ESA Policy News: September 14

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here.


This week, Congress took up a six month continuing resolution (CR), an omnibus appropriations measure (H. J. Res. 117) that would fund government agencies through the end of March 2013. The funding is necessary as the current fiscal year 2012 ends on Sept. 30. The bill passed the House Sept. 13 by a vote of 329-91. Seventy Republicans and 21 Democrats opposed the measure.

The agreement between House and Senate leaders of both parties uses funding based on the original Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25) agreement, the ceiling level of $1.047 trillion. Among its provisions, the bill adds about $800 million in funding for the Department of Interior (DOI) and the US Forest Service for wildfire suppression. The bill also continues a provision to deny funding for a provision in a 2007 energy law that would enforce light bulb efficiency standards. The measure also extends the current pay freeze for federal workers.

Sequestration threat still looms

While passage of the measure will ensure that government programs can continue to be funded through the opening months of the new calendar year, whether or not these funding levels will be sustained remains in limbo due to another provision of the Budget Control Act  which would initiate a budget sequestration in January. The sequestration would mean an eight percent cut to all discretionary programs (defense and non-defense) unless Congress takes action after the election to either find an alternative $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction or pass legislation to postpone or nullify the proposed discretionary spending cuts.

On Sept. 14, the White House released a detailed account of how sequestration will impact federal agencies, as mandated by the Sequestration Transparency Act, passed by Congress last month. Read the report here.

A few weeks ago, the Ecological Society of America, the American Institute of Biological Sciences and the American Mathematical Society teamed up to craft an action alert to their respective members, encouraging them to make their voices heard to their congressional representatives.  To go to the AIBS Legislative Action page where you’ll find more information on the fiscal cliff and budget sequestration as well as a letter to Members of Congress, click here.


On Aug. 31, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that gray wolves in Wyoming no longer require protection under the Endangered Species Act.

According to FWS, there are 328 wolves in Wyoming, 230 of which live outside the park. Under the delisting plan, Wyoming has agreed to maintain at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs in a trophy game area near Yellowstone covering 10 percent to 15 percent of the state. Wolves will be labeled predators in the rest of the state and could be shot without a hunting license. Existing federal law prohibits hunting in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, the National Elk Refuge, and the Wind River Reservation in 2012, though hunting could occur in future seasons. There are currently over 1,774 wolves throughout the greater Yellowstone National Park region and these numbers have exceeded recovery goals for 10 straight years.

FWS will continue monitoring the state’s wolves for a minimum of five years and can consider an emergency relisting, if data demonstrate sustainment efforts are in jeopardy. The rule becomes effective Sept. 30, 2012.

To view the official Federal Register notice, click here. For more information on FWS’s wolf conservation efforts, click here.


On Sept. 5, TransCanada submitted a supplemental report to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) that would propose a new route for the Keystone pipeline.

The newly proposed route would avoid the Sandhills region, which sits atop the Ogalla Aquifer, an important drinking water source for Nebraskans. According to TransCanada, the new route avoids areas similar to the Sand Hills, areas with erodible soils that put public drinking water resources at risk. Nonetheless, environmentalists and some local landowners along the proposed route remain opposed to the pipeline.

According to Jane Kleeb of Bold Nebraska, a leading local organization opposing the pipeline, allaying the environmental concerns of any route in the northern portion of the state is nearly impossible. Kleeb asserts that if a pipeline must be built, it should run parallel to an existing TransCanada pipeline in eastern Nebraska. However, rerouting the Keystone pipeline as Kleeb suggests would force TransCanada to modify its route through South Dakota, necessitating additional reviews as well as cost increases.

The Nebraska DEQ intends to send a finalized report to Gov. Dave Heineman (R-NE) by the end of the year. The governor will have 30 days  to then rule on the new route. The Obama administration delayed a decision on approving the Keystone pipeline until early next year, citing a need for an alternative route to undergo the proper environmental review process. For more information on the TransCanada report, click here.


On Sept. 12, Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe announced that the Migratory Bird Conservation Commission has approved nearly $11 million in revenue from the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund to add an estimated 10,640 wetland acres to seven units of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

The purchase and lease of wetland habitat parcels are funded in part with proceeds from sales of the Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp, commonly known as the Federal Duck Stamp. The commission also approved $18.4 million in federal funding to conserve more than 95,000 acres of wetlands and associated habitat in the United States under the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA). The combined acreage includes the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and numerous species of waterfowl.

The seven units of protected wetlands include Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (MT), San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge (TX), Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge (TX), Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge (NY), Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge (OR), Tulare Basin Wildlife Management Area, (CA), Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge (SC), Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge (MT), San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge (TX) and Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge (TX).

Additional information on NAWCA grant projects and wetland conservation grant opportunities is available here.


On Sept. 11, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced $880 million in new Everglades restoration projects agreed to earlier this year in negotiations with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The projects build on the $1.8 billion Florida has invested to clean up Everglades waters and pushes back the deadline to clean up the waters to 2025, a move state and federal officials assert is more realistic. The move was prompted in part by a Sept. 2010 federal judge order for the state of Florida to act on long-stalled clean-up plans. According to DEP, core project components are intended to be designed, constructed and operational within six years.

According to Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL), the $880 million will come from a combination of revenues from the state and the South Florida Water Management District. The district manages water for 16 counties running from Orlando to the Keys and collects a share of property taxes. The investments will go toward efforts that include expansions to the state’s 45,000-acre network of artificial, pollution-filtration marshes and new water-storage features designed to combat pollution in the Everglades caused by farm and urban runoff.

More information on the initiative can be found here.


The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) recently announced it is seeking comments on critical habitat designations for a New Mexico Salamander and a San Francisco plant long thought to be extinct. Both species were recently designated as ‘endangered’ under the Endangered Species Act.

Jemez Mountains salamander

On Sept. 12, FWS announced the Jemez Mountains salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus) was given federal protection and has proposed a rule to designate 90,789 acres in Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Sandoval Counties, NM as critical habitat for the species.

Comments will be accepted until November 13, 2012 and can be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: (Docket Number FWS-R2-ES-2012-0063) or by mail to:

Public Comments Processing
Attn:  FWS–R2–ES–2012–0063
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203.

To view the full Federal Register notice for the Jemez Mountains salamander, click here.

Franciscan manzanita

On Sept. 5, FWS announced the Franciscan manzanita (Arctostaphylos franciscana) was given federal protection and the agency has published a proposed rule to designate approximately 318 acres as critical habitat for the plant in San Francisco City and county.

Comments will be accepted until November 5, 2012 and can be submitted online at the Federal eRulemaking Portal: (Docket Number FWS–R8–ES–2012–0067) or by mail to:

Public Comments Processing
Attn:  FWS–R8–ES–2012–0067
Division of Policy and Directives Management
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM
Arlington, VA 22203.

To view the full Federal Register notice for Franciscan Manzanita, click here.

Author: Terence Houston

Science Policy Analyst for ESA.

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1 Comment

  1. Great recap Terence, thanks for putting it together

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