hold the Trump administration accountable to its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act.”

Humboldt martens are common in coastal forests in northern California and southern Oregon. The animal population was wiped out by unchecked trapping and logging of its habitat but today, “fewer than 400 of these fascinating carnivores remain in four highly isolated fragments of the species’ historic habitat,” the EPIC blog post reads.

******

Science News, September 2, 2020

Common species mirror rare animals’ response to global change

The populations of common animals are just as likely to rise or fall in number in a time of accelerating global change as those of rare species, a study suggests.

A study of more than 2,000 species reveals animal populations around the world — from the very common to endangered species — are going up and down as global change alters land, sea and freshwater ecosystems.

The findings highlight a need to look beyond only rare species in order to improve efforts to conserve global biodiversity, scientists say.

Critically endangered animals — such as the Hawksbill sea turtle — were previously thought to be at greater risk of decline than common species like red deer, but the study found a wide spectrum of changes in animal numbers.

Findings from the new study suggest the numbers within very common animal species are, in fact, as likely to increase or decrease as rare ones.

However, species with smaller population sizes were shown to be more likely to change from year to year, potentially increasing their extinction risk in the long term.

Until recently, scientists were still compiling data on how animal populations were shifting over time on a global scale across the different regions of the planet.

Making use of the newly available data, a team of University of Edinburgh researchers studied nearly 10,000 animal populations recorded in the Living Planet Database between 1970 and 2014 to provide a new perspective on animal population change. These include records of mammals, reptiles, sharks, fish, birds and amphibians.

The team found that 15 per cent of all populations declined during the period, while 18 per cent increased and 67 per cent showed no significant change.

Amphibians were the only group in which population sizes declined, while birds, mammals and reptiles experienced increases.

The overall decline in amphibians makes them a priority for conservation efforts, researchers say, as their loss could have knock-on effects in food chains and wider ecosystems.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Carnegie Trust.

Gergana Daskalova, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said: “We often assume that declines in animal numbers are prevalent everywhere. But we found that there are also many species which have increased over the last half of a century, such as those that do well in human-modified landscapes or those that are the focus of conservation actions.”

 Dr Isla Myers-Smith, also of the School of GeoSciences, who co-authored the study, said: “Only as we bring together data from around the world, can we begin to really understand how global change is influencing the biodiversity of our planet. The original idea for this study stemmed from a fourth year undergraduate class at the University of Edinburgh. It is so inspiring to see early career researchers tackle some of the big conservation questions of our time using advanced data science skills.”

(Story Source: Materials provided by University of Edinburgh)

******

BBC News

WWF: Canada endangered species face ‘staggering losses’

2 September 2020

Canadian wildlife at risk of extinction has undergone “staggering” losses over the past 50 years, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) conservation group says.

In a report, the charity says that species at risk of global extinction have seen their Canadian populations fall by over 40% between 1970 and 2016.

Populations of species that are at risk of extinction in Canada itself fell even more dramatically – by 59%.

The report said human activity was mostly to blame.

Wednesday’s report is based on the Living Planet Index, which measures the ecological performance of 883 species around the world, including the North Atlantic Right Whale and the Barren Ground Caribou.

The report found that endangered species were likely to face at least five threats, such as habitat loss, land and shoreline developments and pollution, and that human-activity was mostly to blame.

Climate change and biodiversity loss accelerated the impacts of those threats the animals were already facing, the report said.

“Conservation actions that target only a single threat are unlikely to successfully stop and reverse wildlife declines as threats to species are often cumulative or synergistic and can have cascading effects,” the report said.

In the case of the Right Whale, climate change shifted the whale’s migratory pattern to more commercial areas where they became vulnerable to ship strikes and more frequently became entangled in shipping gear.

The report also pointed to recent research that found that indigenous-managed lands had more species than other parts of Canada, and better supported at-risk wildlife.

The report suggested working with Canada’s indigenous people to create more Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.

Canada is not alone in this crisis. A recent study found that humans have pushed 500 mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians to the brink of extinction

 ******

Minot (ND) Daily News

Eloise Ogden, September 1, 2020

Federal agency to decide if monarchs endangered species

Dr. Logan Wood, veterinarian at Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot, always looks for monarch caterpillars feeding on milkweed when he goes fishing or walks his dog.

Is it unusual to find a monarch?

“In my opinion, it’s unusual,” said Wood. “I walk through fields hoping to find one caterpillar and I have not found one all year, maybe because I’m missing them but at the same time I feel that we don’t nearly see the amount that we should, and I think that’s due to everything that’s leading to these animals being put on the endangered species list,” he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide in December if the North American monarch butterfly will be classified as a federally endangered species, Wood said.

Initially, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to determine last year whether the monarch butterfly should be listed as an endangered species but the deadline was extended to December of this year so agency biologists and other organizations could continue to collect information on the monarch’s status, according to North Dakota Game and Fish Department.

If classified as a federally endangered species, this will be a first for the monarch butterfly. The butterfly has never been placed on that list before, Wood said.

The monarch is considered the most recognizable of all butterflies in North America.

North Dakota has monarch butterflies and the milkweed that the monarch caterpillars exclusively feed on.

But the monarch population has decreased extensively over the past 20 years and the milkweed isn’t as abundant anymore.

Last year Wood raised monarch butterflies as a special project at the zoo. The project culminated with a “Flutter Fest” held at the zoo, attended by over 2,300 people. Tagged monarchs (tiny lightweight stickers placed on butterflies) were released. Due to COVID-19, the project was put on hold this year because a large event could not be held for the release of the monarchs.

North America has two different types of monarchs, Wood said.

“There’s the Pacific monarch and there’s the Eastern monarch. We have the Eastern. The Eastern is anything east of the Rocky Mountains. All of ours from pretty much North Dakota all the way up to New York and even into Canada go down to Mexico. Sometimes they’ll migrate all the way there. Other times, depending on the season, they fly down to say Oklahoma, lay their eggs and their offspring make it to Mexico. However, there are reports about tagged monarchs that have made that trip to Mexico and back, which is over 1,800 miles in those cases,” Wood said.

One of the reasons the monarchs are special, Wood said, is the phenomena of millions and millions of these butterflies congregating.

“When this happens they hang upside down from trees, completely covering forests and trees. That’s what is amazing about this phenomenon,” he said.

The Eastern monarch congregates in Mexico and the Pacific monarch congregates in Monterey, Calif.

Eastern monarchs will travel as far south as central Mexico and overwinter for approximately six to nine months.

After winter the monarchs return north to the states, Wood said. He said many of the adult monarchs can live a little over a year to 18 months, depending on replenishing their energy supplies as well as surviving birds and other predators.

Wood said the life cycle of the monarch starts with the butterfly laying eggs on a leaf. Those hatch into tiny caterpillars.

“They’re maybe half a centimeter in length – very, very tiny when they first come out. They grow very, very rapidly,” he said.

He said they’re usually a caterpillar for about 10-14 days.

“From that time they grow from being just a few millimeters to being over 3 inches long. They grow very, very fast – it’s almost overnight they can double,” he said.

“As they get to be about 3 inches long, then what they do is they go into their pupa stage – it’s called the chrysalis. Within that chrysalis they go through a metamorphosis and that typically takes another 10-14 days. They might be underneath a leaf or they may go to a sturdy branch. When we were growing them here at the zoo we put a stick – something that’s a little sturdier in hoping that they would go there. Every now and then they would go on the bottom of a leaf in which we’d then tie the leaf onto the stick,” he said.

“It initially starts off as a green – jade green – chrysalis. As the butterfly starts to form you can actually see the orange and black coloration. Once they’re fully developed, then they’ll just open up the chrysalis. They’re really soft in their wings when they first come out – kind of folded around, kind of like swaddling a baby. They’ll hang upside down for a little while to allow everything to drain and to fully harden up as far as wings,” Wood said.

“In December of 2020, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife plans to hold a meeting to talk about whether or not to place the North American monarchs on the endangered species list. That’s what is important about trying to save this animal is we’ve seen anywhere from 70 percent to 80 percent population decrease in monarchs,” Wood said.

He said there’s a few different reasons for the decrease in monarchs, including the overuse of herbicides and pesticides, but habitat loss is probably the No. 1 reason along with their overwintering location.

“A lot of people are tearing down the forest that they (monarchs) use in order to create grazing land,” Wood said.

Need for milkweed

 When the monarch is a caterpillar, he said, it needs the milkweed. But, he said, many people do not like milkweed because it has weed in its name.

North Dakota has several species of milkweed, according to Wood.

“The common milkweed is what we see here, which has the big, giant pods – that’s the fruit of the plant. The other one would be the swamp milkweed,” he said.

He said the swamp milkweed has thinner leaves and nowhere near the thickness of the leaves of common milkweed. Swamp milkweed has pretty pink flowers.

What can be done to help save and protect monarchs?

“There are lots of things that you can do,” Wood said. “You can leave the milkweed. It is a weed; however, it is a crucial part to the butterfly life cycle. Those who might want to help the monarchs but don’t want many milkweed plants in their yard or garden might want to leave one of them for the monarchs.

“Caterpillars cannot live on anything but milkweed and that’s what allows them to become that toxic animal or poisonous animal in case another animal were to try to get them. They need the milkweed in order to grow and to become an adult butterfly,” he said. “You can control it (milkweed) but it is nice to be able to at least to have a plant for the butterflies to come back.

“Adult butterflies just need nectar so they may be feeding off the milkweed flowers themselves or any sort of nectar or pollinator plant,” he said. He said there’s a list of native nectar-rich plants not only good for monarchs but good for all pollinators, including honey bees and other butterflies such as the swallowtails and even hummingbirds.

Roosevelt Park Zoo has a registered Monarch Waystation as part of its Pollinator Garden on the North Trail.

“We have at least two different types of milkweed in that Pollinator Garden plus a lot of native pollinator plants,” Wood said. He said the waystation is a place where the monarchs can replenish themselves during their migration.

“There’s less than 20 waystations in North Dakota and we have one of them. We’re hoping to create more waystations throughout the park district. Our Horticulture Department has been great in supporting us with that effort,” he said.

(For more information about monarchs and milkweed visit Monarch Watch at http://www.monarchwatch.org or Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at http://www.xerces.org.)

******

KTLA 5 TV (Los Angeles)

Trump admin aims to remove endangered species protections for gray wolves

by: Associated Press, Aug 31, 2020

The Trump administration plans to lift endangered species protections for gray wolves across most of the nation by the end of the year, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday.

“We’re working hard to have this done by the end of the year and I’d say it’s very imminent,” Aurelia Skipwith told The Associated Press in a phone interview Monday.

The administration also is pushing ahead with a rollback of protections for migratory birds despite a recent setback in federal court, she said.

The Fish and Wildlife Service last year proposed dropping the wolf from the endangered list in the lower 48 states, exempting a small population of Mexican wolves in the Southwest. It was the latest of numerous attempts to return management authority to the states — moves that courts have repeatedly rejected after opponents filed lawsuits.

Shot, trapped and poisoned to near extinction in the last century, wolves in recent decades rebounded in the western Great Lakes region and portions of the West, the total population exceeding 6,000. They have been removed from the endangered list in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and portions of Oregon, Utah and Washington state.

Federal protections remain elsewhere.

A federal judge in 2014 restored protection for the animals in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, a decision upheld by an appeals court in 2017.

Skipwith, echoing the Fish and Wildlife Service’s long-held policy, told the AP the wolf has “biologically recovered” and that its removal from the list would demonstrate the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act.

But the Humane Society of the United States and other wildlife protection groups contend wolves are still vulnerable. Dropping protections across the Lower 48 would doom any chances of their spreading to other states where they could thrive if humans allowed it, they say.

A final decision had been expected last spring, but the service is taking extra time to review the science behind its position and issues raised in court rulings, Skipwith said.

“We just want to be sure we’re covering all the bases,” she said. “When groups want to come in and sue because of such a success, it takes away resources from species that need them.”

She added that the agency doesn’t believe much suitable habitat remains beyond areas that wolves currently occupy, a claim that environmental groups and some biologists dispute.

“We don’t anticipate them expanding, regardless of that federal protection,” Skipwith said, declining to take a position on a November ballot initiative that would restore wolves to Colorado.

“If that’s the approach that Colorado wants to take, that’s their prerogative,” she said.

Skipwith said the agency also is proceeding with changes in how it enforces a century-old law protecting most American wild bird species, despite warnings that billions of birds could die as a result.

A U.S. judge in New York this month invalidated the administration’s use of a legal memo to justify its position that accidental but foreseeable killing of birds should not be criminally prosecuted. The administration had argued that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act applies only to the intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” killings during normal activities by electric utilities, oil developers and other industries.

National Audubon Society chief conservation officer Sarah Greenberger criticized the agency for pressing ahead with a rule change that would cement the policy into a regulation that could be harder to overturn.

“There was never a good reason to weaken the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the administration should have taken its recent loss in court as an opportunity to abandon its bird-killing policy,” Greenberger said.

Skipwith said the Fish and Wildlife Service was still evaluating the judge’s decision and planned to issue a final rule by the end of the year. The agency remains committed to “making sure we’re not criminalizing these unintentional actions” while stepping up efforts to protect migratory birds, she said.

******

San Francisco Chronicle

Agency denies critical habitat for endangered bumblebee

By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer Aug. 31, 2020

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Federal regulators said Monday they would not designate critical habitat for the first bee species in the continental U.S. to be listed as endangered, a move that environmentalists said would worsen its chances for recovery.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it had determined the rusty patched bumblebee could survive without having specific areas managed for its protection, even though its population has plummeted 90% in the past couple of decades.

Biologists have concluded that habitat loss is not the biggest reason for the bee’s decline, the service said. Additional factors include pesticides, disease and climate change.

Once found in 31 states and provinces from Connecticut to South Dakota, the bee now occupies only scattered areas in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada.

“The designation of critical habitat plays a very specific role in species recovery and is prudent when a species’ recovery is dependent on specific habitat elements it needs to survive,” said Lori Nordstrom, assistant regional director for Ecological Services in the Service’s Great Lakes region.

“As a habitat generalist, the rusty patched bumblebee can find the habitat it needs in a variety of ecosystems, including prairies, woodlands, marshes, agricultural landscapes and residential parks and gardens, all of which are abundant across the bee’s range.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service approved the bee’s endangered listing shortly before President Barack Obama left office. The Trump administration delayed it from taking effect in early 2017 but relented after the Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit.

The service’s decision not to designate critical habitat is “shocking” and probably will bring another legal challenge, said Rebecca Riley, an attorney with the council. The rusty patched bumblebee, named for the rusty reddish patch on the backs of workers and males. relies heavily on historical grasslands and prairies that have mostly been developed, she said.

“The bee has lost over 90% of its historic range,” she said. “We were expecting the Fish and Wildlife Service to do its job and protect what is left.”

Critical habitat designations can prevent damage to areas that provide shelter, breeding and rearing sites and food for endangered species. Denying it “may increase the rusty patched bumblebee’s risk of extinction,” said Sarina Jepsen of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, which filed the petition that prompted the bee’s consideration for listing.

Business groups previously raised concerns about the bumblebee designation, saying it could affect industries such as agriculture, residential and commercial development, and energy production.

Some of the bee populations were turning up in urban and suburban areas, said Michael Mittelholzer, vice president for environmental policy with the National Association of Home Builders.

“There’s a high likelihood that landowners or home builders would be encumbered” if critical habitat were designated, he said.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

August 31, 2020

Lawsuit Launched Challenging EPA Decision to Dismiss Pesticides’ Harms to Endangered Species

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity filed a formal notice of intent to sue today over the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Revised Methods” for assessing pesticide risks to endangered species.

At the request of the pesticide industry, the EPA made extensive changes to the process set forth by the Obama administration — all of which would allow the agency to dismiss real-world impacts from pesticides. The new methods are designed to allow the EPA to ignore widespread harm from pesticides to most of the nation’s most endangered plants and animals, including American burying beetles, Rio Grande silvery minnows and Hawaiian hoary bats.

“The science is clear: Pesticides cause devastating harm to many of our most vulnerable plants and animals, and yet the EPA’s response is to issue new methods so it can cover its eyes and pretend everything’s fine,” said Lori Ann Burd, environmental health director at the Center. “The EPA’s refusal to protect endangered species from pesticides and continued bowing to the pesticide industry is nothing less than a national disgrace.”

The Revised Methods purposefully ignore many common ways imperiled plants and animals are harmed and killed by pesticides. For example, under the Revised Methods, the EPA will not consider downstream runoff of pesticides into water bodies where endangered aquatic species, like fish and snails, live. The new rules also allow the EPA to deliberately ignore the impacts of pesticides on endangered plants that depend on insect pollination, but whose pollinators are imperiled by pesticides.

The EPA’s final Revised Methods are only slightly less harmful than its draft version, which was described by the attorneys general of 10 states and the District of Columbia as “antithetical to the plain language and purpose of the ESA.”

Despite heavy criticism, the agency finalized many of the key provisions it designed to reduce protections for endangered species, including limiting protection to species whose range overlaps less than 1% with a pesticide-treated area, even if that 1% is the species’ most essential habitat, such as spawning habitat for salmon.

To date the EPA has never completed a nationwide Endangered Species Act consultation on pesticides or implemented a single conservation measure for any endangered species developed through such consultations.

Instead the agency has disregarded the expert recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences and undermined years of work by career scientists in order to prevent the implementation of common-sense restrictions on harmful pesticides.

“The EPA has fully embraced the worst tactics of the tobacco industry and climate-deniers, all so it can continue to ignore the serious harms it allows to be inflicted on endangered plants and animals,” said Burd. “We will not let the EPA get away with this.”

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that the new assessment methods were driven by political-level appointees at the EPA, Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce and the White House.

From 2013 to 2017, career scientists at the EPA and federal wildlife agencies worked to implement the recommendations of the National Academy of Science assessing the impacts of pesticides. This collaborative and transparent process was developed with hundreds of hours of stakeholder input but was halted when then acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was briefed on the results of the initial assessments in October 2017.

This unprecedented effort to scuttle endangered species consultations spurred the EPA and wildlife agencies to attempt to justify their failure to release the analysis and to demonstrate they are taking action to save endangered animals on the brink of extinction.

******

Gulf Today

Giraffes facing the threat of extinction

29 Aug 2020

Since the mid-eighties, giraffes have been on a steady decline. Population numbers have dwindled by 40 per cent, leaving around 68,000 mature adults in the wild.

To put it in context, there is reportedly one giraffe for every four African elephants, which themselves are considered a vulnerable species.

Despite giraffes’ precarious status, they are not listed under the US Endangered Species Act (ESA). In fact, until last year, there were no international regulations to monitor their trade.

If giraffes were protected by the ESA, it would mean tighter restrictions on taking them from the wild, transporting or selling them. It could also unlock federal aid for cooperating countries who have populations of giraffes, according to its details.

In 2017, a coalition of conservation groups aimed to correct this by petitioning the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), who oversee the law, to list giraffes.

After a two-year delay (and a lawsuit from the groups), FWS found that there was “substantial information on potential threats” to giraffes and listing them “may be warranted.”

However, the decision-making process will not begin until 2025, to the alarm of some animal welfare activists.

“Given the level of threat and the urgency with which we must act to protect giraffes and many other species, we hope that the agency will act accordingly and make its decision to list the species as endangered much sooner than 2025,” said Paul Todd, senior staff attorney of the nature program at the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who was one of the petitioners.

“We stand ready to do what we can and what is necessary to help make that happen.”

Ben Williamson, Programs Director, World Animal Protection, US added: “The protection of giraffes under the Endangered Species Act is long overdue. These iconic animals are under threat from the usual evils of habitat destruction and poaching, and the misguided human curiosity that sees their furry tan skin turned into rugs, and long bones turned into trinkets.

“Designating giraffes as endangered or threatened would place much-needed restrictions on the ability of vulgar people with deep pockets and shallow souls to shoot them and import their body parts into the US, and will make more funding available for conserving the species in the wild.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, which tracks the planet’s most at-risk species, has declared the giraffe “vulnerable to extinction.”

There are four species of giraffe — Masai, southern, northern and Reticulated — and five subspecies within those, according to Giraffe Conservation Society.

The Kordofan giraffe, which inhabits Central Africa, have lost 90 per cent of its population in the past 40 years. Just 2,000 of this giraffe are left in the wild.

The Nubian giraffe, which once roamed across Northeast Africa, is now largely extinct in much of its historic range. It has lost 98 per cent of its population — leaving just 455 in the wild — and lives only on protected lands in Kenya.

The role that both the legal and illegal wildlife trade has played in giraffes’ dwindling numbers is difficult to assess as research on the species across their African habitats has been limited, IUCN noted. In fact it was only a handful of years ago that it was discovered that there are in fact four distinct species.

A 2018 investigation, by Humane Society International (HSI), found that 40,000 giraffe parts were imported into the US from Africa between 2006-2015. Among these were 3,700 hundred trophies, equivalent to one a day.

Dr Fred Bercovitch, executive director of Save the Giraffes, told the New York Times last year that although more than 90 per cent of the parts were considered legal imports, 50 came from the critically at-risk Nubian giraffe.

The species are at risk from habitat loss and degradation due to land clearance for agriculture; growing human populations and the complex impacts of the climate crisis. Close proximity to domestic livestock can also result in the transmission of diseases to giraffes.

The species have been caught in the cross-hairs of war and civil unrest in regions of central and east Africa. Others have fallen victim to poaching, both for bushmeat in local markets, and to be carved up and trafficked in the illegal wildlife trade.

It is unclear why decision making will not begin until 2025 but giraffes are not the only species to face a lengthy process.

“How do we tell our great-grandchildren that we had a chance to save these magnificent mammals, yet failed to do so?” Williamson said.

“The Endangered Species Act exists for precisely this reason — to guarantee future generations’ right to share the planet with these evolutionary marvels.”

