ESA news: dollars, cents, and undoing past nonsense
“FWS represents only about 7 percent of total federal expenditures related to the Endangered Species Act,” John Platt recently explained in his Scientific American article reviewing a 2007 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service report on ESA expenditures. “The Federal Highway Association spent $34,977,711. The Army spent $45,093,322, while the Army Corps of Engineers spent $211,976,370. The Department of Energy's Bonneville Power Administration spent a whopping $533,223,325. Even the Bureau of Indian Affairs spent $75,000.”
Predictably, salmonid species were also a big part of those 2007 expenditures (costs now exceed $1 billion annually.) And salmonids will continue to be big bucks in 2009-2010, as demonstrated by the estimated $200 million cost for tearing down four dams along the Klamath River. See New York Times And don't forget about the potentially massive costs of altering the hydroelectric dams associated with the Federal Columbia River Power System and the Columbia and Snake Rivers. See Heartland Institute article.
So is all the money well spent? Fiscal conservatives will soon point to evolving science, and Matthew Preusch’s article in The Oregonian explaining that “some salmon are evolving to survive in Northwest rivers that have been radically altered by dams.” Then again, these types of watershed restoration projects probably deserve high fiscal prioritization, given the benefits not only to salmonids but also to the many other riparian dependent species. In contrast, many other species receive disproportionate dollars and attention due to their “charismatic megafauna” status, and thanks to the lawyers who represent them, a point emphasized by SFist.com's protest on the excessive funding for sea lions and the UK Guardian's discussion of pandas in zoos.
But for the less-financially minded people who want to protect species, no matter what the cost, their lawyers have good reason to turn to the judiciary. Sure, on rare occasion, governmental action is motivated by media attention, as with the recent efforts to control the problem of invasive snakes. See U.S. Geological Survey report and related article in Wired. See also, Paw Talk article on Exotic Consequences. (And immediate action is certainly needed, as the USGS report states that “the greatest environmental impact of invasion by giant constrictors would be predation on endangered species, either via further endangerment or outright extinction.”) Sometimes, government is also motivated to fix its own mistakes, as with the ongoing effort by the Department of Interior to do a mea culpa for the abuses by a former Bush Administration official. See recent Denver Post about how the "feds take a fresh look at once-rejected protections," and prior ESA blawg story and links. But much too often, litigation settlements and court-orders determine the docket of ESA-related actions taken by the Federal government, as the recent news coverage shows, once again:
- Wolf hunting. Citing the loss of hunting opportunities and the “threat of problem wolves,” the National Rifle Association is asking a federal court judge to allow the group to join a lawsuit regarding the removal of wolves from the list of animals protected under the Endangered Species Act in Montana and Idaho. See the Helena-based Independent Record. (Evidence suggests that wolves are only a limited threat to livestock; for example, a Minnesota news site reported today that a federal program that reimburses Minnesota farmers for livestock lost to wolves will receive $700,000 this coming year.)
- Polar bear critical habitat. Polar bears remain the iconic species of global climate change, and with much litigation underway, the FWS rulemaking effort to establish critical habitat for the species continues to garner national attention, including a recent New York Times story. The proposed rule is currently undergoing review within the White House Office of Management and Budget.
- Listing penguin species. In another Scientific American article, John Platt discusses the plight of the penguin, and the imminent lawsuit planned by the Center for Biological Diversity to force a decision on the previously proposed listing of the species (a proposed made by the Bush administration). See also, ESA blawg.
- Yellowstone Grizzly bear listing status. In September, Judge Malloy reversed a FWS judgment call and concluded that Yellowstone grizzly bears should retain their status as listed species, because “promises, or good intentions for future actions” were “unenforceable and non-binding,” and because whitebark pine nuts, a key source of bear nutrition, were in decline. See New York Times blog.
- Leatherback sea turtle critical habitat. Oceana sued NOAA for failing to designated critical habitat for endangered leatherback sea turtles, seeking more protection for a broad swath of ocean feeding areas and migration routes, and ensuring additional scrutiny of harm to turtles from offshore wind and wave energy, coastal power plants, or pollution from agricultural runoff. Under the terms of a settlement agreement, an initial decision is expected by December 4, 2009. See AP story. But the Sarasota Herald Tribune also notes that 2009 also marked a dismal nesting year for loggerhead sea turtles, continuing a downward trend.
Photo of a leatherback turtle from Carl Safina: Hope and Inspiration for the Oceans.