‘Threatened’ listing for Gunnison sage grouse rouses political scuffle
Nov17

‘Threatened’ listing for Gunnison sage grouse rouses political scuffle

  A pair of Gunnison sage grouse. Credit/US Fish and Wildlife Service The recent US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) decision to list the Gunnison sage grouse (Centrocercus minimus) as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has ignited a political fervor between the administration, environmentalists and Colorado and Utah policymakers. “While many people hoped that the extraordinary conservation efforts by our partners in Colorado and Utah would resolve all the threats faced by the Gunnison sage-grouse, the best available science indicates that the species still requires the Act’s protection,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe in a press statement.  According to FWS, there are only about 4,700 Gunnison sage grouse left, occupying only seven to 12 percent of the species historical range in Colorado and Utah. Concurrent with publication of the final rule, FWS is designating 1.4 million acres in Colorado and southeastern Utah as critical habitat for the species. The listing was first proposed by the service in Jan. 2013, citing habitat loss and fragmentation caused by human development. The decision has no direct bearing on FWS’s still pending decision to list the related greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) as endangered under the ESA, which the agency is evaluating independently. Many agricultural landowners will not be affected by the bird’s new status. Those who have committed to Candidate Conservation Agreements with Assurances will be in full compliance with the ESA. Participating landowners took steps to improve sage grouse habitat and survival by, for example, removing invasive cheatgrass and putting ramps into stock tanks to help trapped birds escape drowning. Participants in the USDA’s Sage Grouse Initiative, Working Lands for Wildlife, and Conservation Reserve Program will also be in compliance. The threatened listing differs from an endangered listing in that it provides more flexibility to states and allows FWS to issue special rules that either reduce or expand Endangered Species Act protections for a listed species. Nonetheless, the agency’s decision drew accusations of federal government overreach from lawmakers across the ideological spectrum as well as criticism from the environmental advocacy community in favor of stronger protections. Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) issued a joint statement, claiming the decision threatens to undermine the conservation work done at the state and local government level to preserve the species. “We are deeply disappointed the US Fish and Wildlife Service chose to ignore the extraordinary efforts over the last two decades by the state, local governments, business leaders and environmentalists to protect the Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat,” said Hickenlooper. “This sends a discouraging message to communities willing to take significant actions to protect species and complicates...

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Ignite session commemorates Endangered Species Act 40th anniversary
Aug21

Ignite session commemorates Endangered Species Act 40th anniversary

The 98th Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America commemorated this year’s 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act with an Ignite session that brought together a diverse group of panelists to give an overview of the landmark law, its accomplishments and insights into various methods to improve species recovery. Daniel Evans, an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the USDA Forest Service, took the lead in organizing  The Endangered Species Act turns 40: Lessons learned for conservation of threatened and endangered species in the United States. Evans outlined the four main causes of species’ decline: habitat destruction/degradation, introduction of exotic/invasive species, pollution and overexploitation.  He explained that the Endangered Species Act has stymied a great deal of exploitation, which was the single biggest driver of species decline during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, he noted that the three other causes remain with habitat destruction and degradation being the biggest driver of extinction. Camille Parmesan, with the University of Texas, proposed coping with habitat fragmentation by transplanting certain endangered and threatened species to less imperiled areas.. As an example, she referenced her research on how climate change has altered the geographical range of Edith’s checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha). Sylvia Fallon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) land and wildlife program, gave an overview of contemporary legislative attempts at the federal level to alter enforcement of the law. She noted that while the majority of unprecedented efforts to legislatively delist species have come from Republican leaders in Congress, Senate Democrats pushed legislative language co-authored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) to remove federal protections for gay wolves in Montana and Idaho. The incentive for pushing this measure was to give Senator Tester a legislative victory he could promote at home in hopes of bolstering his 2012 re-election efforts, which were ultimately successful. Fallon noted that while prior attempts to weaken the scope of the law from Members such as former Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA) failed, current budget constraints are likely to motivate Members of Congress to continue to pursue legislative efforts to alter federal protections for endangered species in the name of deficit reduction.   The current political climate and pressure from Congress may also motivate the administration to delay decisions on listing certain species, said Fallon. Mark Schwartz, of the University of California-Davis, suggested that, given current funding constraints, we need to generate alternative methods to sustain imperiled species. Schwartz also cited various factors which result in uneven funding for animal and plant species.  Among them: congressional priorities, agency decisions and the general popularity of furry and “cute” species over scaly or otherwise less appealing...