******

New York Times

U.S. Court Rejects Bid to Halt Kinder Morgan Gas Pipeline

By Reuters, Aug. 28, 2020

(Reuters) – A nearly-complete $2.3 billion pipeline to carry natural gas from West Texas shale fields to the U.S. Gulf Coast can move ahead, a U.S. judge in Austin, Texas, ruled on Friday, rejecting an environmental group’s effort to halt the project.

Sierra Club in April challenged federal approval of the 428-mile (689 km) Kinder Morgan Inc pipeline, alleging regulators reviews under a streamlined process were faulty. The line’s path crosses areas with two endangered species and some 400 wetlands, lawyers wrote.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which issued permits for the Permian Highway pipeline, said no further reviews are needed. The project is more than 85% mechanically complete, Kinder Morgan has said. A spokesperson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

“We are disappointed that the court declined to put an immediate stop to this illegal construction, and we are evaluating our options,” said Sierra Club attorney Joshua Smith.

Legal challenges have delayed the Dakota Access, Keystone XL, and Trans Mountain oil pipelines, and led to a cancellation of the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline.

The proposed Kinder Morgan line would bring 2.1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from West Texas to the Gulf Coast. Service could begin in January.

U.S. District Court for Western District of Texas Judge Robert Pitman denied the request for a preliminary injunction saying the group did not show continued construction would cause irreparable harm to landowners or endangered species.

“Unfortunately, granting an injunction at this state of the pipeline’s completion would not ‘unring the bell,'” he wrote in his decision, adding Sierra Club “failed to establish a definitive threat of future harm.”

The pipeline is owned by Kinder Morgan, Exxon Mobil, Altus Midstream and Blackstone Group’s EagleClaw Midstream Ventures.

The case is Sierra Club v U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. District Court, Western District of Texas, No. 20-cv-00460.

******

CBS (CH. 4) Miami

Restored Corals Observed Spawning For First Time In Waters Off Miami

August 28, 2020

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Efforts to restore the Florida Reef Tract may be working. Staghorn corals grown in a nursery and replanted at a reef restoration site off Key Biscayne have spawned for the first time which is providing hope that rebuilding Florida’s valuable marine ecosystems may be possible.

“We’re just taking very small steps first of all to slow down the climb, but also to slow down the push try to recover them to the point where they are basically able to replenish themselves,” explained Diego Lirman, associate professor of marine biology and ecology at the UM Rosenstiel School and founder and director of UM’s Rescue a Reef program. “We’re not there yet, but this is a really very promising step towards that goal.”

Lirman says the spawning is a “very rare phenomenon to witness, so it’s great that we were able to capture this scientific breakthrough to share with our local community and people around the world.”

The scientists were able to collect eggs and sperm from about a dozen different colonies during the spawning, which they then fertilized to raise thousands of coral larvae which can also be grown out and replanted as part of a cyclical approach to helping reefs rebuild themselves and remain resilient.

In June 2019, the UM Rosenstiel School and partners outplanted 100 staghorn corals at the 100 Yards of Hope restoration site, a football field-sized restoration project on Rainbow Reef, honoring the NFL’s 100th season and America’s military veterans of FORCE BLUE.

The program hopes to eventually restore 125 acres of degraded coral reefs in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Scientists would ultimately grow more than 150-thousand coral colonies from five coral species, three of which are currently listed as threatened.

Coral reefs provide habitat for a wide variety of marine life and support valuable commercial and recreational fishing industries but they are declining across the world.

Florida’s Coral Reef is the only nearshore reef in the continental United States, and coral cover has declined by at least 70 percent since the 1970s. Staghorn coral, once common in shallow waters throughout Florida and the Caribbean, is listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

The coral reefs in Southeast Florida generate $2 billion in annual revenues and support 70,400 jobs. In addition, Southeast Florida’s reefs play an important role in protecting people and property from the effects of hurricanes, such as flooding and storm surge, along the highly urbanized coastlines of Miami and Ft. Lauderdale during hurricanes.

******

Turtle Island Restoration Network

Environmental Groups Urge Costa Rica and Ecuador to Create World’s First Bilateral Marine Protected Area

By Turtle Island Restoration Network, August 28, 2020

ECUADOR — Environmental groups Mission Blue and Turtle Island Restoration Network called on the Ministers of Environment of Costa Rica and Ecuador today to move forward in creating one of the world’s first marine protected areas connecting the UNESCO biosphere reserves of two countries.

The letter urges that Costa Rica and Ecuador act quickly to create the Cocos-Galapagos Swimway, a 240,000 square-kilometer underwater highway that connects the National Parks of two sovereign nations — Costa Rica’s Cocos Island National Park with Ecuador’s Galapagos Marine Reserve — both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Scientific research in the Eastern Tropical Pacific conducted by a network of organizations known as MigraMar revealed endangered and threatened marine species like whale sharks, green sea turtles, leatherback sea turtles, silky sharks, and scalloped hammerhead sharks use this swimway to migrate between the marine reserves. When these species leave the protected areas, however, they enter the open ocean where they are at grave risk to industrial fishing.

“It’s important to think like the sharks, the sea turtles and the various forms of life that are not just found in places where we’ve named and claimed territory,” said Dr. Sylvia Earle, Founder of Mission Blue. “We must consider the creatures that occupy this liquid space that we call the ocean and realize that if we were to take action to protect them, it’s not good enough that Cocos and Galapagos have an area of a safe haven around them. What about the space in between? That has to be protected too.”

Cocos Island National Park and the Galapagos Marine Reserve not only share an important percentage of species and ecological characteristics, they also face similar threats. Both marine protected areas have regulations that control how people and commerce can interact with the islands. Despite these restrictions, conservationists face several challenges to protect the species that inhabit them.

A biological justification for the creation of the swimway recently published by MigraMar states about 19% of rays, 34% of sharks, 17% of marine mammals and 27% of marine birds found in these protected areas are threatened or endangered. The document also highlights that Cocos and Galapagos share an important percentage of endemic and island species, as well as pelagic and benthic fauna. Both sites are interconnected by the Cocos seamount ridge that concentrate a significant marine migratory activity.

“The Swimway advances our thinking about how to protect highly endangered migratory species which do not stay put in a single locale like the Galapagos or Cocos marine reserves,” said Todd Steiner, Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “By expanding these marine protected areas and actively working with the governments of Costa Rica and Ecuador along with several additional partners to create the first bilateral agreement, we will allow endangered species to migrate safely outside the small marine protected areas and connect two sovereign nation’s marine National Parks, something we hope will be a blueprint that is copied across the globe.”

In May the Swimway was declared a Hope Spot by Mission Blue, highlighting the need for cutting-edge solutions to protect highly migratory species like sea turtles and sharks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

******

The National Law Review

Petition Filed to List Western Ridged Mussel as an Endangered Species

Thursday, August 27, 2020

On August 18, 2020, the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation filed a petition to list the western ridged mussel as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The western ridged mussel (Gonidea angulata), is found in the rivers and streams of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, and Nevada, but in less than 60% of its historic range. Several populations of mussels in Washington and Oregon have recently experienced sudden die-offs, reducing populations even further. The die-offs have occurred in rivers across the region—such as the Chehalis River in Washington and the Crooked River in Oregon. The results are devastating mussel beds, often with thousands of mussels killed over the course of a single summer and spanning tens of river miles. The cause and extent of these die-offs is not well understood.

Like other freshwater mussels, the western ridged mussel performs critical functions in freshwater ecosystems that contribute to clean water, healthy fisheries, diverse aquatic food webs, and biodiversity.

The Xerces Society, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation, have been working on several projects over the last two decades in order to learn more about this species. The recent die-offs, however, have alarmed scientists at the Xerces Society, prompting them to file this petition based on the belief that ESA protections are necessary in order to learn more about the species and its threats before it is too late for recovery.

The western ridged mussel is not produced or sold commercially, but recreational harvest by the general public does occur. The mussels are important both historically and culturally for the Umatilla Tribes, in particular. The tribes traditionally boiled or dried the mussels in the fall and stored them over winter as a supplementary food supply. Their shells were also used for jewelry, beads, ornaments, and ceremonies.

The Xerces Society formally petitioned to list the western ridged mussel as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1531 et seq. The petition was filed under 5 U.S.C. 553(e) and 50 CFR 424.14(a), which grants interested parties the right to petition for issue of a rule from the Secretary of the Interior. The petition sets in motion a process placing definite response requirements on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and specific time constraints upon those responses. 16 U.S.C. § 1533(b). A finding by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding whether the petition contains substantial information to warrant a full status review is required within ninety days.

******

Jewish Journal

Israel’s Forests Give Shelter to Country’s Most Endangered Plants

By Dominik Doehler, ZAVIT* Environment and Science News Agency, August 27, 2020

Israel is known for having performed one of the world’s most extensive tree-planting endeavors between the 1950s and 70s, in an effort to make the region more inhabitable. What most people don’t know is that today these forests are home to some of the most endangered plant species in the country.

A new study, conducted in collaboration between the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael — the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) and the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, aimed to determine which endangered plants were able to find refuge in the planted forests of the country. In addition, the researches wanted to know how and why these plants have been able to survive in these new habitats.

According to Ori Fragman-Sapir, a botanist and the scientific director of the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens, endangered plants grow in various habitats. However, a particular group of endangered plants is disappearing faster than any other in Israel. These are plants that grow in deep soil and usually accumulate in valleys.

“Deep soils are commonly considered to be among the most fertile soils, making them highly attractive for agricultural purposes. When modern agriculture developed in Israel and farmers started using deep plows and herbicides, all the endangered plants disappeared from the valleys,” Fragman-Sapir said. “Interestingly, a lot of those plants survived in the JNF-KKL forests, some of which also planted on deep soils,” he added.

The endangered species

There are 426 endangered plant species in Israel and another 400 rare species on the verge of becoming endangered. According to Fragman-Sapir a few dozens of those species can be found in JNF-KKL forests, including the Tumbling Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis pungens – a herbaceous plant native to the Middle East), the Golden-leaved Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis chrysophylla – a flowering plant native to South West Asian mountains), and French Lavender (Lavandula stoechas – another flowering plant native to the Mediterranean).

For Fragman-Sapir and his team, this finding raised some critical questions about the future of those plants, first and foremost: Is the forest actively promoting the growth of the plants, and provides them with an ideal habitat? Or do they just about make it in that environment? “Based on the findings of the study, the latter, unfortunately, has proven to be true. However, that had been our guess in the first place.”

As stated by Fragman-Sapir, Israel’s natural environment is limited to pockets or islands, which holds, especially for endangered plants, whose habitat is highly fragmented due to the decline in deep fertile soils. In this context, it is crucial to find sites where the endangered species can be optimally protected. “We think that the JNF-KKL forests are a promising habitat for that purpose,” he said.

“The question now for JNF-KKL,” he continued, “is, ‘do they want to contribute to the conservation of those plants?’ which I believe they do. The ecologists of JNF-KKL are very much interested in transforming forests into sustainable and biodiverse ecosystems. Even though endangered plants have not really been on their agenda, they understand that outside of the forests these plants don’t stand a chance.”

In the next step, the scientists had to figure out how to protect the plants, and also ensure the survival of the species inside the forests. To this end, the researchers went to known as well as potential hotspots within the different JNF-KKL forests, surveyed them, and tried to understand why and how the plants are growing there. Among the JNF-KKL forests that were studied by the researchers was the Yatir Forest, Israel’s largest planted forest located on the edge of the Negev desert in the south, and the Gilboa Forest at Mount Gilboa in the Jezreel Valley.

The scientists also compared some of their new findings to older observations made during previous studies to see if any significant changes have occurred around the plant clusters.

“Many of the plants were actually surveyed before, and listed in the Red Data Book on Endangered Plants in Israel,” Fragman-Sapir said. “That’s also why we knew where we could find the sites with deep soils. However, we wanted to find out more specifically where in the forests you can find those pockets of endangered plants.

“Sometimes you even come across completely unknown sites. In the Gilboa mountains, for example, we found valleys of endangered plants that we didn’t know about at all. We did know the area, but we had no idea that those plants were growing there. So it goes to show that you can always find something interesting and surprising.”

How to preserve the plants?

The report not only contains the number of species and their locations, but recommendations on how to preserve the plant populations and how to manage the area.

For the conservation of the plants, the report suggests different measures, including the transplanting of species, establishing plant shelters and the thinning of trees in the proximity of some very rare species concentrations. Additionally, the report recommends reducing the herding of cattle in some areas to limit grazing activity.

“JNF-KKL has protocols mainly referring to the management of the trees. They weren’t aware that endangered species were also growing in their forests. Therefore new strategies are needed to incorporate these plants into the forests management plans,” Fragman-Sapir said. “This also happened with the rangers of the forest. Sometimes we would take them on one of our surveys, and they were astonished by some of the beautiful endangered species we’ve shown them. So the awareness about these species is still relatively low, but the ambition to preserve them is there.”

******

Fox 11 News (Green Bay, WI)

Federal review on lake sturgeon put on hold

by Brian Kerhin, FOX 11 News, August 26th 2020

(WLUK) – A federal review to determine if lake sturgeon should be listed as an endangered or threatened species is on hold indefinitely.

Last summer, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said it would consider a request to determine if the fish should receive federal protection.

Lake sturgeon are members of a family of fish that reach back to the dinosaur era. Their range extends from Hudson Bay to the southern Mississippi River in 18 states. They are the largest native freshwater fish in the Great Lakes. Their numbers were once in the millions but have fallen drastically in the past century because of pollution and overfishing, according to USF&WS.

The next step is what the USF&WS calls a “12-month finding” on whether the lake sturgeon warrants listing as an endangered or threatened species, according to Barbara Hosler, regional listing coordinator.

“Right now, we have a backlog of 12-month findings to make on petitions that we have received,” Hosler told Fox 11. “For lake sturgeon, we are in the process of figuring out where to place completion of the 12-month finding onto that national listing workplan.”

To get to the federal rulemaking website for the review, click here and enter the docket number FWS–R3–ES–2018–0110.

When the review was announced last summer, the agency said it’s too early to say if a listing would have any impact on the Lake Winnebago population and its popular spearing season. The agency does have the ability to treat distinct populations of lake differently.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

August 25, 2020

Rare Virgin Islands Flower Proposed for Endangered Species Protection

Marrón Bacora Finally Getting Protection From Hurricanes, Sprawl

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today proposed listing the marrón bacora, a plant native to the Virgin Islands, as endangered and identified 2,549 acres of potential critical habitat under the Endangered Species Act.

Marrón bacora is a flowering shrub found only in dry forests on St. John’s, Virgin Islands. The plant is threatened by sprawl development and the climate crisis.

“This magnificent plant, once thought to be extinct, has a fighting chance at survival now,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center. “Endangered Species Act protection will help this Virgin Islands beauty not just survive, but thrive.”

Today’s proposal springs from Center litigation that resulted in a binding commitment by the Service to determine whether protections should be provided. The agency published a positive 12-month finding for the marrón bacora in 2011, but found that even though federal protections were warranted, they were precluded due to other priorities. The plant was then put on a waiting list.

Marrón bacora, formally known only by its Latin name Solanum conocarpum, can reach 10 feet in height. It was believed extinct, then rediscovered in 1992. The plant was first petitioned for listing in 1996 and after more than a dozen years of stalling, and two Center lawsuits, the Service in 2009 finally set a timeline for protecting the plant. Unfortunately, that resulted in a finding that the agency would indefinitely postpone protection, which forced the Center to go back to court again and resulted in today’s proposed listing decision.

St. John’s was devastated in 2017 by hurricanes Irma and Maria. The proposed listing rule found that the climate crisis is predicted to increase tropical storm frequency and intensity and cause severe droughts. The proposed rule also found that the plant’s habitat is vulnerable to modification due to urban development.

******

Earth.com

Several endangered species may be vulnerable to COVID-19

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com staff writer, August 22, 2020

Several critically endangered species may have a high risk of COVID-19 infection, according to new research from UC Davis.

An international team of scientists conducted a genetic study of 410 different species of vertebrates, including birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals to determine which may be most vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2.

In humans, the ACE2 protein that serves as the cellular gateway for COVID-19 contains 25 amino acids that are important for the virus to bind and gain entry into the body. The genomic analysis was designed to investigate how many of these amino acids are found in the ACE2 proteins of the different species.

“Animals with all 25 amino acid residues matching the human protein are predicted to be at the highest risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2 via ACE2,” said study first author Joana Damas. “The risk is predicted to decrease the more the species’ ACE2 binding residues differ from humans.”

The study revealed that about 40 percent of the species potentially susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 are classified as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. These animals may be particularly vulnerable to human-to-animal transmission.

“The data provide an important starting point for identifying vulnerable and threatened animal populations at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection,” said study lead author Professor Harris Lewin. “We hope it inspires practices that protect both animal and human health during the pandemic.”

The researchers found that several critically endangered primate species have the highest risk of COVID-19, including the Western lowland gorilla, Sumatran orangutan, and Northern white-cheeked gibbon.

Marine mammals such as gray whales and bottlenose dolphins were also identified as having the highest risk of infection.

Cats, cattle, and sheep were determined to have a medium risk of ACE2 binding, while dogs, horses, and pigs were found to have a low risk.

Further research is needed to better understand the implications of the findings. In documented cases of SARS-COV-2 infection in animals such as cats, dogs, hamsters, and tigers, the virus may be using ACE2 receptors or may be using different receptors to gain access to host cells.

The National Zoo and the San Diego Zoo, which both contributed genetic material to the study, are among many institutions that have strengthened programs to protect both animals and humans from COVID-19.

“Zoonotic diseases and how to prevent human to animal transmission is not a new challenge to zoos and animal care professionals,” said study co-author Klaus-Peter Koepfli. “This new information allows us to focus our efforts and plan accordingly to keep animals and humans safe.”

The researchers said the predicted animal risks should not be overinterpreted, as more studies are needed to determine the susceptibility of animals to SARS-CoV-2.

(The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)

******

CBS/LA

California Condor, A Critically Endangered Species, Hatches At The LA Zoo

By CBSLA Staff, August 21, 2020

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — The Los Angeles Zoo is celebrating its newest baby – a California condor that hatched Friday morning.

The egg, which had been dubbed #LA1720, began hatching Thursday evening and finally emerged from its shell Friday morning with some help from the zoo’s condor keeper, Debbie, who gave the newly hatched chick a thorough exam, then placed it in a warm brooder to be monitored for the next 36 hours.

Condor keeper Debbie gives the newly hatched chick a very thorough exam (the equivalent of checking for all 10 fingers and toes), which includes applying antiseptic to the umbilicus (the equivalent to a human baby’s umbilical cord). #LA1720

Zoo officials say the next step for the chick will placing it with parents Sequoia and Squapuni.

According to the zoo, there was once only 22 California condors left on the planet, so this new chick makes for one more.

“It’s an incredible emotional experience to, literally, witness these folks saving a species from extinction,” the zoo’s conservation ambassador, LouAnne, said in an Instagram post.

The California condor is considered to be a critically endangered species after its population was nearly decimated by poaching, lead poisoning and habitat destruction.

******

Las Vegas Review-Journal

Environmental group plans lawsuit to save endangered blue butterfly

By Alexis Ford, August 20, 2020

The Center for Biological Diversity said Thursday it will sue two federal agencies to block a ski resort expansion that it says could lead to the extinction of the Mount Charleston blue butterfly.

“The beautiful Mount Charleston blue butterfly is teetering on the brink of extinction and a downhill sports amusement park is the last thing it needs,” Patrick Donnelly, the center’s Nevada state director, said in a statement.

The nonprofit conservation group said it filed a notice of intent Thursday to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. Donnelly said the Endangered Species Act requires a 60-day notice before litigation to allow the agencies time to correct the issues raised.

“The proposed ski-resort expansion would include new lift-assisted downhill mountain bike trails and a ‘mountain coaster,’ ” the center said in a statement. “These developments would open the area to summertime operations and thousands of visitors when the butterfly is active and most vulnerable.”

Donnelly said a similar development endangered the butterfly in the first place. Fewer than 100 of the species, which was added to the endangered species list in 2013, have been observed over the past five years, the center said.

“Previous recreational developments are exactly what made this butterfly endangered to begin with, so we’re intervening to prevent the government from dooming this species,” he said.

The butterfly lives predominantly in the Lee Canyon area, where the center said many new picnic areas, campgrounds and other recreational areas have been planned.

The center cited the Endangered Species Act, arguing in its notice that the federal departments failed to ensure that the ski area wouldn’t endanger the butterflies by destroying or harming their habitat.

“The Endangered Species Act is the most successful conservation law in the world at preventing extinction, but sometimes we need to intervene to ensure that the government follows the law,” Donnelly said. “We’re in the middle of an extinction crisis, and we can’t afford to lose this unique and incredibly imperiled butterfly.”

******

Malta Winds

Fires in Brazil threaten world’s largest wetland along with plenty of endangered species

Posted by Fabrizio Tabone on 19th August 2020 in International News

Flames that are currently ravaging in Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, have threatened numerous endangered species as the fires reach almost record-breaking numbers.

Inpe, Brazil’s national space research agency, has registered over 3,121 fires during the first 15 days of August, which is almost five times more than the fires during the same period in 2019.

If the fires continue at their current rate, they could reach an all-time record since the records began being taken back in 1998.

Local firefighters worked hard to fill the burning earth with water, with clouds of smoke filling numerous parts of the area.

Environment Minister Ricardo Salles speaking during a visit to Mato Gross State to see the work being done by the firefighters in the Pantanal, claimed that the firefighters and officials are facing a tough challenge to slow down the spread of the fires.

He said that “The atmosphere is very hot, very dry, with strong winds and high temperatures”, with all of these factors helping the spread of fires.

He added that they “saw hundreds of fires along the journey throughout the day. Places where the planes and firemen have fought the fires directly without stopping, but still the fires are causing great damage to fauna, flora and to the Pantanal region”.

