ESA in the news: Obama reverses Bush, Wyoming and Alaska hope to reverse Obama, and other stories of fishermen, falcons, turtles, salmon and butterflies
President Obama is undoing the Bush administration’s anti-environmental legacy, says the New York Times. Rejecting Bush’s arguments about “streamlining” the process, he repealed the changes to the ESA consultation process. MSNBC weighed in too, noting that the agencies have not yet acted on an equally controversial polar bear rule. Meanwhile, a Newsweek report anticipates many more decisions to list species as endangered or threatened. Incredibly, since 2001, 94 percent of all new listings have been compelled by lawsuits or action initiated by the non-profit Center for Biological Diversity.
One of the species often at issue in litigation is the sage grouse, yet the overall sage grouse population is on the rise in Wyoming as part of the bird's cyclical trends, and the bird -- an indicator species of regional ecological health -- is benefiting from the state's sage grouse conservation plan, and voluntary conservation measures on private lands. However, the Casper Star-Tribune reports that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is not following the state plan, and continues to issue controversial oil and gas leases. Wyoming residents remain nervous about the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s ongoing evaluation of whether to list the sage grouse pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.
Like their Wyoming counterparts, Alaskans are concerned about the potential impacts of ESA listing decisions on their local economy, and the State is suing the federal government over the decisions to list the polar bear as a threatened species, and the Cook Inlet beluga whale as endangered. In fact, state lawmakers agreed to spend $1.25 million on litigation over the two listings, reports the New York Times green blog. The reintroduction of an experimental population of wood bison has state residents equally nervous. Still, the ESA coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game insists that his state really is conservation-minded. “There’s this impression that the state doesn’t care about conservation, and I can assure you that we do.”
Photo of a polar bear swimming in open waters by Geoff York, World Wildlife Fund, published at WashingtonPost.com in anarticle entitled "Scientists Report Further Shrinking of Arctic Ice"
But on the MatterNetwork, ecojournalist Edward Humes has little patience for the Alaska's and Wyoming's arguments. He argues that the ESA should be used to aggressively change human behavior and to confront the challenges of climate change, forcing us to shift to renewable energy in order to save species like the polar bear. The current system, he says, is simply too expensive, and invisibly subsidized. "It is now incumbent on the government to help put a gradual shift in motion by providing incentives and rewards for the clean and green, and penalties for the dirty and wasteful. We have the laws to begin this process." Grist.org offers an equally insightful article on wolves, polar bears, and the realities of local and global politics and the ESA. And a heartfelt editorial published in the Los Angeles Times, accomplished birdwatcher Ms. Olivia Gentile also praises the ESA, suggesting that everyone would feel a lure and love towards conservation if they just took a few moments to watch an urban peregrine falcon. Until we banned DDT, humans nearly destroyed these and other bird species, and we need laws like the ESA to help us help them.
While lofty ideas and debate abound, there were numerous stories about the ESA in practice too. InsideBayArea.com reports that the San Francisco Recreation & Parks Department is debating what to do with Sharp Park, one of the premier affordable golf courses in Northern California, but also home to the San Francisco garter snake and California red-legged frog, both endangered species. While compliance with the ESA might prove expensive in California, the failure to comply with the law could mean jail for a North Carolinian citizen who was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of illegally importing, and attempting to import endangered and prohibited wildlife into the United States, and the Georgia based Daily Citizen reported that the ten endangered Asian Arowana fish in this case have a fair market value of about $25,000. And Oregon voters will have to decide on their own whether to fund a habitat conservation plan for Fender’s blue butterfly (picture below from OregonState.edu) a creature once thought to be extinct, reports the Corvallis Gazette Times. Under the terms of the HCP and proposed Incidental Take Permit, the county could do construction and maintenance activities that might damage any of the covered species on county-owned land, and in exchange, the county will minimize, mitigate and or replace any habitat loss by purchasing conservation easements from willing landowners in “blue zones” -- areas identified as actual or potential habitat for the Fender’s blue.
The practical realities and economics of the ESA have been particularly intense this week for fishermen. Maine officials have decided to call off this year's Atlantic salmon fishing season, after pressure from the federal government, reports MaineBiz.biz The Salt Lake Tribune reported that rare, threatened greenback cutthroat trout were discovered in a small creek of the LaSal mountains, leading Utah wildlife officials to issue emergency regulations. Sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico need emergency protection too, says NOAA, as reported in the Mississippi Press. This past week, the agency announced new fishery regulations, banning commercial longline fishing boats from the eastern half of the Gulf after concluding that the longline fishery was responsible for the deaths of nearly 1,000 turtles within a year and a half. The emergency rule is likely to be followed by a broad-reaching summertime fishery closure. See also Environment News Service. And in Skagit County, Washington, the Bellingham Herald reports that salmon fishers like the Swinomish Tribe haven’t been able to fish like they used to, mostly because of the collapse of so many Puget Sound salmon populations. Regional water management structures, including a local dike district’s new tide gates, prevented juvenile salmon from reaching their rearing habitat. Addressing issues raised in recent litigation between the Swinomish Tribe sued and a local Dike District, Skagit County Dike District No. 22, the two groups became partners in a plan to restore 200 acres of estuary habitat in the Skagit delta, and submitted their plan to the federal judge.