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Managing water with natural infrastructure: win-wins for people and wildlife

By Terence Houston, Science Policy Analyst The US Senate is moving forward with a new Water Resources Development Act, a comprehensive bill that authorizes funding for Army Corps of Engineers projects related to flood management, environmental restoration and other water resources infrastructure issues. The bipartisan legislation (S. 601) is sponsored by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Ranking Member David Vitter (R-LA). In light of this, the Consortium for Aquatic Science Societies recently held a congressional briefing that highlighted problems with aquatic invasive species and “natural infrastructure” solutions. David Strayer, Senior Scientist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies discussed the varied ways in which invasive species can harm ecosystems, recreation and tourism for communities living alongside major waterways. Invasive species cost the US economy $100 billion a year and cause significant lasting ecological changes, often hindering  recreation and leading to proliferation of less desirable  wildlife. Among the most costly of these is the zebra mussel, which has cost industry and business billions since its initial introduction to the United States several decades ago. The mussels damage boats, invade water treatment and power plants and clog pipes. Strayer also highlighted nutria, plant-eating rodents that can severely erode river banks,  leaving surrounding communities more vulnerable to floods; Japanese knotweed, which crowds out native plants and damages existing infrastructure; and didymo (commonly known as “rock snot”), which – in addition to its obvious aesthetic damage to otherwise scenic landscapes – alters streambeds and cuts out food sources for native aquatic species such as trout. Strayer noted that reservoirs, alteration of water flows in rivers and streams and fish stoking (which can unintentionally include contaminants and undesirable wildlife) can buttress proliferation of invasive species. He praised language in the new WRDA legislation that would establish a program to mitigate invasive species in the Columbia River Basin and manage invasive plants in the northern Rockies and urged support for an amendment recently incorporated into the bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would seek to restrict invasive species from dispersing into the Great Lakes. Emma Rosi-Marshall, also with the Cary Institute on Ecosystem Services, focused her presentation on the general ecology of rivers. Many animals, including salmon and sturgeon, adapt their migration and breeding patterns on the dynamics of rivers. She also expanded on the important role of natural infrastructure such as wetlands and floodplains in mitigating floods and controlling erosion. Dams, while providing services such as water storage and power generation, can also disrupt wildlife migration and alter the manner in which sediment and nutrients are delivered along waterways. These alterations can impact fish abundance as well as...

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ESA donates to PNW conservation orgs to offset envr costs of its meeting

By Nadine Lymn, ESA director of public affairs When 5,000 individuals from across the United States and around the globe convene for a scientific conference such as the Ecological Society of America’s (ESA) recent meeting in Portland, Oregon it takes an environmental toll: The energy required to power the planes, trains and automobiles people use to travel to and from the meeting (although some attendees bike!).  And, the hotels and convention center that were built to provide the facilities needed to host thousands of people ate up habitat and displaced wildlife. As one way to offset these environmental costs, ESA contributes $5 for each meeting registrant which the Society then donates to a local project or organization in the city in which it meets.  This year’s meeting in Portland, Oregon was the Society’s largest and ESA donated $12,475 each to the Columbia Land Trust and to Friends of Trees. The Columbia Land Trust works to conserve the lands, waters and wildlife of the Columbia River region, from east of the Cascades to the Pacific Ocean.  It collaborates with landowners, local residents and government entities to conserve forests, ranch lands and critical habitats in Oregon and Washington states and uses a science-based stewardship program to restore and manage these areas. The Trust will use ESA’s donation for its Mt. St. Helens conservation project, which aims to protect working forest and habitat on some 20,000 acres at the base of Mt. St. Helens.  The area is under development pressure because of its alluring mountain views and scenic waters and is home to threatened species such as bull trout.  The acreage includes high elevations that, with global warming, may become increasingly important habitat for some species. Friends of Trees is a Portland-based organization that describes its mission as bringing people in the Portland-Vancouver and Eugene-Springfield metro areas together to plant and care for city trees and green spaces.  The organization also provides guidance to volunteers on restoration techniques and has planted nearly half a million trees and native plants since its founding in 1989. ESA’s donation will help Friends of Trees offset the Tree Scholarship Program during the 2012-2013 planting season. Each year, Friends of Trees provides scholarships to low-income families who want to plant with the organization, but cannot afford the $35-$50 cost. ESA’s donation will allow Friends of Trees to subsidize the purchase and planting of 275 trees for these families. The organization says the trees will go where they are needed the most and will provide benefits for the community for years to come. Last year’s ESA meeting was held in Austin, Texas and the Society donated to Bat...

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Landscape connectivity: corridors and more, in Issues in Ecology #16
Oct19

Landscape connectivity: corridors and more, in Issues in Ecology #16

WE live in a human-dominated world. For many of our fellow creatures, this means a fragmented world, as human conduits to friends, family, and resources sever corridors that link the natural world. The latest installment in ESA’s Issues in Ecology series takes on models and methods for reconnecting wildlife habitat in restoration and conservation planning and management.

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