According to government data, during the period from January to July, around 6% of the Pantanal, or approximately 8,500 square kilometres, burned and suffered from the fires.

The Pantanal is one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, having more than 4,700 plant and animal species, with the WWF reporting that some of the world’s most threatened species live in the area, such as the jaguar.

Additionally, the wetlands are home to the blue Hyacinth Macaw parrots, the largest flying parrot species in the world.

The region has suffered from 30 day of below-average rainfall, as well as higher-than-average temperatures, according to Refinitiv.

Paulo Barroso, president of the local firefighting committee, claimed that “It is extremely difficult to combat, control and combat again a fire with the dimensions that we have seen here in the Pantanal”.

This continues to add pressure on the Brazilian government, who had to manage one of the biggest forest fires ever last year when the Amazon rainforest suffered increases in destruction by 88% during June 2019 when compared to the same month in 2018.

******

California to Hold Hearing on Listing Pacific Leatherbacks Under State Endangered Species Act

By Turtle Island Restoration Network, August 18, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California wildlife officials are accepting public comments and holding an online hearing Aug. 20 to determine if the state will accept a petition to list Pacific leatherback sea turtles under the state’s Endangered Species Act.

The Pacific leatherback population has declined by 80% over the past 40 years. These giant, ancient, soft-shelled sea turtles swim across the Pacific Ocean to feed on jellyfish off the West Coast. But on arrival — and despite federal protection — they are captured, injured, and drowned in gillnets, crab-trap lines and other fishing gear that targets tuna and swordfish.

Protecting leatherbacks under the state’s Endangered Species Act would make them a state conservation priority. The state law would also provide a backstop to potentially weakened protections for leatherbacks under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The petition to list leatherbacks under the state’s Endangered Species Act was filed Jan. 9 by the Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

“This is California’s chance to save a species that has existed since the time of dinosaurs,” said Annalisa Tuel, policy and advocacy manager for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are hopeful the California Fish and Game Commission will do the right thing by accepting our petition to ensure leatherbacks do not go extinct in our lifetimes.”

Pacific leatherback sea turtles are highly endangered and listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. In 2016 the National Marine Fisheries Service identified leatherback sea turtles as one of eight species most at risk of extinction. The Service says reducing their entanglement in fishing gear is the top priority for ensuring their survival.

“California has an opportunity here to lead by example and show other states how they can play a powerful role in fight against the global extinction crisis,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center attorney. “The time to save leatherback sea turtles is now.”

A new review of leatherback sea turtle science released on Monday concludes that seven distinct populations of leatherback sea turtles face a high extinction risk. The National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service found that all seven leatherback sea turtle populations remain endangered, and denied a petition by the commercial fishing industry to relax some protections.

Turtle Island Restoration Network sued the Trump administration after a fishing permit issued last year exempted vessels from the federal ban on longline gear off California. Longlines stretch up to 60 miles, with thousands of baited hooks. A federal judge in Oakland ruled Dec. 20 that the federal government had failed to adequately consider impacts on leatherbacks when it revived longline fishing, blocking the permit.

******

Courthouse News Service

Feds Sued Over Refusal to List California Spotted Owl as Endangered

August 18, 2020  DUSTIN MANDUFFIE

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) — A federal lawsuit filed by conservationists Tuesday seeks to hold the US Fish and Wildlife Service to account for failing to list the California spotted owl as endangered.

According to the 22-page complaint filed by Sierra Forest Legacy, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, the November 2019 decision to deny protection to the owl species was unlawful and unsupported by Fish and Wildlife’s own scientific assessment, which confirmed dramatic population declines in four out of five study areas. The groups seek to have the decision declared arbitrary and reversed.

The California spotted owl is a medium-sized raptor found throughout mountainous and coastal regions of California. Because they are not listed as either endangered or threatened, they receive no protection under the Endangered Species Act, despite having far lower population levels than other owl species that are currently protected. Repeated pleas to afford them the same protection as other spotted owl species, most recently in 2015, have fell on deaf ears.

“The service has been steadfast in its refusal to do so, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that protection under the Endangered Species Act is warranted,” the environmentalists say in their lawsuit. “As a result of the service’s intransigence, California spotted owls are on a path to extinction. In evaluating the recent petition to protect the California spotted owl, the service’s own scientific experts analyzed the best available science and concluded that in the foreseeable future, California spotted owls may be extirpated from large portions of their range.”

The Endangered Species Act was enacted by Congress in 1973 to provide “a means whereby the ecosystems upon which endangered species and threatened species depend may be conserved.” Climate change, drought, tree mortality, high-severity fire and logging are all listed as threats currently facing the California spotted owl population, which Fish and Wildlife acknowledges will all continue unabated.

The species prefers to inhabit old-growth forests with large trees like the Douglas fir, multistoried canopies and dense canopy closure. The U.S. Forest Service confirms that these old-growth forests have declined by as much as 90% in the Sierra Nevada range from their historical conditions. The amount of commercial logging on public land in the Sierra Nevada has declined since the 1900s, but “fuel reduction” efforts intended to stem the rising tide of wild fires have continued to take their toll on the owls’ habitat.

“For far too long, the California spotted owl has been caught in political crosshairs, while its populations steadily decline,” said Pamela Flick, California program director for the group Defenders of Wildlife, in a statement. “Without federal protections to stem habitat loss and prevent forest mismanagement, the owl will likely remain on a path towards extinction. Defenders will continue to fight in court to save this species and the old forests these owls need to survive.”

Co-plaintiff Earthjustice agreed.

“This iconic species needs the protection provided by the Endangered Species Act if it is to survive,” adds Elizabeth Forsyth, staff attorney at Earthjustice’s Los Angeles office. “The Fish and Wildlife Service’s own assessment shows the threats to the California spotted owl’s survival are increasing dramatically and that, without protection, the California spotted owl will likely be wiped out from large portions of its range.”

Conservationists have for years used the spotted owls’ threatened listing to combat logging projects across the West Coast. The timber industry has been on the defensive since the 1990s, with several of its projects being denied by authorities for the risk posed to the bird.

“Despite 20 years of scientific data showing that California spotted owl populations are declining, the FWS once again caved to pressure from federal agencies and the timber industry by not listing this species,” said Susan Britting, executive director of Sierra Forest Legacy. “Our only recourse to save this species is to hold the agency accountable for ignoring the scientific data that supports listing.”

The groups seek a court finding that the service’s decision to not list the spotted owl was illegal, and an order to reassess within six months.

Representatives for Fish and Wildlife did not respond to a request for comment before publication time.

******

The Guardian

Walls of death’: surge in illegal drift nets threatens endangered species

Fishing fleets are defying international ban, with deadly nets ensnaring dolphins, whales and other protected marine life

Peter Yeung, Tue 18 Aug 2020

Last month Carmelo Isgrò received a phone call from the Italian coastguard. A 24ft sperm whale had been found thrashing about in the waters north of Sicily, desperately trying to escape a vast illegal drift net. “They asked me to help cut it loose because I have a lot of experience with these kinds of nets,” says Isgrò, a marine biologist and director of the Museum of the Sea in the Sicilian town of Milazzo. “So I got a very big knife and went straight away.”

Isgrò was among a team of divers who tried for 48 hours to free the agitated female whale, as the miles-long trap gradually sliced further into her thick skin. “It was a very difficult operation because the whale was so powerful, and if you are struck by its tail you could be killed,” says Isgrò. The team were able to remove parts of the netting, but the whale, whose tail was still tangled up, dived deep into the ocean and they lost track.

Authorities say the use of these illegal drift nets, dubbed “walls of death” due to their deadly impact on marine life, has surged. Figures show the Italian coastguard alone has seized 100km (62 miles) of drift nets so far in 2020, compared to 60km in all of 2017, and experts say those numbers are likely to be a major underestimate.

Reaching up to 50km in length and 50m in depth, drift nets – typically made of fine mesh suspended from buoys across fish migration paths – were banned in international waters by the UN in 1992 for any length above 2.5km, due to the high bycatch rates for species of dolphins, whales, sharks and sea turtles. Since 2002 their use has been prohibited in EU waters, no matter the size, when used to capture highly migratory species such as tuna and swordfish.

“The impact of these drift nets is absolutely disastrous,” says Vanya Vulperhorst, campaign director of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing at Oceana Europe, a conservation non-profit that has investigated illegal drift net fishing across the Mediterranean. “They are indiscriminate in what they trap, and the result is that endangered and protected species are being killed in large numbers.”

Research published last month by Padua University found a quarter of the cetaceans – like the trapped Mediterranean sperm whale, which is endangered – that beached on Italy’s coastline in recent years died due to human activity, with illegal drift nets a primary cause.

Fisheries bycatch, some of which is due to drift nets, accounted for the deaths of more than 300,000 small whales, dolphins and porpoises in 2008, according to WWF, and that figure that is likely to have since doubled. Between 11 and 26m tons of fish, worth up to an estimated $23.5bn (£17.9bn), are caught via illegal, unreported and unregulated means every year, according to a 2009 study.

Cheap, profitable and easy to deploy, drift nets remain popular as a commercial fishing method, especially for open sea species such as swordfish, as it allows them to be quickly caught in large quantities.

Campaigners argue that limited and convoluted legislation with a number of loopholes has allowed illegal drift net fishing to thrive. The practice is widely seen in the Mediterranean and has spread across the Atlantic and to the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

“It’s such a messy set up of laws and regulations and moratoriums,” says Valeska Diemel, international director of FishAct, a non-profit organisation based in Germany. Laws differ between national and international waters, she adds, and practices that are legal in the Atlantic are illegal in the Baltic Sea, where the use and keeping on board of drift nets has been fully banned since 2008. “This is a problem when it comes to enforcement, because there are areas where it is super clear what the laws are, but there are areas where I think agencies aren’t even sure themselves,” she says.

Francesco Mirabito, an environmental activist based in Sicily, says fishermen are also sidestepping sanctions by loading smaller, legal nets known as ferrettara on board and then attaching them together once out at sea.

“In the EU regulations, the definition of the nets is not precise enough,” he says. “Fishermen at the docks are really tranquil, doing everything in daylight because they know they won’t be caught. Then, at sea, they know it’s impossible for authorities to check on all of them. Even if their nets are seized it’s not a big deal – they are made in China for a tenth of the price it used to be.”

A spokesperson for the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean says it “actively supports all efforts to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”, including regular information requests for countries to ensure legal compliance.

But environmentalists fear governments have been reluctant to impose sanctions on the powerful fishing industries, pointing to a failed effort by the European commission to outlaw the use of any kind of drift net for fishing in EU waters. Greenpeace and the Tethys Research Institute, a Milan-based non-profit for cetacean research and conservation, wrote a letter last month to Italy’s minister of agriculture Teresa Bellanova asking for an outright ban on drift nets and powerful sanctions for lawbreakers.

“This destruction is happening before our eyes,” says Raúl García, fisheries officer at WWF Spain, who has been researching drift nets since 2002. “It has been for years. We need to act before it’s too late.”

(This article was amended on 19 August 2020 to clarify the signatories of a letter sent to Italy’s minister of agriculture.)

******

WQAD8 TV

More endangered bees found in the Quad Cities

The Illiniwek Forest Preserve says their conservation efforts are paying off after finding a dozen Rusty Patched Bumblebees.

Author: Katherine Bauer, August 17, 2020

HAMPTON, Illinois — The team at the Illiniwek Forest preserve has stumbled on a gold mine. They believe they have a colony of rare Rusty Patched Bumblebees calling their native prairie grass home.

“The first time I saw it, I wasn`t quick enough to get a photo because they move so fast,” says park ranger Mike Petersen, who found the first bee. “About two weeks later, I saw it again and was able to snap a couple photos of it.”

The Rusty Patched Bumblebee has been on the endangered species list since 2017. Their population drastically declining 87 percent in the last two decades.

They’re known for the reddish-brown patches on their back. And that’s what Black Hawk College Assistant Professor of Biology Isaac Stewart has been looking for for years. He came out to confirm what Petersen had found.

“That’s kind of the holy grail of finds,” he explains. “And then to come out here, find it, and not only find one or two but 13 individuals… that means we have a vibrant colony and there’s hope to reestablish a colony next spring. It’s a great find.”

Stewart credits this to Illiniwek’s efforts to expand and maintain native prairie grass. The native plants are perfect for supporting all kinds of pollinators.

“If we can get this bee stable here… then maybe it can start to spread more into what its historic range used to be,” Stewart says. “And then maybe we will have staved off the extinction of a species.”

And Petersen says they’re doing everything they can to help these bees. They already have 15 acres of prairie grass and adding more this fall.

The project includes tearing up three acres of turf later this month then planting native grass and plants in September.

“It really affirms if you have the habitat here, the animals will come,” Petersen says.

Stewart says they’ll monitor the bees, especially into spring, to see how well they’re doing.

******

Courthouse News Service

Judge Blasts Feds Over Long-Delayed Salmon Protections at Oregon Dams

August 17, 2020 KARINA BROWN

PORTLAND, Ore. (CN) — Dams in the Willamette Valley are killing the majority of the young salmon and steelhead that try to pass on their way out to sea, and the Army Corps of Engineers violated the Endangered Species Act by refusing to take steps to reduce those deaths, a federal judge ruled Monday.

More than two decades ago, government scientists began evaluating a network of 13 dams in the Willamette Valley, eventually finding that dam operations were in danger of completely wiping out certain runs of salmon and steelhead and requiring improvements in water quality and fish passage to avoid that. The Army Corps was supposed to complete upgrades years ago. Now, the Corps says, the projects won’t be done until at least 2028.

Environmental groups sued in 2018, asking a judge to enforce protections for Upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. On Monday, U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez found the Corps has continued to operate for years while killing fish at rates government scientists have said could jeopardize the continued existence of salmon and steelhead. Hernandez criticized the Corps’ failure to ask for a new evaluation of the dams’ effects on salmon when it was clear it wouldn’t meet its deadlines, calling it “a substantial procedural violation.”

Meanwhile, other problems like warming oceans, habitat degradation and sea lion predation are pushing salmon and steelhead closer to the brink. The National Marine Fisheries Service, tasked with evaluating whether government projects violate laws intended to protect the environment, issued requirements in its 2008 biological opinion that were supposed to help keep Willamette Valley dams from making the situation worse.

But Hernandez found that the Corps missed the mark.

“Far short of moving towards recovery, the Corps is pushing the [Upper Willamette River] Chinook and steelhead even closer to the brink of extinction,” Hernandez wrote. “The record demonstrates that the listed salmonids are in a more precarious condition today than they were at the time NMFS issued the 2008 BiOp.”

The fisheries service’s biological opinion allowed the Corps to harm threatened fish by operating the dams,so long as the Corps took specific steps to increase fish passage and cool water in the reservoirs behind dams, which reach artificially elevated temperatures that are lethal to fish.

But the Corps never took most of those steps, according to court documents, and far exceeded the mortality levels the fisheries service said was allowable. The death rates allowed by the service were substantial — up to 65% of young salmon passing the Detroit and Big Cliff dams on the North Santiam River, up to 68% of juveniles at Fall Creek Dam in the Middle Fork Willamette and up to 32% at Cougar Dam on the McKenzie River. But the Corps blew past those limits, according to court documents.

In slides that were part of its own 2016 PowerPoint presentation, the Corps used data provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimating that dams in the McKenzie, Santiam, and Middle Fork Willamette subbasins are causing the death of between 71% and 89% of the young salmon and steelhead on their way out to sea.

The Corps argued Congress authorized construction of the dams, knowing they would block passage of fish both on their way to sea and on their way back home to spawn. Still, Hernandez wrote, it’s illegal for a government agency to worsen the existential jeopardy a species faces, even in situations where “baseline conditions” mean the species is struggling to begin with.

The Corps violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to take the steps the fisheries service said was necessary to improve water quality and to help young salmon and steelhead make it past the dams, and therefore worsening the decline of threatened fish, Hernandez found.

Next up will be the phase of the litigation where the parties decide how to remedy the legal violations Hernandez found. The current ruling only assigns liability to the Corps and the fisheries service. Hernandez ordered the parties to suggest a briefing schedule for the remedy phase within the next two weeks.

An order to speed a new fish passage facility currently slated to open at Detroit Dam by 2028 is likely to top the wish list attorney for plaintiffs Northwest Environmental Defense Center, WildEarth Guardians and Native Fish Society.

As their attorney, Lauren Rule, told Hernandez in an earlier hearing, “These species may not have four to five years left. They are in such perilous conditions.”

Meanwhile this spring, the Corps announced a plan to change the allocation of river water during dry years to benefit industrial, municipal and irrigation users. The Corps’ “share the pain” plan reduced water allocated to all categories of use, instead of prioritizing fish and wildlife by keeping water in the river during drought years. The Corps issued a biological assessment finding that its reallocation plan was unlikely to harm threatened salmon and steelhead — a conclusion National Marine Fisheries Service did not share.

The agency found in a 2019 biological opinion that the reallocation plan “is likely to jeopardize the continued existence of Upper Willamette River Chinook salmon and steelhead and destroy or adversely modify their designated critical habitats,” mostly by raising water temperatures to levels deadly to adult fish fighting the currents on their way upriver.

The Corps is already in the midst of determining its role in harming Willamette Valley fish listed under the Endangered Species Act. And the act bars government agencies from taking additional actions that would harm the species under consideration in such determinations. That dispute is the subject of subject of separate litigation, also overseen by Judge Hernandez.

Andrew Missel, attorney for the plaintiffs in that case, told Hernandez in May that the Corps is operating outside the law.

“The Corps broke the law by engaging in this action while at the same time engaging in ESA consultation,” Missel told Hernandez, using the acronym for the Endangered Species Act. “The agency is violating a procedure that impairs the process and will result in different conditions on the ground in the future. They just want to be free of any judicial review of their actions in this case.”

******

San Francisco Chronicle

Endangered trout species thriving in remote Nevada lake

Aug. 16, 2020

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A half-century after being added to the endangered species list, Lahontan cutthroat trout are thriving with help from a Native American tribe at a remote lake in northern Nevada.

For nearly a decade, members of the Summit Lake Paiute Tribe and scientists at the Global Water Center at the University of Nevada, Reno have studied the robust Lahontan cutthroat trout population at Summit Lake, a small high-desert lake into which water flows in but not out.

The lake ecosystem has little human impact and could provide a model for recovery efforts in other lakes “that are less fortunate and that have lost their trout like the Walker and Tahoe,” university researcher Sudeep Chandra told the Reno Gazette Journal.

The Lahontan cutthroat is Nevada’s state fish and North America’s largest freshwater native trout species. It was listed as endangered in 1970 and upgraded to threatened in 1975, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The fish has crimson red-orange slash marks on the throat under the jaw and black spots over steel gray to olive green scales. It holds cultural significance for the Summit Lake tribe, whose name — “lake trout eaters” in the indigenous language — reflects the importance of the fish, said Rachael Youmans, tribal natural resources director.

The species is found in cold-water habitats in parts of Nevada, Oregon and California, including terminal lakes such as Pyramid and Walker; alpine lakes such as Tahoe; rivers such as the Humboldt, Carson, Walker and Truckee; and tributary streams.

The fish can grow to 50 inches (1.27 meters) and live for up to 14 years in lakes. River dwellers grow to about 10 inches (25 centimetres) and live less than five years. The species spawns between February and July, depending on stream flow, elevation and water temperature.

In 1844, there were 11 lake-dwelling populations of the trout, and 400 to 600 stream-dwelling populations that spanned more than 3,600 miles of waterways, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Today, the fish are found in just five lakes and fewer than 130 streams in the Lahontan Basin in the northeast corner of Nevada, and several dozen streams outside the basin. Their habitat now covers less than 500 miles (800 kilometers) of waterways.

Declines have occurred due to water diversions, changing habitat and invasive species, Chandra said.

Summit Lake, about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of Reno, is closed to non-tribal members, and fish catches are limited for members. The tribe erected grazing enclosures that prevent trampling from livestock and stopped diverting freshwater in streams for the reservation. Mahogany Creek flows into the lake unimpeded.

“It’s a very healthy riparian corridor here now,” Youmans told the Gazette Journal.

Summit Lake is mildly saline, and healthier than other terminal lakes in the huge Great Basin watershed of central Nevada, scientists say. Many terminal lakes have higher dissolved salt levels than lakes that flow to the sea.

Walker Lake in Nevada, also a terminal lake, has a salinity level of about 20 parts per thousand and is too saline for most fish, Chandra said. Summit Lake has less than 2 parts per thousand.

******

One Green Planet

These Fishermen are Now Protecting the World’s Most Endangered Sea Turtles Instead of Selling Them!

By Eliza Erskine, August 16, 2020

Fishermen in Senegal are teaming up to help protect one of the world’s endangered species, the sea turtle. Green turtles, leatherhead and loggerhead turtles can all be found off the coast of Senegal in West Africa.

Turtles have been threatened by pollution, fishing nets, and poaching in the area. Turtles also used to be a source of protein in Senegal, 30 years ago turtle meat was sold at markets in local villages.

Fishermen are now watching specific zones to keep turtles safe. “Once we were the biggest eaters of turtles, now we have become their biggest protectors. We ate them in the street, we cooked them at home,” says Abdou Karim Sall, who manages one of the protected zones. The Marine Protected Area (MPA) is now watched by local fishermen and is supported by government and local associations. The zone encompasses 57 square miles.

Turtles travel through this area as part of migration patterns. They return to lay eggs once their migration is done. While fishermen are trying to protect the turtles in the area, they also help rescue those that get caught in nets or stray plastic. Fishermen and assocation members recognize the importance of turtles to the biodiversity of the water and areas they fish in. “It’s not to our advantage to eat them, because they help save marine species. Wherever you find turtles you will find shrimp and octopus in abundance,” explains local Gamar Kane.

