ESA news: turkeys not endangered, but big news on bears and wolves, and more status review litigation. (Happy Thanksgiving!)
ALASKA. It's official. FWS announced the final designation of 187,000 acres of polar bear critical habitat in Alaska. See coverage from Alaska Public Radio Network Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said the state is considering a legal challenge in opposition. See Alaska Dispatch. Soon, the Obama Administration will also have to decide whether the bear is a threatened species, or an endangered one, forcing further consideration of how the ESA will be used, or abused, as a tool in the policy struggle over global climate change. See LA Times. And the state has many more ESA issues beyond the great white bears. A record amount of chinook salmon bycatch by the Fall 2010 trawl fleet in the Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery triggered another consultation under the Endangered Species Act. See Alaska Journal of Commerce. The Center for Biological Diversity plans to sue over the failure to consult on the impacts of oil dispersants upon Alaska wildlife including polar bears, Cook Inlet beluga whales, Steller sea lions and other imperiled species. See Business Week. But even when doing good deeds, Alaska seems frustrated with the federal government and the ESA, as suggested by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game when it announced its target date of spring 2012 for releasing a reintroduced population of wood bison into lower Innoko River country in the western Interior was waiting on federal protection and hinges on federal rulemaking to create a “nonessential experimental population” exemption under section 10(j) of the Endangered Species Act. Still, Alaska's official disagreements over the ESA are nothing new. See, e.g. Oregon Live's piece on former Governor Sarah Palin's record on the ESA and climate change.) But perhaps the recent announcement that Gov. Sean Parnell has appointed current state Attorney General Dan Sullivan as Commissioner of Natural Resources suggests a new focus by Alaska on the laws, and lawsuits, affecting its environment. See Homer News.
WOLVES. As anticipated here on ESA blawg, legislation is churning to deal with the never-ending cycle of wolf litigation. The concept: Congress removes the wolf from federal endangered species management responsibilities, and leaves the issue to the states. See The Salt Lake Tribune. The bills, however, are unlikely to move during the remainder of this current Congress. See Idaho Statesman. Disturbing though such a solution seems, litigation is proving just as bad a way to solve this complex issue. As the Greater Yellowstone Coalition (an environmental advocacy group) recognized, two recent contradictory wolf decisions from federal courts in Wyoming and Montana indicate "it is time to move the wolf debate out of the courts." In Montana, U.S. District Court Judge Donald Molloy ruled that the federal government improperly removed the endangered status of the wolf in Montana and Idaho, and ordered that the species remain listed in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. See Jackson Hole News and Guide. Judge Molloy held that, as a matter of law, and based upon an interpretation of the provisions of the Endangered Species Act, Montana and Idaho could not be treated differently than Wyoming. But U.S. District Court Judge Alan B. Johnson's opinion (from Cheyenne, Wyoming) held that the federal government’s rejection of Wyoming’s wolf plan (which designated nearly 90 percent of the state as a predator zone where wolves could be shot on sight) was improper. See Powell Tribune. The two opinions cannot be reconciled.
The Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow (Sidalcea oregana var. calva) is an endemic plant found only in mid-elevation wetlands and moist meadows within Chelan County in eastern Washington State. This plant is currently known from only five populations. The largest population has an estimated 11,000 plants and the remaining 4 populations range in size from 8 to 300 individuals. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed S. oregana var. calva as endangered on December 22, 1999. Critical habitat was designated for this species on September 6, 2001. Caption and photo from U.S. Forest Service.
STATUS REVIEW LITIGATION? Status reviews for species may become the newest version of ESA litigation. Yesterday, the Pacific Legal Foundation announced that one day after it filed a one day after a lawsuit alleging that FWS failed to meet its statutory responsibilities related to the northern spotted owl, Oregon silverspot butterfly, showy stickseed, and Wenatchee Mountains checker-mallow, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to review whether the four Washington State species should remain on the Endangered Species Act list. See PLF. Given the timing of the announcement, however, it seems unlikely that PLF was actually the catalyst for the action, and more likely that something was already in the works. (After all, FWS also announced FWS five-year reviews of additional species in Oregon, California, and Hawaii.)