Young turtles that swim in currents are especially vulnerable to plastic. But any turtle that ingests plastic is at risk because plastic blocks its digestive tract and guts and limits food absorption and digestion.

 ******

Mongabay

Scientists urge reassessment of threatened species after Australian bushfires

by Elizabeth Claire Alberts on 14 August 2020

A new paper suggests that the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires impacted critical habitats of more than 800 native species, with 70 species losing more than 30% of their natural range.

  • The bushfires may have led to a 14% increase in threatened species, according to the study.
  • The researchers recommend an urgent assessment of threatened species via the Australian government’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, which classifies threatened species and provides legal protection for them.
  • Other actions may be needed to help preserve native wildlife populations, such as invasive species management, captive-breeding programs, and the protection of fire-burned regions to aid recovery, the researchers suggest.

Between 2019 and 2020, turbulent bushfires ripped through Australia, turning green forests into ash, and producing plumes of smoke that hovered over the country like a shroud. While the flames have been extinguished for several months now, scientists are still scrambling to understand the full impact on the country’s native wildlife.

A new paper published in Nature Ecology & Evolution estimates that the bushfires burned through about 97,000 square kilometers (37,500 square miles) of vegetation in southern and eastern Australia, equivalent to 18 million football fields, or an area bigger than Portugal. The fire-impacted regions included critical habitat for 832 species of native vertebrate fauna, including 378 birds, 254 reptiles, 102 frogs, 83 mammals and 15 freshwater fish, according to the study.

“This figure doesn’t include invertebrates or plants, so while a huge amount of species, severely underplays the impact of just one fire event,” lead author Michelle Ward, a researcher at the University of Queensland, told Mongabay in an email.

According to the study, 70 species had more than 30% of their habitat burned, with some species losing more than 80% of their natural territory. Of these 70 species, 21 are already threatened with extinction, including the Kangaroo Island dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni) and long-footed potoroo (Potorous longipes), both mouse-sized marsupials.

Ward and her colleagues say the bushfires likely caused a 14% increase in the number of threatened species, and have called for an urgent assessment of these species via Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act, a piece of legislation that classifies threatened species and subspecies, and provides a legal framework for their protection.

Species not currently listed as threatened, but that may need assessment under the EPBC Act, include Kate’s leaf-tailed gecko (Saltuarius kateae), the short-eared possum (Trichosurus caninus), and Littlejohn’s tree frog (Litoria littlejohni), the study suggests.

“It’s important to remember that many of the animals impacted by these fires were already declining in numbers because of habitat destruction, drought, disease, and invasive species,” Ward said. “These fires are just another nail in the coffin for many of our native species.”

Ward said some independent and government-funded surveys are already underway, but the process of getting listings updated via the EPBC Act can be a lengthy process, sometimes taking more than two years. However, Ward says she and her team have been in “constant communication” with the Australian government about this matter.

A spokesperson for the Australian government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment told Mongabay it has established the Wildlife and threatened species bushfire recovery Expert Panel to help guide recovery actions for native species impacted by the fires, and it was already engaging with the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, which is responsible for amending and updating lists of threatened species. Additionally, the government said it had invested $200 million to support bushfire recovery for native wildlife and their habitat.

“The bushfires have had a significant impact on native plants and animals, and it is likely that species which were not previously considered threatened with extinction are now at risk as a result of the fires, while other species, which were previously considered threatened, are likely to now be at greater risk of extinction,” the spokesperson said.

Another team of researchers recently released an interim report, stating that nearly 3 billion animals had died in the fires, including 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs. These numbers are much higher than previous estimates of 1 billion animals dying in the fires.

“It is quite likely the fires would have caused some extinctions, but we won’t know until after the surveys,” Ward said.

The EPBC Act currently lists 202 faunal species as threatened, 164 as endangered, and 89 as critically endangered. Fifty-five faunal species are already listed as extinct.

Ward says native species may need a “range of strategic post-fire management actions to maintain and recover their populations” following the bushfires, including invasive species management and captive-breeding programs. It’s also important to protect fire-burned areas from salvage logging and other destructive activities that can disrupt an ecosystem’s ability to recover, she said.

With the next bushfire season right around the corner, study co-author James Watson, director of the science and research initiative at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and professor at the University of Queensland’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said it’s important to learn how to better manage forests to reduce fire risk and protect threatened species.

“While fire is a crucial aspect of many ecosystems, we’re witnessing climate change-induced drought combined with land use management practices that make forests more fire prone,” Watson said in a statement. “We need to learn from these events as they are likely to happen again.”

Citation:

Ward, M., Tulloch, A. I., Radford, J. Q., Williams, B. A., Reside, A. E., Macdonald, S. L., … Watson, J. E. (2020). Impact of 2019-2020 mega-fires on Australian fauna habitat. Nature Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1038/s41559-020-1251-1

******

NJ Spotlight

Would a Wind Farm Threaten an Endangered Shore Bird? Satellite Tagging Project Aims to Find Out

Jon Hurdle | August 14, 2020 | Energy & Environment

Offshore wind developer funds plan to judge whether birds will collide with turbines

An offshore wind developer is using satellite technology to determine whether an endangered shorebird species would risk colliding with planned wind turbines when it migrates from New Jersey beaches to South America.

The company, Atlantic Shores, has hired Larry Niles, a wildlife biologist, to attach satellite tags to 30 red knots to collect data on their flight path and altitude that can be used to judge whether a proposed wind farm off Atlantic City would conflict with the migration.

Niles, who has been monitoring the bird’s migration through New Jersey for the last 24 years, will begin the project this week by trapping some of the birds on a beach at Brigantine using a net fired with small cannons, allowing them to be captured, weighed and measured before having the satellite tags attached.

Niles will use the weight of individual birds to judge when they are likely to resume their southbound migration, based on research showing that they need to reach a certain weight in order to have the energy to fly to wintering grounds as far away as Tierra del Fuego at the southernmost tip of South America. Based on the expected departure date, he will program the satellite tags to send data on the birds’ movements in 60 “pings” over a specified period.

The data will allow the company, the conservation community and federal regulators to determine for the first time whether the wind farm would represent a new threat to the birds, whose depleted population has already led New Jersey to classify them as endangered, and for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to designate them a threatened species.

Red knots, rusty-red or gray birds about the size of a robin, and weighing less than 5 ounces, are mostly known in New Jersey for their annual visits each May to the Delaware Bay beaches where they feast on the eggs of horseshoe crabs and put on enough weight to complete migrations of up to 9,000 miles — one of the longest in the avian world — to their Canadian breeding grounds.

The mysteries of their journey southward

While their northbound migration has been closely studied and widely reported in the media, less is known about their return trip and whether the species faces additional threats to its survival — such as collisions with offshore wind turbines — on the southbound journey.

New Jersey’s fledgling offshore wind industry is getting big support from Gov. Phil Murphy, who has pushed green energy and backed a plan to make the state home to a facility that would build and assemble massive wind turbines. The data gathered by Niles and his team will show whether wind farms are another threat to a vulnerable species, and will give the industry a chance to show a sometimes skeptical public that it’s concerned about its relationship to the natural world.

“The industry is still trying to figure out how it does these reviews,” said Paul Phifer, permitting manager for Atlantic Shores, which holds a lease on 183,000 acres of ocean about 15 miles off Atlantic City. “Red knots probably fly through our area, and we’re not quite sure of the degree to which they fly through our area, and if they do, they do it at night. Fortunately, red knots are big enough, and the satellite technology is getting good enough, that we can put satellite tags on them.”

Whatever results are obtained from the red knot project will be reviewed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is responsible for protecting listed species like the knot.

Offshore wind is an important component of Murphy’s plan to switch the state to 100% clean energy by mid-century. Last year, he set a goal of generating 7.5 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2035. About a third of that, or enough to power almost 1 million homes, would come from the Atlantic Shores project if fully developed, said Jennifer Daniels, development director for the company, which is a 50-50 partnership between Shell New Energies US and EDF Renewables North America.

The experience in Europe, where the offshore wind industry is much more developed than that in the U.S., is that the risk of birds colliding with turbines is low, said Phifer, a former official with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service who led its designation of the red knot as threatened in 2014. One European study in 2018 found only six bird strikes out of 3,375 migratory trips, a rate of 0.017%, he said.

Managing the risk

But when the risk is multiplied across the potential 20 gigawatts of wind power that the federal government projects eventually for the Eastern Seaboard, the question is how to manage it, Phifer said.

“None of this is risk-free, so how do you manage the risk?” he said. “Birding issues in Europe are significant, and I imagine they will be in New Jersey as well.”

Still, the state’s leading bird conservation group, NJ Audubon, is comforted that the proposed wind farm will be about 15 miles offshore, where it will present less of a threat to birds than closer in, simply because fewer birds migrate that far out, said David Mizrahi, vice president for research and monitoring at the nonprofit.

“There’s a lot of data to suggest that as you go further offshore, the encounter rates of wildlife diminish,” he said. “We are certainly supportive of a project that is further out, and we are certainly supportive of the work to identify the possible issues related to red knots.”

He said NJ Audubon fully supports the development of offshore wind as a source of clean energy and encourages the satellite-tagging project.

Even though other shorebirds like semipalmated sandpipers are also in decline, it’s doubtful that they could be studied in the same way as the knot because they are about one-fifth its size, and so would be incapable of flying with a satellite tag, Mizrahi said.

Calculating the threat

If Niles catches 30 birds at Brigantine and attaches a 60-“ping” satellite transmitter to each of them, researchers will have data from a total of 1,800 “pings” on which to decide whether a wind farm would be a threat to the birds.

But trapping enough birds won’t be easy because southbound flocks are a lot smaller than those going through Delaware Bay in the spring, and because Niles and his team are seeking the so-called long-distance birds — those that fly all the way to Tierra del Fuego. Distinguishing them from others that winter in Brazil or the southeastern U.S. is an inexact science. “It’s going to be tricky,” he said.

Even if the data shows that the knots are flying higher than the 300 feet of a typical offshore wind turbine, they will still be influenced by winds that lead them to fly at different altitudes in search of lower wind resistance, Niles said. The satellite data is also intended to show whether the birds get close to turbine height under different weather conditions.

Niles, who is working on the project with New Jersey’s Division of Fish & Wildlife, hopes the project will also draw attention to the need to protect the only two New Jersey sites — Brigantine and Stone Harbor — where the birds pause on their southbound migration each year.

Although the Brigantine site has been fenced off this year to protect another shorebird, the piping plover, there is no such protection at Stone Harbor where human disturbance by boaters, swimmers and beachgoers makes it difficult for the knots to feed and put on enough weight to fuel their onward flights. “It’s pandemonium,” he said.

******

KUCB /CH. 8 TV (Unalaska, AK)

Biologists Hope Dead Steller Sea Lion Will Provide Insight Into Endangered Aleutian Population

By Hope McKenney • Aug 13, 2020

A Steller sea lion in poor health was sighted at Morris Cove in Unalaska over the weekend, prompting biologists to observe the adult male until it died early in the week.

“It’s really unusual to have sea lions hauling out on the soft sanded beaches,” said Melissa Good, a marine advisory agent with Alaska Sea Grant. “We often see them hauled out on the marker buoys or on some of the rocky points where they have rookeries or haul out areas. But we very rarely see them hauled out on a beach, especially here near town.”

Good said the large male wasn’t acting right — he wasn’t holding his head up straight or reacting to the things going on around him, and his hip bones were protruding, indicating he didn’t have much blubber on his bones.

The Steller sea lion weighed about 1,500 pounds, according to Good, which, she said, is actually on the small end for adult males — which can weigh in at over 2,000 pounds.

“It’s typical for them to lose a lot of weight over the summer, because the large males spend their summers hauled out with harems of females,” she said. “And they’re guarding the females all summer long and not eating. So they end up losing a lot of their body weight. But I would think that they’d have a little bit more fat on them, and this guy was really skinny.”

Good reported the animal to the Alaska SeaLife Center and to the Marine Mammal Stranding Network — a program through NOAA Fisheries that responds to sick, injured, stranded, or dead marine mammals.

Officials with the program say they’ve recently been receiving more reports of Steller sea lions hauling out on beaches in poor condition, but have been unable to retrieve the animals for research — largely because they’re in remote areas — and therefore still don’t know what’s causing the increase in sick or injured animals.

Because of unexplained widespread population declines in Alaska, Steller sea lions were first listed under the Endangered Species Act in 1990. The eastern stock has since recovered and is no longer listed, but the western stock, which can be found west of Cape Suckling — near Chugach National Forest — through the Aleutian Islands and into Russian territory, remains endangered, according to NOAA Fisheries. Good hopes the male sea lion found in Unalaska will contribute to the research on why the largest of the eared seals aren’t doing well in the western Aleutians.

On Tuesday, the Steller sea lion died, and Good, with support from four volunteers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Museum of the Aleutians, performed a four-hour necropsy — or animal autopsy — on the 1,500-pound male.

“We collected the head, we collected samples of the internal organs, skin, muscles, and blubber,” said Good. “And then we were also able to collect the stomach with all of its contents, feces, and urine. And all of these samples will help us get an idea of what caused this guy’s death.”

The samples got shipped off island Wednesday morning to the state pathologist, who will be doing a full workup — looking for toxins, viruses, bacteria, and any other abnormalities. Good said she hopes to hear back about the results in a couple weeks, but said some of the more detailed analyses take time.

“My hope here is that it gives us insight into the broader population of our sea lions in this area,” she said. “The species has been listed [as an endangered species] for several years. Some areas are continuing to decline within our region, some of the smaller populations are increasing, and others are stagnant. And we just don’t know why we’re not seeing big increases in Steller sea lions, and why that population continues to not rebound.”

Good said if anyone sees a marine mammal in a strange spot, or that looks unhealthy, don’t approach it. Instead, call the Marine Mammal Stranding Network on their 24-hour hotline at (877) 925-7773, and they will send a local responder to check it out.

******

The Guardian

Officials ignored warnings about Trump wall threat to endangered species

Emails reveal experts at San Bernardino national wildlife refuge repeatedly sounded the alarm over grave threat to rare species

Nina Lakhani. Thu 13 Aug 2020

Stark warnings by federal scientists and wildlife experts about the grave threat posed by Donald Trump’s border wall to rare and endangered species were repeatedly ignored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), according to documents seen by the Guardian.

A cache of emails obtained using the Freedom of Information Act (Foia) by environmental groups reveal multiple efforts over several months by experts at the San Bernardino national wildlife refuge in south-eastern Arizona, to save rare desert springs and crystalline streams which provide the only US habitat for the endangered endemic Río Yaqui fish.

Even before Trump’s water-guzzling concrete barrier, the border region’s water reserves were depleted due to prolonged drought linked to the climate crisis. The expansion of water-intensive cash crops and urban growth have also drained aquifers in the arid region, leaving several endangered and threatened species wholly reliant on the freshwater ponds found in the refuge.

In an email sent last October, the long-serving refuge manager, Bill Radke, warned colleagues at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that the threat of groundwater depletion was a “dire emergency”.

In an email sent last October, the long-serving refuge manager, Bill Radke, warned colleagues at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that the threat of groundwater depletion was a “dire emergency”.

It was around the same time that DHS contractors began pumping massive quantities of water from the aquifer relied upon by the refuge to mix concrete for construction of a 20-mile stretch of Trump’s 30ft-high border wall.

A few weeks later in early December, Radke described the water usage for the border wall as “the current greatest threat to endangered species in the south-west region” – referring to the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma.

According to the emails, refuge staff began monitoring the impact and felt forced to take “life support actions”, allowing three ponds to dry up in an effort to save some of the fish. “We are monitoring pond levels. We are developing/implementing contingency plans to protect at least a subset of the endangered fish population that once thrived on the refuge. We are hoping for the best, but are planning for the worst,” wrote Radke.

The documents suggest as much as 700,000 gallons of groundwater was being extracted per day to construct the barrier, and DHS officials ignored direct requests from the FWS to avoid drilling wells in a five-mile buffer around the refuge. “Instead contractors made plans to drill even closer to the refuge, drilling their second new well 480 feet east of [the refuge],” Radke wrote.

The multibillion-dollar border wall project has avoided proper environmental, scientific and cost oversight as the government suspended 28 federal laws relating to clean air and water, endangered species, public lands and the rights of Native Americans, in order to expedite construction despite multiple legal challenges.

“The DHS was warned that wall construction would drain artesian pools and kill wildlife, including endangered species. The DHS knew it and did it anyway. None of this would be legal if the environmental laws were still in place,” said Laiken Jordahl, the borderlands campaigner at the not-for-profit Center for Biological Diversity which obtained the emails.

“These documents make it very clear: the survival or extinction of these endangered desert fish is entirely in this administration’s hands.”

An FWS spokeswoman said larger pumps were now required to maintain pond levels and appropriate pond outflows due to a drop in pressure in the aquifer. “The border wall construction contractor has purchased and is currently installing the needed higher capacity pumps,” she said.

But, pumping water is only a temporary solution and the pumps are already too late for at least three ponds. A document obtained by Defenders of Wildlife, suggests water extraction was still having a detrimental impact to the refuge as late as May 2020.

The endangered and protected species under threat from the lowered water levels include the Yaqui catfish, beautiful shiner, Yaqui chub, Yaqui topminnow, Chiricahua leopard frog and Mexican garter snake.

The DHS insists that it continues to operate under the spirit of the National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa), considered the cornerstone of environmental protection in the US, and takes into account public and expert comments.

A Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman told High Country News that “DHS and CBP have and continue to coordinate weekly, and more frequently on an as needed basis, to answer questions concerning new border wall construction projects and to address environmental concerns from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.”

****** 

NRDC Release

Court Overturns Trump Administration Policy That Sharply Curtailed Protections for Migratory Birds

August 11, 2020, New York

NEW YORK— A federal court today overturned a Trump administration reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act that had upended decades of enforcement and let industry polluters entirely off the hook for killing birds.

The administration argued the law only applied to intentional killing of birds and not “incidental” killing from industrial activities, including oil spills, electrocutions on power lines, development and other activities that kill millions of birds every year.

The reinterpretation was first put in place in December 2017 through a legal opinion authored by the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior and former Koch Industries employee, Daniel Jorjani. This opinion was already allowing birds to be killed across the country.

Citing “To Kill a Mockingbird,” U.S. District Court Judge Valerie Caproni wrote that “if the Department of the Interior has its way, many mockingbirds and other migratory birds that delight people and support ecosystems throughout the country will be killed without legal consequence.”

In rejecting the Jorjani opinion, the court noted that the Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it unlawful to kill birds “by any means whatever or in any manner” — thus the administration’s interpretation could not be squared with the plain language of the statute.

Had the Trump administration’s policy been in place at the time of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, for example, British Petroleum would have avoided paying more than $100 million in fines to support wetland and migratory bird conservation to compensate for more than a million birds the accident was estimated to have killed.

The policy was put in place over objections from Canada, a co-signer of the treaty that led to the law. Scientists now estimate North American birds have declined by 29% overall since 1970, amounting to roughly 3 billion fewer birds.

Since the Jorjani opinion, snowy owls and other raptors have been electrocuted by perching on uninsulated power lines in Delaware, Maryland, Tennessee and North Dakota – with no consequences for the responsible utilities. Oil spills in Massachusetts, Idaho and Washington, all of which caused the subsequent deaths of many birds, did not prompt any penalties. Landscapers in San Diego were reported to have thrown live mourning dove chicks into a tree shredder, prompting a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services agent to go undercover to investigate. But the case was closed with no action taken due to the changed policy.

“The Trump administration’s policy was nothing more than a cruel, bird-killing gift to polluters and we’re elated it has been vacated,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Birds are in real trouble across the United States. We must do everything we can to ensure they continue to brighten our skies and sing to us in the morning, for which they ask nothing in return.”

“The court’s decision is a ringing victory for conservationists who have fought to sustain the historical interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to protect migratory birds from industrial harms,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Department of the Interior’s wrong-head reinterpretation would have left the fate of more than 1,000 species of birds in the hands of industry. At a time when our nation’s migratory birds are under escalating threats, we should be creating a reasonable permit program to ensure effective conservation and compliance, rather than stripping needed protections for birds.”

“This decision confirms that Interior’s utter failure to uphold the conservation mandate of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service simply cannot stand up in a court of law,” said Katie Umekubo, senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “The MBTA protects millions of birds and the Trump administration’s reckless efforts to rollback bird protections to benefit polluters don’t fool anyone.”

“Today’s commonsense ruling is a much-needed win for migratory birds and the millions of Americans who cherish them,” said Mike Parr, president of American Bird Conservancy. “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act is one of our nation’s most important environmental laws, and has spurred industry innovation to protect birds, such as screening off toxic waste pits and marking power lines to reduce collisions. This decision represents the next vital step on the path to restoring our nation’s declining bird populations and is a major victory for birds and the environment.”

“Like the clear crisp notes of the wood thrush, today’s court decision cuts through all the noise and confusion to unequivocally uphold the most effective bird conservation law on the books–the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Sarah Greenberger, interim chief conservation officer for the National Audubon Society. “This is a huge victory for birds and it comes at a critical time. Science tells us that we’ve lost 3 billion birds in less than a human lifetime and that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk of extinction due to climate change.”

“Migratory birds are once again protected in the United States from industrial and other threats, thanks to a court ruling rejecting the Administration’s blatant misinterpretation of protections Congress put in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act,” said Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife federation. “Common-sense measures to protect birds like the snowy egret, wood duck and greater sandhill crane have been restored, and bird advocates, affected industries, and Congress can now focus on developing a permit program to reduce harms to birds and impacts to businesses through best management practices.”

******

The Hill

Border wall water use threatens endangered species, environmentalists say

By Rachel Frazin – 08/11/20

A government assessment recently obtained by an environmental group appears to link a well the group says is used in U.S.-Mexico border wall construction to low water levels in wildlife habitats at an Arizona refuge with endangered species.

Defenders of Wildlife on Monday published the June government assessment that found the Glenn Ranch Well “is significantly impacting wells located at San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge.”

“This correlates with why some ponds at the Refuge are void of water, and why it is so difficult to maintain water levels at other ponds that currently have threatened and endangered fish species,” it says.

According to Jacob Malcom, director of the Defenders of Wildlife’s Center for Conservation Innovation, the well is used by the federal government to make concrete for the wall. The Department of Homeland Security did not respond to The Hill’s email seeking comment and confirmation on what the well is used for.

According to Defenders, this puts the endangered Yaqui catfish, beautiful shiner, Yaqui chub and Yaqui topminnow fish species at risk. Also facing threats are the Chiricahua leopard frog, Mexican garter snake and Huachuca water umbel plant, the group said in a statement.

Malcom, who is also a former biologist at the refuge, told The Hill that for some species, less water means a loss of habitat and an inability to survive.

“One of the big threats to the water umbel is the loss of wetlands. If it dries out too much, the species just cannot grow,” he said. “When the water is lost, the wetlands are lost they lose their habitat and they simply can’t exist there anymore.”

The San Bernardino refuge, along Arizona’s border with Mexico, stretches for 2,369 acres. It was established in 1982 to protect wetlands, including the San Bernardino ciénega, which is considered the largest and most extensive in the area, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

******

Courthouse News Service

Feds Propose Habitat Reduction for Endangered Spotted Owl

MATTHEW RENDA, August 10, 2020

(CN) — The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service wants to remove protections for the spotted owl inhabiting more than 200,000 acres of forested land in Oregon, according to a proposed revision released Monday.

Northern spotted owl, Strix occidentalis caurina, Deschutes forest, Oregon, (c) Kris Hennings/USDA Forest Service

As part of a settlement between the Trump administration and the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, a trade union, Fish and Wildlife proposed to remove 209,000 acres across 15 Oregon counties from an area of more than 9 million acres designated as critical habitat for the spotted owl.

“These proposed exclusions are based on new information that has become available since our 2012 revised critical habitat designation for the northern spotted owl,” the service said in its proposed rule revision.

Any movement on critical habitat designations related to the northern spotted owl will be a flashpoint after the service declared the bird’s dwindling population was due to eradication of old-growth forest caused primarily by the timber industry.

“The owl nests in old tree structures, broken tops and snags,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “It also needs the high canopy structure and the multi-layered canopies of the old-growth forests to hunt.”

The designation of 9 million acres of critical habitat gutted the timber industry in the Pacific Northwest and set off a tempest of litigation from environmentalists, county agencies, timber industry advocates and citizens after the spotted owl was added to the Endangered Species List in 1990.

Some estimates say the designation caused the timber industry to lose as many as 168,000 jobs and shuttered timber mills throughout the region.

The timber industry has also sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in federal court over its withdrawal from some land covered by the 1936 O&C Act, which mandates swaths of land in Oregon must be managed as timber harvest land.

Timber industry advocates sued the BLM saying the plan to withdraw some lands from protection did not go far enough. The lawsuit is pending.

Greenwald said Fish and Wildlife’s proposal is not apocalyptic for the bird, since it only represents a small percentage of the over 9 million acres of critical habitat.

“In a sense, it’s not a huge loss of protection,” Greenwald said. “But the bird is declining so it needs all the protection it can get.”

There are only about 2,200 breed pairs of Northern spotted owls throughout its range of Northern California, Oregon and Washington state, an estimated drop of 90% in population by some estimates. More conservative estimates for the decline peg the bird’s numbers at closer to 40%.

The bird population continues to decline by about 7.4% per year.

Regardless, the bird’s population has declined and most scientists say the reduction of old-growth forests as a result of timber production combined with natural causes like fires are the main causes.

However, others have insisted the spotted owl is declining because of competition from the barred owl, which is a better hunter and not as fastidious about its nesting locations.

Some federal wildlife officials have proposed killing a segment of barred owls to keep the spotted owl population in balance. Such a move is criticized by some animal rights activists and has yet to be fully implemented.

Greenwald said the barred owl is not the main contributing factor to the spotted owl’s decline.

“The spotted owl was declining before the barred owl arrived on the scene,” he said.

The northern spotted owl is a medium-sized bird, with a barred tail and spots on its head and chest. It mates infrequently and take a long time to reach maturity (2 years). The owls are mostly nocturnal but sometimes will hunt during the day if the opportunity presents.

******

EnviroNews Arizona

After 5-Yr. Legal Battle, USFWS Backs down, Agrees to Consider Sonoran Desert Tortoise for ESA

by Shad Engkilterra, August 9, 2020

(EnviroNews Arizona) — Tucson, Arizona — In a reversal of its 2015 position, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) agreed to reconsider the Sonoran desert tortoise (Gopherus morafkai) for protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). WildEarth Guardians (Guardians) and Western Watersheds Project (WWP) filed a lawsuit in 2019 after the USFWS removed the reptile from the ESA candidate list, which the agency evaluates annually. The United States District Court for the District of Arizona in Tucson, AZ, approved the agreement between the agency and the non-profits on Aug. 3, 2020.

USFWS will immediately restore the tortoise to its ESA candidate list, reevaluate the reptile’s status, and open a public comment period. In 18 months, it will release its findings and a decision on the animal’s status.

“Desert tortoise[s] are known for moving slowly, but without full federal protections, they have been racing toward extinction,” Cyndi Tuell said in a press release. Tuell is the Arizona and New Mexico Director with WWP. “The agency will now have to reconsider its decision based on the best scientific data available rather than caving to political pressure and economic interests in Arizona.”

According to the Arizona Ecological Services Field Office of the USFWS, one of the major threats the tortoise faces is the conversion of Sonoran Desert scrub habitat into grasslands, which are prone to fire. Permanent linear constructions, like roads, canals, and walls. threaten the reptiles’ habitat through fragmentation. The tortoise is found south and east of the Colorado River in Arizona and south of the international border to the Rio Sonora in Mexico. Cattle, overgrazing, and human residential development have also negatively impacted the animal.

“In the midst of an extinction crisis, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a responsibility to step up and protect our country’s biodiversity,” said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for Guardians.

In 2015, USFWS decided the tortoise was not eligible for listing under the ESA. As reported by EnviroNews at the time of the press release, the agency was forced to make a decision after a petition by Guardians and WWP. Subsequently, the reptile was removed from the ESA candidate list.

Between 2015 and 2019, the USFWS did not fund any studies on the tortoise. Additionally, in 2019, the Arizona State Land Department blocked scientific studies on state trust lands. These policies make it impossible to know how many tortoises actually exist, but the environmental community believes the downward trend from 2015 has continued unabated. Tuell also points out that it will be difficult to know how the species is doing in comparison to other years after 2010, the last time Arizona Game and Fish Department (AGFD) was able to monitor the species.

“There’s no information that the species is doing better and there’s a lot of information that its habitat is being further degraded,” Tuell told Arizona Public Media, highlighting fires, development and climate change as major factors.

In Dec. 2010, the USFWS determined the Sonoran desert tortoise warranted protection under the ESA. However, the agency had higher priorities precluding the listing. Instead, the tortoise was put on a list of candidates to be protected by the ESA. In Arizona, where the reptile has been protected by law since 1988, it is afforded Tier 1b “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” status by the AGFD. Mexico also lists the animal as a threatened species. The tortoise only gained recognition as an official species in 2011.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service should be applauded for doing the right thing here,” said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) – the public interest law firm representing Guardians and WWP. “The 2015 decision merely assumed tortoises were doing fine in the absence of any population data. This was not legally or biologically defensible.”

******

The Hill

World’s most trafficked mammal gives Trump new way to hit China on COVID-19

By Rebecca Beitsch – 08/08/20 11:25 AM EDT

A petition from environmentalists to reprimand Beijing for illegally trading an endangered species could ultimately bar U.S. imports of any wildlife from China amid heightened concerns about the role animals play in pandemics.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups want the Department of the Interior to go after China for its treatment of pangolins – the world’s only scaled mammal and the most trafficked – through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) treaty.

If the agency moves forward with the request, President Trump could decide to prohibit importation of all wildlife from China, dealing a significant financial blow to Beijing. Former President Clinton took similar steps against Taiwan in 1994 to crack down on the sale of tiger bones and rhino horns.

Pangolins are being studied as a possible intermediary host of the coronavirus, making them a prime target for Republicans looking to punish China for the spread of COVID-19. The disease has been linked to a group of viruses carried by bats, but efforts to trace its origins are ongoing.

While the sale of pangolins has already been banned in China, a steady market remains for the animal’s scales, which are marketed to increase blood circulation and lactation.

“Pangolins face imminent extinction, yet the Chinese government continues to promote pangolin scales in the traditional Chinese medicine trade,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“If we want these odd and adorable creatures to survive, China must act now. Certification by the U.S. would be the wake-up call China needs.”

The petition thrusts the armadillo-like creature into the U.S.-China trade war that has only been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Imposing broad wildlife sanctions on China would be an unusual move for an administration that isn’t known for offering more protections for endangered species. Just last year Trump rolled back several components of the Endangered Species Act.

But blocking imports of any Chinese products tied to wildlife would allow the administration to hit China financially. When Clinton took action against Taiwan in 1994, wildlife imports amounted to about $25 million a year. There are no estimates on comparable imports from China.

Lawmakers like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have said Congress should “conduct meaningful oversight to hold China accountable for this pandemic” — comments that came during a hearing evaluating the Trump’s administration’s coronavirus response.

Bill Reinsch, a China trade expert and senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said the GOP’s desire to punish China gives the petition the potential for more traction than it might otherwise get from the Trump administration.

“This is not an administration showing much interest in” protecting endangered species, he said. “On the other hand, it is an administration where there is no shortage of people inside looking for new ways to hit the Chinese.”

“Trump does not approve everything that comes to him, but it’s probably only a matter of time before they notice this one, and someone is going to say, ‘Hey here’s another way we can go after them,” Reinsch added. “In this case I imagine the president could go along with it.”

Pangolins primarily live in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa, but most seizures are destined for China or Vietnam. Authorities in Singapore last year seized a shipment of 14 tons of scales believed to have been taken from roughly 36,000 pangolins.

CITES prohibits China from importing any pangolin products, but Uhlemann said there needs to be more pressure on Beijing to ensure it cracks down on the black market. Blocking the U.S. import of all wildlife-related products, including things like fur lined coats or snake skin boots produced in China, would use U.S. market share as leverage.

Targeting the wildlife trade as a way to tackle pandemics has thus far been a Democratic-led issue. Tucked into the $3.4 trillion coronavirus package passed by the House in May was a provision that would provide $111 million to track species “that could pose a biohazard risk to human health,” blocking their import to the U.S. and increasing penalties for those who seek to trade them.

Groups like the Center for Biological Diversity ultimately hope to ban the trade of wildlife entirely, something that puts them at odds with the Trump administration and the Interior Department, which has backed efforts to protect giraffes but also has ties to trophy hunting organizations and recently allowed hunting tactics that make it easier to kill bear cubs and wolf pups in Alaska.

Interior has signaled potential support for the petition.

“The Department of the Interior takes illegal wildlife trafficking seriously and is committed to ensuring Americans are protected from the import of illegal wildlife that could pose a health risk,” an Interior spokesperson said in an email.

Reinsch, however, views that potential support as a way for the administration to continue its message of blaming China for the coronavirus as case numbers in the U.S. continue to outpace most other industrialized nations.

“In order to avoid responsibility for managing it here, he wants to blame the Chinese,” Reinsch said of Trump.

“If you link the whole thing to China and blame the whole thing on China — which he apparently does want to — to keep that narrative you have to come up with new angles.”

*****

The Independent/Gulf Today

Pandemic further threatens endangered species

Louise Boyle, The Independent, August 6, 2020

A global wildlife emergency is developing in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The Independent recently revealed the potential scale of the crisis after tourism collapsed and philanthropic donations plummeted, impacting the livelihoods of hundreds of frontline rangers and the thousands of other people who work in and around conservation.

Almost a third of conservationists fear that the pandemic will increase threats to species and habitats, including increased poaching due to reduced law enforcement presence and tourists, along with the greater reliance on hunting by vulnerable local communities, the MBZ Conservation Fund reported.

Reports are emerging of upticks in poaching around the world: Three, critically endangered giant ibis birds were recently poisoned in Cambodia (1-2% of the entire population); at least four tigers and six leopards have been killed since lockdown in India. In Uganda, Rafiki, the country’s rare and beloved silverback mountain gorilla, became collateral damage of hunters seeking out smaller animals.

Let’s examine some of the endangered species facing increased threats during our global health crisis.

Rhinos: Nine rhinos have been poached in South Africa since the lockdown, conservation group Rhino 911 reports, amid fears the numbers may be higher. Across the border, Rhino Conservation Botswana reported the killings of six rhinos.

Rhinos are susceptible to poachers for their horn, sought for ornamental value and to be ground into traditional medicines. Half a million rhinos roamed Africa and Asia at the beginning of last century but today as few as 29,000 remain in the wild. Three species of rhino — black, Javan, and Sumatran — are critically endangered.

In Africa, the western black rhino is now extinct in the wild. The two remaining northern white rhino are kept under 24-hour guard at a Kenyan conservancy.

Cathy Dean, CEO of Save The Rhino, told The Independent that the pandemic’s full impact of poaching on rhino populations was still being assessed.

“There have been rhino poaching incidents but, apart from in Botswana, it’s been relatively quiet, likely due to the restriction of movement within and between countries, and possibly because criminal gangs have found other forms of illicit income,” Ms Dean said.

“For example, we think lockdown prohibitions on alcohol and tobacco in South Africa are responsible for a reduction in poaching as criminal gangs have found less dangerous ways to make money by brewing moonshine and smuggling tobacco.”

The crisis is mounting due to economic losses caused by the total absence of tourism in Africa this year, and a drop in philanthropic donations in the face of a looming global recession.

At just seven conservation sites in Kenya supported by Save The Rhino, the projected deficit for 2020 was more than $2million. Ms Dean said: “If these conservancies go bust and can’t afford to manage and protect their wildlife anymore, we will lose that habitat.

“It will be converted to agriculture and settled. Hundreds of thousands of acres will be lost to wildlife and that impacts conservation efforts forever.”

Elephants: Conservationists are sounding the alarm for elephants. In June, a shocking mass killing of six elephants took place in one day in Ethiopia’s Mago National Park. (Ten elephants were killed across the entire east African nation in 2019).

Two elephants were reportedly electrocuted by poachers on the Champua range in the state of Odisha, India the same month. An estimated 415,000 elephants are left in Africa with the species regarded as vulnerable due to poaching. Numbers continue to decline in parts of central Africa and East Africa.

Between 2007 and 2014, an average of 55 elephants were killed each day in Africa, mainly for their high-value tusks.

There has been positive steps to protect elephants including bolstering frontline ranger protection and strengthening laws against poaching in Africa. China’s significant step of banning the ivory trade in 2017 also led to a crash in demand.

The pandemic risks all of the gains. Dr Max Graham, founder of international conservation charity Space for Giants, told The Independent: “There is increasing illegal activity in protected areas largely in bushmeat poaching, an indicator of reduced law enforcement and eyes on the ground.

“We’re worried that the opportunity which that presents is clear to the international wildlife trafficking syndicates.

Pangolins: The world’s most-trafficked mammal has harnessed global attention after being identified as a potential link in the spread of the coronavirus. All eight pangolin species are banned in international trade under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

An estimated 200,000 pangolins are taken from the wild every year across Africa and Asia, according to WildAid. Poachers target pangolins for meat, a delicacy in parts of Asia, and keratin scales, an ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Professor Ray Jansen, chairman of the African Pangolin Working Group recorded 97 tonnes of pangolin scales leaving Africa in 2019 but that volume has dropped to around 30 tonnes since the pandemic. The number of live pangolins intercepted by the charity has also declined: From 43 pangolins in 2019 to 12 so far this year.

However he doesn’t believe that poaching has declined and instead pangolin parts were being stockpiled in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Vietnam.

“When we open up and the seas are full of cargo ships again, I think we’re going to see movement of illicit pangolin products next year,” said Dr Jansen. “I think it’s going to be a lot easier to stick a few tonnes of pangolin scales in between Nike shoes.”

Jaguars: Jaguars are listed as ‘near threatened’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, though their status may be elevated to “vulnerable” due to recent disturbing trends.

Around 173,000 jaguars are left in the wild today, having been wiped out from 40 percent of their historic range in Latin America and now extinct in Uruguay and El Salvador.

Some 18,000 jaguars were killed each year until 1973, when CITES intervention dramatically reduced the trade in skins. In 2010, evidence emerged that illegal trade in jaguar parts was increasing driven by demand for jewellery, meat and medicinal products. Between 2012-2018, more than 800 jaguars were killed for their parts and trafficked to China, according to a study in June. Habitat fragmentation and increasingly rampant forest fires, set intentionally for land clearance by farmers and ranchers, are a growing threat to jaguars which are also targeted in retaliation when they come close to livestock.

******

Center for Biological Diversity

News Release/August 6, 2020

Vessel Speed Limits Sought to Protect Endangered North Atlantic Right Whales

WASHINGTON— Conservation groups filed a rulemaking petition today seeking additional ship-speed limits along the Atlantic coast to protect critically endangered North Atlantic right whales. In June a baby right whale was found dead off the coast of New Jersey, with propeller wounds across its head, chest and tail.

The petition asks the National Marine Fisheries Service to expand the areas and times when its existing 10-knot rule applies and to make all vessel-speed restrictions mandatory, rather than voluntary, to avoid collisions that kill and injure right whales.

“What we are asking for are essentially school zones along our coast, areas where vessels have to slow down to keep boaters and whales safe without stopping traffic,” said Regina Asmutis-Silvia, executive director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s North American office. “Ships slowing down saves whales, smaller vessels slowing down saves lives, everyone slowing down saves a species.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Conservation Law Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife, the Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Whale and Dolphin Conservation filed the petition, which asks for expedited consideration because of the urgent need to protect this declining population.

“Slowing ships will speed up right whale recovery by avoiding deadly collisions where these whales gather. We need to protect them while they feed and raise their families,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Speed limits are a simple and effective way to prevent unnecessary deaths of these amazing whales.”

North Atlantic right whales are among the world’s most imperiled marine mammals, with only about 400 animals alive today. Thirty-one right whales have been found dead since 2017, and the Fisheries Service believes at least another 10 have died, or will die, from existing injuries.

The calf recently found off New Jersey bore signs that it had been run over by two different vessels. Another right whale calf was struck and seriously injured by a vessel earlier this year off the coast of Georgia and has not been seen again. Devastatingly, these were two out of only 10 baby whales born in the most recent calving season.

“Right whale recovery has been plagued by two major threats: entanglements and vessel strikes. In the Northeast, we’ve been addressing entanglement risks for several years,” said Erica Fuller, a senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation. “And now it’s time to address the risk of ship strikes. Preventing entanglements but not vessel strikes is like paying your mortgage but not your taxes. You need to do both if you want to keep your house.”

Just over half of the known or suspected causes of right whale deaths since 2017 have been attributed to vessel strikes, closely followed by entanglements in fishing gear.

The existing speed rule applies to ships 65 feet and longer and sets seasonal speed limits off Massachusetts, the mid-Atlantic, and the whale’s calving grounds in Georgia and Florida. It also establishes a voluntary dynamic management system whereby ships are asked, but not required, to slow to 10 knots or less when a group of three or more right whales is seen in an area.

“Since 2017 there have been three confirmed North Atlantic right whale deaths or serious injuries caused by vessel strikes,” said Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “Compounding this tragedy, all three were baby or juvenile right whales. We can’t save this species if we don’t protect its future.”

The groups are asking the agency to expand existing speed limits near New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia further offshore and expand when the rule applies off Massachusetts. They’re also asking the agency to make the voluntary dynamic measures mandatory following several reports indicating that ships are not complying with voluntary measures.

“Rare as they are, we’ve been able to count on right whales being in our coastal waters seasonally each and every year. We need the National Marine Fisheries Service to act swiftly to protect them before they disappear,” said Sharon Young, senior strategist for marine issues for the Humane Society of the United States.

An agency review of the existing rule found that the agency should not only extend the rule but also amend it to implement necessary protections for this highly endangered species.

******

ABC News

AP Exclusive: Rare wildflower could jeopardize lithium mine

A botanist hired by a company planning to mine one of the most promising deposits of lithium in the world believes a rare desert wildflower at the site should be protected under the Endangered Species Act

By SCOTT SONNER Associated Press, ‎August‎ ‎4‎, ‎2020‎

RENO, Nev. — A botanist hired by a company planning to mine one of the most promising deposits of lithium in the world believes a rare desert wildflower at the Nevada site should be protected under the Endangered Species Act, a move that could jeopardize the project, new documents show.

The unusually candid disclosure is included in more than 500 pages of emails obtained by conservationists and reviewed by The Associated Press regarding Ioneer Ltd.’s plans to dig near the only population of Tiehm’s buckwheat known to exist on earth.

Six months of communications between government scientists, Ioneer’s representatives and University of Nevada, Reno researchers studying the plant also show the director of UNR’s work — financed by Ioneer — repeatedly pushed back against company pressure to prematurely publicize early success of efforts to grow buckwheat seedlings in a campus greenhouse for replanting in the wild.

“I’m not used to such a focus on in-progress research,” Beth Leger, a biology professor who also heads UNR’s Museum of Natural History, wrote in April.

“I feel like maybe one very important thing isn’t clear, and that’s that these plants could die at any stage of this experiment.”

The experiment is part of Ioneer’s strategy intended to help avert a federal listing of the plant that could scuttle the mine.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which petitioned last year to list the plant under the Endangered Species Act, obtained the documents under a Nevada public records request. It’s public information because of UNR’s research contract.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently announced it’s received enough scientific information to warrant a full-year review of the buckwheat’s status 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Reno to determine whether it should be federally protected.

The emails include an April exchange with a Fish and Wildlife official who shared concerns expressed by the head of Nevada’s own state listing review about Ioneer’s transplanting strategy.

“This document is at best a mitigation plan, certainly not a `protection plan,’” James Morefield, supervisory botanist for Nevada’s Division of Natural Heritage, wrote to the service April 16.

Ioneer has spent millions at the site rich with lithium needed to manufacture such things as batteries for Tesla’s electric cars. That includes UNR’s $60,000 grant to study transplants and $168,000 for five years of monitoring.

Ioneer President Bernard Rowe told AP in March their plans “will ensure protection and, in fact, the expansion of the buckwheat population.”

The emails offer a behind-the-scenes look at the sensitive relationship between public institutions and private companies funding research they often have a stake in. They indicate UNR scientists and a private one at EM Strategies — Ioneer’s consultant — believe the propagation efforts could benefit the plant, but don’t yet prove they could ensure its survival.

“Nothing we are researching is a quick fix, or even a fix. There isn’t a fix for this type of impact,” EM Strategies’ biology manager Kris Kuyper wrote to a UNR researcher Jan. 7.

“I’m sure it will be listed (it should be), then it will be a matter of consultation with the USFWS,” she said.

Kuyper was responding to a UNR researcher’s concerns about providing information for a news release Ioneer’s PR firm wanted to issue touting the success of the plant regeneration study.

“I wouldn’t want them trying to frame our work in a way that would imply listing is unnecessary, or that concern for the populations that would be impacted by mining is unfounded because they may be able to be relocated,” wrote the UNR researcher whose name was redacted. “Even if we get encouraging initial results from the propagation and transplant efforts, we wouldn’t know whether that is truly possible to establish a new population, potentially for years.”

The slow-growing flowers have fragile roots that dry out easily. As for transplants, Leger told AP then, “I don’t think it’s an awesome idea.”

The emails suggest growing frustration among the researchers over what they viewed as interference with their work.

“Ioneer’s press people reached out AGAIN, they seemingly want to publish a blow-by-blow as the research goes on,” Leger wrote Kuyper in February.

When Ioneer’s PR firm made another media request March 4, Leger responded, “I’d like to wait… (for) actual results.”

On March 6 she wrote Kuyper, “My advice is that they just let the scientific process roll forward. … You can’t count your chickens before they hatch!”

Patrick Donnelly, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Nevada director, said the emails underscore the “highly experimental, highly uncertain” nature of the transplant strategy.

“Ioneer has portrayed their mitigation as a sure-fire bet to save the buckwheat,” he said. He maintains Ioneer’s current plans would wipe out the plant’s entire population and that a federal listing “would mean an end to the mine.”

The company said last week it is “committed to being good stewards of the environment and working in lockstep with State of Nevada and Federal oversight bodies.”

“As such, we have retained the most reputable, independent and unbiased research team available,” Ioneer said in a statement emailed to AP. “This work is informing our efforts to protect Tiehm’s buckwheat in its natural habitat and help set a path forward to produce critical minerals necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.”

Leger said in an email Friday to AP that her job is to “present the information to decision makers, who can then make fully-informed choices about how to best protect it.”

Donnelly countered:

“This is science being done to greenwash a mine. … It appears that is not Dr. Leger’s intention, but it is very much Ioneer’s intention.”

(This version corrects that the wildflower’s name is Tiehm’s buckwheat, not Theim’s buckwheat)

******

Courthouse News Service

Leopards, Wolves Vanishing From Panda Conservation Areas: Study

August 3, 2020 AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS (AFP) — It may be one of the most recognizable symbols of conservation, but efforts to protect the giant panda have failed to safeguard large mammals sharing its habitats, according to research published Monday showing dramatic declines of leopards and other predators.

The giant panda has won the hearts of animal lovers around the world and images of the bamboo-eating creature with its ink-blot eye patches have come to represent global efforts to protect biodiversity.

Since conservation efforts began, China has cracked down on poachers, outlawed the trade in panda hides and mapped out dozens of protected habitats.

The strategy is considered one of the most ambitious and high-profile programs to save a species from extinction — and it worked.

The panda was removed from the International Union for Conservation of Nature endangered species list in 2016 although it remains “vulnerable.”

But a new study published on Monday in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has cast doubt over the idea that efforts to protect the panda automatically help all other animals in its territory.

Researchers found that the leopard, snow leopard, wolf and dhole — also known as the Asian wild dog — have almost disappeared from the majority of giant panda protected habitats since the 1960s.

The findings “indicate the insufficiency of giant panda conservation for protecting these large carnivore species,” said Sheng Li, of the School of Life Sciences at Peking University, who led the research.

The authors compared survey data from the 1950s to 1970s with information from almost 8,000 camera traps taken between 2008 and 2018.

They found that leopards had disappeared from 81% of giant panda reserves, snow leopards from 38%, wolves from 77% and dholes from 95%.

The predators face threats from poachers, logging and disease, the study found.

The authors said a key challenge was that while pandas may have a home range of up to 5 square miles, the four large carnivores can roam across an area exceeding 38 square miles.

Sheng Li told AFP that individual panda reserves — typically around 115-154 square miles — are too small to support a “viable population of large carnivores like leopards or dholes.”

Enormous Charisma’

Panda conservation has helped protect other animals, he said, including small carnivores, pheasants and songbirds.

“Failing to safeguard large carnivore species does not erase the power of giant panda as an effective umbrella that has well sheltered many other species,” he added.

But he called for future conservation to see beyond a single species, or animals with “enormous charisma,” to focus on broader restoration of natural habitats.

He said he hoped this can be achieved as part of a proposed new Giant Panda National Park, a long-term program that would link up existing habitats over thousands of kilometers to allow isolated populations to mingle and potentially breed.

The recovery of large carnivore populations would “increase the resilience and sustainability of the ecosystems not only for giant pandas but also for other wild species,” the researcher added.

The IUCN estimates there are between 500 and 1,000 mature adult pandas in the Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu regions of China.

The conservation group lists the leopard and snow leopard as vulnerable across the areas they are found in, while the dhole is listed as endangered.

******

One Green Planet

By Jaia Clingham-David, August 2, 2020

New Report Show Millions of Species Illegally Trafficked from Brazilian Amazon

Millions birds, tropical fish, turtles, and mammals and large volumes of wildlife products are trafficked domestically and internationally in and from Brazil each year according to a new report from TRAFFIC, a UK-based nonprofit that studies the wildlife trade.

Brazil is home to 60% of the Amazon Basin, holds 13% of the world’s animal and plant life, and it also has at least 1,173 endangered species. The biodiversity hub has been under attack for the past 40 years, losing more than 18% of its rainforest to beef, soy, and illegal logging production. The new report shows the additional destruction to the rainforest specifically from illegal wildlife trafficking.

By volume and numbers, river turtles and turtle eggs are illegally smuggled most often, mainly for medicinal, ornamental, and consumption purchases. More than 30 species of ornamental fish were trafficking for home aquariums including the critically-endangered Zebra Pleco. Other fish are exported for food, and mammals like tapirs, deer, and peccaries poached and sold as bushmeat.

The Amazon Basin provides the single largest contiguous block of remaining jaguar habitat. However, jaguar trafficking has been increasing, mainly for their fangs, skulls, bones, skins, paws, and meat to be sold in Asian markets.

Approximately 400 species of birds––20% of Brazil’s native bird species––are impacted by the illegal trade. Thousands of silver-voiced saffron finches, rare macaws, and parrots, are captured, trafficked and sold as pets both in Brazil and abroad. The trade normally targets male birds with their showy plumage which in turn weakens genetic resilience as the remaining survivors of a species become inbred.

During their investigation, researchers saw a lack of good-quality data and inadequate government records which conceal the true extent and severity of Brazilian wildlife trafficking. The report also reveals poor law enforcement, lack of clear legislation, and weak penalties for trafficking, as well as corruption and bribery, which all prevent smugglers being brought to justice.

“A vicious circle masks Brazil’s widespread illegal wildlife trade—a lack of data deprioritises enforcement action on wildlife trafficking, which in turn means there’s less data to collect. Ultimately it’s a Catch 22 that has grave and lasting impacts on local conservation efforts, economies, and the rule of law,” said Ferreira.

It is likely the illegal wildlife trade in Brazil is much larger than reported which has grave implications on the broader ecosystem in the Amazon and beyond. Species loss disrupts the entire biological and physical systems as animal and plant species rely on each other to survive.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the dangers of wildlife trade in spreading zoonotic disease. Trafficking wild animals not only poses biodiversity issues but also is a risk to public health.

******

CBS News

Endangered orcas at risk from U.S. Navy, activists warn

By Jeff Berardelli, July 31, 2020

In the Pacific Northwest, an endangered community of killer whales has been on the decline for years due to a variety of factors, all related to human activity. Now, advocacy groups are warning of another looming threat which could further weaken the killer whale population: the U.S. Navy.

The Southern Resident killer whales are a small, close knit community of animals — more accurately known as orcas, the largest species of dolphins — which live primarily along the coast of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. When they were listed as endangered in 2005, there were 88 Southern Resident orcas — but now, due to declines in their favorite food, Chinook salmon, as well as other manmade threats like toxins, shipping traffic and warming waters due to climate change, their numbers have dwindled to 72.

That’s why a recent request from the U.S. Navy seeking authorization for 51 “takes” of killer whales in the region each year for the next seven years alarmed many environmental groups.

A “take” does not mean to physically take the animals, and it does not mean the Navy intends to hunt or kill them. The term is defined in the Endangered Species Act to include any activities that “harass, harm, pursue … wound [or] kill” a protected animal. An “incidental take” means the impact is “unintentional, but not unexpected.”

These authorizations are required by NOAA Fisheries under the Marine Mammal Protection Act for activities that may disturb or harm marine mammals, such as disruptive underwater sound from energy exploration, construction or even scientific research. Since the Navy’s current incidental take permits expire in 2020, they’re asking NOAA for authorizations to enable future training and testing activities in the Pacific Northwest.

“The Navy is not anticipating any Southern Resident Killer Whale injuries or mortalities from these activities,” a spokesperson emphasized in an email to CBS News, adding that any disturbances are expected to be of the “lowest level.”

The request for 51 takes could mean activities that impact 51 individual orcas once in the course of a year, or a smaller number of animals that are disturbed a few times each.

Requesting takes is a normal procedure for the Navy, but its request recently increased from 2 to 51 per year, which unnerved Dr. Deborah Giles, a killer whale researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology who is also a member of Wild Orca, an advocacy organization.

Giles says, like all orcas, the Southern Residents share a compassionate, cultural bond with each other — a connection which in many ways mimics our own human relationships. They play together, feed together and maintain lifelong, loving bonds with their immediate families and the clan they travel with.

But what makes this particular community of killer whales special, Giles says, is that they are somewhat unique from other orcas.

“There are only 72 individual Southern Resident killer whales in this entire population and they are distinct genetically and culturally. If this population is lost … it’s the equivalent of losing a unique tribe of individual humans.”

The Southern Residents are some of the most well-studied animals on the planet, spending most of their time in the Pacific Northwest. They travel as far south as Monterey, California, and as far north as southeast Alaska.

The Navy inevitably crosses paths with these orcas from time to time during training or testing activities. And since the orcas use soundwaves to navigate, communicate and hunt, it makes them particularly sensitive to Navy acoustics from sonar to sonic booms.

“Sound carries better in water than it does in the air and very loud explosions like thousand-pound explosions can have a physical impact on the body of a killer whale,” Giles said.

Giles says intense underwater sound like this can compromise the orcas’ ability to forage or communicate with one another — a foundation for their community’s survival.

Giles’ organization and 28 others wrote a letter to NOAA Fisheries expressing their concern about the Navy’s plans.

The controversy in part revolves around how NOAA evaluates the impact on the species. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service made a preliminary determination that 51 takes would have a “negligible impact” — meaning it’s unlikely to adversely affect the species.

Since NOAA estimates there are 50,000 killer whales worldwide, 51 takes could be seen as a negligible figure. But advocates for the animals argue that since the 72 Southern Residents are unique from other orcas, any extra pressure on their diminishing population is not negligible at all.

To try to minimize potential impact from the Navy, the 29 organizations are asking NOAA Fisheries to change its determination of negligible impact and to require an extra layer of protection.

When asked about protection for these orcas, NOAA Fisheries confirmed to CBS News in an email that measures were in place to reduce potential harm, but did not say whether any additional steps would be required.

“NOAA Fisheries’ proposed regulations and subsequent Letters of Authorization include required mitigation and monitoring measures that are expected to reduce adverse impacts to marine mammal species or stocks and their habitats,” the administration said.

The Navy says it only expects the lowest level of impact: Temporary disturbances that might, for example, lead to a change in the orcas’ rate of vocalizations, or prompt them to interrupt foraging to swim away.

In an email to CBS News, the Navy said it is “keenly aware of the challenges faced by the Southern Resident Killer Whales resulting from a multitude of human activities. Our plans include numerous efforts to avoid or minimize potential effects on the species throughout the region.”

Asked if it was open to taking additional steps to help protect the orcas, the Navy replied that it is “currently in consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service, and will continue these active discussions to review practicable measures that could reduce further potential effects to Southern Resident Killer Whales.”

In the email, the Navy outlined the types of training and testing activities it expects to conduct, which include “the use of underwater acoustic systems, or sonar on Navy vessels or on unmanned underwater vehicles,” and said it is “committed to being good stewards of the environment while meeting our national defense mission to maintain, train, and equip combat-ready naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.”

While Giles acknowledged the Navy does take steps to minimize impacts, she said more needs to be done to track and monitor the orcas.

She also said she’s concerned about the potential for long-term harm — a risk she feels is not worth taking. “Just the loss of one whale or the harm to one whale could have population level impacts,” Giles said.

In an email to CBS News, NOAA Fisheries says it’s targeting November 2020 for a final decision.

 *****

The Hill

Latest Trump proposal on endangered species could limit future habitat, critics say

By Rebecca Beitsch – 07/31/20

A new proposal from the Trump administration that defines habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) would limit the areas species will have to recover, critics say.

An advance copy of the proposal from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) that was obtained by The Hill writes that habitats are “the physical places that individuals of a species depend upon to carry out one or more life processes. Habitat includes areas with existing attributes that have the capacity to support individuals of the species.”

When species are endangered, the ESA requires the government to set aside habitat deemed critical for its recovery.

But environmental groups say the new definition being proposed by FWS will allow the agency to block setting aside any land that isn’t currently habitat but might be needed in the future, particularly as the climate changes.

“It sounds kind of innocuous,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, “But what this essentially says is if an area is degraded, if it can no longer support endangered species without restoration, then it couldn’t be protected.”

Take the northern spotted owl, an endangered species that nests in old-growth forest. Its protected habitat includes millions of acres of new-growth forest that are not in use by the owls currently, but could be as they age.

“The purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to help endangered species flourish and expand back into their former habitats. If this rule were in place fifty years ago, the bald eagle would have been kept at death’s door in perpetuity, limited to a few square miles here and there. If this administration can’t tell the difference between where an endangered species lives today and where it would live if it were no longer endangered, it has no business rewriting this or any other law,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.)

The proposal from FWS stems from a 2018 Supreme Court ruling challenging habitat for the dusky gopher frog.

“The court’s ruling provides the Trump Administration and [Interior] Secretary [David] Bernhardt the opportunity to create a new definition that will help ensure that all areas considered for critical habitat first and foremost meet the definition of habitat. We are proposing these changes on behalf of improved conservation and transparency in our processes for designating critical habitat,” FWS Director Aurelia Skipwith said in a release obtained by The Hill.

Habitat set aside for the frog, which includes pine forests, was challenged by Weyerhaeuser Co., a large logging company.

Greenwald said the area set aside for the frog’s recovery otherwise had the unique elements, including ephemeral ponds, needed by the species.

But he sees longer-term impacts if the proposed language is adopted, particularly as climate change wipes out existing habitat and transforms the landscape.

“Take species threatened by sea level rise created by climate change. Areas they need for survival and recovery in the future may not be habitat right now,” Greenwald said, pointing to coastal wetlands used by birds and other species that will gradually migrate.

“But this rule will totally preclude that.”

Friday’s proposal is the second major action the Trump administration has taken that critics say will weaken the ESA.

Last August the administration finalized a rule that 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. The rule also limits the review process used before projects are approved on their habitat.

Suits over that rule are still working their way through the courts.

However, the Trump administration changes have been popular with some in the West, who argue the protections can delay or block important projects.

“The Trump administration is making the Endangered Species Act work better for people and wildlife,” Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee Chair John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a release on the latest proposal.

“By providing clearly defined terms, efforts to protect species can be more focused and more effective. This proposal will provide commonsense protections for endangered species without expanding beyond the habitat they actually depend on.”

But Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife, said the latest proposal doesn’t “meet the intent of the Endangered Species Act, which recognizes that areas beyond those that are currently occupied may need to be protected to recover species,” adding the rule will “exclude areas that would be suitable with minimal restoration or those areas that may be needed to recover species in the age of climate change.”

******

New York Daily News

Man who killed Rafiki the endangered gorilla sentenced to 11 years

By Peter Sblendorio , July 30, 2020

Nearly two months after a silverback gorilla was found dead in a national park in Uganda, a man was sentenced to more than a decade behind bars.

Byamukama Felix, who pleaded guilty to killing a gorilla, was hit with 11 years in jail in connection with the death of the animal, whose name was Rafiki, CNN reported.

Rafiki’s body was discovered mutilated within the sprawling Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in early June, a day after he was reported missing.

Authorities later arrested Felix, who was found to be in possession of multiple weapons. He reportedly claimed that he speared the animal out of self-defense when Rafiki charged toward him while he was hunting in the park with others.

Officials determined Rafiki was wounded in the abdomen and internal organs with sharp device, according to CNN.

“We are relieved that Rafiki has received justice and this should serve as an example to other people who kill wildlife,” said Sam Mwandha, the executive director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

“If one person kills wildlife, we all lose, therefore we request every person to support our efforts of conserving wildlife for the present and future generations.”

Silverbacks are an endangered species.

Felix also pleaded guilty to possessing illegal meat, as officials found bush pig meat in their search. He pleaded guilty to entering a protected area as well.

*****

Anthropocene

Endangered species get a huge bump when private lands are brought into the conservation mix

A recent study found that protecting America’s undeveloped, privately held lands could push all of the country’s endangered mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles past a crucial habitat threshold.

By Cara Giaimo, July 29, 2020

America contains acres upon acres of undeveloped, privately held land. Nothing has been built on this land, and no one is farming it or living on it. Its owners might have set it aside as an investment, or for future ventures, or just in case.

But a recent paper in Scientific Reports suggests another effective use for all these acres: leave them alone, in order to help protect some of the country’s rarest animals.

The United States is home to 160 species of endangered mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. “Just like every person needs a home, all of these species need a home,” says John P. Draper, a PhD candidate at Utah State University and an author of the new paper. This need is often best met by a protected area, which can offer respite from hunting, habitat destruction, and other human activities. Other studies have suggested that for a species to persist in the wild, 30% of its range has to be protected (a rule of thumb that of course varies depending on the species and context).

The United States is full of national parks, conservation land, and other areas where these species could hypothetically live in relative safety. But a lot of these protected areas weren’t created with biodiversity in mind. Instead, Draper says, they were more often geologically important, aesthetically beautiful, or simply “still on the federal books” after the end of the Homestead Act.

So the set-aside space doesn’t necessarily overlap with where at-risk species actually want to live—places with the right food, shelter and climatic conditions. In their analysis, the researchers found that in 80% of regions that include endangered species, including much of the Western and Central U.S., “protected areas offer equal or worse protection [to the species in question] than if their locations were chosen at random.” Past studies have also found this to be true in Australia, Canada, and Laos.

What’s the solution? First, we should protect more federal and state public lands, the researchers say. Doing so would “increase the number of at-risk species that have 30% of their range protected.” If we extended protected land status to parts of the Payette National Forest, for example, the Northern Idaho ground squirrel’s protected range percentage would jump from 1.9% to 53.3%.

But many would still fall by the wayside, including such iconic species as the Floria panther and the Mexican spotted owl. So the other thing we have to do, the researchers say, is bring more private landowners into the mix. For instance, undeveloped private land can be turned into conservation easements: property owners agree not to interfere with the area, in exchange for a tax break or other economic benefit, alongside the less quantifiable rewards that come from doing something good.

With this strategy, all of the endangered mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds in the U.S. could have at least 30% of their ranges protected. Draper calls this a “yes and” approach. “Our public lands are working, but they need help,” he says.

Currently, most of the conservation easements in the United States are essentially partnerships between landholding individuals and NGOs or the government. Future research should focus on getting more of all of these groups on board, says Draper: “What is it that a landowner needs to be committed to a conservation easement program, and how do we go about maximizing the cost effectiveness?” (We should also probably work on the current easement system’s transparency issues.)

But if people knew how helpful their fallow acres could be, it might affect their plans for them. When most people buy or keep land, they’re thinking of the future—what they might build there, who they could someday give it to, or how much they could sell it for. Using it to help wildlife can survive is an equally worthy investment.

******

Bloomberg Law

Justices Must Require Release of Species Records, Group Says

July 28, 2020

The federal government can’t keep Endangered Species Act documents under wraps simply by labeling them drafts, the Sierra Club told the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a brief filed Monday, the environmental group urged the justices to uphold a lower court’s decision ordering the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service to hand over the records under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Supreme Court is set to review the case in its next term, which starts in October. The outcome will be consequential for endangered species-related document requests, and for FOIA law more broadly.

 ******

MEAWW (Media Entertainment Arts WorldWide)

Saving Earth: 10 of the world’s most threatened species on the verge of extinction

Ahead of World Conservation Day on July 28, MEA WorldWide (MEAWW) is taking a look at 10 species on the verge of becoming extinct

By Neetha K , July 27, 2020

Planet Earth is in dire need of solutions. Astronomer Carl Sagan once said that we have a responsibility “to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.” Our campaign Saving Earth focuses on nature and wildlife conservation and this column will feature stories on the pressing needs of our planet and hopefulness of our fight.

At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, there were many viral images that purported to show wildlife returning to the streets after lockdown measures were announced in most parts of the world. The images were later reported to be fake news and while we hope it is that easy to save the planet, the dire truth is that it is not. For one thing, as the global temperature continues to rise in spite of the reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, a recent study showed that the planet is on course for a warming range of between 2.6°C and 3.9°C — much higher than was earlier predicted.

This not only poses a risk to humans but also to wildlife — many species are already threatened because of human activity. Perhaps the most famous species to have gone extinct is the African dodo — the phrase “dodo-brained” is used to describe one who is not smart enough, implying that the dodo went extinct because of its nature, rather than humans’ relentless hunting.

While there are more laws in place to prevent the same happening, threats like global warming, habitat destruction, and poaching still pose threats to the species. World Conservation Day is observed on July 28. Ahead of this special day, MEA Worldwide (MEAWW) takes a look at the 10 most threatened species that are on the verge of extinction. For most, only severe conservation practices will ensure their survival.

Cross River Gorilla–Gorillas share about 93 percent similar DNA with humans — and they are capable of feeling emotions as we do. Unfortunately, gorillas are some of the most threatened animals in the wild, with the cross river gorilla being the most threatened. There are only about 150 to 180 adult cross river gorillas left in the wild.

Hawksbill Turtle–The Hawksbill Turtle is considered to be “critically endangered”. They are found mainly throughout the world’s tropical oceans, predominantly in coral reefs, and feed mainly on sponges by using their narrow pointed beaks to extract them from crevices on the reef, but also eat sea anemones and jellyfish. The estimated population is fewer than 25,000 nesting females across their range in the tropics. The species are widely hunted for their shells — Hawksbill shell combs have been popular in Japan for more than 300 years, and many women use them in their wedding attire.

Javan Rhinoceros–The Javan Rhino, also known as the Sunda Rhino or the lesser one-horned rhino, is only found in the lowland tropical rainforests of one location in the world, the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia. While it once roamed all over Asia from Northern India to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and another Indonesian island, Sumatra — only between 46 to 66 individuals are left now. In 2011, the second population found in Cat Tien National Park in Vietnam was confirmed as extinct. Tragically, the last remaining rhino from this population was shot by poachers and its horn removed.

Vaquita–The vaquita is the world’s smallest and rarest marine mammal. It has been classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN since 1996, and in 2018, there were only around 6 to 22 vaquitas left. The latest estimate, from July 2019, suggests there are currently only 9. Their biggest threat is from the illegal fishing of totoaba, a large fish in demand because of its swim bladder.

Amur Leopard–The Amur leopards are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and between 2014 and 2015, there were only around 92 Amur leopards left within their natural range. That number is now estimated to be less than 70. Like all species on our endangered list, humans are their biggest threat. They are hunted for bones and coats.

Pangolin–You may have seen this species floating around on the news recently because some reports have suggested that the SARS-CoV-2 virus — responsible for the current pandemic — possibly emerged from shuffling and selection of viral genes across different species like bats and pangolins before transferring to humans. Unfortunately, pangolins are some of the most endangered species on the planet and they are traded for scales and meat. In June 2020, China increased protection for the native Chinese Pangolin to the highest level, which closed an important loophole for the consumption of the species within the country. Additionally, the government will no longer allow the use of pangolin scales in traditional medicine.

North Atlantic Right Whale–The North Atlantic right whale are gentle giants that stay close to coasts and spend a lot of time at the surface skim feeding on zooplankton, all of which makes them an easy target and the “right whale to hunt,” hence its name. There are currently only around 400 of them left, and only about 100 breeding females. They are now protected, and hunting is illegal, but population recovery is slow. They are still very much at risk of extinction, with boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear some of the biggest threats.

Tooth-billed Pigeon–The tooth-billed pigeon is a close relative of the dodo and is only found in Samoa. Illegal pigeon hunting threatens the species, of which there are currently 70 to 380 left in the wild, with no captive populations to aid conservation efforts. Large areas of their home have been cleared to make space for agriculture, destroyed by cyclones, or taken over by invasive trees. They are also at risk of predation from invasive species, including feral cats.

Kakapo–The kakapo — also called owl parrots — are flightless, nocturnal, ground-dwelling species from New Zealand. They are critically endangered with only around 140 individuals remaining, each one with an individual name. They were once common throughout New Zealand and Polynesia but now inhabit just two small islands off the coast of southern New Zealand. Genetic diversity is low among the remaining kakapo, which could affect survival in the future, especially if they are struck by a disease.

Gharial–The gharial are a species of crocodile from India. They have long thin snouts with a large bump on the end which resembles a pot known as a Ghara, which is where they get their name. They spend most of their time in freshwater rivers, only leaving the water to bask in the sun and lay eggs. There are only around 100 to 300 left in the wild.

*******

Turtle Island Restoration Network

News Release, July 24, 2020

Senate Passes Bill to Protect Sea Turtles, Whales, Dolphins from Drift Gillnets

Bans large mesh drift gillnets that indiscriminately kill or severely injure many endangered, protected marine species

WASHINGTON—The Senate last night unanimously passed the Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act, a bipartisan bill to phase out harmful large mesh drift gillnets utilized in the federal waters off the coast of California, the only place the nets are still used in the United States.

Large mesh driftnets, which are more than a mile long, are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. Other marine species including whales, dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, fish, and sharks can also become entangled in the large mesh nets, injuring or killing them. Most of these animals, referred to as bycatch, are then discarded.

Turtle Island Restoration Network has led a coalition of concerned citizens and partner organizations for nearly 20 years, working to stop the devastating impact of this driftnet fishery on sea turtles, whales, dolphins, and other ocean animals. In 2018, California passed a four-year phase out of large mesh drift gillnets in state waters to protect marine life. The Driftnet Modernization and Bycatch Reduction Act would extend similar protections to federal waters within five years and authorize the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to help the commercial fishing industry transition to more sustainable gear types.

“Drift gillnets are responsible for trapping and killing more than 60 different species of marine wildlife, and this legislation will ensure no more whales or dolphins fall victim to this unsustainable fishery,” said Annalisa Batanides Tuel, policy and advocacy manager for Turtle Island Restoration Network. “We are encouraged that the United States is taking steps to address harmful fishing methods in the ocean and off our coasts, as a major cause of biodiversity collapse.”

The use of large mesh driftnets by a single fishery in California is responsible for 90 percent of the dolphins and porpoises killed along the West Coast and Alaska. At least six endangered, threatened, or protected species are harmed by driftnets off the California coast.

The bill was introduced by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.).

“California’s coast is one of the last places where large mesh drift gillnets are still used to catch swordfish, resulting in needless deaths of whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea turtles and other marine animals,” Senator Feinstein said. “We are now one step closer to removing these nets from our waters. There is no reason to allow the carnage of large mesh drift gillnets when there are better, more sustainable methods to catch swordfish. We can preserve the economically important swordfishing industry while protecting the ocean and its wildlife that are vital to California’s economy.”

“While the use of large mesh drift gillnets is already prohibited off the coasts of most states, these tools are still injuring or killing a whole host of marine animals off California’s coast,” Senator Capito said. “These driftnets, which can be more than a mile long, are left in the ocean overnight to catch swordfish and thresher sharks. However, at least 60 other marine species – including whales, dolphins, sea lions, and sea turtles – can also become entangled in these nets, injuring or killing them. With the passage of our bill, we are a step closer to helping protect our marine species by ensuring that these dangerous driftnets are no longer allowed in U.S. waters.”

Large mesh drift gillnets are already banned in the U.S. territorial waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico, as well as off the coasts of Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Hawaii. However, they remain legal in federal waters off the coast of California. The United States is also a member of international agreements that ban large-scale driftnets in international waters.

The bill would phase out the use of the nets and help the industry transition to more sustainable methods like deep-set buoy gear that uses a hook-and-buoy system. Deep-set buoy gear attracts swordfish with bait and alerts fishermen immediately when a bite is detected. Testing has shown that 94 percent of animals caught with deep-set buoys are swordfish, resulting in far less bycatch than drift gillnets.

*****

On The 101 (Santa Maria, CA)

Central California Coast Snail Is Latest Endangered Species Act Success

By On the 101, July 24, 2020

Morro Shoulderband Snail’s Status Changed From ‘Endangered’ to ‘Threatened’

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently proposed changing the Endangered Species Act status of the Morro shoulderband snail from endangered to threatened.

Found only in the Los Osos and Morro Bay area of western San Luis Obispo County, the snail is thought to have a stable or increasing population and has benefitted from protection of coastal dune and sage-scrub habitat preserves.

“This is good news for one of the most laid-back native species on the SLO coast,” said Jeff Miller, a senior conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity and a Los Osos resident. “Like everything it does, this snail is moving very slowly toward recovery. It evolved with our signature coastal dunes and scrub, so let’s keep it around for future generations to marvel at too.”

The Morro shoulderband snail lives in native vegetation on sandy soils of coastal dune and coastal sage scrub habitats. Its native range covers about 7,700 acres, extending from Morro Strand State Beach in northern Morro Bay southward to Montaña de Oro State Park and inland to eastern Los Osos.

The snails are named for the dark spiral band on the shoulder of their shells and are typically found in leaf litter and on the shady undersides of lower branches of native dune shrubs. They are active during rain and heavy fog but go dormant during the dry summer. Unlike invasive garden snails, they eat mostly fungal mycelia that grow on decaying plant matter, are not a garden pest, and help build up the soil.

“Recovery of this snail shows that if we want to save species from extinction, we have to protect the places they live,” said Miller. “Saving the snail has protected places we all love, making life better on the central coast.”

A recovery plan was prepared for the Morro snail in 1998, which identified four conservation planning areas to focus on habitat protection. The Center for Biological Diversity and Christians Caring for Creation secured protection in 2001 of 2,566 acres of critical habitat for the snail around the community of Los Osos and the Morro Bay Estuary. Blocks of protected and unfragmented habitat large enough to minimize the snail’s risk of extinction have since been secured in Morro Spit, West Pecho, southern Los Osos and northeastern Los Osos.

Surveys from 2000-2005 found more and more snails each year in a wider variety of habitat types than previously thought. A 2006 status review by the Service concluded that the Morro snail population is stable to increasing and has a wider range and distribution than thought at time of listing.

Maturing vegetation in preserves such as Morro Strand State Beach, Los Osos Oaks State Preserve, Morro Bay State Park, Montana de Oro State Park and the Elfin Forest Reserve may require habitat maintenance and removal of invasive plants to provide long-term habitat for the snail. Recovery criteria have not been fully achieved, and some of the conservation areas still need management plans.

When the snail was protected as endangered in 1994, it was thought to be one of two subspecies of the banded dune snail, but was subsequently determined to be a separate species from the related Chorro shoulderband snail. The Morro snail occurs only on Baywood fine sand soils and the Chorro snail is associated with clay or serpentine soils. The Chorro snail was thought to be extinct but was rediscovered in 1999. It has since been found to be common to abundant at 20 locations from Cayucos to northern Morro Bay, inland to San Luis Obispo, and southeast to Edna. The Service is removing the Chorro shoulderband snail from the endangered species list.

*****

Associated Press

US wildlife agency rejects protections for rare fish species

By MATTHEW BROWN Associated Press, July 22, 2020

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. wildlife officials on Wednesday rejected special protections for a rare, freshwater fish related to salmon that’s been at the center of a long-running legal dispute, citing conservation efforts that officials say have increased Arctic grayling numbers in a Montana river.

The Associated Press obtained details of the decision not to protect the fish under the Endangered Species Act in advance of a public announcement.

The move comes almost two years after a federal appeals court faulted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for arbitrarily dismissing threats to grayling from climate change and other pressures.

While some of those threats will persist, government officials said conservation measures have improved the fish’s habitat and will lessen future temperature increases in the cold waters where they reside.

Known for their iridescent appearance and sail-shaped dorsal fins, Arctic grayling are members of the salmon family that can reach 30 inches (76 centimeters) in length and are prized by many anglers.

Officials credited a conservation agreement involving landowners and government agencies for recent improvements to the grayling’s river habitat in southwestern Montana’s Big Hole Valley.

The Big Hole River and its tributaries — home to one of the few native populations of the fish in the Lower 48 states — saw grayling numbers roughly double during the last decade to about 1,500 adult fish, said Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Jim Boyd. The population figure was derived from an estimate of the number of breeding fish.

“If you can increase the number of breeding individuals, you can start to feel really good about the conservation efforts and know they are truly working,” he said.

Wildlife advocates criticized Wednesday’s decision and said the worsening climate crisis leaves the grayling’s survival in doubt. Even with a commitment from ranchers along the Big Hole to reduce the amount of water withdrawn to grow hay, flows drop sharply during dry periods and imperil grayling, they said.

Despite recent habitat improvements, Arctic grayling occupy only a fraction of the streams across the upper Missouri River basin where they were historically widespread. The species declined over the past century because of competition from non-native fish and after their habitat was significantly altered by dams and high summer water temperatures.

“The commitment of landowners along the Big Hole River is commendable and absolutely essential for the survival of grayling. We question whether it’s enough,” said attorney Jenny Harbine with Earthjustice, the environmental law firm that represented wildlife advocates in a lawsuit over the fish.

Montana Tech professor Pat Munday, a plaintiff in the lawsuit who fishes the Big Hole regularly, said grayling have become increasingly scarce over the past three decades. Munday alleged government biologists were “cooking the books” by inflating population estimates to justify their decision.

“The biologists and technicians get better and better at knowing where to anticipate grayling and they get better at finding them, but that doesn’t mean the numbers are increasing,” said Munday, a professor of science and technology studies and author of “Montana’s Last Best River: The Big Hole and Its People.”

Efforts to protect Arctic grayling date to at least 1991, when wildlife advocates petitioned the government to add the fish to its list of threatened and endangered species. Officials determined in 1994 and again in 2010 that protections were needed. But they were never imposed because other species were given a higher priority.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in 2014 determined that protections were no longer needed because the landowner conservation agreement had helped the fish rebound. Wildlife advocates then sued in federal court and prevailed before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018.

The appeals court faulted the government for not taking into account data that showed the fish’s population in the Big Hole River was then declining and for dismissing the potential for climate change to cause lower water flows and warmer temperatures.

Federal wildlife officials said steps already taken, such as more shade trees on stream banks and the reduced water withdrawals, have decreased the duration of warmer water temperatures that can hurt the fish. Those measures also will help protect them going forward, they said.

“We can decrease water temperatures despite the fact that air temperature is increasing,” Boyd said.

Arctic grayling are native to river drainages around the Arctic Ocean, Hudson Bay and the northern Pacific Ocean. A population in Michigan was wiped out last century, but scientists are seeking to reintroduce the fish to parts of the state.

*****

PHYS-ORG

Bushfires could mean rise in threatened native species

by James Cook University, July 21,2020

The damage caused by the catastrophic 2019-2020 Australian bushfires could lead to a dramatic jump in the number of native species at risk, according to new research.

James Cook University’s Dr. Stewart Macdonald was part of a University of Queensland-led study that examined the impact of the fires on animal habitats.

He said the fires that burnt through 97,000 square kilometers of forest, bush and farmland were unprecedented.

“By comparison, these fires were at least 50 times more extensive than California’s worst wildfires on record. They were also exceptionally severe, burning Australian ecosystems that typically do not burn, such as rainforest,” said Dr. Macdonald.

He said at least 832 vertebrate species are likely to have been impacted by the fires to some degree.

“For example, Kate’s leaf-tailed gecko was one of three species that had more than 80% of its range burnt. 15 species, including the endangered broad-headed snake and the Sphagnum frog, had between 50% and 80% of their range burnt,” he said.

UQ School of Earth and Environmental Sciences Ph.D. candidate Michelle Ward said many of the species impacted by these fires were already declining in numbers because of drought, disease, habitat destruction, and invasive species.

“Our research shows these mega-fires may have made the situation much worse by reducing population sizes, reducing food sources and rendering habitat unsuitable for many years,” said Ms Ward.

The team found that 49 species not currently listed as threatened may now warrant assessment for listing under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.

“If these EPBC assessments find that all 49 animals meet listing criteria, the number of threatened Australian terrestrial and freshwater animals would increase by 14 percent,” said Ms Ward.

Professor James Watson, from the Wildlife Conservation Society and UQ, said anthropogenic climate change was exacerbating fires in Australia.

“While fire is a crucial aspect of many ecosystems, we’re witnessing climate change-induced drought combined with land use management practices that make forests more fire prone,” Professor Watson said.

“We need to learn from these events as they are likely to happen again.”

Ms Ward said Australia needs to urgently reassess the extinction risk of fire-impacted species to better conserve remaining habitats. “We must assist the recovery of populations in both burnt and unburnt areas. This means strictly protecting and managing important habitats for other threats like habitat loss, invasive species, and disease.”

Dr. Macdonald said the study was a broadscale assessment that could be done quickly.

“While these sorts of assessments can never tell us the full story, they can be used to prioritize the species that need urgent on-ground surveys. We know that many animals are resilient, but the scale of these fires means much more of a species’ population has been impacted simultaneously, making it harder for them to recover,” he said.

*****

KWQC TV (Davenport, Iowa)

Endangered bee species found in QCA

Rare bumble bee found at Nahant Marsh

DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) -A bumble bee species on the federally endangered list has been spotted in the Quad Cities. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee was found at Nahant Marsh in Davenport on July 6th. The Rusty Patched Bumble Bee is the only bee on the endangered species list.

The bee was once commonly found along the east coast from south Maine through Georgia extending into northern states in the midwest. The bee was placed on the endangered list in 2013 because threats like a decreased habitat, herbicides and insecticide.

This is the first time the bee has been found in Scott County. The confirmed sighting at Nahant Marsh shows the importance of protecting and restoring natural areas. Nahant Marsh will be creating more prairie, wetlands and woodlands on 20 acres of retired farmland. Nahant Marsh is receiving guidance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that their natural resource management practices will benefit the recovery of this rare species.

*****

BVI Beacon (British Virgin Islands)

HOA mulls bill to protect endangered species

by Dana Kampa | July 20, 2020

The Anegada rock iguana, queen conch, frigate bird and turtle dove are just some of the Virgin Islands animals that could receive stronger protections under proposed legislation currently before the House of Assembly.

A 94-page bill dealing with the international trade of endangered species came to the HOA for a second reading on Friday, and members concluded by heading into closed-door committee to hammer out the details.

The Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Act, 2019 would bring the territory’s regulations in line with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Some of the main functions of the bill are limiting the sale of animals and penalising illegal trade. It would also establish management and scientific oversight authorities, which would work to ensure any licensed trade does not significantly affect endangered populations.

Penalties for trading without a valid permit or illegally possessing endangered species would include a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year of imprisonment. Those maximums double for species of special concern.

1987 law

This legislation would replace the 1987 Endangered Animals and Plants Ordinance, which isn’t effective in meeting worldwide trade standards, according to Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley.

Though reform attempts were made in 2008, Mr. Wheatley said, the draft legislation still didn’t meet CITES standards. In 2012, the ministry took another stab at crafting a more specific bill that has been workshopped over the years.

HOA members contended that the legislation is necessary to protect the territory’s natural resources.

Opposition Leader Marlon Penn said it will be important with such conservation legislation to figure out what works best for protecting different species and protecting fishers’ livelihoods. Mr. Penn pointed to the seasonal restrictions on lobster harvesting and subsequent population boom as a success, and the continued scarcity of whelks as an area in need of improvement.

Opposition member Mitch Turnbull lent his support to ensuring endangered species are protected, particularly the territorial bird, the turtle dove.

“It’s important to remember that this territory was left to be a bird sanctuary,” he said.

Mr. Turnbull also cautioned that other parts of the world are taking note of the value of the VI’s flora and fauna. He said the territory must take the lead in promoting and protecting its assets.

The House is scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. Monday, resuming its discussion of the bill.

*****

Deseret News

Survey reveals dramatic decline in western bumblebee populations

Disturbing trend may prompt federal listing

By Amy Joi O’Donoghue, Jul 19, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — A federal review of existing data unveils an alarming trend for the western bumblebee population, which has seen its numbers dwindle by as much as 93% in the last two decades.

The find by the U.S. Geological Survey will help inform a species status assessment to begin this fall by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which may ultimately add the insect to its endangered species list.

Tabitha Graves, senior author of the study and a research ecologist with the survey, said the trend with the western bumblebee documented between 1998 and 2018 is troubling because of their important role as pollinators.

“They contribute a lot of money in terms of pollination services for our food crops,” she said. “Seventy to 80% of flowering plants and crops are pollinated by animals overall. Pollination contributes to $20 billion in agriculture in the United States.”

Bumblebees also pollinate plants in the wild, such as huckleberries which are a staple food source for bears.

There are multiple factors at play that are contributing to the demise of the bumblebee, including pesticides, habitat fragmentation, a warming climate and pathogens, researchers say.

“People started to notice these declines in the 1990s. This bumblebee that was once very widespread and common is something that people started to see less frequently,” said Diana Cox-Foster, research leader and location coordinator at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pollinating Insects Research Unit at Utah State University.

“There are localized populations where it is still happy and healthy, but there have been declines in large parts of its previous distributions. … Asking why these declines are happening is very important.”

There are concerns that other species of bumblebees used in commercial pollination are spreading pathogens to the western bumblebee, Cox-Foster added.

“The role of pests and pathogens is of particular concern,” she said. “There is also climate change and how that has affected the distribution of the bee. Agri-chemicals are also part of the stress issue.”

Graves said the research doesn’t point to one conclusive cause for the decline, which will be the focus of another research effort to better quantify particular threats.

“We have a sample design and have identified where we have gaps in knowledge,” Graves said. “There are a lot of places in western North America where we have not done sampling for bumblebees for a long time. We need to support this kind of monitoring and research.”

To that end, residents can get in on the action by downloading an app at bumblebeewatch.org and documenting what bumblebees they may come across. There have been an estimated 14, 000 submissions from all 49 states where bumblebees occur.

Cox-Foster also added that people can plant bee friendly vegetation to encourage their presence around homes.

“Planting for bumblebees, or all bees, is really important,” she said. “One of the major issues facing pollinators is lack of floral resources.”

*****

Earth.com

Support from land owners needed to protect wildlife

By Chrissy Sexton, July 17, 2020

A team of ecologists at Utah State University has found that the current extent of protected areas in the United States is not enough to prevent the loss of many endangered species. One major obstacle is the limited availability of public land, and the researchers suggest that the support of private land owners is key for protecting the country’s endangered wildlife.

Based on computer models, the team determined that out of 159 endangered mammal, bird, reptile and, amphibian species, only 21 are sufficiently supported by existing protected areas in the U.S.

“We are not suggesting that protected areas are doing a bad job, what we are suggesting is that there are many opportunities to increase protection,” said study co-author Professor Edward Hammill.

Converting public land to protected areas comes along with many challenges, including unfavorable political climates.

“There has been a huge political push in the USA to reduce protected areas such as National Monuments,” said study co-author Professor Trisha Atwood. “However, our results suggest that we not only need to increase the spatial coverage of protected areas in the USA, but we also need to ensure that we are protecting the places that contain critical habitat for endangered species.”

According to the study, even if all public lands became protected areas, more than half of the at-risk species in the country would still be in danger of extinction. In Texas, for example, 95 percent of the land is privately owned.

The researchers see great opportunity in the creation of conservation easements on private land. Conservation easements are voluntary, legal agreements that restrict future development on private land. The land owners retain their property rights and receive tax credits in exchange for conservation assistance.

The study revealed that with the help of private land owners, the United States has the capacity to protect 100 percent of endangered species.

“It is unlikely that adequate conservation of endangered species will be achieved by increasing federal protected areas,” said Professor Hammill. “Our research highlights that private land owners represent an alternative route to achieving conservation goals.”

“These findings give me hope that we can still make a change for the better,” said Professor Atwood. “But, if we are going to win the fight against extinction we are going to need the help of private land owners.”

The study is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

*****

Los Angeles Times

Scientists fear for the world’s most endangered sea turtle as the Park Service cuts back

by Anna M. Phillips, July 16, 2020

Every summer, thousands of people travel to Padre Island National Seashore at dawn to cheer on sea turtle hatchlings as they are released into the surf.

It’s a huge tourist attraction for this national park on the Texas coast and a conservation success story—the result of a decades long effort to save the most endangered sea turtle from extinction.

But after more than 40 years of supporting and celebrating the program, National Park Service officials appear to have soured on paying for it.

In a recent report, agency officials proposed sweeping changes to the park’s conservation efforts that scientists said would make it significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to establish a thriving population of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles on the island.

The report suggested that saving sea turtles was taking up too much of the park’s budget and came at the expense of other priorities, like habitat restoration and trash clean-up. It called for decreasing the number of beach patrols to find turtle nests, limiting biologists’ research to the park’s boundaries, and moving away from the practice of gathering and incubating turtle eggs in order to protect them from predators, rising tides and visitors driving on the beach.

The park’s enormously popular hatchling releases are “discretionary,” the report said, and “should be reduced” to save money.

“I’m really shocked,” said Christopher Marshall, director of the Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research at Texas A&M University at Galveston. If the agency’s recommendations are put in place, “there’ll be less scientific study and there’ll be less known about sea turtles in general,” he said. “I do think the gains we have achieved in the last decade will be undermined.”

Lawyers with the nonprofit group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility filed a legal complaint on Wednesday with the National Park Service on behalf of one of the park’s employees, Donna Shaver, chief of the Sea Turtle Science and Recovery Program. They called for the report to be rescinded, arguing that accepting its recommendations would violate the Endangered Species Act.

Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch said that since the report’s publication in June, Padre Island National Seashore Superintendent Eric Brunnemann had ordered the program’s budget slashed by 30%. Two federal grants totaling $300,000 for research on threatened green sea turtles have already been canceled, he said. In the agency’s report, officials recommended that park staff focus almost entirely on Kemp ridleys, ending their collection and care for green and loggerhead sea turtle eggs.

Brunnemann did not respond to questions from The Times and a park spokesman declined a request to interview Shaver.

In 1978, when the Kemp’s ridley nesting program at Padre Island began, the species was in such peril that biologists began sending them to zoos and aquariums, convinced the turtles were on the brink of extinction. Though the turtles mainly nested in Mexico, they had been so heavily poached that scientists decided to create a second colony in the United States to improve the species’ odds of surviving natural disasters and human interference.

Throughout the 80s, scientists worked to persuade turtles to think of Padre Island as their new home. They transported thousands of eggs from nests in Mexico to the narrow barrier island, releasing hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico and crossing their fingers that the turtles might come back again.

The entire experiment rested on the then-controversial idea that female sea turtles would return to the beach where they were born to spawn. In 1996, the first ones did.

The Kemp’s ridley is still critically endangered, but its numbers have been growing, peaking in 2017 when beach patrollers found 353 nests in Texas.

And with that growth came national attention. The National Park Service increased the turtle conservation program’s funding in the mid-2000s and Shaver won millions of dollars in grant funding to support her work. Earlier this year, she was named a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, better known as the “Sammies” or the “Oscars of Government Service,” one of the highest honors for a federal public servant.

When the agency issued its report in June, sea turtle scientists in Texas said they were stunned by its calls for budget cuts and restrictions on research.

“It’s definitely a money-grab, in my opinion,” said Jeff George, the executive director of Sea Turtle Inc, a privately run rescue center on South Padre Island. George, who was interviewed by the report’s authors, said they had dismissed the Kemp ridley’s numbers in Texas as only a tiny fraction of the species’ overall population and downplayed the significance of the park’s conservation efforts.

“They don’t understand the realities of Texas and just how vast and remote it is. They don’t know how tenuous things were in Mexico last year and can be from year to year,” he said. “All they see is a lot of money spent for 1% of the population.”

Some scientists were especially critical of the report’s recommendation that turtle eggs be increasingly left in their nests or placed in protective corrals, rather than excavated and brought to an incubation room.

Kemp’s ridley nests are easily invaded by hungry coyotes and fire ants or destroyed by tides that can extend up to the dunes. If beach patrollers don’t collect the eggs soon after they’re deposited in a nest, they’re often too late.

Texas law also poses a unique challenge. Beaches are classified as public roadways and year-round beach driving is allowed at Padre Island.

Yet to agency officials, the program’s conservation practices seem excessive. “Whether this level of intensive wildlife management is still necessary is a legitimate scientific question now that Kemp’s numbers have increased from the low identified in the 1970s that prompted intervention,” the report said.

Marshall and other scientists insist it is. While the species’ numbers have increased, many biologists consider the Padre Island nesting site a work in progress that’s far from established.

“Because these turtles are so critically endangered, every egg matters,” Marshall said. “Why would you take the risk of losing half your nests on the upper Texas coast? Maintaining the alternate colony is very important. It doesn’t matter what the percentage is—this is our insurance policy.”

******

KRWG/Public Media

Ten Rare Plants Added to State Endangered Plant Species List

By EMNRD Forestry Division, July 16, 2020

SANTA FE, NM – A newly approved rule change will better protect an additional 10 plant species in danger of extinction in New Mexico. On July 9, Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) Cabinet Secretary Sarah Cottrell Propst approved an amendment to the New Mexico Endangered Plant Species List and Collection Permits rule (19.21.2 NMAC), which adds 10 plant species to the state endangered plant list. The rule prohibits protected endangered plant species from being collected, removed, transported, exported, processed for sale, or offered for sale unless issued a valid permit for specific scientific purposes by the state forester.

This effort follows years of research by the Forestry Division’s Endangered Plant Program and other rare plant scientists across the state. The additions took nearly two years to complete and involved public comment and input from numerous stakeholders.

“While climate change is the primary threat to extinction of our endangered plants, this law provides an additional level of protection by prohibiting collection of some of our rarest plants,” said Daniela Roth, Forestry Division Endangered Plant Program Manager. “Adding new plants to the state list should encourage land managers to provide better protection.”

The amendment also delists the more common and widespread Mammilaria wrightii var. wilcoxii cactus, resulting in a total of 45 species listed endangered in the state; changes the names of three other species already on the New Mexico State Endangered Plant List to reflect current classifications; and clarifies the overall text of the rule to better reflect the law’s intent.

The 10 species added to the state list of endangered plants due to their rarity and documented threats are Townsendia gypsophila (Gypsum Townsend’s aster); Sclerocactus cloverae (Clover’s cactus); Scrophularia macrantha (Mimbres figwort); Castilleja tomentosa (tomentose paintbrush); Penstemon metcalfei (Metcalfe’s beardtongue); Cymopterus spellenbergii (Spellenberg’s springparsley); and Linum allredii (Allred’s flax); Agalinis calycina (Leoncita false-foxglove); Hexalectris colemanii (Coleman’s coralroot); and Castilleja ornata (Swale paintbrush).

The complete rule amendments and Statement of Reasons can be found on the EMNRD Forestry Division website at http://www.emnrd.state.nm.us/SFD/. The rule amendments will go into effect upon publication in the New Mexico Register on July 28.

*****

National Parks Traveler

IUCN Update: 32,441 Species Threatened With Extinction

By NPT Staff – July 14th, 2020

A new assessment from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature finds that one in four mammals are threatened with extinction. Overall, the report says 32,441 species could face extinction if current trends aren’t reversed.

“This assessment shows that 1 in 4 mammals are facing extinction, and although we don’t prefer to think of ourselves as animals, we humans are mammals,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have to take bold and rapid action to reduce the huge damage we’re doing to the planet if we’re going to save whales, frogs, lemurs and ultimately ourselves.”

In updating its assessment, IUCN looked at 120,372 species for which there is enough information to determine their conservation status.

Global figures for the 2020-2 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

•TOTAL SPECIES ASSESSED = 120,372

•(Total threatened species = 32,441)

•Extinct = 882

•Extinct in the Wild = 77

•Critically Endangered = 6,811

•Endangered = 11,732

•Vulnerable = 13,898

•Near Threatened = 7,211

•Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 189 (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of The IUCN Red List)

•Least Concern = 62,033

•Data Deficient = 17,539

Last year the United Nations estimated that 1 million species worldwide face extinction if humans don’t act quickly to save them. Scientists around the globe are calling for countries to preserve 30 percent of lands and waters by 2030 and half by 2050 to abate the extinction crisis.

“We know what we need to do to end extinction,” said Curry. “At this point it’s a matter of political will to rapidly move away from fossil fuels, stamp out the wildlife trade and overhaul the toxic ways we produce food. We really can do all of these things, but we need world leaders to stand up and do them.”

Amphibians continue to be the most imperiled group of animals, with 41 percent threatened worldwide, IUCN said. Around 14 percent of birds and 40 percent of conifers are also threatened.

Although not included in the IUCN update, multiple species in the United States face extinction, including monarch butterflies, wolverines, red wolves, Southern Resident killer whales and dozens of freshwater fishes and crayfishes from southeastern states, the Center said in a release.

The Center recently released a groundbreaking plan to fight extinction. The Saving Life on Earth plan calls for $100 billion for species; for half the Earth to be protected for wildlife; and for dramatic cuts in pollution and plastics.

****

Associated Press

Sea turtles nesting at healthy rate on Georgia beaches

Sunday, July 12th 2020

SAVANNAH, GA (AP) — Rare loggerhead sea turtles are nesting in healthy numbers this year on Georgia beaches.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources reports more than 2,200 loggerhead nests have been counted along the state’s 100-mile coast since the nesting season began in May.

The biologist who oversees the agency’s sea turtle program, Mark Dodd, tells the Savannah Morning News he expects the number of nests this year will be on track for the species’ recovery.

Loggerhead sea turtles nest on beaches from Florida to the Carolinas. They are protected as a threatened species by the Endangered Species Act.

 *****

New York Daily News

Warming waters endanger up to 60% of fish species

A study showed that each degree of warming in Celsius means more trouble fish stocks. But researchers said there is a chance to save many.

By Theresa Braine, July 9, 2020

A new study examining fishes’ reactions to heat at different stages of their life process has revealed that warming waters could impede reproduction in up to 60% of species.

Fish are most sensitive to heat as spawning adults and embryos, found researchers at the Alfred Wegener Institute and the Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research.

With medium-level human-caused climate change expected by the end of the century, the world’s oceans, rivers and lakes will be too hot for about 40% of the world’s fish species in the spawning or embryonic life stages, said a study published in the journal Science.

It means climate change could render them extinct or force species to change how and where they live.

Biologists compiled data on the temperature tolerance of 694 fish species and analyzed the ranges within which fish can survive in several capacities: as adults ready to spawn, as embryos in eggs, as larvae, and as adults outside the spawning season, the researchers said.

This was the first time biologists had studied life stages besides adults. In adult fish, 2% to 3% of the species would be in the too-hot zone in the year 2100 with similar projected warming.

“Our findings show that, both as embryos in eggs and as spawning adults, fish are far more sensitive to heat than in their larval stage or as adults outside the spawning season,” said lead author and Wegener Institute marine biologist Dr. Flemming Dahlke. “On the global average, for example, adults outside the mating season can survive in water that’s up to 10 degrees Celsius warmer than spawners or fish eggs can tolerate.”

The study showed that each degree of warming in Celsius means more trouble fish stocks, the researchers said. But there is a chance to save many of them.

“If we human beings can successfully limit climate warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by midcentury and beyond, only 10% of the fish species we investigated will be forced to leave their traditional spawning areas due to rising temperatures,” said Professor Hans-Otto Portner Wegener Institute biologist and study co-author.

However, if average warming comes in at 5 or more degrees Celsius, up to 60% of species could be endangered, the researchers said. This could lead to behavioral changes, or even extinction.

The findings give a much more detailed picture than has been previously available and have grave implications for the approximately 3 billion people whose primary protein source is seafood, CNN reported. “With spawning fish and embryos most sensitive to warming waters, it means fish populations won’t be able to replace themselves,” Rutgers University ecologist Malin Pinsky said. “Without reproduction and offspring, we have no fish, no fishing and no fish on our plates.”

*****

CNN London

European hamster, North Atlantic right whale among latest species to become critically endangered

By Thomas Page, CNN, Updated Thu July 9, 2020

(CNN) — “This is a year that didn’t happen,” says Craig Hilton-Taylor. Many of us may wish this was the case.

Hilton-Taylor, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is referring to the “huge” gap in biodiversity data as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. “We’ve lost lots of valuable time in terms of monitoring,” he says.

Nevertheless, on July 9 the IUCN released its latest Red List of Threatened Species, covering the changing fates of some of the 120,000 species it monitors. Over 32,000 species are currently threatened with extinction; among them, the European hamster, the North Atlantic right whale and multiple species of lemur are newly listed as critically endangered — one step away from extinction in the wild.

The Bonin pipistrelle bat, splendid poison frog, Jalpa false brook salamander and spined dwarf mantis are species now declared extinct by the IUCN, although each is classified as a “non-genuine status change,” indicating the new status is due to new information, improved knowledge or incorrect data used previously.

The European (or common) hamster “is expected to go extinct within the next 30 years” unless its situation changes, according to the IUCN. Litter sizes have dropped from 20 to five or six, while the species has disappeared from parts of France, Germany and swathes of Eastern Europe. It’s a dramatic change from the species’ last assessment in 2016, when the European hamster was listed as of “least concern,” at the lowest end of the Red List scale.

“That’s a really unusual (case),” says Hilton-Taylor, who heads the Red List unit, adding that the drop in litter size has yet to be fully explained. Industrial development, agricultural monocultures (growing a single crop on farmland), global warming and light pollution are all being investigated as potential reasons, says the report.

Whales in trouble

Elsewhere, fewer than 250 mature North Atlantic right whales are now left in existence. Rising sea temperatures related to climate change may have driven their krill food supply northwards, says Hilton-Taylor, repositioning the whales’ summer feeding ground “right in the middle of key shipping lanes” in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the Canadian coast. Strikes from ships, entanglement in fishing gear and a lower reproduction rate — potentially related to stress, or whales finding it harder to catch food, Hilton-Taylor posits — have caused the population to drop by approximately 15% since 2011.

The situation for lemurs has also deteriorated. Of the 107 lemur species still alive, all of which are native to Madagascar, 103 are now considered threatened, of which 33 are critically endangered.

Among them is the Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur, the world’s smallest primate at around nine centimeters long. “It’s been under increasing threat because of forest loss,” caused by agricultural activities and charcoal burning, says Hilton-Taylor.

Slash and burn farming in Madagascar has resulted in fragmented forests, he adds, leaving another critically endangered lemur species, Verreaux’s Sifaka, more vulnerable to hunting.

But the Red List also shows that some species have made a recovery in recent years, indicating that with the right conservation efforts, a dire situation need not be a terminal one. In the new report, the Walia ibex, endemic to Ethiopia, the Turks and Caicos rock iguana and the Yunnan Asian frog of China all showed genuine improvement and had their Red List status upgraded.

As a difficult year for conservation continues, eyes are already turning to 2021, when the postponed IUCN World Conservation Congress and COP-15 biodiversity conference are scheduled to take place.

“The stage will be reset, and all the learning from this year — and all the past years that have gone before us — will feed into that process, and hopefully we’ll have a new, dynamic and ambitious post-2020 strategy,” says Hilton-Taylor.

“I think that the pandemic, in a way, has been a wake-up call for many people around the world,” he adds. “People are realizing that they’ve lost a connection with nature.

“We do need a major transformation in society as to how we live, and to look at how we improve sustainability in the way we live and reduce our impacts on the planet.”

*****

EcoWatch

Yellowstone Grizzlies Win Reprieve From Trophy Hunt as Court Restores Endangered Species Protections

By Olivia Rosane| July 09, 2020

Grizzly bears in Wyoming and Idaho won’t be subject to a trophy hunt thanks to a federal court decision Wednesday upholding endangered species protections for these iconic animals.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2018 decision from the Montana District Court reinstating protections for Yellowstone area grizzly bears after the Trump administration stripped them of protections in 2017. Wyoming and Idaho then announced plans to hunt the animals for the first time in more than 40 years.

“This is a tremendous victory for all who cherish Yellowstone’s grizzly bears and for those who’ve worked to ensure they’re protected under the Endangered Species Act,” Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) attorney Andrea Zaccardi said in a press release. “Grizzlies still have a long way to go before recovery. Hunting these beautiful animals around America’s most treasured national park should never again be an option.

CBD joined the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, the Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association in suing to reinstate protections for the bears. The plaintiffs were represented by Earthjustice, according to a press release.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services delisted Yellowstone area grizzlies in 2017, in a decision that impacted around 700 bears in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, according to The Hill. Those who supported the move said that the bears’ population as well as successful conservation efforts and state policies justified the move. Then Idaho and Wyoming said they would allow up to 23 bears to be hunted and killed outside of Yellowstone National Park, according to CBD.

But the Montana court ruled that the FWS did not consider the impact of delisting on a remnant population and did not use the best available science when making its decision, according to Courthouse News Service, and the Ninth Circuit agreed.

Specifically, the court found that FWS did not take into account how delisting and trophy hunting would impact the genetic diversity of Yellowstone grizzlies.

“Because the 2017 rule’s conclusion that genetic health no longer poses a threat to the Yellowstone grizzly is without scientific basis, this conclusion is arbitrary and capricious,” U.S. Circuit Judge Mary Schroeder wrote.

The court ordered the FWS to reconsider its decision with a view towards how delisting would impact a remnant population and genetic diversity.

“The importance of this court ruling for the grizzly bears found in our most iconic national parks cannot be overstated,” Northern Rockies Associate Director for the National Parks Conservation Association Stephanie Adams said in the Earthjustice press release. “This decision sets the stage for practical, science-based and on-the-ground collaboration to ensure a healthy future for grizzlies in Grand Teton, Yellowstone and beyond. And now, communities can continue their work to create opportunities to safely connect the grizzly bears of Yellowstone and Glacier.”

Not everyone was happy with the decision, however.

“Wyoming — not an activist court — should determine how the bear is managed. The state has a strong, science-based management plan and it should be given a chance to succeed,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement reported by The Hill.

FWS did not return requests for comment from either The Hill or Courthouse News Service.

Grizzly bears once roamed across North America and the Western U.S., but now mostly live in Alaska. Of around 55,000 total U.S. bears, 1,500 live in the lower 48 states, most of them in the Yellowstone area, according to Courthouse News Service.

*****

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.

****

Law 360

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)

*****

AP

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.”

*****

Earthjustice

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.”

Background

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 (fgc@fgc.ca.gov) 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!

*****

National Geographic

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.

Saving species

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.”

Setting precedents

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.”

What’s next?

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.

*****

Independent (London)

Environment

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.

*****

Forbes

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.

*****

The Hill

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.

 *****

Princeton University

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.)

*****

The Hill

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.

*****

Vox

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.

*****

Tdnews/Science

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.

*****

Washington Post

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 Guardian

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.”

*****

Environment Analyst

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.

*****

Modern Diplomacy

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.

*****

Y net/Nature

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.

 *****

The Guardian

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.

 *****

 Bloomberg Law

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.

Standing

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.

State Case

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